The 2018 Intel Extreme Masters in Katowice, Poland have come to a close, once again making esports history. The twelfth season of IEM showed us the highest level of CS, and is also part of the Intel Grand Slam, where any team that wins four out of 10 premier ESL and/or Dreamhack Masters events is awarded one million dollars.
In Poland, 16 teams competed for a prize pool of over €500,000, a notch towards the Intel Grand Slam, and the chance to immortalize their names on the ever-coveted Intel Extreme Masters trophy. The tournament kicked off on February 27th and the thrilling finals concluded on March 4th.
Seven teams were invited - Astralis, Cloud9, FaZe Clan, G2 Esports, Ninjas in Pajamas, SK Gaming and Virtus.pro. Additionally, regional qualifiers were held in North America, Europe, Asia and Oceania. Team Liquid and Renegades qualified in NA, Fnatic, Heroic, North and Gambit Esports qualified in Europe, TyLoo in Asia and ORDER in Oceania. Finally, AVANGAR earned a seed by securing a victory in the Farmskins Championships.
Group stage play kicked off the tournament on February 27th. With a full 16 teams, upsets were bound to happen. In Group A, SK Gaming took down AVANGAR before running into Astralis and being sent to the lower bracket, where they endured another heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Cloud9 - failing once again to defeat the North American team after their 2-1 loss to them at the Eleague Major in Boston earlier this year.
SK Gaming are currently the only team with two Intel Grand Slam victories, but were unable to bring that to 3 at IEM Katowice.
woke up and still can’t believe we won’t play in this arena— Epitácio (@TACOCS) March 2, 2018
you probably don’t know how much it means for me
today is maybe the worst day in my short cs career
In the upper bracket, Astralis had to go through Renegades and SK before defeating Team Liquid 2-1, moving into the playoffs from the winner’s side. This was their first event playing with the newly added Magisk, who proved to be a brilliant addition to an already star-studded roster.
“I’ve never won a BO3 against SK [...] I really want to break that curse now” said Magisk in an interview with HLTV.org.
In Group B, FaZe Clan ran through Order 16-3 and then took a 2-0 victory over North, who had just defeated the Ninjas in Pajamas and sent them to the lower bracket. FaZe Clan took down North 2-0, and they eventually re-played NIP in the final round of the lower bracket, this time losing to them 2-1. Meanwhile, in the upper bracket Fnatic went the distance, defeating Heroic, G2 Esports and finally FaZe Clan to move onto the playoffs from the winner’s side.
With Fnatic and Astralis coming in from the upper bracket, FaZe Clan must fight Cloud9 for a shot at Astralis, and Teamliquid must fight Ninjas in Pajamas to take a swing at Fnatic for a shot at the grand finals.
FaZe Clan vs Cloud9
Our first match of the playoffs begins on Overpass, where FaZe begin with a dominant first half on the CT side, ending with an Ace from niko and a score of 13-2.
In the second half, Cloud9 manage to pick up a few more rounds but FaZe ultimately shuts them down 16-5. As they move onto Cache, the first half is a bit more back-and-forth when Olofmeister scores the second ace for FaZe in the series, this time on the T side.
FaZe close out the first half 10-5 and proceed to win the pistol round and the next before Cloud9 take the next 7 rounds to tie the series up 12-12. FaZe is able to take one more round but Cloud9 successfully makes the comeback to bring the series onto Inferno, the final map.
Cloud9 put FaZe on the ropes, winning the first half 9-6 on the CT side. After a close second half, Cloud9 brings the score to 14-10 but FaZe holds strong and forces the overtime. As Cloud9 are on match point, FaZe fights for their life.
With their backs against the wall once again, FaZe force a second overtime and Niko posts up yet another ace against the North Americans, ultimately moving on to win the second overtime 22-20 and sending the Eleague Major winners Cloud9 home. Niko proved to be the MVP of the match with a rating of 1.37, and with multiple aces it’s easy to see why.
Team Liquid vs Ninjas in Pajamas
The second playoff match in the Spodek arena once again begins on Overpass in what would prove to be another very even matchup between the North Americans and Europeans. After exchanging rounds throughout the first and second half before Team Liquid manages to pull ahead, as Liquid’s latest addition in NAF, coming over from Renegades puts them on map point:
With Liquid in the lead taking Overpass 16-13, Ninjas in Pajamas open up strong on Mirage, securing the first pistol round and 7 out of the next 10 rounds on the CT side before Liquid regroup and fight back, bringing the score to 13-13. NIP then goes on to take the next 3 rounds, securing them the second map and tying the series up 1-1.
The final map of the series once again is on Inferno, where we see both teams fighting for their lives when Dennis tears into Liquid in round 7:
Unfortunately for the Ninjas it isn’t enough as Team Liquid win Inferno 16-9 with a consistent performance in both halves, moving on to face Fnatic in the semi-finals.
Semifinals - FaZe Clan vs Astralis
FaZe clan must now defeat the IEM Katowice 2017 winners Astralis, who had a bit of trouble in the latter half of 2017 as dev1ce went on medical leave. Now back in full force, they look to knock FaZe out of the tournament. The first map is FaZe’s pick of Cache, and once again Niko comes in swinging:
As they pull farther and farther ahead, FaZe are able to take the first map 16-10 with a runboost shot through smoke to open things up at the B site, showcasing the incredible teamwork this lineup has to offer.
