IEM Katowice 2023 Play-In Stage Preview

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IEM Katowice 2023 Play-In Stage Preview

Sixteen hopefuls are on their way to IEM Katowice 2023, but only half will make it through to the Group Stage


With the CSGO season now in full swing with the ongoing BLAST Premier Spring Groups and the imminent Intel Extreme Masters Katowice, tournaments are going to come thick and fast, and it might get difficult to keep track of all the action going on at the moment. As a result, when you start following a tournament, it would behoove you to know which teams are top contenders, which teams are underdogs and which teams are somewhere in between. That’s where our previews come in.

Come February, we’re heading back to the hallowed unofficial capital of professional CSGO, Katowice, with another big-ticket million-dollar tournament. Every team out there would love to be a part of this legendary contest, but only 16 can make it into the tournament proper. Eight of these have been selected based on performances in other tournaments and their current ESL World Rankings, but the other eight will have to fight their way in through the Play-In Stage. There, 16 teams are getting ready for a Double-Elimination Bracket that will lead to glory.

The first round will have Bo1 matches, but every match after that will be a Bo3. This will be a trial by fire for all the teams involved, and here’s how we perceive them going into the tournament. 

Ninjas in Pyjamas 

  • Fredrik “REZ” Sterner
  • Aleksi “Aleksib” Virolainen
  • Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke
  • Danyyl “headtr1ck” Valitov
  • Ludvig “Brollan” Brolin

NIP got their ticket to the tournament by way of the ESL EU World Ranking, and given their recent performances and the current state of their team, they’re going to have to work extra hard to make it into the Group Stage. They haven’t won an S-Tier event since IEM Oakland 2017, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon.

If you aren’t familiar with the current situation in NIP, they’ve recently recruited ex-Natus Vincere Junior prospect headtr1ck, who had some outings on the first team of his ex-clan, but evidently needs more top-level experience. On top of this, NIP will be missing longtime rifler Hampus “hampus” Poser due to issues in his personal life, with k0nfig stepping in for at least this tournament. This will limit NIP’s options as far as strategies go, and might make it difficult for them to get too far in this tournament.

Team Spirit 

  • Leonid “chopper” Vishnyakov
  • Boris “magixx” Vorobyev
  • Robert “Patsi” Isyanov
  • Pavel “s1ren” Ogloblin
  • Ihor “w0nderful” Zhdanov

For a team that has been around for so long, Spirit didn’t have much improvement until their Semifinal run at the PGL Antwerp Major, after which they also made it to the Quarterfinals of the IEM Rio Major. The loss of Abdulkhalik “degster” Gasanov doesn’t seem to have disturbed the balance of their team much, with replacement w0nderful doing pretty well. 

As long as their core players manage to perform the way they have been doing, Spirit will be a real threat to not just the teams at the Play-In Stage, but any others they may encounter afterwards. 

Cloud9 

  • Vladislav ”nafany” Gorshkov
  • Dmitriy ”sh1ro” Sokolov
  • Timur “buster” Tulepov
  • Sergey ”Ax1Le” Rykhtorov
  • Abai ”HObbit” Hasenov

It’s a mark of just how far Cloud9 have fallen since their win at IEM Dallas that they’re having to make it into this tournament via the qualifier. Like Spirit, they reached the Quarterfinals of the Rio Major, but the fact that they couldn’t make the Main Stage at the Antwerp Major before it is damning evidence of their decline.

That being said, they have recently signed buster, who might inject some fresh energy into the team. This is following the benching of Timofey “interz” Yakushin, who had been underperforming for a while. However, the previous quintet had been playing together for a long time, so it might take a bit of time for them to develop the same chemistry with buster.

Complexity Gaming 

  • Johnny ”JT” Theodosiou 
  • Justin ”FaNg” Coakley
  • Ricky ”floppy” Kemery
  • Michael ”Grim” Wince
  • Håkon ”hallzerk” Fjærli

The American clan hasn’t won anything of note in a long time, and while nobody expects much of them, the multinational team has been looking dangerous as of late. The current roster has been together for a while, and with Grim in superb form, they’re beginning to look like a well-oiled machine at last.

Their most recent exploits include beating Evil Geniuses and pushing Na’ Vi to their limits at the freshly-concluded BLAST Premier Spring Groups. While they didn’t manage to qualify to the BLAST Spring Finals through the aforementioned tournament — having fallen down into BLAST Spring Showdown NA instead — they did show some solid potential that may come to good use in this one.

