IEM Katowice preview
IEM Katowice, where 12 teams will lock horns for $250,000, will kick off on March 1 with the round-robin group stage. We have put together a preview where we take a look at each team and analyze their form and chances in Katowice.
Intel Extreme Masters Season 11's last event, IEM Katowice, will follow in the footsteps of the last several IEM events, as it features 12 teams of which nine are in the top10 of our Team Ranking.
Once again, those 12 will battle in two round-robin groups of six, each offering three spots in the playoffs; a semi-finals spot for the team that wins their group and two quarter-finals spots for second and third placed teams.
Here are the groups:
|Group A||Group B|
The first two days, March 1-2, are reserved for the group stage played off-stage and the iconic Spodek Arena will play host to the playoffs on the following three days. Head over to our viewer's guide for the full schedule and other information you need to know about IEM Katowice.
Without further ado, let's delve into the 12 teams who will battle in Katowice, Poland. This time we have distributed the teams into the following three groups - The Big Three (Astralis, Virtus.pro, and SK), The Contenders, and The Underdogs.
* Ratings used in the article are from the past three months on LAN
The Big Three
|Nicolai "device" Reedtz||21||1.24|
|Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye||18||1.14|
|Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen||23||1.09|
|Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth||21||1.07|
|Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander||21||0.97|
|Danny "zonic" Sørensen (coach)|
We kick it off with Astralis, who have made top four at each of the five events they attended ever since adding new in-game leader gla1ve in October, including two titles at the ELEAGUE Major and ECS Season 2 Finals.
With their win over Virtus.pro at the Major and the Poles taking revenge in dominating fashion just last week at DreamHack Masters Las Vegas, a new rivalry was created that is waiting for new chapters. Another is likely to be written at IEM Katowice, where both teams are all but confirmed to make playoffs from their respective groups.
Apart from VP, SK make for another formidable opponent after what we've seen from them at DreamHack Masters. There are a few more teams that could threaten Astralis in a series, namely Natus Vincere and North.
Astralis have the easier group, but all the more pressure to place first
All four aforementioned teams are in Group B, which will pressure Astralis to place first in their group so that they can skip a tough quarter-final. The Danes have proven successful in best-of-one's over the last four months, with the exception of one stumble against GODSENT at the Major, so the only match-up I'd be worried about is the Nikola "NiKo" Kovač-infused FaZe who pack immense upset potential.
A big help in any of the match-ups will be Astralis' wide map pool, which was somewhat in question with the addition of Inferno, but they've since proved that they are able to play the new map as well. Only Cobblestone remains as the map they consistently avoid after trying it out a couple of times in December with no success, so they can make sure they only play their best maps in the groups.
All in all, being one of the Big Three, Astralis can reach the very top in Katowice, but it won't be an easy route with several other teams being capable of taking the Danes to a tough series.
|Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski||23||1.20|
|Paweł "byali" Bieliński||22||1.08|
|Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski||28||1.07|
|Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas||30||1.06|
|Filip "NEO" Kubski||29||1.01|
|Jakub "kuben" Gurczynski (coach)|
While Astralis traveled the world picking up a couple of titles shortly after their change, Virtus.pro took things more slowly at the brink of 2016 and 2017, as they disappointed at ELEAGUE Season 2 and WESG.
Nevertheless, they picked up the pace in time for the Major, where they clinched second place due to dropping a 13-7 lead on the CT side of Train, the decider of the grand final against the aforementioned Danes. Following Kjaerbye's remarks that his team underperformed in the grand final despite the win, TaZ promised to crush Astralis at the next event.
VP did just that at DreamHack Masters Las Vegas, passing Kjaerbye & co. without breaking much of a sweat on two of the three maps, Nuke and Train, and went on to take down SK in the final for their first big title in over six months.
The Poles haven't had this good of a chance to please their home crowd in years
With that, the Big Three was formed, as Astralis and Virtus.pro are within five points from each other in our ranking and SK aren't too far behind in third place, while teams from number four downwards have a lot of catching up to do.
Placing second at the Major and first at the latest big event in Las Vegas, the Poles are in a great place just in time for their home event at the Spodek Arena, where they picked up their first victory at the second-ever Major, EMS One Katowice in 2014. The home crowd will sing as one once again, provided VIR-TUS-PRO make playoffs from Group B.
That in itself is a hard task, as their group is packed with three other top-five teams. However, TaZ's side have the comfort of not being affected by the latest change of maps as they used to avoid Dust2 anyway, while four of the six teams in Group B were forced to adjust. Once Virtus.pro pass the dangerous best-of-one stage, they'll have a high chance of picking up their second consecutive title to overtake Astralis in the ranking.
|Marcelo "coldzera" David||22||1.24|
|Fernando "fer" Alvarenga||25||1.10|
|João "felps" Vasconcellos||20||1.02|
|Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo||25||0.98|
|Epitacio "TACO" de Melo||22||0.90|
Throughout Astralis' rise, SK went through an adjustment period when Lincoln "fnx" Lau was released from the roster and the Brazilians used Ricardo "fox" Pacheco at ECS Season 2 Finals and the ELEAGUE Major, unable to bring felps on board sooner due to Valve's roster rules.