Map 2 is Overpass and as Astralis take one of their first buy rounds of the match, it’s karrigan’s turn in the spotlight as he kills 4, finishing gla1ve with Xyp9x’s AWP:
As the rounds progress Astralis ties the series up 10-10, but FaZe once again is too much as dev1ce can’t quite manage to finish karrigan with the bomb ticking down at match point, allowing FaZe Clan to advance to the grand finals.
Semifinals - Team Liquid vs Fnatic
Up until this point, Fnatic have had a rough ride in the last few years. With no shortage of roster swaps, it has taken quite some time for Fnatic to solidify a strong roster and IEM Katowice marks their first finalist matchups since 2016. Meanwhile, Team Liquid have enjoyed recent successes, taking a major victory at the second cs_summit in February after adding steel (previously of Immortals) and NAF (previously of Renegades) to the roster.
Their first map is Inferno, and Liquid open up with a few insane plays:
Fnatic start to hit their stride later in the match, as JW’s AWP begins to find its target more and more, going on to take Inferno with a final score of 16-13
Game 2 is played on Mirage, and Team Liquid’s life is on the line. Fnatic quickly secure an early lead, winning the pistol round and the first half 10-5, followed by the second pistol round and six out of the next 8 rounds to close out the map 16-7 and the series 2-0 in what surely must have been a tough match to watch for Liquid fans.
“We want to start a new era, we don’t really think back on the old era. There’s no extra pressure, we’re always aiming for that title.” - JW in his post-game interview with OJ Borg on the main stage. When asked about their grand finals match against FaZe, JW had nothign but respect: “It’s a great matchup for sure - we have a pretty hard time against them but it’s a best of 5, it’s the finals, anything can happen”
It’s championship Sunday at the Spodek arena and after the trophy ceremony and quick set from fauxtales, FaZe Clan and Fnatic take the stage for what would prove to be one of the most epic finals in IEM history. Olofmeister now faces down previous teammates from Fnatic, who have just reached their first final since 2016 and defeated FaZe clan 2-0 in the group stage.
The first match takes place on Cache and despite the familiarity with one another’s styles and strategies, the pistol round goes right down to the wire.
FaZe Clan are quickly put behind economically but sick Guardian and his deagle on the unsuspecting CTs, followed by Niko with a brilliant clutch just a few rounds later.
FaZe continue their unwavering dominance throughout the first map, making quick work of Fnatic with a 16-5 win on Cache as they move to Inferno for game 2 in the BO5 finals. Niko continues to dominate on the CT side.
FaZe close out the first half with a respectable 9-6, and things are starting to look grim for Fnatic in the Spodek arena when they put up the fight of their lives, showing everyone why they deserve to be one of the two finalists at IEM Katowice.
As Fnatic force the first overtime of the final, Flusha and golden step up immensely. It’s not enough for Fnatic however, as FaZe are able to force a second overtime. Golden plants his feet firmly and shuts them down as Fnatic win Inferno with a score of 22-20:
The third map is FaZe’s pick of Overpass, but the momentum is now clearly in Fnatic’s favor as they win the first 6 consecutive rounds. FaZe are looking like they’re ready to start making a comeback as they bring the score to 6-5, but still can’t seem to hit their stride:
Fnatic go on to win Overpass 16-7 as FaZe are forced to buy budget equipment in the final rounds. As we move into our Mirage, the fourth map of the series, the grand finals start to become a test of teamwork, skill and endurance as both teams move into the 5th consecutive hour of gameplay. Neither of these teams are strangers to this level of extended competition, but the mental and emotional strain starts to take its toll.
FaZe start strong on Mirage, winning the first four rounds, exchanging a few more with Fnatic before bringing the score to 10-3 when Guardian reminds us why he’s one of the best AWPers in the world:
FaZe continue to dominate throughout Mirage and eventually take the series to a fifth and final map as Fnatic fail to shut them down with a score of 16-11 as Lekr0 works on the clutch but Flusha burns in the molotov before he can complete the defuse.
In what would now be pushing the sixth consecutive hour of gameplay in this grand finals, the finalists take to Train to decide who takes home the trophy. The first half is back and forth once again, ending 8-7 in favor of FaZe as Karrigan clutches the pistol round in the second half.
As FaZe bring the score to 10-10, Fnatic stop their momentum before it really gets started and ties the series, winning 3 out of the next 4 rounds. Flusha, who’s been a mainstay in Counter-Strike for almost a decade now, shows us how badly he wants the trophy once again:
With Fnatic at 14 rounds, FaZe win the next 4 to put themselves on match point and once again it’s Flusha who puts a stop to their plans with an extraordinary ace, bringing us to one more overtime in the final series to decide who wins the tournament.
Fnatic win the next round, putting them on tournament point when JW wallbangs rain and picks Niko, eventually falling to Olofmeister when Flusha comes down the ladder and picks off the final two members of FaZe.
With that, Fnatic win their first title since IEM Katowice 2016, after Olofmeister has moved to FaZe Clan, landing them $253,000 in prizes and a well-deserved trophy. FaZe fall short of winning another final but prove once again why they are consistently one of the best teams showing up to any tournament. Congratulations to Fnatic!
Six Intel Grand Slam events have resulted in five different winners, speaking to just how close the competition is between the top teams. With so many different teams winning tournaments with incredible performances, we truly are in one of the most competitive eras of CS history.