Additional reporting by Benjamin "esk1mo" Esgate
With Group D coming to a close, that means that the playoff stage for ESL Pro League Season 15 is upon us. The top three teams from each group progressed, making up the twelve teams that will battle out for the ESL Pro League trophy. Tournament favourites like G2 Esports, Outsiders and Vitality have fallen by the wayside, failing to progress to the playoff stage.
Similarly, teams like Players and FaZe failed to top their respective groups as they were expected to. This has created an incredibly interesting playoff bracket, packed full of underdog stories, with teams attempting to establish themselves amongst Counter-Strike’s elite.
Teams that progressed first place in their group achieved direct qualification to the Quarter Finals and will readily await the winner of the initial playoff round. Playoff Round One will initiate this tournament bracket and will see the third and second place teams go head-to-head. So, who are the favourites to take home the trophy? And who will go on a surprise run? Let’s take a look at the exciting prospect of the ESL Pro League Season 15 Playoffs.
The Ninjas in Pyjamas returned for another event without their AWPer of Nicolai "device" Reedtz. It came as a surprise to nobody to see Love “phzy” Smidebrant once again taking the AWPer role on the team, but the community is starting to become nervous. NiP, on the other hand, is definitely trying to plan for the future, and the current position is far from perfect. Given the situation, NiP has done a decent job without their supposedly world-class AWPer, topping their respective group. As he adjusts to this level of play, phzy continues to make rookie blunders. Also, while Nicolas "Plopski" Gonzalez Zamora's form has improved, it is still far from ideal.
Despite this, Hampus "hampus" Poser is putting in a tremendous amount of effort on the server, Fredrik "REZ" Sterner is still an expert with the rifles, and phzy is doing quite well. Unfortunately, given the level of competition that they will face during the playoffs, it is unlikely that they will emerge victorious.
Their initial matchup is in the Quarter Finals against either Team Liquid or Heroic, depending on who wins the first round.
Entropiq came into the new year ranked inside the top ten teams in the world and after their poor start to the year, the Russian squad arrived at ESL Pro League Season 15 looking to prove themselves at the highest level. Dmitry “hooch” Bogdanov’s men went 4-1 in Group A, beating tournament favourites G2 Esports and putting the European behemoth out of contention for a playoff position.
Their sole loss came at the hands of NIP, who looked superb despite the continued absence of their star-AWPer and blockbuster signing Nicolai "device" Reedtz. Entropiq were far-and-away second-best in Group A but since its conclusion have lost to both SAW and ECSTATIC in ESL Challenger League Season 40 Europe. These teams are not on the level of those that remain at this tournament and Entropiq will need a quick turn-around in their form to find success here in the playoffs.
Their initial matchup is against Astralis in Playoff Round One and the winner will face FURIA in the Quarter Finals.
fnatic hasn't been looking their best recently, with the loss of their AWPer, Owen "smooya" Butterfield, NiP's signing of Ludvig "Brollan" Brolin and Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson continuing to suffer from COVID. But with Valentin "poizon" Vasilev joining as a trial and the appearances of Peppe "Peppzor" Borak and Matias "Banjo" Kivistö standing in for the Swedish veteran KRIMZ, they managed to defeat the likes of G2 during their group stages and made the playoffs. However, they were eliminated from the IEM Katowice 2022 group stage earlier this year after a 2-1 loss to the Danish team Astralis.
It’s also worth mentioning that both Peppzor and Banjo previously played for fnatic's academy team fnatic rising prior to Peppe being promoted. With the addition of Borak, they were also able to finish second at PGL Major Antwerp 2022 Europe RMR Open Qualifier 4, having lost at the hands of the German organisation GamerLegion. It's doubtful that fnatic will advance any further, especially given Banjo's mediocre performances during the group stage.
Their initial matchup is against ENCE in Playoff Round One and the winner will face Movistar Riders in the Quarter Finals.
