On the final VCT 2024 EMEA Kickoff group stage match day, all three matches went the distance, as Team Vitality Team Vitality Europe Rank #15 trexx Nikita Cherednichenko Kicks Kimmie Laasner runneR Emil Trajkovski ceNder Jokūbas Labutis Sayf Saif Jibraeel defeated Gentle Mates Gentle Mates Europe Rank #13 TakaS Jonathan Paupard beyAz Beyazit Körpe nataNk Nathan Bocqueho Wailers Wailers Locart logaN Logan Corti 2-1, Karmine Corp Karmine Corp Europe Rank #8 MAGNUM Martin Penkov tomaszy Tomás Machado N4RRATE Marshall Massey marteen Martin Pátek sh1n Ryad Ensaad beat FUT Esports FUT Esports Europe Rank #7 MrFaliN Furkan Yeğen yetujey Eray Budak AtaKaptan Ata Tan cNed Mehmet Yağız İpek qRaxs Doğukan Balaban 2-1, and KOI KOI Europe Rank #155 kamo Kamil Frąckowiak ShadoW Tobias Flodström grubinho Grzegorz Ryczko starxo Patryk Kopczynski sheydos Bogdan Naumov squeaked past Team Liquid Team Liquid Europe Rank #14 Jamppi Elias Olkkonen nAts Ayaz Akhmetshin Enzo Enzo Mestari Mistic James Orfila Keiko Georgio Sanassy 2-1 to each make it in the EMEA play-ins. The victors will compete against each other for the final playoff spot in the EMEA Kickoff, while the losers were eliminated from both the tournament and Masters Madrid.

Team Vitality overcome slow start, qualify for EMEA Kickoff play-ins

Game one of this triple match day for the VCT 2024 EMEA Kickoff began with Gentle Mates versus Team Vitality. The draft went as follows: Gentle Mates picked Breeze, Team Vitality picked Lotus, leaving the third map as Sunset, if needed.

Breeze started out strong for Gentle Mates and never slowed down. Winning pistols and converting the bonus on their attack side, Gentle Mates lost only two rounds after, finishing the half up 10-2. A Yoru pick has proven its value in the 2024 season on maps like Bind and Breeze, as demonstrated by Jonathan " TakaS " Pauparda, who dropped 18 kills in the first half alone.

The second half seemed to be more structured for Vitality compared to their lackluster defense, but the lead that Gentle Mates built was too much to climb. Gentle Mates took Breeze with a confident 13-4 map score.

Kicks Team Vitality 2024 Kicks celebrates a round win at the VCT 2024 EMEA Kickoff. (Image via Team Vitality)

On Lotus, their map pick, Vitality needed a repeat of their performance against FNATIC FNATIC Europe Rank #1 Leo Leo Jannesson Derke Nikita Sirmitev Boaster Jake Howlett Chronicle Timofey Khromov Alfajer Emir Ali Beder to take the series to map three, Sunset. Gentle Mates once again went with the slightly off-meta duelist pick, this time with Nathan " nataNk " Bocqueho on Phoenix, while Vitality ran the same team comp as their last game, with the Raze and double smokes of Omen and Viper.

Rounds were traded back and forth to start the map, with Gentle Mates taking a 5-4 lead thanks to nataNk getting two calculated spam kills through Vitality's Viper ultimate. Building up his Phoenix ultimate quickly, Vitality didn't seem to have a read on how to defend the aggression of Phoenix and Breach, but a Tomas " Destrian " Linikas Killjoy turret 2K kept Vitality in the game at the half, only down 7-5.

A pistol and anti-eco win for Team Vitality tied the series at 7-7, but a backbreaking millisecond defuse from nataNk kept Gentle Mates ahead. Thanks to some crucial duels across the map, Vitality avoided the Phoenix or punished his aggression on C site, taking the map to overtime. Their adaptations proved worth it, winning 15-13 and taking the series to Sunset.

Sunset marked the return of Yoru from Gentle Mates, but the map began with a pistol that Vitality won thanks to a clutch from the duelist on Team Vitality, Emil " runneR " Trajkovski. A converted bonus put Gentle Mates on the back foot, down significantly for the first time in the series. They won their first round on round eight, but that proved to be all for that half, down 11-1. A pistol win meant a map and series win, with Vitality concluding the series 13-3 in one of, if not, the strongest map performances we've seen in EMEA so far.

Karmine Corp topple FUT Esports in back-and-forth series

The maps for the matchup between Karmine Corp and FUT Esports were Karmine Corp's pick of Lotus, FUT Esports' pick of Bind, and the decider of Sunset.

To start, Lotus had some compositions that even the analyst desk didn't expect, simply because both teams had shown love for more unexpected agents, like Yoru. Instead, we got Gekko and Raze from FUT, while we got Fade and Raze from KC.

Karmine Corp started off well on their attack, with Martin " MAGNUM " Peňkov getting a 4K on the first rifle round for both teams. Marshall " N4RRATE " Massey got an ace on A site, giving KC a lead, but FUT fought back using good retake protocol and smart duels mid-round, clawing the half back at tying it at 6-6.

