With StarSeries Season 4 ending, it’s time for the next big event of the 2018 calendar. Neither of the finalists of StarSeries, mousesports and Natus Vincere qualified for IEM Katowice, so the field is open for new challengers to emerge in the ever growing 2018 storyline.
In 2018, ESL are introducing a new format for their IEM and EPL events. Instead of the previous six team round robin group stages, the groups will be played out in an eight team double elimination bracket. The first round of the upper bracket will be a BO1, but the rest of the group stage will be played entirely as BO3 series. The new group stage format should make it much harder for upsets to happen, and make any upsets that do happen much more legitimate. The playoff format remains the same, with the first place teams of each group advancing directly to the semifinals, while the second and third place teams will have to do battle in the quarterfinals.
Group A is a tale of four favorites and four underdogs. SK Gaming, Cloud9, Team Liquid and Astralis look to be favored to make it out of the group, but at least one of them is going to have their heart broken.
SK Gaming vs AVANGAR
SK Gaming have not had the start to 2018 that they were looking for. By the standard of most teams they’ve had some decent results, but being as SK are among the absolute top teams in the world, anything less than making the final is a disappointment.
On the other side, AVANGAR are looking to have a breakout year in 2018. After winning the CIS Minor in 2017, they had a good showing at the ELEAGUE Major, followed up by beating Space Soldiers, Mousesports and AGO Esports in the Farmskins Championship to make a surprising appearance at this tournament.
Even with their surprising showing in the Farmskins Championship, AVANGAR are still big underdogs in this matchup and in the group as a whole. Barring a big upset, SK Gaming should be able to take this game with relative ease.
Prediction: SK Gaming 1-0 AVANGAR
Renegades vs Astralis
Astralis began 2018 with a disappointing showing the ELEAGUE Boston Major, followed up by a surprising roster move. When most people expected them to bring in Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke to replace Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye, they ended up bringing in Emil “Magisk” Reif instead. After a decent showing at StarSeries Season 4, Astralis are looking to improve their form with a good showing in Katowice.
Renegades was one of the surprises at StarSeries Season 4. After losing their biggest star, Keith “NAF” Markovic, many people thought they were done making good runs at tournaments. But after a resurgence in form from their new player Joakim “jkaem” Myrbostad, Renegades made it to the quarterfinals of StarSeries Season 4. It has to be said that they had one of the easiest routes to the playoffs, but considering the expectations set for the team, they did well for themselves.
If an upset were to happen in the first round, this is the match to look out for. In terms of maps, Renegades match up pretty well with Astralis. Both teams seem to have taken a liking to the new version of Nuke, and it might make a rare BO1 appearance. Otherwise, Mirage is looking like a possible battleground, a map that Astralis has been shaky on. Considering that Astralis are still not looking entirely in sync as a team, it’s possible that we will see an upset here. That said, it's going to take a big performance from key players like Nifty and jkaem on Renegades. I will still pick the favorites, but it should be an interesting game, especially if Nuke comes into play.
Prediction: Astralis 1-0 Renegades
Team Liquid vs Gambit Esports
After recruiting Keith “NAF” Markovic to their roster, Team Liquid are looking like top contenders. With a first place finish at cs_summit, followed up by a third place finish at StarSeries Season 4, they should be one of the teams looking to finish at the very top in Katowice. Moving away from having a set primary AWPer and adding in the great firepower of NAF has taken Team Liquid from being an upset team to a true contender.
Gambit on the other hand is a team trending downwards. Their unresolved leadership issues is hurting the team to a large degree. After trying both Dauren “AdreN” Kystaubayev and Mihail “Dosia” Stolyarov in the role, the burden has now fallen onto the biggest star in the team, Abay “Hobbit” Khasenov. Being the leader has hurt the individual performance of Hobbit in a big way, and combined with AdreN having a dip in form, Gambit are lacking star power. Bringing in Denis “seized” Kostin has solved none of the issues in the team and unless we see a big change in the team after StarSeries Season 4, it’s unlikely that they will do well here.
Considering the form of Team Liquid and the issues in Gambit, Liquid should be the favorites here. Both teams have the ability to play different maps, but Inferno is looking like a possible destination. As long as Team Liquid doesn’t throw a curve ball and ban their three weakest maps of Nuke, Cache and Overpass, Gambit shouldn’t be able to beat them on any other map.
Prediction: Team Liquid 1-0 Gambit Esports
Cloud9 vs TyLoo
After the biggest win of their careers at the ELEAGUE Major in Boston, Cloud9 were looking to follow up on their success at cs_summit and StarSeries. They came close at cs_summit, but StarSeries was a different story. Cloud9 ended up exiting StarSeries Season 4 in the group stage, losing to FaZe Clan, SK Gaming and the eventual champions, Mousesports. You can give them a pass for having an unlucky draw and losing to some very difficult opponents, but they have to redeem themselves in Katowice.
TyLoo scored a surprising upset against a disappointing Fnatic at StarSeries. Beyond that, the team didn’t show much and ended up losing every other map they played at the event. The Chinese/Indonesian mix can be good for an upset here and there, but once you go into the BO3’s, it’s very unlikely that TyLoo are going make big things happen.
