IEM Summer Preview

Introduction

The conclusion of the RMR tournaments has now led to the triumphant return of international competition at IEM Summer. Thrilling storylines continue to develop as Europe and North America reengage with the ever-looming CIS bosses once more. An added wrinkle in the arrival of Ancient leaves fans and analysts waiting in bated breath to see how this map can forge a new meta. Coveted ESL Pro Tour points, seedings at IEM Cologne, and a prize purse of $250,000 are to be earned at IEM Summer. Who will walk down the avenue of champions and lift the trophy of a shifting Counter-Strike scene?

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Gambit: The Giants Bleed but Reign Supreme

A spectacular form at DreamHack Masters Spring made fans believe that yet another title would be claimed by the new kings of the Counter-Strike kingdom. Shutting down Natus Vincere and defeating G2 twice, Gambit headed into the grand finals with the psychological edge against their CIS brethren. Perhaps fatigue, perhaps s1mple’s dominance, perhaps a little bit of both, NAVI trounced Gambit in a quick 3-0 fashion and snatched away another opportunity for Gambit to stack their trophy cabinet even further. Gambit headed to their CIS RMR and were simply outclassed by Spirit and Na’Vi yet again during the Swiss Stage. Irate from their recent losses, the giants arose from their stupor and demolished through the playoffs. Defeating another rising Russian squad in Entropiq, sucker-punching Spirit, ending Akuma’s miracle run, and repeating the result of IEM Katowice’s grand finals against Virtus.Pro, Gambit rose from the ashes as champions of the RMR. With a chip on their shoulder from their recent losses, IEM Summer poses as a vengeance tour for the youngsters against plenty of budding rivals. The world must fear for the return of Gambit as they smell blood in the water and will stop at nothing to claim yet another title.

Imperial: Fer’s Return to the International Stage

An almost five-month break separated fer from professional play after being let go from MIBR.The Brazilian finally accepted an offer to join Imperial after their DreamHack Open South America win qualified them for their biggest opportunity yet. After joining hands with veterans of the Brazilian scene, zqkS, SHOOWTiME, and most recently, peacemaker, Imperial certainly have the experience to compete at the highest level Counter-Strike has to offer. However, with the lack of officials the team have put in the last month, questions surround them on their legitimacy heading into IEM Summer. Will fer return to the dominance he showcased in 2017 under a new Brazilian banner? Can the fresher faces of f4stzin and ckzao clash with the international machines that loom above them? What will the Brazilian underdogs have in store for the world at IEM Summer? Regardless of the outcome, fer’s Imperial will be a fiery roster to spectate and a passionate band to cheer for.

fnatic: The Swedish Freefall Continues

Fnatic have continued to worry international fans after winning only seven maps in a whopping four months of professional play. A myriad of problems plagues the roster. Having a lackluster map pool, middling performances from JW, and a stark lack of officials under their belt, the former Swedish champions look like shadows of themselves. Regardless of these issues, KRIMZ and Brollan have still fought valiantly under the Swedish banner and provide a beacon of hope heading into IEM Summer. Perhaps with the added time the roster has after their swift elimination from Flashpoint 3, the integration of Peppzor and Jackinho can accelerate and elevate the other stars fnatic has to offer. The squad still has quite the task ahead of them, as Virtus.Pro await in the opening round of play. It is truly now or never for fnatic. They must tap into their potential once more and fight valiantly as failure is simply not an option.

OG: Brimming with Potential

The international squad of OG has shown the world the highs and lows of their roster in the last two months. Defeating Astralis and taking an in-form G2 to three maps at the BLAST Premier Spring Showdown, OG showed that they can do damage against world class rosters. But in Flashpoint 3, the Europeans were outclassed in the rematch against Astralis and were promptly eliminated by ZywOo’s Vitality. Aleksib and company now return to a bootcamp ecosystem to go beyond their admirable campaign at the Spring Showdown and have their potential completely realized. With the stunning displays of brilliance from flameZ, the reawakening of valde’s individual form, and the omnipresent AWP of mantuu, ruggah and Aleksib have more than enough tools to create a championship winning roster. However, with the staunch rejection of Vertigo from the organization, will Ancient crumble the methodical vetoes of OG? Surely an answer will come to fruition as they take on the Ninjas in Pyjamas in an exciting opening duel at IEM Summer.

