Soon, e-sports fans from all over the world will come to Spodek again for IEM Katowice 2024. The famous Polish tournament has undergone a fundamental change caused by the premiere of Counter Strike 2. It turns out that this makes fans red hot – the organizers tell us.
Counter Strike can easily be called a brand that connects generations, because over the years countless Internet users have watched online duels between terrorists and anti-terrorists. Especially in Poland, the series already has an almost mythical status and it is difficult to find a player who has not heard of CS.
However, the passage of time has recently weighed on the brand, which was changed for good by Valve, the company responsible for the series, at the end of September. Over a decade old – Counter Strike: Global Offensive – has retired. Players received Counter Strike 2, a game in many respects built from scratch. This modernizes the gameplay and brings new life to the familiar format, while retaining all the pillars of the original.
The seemingly small change had a huge impact not only among fans and players, but also in the e-sports industry. The largest gaming tournaments in the world with huge prize pools selected winners using CS:GO. One of them is the huge IEM Katowice, held every year in the south of Poland.
Changing the foundation of professional games has extremely interesting consequences. We asked Aleksander Szlachetko, managing director of ESL Gaming Polska, the company organizing the Katowice tournament, about how CS2 can push e-sports into a new era.
Krzysztof Sobiepan, Wprost.pl: Quite recently, the CS:GO shooter turned into Counter Strike 2, which has a huge impact on the e-sports scene. What can this movement be compared to? Is it as if FIFA changed the rules of football?
Aleksander Szlachetko, ESL: We have been using the analogy of esports and sports for a long time, so I think we can use this comparison. A game like Counter Strike 2 can therefore be considered an e-sports discipline, and in fact there have been some important changes to the title.
In the case of Counter Strike, the earlier version of Global Offensive had been on the market for over a decade. CS2 actually introduces a new era in e-sports. The mechanics and nuances of the gameplay itself, the technology that constitutes the foundations of the title, the platform on which the production is made, and the visual side of the game change. This also forces certain changes in strategy and tactics in professional level competitions. At the same time, we also see a very large increase in interest among players and viewers in the new title.
How can the introduction of a new game change esports tournaments? Do teams have to relearn the title and change their approach to the game?
I think we need to give CS2 a few more months to really spread its wings. Of course, since the premiere, the teams have been experimenting with new products, verifying changes and using a few new tricks. However, they are still “coming out” with a new title. Everyone is curious what the best players will be able to show during the next tournaments.
A rather groundbreaking change regarding smoke grenades has a significant impact on the competition. So far, they have been used as static covers that cut off the enemy team from information about our movements for a certain period of time.
But now smoke is a physical object in the game. Shooting the cloud with bullets creates gaps through which you can see the enemy, and a fragmentation grenade can break a larger fragment of the cover. This creates much more dynamic situations and many exciting moments. Players do not have to wait several seconds for the effect to disappear.
CS2 has many such nuances. Although the core of the gameplay has remained unchanged, professional players will certainly use every possible element and change to their advantage. What they discover and show to millions of e-sports viewers will also have a real impact on what tactics ordinary players use.
Could changes in the game also mean a reshuffling of the e-sports team table? The best in CS:GO may not necessarily turn out to be CS2 champions.
I wouldn’t expect huge turnover among the best teams – those good at CS:GO will also do great in CS2. Yes, the changing game is one of the quite important elements of the competition. It can also be assumed that different players will learn the ins and outs of the latest title at different speeds.
So we will have a transition period, a few months to a year, when we will see some differences in the pace of adaptation to CS2. The fastest in terms of time may have a slight advantage, but they should not get used to it. All teams will quickly learn the new features and we will return to a level playing field.
What makes the championship team stand out is not the ins and outs of the game or even the element of surprise. Equally important is the teamwork of the players, their individual skills, the mental strength and perseverance of the team and the ability to take advantage of situations that arise during matches.
What does the change to Counter Strike 2 mean for organizers like ESL?
Of course, as tournament organizers, we closely watched the information provided by Valve even before the premiere, and we also began to intensively test the game after its premiere in the last days of September. We are constantly testing the production, taking a closer look at it and preparing for exemplary tournament implementation.
