Eight teams will battle it out as the IEM tournament circuit makes its way to Shanghai, China. Despite the absence of the world’s most elite teams due to the beginning of player break, a significant US$250,000 prize pool is on the line. Here’s what to watch for.
Gambit’s sharpened Blad3
From benching Bektiyar ‘fitch’ Bakhytov for Denis ‘seized’ Kostin to parting ways with coach Andrey ‘Andi’ Prokhorov, Gambit has seen its fair share of talent come and go in the past several months. Following seized’s departure, the organization signed Nikolay ‘mir’ Bityukov — formerly of Vega Squadron — after a one-month trial period. In mir’s short tenure, the team put up a respectable 3-4th place finish at DreamHack Open Summer, but bombed out of ESL One Cologne in last place following shocking losses to mousesports and Na`Vi. The first half of 2018 has seen its share of ups-and-downs.
That all looks to change as Flipsid3 has loaned veteran in-game leader Andrey ‘Blad3’ Gorodenskiy to the Kazakh-Russian squad until the end of September. This will be the first of four offline events that Blad3 will coach Gambit, and a vital event at that. Gambit’s performance here and will be a clear indicator of the potential this team has heading into the New Challengers Stage of the FACEIT Major: London, and the coach will play a vital role in ensuring that these players step up their game. With a sixth man behind the team, Mikhail ‘Dosia’ Stolyarov and Dauren ‘AdreN’ Kystaubayev can finally focus their attention towards fragging and not in-game calling, something that has plagued this squad since losing in-game leader Daniil ‘Zeus’ Teslenko and coach Mykhailo 'kane’ Blagin following a momentous victory at the Krakow Major last July.
The lack of NRG
NRG Esports were one of the clear favorites from the Americas Minor to qualify for the upcoming New Challengers Stage of the FACEIT Major. Despite topping Group A, upset losses to compLexity and eUnited in the upper and lower brackets of the playoffs, respectively, eliminated the team out of the running for one of the two spots for the New Challengers Stage. In-game leader Damian ‘daps’ Steele averaged a below-average 0.80 rating across 18 maps played, but posted a K/D differential of -51, one of the worst numbers he’s posted in his tenure as a professional player.
As an in-game leader, however, frags are not daps’s primary focus. That’s left up to the star players, rifler Ethan ‘nahtE’ Arnold and AWPer Tsvetelin ‘CerQ’ Dimitrov, both of whom are more than capable of impacting the map. Having a strong support in Jacob ‘FugLy’ Medina and a versatile hybrid in Vincent ‘Brehze’ Cayonte complementing nahtE and CerQ, the North American squad are clear favorites to make the grand finals, barring any upsets similar to the ones at the Americas Minor that ultimately saw them fall short of qualifying for the Major. To ultimately take home the trophy and US$125,000, the pressure falls on daps not only to post slightly improved K/D numbers, as he is quite a capable fragger himself, but maintain mental composure in the mid-round calls and be able to close out maps.
Hometown favorites TyLoo
This Indo-Chinese squad is coming into Shanghai as the hometown favorites, with three of the five players being of Chinese nationality. Ke ‘Mo’ Liu and company most recently qualified for the New Challengers Stage and DreamHack Masters Stockholm, results that have been consistent with their performances in recent offline events, such as CS:GO Asia Championships. However, the team missed out on a spot at ESL One Cologne and failed to make an impact at StarLadder i-League Season 5, where they were swiftly eliminated from the group stage. Even with a stand-in in Yue ‘AE’ Yu, no player on TyLoo could post an even 1.00 rating at the event, with in-game leader BnTeT posting the highest individual one - a 0.99.
This team is looking to place well in the events leading up to the New Challengers Stage, and it all starts off here. TyLoo have all the pieces they need to show up strong: a strong AWPer in Mo, versatile riflers in Hui ‘DD’ Wu and Haowen ‘somebody’ Xu, an explosive player in Kevin ‘xccurate’ Susanto, and a star IGL in BnTeT. The real question is: will they be able to make the hometown crowd proud and lift that ever-elusive trophy?
fejtZ’s return to HellRaisers
HellRaisers will be at a slight disadvantage, as star AWPer Özgür ‘woxic’ Eker cannot attend the event due to visa issues. In his place stands rifler Kristjan ‘fejtZ’ Allsaar, who last played for HellRaisers towards the end of 2017. In his six-event tenure with the squad, which included a 5-6th place finish at ESL Pro League Season 6 Finals, he averaged a 1.01 rating. Not too bad for the Estonian player, who had no international experience up until that point. Since then, however, he’s jumped around various teams with varying results. In his most recent event, playing as a stand-in for PLINK at the CIS Minor, the team failed to make playoffs and finished 5-6th.
Despite HellRaisers attending the event without their primary AWPer, the team has a capable secondary AWPer in Bence ‘DeadFox’ Böröcz. Having that secondary AWPer in play allows fejtZ to pick up entry kills — the role he took on last time playing under the HR banner — onto the sites. With another entry fragger in Issa ‘ISSAA’ Murad, an explosive support in Vladyslav ‘bondik’ Nechyporchuk, and a determined veteran in-game leader in Kirill ‘ANGE1’ Karasov, HellRaisers can make a deep run in this tournament as one of the dark horses. This event will show the potential this squad has heading into DreamHack Masters Stockholm and the New Challengers Stage of the FACEIT Major, the first two events following the player break. Without woxic, however, can this HellRaisers squad do enough to lift the trophy in Shanghai?
Who do you think will win IEM: Shanghai? Comment below!