IEM Katowice shows Counter-Strike's staying power

IEM Katowice didn't have a live audience because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus outbreak, but that didn't stop the event from being a marquee Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament. Andrzej Grygiel/EPA

The esports world is a big place. Any given weekend, there can be more than a dozen competitions taking place worldwide, from massive events such as Dota 2's The International or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive majors to regionals in Smash. Each week, we're going to take a look at the big picture and decide who had the biggest weekend, be it in impact on the esports scene, dominance of their game or making the most of a moment.

Here's who we think won the weekend this week.

Winner: Counter-Strike and IEM Katowice

This weekend, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive reminded everyone why the game is considered the second-biggest esport in the world.

After ESL announced Thursday -- during the group stage of the event -- that Silesian governor Jaroslaw Wieczorek revoked its approval for a live audience at the event's playoffs in Katowice, Poland, this past weekend, there was a cloud of sadness hanging over one of esports' largest annual events. Photos of Katowice are often shown on esports pitch decks or advertisements as the 11,000-plus attendees pile into the Spodek Arena.

But the online viewership and an incredible final more than compensated for the lack of an audience at IEM Katowice.

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In a final that pitted Commonwealth of Independent States powerhouse Natus Vincere against French squad G2 Esports, the event peaked at over 1.02 million concurrent viewers on all platforms, according to Esports Charts. At one point, the Russian language stream eclipsed the English stream, affirming just how global Counter-Strike really is. And the series itself did not disappoint, with Na'Vi star Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev, considered one of the game's best players in the world, performing at the highest level. Na'Vi demolished G2 Esports 3-0, though the darkhorse G2 did take away some positives from their surprising final appearance.

The tournament overall was incredibly exciting, even though it did not have game developer Valve's designated major status as it did in 2019. Absent from the final were Astralis, the No. 1 team in the world according to HLTV's rankings and one of Counter-Strike most historically dominant franchises. Team Liquid, a longtime standby at No. 2 in the world, lost to Na'Vi in a quarterfinal sweep that was closer than the 2-0 scoreline indicated. Natus Vincere's momentum continued into the semis, where they plowed through Astralis 2-0 in dominant fashion.

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Na'Vi head coach Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy told ESPN that he doesn't consider his team the No. 1 in the world yet (they are currently No. 2, per HLTV).

"Of course, to be the best, we'd have to beat Astralis' record first," B1ade said. "They won three majors in a row, and every team wants to overrun another record, so we're willing to work a lot.

"We're on fire this event, and we feel the waves. At another event, however, we could be in a different mental state and perform differently. Other teams can also be better, so the next big event, nobody will even remember this one, they'll just focus on that one. Today we're the best at this tournament, but we need to work on consistency if we want to be considered as No. 1."

With the next major in May in Rio De Janerio, Brazil, s1mple and Na'Vi will look to continue their hot streak for the next two months and aim for s1mple's first major title. He's one of the few greats of the game to not have one. Counter-Strike results swing back-and-forth quickly, and top teams shuffle, but if Na'Vi keep it up, s1mple won't be majorless for long.