Can anyone stop FaZe and NAVI in Cologne?
There are two clear favourites going into playoffs in Cologne; can the underdogs mount a serious challenge?
The two teams many would have had at the top of their list of favourites for IEM Cologne have made it to the semi-finals, FaZe and Natus Vincere. They are the two teams that have shown the highest ceiling so far this year, the two teams that battled it out for the Major in Antwerp, and the two teams that currently sit atop the HLTV world rankings, Natus Vincere having just retaken the top spot from their European counterparts.
The quarter-finals however are full of surprise packages, with the other favoured names like ENCE and Cloud9 suffering early exits and dark horses such as FURIA and Vitality also floundering before reaching the playoffs. It is unlikely that any of the names that did make it to the playoffs, Astralis, Movistar Riders, Liquid and MOUZ, would have been involved in any serious discussions regarding potential winners of the season-ending spectacle in Germany. It is understandable then that FaZe and Natus Vincere will be heavy favourites to make it all the way and give us a mouth-watering repeat of the Major grand-final, the former keen to prove the first half of 2022 belongs to them and the latter desperate for revenge.
However, with all that has happened so far in Cologne, it somehow feels more probable than it might otherwise that one of the surprise packages could continue their unlikely runs by taking down one of the two best teams in the world. Read on to find out just what the four quarter-finalists have going for them heading into the playoffs, and just how they might be able to best either FaZe or Natus Vincere and continue their spectacular performances.
It is without question that MOUZ are a team packed with young talent, fielding Ádám "torzsi" Torzsás, who has proved why he was one of the hottest prospects from the WePlay Academy League last year, Aurimas "Bymas" Pipiras, who is steadily growing into a replacement for the near-irreplacable Robin "ropz" Kool, and David "frozen" Čerňanský, a player that narrowly missed out on a spot in the top 20 players of 2021.
Before Cologne, the problem for MOUZ had been harnessing all that talent, but here in Germany Christopher "dexter" Nong seems to have found the right formula; every single player bar dexter himself has topped the scoreboards on at least one map during Cologne. The individuals are firing on all cylinders, and strong individual performances will be absolutely necessary to have a chance of besting teams stacked with firepower like FaZe and Natus Vincere.
MOUZ have also found a potent weapon in their offensive halves, having posted the best T-side round win percentage (55.6%) so far in Cologne, which is no small part due to the way dexter has called in order to activate the players around him. He has also been incredibly adept at finding gaps in the opposition defence, usually finding the correct site to hit or the right map control to take, even in 4v5 scenarios, where they also have the best round win percentage (36.8%) on T side.
They also find themselves on the same side of the bracket as Natus Vincere, and while for most that would be a daunting prospect, MOUZ may very well find this happenstance a positive one. They faced off against the CIS giants in their group opener here in Cologne, and were competitive in the first two maps in the series, even managing to steal away their opponent’s pick of Mirage; they may even feel like they could have taken the game 2-0, had they not squandered a 9-6 lead going into the CT side of Nuke.
With all of their stars performing, a potent T side in their arsenal, and a strong showing against Natus Vincere already in their back pockets, MOUZ should be hopeful of their chances of making the final providing they can get over the first hurdle of Astralis. Whether or not they can take down FaZe is another question, but when the grand-finals of an event come around, anything can happen.
For the entirety of the year up to now, Astralis had been the Benjamin "blameF" Bremer show, and his stellar performance has continued during Cologne; he currently sits as the second best rated player in the event, only behind Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev. What has changed is the performance of Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke, a player who has blown hot and cold so far this year, but in Germany he has been magnificent, currently residing as the 8th best player of the event, sporting 0.18 opening kills per round, and with some strong performances under his belt, particularly his 1.52 rated series against FURIA.
Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth has also stepped up his performance as of late, having been something of a drag factor from the latter half of 2021 up until recently; from BLAST Fall Groups in September last year until the Antwerp Major, he was in the red for rating every single event. Three of his last five events he has posted a 1.05 rating or higher, including Cologne so far. He produced one excellent series in particular during the group stage, a 1.28 rated performance against Cloud9 which helped his team seal their spot in the playoffs.
Much of Astralis’ impressive performance has been predicated on their vastly improved T sides; a dismal 41.9% round wins for the year prior to Cologne has made a monumental jump to 51.2% here in the main event. Not only is that down to the excellent k0nfig, but also the tweaks in roles and positions on offensive halves, as mentioned by blameF in a recent interview, that were enacted for the Pinnacle Cup Championship. Whilst those changes wrought immediate benefits, here in Germany those benefits have been felt most drastically.
