With the PGL Major Antwerp 2022 starting in around a week, we present our preview of the Challengers stage.
The prize pool for this year's major event is $1,000,000 USD. It will be held in Antwerp, Belgium, at the Antwerp Sportpaleis arena. But it's not just the prize money that motivates the teams and players. This is 2022’s biggest event, and every team wants the prestige that comes with lifting the trophy. Here's a quick rundown of the sixteen teams taking part in this stage of the Major.
Following their Grand Final appearance at ESL Pro League Season 15, the Finish organization saw themselves enter the top five in the HLTV CS:GO World ranking for the first time since September of 2019. This is a monumental achievement for Marco “Snappi” Pfeiffer and the team as it showcases the overwhelming success of the international project that ENCE started in early 2020. The addition of Pavle “Maden” Bošković has seemingly sparked an upward trend in form for the European squad, with Lotan “Spinx” Giladi, Paweł “dycha” Dycha, and Olek “hades” Mikiewicz all playing some of the best Counter-Strike of their careers. This was followed by a strong showing at the BLAST Premier Spring Showdown, where ENCE defeated Copenhagen Flames, Heroic, and Astralis to earn a spot in the BLAST Premier Spring Final in Lisbon.
The stand-out man for the ENCE lineup is the Israeli superstar Lotan “Spinx” Giladi. The 21-year-old rifler has stepped up in the last few months and was integral in ensuring their Major qualification. His stand-out performances, including a particularly dominant 2.45 HLTV rating match against HEET, led to the Finish organization qualifying through the RMR 3-1 in the Swiss Stage. They enter as the highest-ranked team in the Challengers Stage and are expected to achieve their berth to the Legends Stage of PGL Major Antwerp 2022.
The Spanish organization was able to secure their spot at the PGL Major Antwerp 2022 after finishing 5th at the PGL Major Antwerp 2022 Europe RMR B as a result of defeating the Turkish organization of Sangal Esports 16-10, the Kosovan Bad News Eagles 16-10 and winning the best of three series against the Danes of Astralis 2-1.
Ever since the change for the roster of G2, the players have been eager to prove themselves as title contenders, especially the 17-year-old Russian prodigy Ilya "m0NESY" Osipov. With Aleksi "Aleksib" Virolainen at the helm, expectations were set at an all-time high. But their recent showings proved lackluster, losing matches where they were considered favorites to win. They are looking shaky at best, having not made it out of the group stages of ESL Pro League Season 15 as well as facing a loss to the Polish team of Anonymo. They are, however, capable of producing outstanding results at the PGL Major Antwerp 2022.
Following the ban on Russian organizations from competing at most high tier events, the players of Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis, Dzhami "Jame" Ali, Aleksei "Qikert" Golubev, Evgeny "FL1T" Lebedev and Timur "buster" Tulepov have been competing as "Outsiders" and will continue to do so at the PGL Major Antwerp 2022. The number 9th ranked team in the world has proven themselves as title contenders throughout their careers, and they are expected to make it deep into this event. They will, however, need to improve on their performance at the ESL Pro League Season 15, as they, like G2, were unable to advance past the group stages of the. Just like G2, they lost matches where they were considered favorites to win, namely their losses against BIG and MOUZ. Furthermore, reports have shown that Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis may be looking to part ways with the Russian organization of Virtus Pro. Outsiders has also withdrawn from IEM Dallas due to encountering issues regarding the acquisition of their visas.
The Danes of Astralis secured their spot at the PGL Major Antwerp 2022 after making it through the PGL Major Antwerp 2022 Europe RMR B, losing only to G2 and Players - both teams who have also made it to the Major.
Astralis' roster has witnessed many changes over the past year, with Benjamin "blameF" Bremer, Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke, and Philip "Lucky" Ewald joining the roster in 2021. But just about two months ago, their AWPer in Lucky was replaced by ex-FunPlus Phoenix AWPer Asger "Farlig" Jensen. The addition of the 23-year-old player made them a force to be reckoned with, finishing second at the BLAST Premier Spring Showdown 2022 Europe and 5-8th at the ESL Pro League Season 15. They are, however, unlikely to make it very far into the major due to the capability of the teams competing at this event.
The notorious team of Vitality made it through to the Major by defeating Eternal Fire, MOUZ, and Dignitas, having lost only to Natus Vincere and the world's #1 FaZe Clan.
