It has been over a year since Counter-Strike fans last watched an offline event featuring over four teams from different countries. This “record” is set to end in July, as IEM Cologne 2021 is starting early in the month.
However, CSGO isn’t quite out of what have been called “online era” in esports just yet. Cologne will host the first premier international CSGO LAN in quite some time, but it still isn’t going to be the same tournament experience as fans had before the pandemic.
So, what’s happening during IEM Cologne 2021, and what offline events are planned next? When the live experience returns?
Two days before IEM Cologne 2021, ESL will host the “Play-In” part of the event. During the Play-In, sixteen teams will compete for eight spots in the main event that starts two days later. The eight teams that qualify from the Play-In will then join the main event, which already features other eight teams which qualified to IEM Cologne directly from the Road to Cologne circuit.
Matches from the Play-In stage will be played locally from one of ESL’s European studios, just like the main event. This means that all matches across the event are going to be played offline.
While IEM Cologne will see teams playing from the same ESL studio in Europe, the event won’t feature a crowd. Matches are moving to an offline format, but the only way to watch will be through online streaming channels.
When asked by a fan, Team Liquid’s ‘ELiGE’ gave his opinion on the format. Asked if he believes that the return to LAN would affect many, ELiGE thinks so. He further points that he doesn’t think that studio events are the real LAN experience, though. According to him, the pressure and energy from crowds create an entirely different atmosphere than the one in online and studio tournaments.
Yet, it’s valid to point that teams playing in an offline environment is a big step-up from online play. Just recently, we saw a major controversy during Flashpoint 3, which wouldn’t happen in an offline event.
In any case, it’s undeniably that a big part of the CS community miss the big stage matches. Fortunately, it may take some time until we see the teams playing in front of their fans, but there’s plans for events with live audiences.
After Cologne, events being played from studios will become more and more common. EPL Season 14, IEM Fall 2021 and BLAST events before the Fall Finals are expected to be played from studios.
Regarding smaller events such as DreamHack’s Open series, details aren’t set in stone. It’s fair to say, however, that there’s a good chance that such events from October onwards will be played in an offline environment.
As for events with live crowds, both ESL and BLAST have announced plans for those too. The BLAST Premier Fall Final will host a live crowd in Copenhagen Royal Arena, and tickets are already available for purchase. As for ESL, they’ve announced December’s IEM Winter 2021 as the first and only “live event” on their event schedule for 2021.
The first Valve Major since StarLadder Berlin 2019 is set to begin in October. Leading to it, a series of events part of Valve’s circuit are being hosted by various tournament organizers across the year.
Some of these tournaments are already finished, such as Flashpoint 3, and they were played online. Concerning upcoming ones, not many details are known as of now. Still, it’s to be expected that future RMR events adapt a studio format like Cologne.
As for the Major itself, PGL plans to host a live audience during the playoffs which are taking place at the Ericsson Globe arena starting November 4th, and the grand-finals are set to be played November 7th.
In the current schedule of upcoming CSGO events, the PGL Stockholm Major will be the first international offline competition to feature live spectators since February 2020.
With IEM Cologne starting soon, the CSGO esports scene will give its first step towards the return of international LANs. As explained, it’ll take a while until everything goes back to normal, but studio tournaments are already a step forward.
Hopefully, plans won’t change and BLAST, ESL and PGL manage to run their events with live crowds just as planned. If things don’t drastically change until then, we might see LAN tournaments becoming common in early 2022 even.
Nonetheless, there’s plenty to look forward as a Counter-Strike fan as offline events slowly return. If you want to keep up with everything happening in the esports world, make sure to follow us!