All eyes in the Counter-Strike world turn to the first big LAN tournament of the year, as IEM Katowice 2024 kicks off – the first Intel Extreme Masters featuring CS2 after eight years of Global Offensive. Reece Barrett previews the tournament.
What is IEM Katowice 2024?
Intel Extreme Masters Katowice 2024 is held by ESL Faceit Group (EFG) and of course sponsored by Intel.
The tournament is running from January 31st to February 11th 2024, with a live audience able to watch the playoffs from Feb 9th to 11th in the Spodek Arena, Katowice, Poland.
24 teams compete for a prize pool of $1m, with the winners also qualifying for IEM Cologne 2024 and the Blast Premier World Final later on this year, as well as the Esports World Cup.
16 teams are currently competing in a double-elimination play-in bracket, where the top eight teams will advance to the group stage.
They will then join another eight teams in the group stage, who are invited based on tournament wins or world ranking, and split into two groups for another double-elimination bracket to whittle down the field.
The top six teams will then compete in front of an almost-capacity crowd in the knockout round – with the two sides topping their groups advancing straight into the semi-finals.
While this is one of the biggest events on the Counter-Strike calendar, the historic tournament is not Valve-sponsored and is therefore not technically a CS “Major”. Katowice has been a Major three times in the past, however, in 2014, 2015 and 2019.
It’s the first CS2 IEM Katowice event, as well as the first ESL Pro Tour Championship event of the year.
The free expo will return too, giving gamers the chance to enjoy the latest gaming technology without buying a ticket.
A small number of Expo visitors will be able to enter the Spodek Arena too, on a first come first serve basis. In the expo, brands like Acer and EFG will showcase the latest Intel powered gaming technology including the Predator Helios 16, Predator Helios 18, Predator Helios Neo series laptops, and Predator Orion series desktops. This comes as EFG, Intel and Acer expand their strategic partnership in CS and Dota 2.
Katowice will also be the last chance to get into gear before the PGL Copenhagen Major RMR leagues begin.
Esports News UK will also be covering IEM Katowice 2024, with Hannah Marie and Reece Barrett out in Poland producing content for the site, and Predator Gaming on board as our exclusive coverage partner throughout the event.
Which play-ins teams are competing at IEM Katowice 2024 and how are they shaping up?
16 teams are currently competing in the play-ins, which runs January 31st to February 2nd 2024.
World number five Virtus Pro headline this field after smashing through the PGL Copenhagen European Closed Qualifiers, advancing to the RMR in third place.
Cloud 9 are the other heavy hitters having just reached the quarter finals of the Blast World Finals and the Russian roster are expected to cruise through the play-in with little trouble.
FURIA’s average age of 26.9 years old is the highest out of the play-in teams, and Gabriel ‘FalleN’ Toledo’s side will hope to use that experience to punch a ticket to the main tournament having not played an official game in 2024.
Apeks failed to make it to IEM Chengdu 2024 in the European Open Qualifier, so a good run in Poland will be essential to boost their position in the ESL World Ranking.
Eternal Fire kick off their play-in campaign against BetBoom, two teams who both breezed through the PGL Copenhagen European Closed Qualifiers.
Janusz ‘snax’ Pogorzelski will make his sixth Katowice appearance if GamerLegion get through, and English coach Ashley ‘ash’ Battye will want nothing else but to guide the world number 18s to the main event.
The organisation recently became a Blast Premier affiliate team and picked up an unexpected 2-0 win over FaZe in the Spring Groups, but they were ultimately sent home in Group B’s consolidation final when FaZe got a 2-1 revenge victory.
Spirit crashed out of the Blast Premier Spring Groups with losses to Liquid and FaZe, but will hope that the new addition of world number eight Dmitry ‘sh1ro’ Sokolov can help them bounce back from an early exit.
IEM Katowice 2019 winner Nicolai ‘dev1ce’ Reedtz has the chance to win the trophy again with Astralis, who qualified for the Blast Premier Spring Final last week/whatever time.
TheMongolz have by far the youngest team at the event, averaging an age of 19.4, and will look to impress in Katowice ahead of their first ESL Pro League appearance since Season 7.
English coach Rory ‘dephh’ Jackson returned from Valorant in 2023 to coach M80, and he will now be forced to stand in for the global roster after in-game leader Marcus ‘maNkz’ Kjeldsen stepped down from the active roster for personal reasons.
M80 qualified for the PGL Copenhagen Americas RMR – which ‘dephh’ will also stand in for – but crashed out of ESL Challenger Atlanta in last place in another event that their coach had to play in.
Heroic made it to the final at last year’s Katowice but have made three roster changes since, with the new European-mix unproven as a unit so far.
Australian outfit Rooster make their way into the play-in by topping the pecking order in ESL’s Oceania ranking, and while they are sat 39th across all regions, they won’t walk on eggshells when it comes to making an impact in Katowice.
Lukas ‘gla1ve’ Rossander’s new Polish ENCE roster will make their debut at the play-in, giving the in-game leader the chance to see where his team are at after making three transfers over the festive break.