Despite the unfavorable situation, FalleN's squad continued their fantastic streak of top four finishes (dating back to May 2016 if we disregard ELEAGUE disqualifying SK from Season 1), finishing 3rd-4th at the aforementioned two events.
The acquisition of felps raised questions as to how the team would change up their style after packing another highly aggressive player to go alongside fer. During SK's incredible showing at DreamHack Masters Las Vegas, where they took VP to their limit in the grand final, we got a few answers.
FalleN took a step back to empower felps
It seems FalleN took a step back and gave felps a lot of room to find plays and open up rounds in return. The AWPer was involved in the fewest opening duels from his team in Las Vegas (0.11 opening kills + opening deaths vs. 0.21 on average on LAN in 2016), while felps' aggression awarded him second place in his team in that regard (0.27 opening kills + opening deaths).
fer played a huge part in SK's success at DreamHack Masters alongside regular high-level contributor coldzera, so it will be interesting to see whether he can keep up that level of play at IEM Katowice.
|Emil "Magisk" Reif||18||1.14|
|Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke||19||1.07|
|René "cajunb" Borg||27||1.03|
|Philip "aizy" Aistrup||20||0.98|
|Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen||22||0.79|
|Casper "ruggah" Due (coach)|
Similarly to when Nuke came out and the then-dignitas quickly included it in their map pool, MSL's five wasn't afraid of playing Inferno early on as well as in the playoffs.
North can't afford to stumble to advance from groups
Given how North's map pool looks at the moment, featuring five good maps and some experience on Inferno, they should have a leg up in vetoes during IEM Katowice's group stage, where they'll face several teams who have yet to play the new map for the first time.
Even with that advantage, the group will be tough as it packs four teams who should make playoffs on paper, but there are only three spots up for grabs. Practically every match in that group will be an important one, and the Danes can't afford to start slow as they have in the past.
|Natus Vincere (#5)||Age||Rating|
|Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev||19||1.13|
|Egor "flamie" Vasilyev||19||1.12|
|Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács||25||1.01|
|Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev||29||1.01|
|Denis "seized" Kostin||22||0.92|
|Sergey "starix" Ischuk (coach)|
Natus Vincere are looking to improve on their results from the past several months, when they failed to pass group stages at two consecutive events before 2016 came to a close.
Na`Vi already showed some of what they can have in store if all goes well in groups at the Major, but they still have yet to win a best-of-three series against the other top-five teams in the last four months.
Like I highlighted in the What we learned from DreamHack Masters Las Vegas, the roster is facing internal issues more than anything else, and those could lead to lineup changes if Natus Vincere don't start placing high soon.
The pressure is on
That begins with IEM Katowice, where they're up against several great teams already in groups. On the plus side, seized's five has had a pretty good track record in best-of-one's since the Christmas to early January break, barring a breakdown against mousesports in Vegas.
The fact that Na`Vi vetoed Inferno each time in Vegas implies they have no intention of playing it this soon, unless they put work into it in the past week. That might not matter in groups in Poland — even though it's always good to have more options —, but it will definitely play its part in series if the Ukraine-based team get there.
|William "RUSH" Wierzba||22||1.12|
|Keith "NAF" Markovic||19||1.04|
|Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas||21||1.00|
|Tarik "tarik" Celik||21||0.97|
|Spencer "Hiko" Martin||26||0.77|
|Luis "peacemaker" Tadeu (coach)|
OpTic are another team who made changes just before Las Vegas due to the departure of Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz to Liquid, whose shoes were filled by Hiko on a trial basis while Luis "peacemaker" Tadeu joined as coach.
Hiko's debut with OpTic didn't go well
However, a lot will have to go right for OpTic for them to advance anyway, and the best case they have based on their performance at DreamHack Masters is barely scraping through in third place.
The focus is, of course, on none other than Hiko, who is only trying out for the time being and as such has a lot of pressure on his shoulders to perform, as well as NAF who took over leadership upon the previous IGL's departure.
|Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg||28||1.13|
|Adam "friberg" Friberg||25||1.12|
|Richard "Xizt" Landström||26||1.01|
|Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi||23||1.01|
|Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund||26||0.92|
|Björn "THREAT" Pers (coach)|
NIP continue their disappointing series of events with a quarter-final finish at DreamHack Masters Las Vegas. That was their second best-of-three loss to Astralis after the Danes broke through NIP's magic after about 14 months at ELEAGUE Season 2, but this time it was a bashing.
The Swedes took a huge gamble in the veto, banning Overpass instead of Mirage (perhaps because of their loss to Cloud9 earlier) and picking Inferno, which horribly backfired as Astralis only let go of 13 rounds over the two maps.
How much confidence did NiP lose during their losing streak?
