Nine moments that made Cologne what it is today
Let's relive some of the most iconic moments from the "Cathedral of Counter-Strike."
Counter-Strike is finally returning to the LANXESS Arena for the first time since 2019 with IEM Cologne 2022. After one year online and another spent in a studio behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ninth edition of ESL's premier event will come home to its iconic venue with 24 teams competing for the lion's share of $1,000,000 and one of the most sought-after trophies in the CS:GO scene.
The "Cathedral of Counter-Strike," as it is affectionately known, has been a staple of the calendar since 2014 when it started its history as a Major tournament, a status it kept for three editions. Despite not gaining the Valve sponsorship since 2016, the event has retained its place amongst the most prestigious championships in CS:GO, and alongside with Katowice, trails only behind the two yearly Majors in terms of importance. Traditionally, Cologne has been a battlefield for the best teams in the world to compete on, and despite the many format changes throughout the years, it has always given viewers a magnificent spectacle ahead of the summer break.
Cologne has produced some of the most memorable storylines and moments in Counter-Strike history, ranging from unlikely underdog runs to individual plays forever immortalized in the game with graffiti. There are too many memories to list, but below we compiled just a few that helped the German city become synonymous with our favorite esport.
dupreeh and Hiko light up Mirage - ESL One Cologne 2014
Cloud9 found themselves in Group D of the second Major of 2014 alongside Dignitas, Titan, and Vox Eminor. It would have been an achievement to advance from the group already, let alone top it undefeated — but that's exactly what the North Americans did. After overcoming the Frenchmen following two sets of overtime, Cloud9 lined up against a very strong Danish lineup featuring the likes of Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen, Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth, and Nicolai "device" Reedtz. This talented young core was a long way from becoming world beaters, but they had enough in them to take a few notable scalps as they had already done ahead of the Major against Ninjas in Pyjamas and Titan at Gifinity 3.
The Danes were seemingly on their way to securing their top spot in the group with solid 10-5 CT half, but Cloud9 did not give up. Sean "seang@res" Gares came alive on the defense, powering his squad to a 14-14 recovery before all hell broke loose on the A site in the penultimate round.
dupreeh pushed into the bombsite ahead of the pack into the jungle position to produce a highlight play with the AK, taking down three members of the North American defense with one spray to temporarily bring a 5v2 in favor of the Danes. That's when Spencer "Hiko" Martin, after emerging from connector, produced a highlight of his own, taking down three Ts to gift seang@res enough time and space to defuse the bomb. The casting from Anders "Anders" Blume perfectly accompanied the whole sequence and remains one of his most iconic moments to this day.
olofmeister plays with fire - ESL One Cologne 2014
After only dropping a single map on the way to the semi-final against Dignitas, the boys from fnatic were seemingly about to concede a second one after going 4-11 behind on Overpass against the Danes. Despite the squad not having reached its potential, the resilience that would characterize that black-and-orange roster in the following year was there from the very start. After moving to the CT side, fnatic embarked on a fantastic comeback which reached its climax on round 29.
In a crucial post-plant situation on the B site, Henrik "FeTiSh" Christensen and device faced a 2v4 to keep their final hopes alive. An incendiary grenade on the young Dane was the most important piece of utility, and he smartly used it from behind a smoke on sandbags to get Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer away from the bomb. The Swede instead decided to stick the defuse, and his HP count was enough to buy him the time necessary to disarm the bomb before he was consumed by the flames. He won the round and cleared the way for fnatic to take the game, sending them to the grand final. Valve cemented this play in-game with the first commemorative graffiti from a Major.
NIP finally do it - ESL One Cologne 2014
After two Major heartbreaks in the previous 12 months, Ninjas in Pyjamas's journey to ESL One Cologne 2014 did not carry the same hype, especially after their fiasco at Gfinity 3 right before the Major in which the legendary Swedish lineup crashed out in the quarter-finals, only winning two out of seven maps played. Their exit at the event did not fill the public or the team with confidence.
With their full focus now turned towards Cologne and a new "step by step" mentality, Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund and company got to work. The Swedes finished second in their group following a loss to Epsilon, and moved to the playoffs to face Cloud9. It was a tough quarter-final against the North Americans as they always gave a good game to Ninjas in Pyjamas, but eventually, they pulled through and advanced into the semi-final where they defeated LDLC to set up a rematch of the DreamHack Winter 2013 final against fnatic.
