Gambit Esports threw everything it had at Virtus.pro in the IEM Katowice 2021 finals and it was enough to put the organization back at the top of Counter-Strike for the first time since winning a major in 2017.
No one expected the grand finals of IEM Katowice to feature Gambit Esports and Virtus.pro, but both teams ran over opponents that analysts thought were more talented. With wins over Astralis, Team Liquid, and Natus Vincere, the grand finalists silenced their critics but only one team could be crowned champion.
Once the teams arrived, only one showed the flexibility needed to take home CSGO’s oldest trophy. In the best-of-five, Gambit Esports took home its biggest tournament victory since the 2017 PGL Krakow Major by beating Virtus.pro 20.
Vertigo went back and forth between the two teams. Gambit got off to an early lead thanks to a quick A hit and an impressive four kills from Sergey “Ax1lLe” Rykhtorov as he entered the bombsite. Fast executes and overwhelming aggression was the name of the game for the majority of the first map, especially when Virtus.pro managed to take a few rounds of their own.
VP worked out a lead in round six and managed to hold Gambit off as the map went into halftime. In a solid display of skill and trust, round 10 was a clear sign of what fans could expect from the two teams. While Gambit pressured the A bombsite, VP AWPer Dzhami “Jame:” Ali managed two quick kills to stop the bomb plant, Alexey “qikert” Golubev kept a watchful eye on the final Gambit player. It was a tense string of rounds after the teams switched sidesr tiings got tense for Virtus.pro in the second half when it let Gambit come back from a 9-6 deficit, but the CIS team regained control with five rounds in a row to close out Vertigo 16-14.
Next up was Dust 2, a map that Virtus.pro had a 75% win rate on heading into the IEM Katowice grand finals. On any other day and against any other team, Virtus.pro would have been a fierce challenge. on CSGO’s famous map. But in Katowice, Gambit showed that it was more than prepared for its regional rival as each one of its players had a moment in the spotlight.
VP had a solid chance heading into its CT side trailing 9-6. But the team’s star players disappeared after they switched sides, as Gambit took territory quickly and aggressively. When it wasn’t running over VP players on long, Gambit controlled the pace on its T side. Even with YEKINDAR’s impressive clutches, VP failed to pick up another round on Dust 2 as Gambit predicted VP’s plans and won Dust 2 16-6.
Unfortunately for Virtus.pro, Train was more of the same. Instead of the slow, deliberate style fans usually see from CIS’s top teams, Gambit brought a strong T side to bear against VP. At the front of that was Gambit’s veteran leader, CSGO Major MVP Abay “Hobbit” Khasenov.
Over the course of the map’s 20 total rounds, Hobbit posted a stunning 2.07 rating to go along with 25 kills. Even more impressive was his average damage per round, where Hobbit showed off his major-winning form while inflicting more than 130 damage per round to Virtus.pro’s players.
Virtus.pro only managed four rounds in the first half. It was constantly harassed by Gambit’s precise offense and pinpoint execution. The second half ended quickly, with Gambit winning five rounds in a row to take the series to what would end up as its final map, Overpass. In the middle of it all was Gambit’s Vladislav “nafany” Gorshkov shutting down Virtus.pro in his own impressive play in round 11.
By the time the series made it to the double stacked map, Virtus.pro looked downright broken. While Gambit constantly varied its tactics on both its offensive and defensive turns, Virtus.pro fell back to a well-known and predictable style. It turns out that Gambit had planned for this, throwing in aggression that caught Virtus.pro off guard time and time again. It was all Gambit needed to put itself on match point.
Gambit would stumble at 15 rounds as several slips opened a window for Virtus.pro to stage a comeback. But the VP roster that made the grand finals at CSGO’s 2019 StarLadder Berlin Major couldn’t hold it together. IEM Katowice ended with a 16-12 map and series win for Gambit on Overpass.
CHAMPIONS OF #IEM KATOWICE 2021
— ESL Counter-Strike (@ESLCS) February 28, 2021
Gambi’s young rostert came into IEM Katowice 2021’s grand finals ranked dead last out of participating teams. Prior to the tournament, they were ranked 19th in the world. That said, the team’s young roster toppled giants on its way to the trophy. Virtus.pro, too, deserves credit despite the finals loss. Both teams surpassed expectations and put the rest of CSGO’s elite on notice heading into the spring season.
It won’t be long before fans and CSGO’s top teams get to see them again.
ESL Pro League starts its 13th season on March 8th, and both Gambit and Virtus.pro will compete for a chance at its $750,000 grand prize and another chance to embarass CSGO’s best.