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Stories to Watch at IEM Sydney 2023

Zakaria Almughrabi

Counter-Strike’s IEM Sydney 2023 is set to begin on October 16. What would normally be a run-of-the-mill IEM Masters tier tournament is being made much more important this time around. The reason is that IEM Sydney will be the first big tournament played in Counter-Strike 2. With Global Offensive now behind us, a huge question is being raised: who will be the teams that trailblaze into a new era of Counter-Strike?

IEM Sydney 2023

Image Copyright: Helena Kristiansson, ESL FACEIT Group

All Teams at IEM Sydney 2023

ENCE FaZe Clan G2 Esports MOUZ
Natus Vincere Team Vitality Cloud9 GamerLegion
Monte Fnatic Grayhound Gaming Apeks
BetBoom Team Complexity Gaming Lynn Vision Gaming VERTEX Esports Club

The New MOUZ on the Block

CS:GO’s final tournament, ESL Pro League S18, ended with a bang. In a result that almost no one could have predicted, MOUZ rose from nowhere to claim the trophy. Their run was the stuff of legends as well. After qualifying to the playoffs, MOUZ took down NAVI, FaZe Clan, G2 Esports, and ENCE for their championship. Those teams were ranked 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th in the world at the time; there was no fluke at play here.

Now ranked in the top five for the first time this year, MOUZ has a new challenge ahead of them in the switch to CS2. Many teams will likely see some roadblocks in the immediate future, but MOUZ has an advantage that almost no other championship caliber team has. That is, they are an incredibly young squad.

MOUZ’s oldest players are just 21 and they have two teenagers playing as well. When it comes to learning and adapting to a brand-new game feel, being able to grind out practice and quickly shift your muscle memory can be a great boon. That said, MOUZ still has mounds of tough competition ahead of them at IEM Sydney. This includes all the top teams that they took down in their ESL Pro League playoffs run.

Overall, this MOUZ roster is one of the more exciting ones we have heading into the CS2 era. They just showed us that they have the strategy and planning to beat the veterans, as well as the mechanics to outplay anyone on their day. This core easily has years ahead of them to grow, and if their transition to the new Counter-Strike goes swimmingly, MOUZ could be the first great team of CS2.

Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

On the opposite side, plenty of CS:GO’s previously great teams are also hoping to find more success in CS2. The likes of ENCE, G2, and FaZe all won CS:GO trophies in 2023. Their average ages are 26.2, 25.2, and 26 respectively. For comparison, MOUZ’s average age is 19.8.

Just to be clear, simply being older than your opponent does not make you a worse team. The perceived expiration date of esports pros is exaggerated to say the least. Plenty of players can win titles even into their thirties, many of whom did so in CS:GO. However, the gaming science of transitioning between competitive titles is incomplete.

CS:GO and CS2 are the most similar prequel/sequel duo in multiplayer gaming history. On the outside, it simply looks like a new coat of paint. However, there are plenty of differences that will notably differentiate the games such as the grenade changes and new engine feel. As such, we could see a completely new class of players rise to the top in CS2 over time while some CS:GO stalwarts fade to the back.

When transitioning to different esports titles, even of the same genre, the differences are enough to completely change what kind of player succeeds. It’s why Tyson “TenZ” Ngo went from having an unremarkable CS:GO career to being one of VALORANT’s most mechanically gifted players. Since CS2 is a much, much smaller step away from CS:GO than VALORANT was, more of the established pro scene should theoretically be able to make that jump into the new era. It will be incredibly interesting to see if that is in fact the case, and to what degree.

Rebuilding Teams Get Their Shot

Among the new kids and the old guard are a mix of teams that feature a mix of players. Many teams have made sweeping roster changes in 2023, and a new game will no doubt add an extra layer of chaos. Notably, we just saw NAVI earn runner-up at ESL Pro League S18. There’s also the fun storyline of seeing if the GOAT of CS:GO, Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyljev, will still be the same s1mple in CS2.

Another team looking for some CS2 success is Cloud9. This CIS squad has been acclimating to their new NAVI pair of Denis “electroNic” Sharipov and Ilya “Perfecto” Zalutskiy. They just recently had a big coming out party at the BLAST Fall Showdown a week ago, where they took down G2 and BIG (who crushed ENCE) to secure a spot at the BLAST Fall Finals.

Then there’s Team Vitality, who despite a Major trophy earlier this year, opted to not renew head coach Danny “zonic” Sørensen. As of now, we have no idea who Vitality’s new coach will be, but few can claim to have as big of an impact on the game as the five-time Major winner that is zonic. We’ll have to see how well they can prepare and adjust without that stable presence behind them.

Also, GamerLegion just picked up the Polish legend Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski to be their new in-game leader. Snax is 30-years-old and hasn’t started on a tier one team since 2019. However, Snax did play as a stand-in for ENCE at IEM Dallas 2022 where the team made an incredible run to the Grand Finals. They had very high praise for him then, and teams took notice. Now, Snax is primed to make his return to tier one with a promising GamerLegion squad.