After an entire month of incredible Counter-Strike action thanks to the fifteenth season of ESL Pro League, the $823.000 event is reaching its climax later this week as the playoffs stage is set to kick off this Tuesday. The three top teams of each group have advanced to this final phase of the tournament, and from the playoffs’ start until Saturday, two teams will be sent home.

However, we’re ahead of what could be one of the most interesting events of the year as the potential for surprises are off the roof in this season. With teams like ENCE and FURIA looking incredibly dangerous, there are no clear favorites here. Natus Vincere surely could fit the bill, but as we learnt in these past weeks, anything can happen in EPL.

With this much uncertainty and unpredictability around, it’s no surprise that many could use a small recap of what happened in the tournament so far. For that reason, here are the main takeaways for the twelve teams heading to the playoffs of ESL Pro League Season XV.

ONE LESS DOUBT TO WORRY ABOUT – ASTRALIS

When Astralis came to ESL Pro League Season XV, there was a lot of questions surrounding this roster. For one, this was Asger “farlig” Jensen first event with the roster, and his first official match since mid-October of last year. Then, Astralis was also dealing with Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth and Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke underperforming. While Xyp9x isn’t expected to be an incredible fragger, k0nfig is. Having Kristian not performing to his standards was hurting Astralis’ chances in a major way.

Now, these two performed far better back in IEM Katowice 2022 than they did previously, but one can’t count on a single performance to wave off the possibility of a slump. So, ESL Pro League Season XV was the proving grounds, especially for k0nfig, to show that his short slump was over. It was also the event for farlig to show that he is an improvement over Astralis’ previous AWPer, and an opportunity for this roster as a whole to show that they can work. Fortunately, they didn’t do bad at all.

Astralis’ run in EPL so far haven’t been great, but it has been overall solid. The Danes have beaten teams they should be able to such as Evil Geniuses, and even managed to put a fight against Natus Vincere. That match, specifically, saw Astralis blowing up a major lead in the decider map of their series, showing that this roster has plenty of issues to go through. Still, they had a strong CT-side against the best team of their group, and that alone is worth some points.

THE THINGS THAT WE’LL NEED

If Astralis wants a chance at the playoffs, they will need to bring their best game. Their AWPer, farlig, for example, will need to show an improvement in his decision and play making. Kristian will also need to show better consistency overall. He has been a solid rifler so far in EPL, but he had some rough maps, especially when it mattered the most. He needs to bring his world-class form to every game from now on. Then, Astralis can’t keep dropping the ball on the T-side and allowing their opponents to comeback.

As for their first game, Astralis will be facing off Entropiq. The Russians – as we will be seeing shortly – are a dangerous team, but not an impossible challenge. As long as Benjamin “blameF” Bremer or k0nfig perform well and the team doesn’t seriously underperform, this match shouldn’t be a major issue. It’s not an already won match by any means, but one that has Astralis as slight favorites.

AIM HIGH, WHY NOT? – ENCE

At the start of EPL XV, their chances to qualify for the playoffs on paper weren’t great. After all, they were playing on Group B, which featured FaZe Clan, Vitality and Outsiders. However, right from the start, ENCE proved to be stronger than most anticipated. Right off the bat, ENCE defeated FaZe after an incredible performance from Aleksander “hades” Miskiewicz and Lotan “Spinx” Giladi.

This trend continued in the following days. The team took down Vitality and Outsiders – Virtus.Pro – and was only defeated once. While impressive, when we look back at those games it isn’t difficult to understand why this roster is looking so dangerous. They always had the potential, especially the aforementioned two. However, in this event, Pavle “maden” Bošković also stepped-up in a massive way, giving this squad a way to finally touch on all potential they have been sitting on.

Now, ENCE’s future is incredibly bright. As long as Maden keeps playing as well as he did in the group stage, Marco “Snappi” Pfeiffer will have plenty of firepower to work with, and he has proven to know how to put it to good use. Paweł “dycha” Dycha map-by-map inconsistency still is an issue, but with Maden starting to work so well, it’s one issue that Snappi should be able to circumvent as needed.