N4RRATE Karmine Corp N4RRATE, from Karmine Corp. (Image via Karmine Corp)

A plant for C mound led to an easy pistol win for FUT, but KC wouldn't let FUT run away with the map. Rounds went back and forth, eco after eco, all the way to overtime. The overtime dragged on, as KC would always win their attack to get on map point, but always lose their defense. It only got more hectic as the overtime went on, with both teams losing fights when up by one or two players. Even when FUT managed to stop KC's attack for the first time, KC finally managed to defend in overtime to extend it. In the end, KC managed to take a player advantage on defense and win the grueling OT 20-18.

Heading with the series lead into Bind, Karmine Corp went back to double duelist and no sentinel, with Yoru and Raze. FUT stuck on Gekko, but with a KAYO alongside him this time. With the way the teams were built, Karmine Corp looked to have a tougher time on defense, which is how it began. KC lost multiple 1v3 scenarios on the way to a 9-3 deficit.

Ata " AtaKaptan " Tan was hitting every shot, while Karmine Corp were putting themselves in a big hole they would have to climb out of after losing the second pistol round. It proved to be too much, as another team on this match day lost a map 13-4. Now, it would all come down to Sunset, a map that Karmine Corp showed struggles with in their game against GIANTX GIANTX Europe Rank #19 purp0 Semyon Borchev Redgar Igor Vlasov Fit1nho Adolfo Gallego hoody Aaro Peltokangas Cloud Kirill Nehozhin .

The compositions were near mirrors of each other, with the one difference being Gekko on KC and Fade on FUT. First pistols went to Karmine Corp, and a bonus conversion snowballed into a 9-1 lead. Karmine Corp, much like on Lotus, were comfortable playing retake, and the mix of smart smokes from Ryad " sh1n " Ensaad and good utility from N4RRATE led to plenty of round wins. KC entered the half up 10-2, FUT needing a near perfect defense to avoid elimination.

FUT won the second pistol, completing the first needed step for a comeback, followed by a bonus conversion, step two. As Mehmet " cNed " İpek tried to keep the momentum up off of some great shots, he was shot mid-ultimate to go down 11-6. Magnum and Martin " marteen " Pátek continued their form from the first half to help close out map three, 13-7, and the series, 2-1.

It was a tough series for Karmine Corp, especially after their crushing map two, but their IGL wasn't too fazed, thanks to the prep they put into the maps before the series.

“For us, [our goal] was to focus on the preparation, prepare for all the maps,” Magnum said post-match. “We managed to bounce back after Bind, and it worked out on Sunset.”

Movistar KOI outlast Team Liquid in the closest series of the day

KOI Poland 2024 The Polish trio of kamo, starxo, and grubinho from KOI. (Image via KOI)

The maps were Movistar KOI's pick of Sunset, Team Liquid's pick of Icebox, leaving the decider map as Split.

Sunset started with mirror compositions between the two teams: Breach, Omen, Raze, Fade, and Cypher. Pistols went in the defense's favor, towards Team Liquid, but Tobias " ShadoW " Flodström from KOI kept the game close early on. After a timeout, a hero Operator from Georgio " Keiko " Sanassy turned the game on its head, giving Team Liquid the 7-5 lead at the half.

KOI started the second half strong, with a flawless pistol leading into a Kamil " kamo " Frąckowiak ace, but Team Liquid kept the lead after more Keiko kills. It looked like Keiko had the opportunity to heat up and start tearing KOI to shreds like their previous matchup, but Grzegorz " grubinho " Ryczko tied it up late with a pistol 3K against full weaponry. ShadoW helped KOI take the lead late, and clutched out the map win 13-11.

KOI won their map pick, meaning that Team Liquid had to win on Icebox to extend the series and avoid elimination. While Liquid's comp was a relatively standard Icebox comp with a Sova, Sage, Jett, and Killjoy, KOI decided to swap the Jett for Yoru, and the Sage for Harbor.

Icebox began with Team Liquid winning pistols and converting their bonus, starting their defense off well. KOI managed to get their first round win on round five, fighting back to a tied 6-6 half. KOI won pistols to take their first lead of the map, but Team Liquid used their Sage and Killjoy to make post-plants a pain for KOI. Both teams took it to overtime, but Liquid won the first two rounds of overtime to get the map, 14-12.

The third EMEA game of the day, and the third match that goes to map three, this time to Split. As for compositions, Team Liquid ran the Cypher and Skye, while KOI ran the Breach and Fade. KOI won pistols in the first half, and built a lead on defense, punctuated by a Judge 4K by Patryk " starxo " Kopczyński just outside B main. Just like the previous two maps, neither team could build a lead of more than three or four maps, with KOI heading into the half up 7-5.

Getting the pistol, KOI had an opportunity to run away with the map, even converting the bonus to go up 10-5. Team Liquid then used some clutch moments from Ayaz " nAts " Akhmetshin to prevent KOI from getting to that series point, tying it at 10-10. The five consecutive rounds from Team Liquid looked like they were running away with the game, but KOI suddenly turned the game on its head, winning the final three rounds to win 13-10 and the series 2-1. The revenge was complete, with KOI eliminating the team that sent them down to the decider match.

After not only getting that revenge, but also beating some of his ex-teammates from 2023, ShadoW was glad that they got this win when it mattered most, heading into play-ins.

“It was an amazing feeling to close this out,” ShadoW said post-match. “We should have closed them out last time, but we did it now. It's good to be the underdog, play with no pressure and just play our game.”