Not often, but sometimes, it’s not the size of the prize pool but the name itself that ensures that many of the best teams in the world will come to play in a particular tournament. WESG Grand Finals could only get Team EnVyUs and Virtus.pro to come over to China to play for a prize pool of $1,5M USD, while IEM Katowice organizers, ESL, have already extended invites to Astralis, Cloud9, Ninjas in Pyjamas, OpTic Gaming, SK Gaming, and Virtus.pro, halfway filling up the stack of teams participating in the tourney. It’s quite unlikely that any of the teams invited are going to actually refuse the invite, despite the prize pool of the tournament being only $250,000 USD. That is how important IEM Katowice is to the CS:GO scene.
There are still six out of twelve spots in the tournament left unfilled. Two of them will be filled by invite, while the last four will be filled after Qualifiers. The interesting thing is that there should be three EU Qualifiers and one for teams from NA. While definitely not “fair”, it makes sense nevertheless. After all, even though much more money can be had in NA, the CS:GO traditions are much stronger in Europe, leading to more worthy teams and, as a result, more spots for teams from that region. Not to mention that ESL itself has a stronger presence in Europe itself, possibly making them wish to see more teams they have business relationships with in the tournament.
As it stands now, there are three European and three NA teams invited. Cloud9, despite being a bit underwhelming, with only the win at the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals to their name in recent times, is still without a doubt one of the strongest CS:GO teams in NA. OpTic Gaming have gone on a streak recently, winning Northern Arena Montreal, ELEAGUE Season 2 and ending up in 2nd place at the ECS Season 2 Finals. The final technically NA team is SK Gaming and if you need to be told why this behemoth of CS:GO was invited to IEM Katowice, you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so. They have won two most recent Valve-sponsored Major Tournaments and are one of the favorites to do it once again at the ELEAGUE Major, which starts on the 22nd of January.
On the European side, Virtus.pro is one of the best in the world, has been for months. When they haven’t attended an event in recent months, it automatically lost some of its prestige due to the fact that the winners didn’t have to get past Virtus.pro in order to do it. Astralis… are on a surprising upswing, following their replacing of former captain and in-game leader Finn “karrigan” Andersen with Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander. Ninjas in Pyjamas… is just a legendary brand in eSports, part of ESL’s WESA. Even though haven’t done much of anything lately, ESL wasn’t about to invite them, even though they could probably find some other team that’s better.
All in all, while some teams that have been invited to participate in IEM Katowice already are stronger than others, might not even be the strongest from their region, none of them make the tournament less exciting. Even if ESL stopped here and just used the final 6 empty slots to get teams like Selfless Gaming and Heroic, the tournament would still be interesting to watch. That is a very good start.