Through the Years: Intel Extreme Masters in Counter-Strike

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There’s something about tournaments in CS that just captivates you no matter what, even just by mentioning the name. For ESL, their flagship ESL Pro League is a monthlong spectacle that many tune into season after season. BLAST’s Final events throughout each portion of the calendar year create storylines that drive the hype up until the World Final in December.

But when it’s time for Intel Extreme Masters, everything feels like it’s on a whole other level.

IEM Season 1 World Championship

Where it all began

Pentagram win IEM Season 1 World Championship; Copyright: ESL FACEIT Group

Known as the longest-running professional gaming tour in the entire world, the Intel Extreme Masters began with its first event in 2007 — the IEM Season 1 World Championship. It was the very beginning of a now-iconic league and fittingly got its start in one of the hottest esports of the time: Counter-Strike 1.6.

Sure, the event as a whole is almost incomparable to what we experience today, but all great things start from somewhere. For the IEM brand, their debut in competitive esports was a humble yet promising step forward in showing the world what a microprocessor company partnering with gamers can do.

The field was stacked with talent and stars that would go on to leave massive legacies many years down the line during the later years of 1.6 and the early days of Global Offensive such as Filip “NEO” Kubski, Wiktor “TaZ” Wojtas, Patrik “f0rest” Lindberg, and Robert “RobbaN” Dahlström. The inaugural Intel Extreme Masters event crowned NEO, TaZ, and the rest of Team Pentagram in front of the crowd at CeBIT Hannover 2007.

IEM Season 4 World Championship

Start of the Natus Vincere Legacy

NAVI lift the IEM Season 4 World Championship trophy; Copyright: ESL FACEIT Group

From 2007 to 2010, the IEM events held in CS 1.6 were usually dominated by Fnatic or mousesports to such an extent that, even if neither of the two won the whole thing, they were still always considered favorites and had deep playoff runs. The EU region was by far the strongest and would dominate in all competitions they entered with almost no outsider able to challenge their control of the top spot.

That is, until Natus Vincere came around.

Formed in 2009, NAVI quickly established themselves as one of the rising powerhouses in CS and the best team in the CIS region. Originally qualifying through the European Championship Qualifiers under the KERCHnet banner, the all-Ukrainian unit of Serhij “starix” Ishchuk, Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko, Jeghor “markeloff” Markelov, Ioann “Edward” Sukharjev, and Arsenij “ceh9” Trynozhenko took the IEM Season 4 World Championship by storm and made it out of the group stage with a 4–1 record.

From there, NAVI would take down German powerhouse mousesports in the quarterfinals, derail the Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert-led Evil Geniuses in just two maps, and finally outlast the four-time IEM champions Fnatic in the grand final for the organization’s first taste of gold.

IEM Gamescom 2015

Global Offensive’s First

The first real Intel Extreme Masters event of CS:GO came three whole years after the game’s release on April 2015 at the Gamescom event in Cologne, Germany. Though limited to a six-team field and without the likes of NAVI or Fnatic competing for the title, it was a successful transition over from the days of 1.6 and into the franchise’s new installment.

IEM Gamescom 2015 followed a unique format where, instead of having a traditional group stage followed by a playoff bracket, the six teams played in an “arena” format. This used the concept of having “lives” that were lost upon each defeat, which meant losing four times would eliminate a team from the competition. French powerhouse EnVyUs had the best record at 8–1 and lost only once to mousesports, which made them the first IEM titleholders of the CS:GO era.

IEM Katowice 2019 and IEM Rio 2022

Katowice and Rio

PashaBiceps brings the Katowice trophy to the podium; Copyright: Bart Oerbekke, ESL FACEIT Group

There have been two Valve-sanctioned Counter-Strike Majors hosted by the IEM brand — IEM Katowice 2019 and IEM Rio 2022. Both were spectacles in their own right and part of a new Intel-sponsored competition, the Intel Grand Slam.

During IEM Katowice 2019, Astralis were considered far and beyond the best team in the world having already won two CS:GO Majors prior. When the time came to defend their crown in Katowice, the Danes proved exactly why they were recognized as the ones to beat. Astralis were unscathed coming out of the New Legends Stage and dropped zero maps in the playoff bracket to secure their organization’s second Major in a row and third overall. For Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen, it meant even more as Katowice was the first event he’d played at after his father’s passing making the celebrations all the more emotional.

Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander’s crew weren’t the only things worth cheering for in Poland as their grand final opponents, ENCE, won the hearts of the people with their unlikely Cinderella run from a tough 0–2 start in the New Legends Stage.

IEM Rio 2022 was seen as a gift to the Brazilian supporters and players, whose presence ruled the world in 2016 and 2017. After years of wishing for a Major and a global pandemic later, they finally got their wish in 2022 with the IEM Rio Major. Three Brazilian teams qualified for their home Major, namely FURIA, Imperial, and 00NATION. Though both Imperial and 00NATION were eliminated first in the Challengers Stage, nothing can take away the spectacle Brazilian fans created when supporting their beloved teams on through the good and the bad.

The nation’s last hope, FURIA, made it all the way to the semi-finals before bowing out in 3–4th place. Though not perfect, runs for the three Brazilian organizations or a flawless event by any standards, IEM Rio was a showcase of passion and unwavering support for one’s countrymen that can hardly be topped.


100 IEMs later

Stewie2K wins CS gold for the first time in five years; Copyright: Stephanie Lindgren, ESL FACEIT Group

The 100th installment of the Intel Extreme Masters series was nothing short of a fairytale that unfolded in front of our very eyes. Apart from the usual juggernauts of the world fighting it out for one of the most coveted trophies in Counter-Strike, IEM Dallas 2024 also featured the homecoming of one very special individual: Jake “Stewie2K” Yip.

Having left for VALORANT in 2022 and only returning to CS as a brief stand-in for Legacy for two months, Stewie2K was presented the opportunity of a lifetime when he joined G2’s roster for the duration of IEM Dallas while in-game leader Rasmus “HooXi” Nielsen sat out the event. “GStew” started trending across the community and, as G2 racked up victory after victory through the group stage and into the playoffs, people started to cautiously ponder the possibility of the team winning it all with Young Stew. And triumph they did.

G2 easily swept FaZe in the quarters and held back 9z in the semis, making the dream of giving Stewie2K a Big Event victory in his return to the highest tier of competition an extremely possible reality. Three exhilarating maps later, G2 had done it. The European mix playing with the crowd-favorite stand-in had conquered the best teams in the world for their very first international LAN trophy in CS2. For Ilya “m0NESY” Osipov and the three other core members of G2, it was their hard work for months finally paying off. For Stewie2K, it was a triumphant return and his way of showing all the other organizations that he still has what it takes after all these years.

IEM Dallas’ fairytale ending is a perfect example of the magic of the Intel Extreme Masters series — one we’ve all grown accustomed to for the first 100 times and hoping to feel the same a hundred more down the line.

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