Five key storylines of IEM Chicago
We take a look at some of the storylines heading into IEM Chicago as the tournament in Illinois is set to kick off, with 16 teams ready to fight for their share of the $250,000 prize pool.
Chicago takes the baton from the Bay Area as the new venue for IEM in North America. The group stage and the first round of the playoffs will take place from November 6-9 behind closed doors before the action moves to the Wintrust Arena for the last two days of play, with the tournament concluding with a best-of-five grand final.
The event in Chicago is stacked, with nine of the top 10 teams in the world in attendance, something that has become somewhat rare in recent times as there have been LAN tournaments running at concurrently. Some lower-tier teams from the online qualifiers, such as MVP PK, LDLC, Luminosity, and eUnited, will help keep the team list fresh and can give us a slew of new match-ups between sides who have not faced each other before.
With a new player-based seeding system, in which teams are asked to seed their rivals ahead of the tournament, in place, here are the groups for IEM Chicago:
For more information about the seeding, check out our article explaining it, as well as the talent list to know who will be bringing the action live. With that out of the way, let’s dig into the five key storylines of IEM Chicago.
Will Astralis bounce back after BLAST, can Na`Vi show consistency in Chicago, or is it FaZe who will repeat their EPICENTER performance?
The top team in the world, Astralis, showed signs of weakness in the best-of-one round-robin group stage of BLAST Pro Series in their home country of Denmark. There, the Danes were unable to make the tournament’s grand final after best-of-one losses to NIP and Natus Vincere, the two teams who eventually fought for the lion’s share of the $250,000 prize pool. Heading into a tournament like IEM Chicago, where there will be a double-elimination group stage with mostly best-of-three matches (the exception being the opening matches), Astralis should feel confident that they can use the strength of their map pool to assert their dominance in a way they couldn’t at BLAST Pro Series. Despite their slip-up, there is no doubt that they are the favorites to hoist the IEM trophy.
Natus Vincere are flying high and will land in the Windy City after stealing the victory in Denmark from under Astralis’ noses. Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev and Denis "electroNic" Sharipov keep showing they are an absolutely formidable duo, with both players ending the event in Copenhagen with the highest ratings, 1.43 and 1.32, respectively. If the rest of the team is once again able to keep up, the current No.2 team in the world should be able to prove an opponent who will be fighting for nothing less than the title. The big question is whether the CIS side will be able to remain consistent after previously going through a dry spell following their title at ESL One Cologne.
The last team to join the possible title contenders storyline is FaZe. The European super team had seemingly fallen out of grace, but at EPICENTER they showed that they can still take on the best, beating NIP, Liquid, and Natus Vincere in the playoffs without dropping a map on their way to hoisting the trophy. After launching themselves back into the top 5 in the world, it remains to be seen if FaZe will be able to rise back up like a phoenix, taking on the top echelons of the CS:GO world ranking, or if they will crumble under pressure. Amidst a lot of debate regarding Finn "karrigan" Andersen and his future in the squad, another good showing from the Dane like the one in Moscow - where he had his first above-average tournament rating since IEM Sydney - could go a long way towards helping FaZe make a deep run in Chicago and guaranteeing his spot on the roster for the rest of the season.
Are Liquid, mousesports, and MIBR title contenders?
Liquid fell out of the top 5 in the world rankings in April, when Epitacio "TACO" de Melo joined the team, and slowly ground their way to becoming a very solid top 3 team after a great run late last season in which they made it to three grand finals, at the ESL Pro League Season 7 Finals, ECS Season 5 Finals, and ELEAGUE Premier CS:GO 2018 — plus a top-four finish at ESL One Belo Horizonte. After that, at the beginning of the current season, Liquid played amazingly at the Major, prompting several of the analysts to slate them as possible winners of the tournament. When they went out to Astralis in the semi-finals, no-one thought twice of it, but Liquid remain unable to seal the deal and take home a trophy, increasing doubt about this lineup's ability to get rid of their curse and win a title—especially after they failed to close out the ESL One New York bout against MOUZ.
This MOUZ lineup is the only one in this group of teams that has tasted victory at a Big Event with this constellation of players. That was before Martin "STYKO" Styk was shown the door to make place for Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski, however, a move that has since been reverted to bring the Slovakian player back into the German organization’s starting five. Chicago will be a proving ground as European combine will have to show that they still have what it takes to make it deep in a stacked tournament where they could end up facing rivals like Astralis, Natus Vincere, or Liquid. For that to happen, old synergies between the players will have to be put in place and the stars will need to shine once again. Whether that is possible remains to be seen, but if it does happen, there is no doubt that mouz will once again be considered a team fighting to go all the way.
MIBR seemed like they were going uphill early in the season. They started with a quarter-final run at DreamHack Masters and followed it up with a semi-final appearance at an even bigger event, the FACEIT Major in London. The Brazilian team then went to BLAST Pro Series in Istanbul and got an even better finish, once again, ending up second after losing only two matches to Astralis, one in the round-robin stage and the grand final. Despite competition there not being the toughest, it looked like MIBR could be on to something, but that vanished as they lost five straight maps at BLAST Pro Series Copenhagen to go out in last place. As MIBR try to erase last week from memory, the tournament in Chicago will be a good way to assess the team's current moment. They are the third seed in Group A and will have to face some stiff opposition if they want to not only go far in the tournament, but also secure a spot in the playoffs. After an abysmal result in Copenhagen, a good showing this week will be crucial for the team to remain in stable condition.
