The final event of this (loosely defined) season of CS:GO esports competition has led to the stunning fall of many big-name teams, and many big teams are clearly looking at wholesale roster changes to change up the dialogue about their struggling sides. Orgs like G2 and Vitality won’t be tolerating group stage exits at the Major and in Cologne, meaning this was likely the last time we saw some of these quintets playing together on the same side of the server.

Big failures mean big excitement for the transfer window

So many of the big teams have fallen short of glory here that it’s inevitably going to lead to incredible shuffles. Cloud9, G2, FURIA and Vitality have failed to make playoffs in Antwerp and Cologne alike, and potentially all of these teams could be looking at a roster change. Heroic already made one and the initial results have not been very promising: meanwhile, ENCE’s players have also been left wondering what went wrong against very beatable opponents (as MOUZ has shown later during their lower bracket run).

The non-stop best-of-three action at Cologne means that all these upset results were well-earned and valid, and even though many of the usual suspects are missing in action in the playoffs, it really is the six best-performing teams that get to duke it out for the trophy. For the rest, it’s time to plan their transfer window and the next big campaign.

New faces and old faithfuls: previewing the quarterfinals

Astralis vs. MOUZ

It looks like you might just be able to teach an old dog a couple of new tricks, especially when a juicy contract is on the line. It’s nice to see Xyp9x slowly returning to form even after abdicating a lot of his roles to the roster’s newcomers. The Astralis machine is coughing along, doing much better than expected at this elite-level event, with a marked improvement in performances and individual play, most notably on the T side of the maps.

2-0 wins over FURIA and Cloud9 are impressive results, and even though FaZe have clearly outclassed the Danes in the upper bracket final, gla1ve and co. must look back at the group stage as a job well done. The same goes for MOUZ, #14 on the HLTV rankings heading into the event, taking three big scalps to earn their qualification. Even their upper bracket defeat to NAVI came with a map win, and their straightforward 2-0 win over an underperforming Heroic was followed by impressive and resilient comeback victories against Vitality and NIP.

To nitpick a bit, both those teams have very low floors (and really rather high ceilings), and MOUZ’s series wins weren’t as clear or straightforward as Astralis’ were. Still, the red star isn’t burning as brightly as it used to and dexter and co. have very much proven people wrong here, myself included: another upset result is not out of the question at all, and the HLTV rankings actually suggest a fairly close matchup (#11 and #14) for this CS:GO match. Ultimately, the big stage experience of Astralis could be the vital intangible element that pushes them over the line: frozen and Bymas has decent tournament successes with karrigan, but this is all going to be rather new for dexter, JDC and torzsi, a factor that could end up having an outsized impact on this result.

Movistar Riders vs. Team Liquid

What is a neutral fan supposed to do with this one? It would be great to cheer on Liquid’s instant benefit of the daps effect and YEKINDAR’s impact, to hope that NA CS can be transformed from the arid desert it has become over the past few years. However, how can one go against the Spaniards who have gone from strength to strength in the past couple of months, almost ENCE-like with their solid tactical playbook and well-organized protocols?

Once again, it is the sort of underdog story where the underlying fundamentals clearly show that they were deserved winners over their more prestigious opponents over and over again, and the best-of-three matchups ensured that each and every upset was legit. Can they cope with the cauldron that is the Cathedral of Counter-Strike? Again, Liquid’s extensive stage experience might end up settling this one, but based on the previous performances at this event, you’d expect Movistar Riders to push their remarkable run all the way to the semi-finals.

FaZe, NAVI or someone else?

It’s tough to look past the world #1 and #2 teams awaiting their opponents in the semis. It has been nothing short of a revelation to see electroNic pick up the IGL mantle the way he did, and it would be great to see him go up against either karrigan or gla1ve in a best-of-five grand final of a chess match.

FaZe haven’t even dropped a map yet at Cologne and the individual skittishness that plagued them in their last couple of events seems to be gone – they should still be considered the favorites to win the event.

IEM Cologne 2022 playoffs schedule

All series are best-of-three, except for the grand final, which is a best-of-five.

Astralis vs. MOUZ (quarterfinal #1): July 15, 15:30 CEST

Movistar Riders vs. Team Liquid (quarterfinal #2): July, 15 19:00 CEST

Natus Vincere vs. Astralis/MOUZ (semifinal #1): July 16, 15:30 CEST

FaZe Clan vs. Movistar Riders/Team Liquid (semifinal #3): July 16, 19:00 CEST

Grand final: July 17, 16:00 CEST

Photo credit: HLTV