As 2021 draws to a close, opportunities galore arise on the horizon of 2022. IEM Winter provides the final opportunity to qualify for IEM Katowice and sets up a chance for a true world number two to be solidified. With the dominant force of 2021 in Natus Vincere being absent, every contender in attendance will be hungry to shore up the titles that have been constantly sucked dry by the kings of world Counter-Strike. Teams like Heroic, NIP, and Gambit who have previously crumbled before them now have an opportunity to gain confidence heading into the BLAST Global Finals and beyond. What lies in store for IEM Winter when the title contenders have it all to play for and the challengers look to claim new found glory before them?
New Blood, Old Giants, Changed Roster
The historic Major legacy of Astralis came crumbling down at the PGL Major. From the moment they stepped into Stockholm, their backs were painted with target after target. The Danes immediately had to start the tournament out 0-2 in the Challengers Stage by the hands of CPH Flames and Entropiq respectively. But battling all the way back, the squad scraped into the Legends Stage by winning three on the trot. Despite this, the Legends would not have another chance to gain a fifth Major. Battering affairs from NIP, Heroic, and Vitality had the greatest core of Counter-Strike players disintegrate in a catastrophic end. Now, Astralis have added in the stunning Danish duo of blameF and k0nfig to bounce back and bounce back they have. The BLAST Fall Finals saw the new-look Astralis with an unexpected third place finish by not only eliminating FaZe, but even their domestic brethren of Heroic. Combined with the outstanding fragging from gla1ve, Astralis’ new core spells disaster across the world as the Danes reignite and return to a form that can reclaim the lost titles before them.
The Return of Counter-Strike’s Most Beloved
It seemed that the tale of NiKo’s redemption on G2 had come to a preemptive close heading into the Stockholm Major. Barely making a dent at the BLAST Showdown, IEM Fall, or EPL Season 14, the roster moves were already being speculated upon by fans around the world. But against all odds the international roster had an incredibly flawless run to the Grand Finals spurred upon by NiKo, the Bosnian superstar. Heading into IEM Winter, the momentum seems to have been put on hold as nexa failed to arrive in Sweden due to visa issues. In his stead, the return of one of the greatest AWPers in the history of Counter-Strike is on the cards. KennyS with his magic stick will have the opportunity to reignite his career underneath his former banner of G2 and look to heave through Stockholm alongside his trusty rifle of NiKo. Although the expectations may be low on the Europeans, the immense firepower at the team’s disposal could buck a lot of trends at IEM Winter and a magical run could appear before us once more.
The UK Resurgence Arrives
A freefall in the rankings and a disintegration of one of Sweden’s greatest organizations, fnatic had too many questions to truly remain relevant in the ever-competitive Counter-Strike world. A drastic pivot in the organization’s future had to be made and they believed that alex and mezii would be the immediate solution to the problem. While they started out relatively hot in their debut, the results simply were not there. Failing to qualify to the Stockholm Major was absolutely gutting and their young Swedish talent of jackinho had to be the next man on the chopping block. Thus began the story of British fnatic, as they brought on board the face of UK Counter-Strike himself, smooya. Fitting like a glove from the get-go, fnatic have been undefeated on the road to IEM Winter. They have since won DreamHack November flawlessly, dropping only one map on their road to win the second season of REPUBLEAGUE, and now wish to double down on their success against Gambit. The skill ceiling and hunger this roster has remains sky-high, but can they keep up the tempo against one of the best teams this year has had to offer?
Continuing to Flounder
It seemed as though the Major would be the last hurrah of dexter’s MOUZ project, but the international roster somehow found a way to break into the New Legends Stage of competition. The team eked out wins against Renegades and BIG in shocking fashion that the world began to question if there was still something left in the tank from the individuals that had impressed throughout the year. However, regardless of their empty win against ENCE, ropz went absent and the team followed suit in their elimination against Virtus.Pro. The team continued their downward trajectory after a Group Stage exit at DreamHack November causing major concerns about the future of this roster. IEM Winter remains the last bastion of the current iteration of MOUZ and hinges on the cohesiveness and depth this European roster can bring. An opportunity to covet ropz’s services beyond the end of 2021 or perhaps send him off in an exciting finale, MOUZ look to shock and awe one last time in Stockholm and take chips off the stable forces Group A.
Bitter Pills to Swallow
The stellar work Snappi’s men put in at IEM Fall left ENCE in a situation that few people believed was possible. He had single handedly revived an organization that continued to go through internal roster issues prior to his arrival and set the stage for a deep run at the Stockholm Major. While they did take care of business in the Challengers Stage, the New Legends Stage had the system of the European roster in absolute shambles. Going 0-3 and losing to both Liquid and MOUZ, ENCE had to go back to the drawing board at DreamHack November and snatch a title back for confidence. However, the squad still couldn’t catch a break with the red-hot form of fnatic and a dangerous forZe who eliminated them in striking fashion. Now, IEM Winter remains the final opportunity in 2021 for the international dark horses to qualify for Katowice and provides the stage for dycha and hades to shine in front of their countrymen.