Nicholas “guerri” Nogueira and his team surprised the entire Counter-Strike scene by topping Group B ahead of the likes of IEM Katowice winners FaZe as well as Outsiders, Vitality and ENCE. They failed to complete the perfect 5-0 losing out to FaZe in a close series on the final day of play. The win condition for FURIA has not changed, with the rifle duo of Yuri “yuurih” Santos and Kaike “KSCERATO” Cerato shining particularly bright at this event so far. The notoriously aggressive leader Andrei “arT” Piovezan was back to his best, achieving 0.2 opening kills per round, the highest so far at this competition.
Everything is seemingly coming together for the Brazilians, with their newest addition Rafael “saffee” Costa also proving himself to be incredibly proficient with the sniper rifle. FURIA look set to impress at the playoff stage if their form continues.
Their initial matchup is against the winner of Astralis/Entropiq in the Quarter Finals.
As Pavle “Maden” Bošković continues to bed into his new home, the European squad is continuing to improve. The Marco “Snappi” Pfeiffer led team finished second in the group and has seen massive progression since their 13-16th place exit at IEM Katowice 2022. They found wins against FaZe, Outsiders and Vitality - who are all ranked inside the top ten teams in the world.
Despite a loss to FURIA, ENCE had an excellent run in Group B and look to continue that in the playoffs. Polish sniper Olek “hades” Miskiewicz is finally starting to showcase his prowess at the highest level and the seemingly ever-reliable Israeli rifler Lotan “Spinx” Giladi continues to showcase his incredible skill. ENCE look extremely competitive so far at ESL Pro League Season 15 and will hopefully continue this into the playoffs.
Their initial matchup is against fnatic in Playoff Round One and the winner will face Movistar Riders in the Quarter Finals.
FaZe Clan has had a fantastic year thus far. At their most recent event, they played with Justin "jks" Savage as a stand-in, and even with whom they defeated some of the world's best rosters at IEM Katowice, including Gambit, Heroic, and G2. By defeating G2, they were able to take home the trophy and have their names engraved as IEM Katowice winners. Their stellar performance has continued throughout the group stages of ESL Pro League, making it to the playoffs section.
Having won against Vitality, Sprout and FURIA, and only lost to Outsiders and ENCE, one of which was eliminated during the group stage. Judging by their recent showings, they have a real chance of making it far into the playoffs.
Their initial matchup is against Players in Playoff Round One and the winner will face Natus Vincere in the Quarter Finals.
Movistar Riders -
It took everyone by surprise when Movistar Riders proceeded to go flawless in Group C. The Spanish outfit were a known quantity and were expected to fight tooth and nail for the final spot in the playoffs but Alejandro “alex” Masanet’s men were a class above the rest in Group C. They were faced with tight matches but always seemed to come out on top. Their first-place finish in the group provides them with direct passage to the Quarter Finals — which on its own is a phenomenal result for the Riders. The key discovery so far at this event is the staggering individual ability on display from AWP player Alvaro “SunPayus” Garcia. The 23-year-old Spaniard was playing his heart out and proved to the Counter-Strike world that he is capable of facing off against the best in the world. Let’s hope Movistar Riders can replicate this in the playoffs and progress further in the competition.
Their initial matchup is against the winner of fnatic/ENCE in the Quarter Finals.
Players qualified for the playoff stage second in the group which was shocking in itself. The Russian-Kazakhstan lineup was expected to top this group with relative ease as many believed they were in a class of their own in Group C. Vladislav “nafany” Gorshkov’s men uncharacteristically fell short against Movistar Riders but managed to rectify their issues and establish a comfortable finish behind the Spanish organisation. The HLTV ranked number four to six best players of the last year, Dmitry “sh1ro” Sokolov, Sergey “Ax1le” Rykhtorov and Abay “HObbit” Khasenov all remained the pillars of this Players team with sniper sh1ro being the second-highest rated player in the tournament so far, behind only Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev.