The individual skill and aggression of TyLoo is what makes them able to score the occasional upset, but when it comes to tactical depth, they are still lacking. Cloud9 should be able to match them in terms of individual skill and take home a victory. As long as Cloud9 don’t underperform and play their own game, a team of their caliber should have no trouble beating TyLoo.
Prediction: Cloud9 1-0 TyLoo
This group should be a lot more open than the previous one. FaZe Clan and G2 Esports are the favorites considering their performance in prior group stages, but as far as the third spot goes, the likes of Fnatic, NiP, and North are all hoping to make a good impression in Katowice.
FaZe Clan vs ORDER
FaZe are one of the biggest favorites to take home the trophy in Katowice. The team has had some issues when it comes to the later stages of the tournament, but when it comes to group stages there hasn’t been any trouble. After their disappointments in Boston and Kiev, FaZe are looking to redeem themselves and win their first event of 2018.
ORDER are the biggest underdog in the tournament. Outside of WESG, the team has no LAN experience and simply qualifying for the event should be considered a win for the team. They should be able to go into the event with no pressure and try to get some LAN experience.
ORDER have been thrown into the lion's den, with their first matchup being against FaZe. The European super-team are usually able to style on underdogs and this should be no exception.
Prediction: FaZe Clan 1-0 ORDER
Ninjas in Pyjamas vs North
Going into this event, NiP decided to bench one of their original members, Richard “Xizt” Landström. Instead, they have brought in Dennis “dennis” Edman, who should bring more firepower and a different playstyle to the team. The new NiP lineup is still an unknown quantity, as we have yet to see the team compete in a LAN environment. IEM Katowice is most likely too early to have big expectations for the team, as they haven’t had a lot of time to practice together.
Just like NiP, North is a team that has changed their starting lineup. The team brought in Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye and Daniel “mertz” Mertz to replace Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke and Rene “cajunb” Borg. North had a slightly disappointing showing at cs_summit, but a tactical team like theirs needs more time to work stuff out.
This matchup is the most even game in the first round. Both teams are still mostly unknown as far as their level goes, and the match becomes very difficult to predict as a result. It’s also hard to say which map the game will end up on, as it mostly depends on how many maps the teams have been able to practice. On paper the teams seem evenly matched and for the prediction I'm picking North, as they’ve had more time to practice as a team.
Prediction: North 1-0 Ninjas in Pyjamas
G2 Esports vs Virtus.pro
While G2 Esports has a lot of trouble once it gets to the playoffs, the team is dominant as long as it’s still in the group stages. At both the ELEAGUE Major Boston and StarSeries Season 4, G2 went 3-0 in the swiss system and looked like a team ready to contend to championships. But once it gets to the playoffs, G2 looks like an entirely different team and their quarterfinals against Cloud9 and Mousesports were not even close matches. As long as they don’t get tricked into believing that it’s the playoffs, G2 shouldn’t have a lot of trouble in this group, unless they get matched up against FaZe Clan later on.
Virtus.pro began 2018 with yet another disappointment at the ELEAGUE Boston Major. As a result, they made their first roster change in 5 years and benched Wiktor “TaZ” Wojtas in favor of Michal “MICHU” Müller. While it’s an upgrade in terms of skill, the move hasn’t fixed any of the issues on Virtus.pro. At StarSeries Season 4 the team didn’t look good at all, with their only win being a close series against the Korean underdogs, MVP Project. Performing in front of the home crowd should motivate Virtus.pro to put on a great performance, but getting past the group stage will be a big challenge in and of itself.
Considering the level of play that Virtus.pro showed at StarSeries Season 4, G2 are looking like the big favorites in this series. It’s possible that both teams agree to play Cobblestone, a map that Virtus.pro actually managed to win against Mousesports in Kiev. If the match ends up being played on Cobblestone, an upset is possible, but G2 should still be favored.
Prediction: G2 Esports 1-0 Virtus.pro
Heroic vs Fnatic
On paper Heroic are underdogs in this group, but they have the ability to score upsets against better opponents on paper. At cs_summit the team was able to win BO3’s against two of the other teams in this group, North and Ninjas in Pyjamas to take 4th place at the event. StarSeries Season 4 wasn’t as successful for the team, and they were eliminated in the group stage. Bringing in Ruben “RUBINO” Villarroel to replace Patrick “es3tag” Hansen is a big upgrade on paper and perhaps the team will be able to take a playoff spot away from one of the favorites in the group.
Fnatic looked like one of the teams that would make a big impact in 2018. After some good playoff placings at several tournaments, the team had a big setback at StarSeries Season 4. The team went 0-3 in the swiss stage and went home in last place, losing to Renegades, Gambit and TyLoo. It’s tough to say if their performance in Kiev was a one off or if it will be a trend going forward, but we will know a lot more about Fnatic once this tournament is over. If they're able to come back to their previous form, they are one of the favorites to go through to the playoffs in the group.
The outcome of this match depends largely on which Fnatic is going to show up. If it’s the same Fnatic that we saw at StarSeries, Heroic should be able to take home the victory. But if it’s the Fnatic that we’ve seen at most other events, they are still the favorites in this matchup. I have to believe that Fnatic’s performance in Kiev was a one off and they will be able to bounce back in Katowice.
Prediction: Fnatic 1-0 Heroic
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