CS GO IEM Katowice Challengers Stage

Preview For IEM Katowice Challengers Stage

A seemingly unlimited number of online qualifiers, four Minors, a Play-In tournament. They all led up to this day. Finally, here it’s – IEM Katowice Major 2019.

 

The tournament participants were finalized on January 21. And today, on February 13, fans from all over the world will be excited to witness the start of the event they’ve been waiting for for so long.

 

IEM Katowice kicks off with a 16-team competition – the New Challengers Stage, where strong contenders will compete with some lesser known teams, where the experienced veterans will try to outplay young players with potential.

 

We’ll find out which eight teams will proceed to the Legends Stage in just a few short days. So, let’s take a closer look at the New Challengers Stage participants, and predict how each team will do and figure out their chances of advancing to the next stage.

 

Fnatic

 

Fnatic

 

Fnatic seem to have found their game since the London Major. After a weak performance at ESL One: New York, flusha left the roster for Cloud9, and a month later draken was benched. After joining the team as their replacements, Brollan and the former Fnatic member, twist, the team seemed to gel almost instantaneously.

 

With this duo on the roster, Fnatic won PLG Grand Slam 2018 and placed in the top 3-4 twice – at IEM Chicago and iBUYPOWER Masters IV. At IEM Chicago, they were just one step from beating Astralis in the semi-final (our guest author 2_cold_2_go_outside did a round-by-round recap of Inferno from that match on reddit).

 

These results, in quite a short period of time, and the fact that JW and KRIMZ signed three-year contracts with Fnatic two weeks ago, show that the team has lofty goals.

 

The combination of the experience of JW, KRIMZ, and Xizt along with the energy of twist and Brollan (who is only 16 years old) will definitely get them through the New Challengers Stage, but as for a deeper run, it’s tough to say.

 

NRG

 

NRG

 

Welcome to the Major, CeRq!

 

The young Bulgarian is the first from his country to play in a CS:GO Major. The performance he and his team showed during the closed qualifiers and the Americas Minor was simply outstanding. They steamrolled all of their opponents on their way to picking up a spot in the main event.

 

Prior to the qualifiers, NRG had some decent results, like their top 3-4 finish at ESL One: New York and StarSeries & i-League Season 6, 2nd place at SuperNova Malta, and 1st place at cs_summit 3. They also had some not-so-stellar performances, placing 7-8th at IEM Chicago, and 9-12th at ESL Pro Leagues Season 8.

 

NRG have already proven that they are prepared to face any opponent in the New Challengers Stage, as they are ready in terms of both CS performance and mentality. They’ll go 3-0 and secure their place in the Legends Stage.

 

Cloud9

 

Cloud9

 

Coming into the London Major as the winners of ELEAGUE Boston, Cloud9 were a total disaster at the FaceIT tournament. Losing to Vega Squadron, HellRaisers, and G2 and leaving the New Legends Stage with a 1-3 record was definitely not the result they had hoped for. They were forced to play with a stand-in in STYKO, a newcomer in Golden, and Skadoodle who’d retired and returned to the active roster on more than one occasion.

 

This time, with a reinforced lineup boasting flusha, kiOshima, and Zellsis, C9 are definitely aiming higher. Though they had a series of poor performances at three BLAST tournaments (except for 3rd place at BLAST Pro Series: Lisbon) and the ECS Season 6 Finals, their most recent tournament, the ELEAGUE Invitational, went pretty well for them. However, they still have to work hard on closing out matches. Two of their maps vs FaZe Clan in which they were ahead 14:3 and 14:6 eventually went to C9, but they had to gut it out in overtime.

There were some other difficulties for the team. Due to the roster lock, Golden needed to be in the lineup to retain the majority of the Cloud9 roster from FACEIT Major London 2018. But Cloud9 cleverly solved their problem by registering Zellsis as a coach, so he could step in as a player.

 

Cloud9 is primed and ready to grab their New Legends Stage spot and then, go even further.  

 

NiP

 

NiP

 

NiP have been struggling to perform at the top level for a long time. So, it was a blessing to win the FACEIT EU Minor, the qualifier to the London Major. We all remember the happiness, joy, and tears on pita’s face after beating ENCE in the final. Who would’ve imagined that kind of reaction would come from a former #1 team that destroyed everyone between 2012-2015. However, even back then, they had humbling results in Major finals. They reached the finale on five occasions, but only walked away victorious once.

 

Since the London Major, NiP hasn’t been in championship form. The closest they’ve gotten to winning a tournament was at BLAST Copenhagen, where they managed to beat Astralis, Cloud9, and MIBR in the group stage, only losing to Na’Vi in the Final. The rest of the results are quite decent as well, with a top 3-4 at the ECS Season 6 Finals the jewel in their crown. But NiP, as one of the few teams who can beat Astralis, are also capable of losing to a mid tier 2 team in any given match.

 

However, it’s interesting how experienced players like GeT_RiGhT, f0rest, and dennis are able to fall in line, under their much younger IGL’s (Lekro) command and reach the set goals. Having REZ on board is just icing on the cake. I really want NiP to get through the New Challengers Stage and prove that they’re still willing and able to win big.

