With G2 lifting the trophy and IEM Cologne coming to a close, BLIX goes over the main takeaways from the Tier-1 event.
G2 are back on top
Rasmus “HooXi” Nielsen’s G2 arrived in Cologne without a tournament win since IEM Katowice back in February, having recorded a single top-four placement at BLAST Premier Spring Final in the rest of 2023. Even as transfer rumors piled up in the off-season the quintet stuck together and once again hit peak form in a premier event— taking home the trophy with statement wins over Astralis, FaZe, Vitality and ENCE. The high quality of opponents G2 faced only stands to further reinforce the significance of this run, which once again raises expectations for the team built around Nikola “NiKo” Kovač.
As much as G2’s run was a prime example of team effort, NiKo was the best player in Cologne, topping the rating charts as a rifler and recording a staggering 61% success rate on his numerous opening kill attempts. Russian AWPer Ilya “m0nesy” Osipov once again proved to be a world-class sniper, dominating in groups and ending as the event’s second-best player, but NiKo was still the X factor in G2’s playoff matches. Making life even easier for HooXi, Nemanja “huNter-” Kovač recorded the second-best big event rating of his career and matched his Katowice performance, showcasing how scary G2 are in their peak.
While NiKo and G2 were unable to secure a Major title in CS:GO; failing to qualify for IEM Rio 2022 and crashing out of the BLAST Paris Major under HooXi’s leadership, such outstanding performances at the two most prestigious LANs on the calendar have finally pushed experts and fans to acknowledge the true potential of the quintet. Now, G2 will look to establish themselves as the clear #1 before the transition to CS2, taking on the best teams in the world in the Saudi-based Gamers8 event before returning to Europe for the 18th season of ESL Pro League: will they take the next step, or will inconsistency have the better of them again?
ENCE establish themselves as contenders
While a second-place finish will not be satisfactory to Danish IGL Marco “Snappi” Pfeiffer, ENCE are now a real contender and the real surprise package of 2023. Guy “NertZ” Iluz’s addition back in February finally gave ENCE an elite-level round closer, and Alvaro “SunPayus” Garcia evolved into an astonishingly flexible tier-one threat— as his domination of Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut in the Cologne semi-finals has again proven. Under Snappi’s leadership, ENCE have secured a top-four finish at all three non-Major big events they attended in 2023, with an unexpected title run at IEM Dallas being their crowning achievement.
If G2 set themselves apart from the rest of the competition because of exceptional individual talent, Snappi’s decisive and effective calling has been ENCE’s strongest asset so far. All of their runs this year came with no more than a single player in the event’s top ten players, with the team’s four riflers taking turns partnering SunPayus as its driving force. Just in Cologne Paweł “dycha” Dycha shone in the team’s troubled opening match against 9INE, NertZ dominated Heroic with multiple clutches on Mirage, Pavle “Maden” Bošković dismantled Vitality on Vertigo and Snappi top-fragged on Anubis, the only map ENCE secured against G2.
However, ENCE’s biggest strength is also their biggest weakness. As SunPayus failed to replicate his T-side form in the final against G2, ENCE found themselves unable to break through G2’s defense and recorded a measly nine offensive rounds across Nuke, Mirage and Ancient. Neither Dycha, nor Maden, nor IGL Snappi recorded more than a 40% win rate in their opening duels on the T side, as individual heroics continuously saved ENCE’s run. The line between flexibility and inconsistency is scarily thin. Nonetheless, the future is still looking bright for ENCE, as even with all these issues pressure molded Snappi into an elite leader.
Astralis are the winners of the off-season
As visa issues prevented Cloud9 from fielding their new CIS superteam in Cologne, at least during the group stage, all eyes were on the many other teams who had made changes in the summer shuffle. Unexpectedly the most improved quintet were the Danes of Astralis, who recovered from an early competitive loss to G2 to secure their first big even top-four since IEM Cologne 2022. Led by legendary four-times Major winner Nicolai “device” Reedtz, Astralis eliminated NiP, MOUZ, NaVi and Heroic before once again falling to the international G2 superteam in the semi-finals.