Complexity: Running Out of Steam?

Complexity finds themselves in a confusing spot of trouble. The international squad have not been able to make a lengthy tournament happen in quite some time as they continue to struggle against Tier 1 opposition. At DreamHack Masters Spring they handled Vitality well in a 16-10 affair, but collapsed against both FURIA and Astralis in two maps. Flashpoint 3 proved no exception to their recent woes as they lost to their kryptonite, BIG, and were promptly eliminated by cadiaN’s Heroic. Although the brackets have not been kind to the international roster, Jks and poizon have both fallen under scrutiny for their performances as of late and will be key pieces in either of Complexity’s successes or failures. It will be on the forces of BlameF and k0nfig to resurrect the Juggernaut as they look to rise above the rut their roster is facing and claim dominance over the Counter-Strike scene once again.

FunPlus Phoenix: On the Fringes of the Best

FPX is an international roster that has shown that they can challenge the greatest in the game but never topple them. At Flashpoint 3, FPX pushed both Vitality and NiP to the brink before getting eliminated in ninth place. In their closed qualifier, however, things changed for the squad as they took down BIG and G2 convincingly to qualify for the main event. FPX truly have the chance to show the world that they have what it takes to become the new stars of the Counter-Strike sky. The core of this roster comes from an unlikely origin but have found themselves to be greater than the sum of their parts. ZehN and STYKO have been considered players who lacked in firepower and only played supportive roles on their respective rosters. Emi had always played second fiddle to the successes of kRYSTAL as an IGL. Maden and Farlig showed potential, but never had a platform to showcase themselves. As FunPlus Phoenix, these five players brave another international opportunity at IEM Summer and look to soar to the heights of the top ten for the first time.

Extra Salt: Another Attempt at International Success

DreamHack Masters Spring did not treat the North Americans of Extra Salt as kindly as they might have hoped. Swept away by both Astralis and Vitality, JT and company went out in last place in a surprising turn of events after their success in Funspark ULTI. After their elimination, they went flawless in their games of ESEA Premier and qualified for the North American RMR with ease. Cs_summit 8 boded well for the squad after defeating AZR’s EXTREMUM and toppling the giants of the region, Team Liquid. However, things suddenly fell apart for Extra Salt as they were knocked to the lower bracket by FURIA in a nail-biting series and shockingly eliminated in a rematch against the Aussies. Exiting North America with a fifth-place finish, the team now enter the den of Europe once more in hopes to replicate their previous international success. Extra Salt will be thrust back into the flames as they take on the red-hot G2 and search for a great first outing at IEM Summer and reroute themselves to greatness.

Vitality: Road to Complete Recovery

After ESL Pro League Season 13 led Vitality to a suboptimal 13-16th exit, the team decided to bring in another young talent, Kyojin. Their first outing with the newest addition proved to be a so-so endeavor, taking scalps off BIG and Extra Salt but falling just short against Brazil’s FURIA. Flashpoint 3 proved more of the same for the Frenchmen. Dropping down to the lower bracket from a shocking debut by DBL PONEY, ZywOo’s crew retaliated with a vengeance against OG and FPX. However, the cracks began to show against the top dogs of Europe as Heroic silenced the French superstar to a mere 21 kills across two maps. As for Kyojin’s integration, the young rifler continues to look uncomfortable at the highest level and has yet to truly hit his stride. Perhaps alongside the veterans of shox and apEX, Kyojin can finally break out at IEM Summer and create a new fold of opportunity for French Counter-Strike. Alongside Ancient’s replacement of Train, apEX’s chance to return to the top five have never been greater. The time is now for Vitality to strike with a first bout against Complexity this Thursday…Watch the French attempt the return to former glory.

