The third $1 million Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament of the year is IEM Cologne, which takes place July 5-17. Besides the Majors, the annual Cologne tournament is one of the biggest and most prestigious CS:GO tournaments of the year and known affectionately as “The Cathedral of Counter-Strike.” Ahead of the start of the tournament, here’s everything you need to know including the 24 qualified teams, the schedule and format, and storylines to watch.
- FaZe Clan
- Natus Vincere
- G2 Esports
- Ninjas in Pyjamas
- FURIA Esports
- Team Liquid
- Team Vitality
- Complexity Gaming
- Team Spirit
- Imperial Esports
- Movistar Riders
- PaiN Gaming
Schedule and format
Photo credit: Helena Kristiansson / ESL Gaming via ESPAT
IEM Cologne kicks off with the play-in stage, which takes place July 5-6. The play-in stage will determine which eight of the 16 play-in teams move on to the group stage, where another eight teams are waiting. The play-in stage will be double elimination with the initial matchups being single maps, but subsequent matchups will be best-of-three.
The IEM Cologne group stage takes place July 7-10 and will feature two groups of eight. Group play also will be in a double-elimination format with best-of-three matches, and the top three teams in each group will advance to the playoffs.
After a few days off, the IEM Cologne playoffs will be contested July 15-17 at Lanxess Arena in front of a crowd. The playoffs are single elimination and matches are best-of-three except the final which will be best-of-five. The top team in each group will have the advantage of starting the playoffs in the semifinals.
Storylines to watch
Photo credit: PGL
Will FaZe Clan get one win closer to the IEM Grand Slam?
FaZe Clan have been the best CS:GO team this year. They won the two biggest tournaments so far: IEM Katowice and the Antwerp Major. The Major was particularly special as it was FaZe and Finn "karrigan" Andersen’s first CS:GO Major tournament win. FaZe also have won ESL Pro League Season 15 and sit atop the world rankings in both the official ESL rankings and HLTV’s rankings.
With the Katowice and Antwerp wins, FaZe are also halfway to an IEM Grand Slam. A team needs to win four S-tier tournaments organized by ESL within a window of 10 such tournaments to win the grand slam. Winning Cologne would give them three. Astralis, Team Liquid and Natus Vincere are the only teams to have previously won the grand slam, so it would be quite the accomplishment. After such a massive victory in Antwerp, you can’t fault FaZe for being less than excellent at IEM Dallas and the Blast Spring Finals, especially with such little rest in between all those tournaments. FaZe are still one of the best CS:GO teams in the world and undoubtedly the favorite to win Cologne.
Can NAVI take back the crown from FaZe atop CS:GO rankings?
Photo credit: Adela Sznajder / ESL Gaming via ESPAT
Before FaZe’s dominance, it was Natus Vincere who were on top of the CS:GO rankings. They showed that they’re not quite done yet after winning the Blast Spring Finals. They took down FaZe in pretty dominant fashion (16-6, 16-1) in the quarterfinals of that tournament and then trounced Team Vitality (16-8, 16-5).
It followed a rough few months for the Ukrainian organization. The Ukrainian and Russian roster obviously has had larger concerns since February when Russia invaded Ukraine, and longtime member Kirill "Boombl4" Mikhaylov was benched in May due to “high reputational risks for the club,” likely related to the fallout from a bitter divorce from his wife.
Losing a longtime player could have had a negative effect on an otherwise stable roster, but with Viktor "sdy" Orudzhev joining the squad, NAVI won the Blast Spring Finals. Now, NAVI might be back in top form, and they could prove to be a major threat to win Cologne.
Which teams can challenge FaZe and NAVI?
Photo credit: PGL
Besides FaZe and NAVI, there are a handful of teams that might challenge these two and potentially win IEM Cologne. The most obvious choice is ENCE. They finished second to FaZe in the ESL Pro League and second at IEM Dallas. They also placed 3rd-4th at the Antwerp Major. Their second-place finish in Dallas looks even more impressive when you consider they were without their star Lotan "Spinx" Giladi, who couldn’t travel to the U.S. due to visa issues. Spinx was one of nine Exceptionally Valuable Players, according to HLTV, and had the third-best rating during the Antwerp Major.
Three other teams to look out for are Cloud9, G2 and Team Vitality. Cloud9 won IEM Dallas, Team Vitality finished second at the Blast Spring Finals, and G2 were second in Katowice. After having to leave Gambit Esports, the Russian roster that now plays for C9 appears to have adjusted to life with their new org and could make some noise in Cologne. The French-Danish roster that now comprises Team Vitality also has had time to adjust and gel since former Astralis players Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen, Emil "Magisk" Reif and coach Danny "zonic" Sørensen joined the French organization. G2 and Nikola "NiKo" Kovač have been contenders since last year, with several runners-up finishes at big tournaments, including last year’s IEM Cologne. Like Sisyphus, G2 always seem to be rolling that boulder up the hill only to have it fall back down. Maybe this will be the tournament they finally win.
Which play-in team will make a run to the playoffs?
Photo credit: João Ferreira / ESPAT
There are only six playoff spots up for grabs. The eight teams already qualified for the group stage are the strongest and most likely to reach the playoffs, including FaZe, NAVI, G2, Cloud9 and ENCE. If you assume that those five teams reach the playoffs then that only leaves one more spot. Of the play-in teams, Team Vitality might be the most likely to crack the top six given their aforementioned runner-up finish at the Blast Spring Finals.
Heroic are another strong contender to play at Lanxess Arena. Their 3rd-4th finishes at the Stockholm Major last year and IEM Katowice earlier this year, speak to a very high ceiling for this Danish roster. Reaching the playoffs at the Antwerp Major also was a big accomplishment, and losing to eventual runners-up NAVI is not a bad result.
Lead photo credit: Alexander Dumon / ESPAT