Plenty of possible dark horses among the rest of top 10 teams
NRG travel to Chicago straight out of a win at cs_summit 3, where they consolidated themselves as a title contender at medium events after previously lifting the trophy at IEM Shanghai, earlier in the year. The North American side with a Bulgarian AWPer had had a disappointing start to the season with a bottom-place finish at DreamHack Masters, but were able to make the playoffs at ESL One New York, and, despite failing to win StarSeries i-League Season 6, they were able to prove that, when things work out, they can put in a solid display and be a pain for any team. In Chicago, NRG will once again have a chance to prove themselves against stiffer opposition, and with confidence running high after cs_summit 3, the American side could prove to be a hard nut to crack—especially for the struggling Group A third seed, MIBR.
BIG have been hit or miss at tournaments since they exploded onto everyone’s radar with a second-place finish at ESL One Cologne. They were able to make Legends at the Major, but then struggled at StarSeries, going out in the quarter-finals after losing to the eventual champions, ENCE. Most recently, BIG got a top-four finish at cs_summit 3, where they were outclassed in the consolidation final by OpTic, a team they had beaten earlier in the tournament. A middle-of-the-road seed in Group B, BIG will not be fancying their playoff chances in Chicago, but a slip-up from the likes of MOUZ could allow them to slide through - provided that Johannes "tabseN" Wodarz is not the only player on the team hitting his shots, which was the case last weekend.
As a top 10 side, North are the standout name on the list of qualified teams. At DreamHack Valencia and Dreamhack Stockholm, North took big victories, but a Major disappointment caused a leadership change as Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen was removed from his position. Since Casper "cadiaN" Møller took the reins, North have only attended StarSeries, where the Danes were unable to make it past the quarter-finals after losing to NRG on two maps, a poor result for a team hoping to go deeper at an event of this size. Having had some more time to grease the engine, it’s now up to North to show where exactly they land in the CS landscape and whether they are a team with real upset potential.
Do the qualified teams have any real upset potential?
The strongest team to have made it through the qualifiers—without counting the aforementioned North—is AVANGAR, the Kazakh-Russian team that has been making the rounds as of late to climb all the way up to 15th in the ranking before IEM Chicago. AVANGAR won the MSI MGA Finals, the side show tournament at ESL One New York, earlier in the season after beating eUnited, Movistar Riders and Complexity, and then followed it up with a quarter-final run at EPICENTER 2018 with victories over NIP and HellRaisers. Even in their loss to Natus Vincere, AVANGAR showed some grit, and they could possibly be one of the teams to pull off an upset in the group stage in Chicago, should they be able to replicate the form they have been in as of late.
LDLC, eUnited, and MVP PK are almost unproven at this level, at least offline. The European side’s biggest achievement is winning the ESL Pro European Championship after overcoming a one-map deficit in the best-of-five grand final against AGO. Other than that, LDLC have proven online they can take on the best, trading maps in ECS Season 6 with FaZe, fnatic, Astralis, and MOUZ, but that all goes out the window at a tournament like the one they are about to play. eUnited will be hoping that Pujan "FNS" Mehta's addition will help to revitalise the team, but their chances in Chicago do not look very good, especially if we consider that Skyler "Relyks" Weaver is living on borrowed time as Austin "Cooper" Abadir will be joining the team in approximately two weeks. MVP PK looked in great form at the recent eXTREMESLAND 2018 Asia Finals, a result that needs to be put into context as TYLOO were nowhere to be seen, and will be hoping to build on their semi-final run at the ZOTAC Cup Masters Grand Finals, where they beat Virtus.pro before losing to MIBR 0-2.
The last time we saw Luminosity was at DreamHack Montreal, where they went out in the group stage after losing their decider to Imperial. The Brazilians have been struggling for form online and are close to the foot of the table in both ECS and in the ESL Pro League, and while they may fare better on LAN than online, it’s hard to believe they can be good enough to be considered real opposition against some of the best teams in the world.
How will fnatic's and Renegades’ lineups perform at a Big Event?
IEM Chicago will be the first time that we will see fnatic in action on LAN since they signed Ludvig "Brollan" Brolin and Simon "twist" Eliasson from Red Reserve. This fnatic core was last seen at ESL One New York, with William "draken" Sundin still on the team and Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom jumping on board for a one-tournament deal. Now, the hopes of fnatic lie on the backs of the two new signings, who have already played dozens of online matches with the Black and Orange in a hectic online league schedule, with the Swedish side currently in the relegation zone in the ESL Pro League and close to it in ECS. A good showing in Chicago could be the confidence boost the Swedes need, but it is also a lot to ask from the team in a tournament with such quality opposition.
The other side with big changes made recently is Renegades, who debuted their new signings at StarSeries, where they achieved their goal of making the playoffs before being dismantled by OpTic in the quarter-finals. With Renegades having had a little bit more time under their belts before Chicago, we will now see if the signings of Sean "Gratisfaction" Kaiwai and Jay "Liazz" Tregillgas will be enough to get the team around the top 10 once again. It will also be a test to the team’s fortitude as they will be missing their coach, Aleksandar "kassad" Trifunović, who is unable to fly out to Chicago due to visa issues.