They will face BIG in the first round, who were pushed to the brink by Astralis in the Blast Premier Spring Groups and failed to qualify for the Blast Premier Spring Final in London after a 2-1 loss in overtime.
Finally, local legends Rebels earnt their spot by winning the ESL Polish Championship Autumn and come in as massive underdogs ranked 110th in the world.
Counter-Strike 1.6 professional Grzegorz ‘SZPERO’ Dziamałek will make his debut as a coach at IEM Katowice 2024 after retiring aged 32 at the end of January.
The IEM Katowice 2024 group stage teams
Eight teams have sealed their space in the group stage before the play-ins even began, with G2 Esports securing their spot by winning IEM Cologne 2023. It will be the European roster’s first appearance with Wiktor ‘TaZ’ Wojtas as sole head coach.
MOUZ qualified after winning ESL Pro League Season 18 – they lost just four maps out of the 24 they played at the event.
IEM Sydney 2023 champions FaZe also won the Intel Grand Slam Season 4 prize bonus, awarded to a team who wins four big ESL events in a ten-tournament time period.
The remaining teams all qualify based on their ESL World Ranking, with Complexity sitting pretty ranked fourth in the world.
Team Vitality come into the tournament as undeniable favourites having won back to back trophies at the Blast Premier Fall and World Finals since adding William ‘Mezii’ Merriman to their line-up.
The HLTV world number one side also won the publication’s ‘Team of the Year’ award at the recent HLTV Awards Show 2024.
Natus Vincere did not drop a map at the PGL Copenhagen European Closed Qualifier A – they arrive in good form and have the opportunity to win the organisation’s second IEM Katowice trophy.
Dark horses Monte are yet to play a competitive game in 2024 and will be the only team to start their year at IEM Katowice.
Team Falcons play their second LAN tournament after adding Pavle ‘maden’ Bošković, Emil ‘Magisk’ Reif and world number six Alvaro ‘SunPayus’ Garcia in December.
StarCraft at IEM 2024
The event will also feature IEM’s annual StarCraft II tournament, which has run since 2013, and will be held in the Auditorium of the International Congress Centre (MCK) – a venue directly connected to the Spodek Arena via an underground tunnel.
Running from February 8th to 11th, the last four days of the event see the StarCraft II tournament take place, where 24 of the world’s best players, including Oliveira, Serral and Maru, will be competing.
British broadcast talent includes Kaelaris, DeMu and Wardi.
CS broadcast talent at IEM Katowice 2024
Broadcast talent for IEM Katowice 2024 has already been announced, with UK voices James Banks, OJ Borg, Freya Spiers, and casters Machine, Dinko, Harry and Hugo on board.
The UK CS community’s predictions for IEM Katowice 2024
With Katowice fast approaching, figures from the UK Counter-Strike scene have looked into their crystal balls to give Esports News UK their predictions.
Caster Travis ‘Trav’ Landaw Mott did not veer off the beaten path with his guess of the two finalists.
Trav said: “It’s the boring answer, but FaZe and Vitality. As you can see with the rankings, they’re so far and away ahead of the rest not just in terms of points but in terms of playstyles and consistency. The only team I can see breaking through either of them is G2, as they can just annihilate anyone on their day.
“A Mouz, Navi or Cloud9 would have to buck the trends we’ve seen from them previously to intrude into that contending 3, and for the trophy, I’ll take Vitality, because of king Mezii, obviously!”
Trav also made a bold prediction for two surprise packages to outperform expectations at Katowice.
Trav said: “Keep your eyes on Virtus pro and Monte. People probably expect the other teams I’ve mentioned to outplace them, but they both play so much Counter-Strike it’s scary.
“Monte were averaging something ridiculous like 1.5 maps per day last year, and both have had a lot of success in ESL Challenger, with Monte taking Jonkoping and VP taking Atlanta late last year.
“Monte won’t feel like a tier one team in the eyes of many, but they are and deserve to be there. None of the top teams enjoy playing either of them and they both can be so hard to put away.”
Adam ‘Adam9130’ Ahmad, in-game leader for 7AM, offered his thoughts on CS2’s current gameplay before making his tournament predictions.
Adam9130 said: “I don’t think the game is in an amazing state but that’s kind of expected just based off of how CSGO was on release, so it’s not surprising CS2 is still lacking in some areas and has bugs, but events like these are always necessary to improve the state of the game, plus Katowice is one of the biggest events so it’s always good to spectate irregardless of the state of the game.
“I think Vitality will for sure reach the final and probably win it, I don’t think there’s any debate that they’re the strongest team in the world.
“When you have a player like Mezii and he isn’t a top 2 player on your team it speaks volumes about the skill and creativity on the team. In terms of other teams I’d say FaZe could give Vitality a run for their money, outside of those I think there’s probably a bit of a dropoff but I wouldn’t write off any other teams since it’s a new game and I imagine teams are going to be showing off some very creative things that could catch a lot of teams off guard.”