If I had to rate it, the transition from CS:GO to CS2 was not a huge technological challenge for us. We have many years of experience in organizing competitions in various e-sports games. Counter Strike has always been important to us as one of the largest disciplines in which we create tournament events.
Something new here is the change in the tournament format. So far, the games were played in the MR 15 system, i.e. the first team to reach 16 winning rounds won. This meant that in an extremely even match, up to 30 rounds could be played, with possible overtime.
In CS2, some shortening of matches was introduced in the form of the MR 12 system. So we play until 13 wins in 24 possible rounds. We think that this format will make the gameplay more dynamic and will be a more attractive system for viewers.
In the previous system, there were even very long team duels, fought point by point. On the one hand, long matches could be tiring. On the other hand, such evenly matched performances provide the greatest emotions and are remembered for a long time.
The players already competed in the first CS2 tournament in history, although some of them warned that the game was not yet prepared enough. What lessons did ESL learn from the struggles in Australia?
It is true that ESL has already held the first tournament held in CS2, i.e. Intel Extreme Masters Sydney 2023 held in mid-October. It is true that ESL Polska was not directly responsible for its organization, but we closely monitored the event.
After the event, we did not receive any disturbing information from our colleagues in Australia, for example about significant difficulties in carrying out the events or doubts regarding production. The competition was won by FaZe Clan and we have not heard of any protests regarding the result from other teams.
CS2, like the vast majority of post-release titles, obviously had some things that needed patching or refinement. Personally, it’s hard for me to judge it, but it seems that the tournament managed to avoid major production problems.
At the very beginning of your experience with a new title, it is good to assume a certain level of randomness. However, it is the same for all teams, so I do not think it negatively affects the level of e-sports competition.
As you say, IEM Katowice 2024 is to be the first global event in Poland where we will see CS 2. What does this mean and what is the importance of this tournament?
It’s about the size and importance of the spectacle. The upcoming IEM Katowice will not be the first in the world, and others may even organize a few different-sized events in CS2 by February.
What distinguishes our event is the format. The best teams and most talented players from all over the world will come to Katowice. The game will be for a prize pool of $1 million and the title of champion.
Every year, we also open a year-round calendar of ESL Pro Tour tournaments. We are like a litmus test that announces the entire season of competition and the form of individual teams.
IEM Katowice 2024 will be the first tournament of this type of the year, the first in Poland, and even the first in the region. The fact that the competition is taking place in Counter Strike 2 will increase the emotions even more. We expect all eyes to be on us.
So what are you thinking about now? There’s still some time left until February, but I’m guessing the organization is now entering its final stages.
Let me put it differently. IEM Katowice is a tournament that takes almost a whole year to organize. We finish and finally summarize a given edition in February or March. Then we have a short break and we actually have to start with the first preparations for next year’s event. Contrary to appearances, there is not much time left in terms of organization.
Currently, we are also in the most demanding phase of preparations, where there are a lot of details that need to be finalized. In parallel, we are preparing the tournament itself, but also the accompanying IEM Expo. Now we are entering our most intense period.
What are your hopes for next year’s tournament? Does the event promise to be a hit?
We are already seeing significant interest in the tournament. After the release of CS2, we saw a huge influx of players, and the title broke records in CS:GO popularity. This wave naturally evolved into following professional tournaments. Fans who took a break are returning to the game, and new players are also joining. This is a very positive inflow to the community gathering around the title.
As for our tournament, so far we had two pools of tickets for IEM Katowice 2024. Both were sold in just a few minutes, which may tell us something about the audience’s interest.
Is there still a chance to appear at IEM Katowice 2024 in Spodek?
The next wave of tickets is planned for November 15, sales are scheduled to start at 3 p.m. Polish time. As I mentioned, the competition for tickets is extremely fierce this year. At this moment, however, I cannot confirm whether fans will be given a fourth chance to get a ticket.
Even if we won’t be able to watch the event on-site, we at ESL also intend to provide exciting live broadcasts of the event. These will be available to follow without restrictions and from anywhere on Earth, on the official ESL channels.