Did IEM Cologne showcase the importance of having LAN experience in an active lineup as CS:GO prepares to step back into the normality of offline events?
Online champions get checked
LAN represents the pinnacle of competitive play in esports. Beyond the energy and prestige of packed out stadiums, it also represents a doing away of all the uncertainties that come with online formats.
The rise of outside forces such as Gambit, Heroic and Virtus.pro throughout the online era and subsequent inconsistencies from traditional orgs such as FaZe Clan and Fnatic has led to some questioning the competitive validity of the online era in CS:GO.
Gambit and Heroic arrived at Cologne having directly qualified, and as the two definitive, albeit unexpected, success stories of the online era. Anticipation over how these relatively inexperienced lineups would perform on LAN was huge, and their final positions were both some ways short of exőectatopns.
Heroic were taken to three maps by Team Spirit in their opening fixture before a 2-0 loss to Astralis in round two. FURIA were downed by the Danes, before their exit was confirmed with a surprising loss to FaZe Clan, denying Casper “cadiaN” Møller and co. a spot in the playoffs. Given it was a matchup between a team that had climbed to the summit of the world rankings during the online era, and one that had plummeted to number 37, there’s no denying how much of an impact the change in surroundings had on the two sides.
It was also FaZe who took down the pre-tournament world number one side in Gambit with a three-map win in the playoffs. Gambit had looked good in wins over mousesports and Ninjas in Pyjamas earlier in the event – however, whilst these are two historic orgs, this was also their debuts on LAN in their current lineups. Interestingly enough, the only other side to best Gambit at Cologne was G2, one of the most experienced LAN teams at the event.
FaZe stun all
Speaking of FaZe Clan, few teams encapsulated the differences between online and LAN play better than the international squad at Cologne. Finn “karrigan” Andersen and co. played more matches than any other side at the competition, and their run from play-in participants to eventual third-place finishers in the playoffs has seen their HLTV ranking soar from 37th to 6th following the conclusion of the event.
FaZe have a wealth of talent in karrigan, Håvard “rain” Nygaard and Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken, seasoned and exceptionally passionate players in the LAN environment. Still, perhaps the biggest symbol of the org’s revival in the studio was with Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer Gustafsson. Having announced an indefinite absence from the game due to a lack of motivation in February 2021, Olof was once again drafted back into FaZe’s active lineup for IEM Cologne, but instead of looking like the washed-up retiree plenty were expecting to see, the Swede took the studio (and most of Twitch chat) by surprise at the event.
Playing support behind rain and Twistzz, Olof looked revitalized, and his performances against Heroic, Gambit and Vitality even on established maps such as Mirage or Nuke showcased the extra dimension of experience in the studio can have on a player or org, no matter how washed or inconsistent they may have seen online.
Déjà vu in the grand final
Eighteen months ago, as Natus Vincere (Na’Vi) and G2 took to the stage in an empty Spodek Arena at IEM Katowice, few in the world of CS:GO would have predicted that it would be the same teams lining up again when the online era finally came to a close at Cologne.
And yet, these two established orgs and their array of LAN veterans breezed through their main stage groups and semi-final fixtures to book consecutive offline grand final appearances. Whilst it’s easy to see why the likes of Denis “electronic” Sharipov, Nikola “NiKo” Kovač and the phenomenon that is Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev save their best for the offline format, the impact provided by experienced pros such as Audric “JaCkz” Jug, François “AmaNEk” Delaunay and Kirill “Boombl4” Mikhailov shouldn’t be overlooked as a serious difference-maker in the event.
Not only did all of these experienced heads step up their performances in the studio, but their experience on LAN seemingly helped to bring out the best of the prodigy players in their lineups. Helvijs “broky” Saukants registered a 1.13 rating from fifteen maps with FaZe, Lucas “Bubzkji” Andersen put in arguably his most confident event with Astralis to date and, most impressive of all, Valerii “b1t” Vakhovskyi’s finished Cologne as the fifth highest-ranked player at the event with a 1.22 rating.
Whilst all of these prodigy players are all talented individuals, the added injection of energy and experience supplied by those in their team with some firsthand experience was undeniably invaluable, especially given how the studio environment is still an alien surrounding to play in for a large number of players at the top table.