Katowice is a city entwined with Counter-Strike. Becoming champion in the Spodek is a mark of prestige all within the game seek, but only the best can achieve it. From NEO to olofmeister, device and s1mple, Poland has seen some of CS:GO’s greatest players lift the trophy. It has seen the victory of hometown heroes Virtus Pro, the underdog story of Golden’s Fnatic, and the dominance of prime Astralis in 2018. Katowice has long been one of the jewels in esport’s crown, and it has the champions to match.
Reflecting on EMS One Katowice 2014 in 2017, Virtus Pro’s TaZ said that “majors these days [don’t] feel as special as first Katowice event, where we had 10 thousand people roaring on the stage".
Of course, he is slightly biased - 2014 was his team’s first Major win in CS:GO as well as being the first Major in their home country of Poland. It was also the squad’s first truly S-tier event win in CS:GO, after TaZ and NEO had won eight (unofficial) majors in Counter-Strike 1.6: one WSVG, three WCGs, two IEMs, and two ESWCs.
The win was made even more special by who they defeated in the final: Sweden’s Ninjas in Pyjamas had been the dominant team in CS:GO. Their 87-0 streak had ended, but they remained the best team in the world. Yet, they were not just any number one team - they had history with VP. NEO, though not a star player by 2014, was f0rest’s true rival for GOAT status at the time.
By winning in Katowice, VP denied NIP and f0rest their first Major in a game they had dominated, adding another string to NEO's already considerable bow. The Golden Five was no more, but TaZ and NEO were building a new legacy. And Katowice was the first brick in that.
By 2015, NIP had been toppled but CS:GO still had a Swedish king in Fnatic. This team had already won a major, DreamHack Winter 2013, but as the game developed their firepower deficit to other top teams was made clear. Fnatic reacted swiftly, adding KRIMZ and olofmeister.
The impact was immediate. A silver medal at the ESL One Cologne Major in August 2014, just two months after the lineups formation, was the foundation for them becoming the best team in the world by the autumn. Going into DreamHack Winter, 2014's next major, they were favourites. But, after being told to replay their quarter-final against LDLC because of a certain pixel boost Fnatic withdrew from the tournament, leaving the path clear for LDLC to win the Major.
ESL One: Katowice 2015 was the next Major - and Fnatic’s shot at redemption. And they were peerless in Poland. Losing just one map on the way (to NIP in the final) Fnatic got the Major to cement their status as the best team in Counter-Strike. Come 2016, Fnatic had swapped pronax for dennis, but they remained the best team in the world. Going into IEM Katowice, they had won the last five LAN events. And, naturally, they made it six.
Yet, as unlikely as it seemed at the time, that 2016 win was Fnatic’s last for two years; Olofmeister’s hiatus due to a wrist injury was a blow the Swedes never recovered from. Even once he returned they never recovered their dominance of late-2014 to mid-2016. By 2018, the organisation were without dennis or olofmeister, and mere outsiders for titles. Ranked 9th in the world, few expected flusha, KRIMZ, and JW to relive the glory years as they arrived in Katowice for the Intel Extreme Masters.
Even after defeating olofmeister’s new team FaZe, the best team in the world, Fnatic were far from favourites. But, even in the playoff stage, they just kept winning. Liquid were upset 2-0 in the semi-final, leaving a best of five rematch against FaZe between Fnatic and a third Katowice title. Remarkably - and aided by 127 kills from flusha across five maps - Fnatic succeeded in their quest. They were champions for the third time and the unquestionable Kings of Katowice.
After the aforementioned fall of Fnatic, and apparent heirs SK’s slump, Counter-Strike entered an era of parity in 2017. The leading contenders to end this parity were the Danes of Astralis, who had seemingly conquered their semi-finals curse by winning ELEAGUE Atlanta in January 2017.
IEM Katowice was the second big event of the year, and Astralis would repeat their Major success. They were not truly tested until the final, where FaZe comprehensively won map one and took an 11-9 lead on map two. That, though, didn’t even matter; dupreeh’s desert eagle ace turned the tide and Astralis won the next three maps to get their hands on an IEM trophy for the first time.