Based on that veto, NIP weren't at all confident on Nuke anymore for seemingly no reason, because they used to be great on it in the last quarter of 2016. That begs the question whether their confidence overall has dipped so low that they need to take gambles like that to get an edge.
The NIP of November would have advanced from this group, but there is no evidence of that version existing at the moment. Nevertheless, it will also depend on their opponents; Astralis are clearly favored, FaZe should also do well, but the third spot could go either way between the rest.
|Nikola "NiKo" Kovač||20||1.13|
|Aleksi "allu" Jalli||24||1.12|
|Håvard "rain" Nygaard||22||1.01|
|Fabien "kioShiMa" Fiey||22||1.01|
|Finn "karrigan" Andersen||26||0.92|
|Robert "RobbaN" Dahlström (coach)|
Before the transfer could happen, karrigan called on Joakim "jkaem" Myrbostad to stand-in for the team in Vegas, and the European squad finished below the top eight with losses to mousesports and Natus Vincere.
On paper, the new FaZe should be the second strongest of the group. Although it's never a given that the two parties will adjust this quickly before a tournament (less than a week), everyone knows what NiKo can do and it's obvious karrigan will want to use that power as much as possible.
Where can NiKo push FaZe?
We'll have to wait and see how it works, but there's no denying that this FaZe lineup is packed with a lot of skill and have the potential to turn up the heat right from the beginning.
|Jesper "JW" Wecksell||22||1.01|
|Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer||25||0.98|
|Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson||22||0.98|
|Robin "flusha" Rönnquist||23||0.96|
|Dennis "dennis" Edman||26||0.81|
|Jimmy "Jumpy" Berndtsson (coach)|
The Swedish reunion was yet another big story of February, as the early to mid-2016 fnatic lineup came back together after struggling ever since they split up in July.
Their debut at DreamHack Masters didn't go very well when their attempt to play Inferno against Gambit backfired and the Swedes met Virtus.pro in the group's decider that went the Poles way convincingly.
There isn't much to say about the squad other than that it's not working out as intended so far. They need the individual players to perform with their loose style, but none of them showed up on form in Las Vegas.
fnatic's players all need to step up if the new-old project is to succeed
olofmeister sparked hopes in fnatic's fans with his bashing of Misfits in the elimination match, but that was just about all the good news they got last week. In their era, fnatic were all about confidence, but there isn't going to be much of that after their awful debut.
|Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham||23||1.13|
|Jake "Stewie2K" Yip||19||1.12|
|Timothy "autimatic" Ta||20||1.01|
|Mike "shroud" Grzesiek||22||1.01|
|Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert||26||0.92|
|Soham "valens" Chowdhury (coach)|
Cloud9 took an extended break after the eight events they attended in a row at the end of 2016, with the only high point throughout those two months being their win at ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals.
From there on, they failed to make it past groups at three events and ended the year with a disappointing showing at the Main Qualifier, after which they had two months off.
That break didn't do them too much good with another group stage exit at DreamHack Masters, but at least they had a very close series with NIP in the decider after beating them on Overpass in the initial round.
Cloud9's two-month break didn't pay off so far
A good sign is Skadoodle coming back to form after a series of poor events, ironically around the time when Cloud9 were at their best, as well as Stewie2K's tweet that followed their loss to the Swedes in Vegas.
How much good that will do them in a group full of teams that are at this point considered better than Cloud9, we will see, but I wouldn't count the Americans out completely if autimatic goes back to the level he was at at the end of the year. In a round-robin, a couple of wins could be enough if more upsets happen.
|Valdemar "valde" Bjørn Vangså||21||1.17|
|Nikolaj "niko" Kristensen||18||1.15|
|Andreas "MODDII" Fridh||27||1.10|
|Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer||26||1.03|
|Jakob "JUGi" Hansen||19||N/A|
That is their second roster in change in about four months, as in October Heroic acquired the services of niko, also a former player of Tricked. With him putting up good numbers, the squad attended three events and secured semi-final finishes at Northern Arena Montreal and DreamHack Leipzig.
Heroic are looking to test JUGi among top-tier competition
The new lineup will now take on another hard group at IEM Katowice. Their chances of advancing are slim to say the least, but they'll be able to test JUGi against top-tier competition and get some more much-needed experience with him.
|Henrique "HEN1" Teles||21||1.05|
|Ricardo "boltz" Prass||19||1.01|
|Lucas "LUCAS1" Teles||21||1.00|
|Lucas "steel" Lopes||23||0.92|
|Lincoln "fnx" Lau||27||0.81|
|Rafael "zakk" Fernandes (coach)|
Immortals could take some of the underperforming teams by surprise
How they'll be able to deal with losing their best player against some of the best teams in the world is another story entirely, but they were lucky enough to be placed in the much less scary group.
A win here or there isn't out of the question when it comes to Immortals, especially with the level we saw from fnatic, NIP, and OpTic just last week. They'd probably need to beat all three to go through to playoffs, which doesn't seem likely, but even two could be enough with the round-robin playing out the right way.
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