ENCE’s first game will see them facing FNATIC. Underestimating FNATIC at this point would be a major mistake. Yet, as long as ENCE keeps performing as they did during their group, they shouldn’t face any issues. Afterwards, they’d potentially face Movistar Riders, and that should be another interesting match-up but that still has ENCE as the favorites. From that point onwards, it’s still an open game, and an opportunity for ENCE to show that they can play in the big leagues.

DON’T OVERLOOK THEM – ENTROPIQ

After leaving IEM Katowice 2022 with a disappointing performance, Entropiq starred at the fifteenth season of ESL Pro League looking renewed. Most noticeable are Igor “Forester” Bezotecheskiy and Vladislav “Krad” Kravchenko’s performances. Both players did far better in their Group at EPL than they did in Katowice, and they are making the difference for Entropiq.

Now, this Entropiq roster is incredible, but they have shown that they can be more than the sum of all of its parts. They have plenty of firepower in Forester and Krad, as well as Aleksey “El1an” Gusev, but more important, their fundamentals and their approach to the game is definitely a stand-out. They know how to be patient, they are resilient, and this team’s chemistry is playing a big part in their success.

The truth is, before coming to this season of EPL, Entropiq has managed to break through the top ten in HLTV’s World Rankings for a couple of times. Yet, many still have to be convinced that they indeed deserve to be considered a premier team. Now, they have the perfect opportunity to show that they indeed are able to compete with the best. It won’t be easy, as they aren’t the only team looking to be amongst the best, but Entropiq has all they need to do it.

HERE, BUT NOT BY THEMSELVES – FAZE CLAN

All things considered; FaZe Clan didn’t have the best of runs during the group stage. In fact, if not by Vitality winning their final game against Outsiders against the odds, FaZe wouldn’t even be here. However, they clinched a spot in the playoffs, and now Finn “karrigan” Andersen and his teammates have a shot at proving that winning IEM Katowice 2022 wasn’t a fluke, and that they’re still looking to dethrone Natus Vincere.

For that to happen, though, FaZe will need keep showing improvements as they did through their group’s week. By their fifth match, the squad was looking considerably better, but they still looked shaky at times, especially mentally. As shown during various times then, we saw FaZe players getting frustrated, and some questionable decision-making came up.

Still, all eyes are on the playoffs now, and Karrigan won’t be having an easy time here. Right off the bat, they will be facing Gambit’s players. While Vladislav “nafany” Gorshkov’s team hasn’t looked as perfect as they have in the past, underestimating them can be a fatal mistake. Then, Natus Vincere will be next, and FaZe won’t be able to afford doing any mistakes as Na’Vi has shown to be quite sharp.

THE CHOSEN ONES

As difficult FaZe’s playoffs bracket might be, it’s only by facing such difficulties that they will prove that their run at Katowice wasn’t a fluke, and that they are actually a contender for the title of best team in the world. Back in IEM Katowice 2022, Na’Vi was clearly impacted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Now, they are looking far better, and they will likely challenge FaZe as they’re expected to.

Nonetheless, if there’s one team that can break through this bracket, it’s this FaZe roster. Helvijs “broky” Saukants have been stellar in 2022. Robin “ropz” Kool is the incredibly reliable fragger that FaZe missed for years. Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken has also shown to be getting back into his star form since ropz was brought in. This team has three world-class fraggers, a good captain leading the ship, and Håvard “rain” Nygaard, who has proven time to time to be one of the best support players you can have. The potential is here, now all that is left is to actually realizing it in the server.

SOMEHOW, THEY MADE IT – FNATIC

FNATIC’s Counter-Strike division has been all over the place since IEM Katowice 2022. After that event, they benched their AWPer in a highly questionable roster move, and didn’t have a proper replacement for it. Then, it was announced that their star, Ludvig “Brollan” Brolin, received an offer from their rivals, NiP, and the Swede didn’t attend EPL with his team. Instead, FNATIC came to this event with only two signed players and three stand-ins.

