Coming up this weekend will be the closed qualifiers for IEM World Championship Katowice, where three teams from Europe and one from North America will qualify to the main tournament. These four teams will join the eight invited ones for world class event on Polish soil.
The qualifiers themselves are already stacked, featuring teams and players that have lifted the IEM crown before. With both qualifiers starting on Saturday, there's no time to lose in getting to know who's competing.
The European qualifier is full of teams that wouldn't look out of place on the stage in Katowice. These are top teams but they find themselves needing to qualify for a chance to be at the World Championship's stage. Eleven teams are going to compete in this qualifier, here are the five that are invited.
G2 Esports are first on the list, the first of the two French invites. Recent history hasn't been fruitful for either of these teams, but G2 have had the shorter end of the stick in the past three months. Only winning one match at the ELEAGUE Major hasn't set them up well, although a quarterfinal finish at IEM Oakland is their most recent positive result. It's worth noting that changes are on the horizon for the French squads.
That safely leads us up to Team EnVyUs. EnVy are the other French side and victim of the oncoming shuffle. The traditionally more successful side, they too failed to make it out of groups at the ELEAGUE Major. However, they most recently took the largest prize ever in CS:GO history at the WESG finals in China. With the side not too sure how they're to proceed, the reliance on talent for them will be huge. This qualifier will be their first chance to make it to an IEM competition since competing in Katowice at the start of last year, where they'd also hope for an improvement, after finishing bottom in that group.
Next is the heavy favourite in the group, Natus Vincere. Na`Vi are a team who was in a slump in recent history, most notably at the recent IEM Oakland where they failed to make it out of groups. The break they took after Oakland showed in their performance at the ELEAGUE Major, managing to storm their group 3-0. Although taken out by eventual champions Astralis in the quarterfinals, the squad showed promise on their way through. The team last won an IEM at San Jose in Season X, meaning they have a new fire in order to get through to Katowice, and bring home a new title.
Turbulent mousesports are the next side invited to the qualifier. The squad has not had much luck in recent history, with roster changes involved in all of it. The European team went 1-3 at the recent ELEAGUE Major, with any hope of a resurgence dashed there. It hadn't looked good for mousesports after their 3rd/4th finish at ESL Pro League finals, as their appearance at IEM XI Oakland saw them finish rock bottom of their group. With a recent change, swapping their AWP'er Chris "chrisJ" de Jong out for a returning Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný, they're looking to make an impact back at IEM.
Fnatic is the final invited side. The Swedish line-up has not had the greatest time after their line-up split into two organisations. They appeared to be in a new vein of form, as they powered through to the semifinals of the ELEAGUE Major, only downed by the champions Astralis. Fnatic lifted the IEM World Championship trophy in Katowice last year after their fantastic victory over, back then, Luminosity. The team is looking, the team is looking to performances from their star Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer. As one of the most successful organisations at IEM, Fnatic are looking to reclaim their trophy at the top of CS.
The five invited teams will be joined by six teams from two open qualifiers. Populating the open qualifiers are, also, teams and players that have been part of championship winning teams throughout Counter Strike's history.
The first qualified team are GODSENT. Recently rumoured to be making changes with Fnatic, the squad has been the less successful Swedish brother. With former IEM champions littering the team, there is talent in the roster. Most recently winning the European Minor Championship, then going 3-0 to qualify for the ELEAGUE Major, the side then failed to make it out of the groups. Wanting to make a statement that the team's not yet out, they're looking for a strong qualification run, wanting to overshadow their Swedish brethren.
Next up are Heroic. The roster formed from the ashes of SK's Danish side, a squad at the time that also made a lot of changes. This version of the roster has never played at an IEM, but feature two of the side that made an impact at IEM X gamescom. With the team looking to make themselves heard on stage in Poland, they're looking to their strong showings at DreamHack Leipzig and their ESL Pro League spot retention to fire themselves through the qualifier.