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FURIA Esports 

  • Yuri “yuurih” Boian
  • Andrei “arT” Piovezan
  • Kaike “KSCERATO” Cerato
  • André “drop” Abreu
  • Rafael “saffee” Costa

The Brazilians haven’t been seen in action at the highest level since the Rio Major, where they enjoyed tremendous support but fell in the Semis to a determined Heroic. They have kept their squad together, however, which has been somewhat rare in South America in recent years. 

Having fallen down the rankings by quite some way through their lack of action, but there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that they are a force to be reckoned with. They are also getting a favorable first matchup because of their high ranking, but even without that we would fully expect them to make it to the Group Stage. They have never won an offline S-Tier event, and with the scene pretty wide open, this could be their moment to shine.

MIBR 

  • Raphael “exit” Lacerda
  • Matheus “Tuurtle” Anhaia
  • Felipe “insani” Yuji
  • Breno “brnz4n” Poletto
  • Henrique “HEN1” Teles

It’s been a long time since MIBR did anything of note. Things were different back when the team was populated with the best of Brazil, but that was over three years ago now, and the current squad doesn’t look like they’re in a position to change that. 

The Brazilian squad has plenty of experience, but the fact that they haven’t been able to perform at a large-scale event with this lineup speaks volumes about their prospects. They have plenty of talent, but seem to lack the oomph required to go beyond their expected limits. A few changes might serve them well, but the organization doesn’t look like they have any long-term intent. 

IHC Esports 

  • Garidmagnai “bLitz” Byambasuren
  • Sodbayar “Techno4K” Munkhbold
  • Baatarkhuu “Bart4k” Batbold 
  • Tengis “sk0R” Batjargal  
  • Tuvshintugs “ANNIHILATION” Nyamdorj 

The Mongolian team is TYLOO’s heir apparent as far as Asian representation at major CSGO events are concerned, but unlike their predecessors, they haven’t been able to cause any upsets. To be fair, they are far less experienced and have far fewer resources to improve their team. Almost nobody expects them to make it to the Group Stage.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. They are a relatively new team and have done well at local events — beating some established Chinese teams on the way. They also managed to scrape a win at both the Antwerp and Rio Majors against Australian outfit Renegades and Brazilian hopefuls 00 Nation respectively. There’s every chance that this tournament might turn out to be their watershed moment.

Grayhound Gaming 

  • Simon “Sico” Williams
  • Joshua “INS” Potter
  • Alistair “aliStair” Johnston
  • Jay “Liazz” Tregillgas
  • Declan “Vexite” Portelli

The Aussies caused quite a stir when they beat Cloud9 at the Rio Major, and since then they’ve won a couple of local tournaments and undoubtedly learned from their experiences. The squad contains a good mix of experience and youth, and you can’t rule out the possibility of this team causing an upset at this event.

A fun fact about this team is that they only reformed last year after the aforementioned Renegades released their roster, but had originally lost their entire squad to the same Renegades back in 2019. 

OG 

  • Shahar “flameZ” Shushan
  • Nemanja “nexa” Isaković
  • Adam “NEOFRAG” Zouhar
  • Maciej “F1KU” Miklas
  • Abdulkhalik “degster” Gasanov

One of the hottest, most eagerly-watched teams at this event, OG have been going through a bit of a renaissance since nexa’s arrival. The Serbian has been revamping the team with some revolutionary ideas, instilling some much-needed tactics into the young team and developing strategies that are bamboozling even the best teams out there.

OG haven’t quite made a serious dent at a large-scale event yet, but the fact that they made it to the Semifinals of the BLAST Premier World Final is evidence of their potential. That being said, they recently failed to qualify for the Spring Finals after losing to a resurgent Astralis, so their morale won’t be the best. Nevertheless, it would be surprising if they didn’t make it to the Group Stage.

ENCE 

  • Marco “Snappi” Pfeiffer
  • Paweł “dycha” Dycha
  • Pavle “maden” Bošković
  • Alvaro “SunPayus” Garcia
  • Valdemar “valde” Vangså 

ENCE are one of the most mercurial, unpredictable teams in CSGO, and they have been this way since their inception. On a good day they can win A-tier events against strong opposition and even make it deep into Majors, but on a bad day they’ll get knocked out of B-Tier events by teams that should have no business beating them. 

There was a big buzz when they picked up SunPayus from Movistar Riders back in August, but things haven’t exactly panned out with the talented youngster — at least not yet. Nevertheless, with a strong, experienced core taking charge, they should be able to pose a threat to teams well into the tournament.