The start of Benjamin “blameF” Bremer’s return to the IGL role has been nothing short of exceptional, as the Danish superstar’s solid calling combined with a valuable 1.16 rating. Together with device, whose return to dominance has similarly continued, the Danish rifler forms an elite duo capable of challenging any team. Even more impressive was Astralis’ recruitment: while their individual performances were disappointing, both Johannes “b0RUP” Borup and Victor “Staehr” Staehr filled their roles perfectly, the first as a jack-of-all-trades support and hard entry and the second as a proactive CT side rifler.
The new signings and subsequent role changes allowed Christian “Buzz” Andersen to finally showcase some of his potential, as the youngster dropped 31 kills in Astralis’ Overpass win over NaVi and followed it up with 49 in 50 rounds against world #1 Heroic. If Staehr can find his footing, matching the performances he was capable of in Sprout, Buzz’s peaks would make Astralis a scary opponent for even the most established teams. What’s left to see is if the Danes will be able to replicate this performance across their next events— especially as their Cologne run heavily relied on a 5-1 winning record on Ancient.
FaZe’s superteam keeps stumbling
FaZe were the undisputed best team of 2022, taking the top spot in four premier events, including the Antwerp Major, and securing a plethora of top-four finishes during the year. 2023 has not been kind to Finn “karrigan” Andersen’s squad, who took first place at EPL Season 17 but only recorded two further playoff appearances. The issues were compounded by long-time coach Robert “RobbaN” Dahlström leaving the team, as the international quintet arrived in Cologne trialing former teammate Filip "NEO" Kubski for the position. FaZe only took a single win in Germany, overcoming NiP from a map down before falling to NaVi and G2.
As we had already pointed out back in Malta, the most worrying aspect of FaZe’s drought is that it cannot be attributed to a significant drop in the players’ individual level. Both Helvijs “broky” Saukants and Robin “ropz” Kool are still consistent performers, although often far from single-handedly carrying the team over the line, not unlike Håvard “rain” Nygaard. Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken is having a relatively disappointing season, but he’s still capable of impressive peaks. A weak map pool might be part of the problem, especially as FaZe lacks a home map they can comfortably and consistently fall back on.
All pressure will be on karrigan to rebuild the team’s playbook as the transition to CS2 becomes closer and closer. While there will be calls for roster changes, especially if the team cannot bounce back in ESL Pro League, giving the roster time to settle under NEO’s new leadership will be the winning choice. As shown by stats like FaZe being the worst team at trading in Cologne on the T side, the team should first and foremost look to regain its composure in matches, shedding the pressure to perform that has been affecting them for the past months to finally play as an unit again.
NiP hit rock bottom
NiP seemed to have found the solution to its struggles in the off-season, with Hampus “hampus” Poser returning from a six-month-long hiatus to replace disappointing IGL Aleksi “Aleksib” Virolainen. While on paper his partnership with Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke and Ludvig “Brollan” Brolin would form a scary and hyper-aggressive rifling trio, hampus has failed to even remotely match his peak form, ending the event as the lowest-rated player with Brollan not far ahead. The Swedes left NiP toothless, as the team beat FaZe on Mirage before collapsing out of Cologne by collecting only 24 rounds across four maps.
NiP’s conundrum looks to be one of poor role distribution: while Danil “headtr1ck” Valitov is slowly turning into a solid AWPer and Fredrik “REZ” Sterner has embraced his new hard anchor roles, the rifling trio failed to show up when it mattered. Brollan and k0nfig’s passion for opening fights has deprived hampus of most of his space-taking plays, and almost always leaves the Ukrainian sniper deep in the back lines with little to no chance at having impact. The free-form system could work if both performed at a high level, as shown in NiP’s only map win, where Brollan and k0nfig’s space-taking allowed hampus and headtr1ck to rack up kills, but such a playstyle can quickly become predictable as more and more setups are revealed.
Read More: headtr1ck: "Now I have a bit more freedom"
The offensive side worked better for the Swedish-majority lineup, as Brollan performed relatively well in the opening kill department. But hampus’ team often looked lost in the mid-rounds, often failing to convert man advantage situations. This general lack of tactical depth, which almost resembled unpreparedness, was even more crippling when NiP fell behind in the early round, as they converted an abysmal 6% of the rounds they took the opening death in, in part due to overextensions which didn’t allow for trades to come through. While it’s still early days, the Swedish outfit showed very little to be hopeful about in Cologne.