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Stories to Watch at the IEM Cologne 2023 Play-In Stage

Zakaria Almughrabi

The second ESL Masters Championship of 2023, IEM Cologne, begins on July 26. Twenty-four of the top Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams from around the world will gather in Cologne, Germany for a shot at one of the biggest prizes in Counter-Strike. As the player-break ended less than two weeks ago, this is the first chance for many new rosters to take their squads for a spin.

IEM Cologne 2023 Play-In

Image Copyright: Stephanie Lieske, ESL FACEIT Group

Teams in IEM Cologne Play-In

MOUZ Apeks 9INE FURIA Esports
Team Liquid Imperial Esports The MongolZ Grayhound Gaming
Fnatic Monte Ninjas in Pyjamas Astralis
Into the Breach Complexity Gaming OG BIG

Ninjas Look Promising

Ninjas in Pyjamas had the most minor roster swap of the off-season, bringing Hampus “hampus” Poser back into the main squad. Hampus was NiP’s in-game leader before taking medical leave at the start of the year. Aleksi “Aleksib” Virolainen was brought in to fill the gap, but NiP didn’t look the same without their frontman.

Now with Hampus back in the driver’s seat, NiP looked solid at the BLAST Fall Group Stage. Despite a round one loss to Complexity, the Ninjas ran the bracket, beating Evil Geniuses, Complexity, and the defending Major champions Team Vitality to secure a top seed.

NiP’s gradual rebuild over the years has always held potential. They grabbed up top talent where possible, even recently signing Kristian “k0ngfig” Wienecke and Danyyl “headtr1ck” Valitov for the 2023 season. Now that Hampus is back in action and has some new toys to play with, NiP could rise back to contender status.

Team Liquid’s Transition Period

One of the most shocking roster revamps over the player break was Team Liquid’s transition to a majority European roster. Not only that, they took a risk in signing the unproven Aleks “Rainwaker” Petrov alongside Team Spirit staple Rober “Patsi” Isyanov. The general consensus is that this Liquid lineup has the potential to be a much more aggressive team than the previous iteration.

Their debut at BLAST Fall Groups appeared incredibly promising. Liquid beat G2 Esports and FaZe Clan, two of the unchanged top tier rosters, to make the Group Final. Unfortunately for Liquid, they lost the rematch against FaZe, then failed to qualify after losing to Astralis in the last chance stage.

The potential is there, but as with most aggressive teams, Liquid may struggle with consistency. This is especially possible as they try and gel together as a new roster. Making a splash at IEM Cologne is a big chance for the team to earn back favor with fans. Ditching an NA roster as the last contending NA team is a bold move after all.

MOUZ’s Next Move

MOUZ went through a drastic couple of roster swaps during the player break. Despite being a reasonably strong team that even made a Grand Finals appearance at IEM Dallas in June, the org decided that Aussie in-game leader Christopher “dexter” Nong couldn’t lead the team any higher. They opted to bench him, picking up GamerLegion IGL Kamil “siuhy” Szkaradek.

Siuhy made a splash with GamerLegion at the BLAST Paris Major, leading his squad to the Grand Finals. It’s only natural that a performance like that would buy him a shot with a bigger organization like MOUZ. Both teams were international, so language issues should be non-existent as well.

The other change made to the roster was the benching of Jon “JDC” De Castro for MOUZ NXT academy player Jimi “Jimpphat” Salo. Jimpphat is just 16-years-old, making him the youngest player at IEM Cologne. MOUZ NXT was making waves in the tier two scene, recently besting 9INE, Endpoint, and Sprout’s main rosters in June.

MOUZ was a borderline top 10 team before these changes. The org must believe that this new iteration has an even higher ceiling, otherwise they wouldn’t have done it. Siuhy is the most important piece to this new puzzle. Sure, he had an incredible run at the Major, but that was only his second tier one event ever. As other top teams start to acknowledge you, it’ll only get harder to play your game. MOUZ will be hoping that he has what it takes to adapt and raise the team to new heights.

High Expectations for FURIA

FURIA’s acquisition of Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo is one that has shaken the Brazilian Counter-Strike world. For the past year, Brazil has had two teams competing consistently in tier one: FURIA and Imperial Esports, FalleN’s team. The question is, what happens when you combine Brazil’s most mechanically talented players with the best in-game leader and AWPer the nation has ever produced?

Make no mistake, FalleN is older now. He may not be the titan of AWPing that he was in his heyday. However, his IGL experience is invaluable to a team that has lacked concrete leadership and game planning. As long as he can keep up enough in the fragging department, this new-look FURIA should be an improvement over their faltering previous iteration.

FURIA has been one of the most aggressive teams in Counter-Strike, often to a fault as of recent. They tended to try and brute force their way into wins. When teams figured this out, the anti-stratting started affecting FURIA’s results. With FalleN now on the roster, FURIA should be better at figuring out what works and what doesn’t. This team is likely going to be Brazil’s biggest hope in years, and an impressive performance at IEM Cologne would mean an incredible amount.

The IEM Cologne 2023 Play-In Stage begins on July 26 at 8:30 A.M. ET. The initial matches are:

MOUZ vs The MongolZ

Into the Breach vs Ninjas in Pyjamas

Fnatic vs Complexity Gaming

OG vs 9INE

Apeks vs BIG

Astralis vs Team Liquid

Monte vs Imperial Esports

Grayhound Gaming vs FURIA Esports