IEM Cologne will bring the curtain down on the CS:GO season as the player break looms. For some teams, this moment is all or nothing.
When the IEM Cologne champion walks on stage on July 17 and lifts the trophy in front of a raucous crowd at the LANXESS arena, roster mania will (officially) begin. Like an unkinked hose, changes will spray everywhere as a number of teams will look to address their issues ahead of the second CS:GO Major of the year, IEM Rio.
Teams like FaZe, Cloud9 and Heroic are safe (whatever that means in esports), but for a slew of competitors, a lot is riding on the outcome of this tournament. A deep run at IEM Cologne, the most prestigious event on the CS:GO calendar outside of the Majors, will be the difference between pulling the trigger on changes and finding something — however fragile — to hang on to, if only just a little bit longer.
CS:GO teams normally wait until the summer break to fine-tune their squads, but Heroic bucked that trend by signing Jakob ‘jabbi’ Nygaard, one of the most sought-after players in Denmark, ahead of IEM Cologne despite coming off a title-winning campaign at the Pinnacle Cup Championship.
Heroic knew that their long-standing problems did not go away with that trophy and quickly moved to land the Copenhagen Flames player, who was also being courted by a number of international teams. jabbi could prove a masterstroke from the Heroic organization, which hopes that the 18-year-old’s addition will provide a spark to a team that has struggled to retain an elite status in the scene.
With the summer break just around the corner, all eyes are on Mareks ‘YEKINDAR’ Gaļinskis, the eighth-best player of 2021. The Latvian prodigy is available for transfer after being benched by Virtus.pro and would be a perfect fit for many teams given his billing as one of the game’s premier entry-fraggers.
In a normal year, he’d have the scene in his hands and a host of suitors lining up for his services. However, he is facing a market with very few options, not only because of his price tag (rumored to be in excess of $1 million) but also because of the general unwillingness to conduct business with Russian organizations in the current climate.
A deal for YEKINDAR could require some creative maneuvering, but Cloud9 have proved that it is possible to pry talent away from Russian organizations without facing much backlash. They signed Gambit’s CS:GO team in a deal negotiated with Norway-based ULTI agency, with the financial details of the move unclear.
IEM Cologne will be a good opportunity for prospective buyers to watch YEKINDAR in action in a different system: He will be playing for Team Liquid, who are in the market for a player to replace Richard ‘shox’ Papillon. YEKINDAR would be a massive coup for Liquid and help solve the team’s lack of firepower, but as Dust2.us recently wrote, fans should not hold their collective breath in hopes of seeing the Latvian donning Liquid’s colors beyond this event.
There is a cloud of uncertainty hanging over a number of teams attending IEM Cologne, not least G2 Esports, who continue slipping and sliding through a disappointing year. The signing of Russian prodigy Ilya ‘m0NESY’ Osipov has given the team more reliability in the AWPing role, but recent events have shown that their issues ran deeper than that role. At the BLAST Premier Spring Final, when Nikola ‘NiKo’ Kovač disappeared on the final two maps of the semi-final clash against Vitality, G2 were found lacking.
Stunned and distraught after the team’s elimination in Lisbon, Aleksi ‘Aleksib’ Virolainen could not find an explanation for his team’s meltdown. “I just felt like, ‘How did we lose this match?’” he said. “We still have one more tournament, which is Cologne. Let’s see what happens next time. It just sucks.”
Six months into Aleksib’s tenure as the team’s in-game leader, G2 have only one final appearance to show for it. That was at IEM Katowice, their debut tournament, which indicates that their progress has stalled. Another disastrous outing will most likely see G2 press the panic button.
Vitality bought themselves some time with their grand final run in Lisbon, but the respite could be just temporary for the international team. They have looked disjointed and out of sync, a consequence of the struggles to adapt to communicating in English — a novelty for everyone involved.
Vitality’s management has made it clear that it will give the team enough time to work through their issues, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be a change. Even Dan ‘apEX’ Madesclaire admitted as much. “Of course I think that if we don’t get results we will have to do something at some point,” he told Dexerto. “It can be anyone on the team but ZywOo, I guess.”
Hoping for the best
Two other teams that may pull the trigger on roster changes in the event of another heartbreak are Astralis and FURIA. Both sides have failed to live up to the hype generated by their rosters, to the point that it wouldn’t be a surprise if neither made it to the playoffs.
After showing some promise earlier in the year, FURIA have seen their form fall off a cliff ahead of the German event. They went out last at ESL Challenger Valencia, a disastrous tournament for the Brazilian contingent, following losses to Sprout and 00NATION. “Far away from what we expected, but this is the reality and we will deal with it,” head coach Nicholas ‘guerri’ Nogueira wrote on Twitter.
Astralis’ double swoop of Kristian ‘k0nfig’ Wienecke and Benjamin ‘blameF’ Bremer brought hope back to the fan base after the departure of Nicolai ‘dev1ce’ Reedtz, but eight months on, the team appears to be at an impasse. The signing of AWPer Asger ‘Farlig’ Jensen has done little to improve their fortunes, leaving them with much thinking to do in the summer.
It’s impossible to find only one culprit for their poor season, with blameF the sole player who has offered any consistency. If Astralis struggle through IEM Cologne, it’s hard to see them not making at least one change, especially with Valdemar ‘valde’ Bjørn Vangså, a player they have been linked with in the past, available on the market.
And then there’s also NAVI. Yes, they travel to Cologne on the back of a Cinderella title run at the BLAST Premier Spring Final, but doubts remain about whether Viktor ‘sdy’ Orudzhev is the right fit for the team in the long run. The Ukrainian organization will be able to make a better assessment of this roster’s potential at this event and use the summer break to analyse its options and look for a new permanent player if needed.
For MOUZ and Complexity, IEM Cologne is expected to be little more than a formality. Such has been their disappointing season that they look like dead men walking, and they are likely to be among the first teams to exit the tournament.
Complexity — who have failed to win a single match against top-30 opposition on LAN this year — are widely expected to move on from AWPer Paytyn ‘junior’ Johnson, who has struggled to regain the form that earned him a move to FURIA early last year. And MOUZ are looking at a summer rebuild that could go in a number of different directions, including replacing Australian skipper Christopher ‘dexter’ Nong, who has never really looked at home on this team.
For a number of teams, IEM Cologne represents a battle for survival, the last chance to salvage a season that has been full of let-downs. For others, an opportunity for players to show what they can do before the inevitable clear-out.
A lot of the summer transfer activity will depend on how the tournament plays out, but one thing is clear: the contours of the tier-one scene will shift significantly in the next six weeks.
Let the roster mania begin.