Cloud9 have secured a spot in the IEM Katowice group stage after a hard-fought 2-1 victory over ENCE in the play-in phase on Wednesday.
The game was a much-anticipated rematch of the IEM Dallas 2022 Grand Final, which was won by Cloud9 in a nail-biting contest. This time, both teams came to the stage with altered rosters.
ENCE fielded Olek “hades” Miskiewicz and Alvaro “SunPayus” Garcia on the AWP, with Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski filling in for the missing Lotan “Spinx” Giladi. Cloud9 entered the game with a refreshed lineup featuring Timur “buster” Tulepov in his first official match with the team.
On the first map of the series, ENCE selected Anubis in an effort to catch Cloud9 off guard. However, C9 dominated from the start, establishing a commanding lead with Dmitry “sh1ro” Sokolov and Sergey “Ax1Le” Rykhtorov proving to be a deadly combination on defense, each finishing with 17 kills. Despite ENCE’s best efforts, led by in-game leader Marco “Snappi” Pfeiffer and solid play from Pawel “dycha” Dycha, Cloud9 secured the first map 16-10.
The second map was Inferno, and it started out as a close contest. Throughout the first half of the match, both teams exchanged rounds, with ENCE starting strong and taking an early lead. The first half of the map ended with ENCE slightly ahead at 8-7.
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With a one-round lead, the Finnish esports team a chance of forcing the game to a decider map by securing the pistol round and establishing control of the attack. In-game leader Snappi led the charge on the scoreboard and took the team to map point, losing only one round along the way, before clinching the win with a score of 16-8. Snappi’s 21-16 kill-death ratio saw him finish the map with a 1.38 rating and 100 ADR, the most by any player in both teams.
The highly anticipated decider map of the series was the nail-biting Vertigo, where both teams put on a thrilling show of competitive gaming. The game kicked off with both Cloud9 and ENCE displaying neck-and-neck gameplay, but ENCE managed to turn up the heat and claim the advantage at the halftime break (8-7).
Cloud9 secured a win in the final pistol round by successfully defusing the bomb, marking the start of the second half. However, ENCE quickly regained their lead with a successful attack on A site during a force buy. As the game progressed, the Russians put up a formidable defense, with Abay “HObbit” Khassenov’s four-kill defense on B site showcasing the team’s confidence and control in the later rounds of the series, which led to a 16-13 victory in favor of C9.
Although they came up short, ENCE still have a shot at making it to the IEM Katowice group stage. They will be given a second chance through the lower bracket of the play-in, where they will face off against Complexity on Friday.
Cloud9 can now breathe a sigh of relief and prepare for the group stage. The team’s star player, sh1ro, was a standout performer in the qualifying series, finishing with a 1.20 rating having posted 61 kills and allowed only 41 frags.