Winners and Losers of IEM Katowice Major
Dust has settled in Katowice after Astralis came out victorious at the Major on Sunday, and it's time for us to look back at the tournament to find its winners and losers.
Even the craziest of ENCE fans couldn't have believed that the Finnish team would make it all the way to the final of IEM Katowice when Aleksi "allu" Jalli's men started their long journey in the closed qualifiers for the Europe Minor in mid-December. Looking back at their entire road to that grand final, it still looks miraculous, especially after ENCE had garnered a reputation of chokers, which stuck with them throughout the first half of the Major cycle as well.
In the closed qualifier, they almost dropped a 15-6 lead against LDLC on the deciding map of an elimination match before closing it at 16-13. At the Minor itself, Aleksi "Aleksib" Virolainen & co. had a hard time converting a 11-4 lead on CT side of Mirage versus Windigo. The first stage of the Major saw their 14-1 defensive half on the series-deciding Train turn into a 29-round game against Winstrike.
Once down 0-2 in the second Swiss stage, 0-1 in series versus BIG and 10-14 on the second map, Train, ENCE persevered with a six-round streak to take the elimination series to Overpass and live another day. Once completing the reverse sweep in the New Legends stage, beating G2 and AVANGAR for a spot in the playoffs, the Finns topped it off with another massive comeback in the quarter-finals, turning around an 8-15 deficit on Inferno to make the semis over Liquid. They had already made it well beyond anyone's wildest expectations and they still had two more aces up their sleeves, beating Na`Vi's Train from a losing position at 10-14 once again, and securing a spot in the grand final with another comeback from 6-12 on Mirage.
That encompasses ENCE's last three months, which were full of drama and uncertainty, but ultimately created a story that is unlikely to repeat itself for many Majors to come, if ever.
We wouldn't have much of a list of winners without featuring the actual champions of the Major. Astralis have done it again, becoming the third team to secure back-to-back Major titles and tying fnatic's record of three Major wins, with the four-man core joining Jesper "JW" Wecksell, Robin "flusha" Rönnquist, and Markus "pronax" Wallsten in that highly exclusive club.
Although the Danes were the main favorites from the start, a couple of factors had created some uncertainty in Astralis's ability to hoist the trophy in the end. One of them had been Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander's team's loss to Liquid at iBUYPOWER Masters at the beginning of 2019, which set us up for one of the biggest storylines going into the Major. The other was Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen's personal tragedy just before the kick-off of the second stage, which would have made a sub-par performance from the 25-year-old understandable.
None of it seemed to matter, after all. dupreeh played a great tournament in spite of everything, and Astralis looked like by far the best team at the Major with another convincing run through the playoffs, in which the Danish side were only truly challenged on a couple of maps, on Dust2 in the quarter-final affair against NIP and by MIBR on Overpass in the semi-finals.
After a somewhat unconvincing run to the Asia Minor title, in which Renegades played two close series with Grayhound, the Australian side were a team widely expected to struggle in the first stage already. That certainly wasn't the case as they went 3-0 there and went on to pull off an impressive run to the playoffs, beating teams such as FaZe, NIP, and ENCE on the way to the Spodek arena, while also being the only team to take a map off Astralis at the tournament with a comeback from 5-14 down on Mirage.
Their story is one of hard work and dedication. Aleksandar "kassad" Trifunović's men started their pre-Minor bootcamp at the beginning of January and stayed in Poland the entire time, until the very last day of the Major. The two-month-long marathon certainly paid off, as Renegades's map pool looked like one of the best out of everyone at IEM Katowice and – even though Justin "jks" Savage and Joakim "jkaem" Myrbostad pulled them out of trouble a couple of times – the team relied more on good calls, tactics, and strategy rather than big individual performances.
AVANGAR and Vitality
CIS Minor winners AVANGAR and Europe Minor runners-up Vitality belong to the group of several success stories coming from the first part of the Major cycle. Both teams had been showing promise but had yet to put in a good showing at a Major up until IEM Katowice, where the two had very similar journeys, advancing with a 3-1 record in the New Challengers Stage before falling 2-3 in the New Legends Stage despite a 2-1 start. AVANGAR and Vitality have ways to go before we can call them real contenders, but they have made good strides towards becoming stable top-ten teams in the future.
Considering IEM Katowice was only MIBR's first appearance with the new-old lineup and they've only played nine maps so far, much is still left to be revealed about the Brazilians, like the strength of their map pool and whether their old issues with João "felps" Vasconcellos will at some point resurface. However, given that we had had no idea the kind of form in which Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo's team would arrive, it's hard not to consider them one of the winners of the Major when they went all the way to the semi-finals and came close to taking a map off Astralis there; it's at least a promising start.