Initially, this team didn’t work out. In their first game, which saw them facing NiP, FNATIC got demolished. Thanks to an uninspiring performance from the team’s captain, Alexander “ALEX” McMeekin, and one of the stand-ins, Peppe “Peppzor” Borak, they didn’t have a chance. Yet, this team kept improving. While the two stand-ins from FNATIC’s academy project didn’t really standout, the ex-Complexity AWPer Valentin “poizon” Vasilev actually played incredibly well and was enough to take this team to the finish line.

Now, this FNATIC team isn’t perfect by any means, but they surprisingly enough, they found a great combination. William “mezii” Merriman and poizon formed a strong duo, and they will only get better from this point onward. ALEX has also been showing that he’s a good captain, and he’s doing a wonderful job with the cards’ he has been given.

Still, this team has been a surprise, but they are far from perfect. Matias “Banjo” Kivistö and Peppzor are still ways from being ready for playing against the best teams in the world, for one. Then, there’s the fact that ALEX still isn’t playing with a complete roster, and he can’t really start working on a long-plan for the team. The truth is, FNATIC has already went above and beyond, and it’s unrealistic to expect anything from them from this point onwards.

POTENTIAL REALIZED – FURIA

Before Group B started, FURIA was seen as a very competent team that could surprise and steal a spot from the favorites. Instead of being just a “competent” team, though FURIA shown that they can play with the big dogs. More importantly, they proved that while looking good. Rafael “saffee” Costa has shown to be the AWPer this roster needed, and André “drop” Abreu is quickly shaping up to be the ideal support player for this roster.

Now, while both drop and saffee are looking good individually, they have managed to bring back the potential FURIA lost back in 2021. Andrei “arT” Piovezan’s form is returning, and his lurks are once more haunting every opponent FURIA faces. Yuri “yuurih” Boian individual level is also coming back to his old standard, and this makes all difference for this FURIA roster. They are once more diving in firepower, and as always, they have always been able to deliver on the tactical side.

Going forward, it’s unwise to consider FURIA as an underdog as they most did before IEM Katowice. Since then, they proved that they are back at being that dangerous and powerful team that while not able to consistently win against the absolute best teams in the world, is able to challenge them, and are favorites against teams outside of the top five.

Overall, FURIA hosts one of the most interesting riflers in the world in Kaike “KSCERATO” Cerato, and it’s great to see him back in a team that can fully use his ability. FURIA is back in contention, and no team is safe from the Brazil’s finest.

ONE OF THE BEST, BUT NOT THE BEST – HEROIC

Heroic’s place amongst the best teams in the world is undisputable. The Danish squad is a force to be reckoned, and besides Na’Vi, there isn’t a team that can consistently beat Heroic. However, it’s undeniable that this roster has stagnated, and their run at the group stage proved that. Right now, this shouldn’t be an issue. Heroic are still expected to make a deep run at this EPL season’s playoffs, but until when this won’t be an issue?

However, Heroic’s future is a matter for another time. Right now, Casper “cadiaN” Møller is leading one of the most structured teams in the world. Again, besides Natus Vincere, Heroic has a fighting chance against any of the top teams in the world. Furthermore, they are the favorites in their bracket of the playoffs to reach the grand-finals. ENCE and NiP could challenge them, but losing for any of these two would be a disappointment. In fact, it could be considered as an early sign that teams are starting to catch up.

Overall, Heroic’s objective here is to show that they are still ahead of the competition. If they manage to win this season of EPL though, especially if they do so while beating Natus Vincere, then the outlook for the Danes certainly would be far better. However, they had a chance to best Na’Vi in their group, and they got demolished.

NORTH AMERICA’S LAST HOPE – TEAM LIQUID

Team Liquid is the only North American team at the playoffs

Team Liquid managed to qualify for EPL Season XV playoffs, and they are the only North American team to do so. However, they didn’t impress while doing so, as they got crushed by Gambit’s players and were also beaten by Movistar Riders. The Americans did the bare minimum here, and it’s hard to expect much from the going forward.

