IEM Katowice - What you need to know
ESL's Counter-Strike tournament in Katowice has been a key part of the event circuit for years, bringing in hardcore and casual viewers alike. To equip you for this year's edition of IEM Katowice, we prepared an overview of the crucial information about the event.
CS:GO returns to Katowice for the seventh time, with the world's best teams set to compete in the Polish city between February 24 and March 1. The 16 teams have been split into two groups, from which only six will reach the single-elimination playoffs, taking place at the storied Spodek Arena.
Did you skip some of the early 2020 CS:GO action or perhaps only watch the big tournaments? In this article, we bring you the most important pieces of information you need to fully enjoy the first Big Event of 2020: IEM Katowice.
No BO1s in sight
The "randomness" of a best-of-one match and the way it "favors underdogs" in comparison to a best-of-three series has long been a point of contention, with tournament organizers utilizing more and more BO3 matches over the years to satisfy players and viewers. ESL has followed that trend, introducing their majority-BO3 eight-team double-elimination group stage system in 2017, but the fact that the opening game of the tournament remained a BO1 came under heavy scrutiny last year.
The concerns have been addressed for this year's IEM Katowice (and ESL One Cologne in July), eliminating the only BO1 match from the format and making the group stage and playoffs fully BO3 - aside from the BO5 grand final.
All of top 10 in competition
IEM Katowice won't just be the first Big Event of 2020, it will also be one of the most stacked events ever held in CS:GO. As the tournament kicks off on Monday, the top ten teams in the world will all be present, something that didn't even happen for the Majors in 2019, which had just nine of the top 10 teams in attendance.
We will see not only the current top dogs, such as Astralis, MOUZ, Liquid, and Evil Geniuses, and the squads featuring the two best individuals of 2019 — Vitality and Natus Vincere—, but also teams on the rise, like FaZe and G2. Even when we move outside of the top 10, the competition is no joke: everyone present is within the top 30, with teams like MAD Lions, NIP, and Renegades hoping to pull off a few upsets. As a side note, this is the first time since 2015 that no Brazilian teams will be competing in Katowice, after MIBR, INTZ and FURIA all failed to make it through the North American qualifier.
Intel Grand Slam and ESL Pro Tour importance
Not only is IEM Katowice a big tournament on its own, but it also ties into two of ESL's initiatives, the Intel Grand Slam Season 3 and the ESL Pro Tour.
Talking about the third season of the Grand Slam and the $1,000,000 prize pool that comes with it (previously won by Astralis in 2018 and Liquid in 2019), so far five teams have joined the race by winning a reliable event: Liquid, Evil Geniuses, fnatic, Astralis and MOUZ. To claim the prize, a team must win four out of ten eligible events held — if one of them is a Masters Championship event — or six out of ten otherwise. The importance of IEM Katowice is boosted as it is one of the three Masters Championship events confirmed for 2020, the other two being the ESL One Rio Major and ESL One Cologne.
As no team is actually close to winning the Grand Slam, the ESL Pro Tour aspect is perhaps more important at the moment. The concept, in short, is that doing well within the ESL-DreamHack tournament circuit awards points towards the ESL Pro Tour ranking (not to be confused with the ESL World Ranking) - which decided invites to events such as ESL One Cologne. For example, a surprising run to the playoffs and a 5-6th finish by Cloud9 would net them 825 points (four times the number they have at the moment and equal to MOUZ' current total), most likely assuring them of a spot at ESL One Cologne, or at least at the LAN qualifier that precedes it.
The two initiatives give everyone something to fight for outside of the vacuum of IEM Katowice. The top teams are aiming for the title which would give them an Intel Grand Slam notch, while squads outside of the top10 are hoping for a couple of victories and as many Pro Tour points as possible.
Teams with Intel Grand Slam S3 tournament wins:
Only three teams have lifted trophies in Katowice
However, the biggest focus is on the present goals, and that is claiming the title in front of the Polish crowd - something only a handful of teams have managed in CS:GO. Since Virtus.pro's iconic Major victory in 2014, Katowice has been a mainstay in the CS:GO circuit, but only two more teams have been crowned in Spodek: fnatic (2015, 2016, 2018) and Astralis (2017 and 2019).
All three organizations are in contention for the trophy — albeit Virtus.pro with a completely different roster — so we will either see a repeat victor or a new name joining the elite list.
Winners in Katowice:
mouz on a grand final streak
Those that watch only the biggest events saw MOUZ pick up victories over Astralis and fnatic on their way to the ESL Pro League Season 10 Finals trophy at the end of last year, but they might not be aware of the impressive streak of results Finn "karrigan" Andersen's team are on. It all started after unimpressive placings at DreamHack Masters Malmö and StarLadder i-League Season 8, when role changes in the squad finally unlocked their potential.
