NiKo on gunning for IEM Cologne title: "I think now is the time to take the next step"
G2 enter the playoffs at IEM Cologne on the back of an impressive run in the group stage, one that puts the French-Balkan side in the conversation of which teams can go all the way at the staple event. With convincing wins over Complexity and BIG and their first-ever triumph against the world's No.1 team, Gambit, after a closely-contested battle, G2 await in Saturday's semi-finals with possibly their best chance yet to grab a big title since they went international almost two years ago.
The team has been ramping up in recent times but has yet to get over the hump and become a real title contender, however, having been eliminated in third-fourth place at four consecutive tournaments. Now, sitting in the exact same spot again in the top-four stage, G2 look to break the curse in Cologne. But why would this time be any different to the previous four tournaments where the European team faltered before they could reach the grand final?
Nemanja "nexa" Isaković had a very simple explanation in a press conference that took place a few days ahead of the IEM Cologne playoffs:
"LAN. Just us going to LAN," the Serbian said when asked about the key to the team's first win over Gambit after four straight losses against the CIS side. "I think we're a different team on LAN, we have way more confidence, and just the energy and the mood that we have differs from the one that we show online. Coming here, I think we're definitely showing that we can be a championship contender team."
That is not to say that the level Gambit have shown in Cologne is any lower than before, according to nexa. "No doubt they are still the best team in the world in my opinion, and they have proven themselves in this LAN environment," he clarified. "I don't think Gambit have played any worse particularly than they do online, I think they did a really great job. I think it was just us. It was always us, we were our own worst enemy even in the online games we were playing against them."
The stars seem to be aligning for G2, who find themselves on what is widely considered to be the easier side of the bracket following Sunday's victory, with Virtus.pro or Astralis as their next opponent. The preferences seem to be split in the G2 camp. Damien "maLeK" Marcel stated he would have an easier time preparing for Astralis and knowing what to expect from the Danish powerhouse, while Nemanja "huNter-" Kovač did not seem to be on the same page, saying, "Let's go, VP!"
As for NiKo, he didn't seem to care too much about which opponent it'll be in the end.
"We're pretty confident whoever we get. I think we're going to be favorites going into that matchup, regardless of who we face," NiKo said. "From what we have shown on LAN so far, I think we're going to remain consistent and a very dangerous team. And if we manage to do it, we shouldn't be having too many issues in that semi-final game."
The Bosnian superstar was more concerned about the prospect of facing Natus Vincere, who reside on the other side of the bracket and could end up being G2's opponent in the title decider should the two teams retain their impressive form from the group stage. "I still feel like NAVI will be the real test for us on LAN because I think they will also be much, much stronger on LAN than they were online," NiKo said. "I think they're going to be the real test if we're going to win this tournament. But it is about time for us to make the next step and not finish top-three, top-four. I think now is the time to take the next step."