Vitality was also one of the teams witnessing a roster change at the start of this year. Joining them were the four-time major winners, Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen and Emil "Magisk" Reif, as well as Danny "zonic" Sørensen in the coach position. Following this change, the team’s performances haven't lived up to the fans' expectations, having not made it to the Spodek arena at IEM Katowice 2022 and finishing 5-8th at the Pinnacle Cup III. Vitality is a team that has the potential to make it deep into the Major but if they will the question remains if they will show up on the match day.
The Dutch organization achieved its spot at the PGL Major Antwerp Challengers Stage through the Americas RMR, finishing the RMR with three wins and a single loss in the Group Swiss. If it hadn't been for an early loss to Marcelo "coldzera" David's 00NATION, Liquid could have competed for a spot in the Legends Stage with their regional rivals: FURIA. But it wasn’t to be, and they will have to fight their way through the PGL Major Antwerp 2022 Challengers Stage. The Challengers Stage is a far cry away from where Team Liquid was two Major cycles ago, back at the Starladder Major in Berlin in 2019, where they entered as favorites. Qualifying for the Legends Stage is important for an organization, and players of this pedigree look set to do so due to their current form.
The Liquid side has gone from strength to strength since we first saw them at the start of the year. Their 5-8th finish at ESL Pro League Season 15 establishes that, with a key 2-0 win over the at the time, number five ranked team, Heroic - which came as a massive shock to the entire community. A key to their uptrend in form is their newly added sniper, Josh “oSee” Ohm, who is thriving at the highest level of Counter-Strike. The young American sniper averaged ratings higher than established snipers like Dzhami “Jame” Ali and Florian “syrsoN” Rische across ESL Pro League 15. A consistent sniper is something the Dutch organization has lacked for as long as fans can remember, and his presence on the server is the key to returning to their glory of 2019.
The Dallas-based organization is faring well in the Counter-Strike space, gaining their spots at this event at the upcoming IEM Dallas 2022 which takes place after the PGL Major in Antwerp. Johnny “JT” Theodosiou’s men look like they are on the precipice of something special. The team is full of generational talents from the North American region. They seem to dominate all teams below them in the rankings. However, they are yet to truly flourish and take the next step to become title contenders or even a fully established tier one team.
The majority of the blame can be put on one man: ex-FURIA AWPer Paytyn “junior” Johnson. Junior is an incredible sniper in his own right and someone who pulverizes teams in the Americas region as well as the tier two of Europe. However, when the 21-year-old star faces top-tier opposition, his ratings dramatically fall, and he is noticeably holding back his team due to their lack of major AWP presence on the server. If the relatively inexperienced American can overcome his issue, then the sky's the limit for this Complexity roster, who have incredible potential.
The Russian squad has gone under the radar for the majority of 2022 but started the new season with two new players - Evengy “Norwi” Ermolin and Alexandr “shalfey” Marenov - who are twenty-one and nineteen, respectively. Despite getting quote-on-quote easier matchups, the forZe team proceeded through the PGL Antwerp RMR with a 3-1 score, beating the likes of SAW and OG. The Russian squad impressed in qualifying for the Challengers Stage, with youngster Alexandr “shalfey” Marenov shining particularly brightly. They achieved their berth ahead of the likes of MOUZ and OG, teams that are expected to, at the very least, make the Challengers Stage of the Major. Who knows what Andrey “Jerry” Mekhryakov’s men can achieve at the Major in Belgium but just making the Challengers Stage is already a great achievement.
MIBR made it through the Swiss Stage at the PGL Antwerp 2022 Americas RMR as one of the two teams to go 3-0. Themselves and FURIA were the ones fighting for the Legends spot but sadly lost out to the fellow Brazilians. However, making the Challengers Stage is still an impressive feat, and all teams are grateful for their spot at the Major. MIBR are in good form at the moment, despite missing out on a spot at IEM Dallas 2022, with Jhonatan “JOTA” Willian and Marcelo “chelo” Cespedes being their key players at the moment. The Brazilians have an outside chance of making the Legends Stage but will have to play their hearts out if they want to make their country proud.
