Key takeaways from IEM Katowice Day 1

Normally I write wrap-up articles after tournaments to draw conclusions from the action that took place the previous week. However, this time the opening day at IEM Katowice has been so incredibly packed with anything a fan could ever want that I decided to go ahead and put a column together already after the opening day.

threat has improved NiP, already

Despite a reasonable terrorist side on mirage against mousesports in their opener, Björn ”threat” Pers’ offline debut as Ninjas in Pyjamas’ coach could not have gone much worse, as they fell short against whom many considered an underdog team. The match was especially rough for their new recruit Jacob ”pyth” Mourujärvi, who was abused on the B bombsite until mousesports had claimed the necessary terrorist rounds. pyth did not have a great tournament in general, only looking impressive against Fnatic – though one could argue it was the most important game of them all – but showed flashes of promise and managed to finish with fourth-highest pistol round rating with 1.6.

NiP had a heartbreaking 14-16 loss against Fnatic on inferno with Jesper “JW” Wecksell ninja-defusing in the final round with multiple NiP players alive, inside of a smoke, with the sound of the grenade popping making the defuse sound inaudible – something Valve may want to look at to decide if it should be a feature in the game. The Swedes also fell short against Natus Vincere 13-16 on overpass, where threat’s genius showed in a neat bombsite B fake, and Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund came close to what would have surely turned into a classic clutch, had it worked out. Finally, though Luminosity had little to play for, the Ninjas came back from a 3-12 deficit to upset Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo’s team 16-13 in their final game.

Overall, NiP looked much better than anyone could reasonably expect, given how little time threat has had with the team. It is doubtful this team will ever become world-beaters – the days of winning multiple titles are likely behind them – but it can become another fringe-contender if they keep improving. GeT_RiGhT also had a good showing after a slow start, recording plus-1.13 ratings in his last three games, with the only weaker game in the frag-fest against TheMongolz. If you are a NiP fan, even though your team just went out in groups, you have a lot to be happy about. Which would have sounded incredible to anyone just two years ago.

NiKo has one of the world’s highest peaks

If you missed today’s action, make sure you go through the VOD of mousesports vs. Fnatic on dust2 in its entirety. The match was an instant classic with Olof ”olofmeister” Kajbjer’s monstrous 1.59 rating matched by Nikola “NiKo” Kovac’s identical rating, which pushed the teams into overtime where the Black and Orange finally prevailed. NiKo finished the map, 36 rounds in total, with 42 kills and +14 K-D difference. In addition, he had game-highest 114.3 ADR, four assists and a first-kill difference of +3. And an incredibly important one-on-three clutch at the end of regulation.

By the time the action begins on Thursday, I fully expect there to be multiple highlight reels of NiKo’s opening day available online. For the five maps, four of which were against legitimate top eight teams in the world – with three against top four – he averaged 1.49 (!) rating, 1.04 KPR, 0.19 APR and finished with a +49 K-D difference – or +9.8 per game – with a plus-1.35 rating against every opponent aside from Na`Vi, who defeated mousesports in a fairly lopsided game. Hilariously, NiKo again finished with zero HE grenade kills.

NiKo was also the team’s in-game leader, though it is not as impressive as you might think. Being the leader and the star player, NiKo has all the freedom in the world to do anything he pleases, and judging by chrisJ’s performance at MLG Columbus qualifier and IEM Katowice, it is not a good look for the Dutch player’s game. It does not seem like he is adjusting well to NiKo’s leadership – unlike nex, who recorded superstar-like plus-1.21 ratings against Luminosity, Na`Vi and NiP, though whose final map was weak enough that many fans will only remember that as the dust settles in Poland.

