CS:GO: What to look out for at IEM Chicago

IEM Chicago 2018 was the first time the Intel Extreme Masters tour came to the Midwest. Photo by Nathan Burleyson
IEM Chicago 2018 was the first time the Intel Extreme Masters tour came to the Midwest. Photo by Nathan Burleyson /

With the CS:GO player break around the corner, teams still have things to prove at IEM Chicago. Will Team Liquid dominate? Can Vitality make their mark?

The summer months tend to be a grind for the CS:GO tier-one teams. It all leads up to a month-long player break, and then it’s full steam ahead to the major. For top teams like Team Liquid, Vitality and ENCE, participation in tier-one events has been close to perfect, as they’ve run the summer gauntlet. Now a well-needed break is just around the corner, but IEM Chicago is the last hurdle to get over.

This is the second year Chicago has hosted an Intel Extreme Masters tournament; last November at the Wintrust Arena and this year at the much larger United Center. The participating teams are Team Liquid, Vitality, ENCE, G2 Esports, Envy, MiBR, Heroic and Renegades. The tournament runs from an offsite group stage on Thursday and Friday, to semi-finals and finals on Saturday and Sunday in the arena. Last year’s IEM Chicago champions Astralis will not be in attendance.

The scene looks a lot different today than it did last November. Liquid had one of their many second-place finishes at last year’s event, and now it seems that they have cemented their era. It looks like their event to lose. After a dominant performance at Blast Los Angeles where they didn’t drop a map, Liquid look to win their sixth tournament in a row with ease.

One of the teams that will try to make it difficult for Liquid is Vitality. Lead by Mathieu ‘Zywoo’ Herbaut, who many are beginning to call a clear top two player in the world, the French team is carving their place in today’s scene. They could end up playing second fiddle to Liquid’s dominance if they don’t step up this weekend. If they empty the tank this weekend, they can go round for round with any team in the event. Zywoo has been playing out of his mind recently, with a 1.33 rating at ESL One Cologne at the beginning of the month. He was good enough to win the MVP award, even when placing second overall.

MiBR is going into Chicago with the same roster confusion they had going into Blast. Last Sunday, a benching request from star player Marcelo “coldzera” David put the team into a sticky situation. The decision followed frustration from numerous lackluster placings, including last place at Cologne. Later, the team decided to honor his request and temporarily replace Coldzera with coach Wilton “zews” Prado. He filled in at Blast Los Angeles last weekend, where the team went 1-1-3 as zews posted a .75 rating. MiBR, when invited to Chicago, looked like a potential championship contender, but now they’ll be lucky to get to the United Center.

Outside of the household names, this tournament features a few underdogs in Heroic, Envy, and Renegades. Heroic and Renegades are much more used to the big stage than Envy. Heroic had a solid showing at Cologne, where they beat ENCE in the group stage and took a best of three against BIG before falling to Vitality and Ninjas in Pyjamas. They are trying to jump the rankings and are the most likely team to take a surprise map against Vitality, Liquid, or ENCE.

Renegades has always hovered just outside of the top ten this year. They have never really been a strong contender in recent memory. July has been a pitiful month for them, as they fizzled out of ESL One Cologne and seemed to never show up at Blast Los Angeles, going 1-4 with a lone win over the new Cloud9 roster. This team doesn’t seem to have that high of a ceiling, but they have legends status at the next major, so they will be around for a bit longer. Maybe this could be the weekend that they use to propel themselves into the major.

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Envy is just unproven as of now. They have been playing qualifiers over the past couple of months. They had a great showing at the qualifiers for IEM Chicago and now get a chance to show what they are capable of. The organization is known for Call of Duty and had a dominant French CS:GO lineup. Now they are finding a new footing in the scene, and they get this weekend to wake more people up to their game.

G2 is the team that I am most looking forward to seeing. The French lineup lead by Kenny “KennyS” Schrub and Richard “Shox” Papillon is full of old and new talent. They haven’t competed since making a grand finals run at the ESL Pro League Season 9 Final in June, where KennyS posted a vintage 1.25 rating, good for third in the tournament. But from what they showed there, the team has what it takes to legitimately compete at IEM Chicago and the major. It’s been a long time coming for the core that has struggled immensely in the past year. They can get a rematch against Liquid who beat them 3-1 at the ESL Pro League finals.

The player break is a dry time for fans, but well-deserved for players. IEM Chicago will be the last time teams will play on LAN before the major in August. Tournaments like these can be telling of how the chips will fall at the major. Liquid can continue their dominance, Vitality or ENCE can make them uncomfortable, and teams like Heroic, Envy and Renegades can elevate their reputations with a good run. The tournament begins Thursday at noon EST on twitch.tv/esl_csgo.