 

ENCE

 

ENCE

 

It feels like ENCE’s way to the Major was full of ups and downs. They were able to handle themselves rather well at DreamHack Open Winter 2018, StarSeries & i-League Season 6, and the EU Minor. And now they are looking to climb the highest mountain, yet, at IEM Katowice Major 2019 and are looking like a team with all the tools to scale great heights.

 

Allu has found comfort in being the captain in a young team and speaking his native language and is now performing at the top level. His K/D ratio is close to the level it was in the good old days. Sergej is a sixteen year-old beast. Aerial, xseveN, and Aleksib work together with well-drilled precision.

 

I think that ENCE were dealt a decent hand. It’s not pocket aces, but still strong enough to get them through the New Challengers Stage. We’ll see what they’ve got left in the tank after.

 

Vitality

 

Vitality

 

Veterans of the French CS:GO scene, NBK, RpK, and Apex haven’t tasted victory on the big stage for a very long time, and would definitely love to a return to the form that made them the legends they are today. Replacing Happy, the IGL, was quite a bold move, but it‘s paid off so far. A French-British team managed to qualify for the Major, win WePlay! Lock and Load, and clearly has no intention of stopping there.

 

Certainly, ZywOo, a young French prodigy, played a big role in the team’s recent wins. Time and time again he’s proved that he should be talked about in the same breath as the biggest stars in the game, even on LAN.

 

The entire team seems ready, and hopefully, the Major won’t bring any unanticipated butterflies to the young French superstar.

 

G2

 

G2

 

The French CS:GO scene seems to be on the road to recovery after a lengthy drought, which saw G2 and the others fall off the face of the earth.

After the London Major, G2 started making moves. After maLeK’s coaching period with 3DMAX came to an end, he joined G2. Later, in November, 3DMAX were once again the source of new team members for G2; they released Lucky and JaCkz who replaced SmithZz and Ex6TenZ. Shox became the IGL for G2, consequently. The change in leadership seemed to spur on kennyS, who finally started performing better, accumulating an ~1.2 K/D radio over the last three months.

 

During this period G2 were mediocre (5-8th place) at ESL One: New York, cs_summit 3, DreamHack Open Winter, and EPL Season 8 Finals. As for “victories”, they managed to place 2nd at PLG Grand Slam 2018 and win the WESG 2018 North-West Europe qualifier.

 

The recent results have shown that the team is fully capable of winning. Despite G2’s recent uptick in performance, I don’t have much hope that they’ll make it through the Challengers Stage and crash out relatively early in the competition.

 

AVANGAR

 

AVANGAR

 

AVANGAR’s path to Katowice Major was quite simple, as they managed to get through the CIS Minor by winning four out of their five matches. Besides the Minor, they got a bit more practice in London at the GG.Bet Ice Challenge, where they faced off with one of their possible Major opponents, Na’Vi as well as the disappointment of the European Minor, North. In both matches, they played well, only to both bo3 series 1:2. Despite the scores and 4th place finish, I consider the Ice Challenge a good warm-up for the Kazakh-Russian roster before going into the New Challengers Stage.

 

Hopefully, AVANGAR’s Ali “Jame” Djaimi, whom Astralis’ gla1ve praised as one of the most promising players, is able to reach HLTV’s top 20 ranking this year and start his road to that achievement off with a bang at the Major.

 

Renegades

 

Renegades

 

The Australian-Norwegian roster was placed in the very middle of the seeding, 9th in the group, and for good reason. On paper, in terms of skill and teamplay, they look to be miles ahead of  the teams below them, but still not close enough to the top 8.

 

However, they’ve performed decently during the last three months, with their biggest success coming at the ESL Pro League Season 8 Finals. They placed 5-6th there, ahead of big names like G2, BIG, HellRaisers, NRG, North.  

 

Who knows, maybe Renegades’ main success is still ahead of them at IEM Katowice. I think that, as in AVANGAR’s case, it heavily depends on the seeding after the first round of the New Challengers Stage. If I had to make a decision right now, I wouldn’t include Renegades in my top 8 list.

 

Vega Squadron

 

Vega Squadron

 

Vega is a very strange participant. After reaching the top 9-11 at the London Major, the team had 20 official matches. In FIVE months. Their last performance worth mentioning was at the StarSeries & i-League CS:GO Season 6 Finals where they placed 2nd after the outstanding five-map final vs. ENCE.

 

Several things about Vega Squadron are unclear.

 

The first one is how are they able to perform well at big tournaments while they sorely lack the experience from official games. The second one is why the organization to stubbornly keeps the same roster that doesn’t participate in tournaments on a regular basis. It’s a bit too risky for my blood.

 

I can’t see the team winning matches vs. decent teams. I can’t imagine having an infinite set of wild force-buy rounds to catch their opponents off guard. But that kind of approach has always been jR and co’s speciality, and they have already surprised skeptics like me several times. Hopefully, they’ll be able to pull a rabbit out of their hats once again, because there’s rarely a dull moment when Vega’s involved.

