There’s no doubt this coming week is one of the new year’s biggest for esports. It signals the start of the massive Overwatch League Season 2 on Feb. 14. And before that, the multi-esport Intel Extreme Masters Katowice 2019 kicks off.
Many top teams and individuals from CS:GO and StarCraft II will descend on the ESL Arena, the International Congress Centre, and, finally, the Spodek Arena for one of the biggest tournaments of the year beginning Feb. 13.
CS:GO Intel Extreme Masters Katowice Major 2019
The Intel Extreme Masters Season XIII in StarCraft II may be taking place in Katowice at the same time as the CS:GO Major of the same name, but with 2.5x the prize money on offer, it is the CS:GO tournament that will likely draw more attention over the coming weeks in Poland.
The tournament is not just the first Major of 2019 but also the first event in a new Intel Grand Slam. After Astralis‘ incredible run last year, all teams will now start with zero wins once again. And once again, there is a $1 million prize up for grabs for the first team to win four tournaments within 10 successive events. Any team that defeats a triple-winning team in a final can earn a spoiler’s bonus of $100,000.
A total of 24 teams have qualified:
- Current Legends (the top eight seeds) – Astralis, Natus Vincere, MiBR, Team Liquid, compLexity Gaming, BIG, HellRaisers, FaZe Clan
- Returning Challengers – Ninjas in Pyjamas, Fnatic, G2 Esports, Vega Squadron, Cloud9, TyLoo
- Minor Challengers – ENCE eSports, NRG Esports, AVANGAR, Renegades, Team Vitality, FURIA Esports, Team Spirit, Grayhound Gaming, Winstrike Team, Vici Gaming
Both the Current Legends and Returning Challengers earned their spots in Poland thanks to their performances at the FACEIT Major in London last year. The Minor Challengers earned their places thanks to qualifying performances in one of four Minor tournaments held around the world.
The tournament is split into three distinct stages. Note that the Current Legends are seeded through to the second phase of the tournament.
- Phase 1 – New Challengers Stage
This features the Returning Challengers and the Minor Challengers in a 16-team Swiss System format. The eight teams that win three of their maximum of five games earn places in the next phase.
- Phase 2 – New Legends Stage
This is exactly the same Swiss System format as the New Challengers Stage but will feature the eight Current Legends teams taking on the eight aforementioned qualifiers. Once again, the top eight teams will progress into the third and final phase of the tournament.
- Phase 3 – New Champions Stage
These eight confirm their Legend Status going forward into the next event in Sydney, starting on April 30. As for this event, they will play through a single elimination bracket with each match over the best of three, until the winner is decided in the Grand Final on March 3.
Who wins IEM Katowice 2019?
A quick look at the odds for the overall winner market reveals the bookies are still very much sold on Astralis. Incredibly, the current Intel Grand Slam winners are odds on (9/10) with some bookmakers to land victory in Poland this week and continue their remarkable run of success in top-level CS:GO tournaments.
It is rare that any team is such short odds to win a tournament before it has even started, but the bookies feel that the most likely teams to challenge Astralis will be Team Liquid (17/4), MiBR (7/1), Natus Vincere (15/2), and FaZe Clan (8/1). All other teams are odds of 16/1 or more to land the win.
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However, as Team Liquid proved at the IBUYPOWER Masters back in January, Astralis can be beaten. I feel Liquid at 17/4 could well be a team worth considering for a bet. Of course, Astralis will be itching for revenge.
Overwatch League – 2019 Regular Season
The Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles will once again be the focal point for Overwatch players and fans around the globe this week. On Valentine’s Day, the second Overwatch League season will get underway with the London Spitfires protecting the title they won somewhat unexpectedly last year.
Like last year, the regular season is split into four distinct stages. The first lasts from Feb. 14 to March 17, Stage 2 from April 4 to May 5, Stage 3 from June 6 to July 7, and the final fourth stage from July 25 to Aug. 25.
As with last year, the teams’ win and loss records from each stage will contribute toward their full-season record and will influence their playoff seeding.
This year, the Overwatch League has expanded to 20 teams — 10 apiece in the Atlantic and Pacific divisions. The new lineup for each division is as follows:
- Atlantic Division – Atlanta Reign, Boston Uprising, Florida Mayhem, Houston Outlaws, London Spitfire, New York Excelsior, Paris Eternal, Philadelphia Fusion, Toronto Defiant, Washington Justice
- Pacific Division – Chengdu Hunters, Dallas Fuel, Guangzhou Charge, Hangzhou Spark, Los Angeles Gladiators, Los Angeles Valiant, San Francisco Shock, Seoul Dynasty, Shanghai Dragons, Vancouver Titans
Each match will be played over four maps, with a fifth map in the event of a tie.
The first week of matches promises some exciting games. The champion Spitfire take on the Philadelphia Fusion in the opening game. It will also be interesting to see 2018’s last-place Shanghai Dragons in action against Huangzhou Spark. The former made big roster changes in the off-season in the hopes of dramatic improvement.
Overwatch League Outright Winner Betting
Currently, the bookmakers have the Pacific Division teams as the favourites to win the league outright. New York Excelsior stand as 5/2 favourites just ahead of the Spitfire at 3/1, and the Philadelphia Fusion are the next best bets at 13/2.
The Los Angeles Gladiators, San Francisco Shock, and Vancouver Titans are the shortest-price teams from the Atlantic Division at 8/1 for LA and 9/1 for the other two teams. If you fancy a punt on a rank outsider, there are three teams rated as 100/1 chances for the title: the Chengdu Hunters, Florida Mayhem, and Washington Justice. Interestingly, the Shanghai Dragons, who did not win a single game last season, are rated as a 40/1 chance this year.