2023 is set to be quite the novel and exciting year for Counter-Strike. For the first time since the addition of Ancient, Valve implemented significant balance and map pool changes at the end of 2022. What’s more, the two new maps suggest that, for the first time in a while, Valve is looking to continually shake up their flagship FPS—and in turn, shake up the competition.
Alongside a fresh meta, the competitive landscape has also undergone a major shift. For years, one team—like Astralis, Fnatic, or NiP—would sit upon the Counter-Strike throne, forging dynasties. In the new world of 2022 CS, a number of teams battled for the crown, with FaZe coming closest to forging an era, but ending up being dethroned. Come 2023, we could see a handful of teams rise to dynasty—or witness the year fall again to chaos. The true first step towards the crown—or chaos—is IEM Katowice.
In a year of change, let’s start with the biggest: the addition of Anubis. The introduction of a new map will hit all the teams differently. Early adopters will flourish, whilst those resistant to change will find a new hole in their map pool. Liquid, G2, FaZe and OG all showed an early adoption of the newest map of the Counter-Strike pool. With the teams having time to work on it over the break, we’ll have to see what new tactics they cook up. IEM Katowice will be the first chance to see who is bold enough to pick into it on the big stage, and who will shy away from the risk.
Valve also made some changes to Ancient. The adjustments caused a stir, so much so that the map could disappear from some team’s map pools. Once a useful tool in the FaZe arsenal, will they stick with the Jungle-themed locale after the changes? Or will they be forced into playing former perma-ban Vertigo instead? Teams will have to adapt to these changes, or risk having an extremely shallow pool.
As if there weren’t enough changes to keep teams and fans on their toes, the popular silenced M4 took a nerf. More teams and players are now experimenting with the switch back to the M4A4, over the previously overpowered M4A1-S. The nerf to the M4A1-S' damage to the body, will play into the hands of the headshot specialists in the pro scene. No doubt players like Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken and Valeriy “b1t” Vakhovskiy, will be licking their lips at the prospect of adding to their headshot-filled highlight reels in 2023.
Now that we’ve covered the meta, let’s talk about the competition. Speaking of Twistzz and b1t, their respective teams, FaZe and Na’Vi, will be key contenders in 2023. FaZe won nearly everything in the first six months of last year, but the prestigious Intel Grand-Slam stayed agonizingly out of reach for the international squad. The team’s IGL Finn “karrigan” Andersen stated in a recent HLTV interview that this is the team’s main goal at the start of the new year. What an incredible statement it would be for them to close it out at Katowice, and become the first team to go back-to-back in Poland since Fnatic’s 2015-16 dynasty.
NAVI, who went toe to toe with FaZe in some enthralling Finals in 2022, will try to re-establish themselves as one of the worlds best. It is not a coincidence that the team’s form fell apart after they had to deal with the emotional toll from Russia's invasion of Ukraine —something star player Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev spoke about in his HLTV top 20 article. The poor luck led to the team losing their in-game leader Kirill "Boombl4" Mikhailov and playing with Viktor “sdy” Orudzhev for the last half of the year. After a run of unimpressive results, the team confirmed they would be using Academy prospect Andrii “npl” Kukharskyi instead in 2023.
G2, Heroic, Outsiders and Vitality all claimed big trophies at the end of 2022 and will all have their sights set on the Katowice trophy too. Each of these teams have the firepower and potential to rival FaZe or Na’Vi. Outside of these teams, a handful of dark horses could enter the picture. Notably, Fnatic and Team Liquid. Fnatic’s refreshed lineup has dragged the organization out of the barren wilderness and back into discussion at the top of the scene, even winning their first LAN title since 2019 at Elisa Masters Espoo.
At the same time Liquid, finally, seem to have found a title contending formula—albeit an inconsistent one. Since their 2019 Grand-Slam win, NA’s finest have struggled to even be playoff contenders at times, let alone title contenders. The addition of energetic Latvian superstar Mareks “YEKINDAR” Galinskis breathed new life into the team, making two grand finals towards the end of the year. The squad may have lost both finals, but the results show major progression from the Liquid that won just one map at IEM Katowice 2022. Though their BLAST Spring Groups performance left a lot to be desired, they could rebound to take out a contender—or become one themselves—at IEM Katowice.
As well as Liquid, NA fans should keep a keen eye on the play-in stage as Complexity, EG, paiN and FURIA are all set to battle it out for a spot at the main tournament. Complexity and EG both showed glimpses of form at BLAST Spring Groups but will need much more consistency if they are to join Liquid in the Halls of Heroes. They face tough competition from the likes of Fnatic, Cloud9, and NIP. All of whom will expect to reach the Spodek Arena and the chance to fight for the Katowice crown.
With the meta shifts and the addition of an entirely new map into the pool, IEM Katowice is set to start 2023 off with a bang. The tournament will give fans a taste of what is to come this year. Whether that be a new era of dominance, a resurgence of a fallen giant, or yet more chaos.
The only thing for certain is that it all kicks off at IEM Katowice. So don’t miss it! Be sure to tune in today on YouTube or Twitch. The tournament has already started, but don’t worry, there’s still plenty more CS to come.