IEM Katowice is one of the most historic and prestigious events in the entire Esports calendar and is one of the most hotly followed tournaments in the world of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). The 2020 edition was the last major LAN event prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s fair to say that the subsequent online era of CS has shaken things up a fair bit.
The 2021 edition of IEM Katowice will always have a special place in CS:GO’s history, and the stunning 3-1 victory for Gambit over Virtus.Pro capped off a truly remarkable event. Here are some of the best storylines from the course of the competition.
The Rise Of CIS Counter-Strike
Despite the fact that the tournament kicked off with just two teams from the CIS region nestled in HLTV World Rankings, the event will go down in history as one of the most stacked in terms of representatives. Natus Vincere, Virtus.Pro, Gambit and Team Spirit all made it to the play offs for the tournament, with NA’s Team Liquid and EU’s Astralis making up the numbers. Following VP’s shocking win over Astralis, three out of the four semi-finalists for Katowice were from the CIS region, and the grand final between Virtus.Pro and Gambit marked the first all CIS final in the event’s entire history.
Ever since the heyday of orgs like the Pashabiceps era of Virtus.Pro or the Zeus-led rosters of Natus Vincere, the CIS region has established its very own style of CS, with an ultra-aggressive and disruptive way of taking on sides from outside their meta. This style left even the best of EU’s sides breathless, culminating in the best team the game has ever seen in Astralis being blown out 16-1 on Dust II by Team Spirit in what will surely go down as one of the most jaw-dropping results in CS history.
Recognized Orgs Struggle
Whilst the rise of CIS Counter-Strike dominated most of the event’s headlines, IEM Katowice also saw a plethora of recognised tier one sides struggle to meet the heights expected of them. The play-ins for the event saw heavy casualties, with three-time Major Championship winners Fnatic, 2018 Boston Major winner Cloud9 and 2020 BLAST Spring champions Complexity Gaming all being eliminated before the main stage.
The upsets continued well into the main event, however, with the likes of G2 losing to Gambit, Team Vitality losing to Virtus.Pro and OG being dumped out by Karrigan’s new-look FaZe Clan. With ESL Pro League Season 13 just around the corner, and when it looked like a bit of order was being restored, the online era of CS:GO has once again swung back in to show just how brutally volatile it can be.
The Greatest Shock In CS History?
Gambit arrived at IEM Katowice amongst the lowest ranked sides in the world, and had to go about things the long way round by beginning their IEM Katowice adventure in the very opening stages of the play-ins. They were the lowest ranked side in the main event, making them heavy outsiders in the Esports betting odds at sites like Unikrn.com, but constantly defied expectations with deserved wins over the likes of Mousesports, Heroic, G2 and Natus Vincere.
Their win at IEM Katowice 2021 might just be a contender for one of the biggest shocks in all of CS:GO, but the challenge for the young CIS org now will be to maintain the levels set here in the upcoming tournaments over the reaminder of the season.
The NA Grind
2020 was tough for the CS:GO sides based in North America, with the global situation forcing them to compete in local online tournaments that didn’t have nearly the same amount of competition or prize pools as those in EU. In response, teams like FURIA, Team Liquid and Evil Geniuses have all embarked on long bootcamps in Europe, isolating in hotels for months on end in order to compete in tournaments like IEM Katowice.
And whilst Team Liquid were able to bag themselves a cool $80,000 thanks to their 3rd-4th finish, the grind endured by the North American sides has already led to a heavy high-profile casualty, with 20 year old Ethan departing Evil Geniuses in the wake of their elimination. Ranked as the twentieth best player in the world in 2020, Ethan will join up with 100 Thieves’ Valorant side, CS:GO’s biggest rival title, and his departure is a painful reminder of how the online era is continuing to hurt some of the game’s less invested in regions.