Five key storylines of IEM Katowice
IEM Katowice begins tomorrow with the group stage, as 16 teams are getting ready to start the battle for $500,000. Here are our five biggest storylines going into the Polish event.
ESL's first big event of the year, IEM Katowice, will field 16 teams for the first time, with 12 of them coming to Poland directly from StarSeries, joined by NiP and North — who declined invitations for the Kiev tournament —, ORDER, and AVANGAR.
The $500,000 tournament will begin with a new format in the group stage, a GSL system adjusted for eight teams per group instead of four, with the teams placing first earning a direct ticket to the semi-finals, while second and third-placed teams will advance to quarter-finals.
|Group A||Group B|
Without further ado, here are our five key storylines going into IEM Katowice, taking place from February 27-March 4:
Can SK recover?
SK have been struggling for titles ever since their triumph at ESL Pro League Season 6 Finals; since then they missed ECS Season 4 Finals, had to play with João "felps" Vasconcellos at the Major, and finished only third at cs_summit, losing to both Liquid and Cloud9 there in relatively one-sided matches.
Now they find themselves going into IEM Katowice on the back of another disappointing run, a 5th-8th placing at StarSeries, where the Brazilians were once again bested by Liquid, albeit narrowly.
Given the lack of time between the Kiev tournament and IEM, Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo will have hardly been able to make big changes to SK's play, but those three days could be enough to make slight adjustments necessary on the maps they struggle with. Inferno has been a clear weakness for Marcelo "coldzera" David & co. for a while now, although they grabbed a couple of big wins on it in Kiev, against Cloud9 and more importantly Natus Vincere, so it might only be a question of stability.
Train is more of a question mark; SK never played it during StarSeries, partially because they preferred Inferno and partially due to Train being the decider in their 2-0 series against Cloud9 and Natus Vincere. Even more intriguing is that the Brazilian squad actively avoided Overpass, historically one of their best maps, versus the two aforementioned opponents, which could be a sign of a loss of confidence on that particular map.
Astralis, North & Virtus.pro are set to try again
Three new teams are ready to face their second test, as Astralis, North, and Virtus.pro have already made their debut this month with their new players. Although North were the only ones to change more than one player, their chances of improving upon their previous mistakes might be the best of the three, as they have had over two weeks to reflect on their short journey at cs_summit 2.
Astralis and Virtus.pro debuted at StarSeries and thus have had much less time than Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen's team to find the gaps and fix them. Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander's side fared well given the situation, having changed Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye for Emil "Magisk" Reif less than two weeks before the tournament. With a quarter-finals finish and a tight loss to a strong Na`Vi team powered by Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev, the Danes should be relatively happy with their first showing alongside Magisk.
The outlook is very different for the Poles, who decided to switch Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas for Michał "MICHU" Müller in early February to no avail thus far. In Kiev, Virtus.pro looked as disjointed and off their game as they had in recent times, with their new addition starting off well before dropping to below-average numbers as the tournament progressed, while Filip "NEO" Kubski and Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski disappeared completely. The shocking part about VP's poor run was that they nearly lost to by far the biggest underdog at the tournament, MVP PK, which would have been their biggest low to date.
Given the three teams' first results, it would seem Astralis have the edge right now and could very well keep it, especially with Nicolai "device" Reedtz looking much better than he had at the Major. North and Virtus.pro have yet to prove that the changes paid off — or that they at least weren't for the worse.
How will dennis change NiP?
Despite winning a title at IEM Oakland towards the end of 2017, NiP finished the year with a couple of group stage exits at BLAST Pro Series and ESL Pro League Season 6 Finals. That suggests that the two lineup adjustments they made throughout the year didn't change much; the Swedes were able to win titles every now and again, but not with the consistency necessary to become a top-five team.
Perhaps that is what led NiP to disrupt the three-man core that had stood since their creation back in 2012, removing Richard "Xizt" Landström to make room for an exciting addition in Dennis "dennis" Edman, who had been sitting on GODSENT's bench since November.
It is a no-brainer in terms of firepower, but the question is how their playstyle will change now that they've also replaced Björn "THREAT" Pers with Faruk "pita" Pita and dennis took over leadership, having had a few experiences from past teams such as fnatic. When their former coach entered the fray, he was able to reinvent the team with more structured play, but now they seem to be coming back to their roots; a more free-flowing, loose style.
IEM Katowice will certainly give us a few hints as to whether that is a good idea. As long as Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund performs, there should now be no weak links in the Swedish side, and that is already a good sign.
Cloud9 need a deep finish
By winning the Major, beating FaZe, SK (with felps), and G2, the American squad instantly became a huge contender. However, their results since have shown that their campaign in Boston may have been a one-off, especially as all five players were in fantastic shape, which is something you can't expect to happen often.
Cloud9 went on to lose the cs_summit 2 final to the debuting Liquid, although they added another win over SK (that time their full lineup) en route to the grand final. The big blow came at StarSeries last week, when Tarik "tarik" Celik's squad only beat Heroic and Virtus.pro to finish just outside of the playoffs.
It must be noted that they met three great teams on the way, FaZe, SK, and the eventual champions mousesports, but the issue is that the series against the first two mentioned were very one-sided and Cloud9 weren't able to close out Train versus mousesports. Only Timothy "autimatic" Ta truly showed up in Kiev, trying his best to keep his team alive in some of the losses, especially against Chris "chrisJ" de Jong & co., which is a stark contrast to the Major where everyone pulled their own weight.
Cloud9 need a good result in Poland to prove that StarSeries was only a stumble along the way, otherwise they could lose the confidence that stems from the Major triumph. Only three teams from their group will advance to playoffs, so making it there is no easy task, especially as Group A features the likes of SK, Liquid, and Astralis.
The eight-team GSL format will be in play for the first time
ESL came up with an adjustment to the GSL system and bring a new format into the discussion to combat the Swiss — which they also used first —, shortly after best-of-threes made their premier in the format frequently used in chess.
Their double-elimination format, which will also mostly feature best-of-threes (aside from the first round), pitted eight teams into each group with only three making it through to playoffs; the first-placed to semi-finals, and the second and third to quarter-finals.
Due to the criticism towards the Swiss, which has famously featured no seeding after the first round thus far and that often led to imperfect matchups later in the tournament, we may be looking at a format that will be used by other organizers in the future.