For Adam’s surprise pick, he gave the world number 18s his co-sign.
Adam9130 said: “I’m excited to see what GamerLegion has to offer, I think they’re always considered an underdog team that always puts up good fights and sometimes exceed people’s expectations so I think they could surprise a lot of teams again.
“I want to see NiKo back to his best because I’m a massive fanboy so I’m rooting for G2 [too].”
Caster Tom Pickering was conflicted about the state of CS2, but feels as though Katowice will help the community see how far the game has come along.
Tom said: “Do I think CS2 is ready? Yes and no, Valve has proven with CSGO that trial by fire is how they work and is what they’re doing with CS2, chuck stress at the game, let it show its cracks and fix them.
“Peekers advantage along with elastic banding on players make the game feel dodgy online, so that’ll be the more interesting part to watch for how the game will affect the landscape of Katowice, which onliners will make it through and how they will perform on LAN.”
Tom went against his countryman ‘Mezii’ and picked two different finalists.
Tom said: “FaZe for upfront chance to win it, with Falcons being the side runner and less expected dark horse. Falcons being the dark horse and surprise for a bunch of people, there has been a lot of questions marks from people on the forming of the team, people obviously expected a slightly different line up from them, I think so did they, and ripping Ence apart soured some people towards them too.”
“I don’t promise results from them, but if Magisk has himself under control and they find themselves in the right mindset then I think we could see them make a run for the front, albeit through the lower bracket.”
The Esports News UK team’s predictions for IEM Katowice 2024
Content producer Hannah Marie thinks that IEM Katowice 2024 will be a good test to see how good teams actually are on CS2.
Hannah said: “IEM Katowice is the first big LAN with players fully settled into CS2. As a result, Katowice should give a much clearer picture of who will perform well this year.
“Although Team Vitality is heading to the event riding the high of HLTV Award success, several other teams have the capabilities to make a splash and prove their worth.
“It will be particularly interesting to see how Mouz perform with Brollan on loan.”
Hannah similarly held Vitality in high regard, throwing in a curveball too with her surprise package.
Hannah said: “I think we could be looking at a Faze/Vitality final. I think Mouz could defy expectations. Brollan is a fantastic player, but we have yet to see his true potential on a LAN stage after a more disappointing run on the Ninjas in Pyjamas roster.
“However, we know that he can perform well on the MOUZ roster thanks to his time as a substitute in Abu Dhabi. It is definitely a team I recommend watching closely!”
Editor and founder Dom Sacco hyped up the historic event, picking out the UK talent as ones to watch too.
Dom said: “It goes without saying IEM Katowice is a special event in the esports calendar, so I’m delighted to have Predator Gaming on board as our coverage partner for this year’s event – and to be hosting a special IEM Katowice 2024 viewing party in London for the grand finals.
“I was lucky enough to attend the show back in 2016, where I witnessed SKT smash Fnatic to win the League of Legends tournament. While that game isn’t in the Intel Extreme Masters line-up these days, we’re blessed to have a crop of top Counter-Strike talent competing.
“For 2024 I’m of course expecting Vitality to do well given their back-to-back Blast event wins recently, and it’s great to see UK player Mezii doing good things with them.
Dom stayed local with his surprise package picks too.
Dom said: “I hope to see GamerLegion make more of a name for themselves given they have UK player ‘volt’ and coach ‘ashhh’ on board. Let’s not forget UK veteran ‘dephh’ now with M80. He’s gone from CS to Valorant and back to CS again, and from player to coach and player again at this tournament, and so I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on these UK storylines.
“Whatever happens, we can be sure of witnessing some top quality CS action once again. I can’t wait!”
Content producer Reece Barrett also backed ‘Mezii’ and Vitality to go all the way at the Spodek Arena.
Reece said: “They might have been a little shaky at the Blast Groups, but I still think that Vitality can go above and beyond and pick up a third consecutive trophy.
“As long as they stay off Overpass, I think they’ll have too much quality for anyone else. Expect G2 to give them a game in the group stage, and that’ll be a proper litmus test as to whether they can continue their good form in the new year.
“But I do think that Natus Vincere have been on a solid trajectory, and it’s a bit crazy to call an organisation as established as Na’Vi ‘underrated,’ but I don’t think many are expecting them to go as far as the final in Katowice.
“I think it’ll be Vitality and Na’Vi as the top two, with Vitality winning IEM Katowice 2024 in the end.”
For his surprise pick, Reece turned to a different side not mentioned so far.
Reece said: “BIG were on the brink of something brilliant in the Blast Spring Groups, and I do think that if they can hold their leads, especially on their own map picks, that they’ll be able to go much further than many believe.”
Esports News UK will be covering IEM Katowice 2024, with Hannah Marie and Reece Barrett out in Poland producing content for the site, and Predator Gaming on board as our exclusive coverage partner throughout the event.
Reece is a sports journalist who has previously worked with the likes of BBC Radio Solent, Southern Daily Echo, Salisbury Radio, VAVEL and many more. He is currently studying a degree in Sports Journalism at Solent University.