Intel Extreme Masters Season XVI – Katowice Betting Preview

Widely recognised as one of the biggest and most prestigious esports events in history, the IEM Katowice is back on the schedule! It will welcome 24 of the world’s best Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams who will clash at Spodek Arena in Katowice, Poland, for a shot at the coveted trophy and the lion’s share of the $1,000,000 prize pool.

History has been written and rewritten at the Spodek Arena since the first event in 2014, and with the rise of new young talent and the newly-crowned kings, Natus Vincere, this year’s edition promises to be as exciting as ever. But can the Ukrainian CS:GO powerhouse take the first step towards defending the Grand Slam, or will a new team swoop in to emerge as the new top dogs in the scene?

IEM Katowice 2022 Format

The IEM Katowice 2022 will be an offline tournament, divided into three separate stages. The event will kick off with the Play-In stage, continue into the group stage, and end with the playoffs, where the top six teams will duke it out for the trophy.

  • Play-In Stage – February 15-16
  • Group Stage – February 17-20
  • Playoffs – February 25-27

The Play-In stage will welcome 16 teams, who will compete in a double-elimination bracket, with all opening games played as best-of-one (Bo1) and the final games as Bo3. The top eight teams will then advance into the group stage, where they’ll join eight directly qualified teams in Natus Vincere, Gambit Esports, G2 Esports, Team Vitality, Heroic, Virtus.pro, FURIA Esports, and Team Liquid.

In the group stage, the 16 CS:GO teams will be divided into two double-elimination format (GSL) groups, with all matches played as Bo3. The top three teams from each group will then advance into the playoffs, where they’ll be seeded according to their group placement.

The group winners receive a direct bye into the semi-finals, while the runners-up and the third-placed teams proceed into the quarter-finals as the High Seed and Low Seed, respectively. All playoff fixtures will be Bo3, except for the Grand Final (February 27), which will be Bo5.

With the format out of the way, let’s take a look at our picks!

 

The CIS Juggernauts

Natus Vincere (4/5) are the favourites to win the tournament, which is fair. They’re the reigning Major champions and a team that was essentially unstoppable for the whole second half of 2021, winning three straight tournaments. However, NaVi could only manage a fourth-sixth place finish at BLAST Premier Spring Groups 2022 in January, which is terrible for their standards.

But then again, BLAST Premier was the first tournament after the player break, it was an online event, and the games were all best-of-one (Bo1). So considering we’re now back on LAN, NaVi should be taken seriously and be viewed as a legitimate contender. Still, there’s a small chance they revert back to the »Old NaVi«, where they alternate between winning everything or suffering early tournament exits.

NaVi’s regional rivals, Gambit Esports (5/2), are the second-favourites to win IEM Katowice, priced at reasonably generous odds, considering this is the second-highest rated team in the world. However, I wouldn’t go betting on them now.

Gambit Esports continue to claim how they have no issues playing on LAN, but it’s no secret that they are getting significantly better results online. Don’t get me wrong, this is an amazing team capable of great things, but at 5/2, they don’t spark any interest for me.

Not Ready Yet

G2 Esports (6/1) and Team Vitality (12/1) are the third and fourth favourites to hoist the trophy, priced at significantly higher odds than the CIS juggernauts. But there’s a good reason behind that. These two teams have played only one official tournament with their new rosters, and while both showed promising results, I don’t see them as proper tournament contenders.

Vitality just recently had to switch from French to English (due to the addition of three Danes – two players and a coach), so they’ll need some time to improve the communication. Similarly, G2 Esports changed their coach and in-game leader, and while they did not need to change their language, swapping such essential figures in the roster is not insignificant and will likely lead to an adjustment period.

Furthermore, I don’t know how good the recently signed CS:GO prodigy, Ilya “m0NESY” Osipov, will perform on LAN. He’s 16 years old and is set to play at the highest possible level, just a couple of months after competing in academy leagues. I’m ready for him to prove me wrong, but I have my doubts he will be able to deliver in high-pressure situations.

Main Selections

That leaves us with Heroic (14/1) and Virtus.pro (14/1) as the two teams I am most excited about.

IEM Katowice is one of the most prestigious events (after the Majors and the IEM Cologne), and these kinds of tournaments are known for upsets. I’m not trying to say one of the complete outsiders will claim it all, but it’s always worth looking past the top favourites.

Both Heroic and Virtus.pro have stable rosters, have not made any drastic roster changes, and have been producing solid results of late. Both have also done well at the recent Major and are known to perform on LAN.

They might not be able to go all the way, but I can see either of them reaching the finals.

Virtus.pro have an excellent 88% win rate across the last three months, while Heroic’s figure shows only 22% over the same stretch, but I wouldn’t overreact to that number. We have to consider Heroic had to play against teams such as NaVI and Gambit straight after the player break and without their best players, so I would take their win rate with a grain of salt.

Admittedly, Heroic also lost against a tier-2 team, K23, during Pinnacle Winter Series #1 at the start of February, but I wouldn’t overreact to that result either. The Pinnacle Winter Series #1 is a tier-2 event, and Heroic (like many other top teams) did not care too much about it.

 

What About Other Teams?

I’ve skipped most other teams the general public would consider as serious candidates, but there’s a good reason they’re not on my list.

Most notably, FaZe Clan (15/1) are without Robin “ropz” Kool due to COVID, while Ninjas in Pyjamas (25/1) are without Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz. The two teams are essentially missing their best players, which will severely harm their chances to make a deep run.

Besides that, I don’t believe in the new Team Liquid (33/1) project; FURIA (40/1) could be competitive, but they’re not good enough to go all the way, while Astralis (40/1) lack a proper AWP player. Yes, they have Philip “Lucky” Ewald, but he’s not good.

Lastly, we must touch on Fnatic (33/1), who look good on paper, but they haven’t played that many games lately, which is why I would tame my expectations about a possible miracle run. Copenhagen Flames (50/1) might come off as an exciting pick due to their impressive performance at the PGL Major Stockholm 2021, but the Danes have since cooled down and are not nearly as good as they were a few months back.

Final Words

Natus Vincere and Gambit are the two teams who have the best chance to win the tournament, but I would place Heroic and Virtus.pro close behind. And since I don’t like the odds on either of the two CIS squads, we’re taking Heroic and Virtus.pro to reach the finals at 13/2 with half a unit.

Prediction: Heroic to reach the final 13/2 at bet365 (0.5u)

Prediction: Virtus.pro to reach the final 13/2 at bet365 (0.5u)

Author: Eva Gray