With upsets galore in the groups, the IEM Winter Playoffs will be a must watch. In NaVi’s absence who will rise as the best of the rest?
The penultimate event of the year, IEM Winter has reached the Playoffs stage. With Natus Vincere skipping this event questions were asked. Who will step up as the best of the rest? Will it be the last dance Vitality, KennyS’ G2, or the shock quarterfinalist in GODSENT? Or will Gambit finally step up to the plate and lift a LAN trophy?
G2: The Return of KennyS
After the major, there was a ton of discussion around G2. Was their PGL Stockholm run a fluke or were they returning to being championship contenders? Because of their underwhelming form post-player-break, they did not qualify for the Blast Fall Finals, meaning IEM Winter was their post-major debut.
Due to the unfortunate situation with Nexa’s Visa, KennyS ended up having to stand in for G2. Once the greatest AWPer of all time, KennyS had a shocking fall from grace in the online era. Historically a LAN Beast, Online Kenny was a below-average player that donned the most expensive gun in the game. And with NiKo coming in, the team could no longer be content with only the top 10.
After a 7-8th place exit at IEM Katowice 2021, the team decided to bench the french rifler. Since then the AWP role had gone to AmaNEK after a short stint where NiKo primary AWPed to mixed success. Now at IEM Winter, Nexa’s absence has sent the team into a shuffled role-set. While KennyS hasn’t shown up to a tier 1 level, this role change has made AmaNEK a much more impactful player without negatively affecting team cohesion and tactics.
While NiKo as an IGL will never be a long-term formula for success, at this event there is no doubt that G2 is one of the favorites to win. After defeating the weaker opponents in Liquid and Tyloo, G2 found themselves up against Vitality. After 2 close maps, they managed to shut Vitality down in the decider. With NiKo, Hunter, Jackz and KennyS all exceeding Zywoo’s performance it was a complete shutdown.
With the weak field in the playoffs and the absence of NaVi at the event, G2’s eyes must be on the prize. This is the best chance that they’ll get at lifting a trophy, but as anyone who watched CS_Summit 5 will tell you, G2 has a special ability to drop the freebies.
Virtus.Pro: Fight for the CIS#2
VP with Sanji was the inarguable 2nd best CIS team since their miracle Major run at Starladder Berlin. But their defeat at the hands of Gambit at IEM Katowice 2021, meant that VP wasn’t at the head of the CIS Rise. Throughout the first half, they were overshadowed by the success of Gambit, NaVi, and even Entropiq. To change this, VP brought in forZe star, Fl1t to replace SANJI.
At the Major, the lineup showed promising signs as they managed to squeak through the two group stages in true VP fashion. Then in the Quarter-Finals, they put up a strong fight but ended up falling short against Heroic. For a brand new roster, a Top-8 position at the major is still a great result. Coming to IEM Winter they were in the discussion for playoffs but nobody would have expected them to 2-0 Gambit to make it through.
Now with how shaky Gambit has looked and G2’s tendency to not win easy games, VP are in with a good chance to win the whole event.
Vitality: Dead Team Running
Vitality shouldn’t have made it to the finals of Blast Premier Fall. They shouldn’t be in playoffs for this event. The Roster should be capitulating much like Liquid has done so far. But the French squad keeps proving us wrong. After taking down NaVi’s Nuke Win streak, Vitality has now leveled up to being a solid roster that can compete with the best.
While their battle against MOUZ was long, they dusted off NIP and kept it close against their temporarily French rivals G2. Now they go up against Gambit, a team they have always defeated even online. With the LAN pressure on the side of Gambit, this series seems destined to go Vitality’s way. If they can keep this form up and Zywoo steps up to world-beating form, they can go toe to toe with whoever comes up in the Bracket.
Ninjas In Pyjamas: Resurgence or Deceptive Results?
I’m still unsure about how to rate NIP. Device and REZ are back to performing like star players, both being in the top 5 for the event. But their top 6 placement, seems weaker than the rest. They took revenge against Astralis and Liquid who eliminated NIP from Blast Premier Fall Finals. But then, both those teams have looked extremely weak and weren’t in contention to go deep at this event.
The only top team NIP played was Vitality, and there they got absolutely dusted off. Nobody on NIP went positive in K/D and Plopski was the best player in the squad with a measly 31 kills across two maps. Their second game was a grueling 2-1 win over OG. OG is by no means a top team and should not be taking a map of a team that can win this event.
All of this combined makes me question the ability of NIP to do anything at this event. As we’ll discuss in the Godsent section up next, NIP might not even make the top 4 at this event.
Godsent: TACO’s return to the top
Godsent’s stint in EU since the major has been fruitful for the young Brazilians. The squad not only made it to ESL Pro League Season 15 but also made the top 4 at REPUBLEAGUE TIPOS. Here at IEM Winter, they have surprised everyone in their run so far.
They took down Heroic in the opening game is a big feat and they followed it up with a victory over BIG to guarantee playoffs. While they took a loss to Virtus.Pro, they demonstrated good team play and solid fundamentals to keep the first map close.
While they are by no means in contention for the championship, even going this far is an achievement. And they face off against probably the weakest opponent they could’ve drawn. NIP has looked shaky throughout and all it takes is one off game from Device or REZ and Godsent might be looking at a top 4 finish.
TACO has absolutely rejuvenated his career, developing in his role as an IGL. By taking the best parts of the classic SK lineup, their fundamentals, and adapting it to the modern era, he has made Godsent into a team that performs way above the sum of their parts, the performance at the major notwithstanding.
In a landscape where his teammates are wasting everyone’s time trying to run it all back, TACO proves that legends can be a crucial asset for developing the future.
Gambit: The Trophy Ultimatum
This is Gambit’s last chance. If they want to prove that they can perform the same on LAN, they need to win this event. Coming into this event, I would be inclined to give them a good chance of winning. After all, this is a studio event with much less pressure and their rival NaVi is absent. But after their loss to VP and seeing how close their games against Faze and Fnatic were, they are on thin ice.
The one positive of their lower bracket run is that they showed great poise and dug deep. Every single win came down to the wire and they persevered. On top of that Ax1le, their star rifler who went missing in their previous LAN showings, has stepped up in a big way. With all these factors, Gambit still have it in them to keep this competitive.
If they don’t win this event, they will be almost permanently labelled as onliners. This event in many ways is like Liquid’s run at ESL One New York 2018. If they win, they’ll be back in contention for events, but if they lose they will show the world that when the pressure hits, Gambit will crumble.
IEM Winter Playoffs: Predictions
With how the IEM Winter Playoffs have been structured, I believe Vitality and G2 should be the Grand Finals. While VP have looked exciting and played well, Vitality realistically should still be the better team. As long as Zywoo doesn’t perform at a subpar level, this is Vitality’s bracket to win. If however, Zywoo fails to perform, Gambit have a shot at making the finals as the mid-event break will give them ample time to create a game plan against VP.
At the end of the day, this is G2’s trophy to lose. They have looked the best and have the best player at the event. If they lose to a monster Zywoo performance then fair enough, but anything else and they should be the champions here.