Bad News Eagles
The Bad News Eagles were the fairytale story from the PGL Major Antwerp 2022 European RMR, with the Kosovan team qualifying for their first major 3-2. The Orgless team certainly made their countrymen proud, and the entire community was behind Sener “SENER1” Mahmuti’s men on their journey to make the PGL Major Antwerp. They beat out the likes of Entropiq and Sinners to make this legendary run possible with integral pieces of the Eagles - Flatron “juanflatroo” Halimi and Dionis “sinnopsyy” Budeci playing the best Counter-Strike of their careers. These five players should be full of pride when they arrive in Antwerp, as they have successfully put their small region on the map for CS:GO. Who knows what they can achieve with the entirety of the scene behind them?
The Russian organization secured their spot at the PGL Major Antwerp 2022 following their triumphs over Anonymo, Sinners, and ASG.
They have been looking strong after their roster change, having replaced Viktor "sdy" Orudzhev, Nikolay "mir" Bityukov, and coach Nikolay "Certus" Poluyanov with Robert "Patsi" Isyanov, Pavel "s1ren" Orudzhev and coach Sergey "hally" Shavaev. They've had great showings at the tournaments that they’ve participated in. Despite this, it is unlikely for them to progress any further into the PGL Major Antwerp 2022.
The beloved Turks of Eternal Fire made it through to the PGL Major Antwerp 2022 after defeating Dignitas, OG, and fnatic.
Eternal Fire has been on the radar of Turkish fans since the inception of the team, having been formed less than a year ago. Only two months after the initiation of Eternal Fire, however, the Jordanian Issa "ISSAA" Murad left the active roster after "not being able to adapt to Turkey", and was replaced by Yasin "xfl0ud" Koç, making Eternal Fire an all-Turkish team.
Their recent showings haven't been anything to write home about. The fans' expectations were high at the start of the project, with super-star names like Ismailcan "XANTARES" Dörtkardeş and Özgür "woxic" Eker taking part in it. Regardless of the fans' hopes, Eternal Fire is unlikely to advance much further into the PGL Major Antwerp 2022.
The Latin Americans in 9z clinched their spot at the PGL Major Antwerp 2022 Challengers Stage on the final day of play at the Americas RMR. They finished the Swiss Stage 3-2 and had to fight through two best-of-three series to make the Major. These two games saw them face off against the North American legends in Evil Geniuses and the Brazilian lineup paiN - matchups that they were both favorites to lose. The team spearheaded by coach Rafael “zakk” Fernandes fought through all adversity to pull-off upsets to win both games and earn their place at this event. What a magical story! This 9z squad marks the first appearances for Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile at a Major tournament, and all the players will be looking to make their countries proud if they haven’t already. You can read more about their journey to the PGL Major Antwerp here.
Only two months after acquiring their roster, the Brazilian organization saw themselves entering the PGL Major Antwerp 2022 after defeating Party Astronauts, Case, and São Caetano.
Imperial Esports is the most anticipated team at this event for Brazilian fans, containing a legendary roster whose core was at HLTV's #1 team ranking for nearly nine months. Helmed by Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo, expectations are held high, especially with Major winning names like Lincoln "fnx" Lau and Fernando "fer" Alvarenga. Things are looking up to the mark for the Brazilians, having finished 1st at the IEM Dallas 2022 South America Closed Qualifier after defeating the world-renowned MIBR. Imperial definitely has the potential to make it far into this tournament, and they are expected to by their fans.
Renegades have had a reign over the Asian RMRs for as long as I can remember, but this changed at the most recent RMR. The Mongolian side IHC took the community by surprise when they upset the Australian powerhouse to become the first team from their region to qualify for a Major event. They did it dominantly too, not losing a single map in the RMR, and rifle players Tengis “sk0R” Batjargal and Garidmagnai “bLitz” Byambasuren were particularly potent. This is huge for the Mongolian region, a region that has never had huge talent in Counter-Strike, and therefore a huge achievement for the players of IHC.
As mentioned, Renegades normally ease their way into Major tournaments due to their commanding rule over their region. This was not the case this time. An upset to IHC in the final saw Renegades qualify in second place. However, both teams make the PGL Major Challengers Stage and, therefore, as always with the Renegades, will look to showcase themselves on a global stage. Whilst teams from this region are always unlikely to make the main event, any wins they can gather in the Challengers Stage would be considered major milestones for the team from Australia.
The PGL Major Antwerp 2022 is the most important event of the year thus far, and the combined caliber of the competing teams is something we don't see very often. We've had nearly a month of regional qualifiers, and we're almost at the finish line. There's no telling how this will turn out. The only certain thing is that no team will go down without a fight. The teams have demonstrated their ability to compete at such a high level and are eager to make their fans and families proud.