The grand final had it all: A comeback on the CT side of the first map, a tough loss on the second map, and a close contest on the decider which eventually ended with Ninjas in Pyjamas edging the series to secure their first and only Major title to date. As they say, the third time is the charm.
Where do you think you're going, apEX? - ESL One Cologne 2015
It's another graffiti moment created by fnatic during a comeback, this time against Envy. In the grand final of Cologne's second edition, the Swedes had just forced overtime on Dust2 after being down 5-10 in the first half, and after winning the first two rounds of their T side, the cash was flowing in the offensive's pockets.
As players prepared to go into the last round of the first overtime half, casters noticed fnatic's unusual purchase of four AWPs, and to make it even weirder, Jesper "JW" Wecksell was the only one from the Swedish squad not wielding the Big Green. Dan "apEX" Madesclaire suspected nothing, and in classic entry-fragger fashion, decided to peek into mid just to be greeted by the four snipers pointing at him. Needless to say, he did not survive the round. The Swedes demolished the Frenchmen in extra time before completing the sweep on Cobblestone to win the organization's third Major.
This is not FPL, this is a Major - ESL One Cologne 2016
The year 2016 gave us Cologne's last rendition as a Valve-sponsored event thus far, and it was packed full of action. Liquid came into the second Major of the year ranked in the 11th position, eight places behind fellow semi-finalists fnatic, but the North American squad had something the Swedes did not: Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev. After holding off a Swedish resurgence on Cobblestone, the Ukrainian-powered squad moved to Cache and managed to take a 9-4 advantage on the CT side.
The Swedes were threatening to cut that lead on round 14, as Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson and Dennis "dennis" Edman flipped an unfavorable 2v3 into a 2v1 before moving to the B site. Unfortunately for them that last man alive was s1mple and he did not want to lose that round. The 18-year-old jumped from the heaven position and no-scoped dennis with the AWP on the way, before quickly looking up and giving the same unscoped treatment to KRIMZ. Neither the crowd nor James "BARDOLPH" Bardolph commentating could believe what happened as the Liquid players burst into laughter.
The North Americans would go on to survive yet another fnatic comeback in the second half to reach the first-ever Major finals for a team from the region. Despite their eventual loss to SK, s1mple had his incredible play forever immortalised in the game by Valve, with a graffiti under heaven.
Another Cloud9 summer run - ESL One Cologne 2017
The 2017 edition of Cologne was the first to not be awarded the Major label by Valve and was sandwiched between the Main Qualifier of the PGL Major Krakow and the main event. Despite the unusual circumstances, Cloud9 went on to gift its fans another memorable tournament, almost replicating their summer run from 2015.
Soham "valens" Chowdhury's squad barely made it out of the best-of-one Swiss group, going 0-2 following a defeat against Ninjas in Pyjamas and a exhausting loss to Natus Vincere after six sets of overtime. They eventually managed to find their footing and come back to playoffs contention with wins over TYLOO and Immortals with Timothy "autimatic" Ta perfroming consistently well across the two games. A decider match against MOUZ followed, and that again saw the North Americans barely come out on top after an overtime struggle to advance to the playoffs.
The first knockout round set Cloud9 up against an inconsistent Ninjas in Pyjamas side that had previously failed to qualify for the Major, but that had gone through the Swiss stage undefeated. It ended with a 2-1 victory in favor of the North Americans as Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham topped the scoreboard, pushing his squad towards a rematch against Natus Vincere in the semi-final. Cloud9 did not repeat the same mistakes from their first meeting and swept the Eastern European squad after two close maps.
SK awaited Jake "Stewie2K" Yip and company in the grand final, and there was not much Cloud9 could do to make their life easier against the highest-ranked team in the world. Despite improving after every map, the North Americans could not keep up with the Brazilians, being handed a swift 3-0 defeat.
BIG reach the final at home - ESL One Cologne 2018
BIG were invited to the 2018 edition of Cologne not without a little controversy from the community as they were among the lowest-ranked teams at the event following the addition of Owen "smooya" Butterfield. Despite that, the Germans got to work at their home tournament and won the opening matchup against Liquid. Things looked bright until they faced fnatic in their first best-of-three match. The Swedes plowed through the series as JW almost single-handedly sent the Germans packing to the lower bracket of Group B.
Things did not get easier for BIG as they barely survived games against Renegades and MIBR, getting out of the group by the skin of their teeth. Their new British addition was taking some time to get accustomed to the team, often appearing close to the bottom of the scoreboard at the end of matches, but soon smooya would have his breakout series against G2 in the quarter-final. The young AWPer exploded against the Frenchmen, thriving in front of the German crowd as he lead the way for his team alongside Johannes "tabseN" Wodarz.
