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Stories to Watch at the IEM Chengdu Playoffs

Zakaria Almughrabi

The first CS2 post-Major tournament, IEM Chengdu, has entered the Playoffs. Typically, the tournament following the Major is notorious for having a lower level of play and numerous upsets due to the top teams being burned out. This time, however, we have a fairly expected spread of top teams and only two surprising yet plausible outcomes. Here are the stories to watch heading into the IEM Chengdu Playoffs.

Astralis IEM Chengdu Playoffs

Image Copyright: Helena Kristiansson, ESL FACEIT Group

Astralis from the Ashes

During the PGL Copenhagen Major RMR, Astralis made headlines in the worst way possible. The winningest organization in Counter-Strike history failed to qualify for the first Major in their home nation of Denmark. It was sad, embarrassing, and, quite frankly, crushing to see. They quickly got to work on making adjustments, including one that shocked the community: a move to In-Game Leader for Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz.

While we’d seen multiple successful AWPer IGLs in CS:GO’s history, questions were raised about whether dev1ce would fit into this mold and improve the team, especially in such a short timeframe. Come to IEM Chengdu, a month removed from that RMR failure, Astralis looks like a brand new team.

Not only have they qualified straight to the semifinals, they’ve done so without dropping a single map. And it wasn’t against easy competition either; Astralis steamrolled through FaZe Clan and to do so. In just five maps played, Astralis is +39 on the round differential, having not given up more than seven rounds yet. Astralis is just one best-of-three away from their first S-Tier Grand Finals appearance since January 2021, over three years ago.

While dev1ce’s IGL swap has been a driving force behind Astralis’s quick resurgence, bringing in Alexander “br0” Bro has been just as impactful. This personnel swap allowed Jakob “jabbi” Nygaard and Martin “stavn” Lund finally return to their preferred positions. The move has seen both of their performances skyrocket. In their last match against VP, the duo put up 1.61 and 1.55 HLTV ratings, respectively.

This early success for Astralis could be partially due to the notorious honeymoon phase many revamped teams go through. Additionally, Astralis had a month to prepare for this tournament, while FaZe and VP put all their eggs in the Major basket. We’ll need to see more from Astralis to confirm that they are indeed back for real. Winning their first trophy since 2020 would be a great start.

Liquid In the Same Boat

Like Astralis, North America’s top squad, Team Liquid, also missed out on the PGL Copenhagen Major. Though both teams came together at the start of 2024, Liquid had an arguably bigger set of changes to adjust to. Additionally, part of their failure to qualify was due to the format of the Americas RMR. Since the Americas had only five total seeds, two losses at the RMR meant no Major. Only Liquid had the misfortune of playing FURIA and Complexity, the two strongest established teams in the region.

Excuses aside, a team of Liquid’s caliber SHOULD be qualifying for Majors even in less-than-optimal circumstances. This team has trophy aspirations and the quality to make deep runs in tournaments when in form. At IEM Chengdu, Liquid has started its climb back up to the contender level by qualifying for the Playoffs. They earned wins over HEROIC and G2 Esports. Like with Astralis, both teams were playing deep into the Major so that the preparation difference could be a factor.

Even so, Liquid looks much improved on many fronts. Notably, Mareks “YEKINDAR” Gaļinskis seems to be returning to form. At his peak, YEKINDAR was one of, if not the best, rifler in the world. It’s been a while since he’s lived up to those expectations, and now’s as good a time as any to get back to that level. Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken has also been playing lights-out. The winningest NA player ever hasn’t lost a step since he left FaZe and is seventh overall in rating, despite Liquid losing the group finals to MOUZ 2-0.

Liquid has a tough road at the IEM Chengdu Playoffs. They have to deal with FaZe Clan in round one, then a potential matchup against Astralis, who has every advantage they do. A Finals berth is unlikely, to say the least, but anything is a victory for Liquid past this point.

Can MOUZ Break Their Curse?

Topping Group A at IEM Chengdu was MOUZ. The young squad had some road bumps getting there, including a close call in BO1 to TYLOO and an overtime win into a reverse sweep against FURIA Esports. Still, MOUZ took care of business and made the top four at another top-tier event. By this point, MOUZ’s routine has been established.

MOUZ looks like one of the best teams in the world in a studio. They frequently take down top team after top team and have the confidence to run it up against anyone. When it comes time to take the stage in the playoffs, however, that composure seems to all but vanish. Yes, MOUZ is one of the youngest teams in tier-one Counter-Strike. It’s no surprise that they falter on the stage against veterans like G2 and FaZe Clan.

That said, every trophy-winning team must overcome that hurdle at some point. MOUZ has the talent and tactics to be the best team in the world; they just need to translate that into results. They’ll have their shot to break through that barrier at the IEM Chengdu Playoffs. MOUZ will likely end up in a rematch against G2 Esports, the team that knocked them out of the PGL Copenhagen Major Playoffs, for a spot in the Grand Finals.

MOUZ has qualified for the playoffs in each of the last six S-Tier events it has attended. Each time, it has come up short, losing five to FaZe and the, most recent to G2. The cards could fall in a way that forces MOUZ to beat both of them for the trophy. We’ll have to wait and see if IEM Chengdu is where MOUZ finally conquers its playoff demons.