After 16 months, competitive CS:GO is finally returning to LAN at IEM Cologne beginning on July 6. Twenty-four teams are travelling to a hotel in Cologne to compete offline for the first time in over a year, with a $1 million prize pool and a new trophy on the line. The last time teams met on LAN was at another IEM event, IEM Katowice in March 2020, where Natus Vincere lifted the trophy in front of an empty arena.
Ahead of the start of IEM Cologne, ESL has clearly laid out that the health and safety of players and staff is a top priority and the organizer will be instituting extensive COVID-19 protocols to keep everyone safe. ESL revealed some of the details of those protocols today.
The operations team at ESL said that going “outside the areas designated for the tournament is only allowed after a person’s involvement in the tournament is concluded.” This, along with the announcement that meals will be provided directly to rooms or designated areas, indicates that players will, for the most part, not be allowed to leave the hotel until after their participation in IEM Cologne is over. The protocols do say teams “will be able to spend time outside nearby the hotel under controlled circumstances.”
Regarding those designated areas, players will have access to their team’s practice room, as well as smoking areas, the hotel gym, the pool, and recreation areas after they have completed their three-day quarantine. The gym and pool specifically are operated “in limited capacity” and must be booked in advance. In shared spaces like the smoking or recreational areas, players will be asked to wear masks and will be accompanied by ESL staff to ensure there’s no close contact.
Originally, the event was scheduled to take place from a studio environment in Malta, but local restrictions forced the event to be re-routed to a five-star hotel in Cologne. In an interview with HLTV, ESL vice president of gaming Michal “Carmac” Blicharz called it “the greatest challenge they’ve faced in the past five years.” Carmac said the ESL tournament operations team had to turn around and plan for Cologne “on four weeks’ notice.”
IEM Cologne, and the return of CS:GO LANs, begins with the play-in stage on July 6 and will run all the way until the grand finals on Sunday, July 18. The opening play-in matches will be best-of-one, the grand finals will be a best-of-five, and all other series will be best-of-three.