They would be rewarded with a match against FaZe in the semi-final. Despite coming into the event without olofmeister, the "superteam" was still a force to be reckoned with, and they had shown that in Belo Horizonte as they lifted the trophy with Jorgen "cromen" Robertsen as a stand-in. It was a tough match to begin, barely losing on Dust2 in overtime after a CT side comeback before moving to Train. On their opponents' pick, smooya proved instrumental in bringing the series level as he pushed the Germans over the line to force the decider. As FaZe collapsed on Inferno, BIG now faced the prospect of facing Natus Vincere in the final. The Germans would eventually end runners up at their home event, but could walk out of the venue with their heads held high as they gave us one of the best runs in Cologne history.
NAVI take down Astralis as Zeus goes nuclear - ESL One Cologne 2018
Natus Vincere started their journey in Germany like they often did during the Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko days — by losing the opening match. This time it was against a reformed G2 that had just seen the return of Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans and Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux. From there, the Ukrainian core had to run the gauntlet all the way down the lower bracket of Group A, eliminating Gambit, Cloud9, and ENCE. The last two games of the group saw Natus Vincere show moments of weakness as they almost lost a map against a lackluster North American squad before barely surviving being swept by the Finns thanks to a classic performance from the duo of s1mple and Denis "electroNic" Sharipov.
Following their struggles in group play, Zeus' men moved to the playoffs, and everything seemed to click. First on the list were Richard "Xizt" Landström's fnatic and they were taken care of without too many issues as Egor "flamie" Vasilyev produced his best Counter-Strike at the tournament. Next on the agenda were Astralis, and that's where problems began. The Danes were the team to beat in the summer of 2018, and their run at Cologne up to the semi-final was nothing short of perfect. Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander and co. opened the event with a dismantling of a rising ENCE before cruising to secure their spot in the last four of the tournament with two dominant sweeps over Cloud9 and G2.
Despite coming into the event as the highest-ranked team and in very good form, expectations for this match were high as Natus Vincere actually had a positive record against the Danes up to that point and they had slowly ramped up their form coming into the semi-final.
The match started with both teams taking their respective map picks, the Ukrainian-Russian squad stole Overpass in close fashion on the back of another fantastic electroNic performance while Astralis responded by winning Nuke without too many issues. Inferno would be where everything would be decided. Natus Vincere opened up the last map with a fantastic offensive side as both electroNic and Zeus powered the Ts to a 10-5 advantage in the first half. After switching sides, things seemingly came back to normal as Astralis slowly began their comeback, briefly taking the lead of the game. At that point, one of the unlikeliest heroes rose to push Natus Vincere back on track as Zeus, a player that up to that point in the year had only registered one event with a rating over 1.00, began to outfrag and outcall everyone on the server. The Ukrainian in-game leader boasted a 31-18 K-D and a 1.50 rating as his team edged Astralis 16-13 to secure their place in the final.
Liquid conquer the summer - ESL One Cologne 2019
The North American superteam of Liquid was a force of nature in the summer of 2019, cruising to six championships between May and July, blowing the competition out of the water at every event. The pinnacle of their run came at Cologne, and there was a lot to play for.
Their start was not filled with glory if we are going ot be honest. Nick "nitr0" Cannella's men went all the way to 30 rounds against MVP PK, in what was for sure not a great start to their campaign. A close game against Natus Vincere followed, before they were able to clinch a semi-final bye against fellow Americans NRG. It was not the cleanest of runs, but regardless of that, the result was still the best-case scenario for Eric "adreN" Hoag and company.
The semi-final was a rematch of Group A upper bracket semis, as Natus Vincere tried to get their revenge against Liquid. It went even worse for the Ukrainian-Russian mix as this time they were swept after two 12-16 games despite s1mple dropping 84 frags across the series. The North American squad had secured their spot in the final where they faced Vitality, the only squad that had managed to stop them in a final at cs_summit 4.
By that point, the Liquid war machine was in full swing, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop them, not even a young superstar AWPer having his breakout rookie year going by the name of Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut. The North Americans only dropped Dust2 in the best-of-five match as they secured the third of five consecutive LAN wins, and more importantly, an Intel Grand Slam title. The latter was achieved in a record 144 days (compared to Astralis's 523 days), and led to the temporary modification of the rules for the prize, making it more difficult to earn in its third season. Not a bad legacy to leave behind.