IEM Katowice preview
The final Intel Extreme Masters stop of the tenth season, IEM Katowice, starts in a little over 24 hours with 12 teams battling for a share of the $250,000+ prizepool. We have written up a preview which goes through each team's history, main storylines and their chances at the upcoming event.
IEM Katowice 2016 will kick off less than three days after the MLG Columbus 2016 main qualifier, which saw eight teams securing a place at the major, with some of the best teams in the world in attendance.
The tournament is beyond stacked: nine of the top-10 teams in the world per our ranking, E-frag.net (#17), Tempo Storm (#20) and TheMongolz (below top 20) will gather in Katowice to fight in two best-of-one, round-robin groups of six.
|Group A||Group B|
The winning team in each group will move directly to semi-finals, with second and third-placed teams fighting against each other in a cross-system in quarter-finals.
The first two days, which will be streamed only as the tournament area will be inaccessible to the general public, will see both groups played out. The competition will move on to the main stage with best-of-three quarter-finals and semi-finals on Friday, while the best-of-five grand final is reserved for Saturday.
Without further ado, let's dig into the 12 teams who will be present at IEM Katowice, to see what their recent history is like and what their chances are at the $250,000 event.
Starting off with the favourites of all favourites, fnatic have been largerly impressive ever since the addition of dennis late last year. Ever since late November, when they started their all-successful road at FACEIT Stage 3 Finals during DreamHack Winter, the Swedish squad won all five events they have attended.
That includes Fragbite Masters Season 5 Finals, where they first lost to Null element in the upper bracket final before they took revenge in the grand final, and ESL ESEA Pro League Season 2 Finals over Natus Vincere in the last month of 2015.
This year they attended two more events, SL i-League StarSeries XIV Finals in Minsk (once again winning over Natus Vincere in the grand final) and ESL Expo Barcelona (where they only lost one map to Envy), prolonging their victorious streak to five tournaments in a row.
The middle duo are significantly improving individually
After a hiccup at DreamHack Open Cluj-Napoca, olofmeister came back to his previous form and played an instrumental part in fnatic's success. At four out of five events he was the best-rated player of the winning team, with one exception in Fragbite Masters Finals, where he fell behind long-time teammate KRIMZ.
What's also important to note is dennis's rise after barely hitting average rating in 2015's last three events, as well as JW's, who seems to be getting out of the slump after going back to being fnatic's main AWPer.
It's absolutely undeniable that fnatic are ahead of everyone else by a mile, despite hiccups here and there at beginnings of events, at the moment, and are the biggest favourites going into IEM Katowice.
While it's quite obvious who the clear favourite is at the moment, the six-team group is bound to become a bit dangerous with how many other great teams are in attendance.
There are three teams in group A that could, and should, give the Swedes a run for their money, starting with Natus Vincere. They are sitting at second place in our ranking, deservedly, as they have been climbing up quickly alongside fnatic's new lineup, but could never overcome them.
Na`Vi brought up a star and have two threats in their midst now
However, flamie started stepping into the spotlight more often, putting up MVP-worthy performances at EEPL and DreamHack Open Leipzig. Zeus had an odd great performance at the latter as well, although I wouldn't read too much into it, seeing as it's one very good event in an ocean of red.
Natus Vincere have grown to be a double-threat with flamie stepping up, while previously the team relied purely on GuardiaN to put up superstar performances. If those two continue on the same path, it's only a matter of time before this team reaches first place at a super-stacked event such as this one.
I find myself sounding like a broken record at this point: Luminosity is another team who have been very consistent in the last three months. It is true though, group A has all three most quickly-improving teams, who often stood in each other's way at the last few events.
Let us look at the events these Brazilians have attended since adding fnx and TACO to their roster. They kicked the run off by placing second miraculously at FACEIT Stage 3 Finals, but couldn't replicate the same run at EEPL, as they met Na`Vi twice in their group for a chance to advance.
Group A features three teams that stood in each other's way many times before
Lastly, at DreamHack Open Leipzig they were on a collision course with their biggest rivals once again, but due to losing to FaZe they had to wait until the grand final. They got there after defeating SK in an unexpectedly close series, FaZe in a revenge match more than comfortably, and Astralis in semi-finals fairly convincingly. But flamie made damn sure to stop them from getting first place after two insanely close maps.
Needless to say, Luminosity have been "lucky" enough to meet Natus Vincere at nearly every event, which gave us the best and most exciting rivalry that provides with close matches every single time. And they will meet again. Maybe even more than once with this format.
MOUZ started this year with a new lineup, as Spiidi re-joined the team after Fatih "gob b" Dayik was shown the exit door. They showed promise at DreamHack Open Leipzig by thrashing Virtus.pro in the opener (although as it turned out Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski's form had a lot to do with it), and nearly taking down Astralis in the winners' match.