The Danes are no slouches on CT side however, posting the 5th highest round win percentage and a staggering 66.2% of opening kills on defence, second only to Movistar Riders and significantly outstripping Natus Vincere and FaZe. Putting themselves in a 5v4 advantage in two thirds of their CT rounds will give them chances against any team, and is a testament to their individuals performing so well.
The final argument in the Danes’ favour considering they are on Natus Vincere’s side of the bracket is their record against them so far in 2022; they currently sport a 2-2 map record with the CIS giants, three of the maps going at least 29 rounds. This suggests that, at worst, they can give Natus Vincere a closely fought battle should they make it to the semi-finals.
With blameF and k0nfig leading the way, their veteran Xyp9x back in form, and strengths on offensive and defensive halves, Astralis will make any team they play work for their victory, be it MOUZ in the quarter-finals, or Natus Vincere and FaZe should they progress. Astralis may not be the dominant force of old, but they finally seem to be on the right track, and an even deeper run here in Cologne is not out of reach.
Movistar Riders are in incredibly hot form, make no mistake. They won the recent ESL Challenger Valencia event in fine fashion, dropping a single map along the way, and were on an 8-match win streak until they were stopped by Natus Vincere in the group decider here in Cologne. They will be high on confidence, and that makes them a dangerous beast regardless of anything else.
Alvaro "SunPayus" Garcia has been looking like a top-tier AWPer as of late, currently being the 9th best-rated player at the tournament (1.16), and Alejandro "mopoz" Fernández-Quejo Cano is also having a fantastic event so far, leading the event in opening kills per round (0.21). What’s even more impressive is the dramatic upswing in form of their historically worst player, David "dav1g" Granado Bermudo, who has posted a 1.05 rating so far in Germany in contrast to his 0.90 rating for the year pre-Valencia.
This step up in individual level was a significant factor in what allowed them to run Natus Vincere so close in the aforementioned group decider, taking a convincing win on Inferno before getting to double-digits on both of the other maps. Showing their ability to take a map from one of the favourites during the event will give them the belief that they can go one step further should a rematch occur. They have also not played FaZe since 2020, which is sure to favour them as the underdogs should they face off in the semi-finals.
All of this recent success has been built upon their aggressive CT sides, where the Spaniards hold the best opening kill percentage (67.0%) and third best round win percentage (62.2%) across the event. They also sport the second best 5v4 percentage (81.5%) on CT side, showing that more often than not they capitalise on the advantages their aggressive play generates.
Considering their red-hot form, both individually and as a team, and the fact they just recently took home a trophy, Movistar Riders may very well find themselves the most highly touted team of the quarter-finalists. A tough matchup against a Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis-inspired Liquid awaits them, but should they come through that unscathed, FaZe would do well to be wary of the force that will meet them in the semi-finals.
Liquid played protagonist in one of the most compelling pre-event storylines, with the 8th best player of 2021, YEKINDAR, joining the squad for the season-ending spectacle. This bolstering of their ranks has proven a shrewd one, as Liquid recovered from an early loss to Spirit to march into the playoffs, taking down Cloud9 and FURIA on the way.
YEKINDAR has been a key component of the run of the only remaining NA team with his bold and aggressive style, leading the squad in opening kills per round (0.13) and opening attempts (29.7%). His most important contribution however has been in the unlocking of Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski, who, freed from the pack-leading and space-taking roles, has been a force to be reckoned with; he is the fourth-highest rated player (1.27), some way ahead of Sergey "Ax1Le" Rykhtorov (1.18) in fifth. In fact, Cologne has been EliGE’s best big-event performance of 2022 by some margin.
Josh "oSee" Ohm has also been a stand-out performer, racking up an event-leading 9 clutches thus far and the highest AWP kills per round (0.47), all whilst being incredibly efficient in his play, a low number of deaths leading to a +53 KD-diff, second in the tournament.
Liquid in general feel more dynamic in their play in Cologne, more willing to take risks, which is something that has held them back in previous big events in 2022. This is borne out by the stats, particularly their vastly improved opening kill percentages on both sides when compared with Katowice; 34.9% to 43.5% on T side, and 53.6% to 56.2% on CT.
Whether or not Liquid will carry the American mantle beyond the quarter-finals remains to be seen, but with EliGE back to his best and a stellar supporting cast in YEKINDAR, oSee and Keith "NAF" Markovic, they will be a handful for any opponent.
To get yourself geared up for the playoffs in Cologne, why not check out some of the best photos from the event so far, our in-depth article analysing the best performers, and the playoffs Fantasy game.