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Stories to Watch at the IEM Cologne 2023 Group Stage

Zakaria Almughrabi

The IEM Cologne 2023 Group Stage kicks off on July 29. Here we’ll see sixteen of the best CS:GO teams in the world go head-to-head for a chance at one of the biggest prizes in Counter-Strike. The Play-In Stage saw the rise of many underdog squads, as favorites like Team Liquid and FURIA Esports fell short. They’ll now have to fight against the best squads that the game has to offer.

IEM Cologne 2023 Group Stage

Image Copyright: Helena Kristiansson, ESL FACEIT Group

IEM Cologne Group Stage Teams

Group A

Group B

Heroic GamerLegion Team Vitality Natus Vincere
Cloud9 ENCE G2 Esports FaZe Clan
The MongolZ Monte OG MOUZ
Fnatic 9INE Astralis Ninjas in Pyjamas

The IEM Cologne 2023 Group Stage takes place in a double elimination bracket. The top three teams will qualify for the playoffs, with the bracket winner being seeding directly into the semifinals.

Heroic’s Head Start

The 2023 player break proved chaotic for many top tier teams. Among the top 10 teams rated by HLTV, only three squads kept the same roster from the previous season. Heroic is one of them, and no team is better prepped for early-season tournament wins.

Heroic’s 2023 has been bittersweet to say the least. The made it to the top four of IEM Katowice, IEM Rio, IEM Dallas, and the BLAST Paris Major without winning any of them. They did at least take home the BLAST Spring Final and earn their first trophy of the year in June. However, Heroic could have had the start to an era on their hands if things had gone a bit differently.

The Danish squad has what it takes to beat any team in Counter-Strike. They’ve just had issues closing out titles when the pressure is on. That said, getting over that final hurdle right before the season ended could be the confidence boost that they needed. Heroic already looked strong at BLAST Fall Groups, only dropping a single map 14-16.

Additionally, Heroic have an incredibly easy route to the playoffs. They’ll face The MongolZ first, followed by the winner of Monte vs GamerLegion, the latter of which lost two players in the off-season following their Major Finals appearance. After that, their biggest threat for the quarterfinal bye is either Cloud9 or ENCE.

IEM Cologne is a perfect chance to Heroic to win an IEM championship. Not only are they nearly a lock-in for the semifinals already, they’re also the highest rated team in the game right now and have a stable and tenured roster while others are playing catch-up. No team is more favored to claim the IEM Cologne trophy right now.

Group B Brutality

When looking across the group lineups, it becomes apparent just how stacked group B is at IEM Cologne. The rank two, three, and four teams are all competing in this group. Team Vitality, FaZe Clan, and G2 Esports are all coming in with mostly unchanged rosters. Vitality did pick up one new rifler in Shahar “flameZ” Shushan and FaZe an interim coach in Filip “NEO” Kubski, though neither acquisition will change much in how the teams function.

That’s not all however. Group B also has Natus Vincere and Astralis among their ranks. NAVI’s off-season roster rebuild turned many an eye towards them and how they’ll perform in the future. The first look we got of NAVI at BLAST Fall Groups was promising. While they did lose two games to Heroic, they took one map in the group final, then swept G2 Esports to claim the final qualification spot.

Astralis is also a team looking to make a splash with a revamped roster. Their pickups of Victor “Staehr” Staehr and Johannes “b0RUP” Borup provide a mix of young talent and Danish tenure. Staehr is just 19 years old and getting his first big shot in a tier one org. Meanwhile, b0RUP has been part of nearly every relevant Danish CS:GO org in his eight years of competing.

Much like NAVI, Astralis also qualified at the BLAST Fall Groups through the last chance stage. While their results weren’t as impressive as NAVIs, Astralis were at a much lower starting point prior to the player break. Their bracket run would be difficult, having to go through G2 in round one and either FaZe or NiP in round two. That’s just the reality for teams in group B.

ENCE Out to Win

ENCE is one of the most overlooked teams in tier one Counter-Strike. Not only did they just win their first trophy since 2019 at IEM Dallas, they’ve also kept the same core together for almost a full year now. Their newest addition, Guy “NertZ” Iluz, was added at the start of the season to fill a fragger role. He’s been the highest rated player on ENCE over the span.

Despite being a team of players from five distinct nations, ENCE has top of the line cohesion. Everyone knows their role and has the skill to execute whatever play Marco “Snappi” Pfeiffer calls. AWPer Alvaro “SunPayus” Garcia has been especially impressive. He earned MVP on their IEM Dallas run with a 1.27 overall rating.

ENCE has all the makings of a team that can win championships. Much like Heroic, ENCE’s stable roster has a chance at shining here at IEM Cologne. After an easy round one matchup against 9INE, they’ll play either Cloud9 or Fnatic, both teams that are in the middle of a rebuild. They should be a playoff team at bare minimum, anything less would be a disappointment.

The IEM Cologne 2023 Group Stage begins on July 29 at 6:30 AM. The initial matchups are:

Heroic vs The MongolZ

Monte vs GamerLegion

Cloud9 vs Fnatic


Team Vitality vs OG

MOUZ vs Natus Vincere

G2 Esports vs Astralis

Ninjas in Pyjamas vs FaZe Clan