The keyword there is nearly, however, as they fell in overtime on de_overpass and ended up exiting the competition on home turf in group stage already, as they fell to the Dignitas roster, who were on the rise.
At Acer Predator Masters they were considered favourites from the start, so they merely confirmed that position despite some of the maps getting a bit closer than expected, namely in the LDLC White series at the start. There is not much to say about the main qualifier, which they passed after basically only one best-of-one over HellRaisers, which got very close.
nex has stepped up, albeit versus much poorer competition
Overall the roster seems to be working well despite critics not quite agreeing with NiKo calling, being the main star of the team at the same time. nex has now had two very good tournaments after a very poor one at Leipzig, but it needs to be pointed out that the competition was poor, at least compared to the insanity that is group A at Katowice.
That one will be very hard to pass and will certainly be a good test for MOUZ before the major, to see how far they need to go to be able to compete against the elite-level teams consistently.
It won't be easy on NiKo, who still has loads of pressure on him due to calling and having to frag well. He will need nex and chrisJ to be on their A game to relieve some of that pressure, if the team wants to at least have close games and a solid chance to advance.
A big storyline going into this event will be NIP's debut with the new roster. 2015 wasn't as bad for the old one as many people believe it to be, but the distinct lack of titles with Aleksi "allu" Jalli was too overwhelming.
It's safe to say allu wasn't the problem in NIP. It was widely expected for friberg to be cut after a poor year from him individually, but that didn't happen and instead, NIP are left without a truly dedicated AWPer.
In online matches it was expectedly f0rest who started picking up the big green much more often. It's quite early to tell just how much he will end up using it, but just to give you an idea what the difference is at the moment: in 2015, 15% of his frags were with the AWP, while so far in 2016, that number is sitting at 37%, almost 2.5 times more.
To what extent will THREAT be allowed to use his extensive knowledge?
You would expect that the lack in rifle kills coming from f0rest AWPing more will then have to come from the new addition, pyth, but he has been underwhelming in online matches to say the least, as he averages a 0.88 rating over 11 maps.
It's not only pyth who comes as a change to NIP however, as the addition of Björn "THREAT" Pers as coach and in-game leader has the potential of fixing one of the main issues of the old roster—strategy.
Even in Counter-Strike 1.6 we've known THREAT to be quite a strict in-game leader. How much will he be able to do that with the very individualistic team that NIP certainly is (or at least used to be)? That is something to look out for when watching NIP play in Katowice.
If I had to pick a dark horse at the tournament, it would be the new NIP. Not really because they gave me a good reason to with this roster, but mainly because teams have very little information on how the Swedes play right now, and because they have been known to surprise after long breaks. They will be hungry.
Last but not least in group A are a team that we have seen very little of, when it comes to international competition, also because of their unfortunate visa denial prior to MLG Columbus Main Qualifier.
The event in Columbus would have been a good way to assess TheMongolz's capabilities, which we don't know much about, as the only truly international event they have attended was IEM Taipei, the Asia Minor, thanks to which they earned a place at IEM Katowice.
There they only played Australian teams, one of which we have never seen outside of the region. The thrashing of Renegades in the grand final was impressive however, despite Chad "SPUNJ" Burchill's team's lack of improvement.
TheMongolz are looking to gather some much-needed experience
Machinegun seems to be the driving force behind TheMongolz, given that his largely impressive stats come mainly from regional competitions. He had very good showings even up against teams such as TYLOO, which means he didn't just pad his statistics against lesser teams in Asia.
The Mongols will have a tough time in IEM Katowice. There's little to no doubt that they won't even come close to at least the third spot in group A, but what's important for them here is the experience that will come from playing against some of the best in the world.
Group B is overall a group with much less promise of great matches than the other, mainly because of slumps of all elite-level teams in the group. Firstly, we have Envy, who have been looking shaky ever since after the last major.
In my opinion, a lot of it comes down to the improvement of other teams, especially group A's trio of threats, as well as Dignitas. At almost every single tournament Envy lost to one of them in the late stages.
EnVyUs are shaky, still a threat nevertheless
It's still obvious that the team was going through internal issues, which may or may not have been resolved by the change in leadership from Happy to NBK-. It doesn't seem to differ all too much in terms of results, maybe because they still haven't had enough time to adjust completely.
While NBK- doesn't seem to be too affected, Happy played better when calls were up to him, right now he's up and down and most of the heavy-lifting is done by kennyS. apEX's inconsistency seems to relate to Envy's directly, when he goes off the team rarely loses, but it goes both ways. It doesn't just rely on him though, kioShiMa's record in 2016 is alarming, quite literally.
Another team that hasn't been living up to fans' expectations lately is Astralis. The Danes started the year off in the group of death at SL i-League StarSeries XIV Finals, where they only defeated ex-Titan.
