The Biggest CS:GO Stories Coming out of IEM Katowice
There was no roar of the crowd, no falling confetti, and no dramatic trophy lift to end IEM Katowice. Despite the lack of pageantry, there was no shortage of playmaking nor exciting stories. To finish out the first massive CS:GO tournament of the year, Gambit completely cast off their former Youngsters title in a 3-1 defeat over a red hot Virtus.pro.
Katowice was the first stop on the long road to the returning major in Stockholm in October. If the IEM World Championship is any indicator, the road will be filled with twists and turns with plenty of amazing things to see. At Katowice, we saw the rise of a region, a continued resurgence of 2019’s best team, and a few other teams end up on the hot seat.
Let’s begin with the stars of the show; the CIS region.
The CIS Showcase
It’s been a few years since an entire specific region seemingly dominated the competitive CS:GO landscape. In the first couple years of CS:GO’s history it was Sweden, when the legendary Fnatic and NiP rosters were duking it out in nearly every significant grand finals. As the years progressed, the title of top team would bounce between regions, from France to Brazil to Denmark and such.
Through it all, the CIS region always had a lone mainstay in the top-tier via Natus Vincere. Even prior to acquiring Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, Na’Vi has been a competitive fixture in CS:GO for years. In 2017, another CIS squad in Gambit joined them in the upper global echelon. They reached the playoffs of the ELEAGUE Atlanta major then miraculously won PGL Krakow. Unfortunately, the team fell apart weeks after their crowning achievement when Danylo Ihorovych “Zeus” Teslenko returned to Na’Vi. Gambit would slowly slip down the ranks over the next couple years, before the organization benched their entire roster in May 2019.
Almost two years later, Gambit has ascended back up the mountaintop once again, albeit with an almost entirely new roster. After a promising stint as the organization’s academy team, the Youngsters were all promoted to the main roster in October 2020. Since then they dominated their region across several smaller events, and at IEM Katowice, they made a lasting global impression.
Gambit propelled to a No.4 spot on HLTV on the shoulders of a three-headed juggernaut (sorry Complexity). Dmitry ‘sh1ro’ Sokolov, Abay ‘Hobbit’ Khasenov, and Sergey ‘Ax1Le’ Rykhtorov produced massively across the entire event. sh1ro earned MVP honors for the whole tournament, and has ascended to the superstar realm. Now with targets on their back, it’ll be even more interesting to watch them going forward.
Gambit were only one of four teams from the CIS region to make the six-team playoff. Three of those teams came via the Play-in stage. Spirit may have stumbled in the semifinal, but their wins against BIG, G2, Heroic, and especially Astralis were impressive none-the-less. Virtus.pro arrived in the Katowice servers with a lot of momentum, and their opponents kept checking their watches only to realize it’s always Jame time. VP looked like their former AVANGAR selves during their Berlin major run. While the result was the same at Katowice, they look like a team that will certainly make more finals.
As mentioned above, only two teams not from the CIS region even made playoffs, and only one of them made the semifinals. Let’s talk Liquid.
Team Liquid have got it going on
The focus of fans, analysts, and commentators may have been on the CIS region, but Liquid’s impressive performance deserves discussion. After advancing through the IEM Katowice play-in stage, Liquid got revenge from BLAST against Twistzz and FaZe Clan, then dispatched two top-five ranked teams to win out their group.
Jonathan ‘EliGE’ Jablonowski reminded us he’s a world-class rifler. 73 kills over three maps against Vitality, then 80 kills over three maps against Na’Vi. In a series where statistically almost everyone on Na’Vi was out fragging Liquid, his clutch performances were pivotal. The same clutch standard can be applied to Michael ‘Grim’ Wince, whose pit holds in overtime on Inferno pushed Liquid across the finish line versus Na’Vi.
Most astonishingly of all, Liquid’s decision to put Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo on the AWP and move Keith ‘NAF’ Markovic to rifler is looking like a galaxy-brain move. In just their first three events since, FalleN looks tremendous on the sniper, and was a driving force for Liquid in their wins over FaZe and Vitality. NAF somehow looks better on the rifle than he did on the AWP, and he was really good on the AWP.
In just two of their first three events, they reached the semifinals of a prestigious tournament with a stacked field. If their trajectory continues to trend upward, they’ll be back to their winning ways soon enough.
The post-IEM Katowice hot seat and question marks
The results of IEM Katowice are going to force some teams to ask and answer tough questions. Others are going to feel pressure to make moves, and some serious moves have already been made.
G2 Esports announced on March 4 that they would be moving Nikola “NiKo” Kovač to a rifler/AWPer hybrid role. This means back Audric “JaCkz” Jug back to the starting lineup, and moving on from AWPer Kenny “kennyS” Schrub. kennyS, while a legendary name in CS, has been marred by inconsistency since NiKo joined. No one’s expecting G2 to come out and dominate at ESL Pro League Season 13. But if this change doesn’t work either, more roster moves are inevitable.
Before Katowice even ended, OG moved Nathan “NBK-” Schmitt to the bench. Give OG credit; they gave their first lineup a whole year to break into the upper echelon of CS. While they flirted around the top tier, they never had their definite breakthrough. And all they have to show for it is a vicious clapback by someone who plays VALORANT now. After an entire year with no trophies, it’s vital that OG nail their new signing.
It’s only a small two-event sample size, but Vitality hasn’t looked this shaky in a while. IGL Dan “apEX” Madesclaire’s break from play lasted not even two weeks, and his return didn’t help the team all that much. It’s worth pointing out that Vitality’s 2020 started slowly as well, and they would eventually string together some great results late in the year. But when you have the world’s best player, you shouldn’t spend most of the year struggling. Keep an eye on them.
Looking ahead to ESL Pro League
The month of March will be dominated by ESL Pro League play, and there’s a lot to keep tabs on after IEM Katowice.
Group A is anyone’s game between BIG, Heroic, Complexity, OG, Renegades, and FPX. Almost every team in Group B except for Vitality have made a recent change: G2, mousesports, FaZe, NiP, and ENCE. If Vitality are looking for a group to feast on to restore confidence, this will do nicely.
Group C should be dominated by Natus Vincere and Gambit. Somehow all three Brazilian teams in MiBR, Team One, and FURIA ended up in this group, as well as Cloud9. Group D stands for Group of Death, as it features Astralis, Liquid, Virtus.pro, and Evil Geniuses. Good luck Fnatic and Endpoint, you’ll need it.