Previewing NA's IEM Katowice 2023
With the BLAST Premier Spring Groups drawing to a close just days ago, tier-one Counter-Strike is already back on the menu in the form of the all-important IEM Katowice. This event carries extra weight for the North American sides of Liquid, Evil Geniuses, and Complexity, who are all left with something to prove after each missing out on the BLAST Premier Spring Finals in Washington, D.C. With that in mind, it's time to take a look at the situation of each squad as they prepare for their matches in Poland.
North America's top squad, currently ranked fourth in the world, have the most to prove heading into Katowice. After a solid second-place finish at the BLAST Premier World Final, Liquid rolled into 2023 with their heads held high, but devastating results at the BLAST Premier Spring Groups quickly put a stop to that. Liquid only garnered a single BO3 win in the four series they played, a 2-0 victory over countrymen Complexity. Otherwise, Liquid found themselves twice bested by OG and outright eliminated by BIG, with Liquid only accruing ten rounds across the two maps played against the Germans.
While it's a little bit early to completely abandon ship, a last-place exit at the BLAST Premier Spring Groups is far from promising, especially considering Liquid's caliber. An early exit at Katowice, however, would signal larger issues plaguing the squad, something that would need to be sorted out quickly considering the proximity of the Blast Paris Major North America RMR Closed Qualifier, scheduled for February 17th.
Liquid's presence in the main stage of Katowice thanks to their ESL Ranking is both a blessing and a curse; it saves the squad the trouble of enduring the Play-In gauntlet, but Liquid will have to hope they can get warmed up into the tournament quickly. Being joined in their group by NAVI, G2, and FaZe, in addition to four sides from the Play-In, Liquid will need to radically improve their form if they want to even come close to reaching the playoffs.
Evil Geniuses' showing at the BLAST Premier Spring Group was certainly interesting, to say the least. After upsetting Danish powerhouse Heroic in their opening BO3, the American side was unable to maintain that form throughout the event, as they faltered against Vitality, stumbled versus Heroic in their rematch, and was ultimately eliminated by Complexity. While there are certainly promising signs here, namely the BO3 victory over Heroic as well as taking a map off them in their second encounter, there are still plenty of concerns to go around. All five of the Evil Geniuses players find themselves in the bottom ten performers of the event, with young gun Jadan "HexT" Postma posting a team-high 0.89 rating. Ouch.
While Evil Geniuses can certainly be proud of their win over Heroic, it is crucial that they can nail down what allowed them to come out on top in that series. Unlike Liquid, Evil Geniuses will have to claw their way through the IEM Katowice Play-In, with their opening matchup slated to be against European side fnatic, which is not a squad to sniff at by any means. fnatic ended their year on a high note; a quarterfinal finish at the IEM Rio Major and a first-place finish at the Elisa Masters Espoo make William "mezii" Merriman's men a daunting prospect for an opening game in Poland.
A win over fnatic would not get Evil Geniuses out of the woods quite yet, as they would still be facing the winner of Sprout versus OG in a BO3 to qualify for the main stage, two squads who can certainly tussle with Evil Geniuses. The Geniuses have shown in a single flash of brilliance that they can go toe-to-toe with the world's best, but if they wish to prove that that was more than just a stroke of good luck they will need to make drastic improvements.
Following the conclusion of the BLAST Premier Spring Groups, Complexity are hands down the squad with the most to look forward to heading into IEM Katowice, something not expected by many as 2023 kicked off. Early losses to FaZe and Liquid suggested that there was little Johnny "JT" Theodosiou and his men could be thankful for to start the year. A win over Evil Geniuses was certainly a plus, but did not exactly turn any heads. The real showstopping performance was in their match against NAVI, which ultimately came down to the wire. In the end, Complexity fumbled a 14-8 lead on the decider map, missing out on an opportunity to compete on home soil in the BLAST Final, but they still showcased greater potential than at any point during 2022.
Like their compatriots Evil Geniuses, Complexity will also be starting their Katowice run in the Play-In. Complexity does not have an easy task ahead of them, with an opening matchup against German side BIG, and a potential BO3 qualification match against the winner of FURIA versus Permitta. Unlike Evil Geniuses, however, Complexity have far more to be hopeful for on an individual level. Despite his squad missing out on qualification for Washington D.C, Michael "Grim" Wince finished as the seventh-highest-rated player of the BLAST Premier Spring Finals with a stellar 1.23 rating. While the rest of Complexity trailed behind him, if Grim can capture even an ounce of that individual output, Complexity have a solid chance of moving past BIG, bringing them one step closer to the IEM Katowice main stage, but it remains to be seen if star showings from Grim will be enough to take the squad far.
Barring a complete turnaround from these three squads in terms of form, it is highly unlikely that any of North America's representatives will make a deep run in this prestigious event. The possibility certainly exists, and all three of these teams have shown off their potential in one way or another, but for them to score some time on the stage would require a tremendous amount of skill, effort, and just plain luck.