When the first stage of the Major began, most had fnatic going through without too many issues and they were set as the No. 1 seed by their peers after impressing at IEM Chicago and winning PLG Grand Slam late last year. Despite a somewhat shaky performance at iBUYPOWER Masters, it certainly wasn't on the cards that the Swedes would bomb out the way they did at IEM Katowice, with losses to ViCi, Winstrike, and G2 sending them home early on.
For the whole Major, fnatic looked like a completely different team to what we had seen at the end of 2018. They were getting caught off-guard by much less experienced teams, making some basic mistakes and playing scared like a team full of rookies as opposed to one that features some of the most successful players in the world. Based on our interview with JW, it came down to a negative attitude stemming from some of the issues on the first days of the tournament, but it's once again hard to see that as the real reason for the failure when the majority of the roster has been through it all.
It wasn't down to a lack of preparation, either, as the team had even gone to Katowice early to get a bootcamp, which the 24-year-old went as far as to call the most productive they have ever had. With that in mind, fnatic's early elimination is still as baffling as it was when it happened two weeks ago, so we'll have to see whether they will be able to turn it around at tournaments to come, such as at WESG, which is coming up next week.
Unlike the Swedish side, NRG lived up to the status of a favorite in the first stage with a 3-0 record, but it all went downhill when they entered New Legends and were eliminated with three losses in a row, to NIP, AVANGAR, and Complexity. Even though they were just a few rounds away from winning all of these three matches, that came as a big blow to the North American side, who had been favored to make the playoffs after climbing through the ranks throughout 2018.
Shortly after their early exit in Katowice, Tarik "tarik" Celik took Jacob "FugLy" Medina's place in the lineup. You have to think the quick timing of the change a little suspicious and see it as a sign that the switch had been in the works before the Major, which could speak to NRG's motivation during IEM Katowice and why they wound up getting eliminated before their time.
The expectations for HellRaisers may not have been nearly as high as for NRG, as the European squad had struggled for good results towards the end of 2018, but Kirill "ANGE1" Karasiow's men are still one of the losers of the Major due to the fashion in which they got eliminated, with barely any say in any of their three losses to FaZe, NIP, and Cloud9. Despite grabbing a win along the way, a Dust2 triumph over ENCE, ANGE1, Bence "DeadFox" Böröcz, and Abay "Hobbit" Khasenov all finished the event with a rating of 0.80 or below, which helps explain how much of a breakdown HellRaisers' showing at IEM Katowice was.
The continuation of the Astralis-Liquid rivalry was perhaps the most anticipated match of the Major after the North American side had triumphed over the No. 1 team in the world at the beginning of the year in Los Angeles, but we never got that rematch as Nick "nitr0" Cannella's team went out in the quarter-finals to ENCE.
Some early hints of Liquid not being at their best had shown when two of their New Legends matches had been a bit too close for comfort, against AVANGAR and NIP, but it still came as a shock when Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken & co. failed to convert a 15-8 lead on the CT side of Inferno against the Finns, losing the series to exit the Major in 5th-8th place.
Overall, Liquid simply didn't look nearly as great as we thought them to be after their win at iBUYPOWER Masters and that could be down to some of the role switches that needed to happen for Jake "Stewie2K" Yip to fit into the roster. However, it wasn't Twistzz who underperformed despite getting hit the most by the lineup change; Keith "NAF" Markovic had a very poor series versus ENCE and, for his standards, against Natus Vincere in the third round of the Swiss stage, as well.
Given that FaZe met a well-playing Na`Vi in the quarter-finals, Nikola "NiKo" Kovač's team's exit in the first round of playoffs was about what we would expect based on their up-and-down start as a lineup with Dauren "AdreN" Kystaubayev, but they are listed as one of the losers nonetheless because of some of the steps in their Major journey as a whole.
The European side were on the verge of elimination in the New Legends Stage after losing to Renegades and AVANGAR, with their next series against Complexity coming down to an incredibly close decider on Dust2 that could have seen FaZe go out with a 1-3 record almost too easily. Janko "YNk" Paunović's squad then almost threw away a 15-4 lead against Cloud9 on the Terrorist side of Cache with control of the economy, before the quarter-finals affair saw them fail to close out their pick, Inferno, despite picking up a 10-5 score on the Terrorist side. That isn't a very promising résumé for a team that is aiming to contend for titles.