Players look set to go deep in this tournament, with their win over Liquid on the final day being overwhelmingly dominant. The second-place finish means an extra playoff game needs to be played, which could potentially present some difficult matchups. Could their slip up against Movistar Riders cost them or will Players make a deep run here at ESL Pro League Season 15?
Their initial matchup is against FaZe in Playoff Round One and the winner will face Natus Vincere in the Quarter Finals.
From the get-go, this new Liquid project seemed underwhelming and their 13-16th finish at IEM Katowice 2022 established that fact. An organisation as gargantuan as Team Liquid will not settle with results like that. The roster however definitely deserved more time and therefore arrived at ESL Pro League Season 15 with hopefully lots of improvements and a point to prove. They managed to progress from the group 3-2, suffering losses at the hands of the teams above them and wins over the teams below them.
The Dutch organisation’s faithful duo of Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski and Keith “NAF” Markovic remain instrumental for the roster but new addition Josh “oSee” Ohm is starting to make his mark on the Counter-Strike scene. The 22-year-old American sniper is the fifth highest-rated player remaining in the event and was the best-performing player for Team Liquid. This is incredibly encouraging due to EliGE and NAF’s proven nature on a tier-one stage. The supporting cast for this trio again looks lacklustre and the loss on the final day to Players was particularly dire, but Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella has won a season of Pro League before, can he do it again?
Their initial matchup is against Heroic in Playoff Round One and the winner will face NIP in the Quarter Finals.
Natus Vincere -
Natus Vincere was creating their own Counter-Strike era at the conclusion of last year. Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev had just won the CSGO Major for the first time. Natus Vincere appeared to be unstoppable at times. Overall, Na'Vi's future appeared to be ideal. Shortly after that, Natus Vincere started displaying the first cracks. They won the BLAST Premier World Final at the end of the year, but they weren't quite the unstoppable force they once were.
When the year 2022 arrived, more faults surfaced. Astralis, Ninjas in Pyjamas, and other teams well below Natus Vincere's level defeated Na'Vi earlier this year. Regardless, they've managed to secure a spot in the ESL Pro League playoffs and with the return of their IGL of Kirill “Boombl4” Mikhailov, they are the favourites to win the championship.
Their initial matchup is against FaZe/Players in the Quarter Finals.
The Danish Heroic team entered the ESL Pro League as a title contender. They were dominant at IEM Katowice, sweeping Team Vitality and Virtus.pro. Their only defeat came at the hands of the eventual champions, FaZe Clan. This team has been on a roll to begin 2022 and will be vying for another ESL Pro League trophy.
Heroic has previously excelled at the ESL Pro League, going 5-0 in their group in both S13 and S14. They are without a doubt one of the stronger teams at this event and are a serious threat to anyone they go up against.
Their initial matchup is against Liquid in Playoff Round One and the winner will face NIP in the Quarter Finals.
Astralis is the other all-Danish team in ESL Pro League Season 15. Over the past year, the historically best Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team has seen many changes in terms of both players and coaching staff.
Comparing their current performance to the success of their previous roster does Astralis no favours. They haven't finished in the top four of any event since November of last year. However, the signing of Asger "farlig" Jensen last month should provide a much-needed boost to the Danish squad. Astralis has suffered in the AWPing department since the loss of Nicolai "device" Reedtz. Before the organisation disbanded the FunPlus Phoenix CS:GO team, Farlig was a very promising player. Astralis will be dangerous if Farlig can bring the top form he showed there to their roster. But judging by his and their recent performances it might be unlikely for them to advance much further into the playoffs.
Their initial matchup is against Entropiq in Playoff Round One and the winner will face FURIA in the Quarter Finals.
There we have it, that's all the teams taking part in the playoffs of ESL Pro League Season 15. There are lots of interesting story lines to follow and it will be exciting to see the culmination of this one-month-long tournament. Who do you think will lift the trophy for Season 15 of ESL Pro League in Düsseldorf, Germany?
Imagery via ESL/Adela Sznajder