Counter-Strike: Global Offensive returns to the “Cathedral of Counter-Strike” this month, as the world’s greatest come together to battle it out at IEM Cologne 2023. In the wider CS:GO calendar, only Majors top this tournament for the sheer size of the event and the excitement it draws. Last year’s edition brought us one of the greatest best-of-five series that’s ever happened, but are teams ready to deliver once again?
The IEM Cologne Play-in has been in place for a few years now, and features 16 teams looking for their chance to play at the main event. Most of the teams at the event are given spots based on their ESL Ranking. Some of the more recognisable names that stand out are: Team Liquid, MOUZ, Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP), Fnatic, FURIA, Astralis, Complexity Gaming, BIG, and OG. This stage of the tournament isn’t just full of big names though, we also have contenders that have recently impressed, including: Apeks, Monte, 9INE, and Into The Breach (ITB). However, one thing must be taken into account for these teams – excluding 9INE - they’ve had players leave who had a significant impact on their recent performances.
The remaining teams that haven’t been mentioned yet are: Imperial, Grayhound Gaming, and The Mongolz.
The Play-in bracket has a double-elimination format, and almost acts as four miniature double-elimination groups. If we refer to each of these as “groups”, it’s clear to see there are some tough ones. Considering that the opening round is best-of-one, it becomes even more difficult to predict some of these games. There are also teams competing with new players and overhauled rosters that we haven’t seen play yet at the top level. IEM Cologne 2023 is going to be a difficult tournament to call! Here are our opening match highlights:
Into The Breach vs. Ninjas in Pyjamas
Into The Breach (2.750*) were a shock to many when they made the playoffs at the BLAST.tv Paris Major. Not only were they predicted to be a team that would go 0-3 in the Legends Stage, they also had the stigma of being a UK core. However, this didn’t stop Cai "CYPHER" Watson from delivering on the big stage. Now the team are without their star rifler, and must try to win as a European mix. The recent additions of Aurimas "Bymas" Pipiras and Adam "NEOFRAG" Zouhar help give ITB a bit more experience at International LAN events.
Their opponents are Ninjas in Pyjamas (1.414*), a team that can’t seem to decide which five players they want to represent them. The player break brought back Hampus "hampus" Poser to replace Aleksi "Aleksib" Virolainen, but it’s still too early to tell if this is going to pay off. The team is playing at BLAST Premier: Fall Groups 2023 at the time of writing, which is a good playground for the Ninjas to figure out how they want to play. The last time these two met in the server, it was an exceptional performance from Sebastian "volt" Malos - another player who is no longer part of the team - that bagged ITB the win. Can they achieve victory over NiP once again with their new additions?
Fnatic vs. Complexity
Fnatic (1.735*) and Complexity (2.030*) have played once before with their cores, and this was at IEM Katowice 2023. Since then, Fnatic have changed leadership and two of their players. Aurélien "afro" Drapier is the team’s new AWPer, and Christopher "dexter" Nong has taken over the In-Game Leader (IGL) role. This is great news for William "mezii" Merriman, who can finally be released from the role to be the star rifler he was meant to be after showing some promise previously. Ultimately, these changes are beneficial, but they may take some time to come into effect.
Complexity were able to get Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski during the player break, a player still regarded as one of the best from his region. His debut performance against NiP at BLAST Premier: Fall Groups was a display that demonstrated just what he is able to do when given the freedom Liquid had taken away due to role clashes. I think that this will be one of the best opening matches to watch, and expect there to be a dominant individual performance that decides the outcome of the game.
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OG vs. 9INE
OG (1.917*) are one of many teams that replaced their core this player break. New signings of Dion "FASHR" Derksen, Nils "k1to" Gruhne, and Iulian "regali" Harjău have sparked some doubts - when we take into account the members kept were Maciej "F1KU" Miklas and Nemanja "nexa" Isaković. There must be a greater plan for these players that I’m not seeing. Even when disregarding their AWPer, the average HLTV Rating for the other four players prior to forming the team was below 0.95. On paper, this shows a lack of firepower and an awful lot of work for their AWPer. With that being said, ratings aren’t everything, so it’s only fair to give this team time to grow and show us the genius plan to make them a competitor for trophies.
9INE (1.826*) are one of the few teams that haven’t made a change this player break. They established dominance in the Tier 2 scene with their proficiency on Vertigo. It was at IEM Rio and the BLAST.tv Paris Major where they were able to prove that they can compete in the highest echelons of the game. Ex-ENCE AWPer, Aleksander "hades" Miskiewicz, has been the star of the show in recent times, and all eyes will be on him to show what 9INE accomplished prior to the player break wasn’t just a fluke!
Astralis vs. Liquid
We’re once again blessed with this infamous matchup, where North America’s last hope battles it out against the record-breaking Danish squad of legends. Well, that’s no longer the case. Forget everything you thought you knew about Team Liquid (1.641*) and Astralis (2.180*) in CS:GO, as both sides have taken a step away from focusing on their decorated pasts, and are instead setting all eyes on the future. During the player break, we saw both sides swap their veteran players for youngsters. If you haven’t been keeping up, Team Liquid are now European. How about that?
The additions Team Liquid have made are certainly looking to have the more impactful results of the two teams. It seems everyone forgot just how good new addition, Robert "Patsi" Isyanov, was in Team Spirit, as he’s been tearing up the competition of both G2 Esports and FaZe Clan at BLAST Premier: Fall Groups. Unfortunately, Astralis haven’t had the same luck, which has seen them finish last in their group. Both teams have had a change in leadership and two new additions, but it seems like Team Liquid have had the better honeymoon period. They are both still playing at BLAST Premier: Fall Groups at the time of writing, so we could see an Astralis comeback when they play the loser of the Complexity versus Ninjas in Pyjamas matchup to kick off their Knockout Stage. However, based on what we’ve currently seen of these young rosters, Team Liquid are the stronger team.
- Read: Best Teams of 2023
*Odds subject to change.