There’s no hype in gaming quite like that of an S-Tier Counter-Strike: Global Offensive event and the buzz surrounding Intel Extreme Masters Cologne 2022 had CS players salivating for weeks.
The anticipation of getting to watch the very best teams in the world lock horns in a battle of wits, coordination, and reflexes was one part of it. The million-dollar prize pool (which included a $400,000 payday for the winners) was another. The massive bank, the BLAST Premier Circuit Points on offer, and the potential seeding for next year’s IEM Katowice. All this meant that the stakes were high enough that the competition didn’t have to be a Valve-sponsored major to be a hit.
Since the return of full-on in-front-of-an-audience LAN CS:GO tournaments with last year’s BLAST Premier: World Final 2021 in December last year, offline events have come back into vogue following the Covid-19-induced hiatus. The spectators — both in person at Cologne’s fabled Lanxess Arena and online — made the tournament all the more special, with the viewership peaking at a whopping 1.25 million people. If you can’t get the hype of the tournament out of your head, we feel you, so let’s take a look back at the event that was.
Foot in the Door: The Play-In
The prelude to the tournament consisted of a battle between the lowest-seeded teams in a double-elimination bracket format, with the top 8 teams reaching the Group Stage, where higher-ranked teams awaited. It was a frantic melee as BO1 matches decided the bracket placements, and BO3s continued from there. The qualified teams from the upper and lower brackets would be seeded against the Group Stage opponents accordingly.
In the Upper Bracket, Heroic beat out Sprout and MOUZ to qualify, while Team Spirit defeated Complexity and 00 Nation to make their own way through. Ex-Virtus.Pro members, now called Outsiders, took out both Imperial and BIG Clan to take their own spot, while Spanish powerhouse Movistar Riders, the dark horses of the tournament, beat MIBR and caused an upset against Vitality to stake their own claim on the trophy.
In the Lower Bracket, It was a resurgent Vitality that shattered Sprout’s dreams to qualify, while Astralis bounced back from their earlier stumble to best both Complexity and BIG Clan. A ballistic Brazilian matchup saw ex-Luminosity/SK members battle it out as Imperial and 00 Nation, with the latter emerging victorious. Lastly, MOUZ was the last team to qualify, doing away with TYLOO in the process. Neither paiN Gaming nor ORDER could win a match, although the former did take a map off of Sprout.
Price of Admission: The Group Stage
With 24 teams having been whittled down to 16, the teams were split into two groups of 8. A double-elimination bracket would ensue, with only 6 teams going through to the playoffs. The winners of the Upper Bracket would get an automatic Semi-final berth, while the loser of the UB final would play the winner of the LB final to join them there. This is how the groups went:
IEM Cologne Group A:
- Na’ Vi
- G2 Esports
- Movistar Riders
When you put 16 of the world’s best CS:GO teams in one place, there can only be one outcome. Group A’s Upper Bracket saw Na’Vi rampage through MOUZ, NIP, and Movistar Riders on their way to the top seed courtesy of some by-now-usual popping off by S1mple and strong performance from Electronic. The Riders themselves surprised just about everyone by disposing of French squads G2 and Vitality, and even took a game off of Na’ Vi while qualifying for the playoffs. It was a team effort for the Spanish team, but AWP sensation Sunpayus stood tall among the members.
In the lower bracket, MOUZ’s young squad tackled Heroic, Vitality, and NIP to join the Riders in the playoffs, with Frozen, Torzsi, and JDC starring. It was a disappointing tournament for ENCE, Vitality, G2, NIP, and Heroic, who were all popularly considered to be in contention for the playoffs — only to fall by the wayside.
IEM Cologne Group B:
- FaZe Clan
- 00 Nation
- Team Spirit
- Team Liquid
In Group B, Faze waltzed to the top seed undefeated, sending 00 Nation and Team Spirit into the LB in the process, and making sure Astralis had to settle for a longer run. Needless to say, it was Twistzz and Broky who led the way, with Rain not far behind. The four-time major winners themselves also showed plenty of resourcefulness to bash both FURIA and Cloud9 2-0 before falling to FaZe. BlameF and Gla1ve did well, while Xyp9x brought back some of his old form to get Astralis into the playoffs.
Group B’s LB saw Team Liquid shrug off a loss to Team Spirit in the UB and mow through 00 Nation, Cloud9, and FURIA. It was the usual suspect EliGE who popped off, with oSee, and YEKINDAR also playing important roles. Unfortunately, 00 Nation, Outsiders, Spirit, FURIA, and Cloud9 were all eliminated.
Ready to Rumble: The Playoffs
The stage was set for an epic climax to a fantastic tournament. In the very first match, MOUZ won Mirage against Astralis, but it was in vain as the veterans bounced back to take Nuke and Ancient, with Farlig and Gla1ve stepping up in each of the maps. Next, Liquid felt the full fury of Movistar Riders as the latter crushed them on Ancient. The Americans took Inferno in retaliation, but the Spaniards would have the last laugh on Vertigo, with literally everyone on their squad playing their hearts out.
In the first Semi-final, the Ukrainian side breezed through Nuke 16-8 thanks to S1mple, and won Mirage 19-17 in Overtime thanks to B1t. Astralis had a golden chance to take the second map as they went 12-3 up on CT side of Mirage, only to fail to convert it into a win despite getting four match points.
FaZe Clan showed just why they had been so successful as of late, beating the underdog Riders 16-12 and 16-9 on Ancient and Nuke respectively. Broky and Twistzz were incredible on the first map, while Ropz and Rain owned the second. Full props to the Riders on a brilliant tournament.
The Grand Final
Na’ Vi and FaZe have consistently proved to be the two best teams in the world over the past year, and their titanic battle in the final cemented that statement. Almost all the maps were back-and-forth affairs, except for FaZe’s dominance on Mirage.
FaZe drew first blood in the form of a 16-13 triumph on Inferno, spearheaded by Broky. The men in yellow then struck back twice, with S1mple carrying on a 16-13 Overpass win and Perfecto ascending on Ancient to clinch out a 19-16 nail-biter. However, Faze came back strong to crush their opponents 16-9 on Mirage courtesy of Broky and Ropz. In the fifth and final match, Twistzz and Rain were instrumental in helping FaZe lift the trophy, edging out the Ukrainians 16-14. With that, FaZe’s triple of IEM Katowice, PGL Antwerp Major, and IEM Cologne was complete.
There is a veritable gaggle of CS:GO tournaments in the coming months, with the Rio major and BLAST Premier World Final being the main attractions. Counter-Strike truly is the game that simply refuses to die, and while it’s alive, you can be sure that we’ll be covering the action.