IEM Cologne has been an absolute treat for every kind of Counter-Strike fan. The triumphant return of LAN has brought forth new challengers and reuniting lineups galore. With the group stages finally drawing to a close, each quarterfinal bring a new kind of pressure for those who qualified. This is where stars are found and the weak are shed. This is where online eras will be legitimized or proven false. This championship is what players dream of grasping and hoisting it to the world. Who will take home the title of IEM Cologne and become champions of the world?
A Battle of Surprises
Virtus.Pro had quite the downturn of performance before they entered IEM Cologne’s main stage. The squad failed to make their CIS RMR playoffs and collapsed against much worser opposition. To nobody’s surprise, they started out their campaign with a loss against the home team of BIG. Falling extremely flat, all hope seemingly had been lost for Dzhami “Jame” Ali’s team.
On the verge of elimination against Complexity, a switch flipped for Virtus.Pro. They battled back in overtime and slogged out the deciding Overpass. In the deep nights of Cologne, they had shockingly stayed alive. Against all odds, they smacked down the Ninjas In Pyjamas and even won their rematch against BIG to take the organization to the quarterfinals.
The other side of the bracket houses the former champions of Counter-Strike, Astralis. The team just has not looked the same after the departure of Nicolai “device” Reedtz. Were their days numbered in Germany? Like Virtus.Pro, they also surprised in the group stage. Stopping FaZe Clan’s triumphant return, ending the Danish derby dominance held by Heroic, and pushing Natus Vincere, Astralis seem truly reinvigorated to prove device’s departure was wrong and they still have something left in the tank.
This match remains up in the air with where the results will fall. On one hand, the CIS polar bears have been resilient with every win and clamor at a G2 semifinals matchup. On the other, the Danes hungrily search for their first IEM Cologne title. An exciting and scrappy affair lies in this quarterfinal.
Breakouts and Revivals
Gambit was the undisputed kings of the Counter-Strike throne heading into IEM Cologne. However, staunch competition crashed into Vladislav “nafany” Gorshkov’s crew from the get-go. Robin “ropz” Kool went down swinging against Gambit where the CIS squad barely eked out a win on Mirage after they mounted an incredible CT side comeback. A strong start from NiP also threatened the kings on Ancient, though yet again they stayed resilient and sucker-punched the Swedes for a playoff spot. It looked like semifinals were all but confirmed for Gambit.
Nikola “NiKo” Kovac had other plans. G2 weathered the storm in a grueling 3 map affair against Gambit and in the waning moments of Inferno, the Bosnian snatched away a last second defuse to send the international roster to the semifinals and get their first BO3 win on Gambit. Now fighting in the quarterfinals, all sights are on a true championship for nafany’s men. FaZe stand in their way between them and their domestic rivals of Natus Vincere in the semis.
FaZe, like a phoenix rising from their ashes, have completed an arduous group stage and finally return to the international playoff stage. Fighting against Astralis’ fury, Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken barely fell short of a great opener and was relegated to the lower bracket. Breaking through their BO3 curse, the Canadian powered through a tightly contested game against Team Spirit and shockingly won on their permaban. The upsets kept coming. Vitality and Heroic were suddenly knocked out by the duo of Twistzz and Helvijs “broky” Saukant and the FaZe Clan had finally achieved a surprising playoff spot since November of last year.
The Gambit wall show chinks in the armor. FaZe Clan continue to gain steam with every series they win. Will they have enough to crash through the defenses? Or will the CIS titans march on unfazed by the international resurgence that await them?
“From Our Haus to Yours”
All images courtesy of ESL Gaming