With the 17th Season of the ESL Pro League already underway, BLIX.GG goes over the key storylines for Group B.
After a winning campaign at BLAST Premier Fall Finals and a second-place finish at IEM Katowice, Heroic find themselves back on the server in Malta. Casper “cadiaN” Møller’s troops will start their campaign against a struggling Movistar Riders side, aiming to gain steam and repeat their 2021 triumph. The Danes will have to contend with the Brazilian duo of Imperial and FURIA, a Florian “syrsoN” Rische-less BIG, the inconsistent young rosters of Complexity and MOUZ, and the ever-present Portuguese quintet in SAW.
Heroic - Another day, another chance?
Heroic started 2023 on the right foot, qualifying for the BLAST Spring Final even after a harrowing loss to EG’s talent pipeline and cruising to the IEM Katowice final with a single map lost to their name. The squad is still a ways away from dominating Big Events, as it quite frequently tends to suffer upsets, but the impressive consistency shown by Rasmus “sjuush” Beck and his teammates make Heroic a safe pick for a top spot.
Triumphing in Malta, thus securing the organization’s second ESL Pro League title, would give some more substance to Heroic’s deep runs and bring them back into contention alongside G2 and FaZe for the upcoming BLAST Paris Major. The key to such triumph would necessarily be a strong performance by Jakob “jabbi” Nygaard, as the young Dane has shown to be capable of elevating the team to new heights in Poland, forming a deadly duo with Martin “stavn” Lund.
Group B’s lack of elite teams will allow Heroic to gradually get accustomed to the event, as the Danish side will start their campaign against Movistar Riders, who recorded just four wins in their last twenty matches. First place in the group is thus all but certainly in the Danes’ hands unless we see a collapse of epic proportions.
FURIA - A fistful of disappointment
On the opposite end of the spectrum, FURIA are staring down the barrel of roster changes if they cannot prove able to consistently stay at the top of the scene. The quintet squandered their chance at a home Major title in Rio, collapsing in a semi-final thriller against Heroic after leading 1-0. In Katowice, Andrei “arT” Piovezan’s men couldn’t even get past the Mongolians of IHC, failing to make the Main Event altogether.
As the team recorded just three Big Event top-four placements in the entirety of 2022, EPL Season 17 could be a chance for the squad to gain much-needed confidence in time for the Major qualification circuit. The Brazilians need to show a substantial tactical overhaul, as they were outclassed on Ancient, Nuke, and even on their home map of Mirage despite an excellent Kaike “KSCERATO” Cerato.
ESL also dealt FURIA quite a bad hand, as the team will start their campaign with a Brazilian derby against an in-form Imperial. In-Game Leader arT and his teammates will ultimately need to avoid falling to the Lower Bracket, as teams like Complexity and MOUZ could also suffer upsets and will prove tough opponents for the struggling FURIA.
Complexity - A lone star team?
Complexity remains a difficult team to assess, capable of taking the fight to the most consistent teams in the scene but seemingly always falling at the last hurdle. Even Håkon “hallzerk” Fjærli’s career-best form couldn’t push the team to the Katowice Playoffs, with an uninspired Inferno T-side causing the quintet’s elimination against Outsiders. Johnny “JT” Theodosiou’s calling was subsequently also exploited by MIBR, who took home the NA IEM Brazil spot by beating Complexity twice.
The North-American outfit’s sights are naturally set on the Paris Major, as the team had failed to qualify for Rio in a shocking twist, but a good showing in Malta is basically a requirement to avoid going into the ever-competitive Americas RMR unprepared. Justin “FaNg” Coakley and Ricky “floppy” Kemery are the ones to watch, as Complexity’s upwards trajectory is directly dependent on the end of their LAN struggles. If the duo can translate their high peaks into a consistent form, Complexity will become a real threat.
Group B looks like the perfect environment for such a change, as the North American outfit will face a collapsing BIG in their opening match. Even assuming JT’s men drop into the Lower Bracket after a loss to Heroic, a Playoff run is still very much possible with MOUZ and FURIA as the North American’s main rivals.
Imperial - March of the Green Knights
Imperial have elevated themselves from little more than a retirement home to a true contender in South America with the signings of Marcelo “chelo” Cespedes and Jhonatan “JOTA” Willian. Their ESL Pro League Season 17 campaign will be the organization’s first non-Major outing since the IEM Cologne Play-In, and an open Group B will allow the Brazilians to contend for a Playoff spot.
The key behind the project’s success, two-time Major winner Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo, will be aiming for his first big-event Playoff appearance since October 2019, and leading Imperial to a deep run will further cement his legacy as one of the game’s longest-lasting elite players. Imperial realistically won’t reach the heights of previous Luminosity, SK and MIBR rosters, but they have the potential to establish themselves as a solid upset team in Malta.
To prove their worth and make a deep run, Imperial almost necessarily have to beat FURIA in their opening match, not an impossible feat considering the two quintets’ recent results. If they do, with JOTA and chelo in good form and sporting a good mix of structure and individual prowess, FalleN’s team won’t be intimidated by MOUZ, SAW or Complexity either.
MOUZ - Unnecessary tension?
MOUZ’s 2023 brought back shades of an extremely streaky 2022, in part overshadowed by the international side’s top-four run at the Rio Major. Ádám “torzsi” Torzsás and Jon “JDC” de Castro both struggled in Katowice, failing to contribute as the team narrowly fell 2-1 to both OG and Complexity. Furthermore, Christopher “dexter” Nong’s leadership and individual level have raised much criticism.
In the background, MOUZ’s management still shows confidence in MOUZ NXT’s rising talents and has no qualms about promoting them, as Aurimas “Bymas” Pipiras’ removal from the active lineup has proven. Jimi “Jimpphat” Salo occupies similar roles to the untouchable David “frozen” Černansky but has shown to also be a competent anchor player, putting pressure on JDC. Similarly, Henrich “sl3nd” Hevesi’s convincing play on the AWP might give Hungarian compatriot torzsi food for thought. Changes before the Paris Major are not likely, but stability doesn’t always breed consistency.
Ultimately, Group B is a much-needed break for the young quintet, for whom Playoffs are the minimum objective. MOUZ will start their campaign against SAW, the Portuguese team offering little threat outside of Michel “ewjerkz” Pinto, and the Brazilian duo of FURIA and Imperial should be relatively easy targets for a well-playing MOUZ.
Credit Line: Image: Copyright ESL | Adela Sznajder