As far as positive factors go, Liquid has been looking better than they did in their debut back in January. Richard “shox” Papillon, one of the biggest question marks when this roster first started is slowly improving. His decision-making still is rough, and he clearly isn’t supposed to be a fragger in this team. Still, he is looking far more comfortable in this squad right now. Furthermore, Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski isn’t having the best event in his career, sure. But Keith “NAF” Markovic and Joshua “oSee” Ohm are doing great.

Unfortunately, though, there’s still plenty to work on for this roster. Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella and shox both need to work on their individual level. Team Liquid’s map pool also needs some real work. More noticeably, the team has been struggling to play Ancient, and they are relying on it for some reason. Of course, they have shown improvements on their entire map pool, but Ancient still shouldn’t be one of their picks.

Team Liquid’s first game at the playoffs will see them facing off Heroic. Unfortunately, it’s going to be a massive uphill battle for the North Americans. Unless a worse-than-expected Danish side shows up, it’s very difficult to see Liquid winning. Still, North American Counter-Strike has been living on hope of a better future for a while now. Losing to one of the best teams in the world won’t be that disappointing.

NOBODY EXPECTED THE RIDERS’ ASCENT – MOVISTAR RIDERS

Movistar Riders are the surprise team at the playoffs

The Movistar Riders’ group was expected to be one of the blandest groups in this season of EPL. Thanks to the Spaniards, though, the group turned out to be quite interesting. In fact, Group C actually featured the biggest surprise we’ve seen in EPL since a while. Things took a turn in the second day of competition, when Movistar upset Gambit’s players, the group favorites.

At the end of the week, Movistar Riders finished Group C in first players after beating every team in there. They had some close encounters, sure, but this doesn’t make their overall achievement any less impressive. As one might remember, just a few weeks back the Spaniards were eliminated from the qualification circuit for the PGL Antwerp Major. 2022 was rough for the Riders until now, but here’s the light at the end of the tunnel. As long as they can keep this level up, they should have a much better year from now on.

But what can we expect from the Spaniards going forward? It’ll be a while until we see them back in the server. Since they finished in first place in their group, they have already qualified for the quarterfinals. Then, they will be facing the winner of the ENCE vs FNATIC game. ENCE are the favorites to make through, and they would also be the favorites in a possible match with Movistar. Yet, the Spaniards have shown that they can be more on the server than they are on paper, and this makes them highly dangerous.

At the end of the day, the theme of Movistar’s run at this season of EPL has been “beating expectations”. Is unlikely that we’ll see them surviving the quarterfinals? Sure. But it was also unlikely to see them beating BIG and Gambit.

KEEPING THE DREAM ALIVE – NATUS VINCERE

Boombl4 will be with Natus Vincere from the start of the playoffs

Natus Vincere headed for the last group of ESL Pro League Season XV with a lot of questions. After all, the recent world events certainly have been weighting on the players’ minds. Furthermore, they started their group stage run without their captain. Then,iIn their first game, Na’Vi played one of the longest maps in the history of high tier CSGO. They played 71 rounds against AGO. And of course, this certainly didn’t help them clear any uncertainties.

However, under Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev’s leadership, Na’Vi managed to beat both Evil Geniuses and Complexity. This put Na’Vi in a good situation to advance as they had a 3 – 0 record by Friday. On the fourth day, before Kirill “Boombl4” Mikhailov returned to action, further improving Na’Vi chances. On his first match after returning, Na’Vi had a disputed match against Astralis. That game saw them coming back in an impressive against the Danes to win the series. On their last game, Na’Vi faced Heroic. The Danes were crushed by them, and Na’Vi qualified in first place.

WHAT’S NEXT

Overall, we still need to see more from Natus Vincere with a full roster before we can consider that the team that won the previous CSGO Major is back. Still, their match against Heroic saw a solid Natus Vincere entering the server, and one that is definitely enough to keep the fight for the title of best team in the world going on. Both s1mple and Valerii “b1t” Vakhovskyi are having a great tournament, and watching these two on their best is always entertaining.