Four titles (CS:GO Asia Championship, ESL Pro League Season 10 Finals, cs_summit 5, ICE Challenge) and a second-place finish (EPICENTER 2019) followed, putting them on an impressive string of five consecutive grand finals. Albeit these events weren't all of the highest caliber, MOUZ' consistency and activity at a time when which many teams were slowing down put them hot on the heels of Astralis. If they manage to keep up their level, they could overcome the Danes and become only the second international team ever to reach the No.1 spot (after FaZe in 2017 and 2018).
MOUZ' last five events:
CS:GO Asia Championships - 1st (November)
ESL Pro League S10 Finals - 1st (December)
cs_summit 5 - 1st (December)
EPICENTER 2019 - 2nd (December)
ICE Challenge - 1st (February)
fnatic's first official match in 78 days
A top-five team that ended their year on a high is fnatic, and on paper, they should be one of the favorites for the IEM Katowice title. However, the decision to pull out of EPICENTER — which was supposed to be their last event of 2019 — coupled with the fact they didn't make the cut as one of the 12 BLAST Premier teams, left Jesper "JW" Wecksell and co. with a sizable hole in their schedule. In London, we saw over the last three weeks how big breaks affect teams, as Astralis and Evil Geniuses all crashed out of their groups at the BLAST event.
By the time fnatic play their opening match in Poland against Renegades, 78 days will have passed (more than 20% of a calendar year) since their last official. During the Swedes' period of inactivity, MOUZ attended three events, securing two titles and a second place finish. While karrigan and co. might face burnout somewhere down to the road, for IEM Katowice specifically, it is surely the rusty fnatic that is at a disadvantage.
FaZe entrust broky with the "Big Green"
The 19-year-old Latvian joined FaZe after the summer break, seemingly just the best free transfer they could find - as they already had to break the bank to bring in Marcelo "coldzera" David from MIBR. As such, it doesn't come as a surprise that the youngster, who had shown promise in FPL and Epsilon, ended up relegated to a supportive role in the team.
Learn more: Examining broky's road to FaZe
In 2019, just 5% of Helvijs "broky" Saukants's kills were made with the AWP (fourth least in FaZe), despite (secondary) AWPing being one of his strong sides in previous teams. The responsibilities of the main sniper were placed on Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer, with Nikola "NiKo" Kovač and coldzera picking the weapon often as well, but that changed with the turn of the year.
In their six maps played at BLAST (four vs. Liquid, two vs. NIP - all wins), 36.7% of broky's kills were made with the AWP as he boasted an impressive 1.38 rating. Admittedly, he was still just the fourth-best-rated player in the squad, but entrusting the least-experienced player on the roster with the AWP seems to be helping both the young Latvian and the team.
broky at BLAST:
AWP kills of total kills: 36.7%
Deaths per round: 0.44
Opening kill to death ratio: 2.83
HUNDEN attends first Big Event since 2014
Nicolai "HUNDEN" Petersen has finally made it. Considered a "meme" for years due to his poor individual performances, the Danish tactician also had his best players poached time after time (including Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke, Patrick "es3tag" Hansen, Nikolaj "niko" Kristensen, Jakob "JUGi" Hansen, and Johannes "b0RUP" Borup). As such, many were hoping he would just give up and become a coach — after all, he had already led three of the country's best IGLs: Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander, Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer, and Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen.
But even in 2018, when he got tired of being a feeder for bigger teams in Denmark, HUNDEN didn't quit. Instead, he moved to the German scene, where he developed three current BIG players (Tizian "tiziaN" Feldbusch, Florian "syrsoN" Rische, and Nils "k1to" Gruhne) and got ALTERNATE aTTaX their best results since 2016.
The long and winding road, the criticism and even mocking he endured for years, the departure of star players being every three months - all of that make HUNDEN's current success so satisfying to watch. Winning the V4 Future Sports Festival in 2019 was the first step, followed by joining an organization with strong financial backing in MAD Lions, and overtaking Heroic and North in the rankings to become the second-best team in the country. And now comes the cherry on top - qualifying for IEM Katowice, which will be the 28-year-old's first Big Event since 2014, when he participated at the DreamHack Winter 2014 Major with myXMG.
Some of HUNDEN's former teammates:
NiP without any of the core players
Robin "Fifflaren" Johansson, Adam "friberg" Friberg, Richard "Xizt" Landström, Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund, and, finally, Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg. One by one, the legendary NiP lineup left the organization, only to reunite the 87-0 squad in Dignitas. Now, NIP are left to build a new identity, but the foundations they have are shaky.
Going into IEM Katowice, NIP's longest-standing members are Fredrik "REZ" Sterner and Jonas "Lekr0" Olofsson. The former was hailed as Sweden's next big thing, impressing in his debut year and picking up an MVP at IEM Oakland 2017, but he hasn't lived up to that recently, especially after the addition of Nicolas "Plopski" Gonzalez Zamora. On the other hand, despite being the IGL of the team for years, Lekr0 still isn't in the same category as leaders of other top 10 teams.
The brand value of the old guard is gone and the capabilities of the new roster are still unproven, leaving Björn "THREAT" Pers with a big task - not only hoping to find success in the server, but to also grow out of the shadow of the team's storied past.