Fnatic is vulnerable, but…

I tweeted before the event that Fnatic would not only fail to win all three of the upcoming mega-events, but likely would be limited to just one top-podium finish. Too many teams are developing their games, and while fnatic’s star power continues bailing them out, you have to assume there will be some mean reversion at some point. Or, maybe not. World’s best player olofm certainly thinks the latter, tweeting “We are fnatic we win those rounds” in reference to JW’s ninja-defuse against NiP to clinch the game.

olofmeister was once again amazing, having matched NiKo’s incredible performance, despite all the talk being about the 19-year-old Bosnian. He struggled in the two inferno games versus NiP and Luminosity but was his own self in the wins over Na`Vi and mousesports, with 1.37 and 1.59 ratings, respectively. Freddy “KRiMZ” Johansson also has had a good showing so far – with an overall rating better than olofm’s – but his is mostly a result of having murdered TheMongolz.

Fnatic is a great team – and great teams win matches they should not. Time and time again they have come close to losing, only to pull themselves together at the end, and drag themselves over the finish line. Today’s Luminosity loss was interesting because it had all the ingredients for another Fnatic comeback, but it never came. The Swedes are vulnerable to upsets – they are the world’s best, but far away from guaranteed wins. Yet, more often than not, they end up winning anyways. Go figure.

Luminosity is closing in on greatness

Whereas today showed more vulnerabilities in Fnatic’s game, Luminosity looked better than ever. It refused to give in to Na`Vi despite a weak start on the easier side of mirage, overcame Fnatic in a close game, came back from a 8-14 deficit against mousesports, and was up 12-3 versus NiP in a largely meaningless game before seemingly taking its collective foot off the pedal. While some may argue they should have had an easier time today, as we have seen with Fnatic – and many others before them – the sign of greatness is being able to win when you are not playing your best, not the other way around.

key takeaways lurppis IEM Katowice

Fernando “fer” Alvarenga was worthy of his self-given GOD extension today, finishing with the highest rating – even better than NiKo’s – at 1.46. He also had a +47 K-D difference in five maps, combined with 0.96 KPR, 0.18 APR and a number of key rounds in Luminosity’s wins. While Marcelo “coldzera” David often stole the show in recent months, it is good to see fer stepping up to the plate again and showing he still can dominate – for Luminosity to become a great team, it will need more weapons, and fer has proven to be one, again.

Epitacio “TACO” Pessoais also en route to his best event yet, and while we have only seen the group stage, it is worth noting that four of Luminosity’s games were against roughly top 10 teams in the world, with two against top four – and none of the games were blowouts. He looked like his game had improved, simply put. FalleN had a weak day aside from the mousesports game where his clutch won Luminosity the map, and Lincoln “fnx” Lau was downright invisible – and yet here we are, with Luminosity topping Na`Vi and Fnatic, and already in the semifinals. Great teams win even when things do not go their way.

The group stage format is incredibly entertaining

key takeaways lurppis IEM Katowice

This has to be said, and cannot be said loud enough – the large group stage format is preferred by many players and tons of fans, and it produces great entertainment. Playing two games at once leads to same viewership, split between two streams – which should not matter, since concurrent peaks come in playoffs anyway. It also allows viewers to switch between games, thus guaranteeing a single blowout does not make you tune out of Counter-Strike altogether, since there is another game going on at once.

Today’s action was not even remotely comparable to the usual four team group stages. It was easily the most entertaining group stage since Pantamera Challenge 2015 and Gfinity 3 – both of which had six team best-of-one round robin groups – and that really says everything that needs to be said. This format must become more used in the professional scene, because it is more fun to watch, it allows teams to play more – a key feature for newcomers gaining experience – and though it requires more computers and space from the organizers, the overall product is better. A lack of huge upsets also proved my previous article’s point about map veto system mattering more than the length of the series.

The fact that I wrote this article despite the clock nearing 3 a.m. and me having to wake up early tomorrow says enough. Today was a memorable-enough day that it deserved to be noted. Now, why not have more of these in the near future? Do we really need to wait another year for the next large group?

Photos by of Carlton Beener/ESL, eslgaming.com

Former professional Counter-Strike player whose team was ranked the world's best in 2007, and who led Evil Geniuses for two years. Since retiring, he has been an active member of the media.

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