Na’Vi is on the second bracket of the playoffs stage. Which means that they’ll be facing the winner of the FaZe Clan vs Players match. This won’t be easy, but much like FaZe, it’s only by facing the best teams around, one after another, that they will keep the dream of having an era alive. Also, facing the more difficult bracket makes lifting the trophy even more rewarding than normally.

ONE LAST SHOW BEFORE CHANGES COME – NiP

NiP have high hopes heading for the playoffs

While NiP was expected to be one of the advancing teams from Group A, they performed better than most anticipated. The Swedes won their four first matches of the group and only got beaten by G2 in the final game of their group after already having qualified for the playoffs. Now, NiP still is playing with Love “phzy” Smidebrant, but at this point, Hampus “hampus” Poser know very well how to get the best out of this team.

Also, Nicolas “Plopski” Gonzalez Zamora also deserve a shoutout. While he’s the prime candidate to be replaced by Brolan after EPL, he improved considerably compared to last year. Of course, hampus and Fredrik “REZ” Sterner are stealing the spotlights, especially the former. Yet, everyone in this squad deserves praise right now. Especially for their playoffs run.

Back at how NiP did so far in EPL, it’s also hard to ignore how well they’re performing when on the attacking side. This roster has definitely become far better than anyone anticipated back at the start of 2022. Sure, NiP as an organization isn’t wrong in pursuing ways to improve this team, but this team definitely is a high tier team that simply can’t be underestimated.

We’ll be only watching NiP returning to the servers this Thursday, when they will be facing the winner of the Heroic vs Team Liquid encounter. Now, Heroic will be the favorites on paper, but this NiP roster never ceases to impress and as long as Plopski keeps getting better, the Swedes have a good shot at reaching the semi-finals. Will it be hard? Sure. But this NiP roster is playing admirably given the cards they’ve been given, and they aren’t show any signs of stagnancy either.

TIME TO REGROUP AND PLAN FORWARD – PLAYERS

Gambit – which roster is playing in this tournament as Players – are starting to struggle. They’re one of the best teams around right now, and they can put a challenge against any squad in the world. Yet, they have also been looking slightly shaky since the start of the year. For example, nafany is showing more frustration than usual. Sergey “Ax1Le” Rykhtorov also haven’t been at his best for a while now, too.

And this is definitely a bummer for a team that had an incredible opportunity at the start of the year. Back then, when Na’Vi kicked off the year by getting beaten by the likes of Astralis and MiBR, Gambit was in a prime position to overtake them. Things changed since then, and now nafany’s squad isn’t in such good position to climb up the rankings. Could they surprise us at the EPL playoffs? Sure, but it’s unlikely considering that they will face FaZe and Na’Vi right after if they win over Karrigan’s team.

Now, while this bit has definitely been mostly negative about Players’ form, don’t let that fool you. They still are a premier team. Sure, If Ax1le and nafany get back to their usual form, then Gambit will certainly be back in the discussion about the teams that could become the best in the world. Still, even now, considering what both them and FaZe showed up at the group stage, they can be seen as the slight favorites going in. This goes to show how strong this roster is: even in a slump. They can still compete against the very best.

ESL PRO LEAGUE RETURNS FOR ITS LAST STAGE THIS TUESDAY

This Tuesday, tune in ESL’s Twitch channel in order to not miss a beat of the EPL XV’s playoffs. The first match will be kicking off at 1:30 PM UTC. Until then – and afterwards, too – make sure to follow us here. This way, you can keep up with everything related to Counter-Strike and various other esports titles.

The author

My name is Marcos, I have been following the CSGO pro scene since 2015 but really got into in following games and pro teams in 2016. Used to bet a lot, stopped a bit but never stopped following the esports scene. I'm a student right now so I got a lot of time to keep with it and discover new things.

More articles from MJunior
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x