Returning to the Form of Yore
IEM Summer and EPL Season 14 feel like distant memories to OG. Following a slew of poor results including a failing to qualify for the Fall Finals and the Major, the European lineup that has incredible potential could not arrive to the biggest of stages. In a similar camp to that of ENCE, IEM Winter leaves a tantalizing final chance to play among the fans of international Counter-Strike in Katowice and return to the form they showcased in the summer of this year. OG remain littered with talent like mantuu and flameZ while also boasting seasoned veterans like valde and Aleksib. An impressive lineup on paper needs to be realized immediately at IEM Winter if they want to challenge for the razor few spots in the playoffs. Arduous tasks and shrouded questions surround the enigma of OG. How has Aleksib been rallying the troops during their extended break and what tricks does the Finnish IGL have under his sleeve in their final appearance of 2021?
Inconsistent German Fragging Machine
It has been a roller coaster of a few months for the BIG Clan. Failing to advance to the New Legends Stage led the world to believe that this iteration of the roster would seriously be in talks for a change. Regardless, the Germans pushed forward to DreamHack Open November where they struggled in their opening round against GamerLegion and never looked back. Although they were utterly dismantled by fnatic in the Grand Final, there still lay some promise within this roster that the new coach of enkay J sought after heading into their last LANs. At the V4 Future Sports Festival, they qualified for the semifinals and rolled over for Gambit’s red carpet to the Grand Final. Following suit, a last place finish at the BLAST Fall Finals leaves an inconsistent and discombobulated German roster heading into IEM Winter. A rematch against FaZe kicks off the BIG campaign as they search for the form they showcased in spades during the online era of last year. Can gade completely fill the shoes of the Turkish pride left behind? Or will tabseN continue his heroic fight to the bitter end of 2021?
A Hurtling Fall From Grace
When the IEM Fall title remained firmly in the Swedish organization’s hands, it seemed as though the team had peaked exactly at the right time to deliver on home soil heading into the Major. Although they set themselves up with a 2-0 start in the New Legends Stage, NAVI and Gambit sent the Swedes packing to face the Copenhagen Flames in a nail-biting final series that had LNZ’s last heroics to drag NIP to the quarterfinals. Another lifeline had been granted to the hometown heroes as they had gotten the easier side of the bracket but were quickly stifled by NiKo’s monstrous performance and forced the hand of the organization to bring in es3tag heading into the BLAST Fall Finals. Things went from bad to worse in Copenhagen as NIP were shocked by the brand-new Astralis and smacked in the Royal Arena by a Team Liquid who had simply nothing to lose. In order to truly calibrate themselves, IEM Winter will remain an absolutely pivotal event for the world to understand the true potential of NIP or whether the stars of device and REZ will continue to buckle under the pressure when it counts.
Promise Turned Disappointment
The story for the FaZe Clan to even qualify for the Major was a razor-sharp finish at IEM Fall. But with the chance that they were granted, they were able to fly through the Challengers Stage 3-0 and looked like a true dark horse for the entire event. Although, when the chips were down FaZe could simply not handle the heat. A battering from both G2 and CPH Flames and a knockout blow from Virtus.Pro left karrigan’s roster scratching their head for answers heading to Copenhagen. With the caliber of competition rising even higher, the BLAST Fall Finals proved in even more turbulent of a time regardless of a parting win over BIG. Eliminated 5th-6th as one of the premier organizations Counter-Strike has to offer, FaZe want nothing more but to silence the question marks surrounding their current roster at IEM Winter. Absolute legends, olofmeister and rain, remain the hot topic for fans around the world and will be integral to the success that the young guns of Twistzz and broky so desperately need. How will karrigan steer the FaZe ship in the waning hours of the year?
The Attempt To Silence the Online Tag
Ever since LANs returned, one of the best teams of 2021 have been fighting tooth and nail to shed the tags of being an online team. While every LAN they have attended thus far has resulted in deep playoff runs, they are still yet to lift a historic title. Jitters still litter the young roster’s jaunt after NAVI absolutely rocked their confidence at the PGL Major. Hyped as one of the marquee matchups of the entire year, Gambit collapsed in front of the Stockholm crowd and were left to pick up the pieces. Winning the V4 Future Sports Festival has certainly picked up the confidence for the squad heading into IEM Winter and it will be the ultimate chance for a title to be lifted with NAVI taking a breather from this event. Ax1le and sh1ro, two of the most pivotal pieces of the Gambit lineup, have been clearly struggling in the limelight of LANs but have still yet to truly come into their own online form. The onus is on the veteran leadership of Hobbit to harness the strength that they have shown all throughout this year and leave it all out on IEM Winter’s illustrious stage.