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BIG 

  • Johannes ”tabseN” Wodarz 
  • Florian ”syrsoN” Rische
  • Josef ”faveN” Baumann
  • Karim ”Krimbo” Moussa
  • Nils ”k1to” Gruhne

The German giants had a disappointing end to what at one point seemed like it would be a promising Spring Groups campaign. However, they did pull off some performances therein that will give them confidence moving forward. This comes as an important morale boost after an underwhelming year.

Having been playing together longer than almost any other squad on this list, BIG will have plenty of team chemistry and strats honed over years of planning to work with. However, their players have a serious problem with disappearing when the going gets tough, and that’s something they must address. 

Sprout 

  • Adrian “XELLOW” Guță
  • Victor “Staehr” Staehr
  • Laurențiu “lauNX” Țârlea
  • Rasmus “Zyphon” Nordfoss
  • Ismail “refrezh” Ali

Another German organization with plenty of potential but not enough results to show for them, Sprout raised a few eyebrows when they qualified directly for the Legends Stage at the Rio Major. Sadly for them, though, they couldn’t get past that stage thanks partly to some rotten luck in terms of teams they drew.

Despite being a German clan, Sprout doesn’t have any German players on their team, which features three Danes, a couple of Romanians and even a Danish coach. They have also made some big roster changes in the last few months, so it might take a little while for the team to really settle in.

paiN Gaming 

  • Vinícios “PKL” Coelho
  • Rodrigo “biguzera” Bittencourt
  • Wesley “hardzao” Lopes
  • Romeu “zevy” Rocco
  • Felipe “skullz” Medeiros 

The Brazilian side underwent a couple of big changes last year, bringing in zevy and skullz. They are a pretty decent side at local events, winning multiple A and B-Tier tournaments against strong teams from both North and South America. 

In fact, paiN have punched above their apparent weight many times — even making it to the Quarterfinals of last year’s BLAST Premier Spring Finals and taking a map off of Vitality there. However, their performances at S-Tier events remains poor at best, so while they may make it to the Group Stage, not much is expected of them after that.

Evil Geniuses 

  • Vincent “Brehze” Cayonte
  • Jerric “wiz” Jiang
  • Timothy “autimatic” Ta
  • Jadan “HexT” Postma
  • Sanjar “neaLaN” İshakov

EG had their biggest moment in a long time when they beat Heroic at this year’s BLAST Spring Groups, but while that’s a ray of hope for the embattled squad, it also showcases just how badly they’ve been underperforming. There was a time not too long ago when they were considered strong contenders for silverware, but outside of regional and lower-tier events, that’s no longer the case.

After struggling with squad issues for a while, they finally made some major recruitments in the last few months, almost revamping their entire team. The current squad looks potent, but it’s most likely going to need a lot more experience before it can go toe to toe against bigger sides.

Fnatic 

  • Freddy “KRIMZ” Johansson
  • William “mezii” Merriman
  • Nico “nicoodoz” Tamjidi
  • Fredrik “roeJ” Jørgensen
  • Dion “FASHR” Derksen

The once-powerful dominant Swedish side hasn’t been relevant in the upper echelons of CSGO in a while, but they have had some promising outings recently. They made it to the Quarterfinals of the Rio Major, and also won the A-Tier Elisa Masters Espoo 2022 to add some welcome cash into their coffers.

That might not sound like much, but it’s a long way up from getting knocked out in 12th-14th place at the Regional Major Rankings for the Antwerp Major. One of the catalysts for this improvement has been a couple of important squad changes which saw the inclusion of roeJ, nicoodoz and finally FASHR. 

Permitta Esports

  • Patryk “OLIMP” Woźniak
  • Rafał “sNx” Snopek
  • Dawid “Layner” Falczyński
  • Rafał “iso” Tync
  • Mariusz “casey” Jarząb

The little-known Polish side might look like they’re here only by way of the local quota for Katowice, but it’s hard to count them out when they have taken out some decent opponents along the way.

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that they’re about level with IHC as far as expectations for this tournament go. Their players have very little experience outside of local circuits, and will most likely be overwhelmed against bigger teams. However, they are an unknown quantity, and have the added advantage of having nothing to lose and everything to gain. All we can say is, good luck to them.

Stay with us for regular recaps of the action in Katowice, and feel free to scope out the variety of other Counter-Strike content, from CSGO betting tips to game guides and more.

IEM Katowice 2023 Play-In Stage Preview
The Old One
When he's not sighing at sub-standard teammates in Dota 2 and CS2, The Old One is writing about those two games (among other things). If you see his name around the site too many times for your liking, well, the guy just never stops writing. Yes, we've tried an intervention.