Evil Geniuses: Stanislaw’s Ranks In Disarray

The North American greats of Evil Geniuses found incredible success in the beginning of the online era. 2021 on the other hand, has not treated the organization well in the slightest. Eliminated in last place at ESL Pro League Season 13 and losing almost immediately at the Snow Sweet Snow playoffs, the squad added a little Polish flair to complement the young American oBo. Although MICHU has been playing an impressive game as of recent, the roster’s results have become even more abysmal. Exiting both Funspark ULTI and cs_summit 8 in last place, the world continues to ask where the ESL One New York champions disappeared to. Some point fingers to the shallow strategy Stanislaw have implemented as of late. Others have been pointing to CeRq and Brehze’s continued inconsistencies. Regardless of the issues, the results must come around for the North Americans and IEM Summer may just be the platform they have been looking for. The core of an in form Evil Geniuses can spell disaster for teams around the globe and only excite the competition even further.

Astralis: Hunting For a New Identity

The world wrote off Astralis after a shocking turn of events, device signed with Swedish organization, Ninjas in Pyjamas, and left the Danes scratching their heads going into DreamHack Masters Spring. However, rejuvenated with the permanent addition of Bubzkji, Astralis found promising results at the event and finished at a respectable 5th-6th place. The team found similar results at Flashpoint 3 where they lost to the champions of mousesports and Danish rivals Heroic to claim another sixth-place finish. Although the placing was similar to DreamHack Masters, Astralis were severely lacking a clear identity at this event. Dupreeh donning the AWP’ing role once more caused the team to lack some former cohesion that device previously exhibited. Gla1ve also has been gravitating towards only Nuke and Inferno in the organization’s picks which pale in comparison to the deep map pool that Astralis previously were hailed for. Albeit these issues plaguing the roster, some solid results still come from the former champions of Denmark. Hunting for their reinvented identity, zonic’s Astralis will still be quite the international threat at IEM Summer and should not be underestimated.

Sprout: A Relentless German Underdog Story

The German organization, Sprout, have fought tooth and nail to get their opportunities to clash in global tournaments, and IEM Summer is no exception. Winning ESL Meisterschaft and fighting through the ENC Global Playoffs granted the roster a spot at this prestigious event. Playing a whopping 30 maps in the last month alone, Sprout have slowly continued to improve at every turn and could be a dangerous opponent waiting to take scalps off the stragglers and scrap against the best. Most recently, the team took down FaZe at Flashpoint 3 in a stunning 3 map series and pushed their domestic rivals of BIG to the limit before they were eliminated in 11th place. The duo of faveN and slaxz have proven to be a fearsome duo across all levels of Counter-Strike and have already begun shaping up as the next superstars the German region has to offer. The first round for the roster seems quite the insurmountable task as they must take on Gambit right out of the gate. Giving it all they have, Sprout will only go down kicking and screaming before they must bow out.

Spirit: A Deadly Russian Resurgence

Whereas DreamHack Masters Spring did not provide the best results for Team Spirit, the chaos of the CIS RMR lent itself to the newfound energy and resurgence of the Russian team. In the Swiss Stage, the team cruised to a 3-0 start by taking dominant revenge on Gambit, defeating the upcomers of Entropiq, and xsepower’s bankaPEPSI. In the playoffs, the team failed to win the rematch against Gambit but did handedly eliminate Natus Vincere. Eventually, buster and Jame’s entries for Virtus.Pro proved too tall of a task for the Russians to overcome and were finally eliminated in the lower bracket final of the EPIC League. With no single player having to stand out amongst the best of CIS, Team Spirit’s firepower must strike fear into the hearts of every roster at IEM Summer. The only question that remains is how the squad will fare against in their return to international competition. Will it be more of the DreamHack Masters form or rather their breakout IEM Katowice run? The dragons enter the international den once more against Evil Geniuses this Thursday.