An era beckoned, but the wins in Atlanta and Katowice proved to be a false dawn. They were Astralis' last trophies of 2017, and after Kjaerbye’s departure in early 2018, the team were again rebuilding. However, by solving the role conflict of dupreeh and Kjaerbye, the addition of Magisk proved to be one of the best roster moves in Counter-Strike history.
Astralis conquered all before them, coming into IEM Katowice 2019 as heavy favourites. Victory was far from a formality though, especially after dupreeh’s father passed away the day before Astralis were due to fly to Poland. Underperformance would have been completely reasonable - expected, even - but this is Astralis we are talking about.
Heartache was converted to motivation and Astralis eviscerated all that stood before them in Katowice, winning the major without losing a single map. Already the best team in the world, their third Major title set them well on their way to becoming the greatest of all time. For many, they already were.
In October 2020, Gambit promoted their academy team to the main roster, only keeping HObbit from their old squad. Based around the young but talented in-game-leading of nafany, the experience of HObbit, a star duo of sh1ro and Ax1le and the selfless support of interz, Gambit had a squad ready to compete; they arguably had more firepower already than their 2017 Major winning squad.
Katowice 2021 was the S-tier debut of that talent, and they delivered. While other teams slacked in the online era, Gambit worked harder than ever. Knocking out CIS rivals Natus Vincere in the quarter-finals was a statement victory that was converted into a debut trophy for Gambit after victory over Spirit in the semis and VP in the final.
The youngsters were here to stay; Gambit’s Katowice win gave them the confidence to become the best team in the world in the summer of 2021. It may have been online, but Gambit were as worthy as any Katowice champion.
The inaugural winner of StarCraft 2 in Katowice had a fitting name: Kang "First" Hyun-woo. After a 2nd Place finish at the MLG Summer Championship and poor results in the GS - a 13th-24th finish was his best - First came to Poland with a point to prove.
And that, he certainly did. Going 19-2 in maps, and 8-0 in series, First dominated IEM Katowice. With the world championships still being hosted in Hannover’s CeBit, the field was not as strong as future events in Katowice but you can only beat what is in front of you.
First passed that test with flying colours, and converted his win here into a 2nd place finish at the World Championship in Hannover. He also came 3rd-4th in the finals of Season 2 of Blizzard’s World Championship Series (WCS) although he would not win another major title. His first win was, unfortunately, his last.
Like First, sOs won IEM Katowice playing as Protoss. Yet, sOs was already a world champion after his 2013 victory at the WCS Global Finals. The presence of players like sOs, herO, Polt, and TaeJa, showed the growth in prestige of Katowice after it was made the venue for IEM’s World Championship.
There was another twist, in that every cent of the $100,000 prize pool would go to 1st place. After a ‘cheesy’ but effective proxy opening in the first two maps of the grand final against herO, sOs had all the momentum - and the Korean did not let his grip on the trophy slip.
In game four, with that huge prize on the line, herO went for a rush early on. The gamble did not pay off; sOs rebuffed the attack and counter-attacked to win with ease. When he won another WCS Global Finals in 2015, it was the third time he won a prize of $100,000, putting him amongst the highest-earning StarCraft 2 professionals. He may have been an underdog for his first title of 2013 but in Katowice he delivered a performance worthy of one of the favourites.
Zest, after coming out of obscurity to win his debut GSL Season in 2014, was marked as a star for the future. Yet, his short career had already suffered setbacks; Zest’s defeat in the Ro16 of the WCS Global Finals and failure to qualify for 2015 GSL Season 1 meant he came to Poland as an outsider rather than a favourite.
In his first matchup, Zest was already the underdog. However, talk of his slump was silenced after he defeated Hydra and INoVation to qualify for the semi-finals - the Protoss player was back to his best. Another Terran awaited in the semis but Zest, full of confidence, dispatched of Bybong.