 

TYLOO

 

TYLOO

 

Year after year, each review of the Chinese team starts with this: they can’t practice with European or American teams due to the high ping problem, and they are forced to set up bootcamps in Europe. This year is no exception.

 

Their most recent results include a 1st place finish in the Asian Development League Season 1 and 2nd place at TOYOTA Master CS:GO Bangkok 2018. But one and a half months before the Major, they released captainMo and DD, replacing them with Summer and Attacker from Flash Gaming on a three-month loan basis.

 

Besides this, they got the ex-HellRaisers coach, Johnta, who uses English while coaching. Not only is it difficult working with a coach who has a new approach to their preparation process, but they’re now forced to switch between English and Chinese. MIBR’s experiment with that several months earlier wasn’t as successful as anticipated.

 

As for the available information on matches played by this current lineup, there’s none: zero official matches played and, simply, nothing to analyze. So, there’s not going to be much positive enthusiasm from me about Tyloo’s potential to progress in this tournament. They have their place among the other Challengers but won’t be able to do anything with it

 

Team Spirit

 

Team Spirit

 

As for this particular team, my reasoning is going to be more irrational than usual.

 

I will cheer for Team Spirit for several reasons. Firstly, I want more CIS teams in the New Legends Stage. Secondly, these guys have been trying to solve their poor results problem by practicing harder, instead of making replacements, and they’ve kept playing together. I like that kind of approach and consider the Major the place where this approach can really pay off.

 

Yes, the main in-game practice Team Spirit had after the London Major was at their qualifiers. Yes, they are not used to playing in big tournaments And yes, their recent results at WePlay! Lock and Load showed that there’s still plenty of work that needs to be done. Yet, I still hope S0tF1k and co. will perform individually at their best, communicate well and trust each other, so that they can show what team spirit is.

 

FURIA

 

FURIA

 

The team, supported by Neymar Jr. himself, made a splash just by getting here. They were a massive underdog among contenders like NRG, Team Envy, eUnited, and INTZ in the Americas Minor. Somehow, they managed to win their place in the Katowice Major and captured the hearts of many fans around the world.

 

Though they were on a good run and had high morale, they failed to perform well at WePlay! Lock and Load. But, hopefully, these battles with some strong tier 2 teams gave them the necessary experience, so they could perform at their best at the Major.

 

As for personalities, kscerato’s story is worth special attention. Imagine this: he refused MIBR when they wanted him on the team, remained with FURIA and the teammates he had played with for eight months, kept preparing for the Minor, and, against all odds, qualified – a Cinderella story, isn’t it?

 

My heart hopes FURIA’s performance in the New Challengers Stage is just another chapter to their story rather than the ending. But, my head says they won’t make it through the gauntlet of contenders.

 

Grayhound

 

Grayhound

 

The internet is chock-full of memes of one of the Grayhound’s players, Ollie Tiernie, better known as Dick Stacey. His infamous interview and Major sticker don’t leave room for fence sitting. But back to the team…

 

Each tournament has an outsider, and in the case of IEM Katowice, it’s Grayhound. With little experience on LAN (and none at huge events), little experience of playing vs. top teams (except for several matches vs. FaZe, Gambit, and the local top of the food chain, Renegades). These two facts give us the whole picture, and nothing else is needed to predict Grayhound’s exit from the tournament with an 0-3 record.

 

Winstrike

 

Winstrike

 

Winstrike is one of the two teams (Mousesports is the second one) who finished their performance at the London Major with a 0-3 record which cost them a spot at IEM Katowice.

 

Having put together a new lineup led by the ever-present team member turned captain, BoombI4, WinStrike managed to qualify once again. They repeated their journey to the ELEAGUE Major, making their way to Katowice through the CIS Minor Closed Qualifiers, the CIS Minor itself, and then through an IEM Katowice Play-In tournament.

 

However, Winstrike’s “Cinderella story” at ELEAGUE Major is a distant memory. They’re not the “dark horses” any more, having the experienced WorldEdit and wayLander on their roster. And they were still seeded 15th of 16 participants. It’s fitting, then, that 15th is going to be Winstrike’s place at the New Challengers Stage.

 

ViCi

 

ViCi

 

ViCi’s in-game practice mainly consisted of qualifier tournaments, and they did pretty well in them.

 

Firstly, there was one for TOYOTA Master CS:GO Bangkok 2018 where they placed 1st but weren’t able to make it to the LAN finals due to visa issues.

 

Secondly, they fought their way to the ESL Pro League Season 8 Finals through three(!) qualifying rounds. They lost two matches in a row at the main event (the first of them was a bo1 vs. Astralis) and finished 13th-16th, but it was a glorious path for ViCi, nonetheless.

 

Their third journey through another trio of qualifying rounds, which they started in November, brought them to IEM Katowice Major.

 

Here comes the heart again, crying out that the third’s the charm. But, my head is uncompromising – zhokiNg and co will win at least one map, but won’t be able to break through the New Challengers Stage barrier.

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