Ninjas in Pyjamas: Doubling Down on Greatness

ESL Pro League Season 13 had Ninjas in Pyjamas punch significantly above their weight after placing 3rd-4th at a stacked 24-team event. Despite this, a signing heard around the world dramatically changed the Swedish roster as device stepped into the shoes of nawwk to take another roster to incredible heights. Flashpoint 3 created the perfect storm for the Ninjas, despite some controversy regarding the legitimacy of their opening against Anonymo. Falling short against G2, the squad went on to defeat BIG, shockingly upset Heroic, and take revenge in the rematch against nexa’s men. Ending their Flashpoint campaign, mousesports ended the Swedish dream run in the grand finals and handed NiP their admirable second place finish. In the short term, device has been worth his weight in gold by providing a consistent and unwavering boost of confidence that the younger players can fight for. The return to form from REZ also backed the outstanding results of the organization and creates a new danger to the international space. Carrying their momentum from Flashpoint, the Ninjas look to compound on their successes at IEM Summer and go for gold.

G2: Nearing the Sweet Taste of Victory

The steady improvement of G2 has been a much-awaited process that seems to have finally come to fruition. At DreamHack Masters Spring, the only two losses the squad faced were against the current kings from Gambit, but they still earned a 3rd-4th place finish. As dark horses going into Flashpoint 3, a NiKo-led G2 unleashed their aim upon FaZe and surprisingly Heroic as well. Spirits high, G2 knocked the Ninjas down to the lower bracket to set up an unlikely upper bracket final against mousesports. The opposing European lineup proved to be too strong of a unit for the Kovac cousins to crack and were forced to rematch against device once more. As much as nexa tried to pull the G2 band back together, the Danish AWPer ripped the grand final spot from the clutches of the organization and left G2 in third place. The improvement of AmaNEk’s AWP’ing paired with the rampage of NiKo and huNter show that G2 should not be underestimated any longer. The squad continues to hit their stride with a suddenly deep map pool and should be one of the most dominant forces at IEM Summer.

Virtus.Pro: The CIS Roller-Coaster of Performance

Considering the caliber of teams Virtus.Pro lost to at DreamHack Masters, their results were not as bad as the placing may seem. The team lost to Natus Vincere, the eventual champions, before getting eliminated by an impressive G2. The polar bears were then quickly tasked to navigate the stormy waters of the CIS RMR. Virtus.Pro started with a swift 2-0 in the Swiss Stage before being forced down to the 2-2 bracket by both Entropiq and forZe. The roster then made quick work of ex-Marlian to secure yet another playoff berth. Jame stormed back against forZe in the first round to set up a fight against the underdogs of Akuma. Controversy of Akuma’s legitimacy aside, Virtus.Pro were still defeated by the Ukranians. Enraged by the unlikely loss against an unranked team, buster entered the lower bracket with a mission and dominated alongside Jame. He started his rampage against Entropiq and continued against Spirit to set up another fight against Akuma. History did not repeat itself as YEKINDAR snatched a grand finals spot against Gambit. Although the squad fell to Gambit once more, Virtus.Pro still proved that they have the potential to rule CIS when their core is online. The consistency of the roster lies on the performances of the young YEKINDAR and the grizzled veteran buster. If they can return to their IEM Katowice form during IEM Summer, there will be yet another contender for the coveted trophy.

Heroic: Hitches in the Danish Machine

The realization of cadiaN’s leadership arrived first at ESL Pro League Season 13 where they fought tooth and nail against a fierce Gambit to win their first title this year. The additions of refrezh and sjuush provided the extra firepower and chemistry that the organization was searching for. The Danes cruised through the group stage of DreamHack Masters Spring by demolishing both Astralis and BIG for a semifinal against the revitalized Natus Vincere. Regardless of the close affair, s1mple edged out Heroic with a monster 1.54 rating and sent the squad packing to Flashpoint 3. Heroic marched through as the favorites to face G2 in the upper bracket. In a shocking turn of events, the Kovac duo snagged a key series victory over the squad and forced the team to an unlikely lower bracket run. Although they were able to make it all the way to the lower bracket final, the eventual finalists of NiP ended the Heroic run. It is safe to say that the honeymoon phase of the Danish organization has come to an end. Despite the domination of aim Heroic have at their disposal, more teams have developed and figured out the recipe that the roster has put forward. The world has targeted the new Danish champions and it is now time to see if they can fight back with the same tenacity and passion that put them on the map.

Article written by Anirudh 'Paladin' Ajay - @DatPaladin