Astralis aren't improving at the same pace as other teams
At ESL Expo Barcelona Astralis exchanged two maps with G2 and entered danger zones twice with Dignitas, but managed to come back from two big deficits. They managed to avoid playing fnatic until the very end, where they were even favoured at multiple points over two maps, but couldn't close it out.
It seems to me that Astralis hasn't necessarily gotten worse, they just aren't accelerating, definitely not quickly enough. Natus Vincere have already surpassed them, Luminosity are well on their way and now there's Dignitas closing in too.
Their problem at this tournament is that the groups should go fairly well for them, but the real test will come in the first match in playoffs, where they'll most likely meet fnatic, Natus Vincere or Luminosity—all match-ups they aren't favoured going into.
If I felt like a broken record going over group A teams' fantastic results, I don't know what it is I'm feeling right now. What Virtus.pro is going through can't even be defined as a slump anymore, it's closer to hell.
After a solid end of the year at FACEIT Stage 3 Finals and a long hiatus, TaZ and company went to DreamHack Open Leipzig in January, where they finished in last place following a one-sided de_dust2 with MOUZ and an incredibly close finish to the series with Dignitas.
As if that wasn't enough, they went back home to start what has become arguably one of the worst streaks in history of elite-level teams. Out of 12 matches in ESL Pro League, the Poles only won a single one, in overtime versus Envy, where TaZ had to pull miraculous plays out of the hat to even get the game out of regulation.
NEO has been Virtus.pro's only solid player so far this year
They lost the other map to the Frenchmen, as well as both maps to each of FaZe, Dignitas, Natus Vincere and Astralis for a 1-11 record in the league. That surely means there is no way they can advance to the $500,000 Season 3 Finals.
Only NEO managed to stay consistently solid throughout their matches, as he only had one truly bad game. Everyone else fell below a 0.9 rating on average, including Snax, who put in his worst performance ever in Leipzig.
I don't know what can get Virtus.pro out of this if not a competition on home soil. The problem is that even if there is such a thing as getting fired up by the crowd, they will not get one until playoffs come around.
At SL i-League StarSeries XIV Finals the team looked particularly shaky at the beginning, as the Brazilians blew them out of the water and CyberZen then took them to a very close series.
They somewhat made up for it by taking Natus Vincere to their limit in the decider, before fnatic stomped FaZe (back then still known as G2) in the quarter-finals, only dropping 10 rounds in total over two maps.
RobbaN is FaZe's new coach
At the other event, DreamHack Open Leipzig, the individual results were completely flipped aizy and company started out by defeating Luminosity quite comfortably before dropping back to them after a similar result versus Natus Vincere. In the decider, they got stomped by the Brazilians to exit in 5th-6th once again.
FaZe have gone through a change that could be significant, as Robert "RobbaN" Dahlström came into the team to coach them. Due to FaZe's issues, I would assume he will be calling, which has worked well for them before. However, there is no way of knowing how it will go without actually watching their games first. We'll have to see.
Due to Simeon "dream3r" Ganev being VAC-banned, E-frag.net will have to attend another event with pNshr in his stead. dream3r hasn't had the same effect as in 2015 however—he dropped below 1.00 in 2016's matches—, which makes him easier to replace.
E-frag.net have attended two events this year as well, both of which with much poorer competition overall than what they'll face in group B. With pNshr they finished in second place at the PGL Minor after a three-map series with HellRaisers.
pNshr will stand in for E-frag.net once more
Losing to Ancient in the Last-Chance qualifier meant they wouldn't get a chance at qualifying for the major, which made the loss at PGL sting some more.
That record doesn't sound bad, but it has to be much better for a competition of this stature. The matches will be hard no matter who they meet in the group.
As the last team we have Tempo Storm, who didn't quite live up to fans' and many critics' expectations at the main qualifier only two days ago.
After destroying domestic competition in North America on multiple occasions, especially the Katowice qualifier, the Brazilians had high hopes of qualifying for MLG Columbus.
Their first couple of matches went very well, they already showed promise by giving G2 a run for their money on de_dust2 and thrashing Selfless in the elimination match. When it came to the decider however, Tempo Storm had to endure a spanking by FlipSid3, who dropped five rounds on each map only.
hen1 and all of TS didn't live up to expectations at the qualifier
What came as a small surprise was that the team's best player at the qualifier wasn't HEN1, who didn't play bad, just not amazingly as many expected, it was boltz, who was part of Luminosity before he and Lucas "steel" Lopes got dropped.
All in all the team is mostly looking to gain some more experience, which they will certainly get by playing three elite-level teams and another from the top 10. I wouldn't count them out completely, as I don't think they showed what they can really do, but on paper they should be looking at fifth place at best.