A team of well known German players is up next, as BIG are looking to go from strength to strength. Only formed at the start of the year, the squad is fronted by Fatih "gob b" Dayik, an experienced IGL and former IEM champion. As one of the players from the mousesports team that won in IEM Season II, he has historic pedigree in the tournament. With the squad coming off the back of being DreamHack Leipzig finalists, they're looking to qualify so they can make a point in Katowice.
The third Swedish team in the tournament are Epsilon Esports. The plucky side, who originally made waves back in the first European Minor, are back at it again. A young squad led by experienced André "BARBARR" Möller, they're trying to cement their place as one of Sweden's top teams. They have had good performances at tournaments, most recently at the WESG Finals where they finished in the quarterfinals. Wins at the smaller WCA and Nordic Championships at the end of last year also set them up with wins. Proving themselves at the middle of international CS is one thing, but are they able to up their game, to be a force on the highest stage?
The next qualified team is FlipSid3 Tactics. The second CIS representatives in the qualifiers, F3 have a point to prove. After a disappointing ELEAGUE Major, dropping out the groups without a win to their name, they need to see improvements and fast. Still backed up by winning DreamHack Leipzig, the team is looking to rejuvenate their form and prove why they were once called Legends in CS:GO.
The final team is another set of Danes, Tricked Esport. Led by storied Nicolai "HUNDEN" Petersen, this is a roster that continually teeters on the edge of the international scene. Dominating the internal Danish scene, they have a roster that's always full of what could be "The next best thing". Being the current home of the returning Asger "AcilioN" Larsen, the squad is fired up with a will to push through their current ceiling.
With only four teams competing for one spot in North America, it's a much closer affair for the spot. With some of the top teams in the region featuring in this one qualifier, it's certainly one to watch.
Immortals are Brazil's second team, but still making huge waves in North America. First debuting at IEM in last year's World Championships, the squad performed well. Taking on a strong Na`Vi line-up and narrowly losing over three maps. More recently, they were in action at IEM Oakland, where they were victims to an in form NiP as they were sent out of the quarterfinals. They returned to strength however, winning the Americas Minor at the start of December, but then narrowly missing out on Major qualification by one game. The squad are looking to restart 2017 on a good footing, and are one of the hot contenders for that final North American space.
Next up are Team Liquid. Widely considered for a time to be North America's best team, showed by a second place finish at ESL One Cologne. More recently though, the side led by Spencer "Hiko" Martin hasn't sat at its pinnacle. A failure to get out of groups at IEM Oakland, the side went to bootcamp to try and take a good Major. When they also failed to escape the groups at the Major, alarm bells needed start ringing to make sure they don't slip further. With many teams now overtaking their place at the top of NA, Liquid will be trying hard to get through to Katowice to keep themselves in check.
Counter Logic Gaming marks the third North American side. With recent problems surrounding their competitive play, the squad recently returned Pujan "FNS" Mehta to the side to try and stem their competitive problems. Pushing past a few other North American sides to reach the closed qualifier, they'll be looking to reaffirm themselves as a proper international contender. But after failing to qualify for the ELEAGUE Major, only picking up one win in the qualifier, they might have a lot of work to do to fix this quickly.
The final North American side are Misfits. The former TSM roster have improved over the past couple months, with a 3rd place finish at the Americas Minor the start of their improvement. The squad also secured a place in the upcoming ESL Pro League season. However, changes occurred to the team, bringing in a new leader in the form of Sean "seangares" Gares. The team is still an unknown variable and could use such a fact to blast into the scene with force, akin to how they did in the middle of 2016.
There are some strong sides battling in each of the qualifiers, many of which would be comfortably at home in Katowice this March.
The closed qualifiers for both Europe and North America take place on February 4-5. With such a stacked lineup, it is extremely difficult to predict the outcome for both of the regions. We wish all of the competing teams the best of luck and look forward to seeing the victors in Katowice!
Article by Michael Moriarty