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IEM Cologne 2021: Preview, predictions and betting tips

CS:GO connoisseur Waldo looks ahead to IEM Cologne 2021 and picks out who he thinks will shine at the Lanxess Arena...

The stage is set

What a difference a year makes. At this time last year ESL One: Cologne 2020 was split into regional online events and the world as a whole held their breath as COVID-19 tore across the globe. Esports offered us all a bit of refuge in the early days of the pandemic while conventional sports were put on hiatus since we simply adapted to an online era of competition.

But here in 2021 the tide has turned in the fight against COVID-19 and the long-awaited return to LAN couldn’t come at a better venue, the Cathedral of Counter Strike itself. Though the branding has shifted from ESL One: Cologne to IEM Cologne there’s no denying the level of prestige associated with the event, the stadium, and the teams that will all be vying for the iconic trophy and their next step toward an Intel Grand Slam. Let’s break down the storylines that will be permeating this momentous event.

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Of course, the last time that we found ourselves in Cologne for a LAN, Team Liquid lifted the fourth consecutive trophy in their quest for the Intel Grand Slam, completed in record time. A couple of teams HAVE to win IEM Cologne 2021 to keep their Intel Grand Slam Season 3 hopes from being reset, namely Astralis and mousesports. The other teams with active Grand Slam campaigns are not in a must-win situation, but would love to notch another win towards that supplemental million dollar prize. Those teams comprise three of the top-four sides in the world, Natus Vincere, Heroic, and Gambit.

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More: IEM Cologne 2021 schedule

IEM Cologne 2021 odds

Luckbox odds to win IEM Cologne 2021:

  • Gambit - 2.73
  • Na'Vi - 2.80
  • Heroic - 2.90
  • G2 Esports - 3.60
  • Virtus.pro - 3.80
  • Astralis - 4.25
  • FURIA - 6.50
  • Team Liquid - 6.50
  • Team Spirit - 10.00
  • Team Vitality - 11.00
  • BIG - 12.00
  • OG - 12.00
  • mouseports - 13.25
  • Complexity - 13.25
  • NIP - 13.25
  • Evil Geniuses - 15.00
  • FaZe - 15.00
  • MIBR - 23.00
  • Sprout - 61.00
  • Team LDLC - 71.00
  • Renegades - 81.00
  • TeamOne - 96.00
  • Bad News Bears - 126.00
  • Vici Gaming - 176.00

The play-in

Beginning with the play-in, half of the teams that have made it to this stage will eventually qualify for the main event. We’ll take a look at each first-round grouping and pick some favorites to cruise through to the main event from the upper bracket. Bettors beware, the opening round will consist of upset-capable BO1s, only series where elimination or qualification is possible are slated to be BO3s in the play-in.

The first grouping will contain NIP, LDLC, Bad News Bears, and mousesports. Not long ago NIP would have been the clear favorites to knock off LDLC and then likely mousesports in the subsequent BO3, but mousesports just handily defeated NIP 2-1 in Gamers without Borders this past week, making that second round matchup more of a toss-up. At this point I would give the edge to mousesports but the map veto will be something to keep an eye on if these two favorites advance since neither team managed more than eight rounds in the maps they lost.

The second grouping will consist of Spirit, MIBR, Renegades, and Vitality. CIS dominance has been a theme during the online era for the past year, but Spirit will be our first peek at whether that is poised to continue on a LAN environment as the sole representatives of their region that are participating in the play-in stage. Vitality’s form is trending upward as well, so look for the two of them to meet in the second round to play for a spot in the main event. The level of competition should prove to be a shock to the systems of Renegades and MiBR as the former has stomped everyone in Oceania for months now, while the latter haven’t won a match outside of Brazil since they defeated Cloud9 in ESL Pro League Season 13 in March.

The penultimate grouping is comprised of OG, oNe, BIG, and Sprout. We get a German derby in the opening round of this portion of the bracket, one that BIG should handle with relative ease after their victory over numerous high-quality teams in the charity Gamers without Borders event. OG are peaking at the perfect time for this event and should be expected to meet the hometown favorites pending disaster against the NA ESEA Premier Season 37 Champions. Sprout has the luxury of being a hometown team as well, but without an audience behind them I don’t think anyone expects them to qualify for the main event.

The final four teams in the play-in are Evil Geniuses, FaZe, Complexity, and Vici. I’ve been jokingly referring to this as the hot-and-cold grouping because three of these four teams have incredibly high highs and extremely rough lows when it comes to their performance. Complexity is the logical favorite to advance, but either of the teams in the EG/FaZe opener are completely capable of toppling the Juggernaut if they bring their A-game. Vici has a history of playing spoiler though, so there are certainly no guarantees in this bottom portion of the bracket.

The main event

We won’t know what the opening round matchups of the main event will be until we finalize the play-in teams, but let’s take a look at the form of the locked-in squads. Gambit, Natus Vincere, and Virtus.pro have taken turns being dominant forces within the CS:GO scene over the past year. The CIS region took full advantage of the online era and snagged themselves half of the EU Road to Cologne slots. Any of these three sides could find themselves in contention for the late stages of the tournament as the scene holds its breath to see if the online dominance of CIS will translate to an offline environment.

The other half of those EU Road to Cologne slots were filled by G2, Heroic, and Astralis. Danish Counter-Strike has remained a force to be reckoned with since we were last on LAN and G2 remain as hungry as ever as they search for their first statement event win. A year ago you wouldn’t have pegged Astralis to be the most vulnerable of these three sides, but that’s the reality today as the departure of Nicolai “device” Reedtz has resulted in quite the slump for the once powerhouse Danish roster.

The final two direct event invites went to the top two rosters in the NA Road to Cologne event series, Liquid and FURIA. Both of these sides could bomb out in the first couple of rounds, or make a deep run. Both teams have mixed results in Europe lately, but domestically Liquid have had FURIA’s number in their past few meetings. Teams from across the pond have struggled thus far in 2021, so North and South American fans alike would love to see these two teams perform at their ceiling and have a quality showing in Lanxess.

Waldo's IEM Cologne 2021 picks

I think Bad News Bears have considerable potential to make the main event. Drawing mousesports for their opening match is rough, but I like their chances against LDLC in their likely lower bracket matchup afterward. If they manage to get a favorable subsequent matchup in the qualification series I could see them going through to Lanxess.

I’m worried about the state of the Astralis roster. I look at the teams in the upper half of the play-in lineup and see plenty of teams that could pose a real threat to Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander’s side. I don’t think this is an upset so much as a shock-factor pick, but I think Astralis will go out in 13-16th place pending a huge turnaround in form.

I think that we’ll see a Gambit and Heroic grand final and I like Gambit 2-1 in that series.

Main picture: Helena Kristiansson / ESL

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