A Primer on the IEM Katowice New Challengers Stage

As the Majors head back to one of the oldest homes of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, we take a look at the first leg of the competition, the IEM Katowice New Challengers Stage.

Very few cities in the world boast the kind of history that Katowice has had with esports. For the past 13 years, the Polish city has hosted a multitude of esports events, including the two of the first five CS:GO Majors. However, surprisingly enough, ever since the 2014 IEM Katowice Major, the city has not had the privilege of hosting a Major.

Until now.

As announced last year in the middle of the London Major, Katowice will, once again, play host to a CS:GO Major.

Much has changed since Virtus.Pro hoisted the trophy at the Spodek Arena back in 2014. The prize pool has since ballooned from $100,000 to $1 million and the number of teams have grown from just 16 to 24. The competition is much longer too, with teams having to go through as many as three stages, all spread across more than two weeks, before they can claim the ultimate prize.

Having said that, we’re here to take a look at the first stage, the IEM Katowice New Challengers Stage, where six (6) “Returning Challengers” will face off against ten (10) “Minor Challengers” in front of a live crowd at the ESL Arena from February 13 to February 17 for a chance to move on to the New Legends stage.

Who’s playing? Who are the favourites? Where can you watch the tournament live? You’ll find out all and more right here.

What is the IEM Katowice New Challengers Stage?

IEM Katowice New Challengers Stage

With a higher prize pool also came with a longer format, and perhaps more than ever, CS:GO teams today will have to go through a lot more if they are to win a Major. (ESL)

Starting with the FACEIT Boston Major back in January 2018, Valve have revamped the Majors format, introducing three primary stages — The New Challengers Stage, The New Legends Stage and The Champions Stage — and increasing the number of participating teams from 16 to 24.

The IEM Katowice New Challengers Stage will feature ten (10) teams, known as the “Minor Challengers”, who qualified via the IEM Katowice Minors from January 16 to 26, and six (6) teams, known as the “Returning Challengers”, for a total of sixteen (16) teams playing against each other in a 16-team Swiss System for eight (8) spots in the New Legends Stage.

Different from the Challengers Stage in previous Majors, the initial seeding and matches will depend on how the teams rank themselves. Using a “Player-Selected Seeding” format, teams will have to rank themselves and their competitors accordingly. If any bias is found, their entry becomes null and void.

Afterwards, the competition will play out in typical Swiss Format fashion. This means that teams will match up against teams of similar records, and so on. To advance, teams will have to win three matches. On the other hand, losing three will result in an elimination. All matches will be best-of-one, except for elimination and advancement matches, which will be played in a best-of-three series.

The IEM Katowice New Challengers Stage will run from February 13 to February 17, and for the first time ever, will be played in front of a live audience.

Who’s Competing at the IEM Katowice New Challengers Stage?

IEM Katowice New Challengers Stage

These are all the 16 teams who will be playing at the IEM Katowice New Challengers Stage from February 13-17. (ESL)

A total of 16 teams from all over the globe will be participating at the IEM Katowice New Challengers Stage, with players from countries like New Zealand, Mongolia, Bulgaria, and Hong Kong, playing in a CS:GO Major for the first time ever.

As mentioned earlier, the teams playing at the IEM Katowice New Challengers Stage will be the “Minor Challengers” and the “Returning Challengers”.

The “Returning Challengers” are the teams who had relatively high placements at the previous Major, the FACEIT Major in London. Meanwhile, the “Minor Challengers” are the teams who qualified via their respective regional minors, which was played at the ESL Arena in Katowice from January 16-20 (Europe and CIS) and January 22-26 (Americas and Asia).

Of the 16 teams, 7 of them are not ranked within the Top 30 of HLTV’s latest CS:GO rankings. The highest of those 7 is AVANGAR from the CIS region, which is ranked #31 while both FURIA Gaming and Grayhound Gaming are not even ranked at all.

It is important to take note, however, that while the rankings are useful, they are not, by any means, definitive.

Considering the increased level of competition, even within regions today, and the amount of practice that these teams are putting in — some teams from the Minor champions stayed in Katowice to practice — we can expect a number of upsets to happen at the IEM Katowice New Challengers Stage.

Which Teams Should We Keep an Eye On?

IEM katowice New Challengers Stage

If they can keep up their performance, ENCE Esports won’t be just the surprise team of the IEM Katowice New Challengers Stage, but of the entire Major itself. (ENCE eSports)

Considering the mix of proven yet inconsistent teams and teams who are out to prove themselves at the IEM Katowice New Challengers Stage, every team is arguably worth keeping an eye on. However, if we are to name only a handful of teams, we’d have to start off with ENCE eSports and Team Vitality first.

Both teams took arguably the most contested Minor right under the favourite’s noses. Although mousesports and North did not exactly do themselves any favour by performing the way that they did, how ENCE eSports and Team Vitality won a lot about their respective skills as a team. We’ve already seen ENCE eSports perform against even better competition when they won the StarSeries & i-League CS:GO Season 6. The all-Finnish squad, especially their 16-year-old star player Jere ‘sergej‘ Salo, have only looked better since. On the other hand, Team Vitality aren’t lagging too far behind. Although they lack the quality tournaments wins of ENCE eSports, they did just recently win the WePlay! Lock and Load online tournament, which featured the likes of Hellraisers and BIG.

All in all, these 8 teams are my picks to advance and qualify for the “New Legends” stage:

  • Ninjas in Pyjamas
  • Fnatic
  • G2 Esports
  • Cloud9
  • Team Vitality
  • ENCE eSports
  • NRG eSports

Although they’re not what you would normally refer to as powerhouses (they’re not even ranked), do keep an eye out on FURIA eSports and Grayhound Gaming. The former, in particular, host a bevvy of talented players, including Kaike ‘kscerato‘ Cerato, who MiBR reportedly had their eyes on earlier last year before ultimately going with João ‘felps‘ Vasconcellos.

Where to Watch the IEM Katowice New Challengers Stage

Whether you want to watch the tournament right from the comforts of your home, or in person as part of the live audience, ESL has you covered.

Tickets are available online via the official website. However, if you’re just like the most of us and can only afford to watch it live on stream, ESL will also stream each stage of the event on Twitch via their official channel. Considering the number of teams playing throughout the day, expect ESL to put up multiple streams (and for various languages) to make it easier for fans to follow their favourite CS:GO teams all throughout.

Which teams are you looking forward to seeing the most at the IEM Katowice New Challengers Stage? Do you think we’ll see more upsets than expected? Or will the teams we expected to dominate deliver and easily brush off their competition? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments down below.

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