Running it Back With FL1T
The CIS lineup of Virtus.Pro initially had a similar backstory to the comeuppance of Gambit throughout this year. But where one team rose, another one fell. Although VP could always contend for titles, they could never cross the barrier that their domestic compatriots burst through. Event after event, Jame’s squad struggled to make playoffs or make deep runs themselves. In a shocking twist, the organization decided to make a controversial change right before the Stockholm Major and pulled SANJI from the active lineup. The addition of FL1T from forZe brought some added firepower that was thought to be the last puzzle piece in the title puzzle. Throughout the event, shades of a championship team arose from Virtus.Pro but was never refined or consistent enough to truly make a lasting impact at the event. VP found themselves with a quarterfinal finish in their first outing as a new lineup and look to solidify themselves at IEM Winter. Jame has been hungrily searching for a Tier 1 title ever since the cs_summit and Flashpoint wins, he will do whatever it takes to claw back one for his loyal men.
The Last Breath of NA’s Finest Core
The organization that brought North America the closest thing to an era the region has ever seen. The core of Stewie2K, EliGE, and NAF, did the impossible for a region that has historically been written off by international fans. Now rumors swirl around the organization’s sweeping changes to the roster that perhaps IEM Winter will be the last dance of the Team Liquid of old. With how unabashedly unprepared the roster was heading into the BLAST Fall Finals, it felt as though there would be no reason to follow them any longer. Their campaign began catastrophically against Vitality in their opening match and playing NIP did not feel like the best matchup in Copenhagen. But bucking all trends, Liquid stunned NIP out of the Royal Arena and nearly did the same against the Danish titans of Heroic as well. The individuals on Liquid are forever some of the most skilled players to touch the game and the potential for the North Americans to cause a ruckus at IEM Winter remains sky high. Although Group A has some challenging opponents, Team Liquid have the pieces and the experience to turn the entire Group Stage upside down.
TACO’s Counter-Strike Revolution
After MIBR, TACO began a nomadic career among the Brazilian region until January of this year where he created a fresh project of GODSENT using only the finest of prospective talent within his region. Regardless of the growing pains the new team had, in recent months GODSENT continue to find new heights in their Counter-Strike and now have the time to prove themselves at IEM Winter. Going 0-3 at the PGL Major certainly hurt the morale of the young Brazilian squad, but TACO kept the team’s head to the ground and trained even harder to return to his former stature. His team’s stellar attitude and chemistry towards the game reaped its rewards as most recently they qualified for EPL Season 15’s Group Stage through the arduous Conference Stage. Heroic as an opening game could spell disaster for GODSENT right off the bat, but with how far TACO and his band of Brazilian men have bounced back…you cannot ever count out the Brazilians from stunning the world.
Teetering on Championships
Scraping through the Challengers Stage of the PGL Major, Heroic had seemingly lost their charm from the online era and could not muster enough to battle back in the Legends Stage. But a switch was suddenly flipped, and Heroic were off to the races. Pushing Natus Vincere from the get-go into continuous series wins, the Danes felt born to steal the throne away from the favorites of the tournament. The playoffs started off beautifully for Heroic as they defeated Virtus.Pro in a grueling BO3 and were in pole position to snuff G2 out of the competition. However, a star-studded performance from NiKo ripped away the Grand Final spot from the cadiaN’s men and left Heroic with a tough pill to swallow. The woes didn’t stop there. Moving forward, the BLAST Fall Finals had the squad manage to make the gods of NAVI bleed. But another setback in Astralis dragged the team back from the soaring feeling and set up an IEM Winter of revenge. Hungry to challenge for the top spot in the world alongside a legitimate depth to their roster and map pool, Heroic want nothing more than to lay waste to all those who challenge the throne or die trying.
Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain
The Frenchmen of Vitality showed impressive results throughout the year despite the setbacks the organization faced. Instead of pivoting a piece here or there, an international shakeup is supposedly on the way for Vitality and now the French have nothing to play for…or do they? The BLAST Fall Finals had the squad considered as one of the weakest lineups at the event, especially since there was no motivation for the team to push for another deep run. However, after a huge confidence boost from destroying Team Liquid, the Frenchmen did not let up. Defeating the dangerously new Astralis twice in Copenhagen itself gave a Top 2 finish for Vitality. On the same day as the lower bracket final, they challenged NAVI thoroughly after pushing them on map 1 of the Grand Final and eventually snapping their 20-game winning streak on map 2 of Nuke. IEM Winter could be yet another opportunity to make history with a roster that has absolutely nothing to lose. With every bit of good faith and exemplary individuals, Vitality remains an international behemoth and will do everything to still show they have fight in them.
Asia’s Last Stop of the European Tour
The most storied Asian organization in Counter-Strike now must make their final stand in Stockholm following their arduous task at the Major. Having pushed the Major semifinalists of Heroic and nearly eclipsing the Spanish brigade of the Movistar Riders, TYLOO went powerfully into the night and have begun to train within the confines of European CS:GO. Although the results have been middling, the amount of experience that TYLOO have gained throughout the end of 2021 will finally be put to the test in a deadly Group A. G2, NIP, OG, and Astralis have all firmly set their eyes on a Group Stage advancement and getting through Asia’s best will be seen as an easy feat. To TYLOO, it will be the last stand of David as they take on the goliaths of international CS:GO and put an emphatic stamp on a comeback year of Asian Counter-Strike.