In the final, Zest was finally the favourite. He was performing at the level he had already been playing at in practice during his ‘slump’, and was again amongst the very best players in the world. He had a winning record against Trap, and was attuned to PvP battles. The 10,000 fans in the audience also offered an advantage: Zest has said he “never gets nervous in front of a crowd”, while Trap had never played on as big a stage before.
The final was a brawl, full of macro, but Zest had the edge all the way through. Grinding to a 4-1 victory, Zest was World Champion once more.
The Terran race would retain the Katowice trophy in 2017, with TY taking home the $100,300 prize for first place. Throughout his run, victory was in doubt. He began the tournament with two losses in the group stage, scraping through to playoffs with a 3-2 record.
In those playoffs, TY’s quality was clear. After defeating Zest 3-1, 3-2 series ensued against both GuMiho and aLive.The final against Stats would also go the full distance. Stats was TY’s old teammate - and housemate - but neither progamer held anything back.
“I’m so happy I was able to show the audience such great things”, TY said after lifting the trophy, “but I think I was only able to do so because you cheered for me”. The Spodek was full once more, and it had seen its best final to date. TY was a worthy winner.
Rogue, at the time of writing, has won nearly one million dollars competing in StarCraft 2. He has established himself as one of the best players of all time, and his two victories at IEM Katowice have only consolidated that status.
In 2018, Rogue was fresh off of winning at Blizzcon of 2017. However, after an opening day loss to Serral in the group stage, he was far from invulnerable. Rogue, though, took that loss personally.
He won the next five series, losing just one map. In the quarter-finals, faced with the previous year’s champion TY, Rogue continued his run, storming past the Terran player 3-1. After going down 2-0 to Maru in the semi-final, doubts were creeping in once more - but Rogue was not listening. He won the next seven maps, including a 4-0 defeat of Classic in the final.
He reflected to Smix that he “didn’t come into this event expecting [to win] at all” and that the “stage was even bigger than Blizzcon” but you would not have known it from his dominant performance. He was the first Zerg to win an IEM world championship, but after soO’s win in 2019, it would be three in a row for Zergs in 2020.
Competing without a crowd because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rogue was back to his best at IEM Katowice 2020. After another slow start - this time losing to Zest in his opener - Rogue again went 4-1 in the group stage and was flawless in his first playoffs match, a 3-0 victory over Dark in the quarter-finals.
A tight 3-2 win over Maru ensued, before a rematch with Zest set up a final that would decide who would be the first player to win IEM Katowice twice. This time, however, Rogue made no mistake. After a close first few maps, Rogue ascended, his close study of Zest’s wins over Reynor and Serral finally paying off. His 4-1 victory showed that he was no flash in the pan; he was right up there with the best in StarCraft 2.
Where to start with soO? Starcraft 2’s Sisyphyus had a reputation for being the bridesmaid but never the bride. Second placed finish followed second placed finish; he was good enough to beat any player in the world - unless it was a final.
His run at IEM Katowice 2019, long after his supposed peak, is one of the Spodek’s most magical moments. And it deserved a full article.
Read more about SoO at the Wall of Glory
In 2021, IEM Katowice would get its first champion outside of Korea, albeit online due to the continued pandemic. At the age of just 18, Italian Reynor put himself up there with Serral as a foreign World Champion, and he did so the hard way.
Series against Dream, Trap, Stats, Dark, Maru, and Zest is as tough a run as any - for the teenager to defeat them all was a statement of intent. He may have lost two maps in each of the four playoff series, but he grinded out a victory in each and every one of them.
Reflecting to CatZ, Reynor said that he “asked Smix three times before the interview if [he] had actually won...I play Zerg I’m not good at counting”. His good humour and impeccable mechanics have made him a star already, but he is far from done with StarCraft 2.
Along with Clem and Serral, resistance to the Korean hegemony has arrived. They will all be attending IEM Katowice 2022 - as will the crowd - for the first time since 2019. Don’t miss it.