FaZe's time to shine, Vitality's swan song and more storylines for ESL Pro League Group C

Reading time  ~7  mins

As the ongoing ESL Pro League season enters its third week, let's take a look at the main storylines concerning Group C.

Read more: NA CS meme explained

FaZe will enter the server in Malta after a disappointing campaign at IEM Katowice, where the international superteam missed the Playoffs for the second time in their last four Big Events. Winning is the name of the game for Finn “karrigan” Andersen’s quintet, who are in danger of falling far behind G2 and Heroic. Joining them in the group will be reigning EPL champions Vitality, a NiP team still finding its footing, a stumbling OG, the inconsistent Brazilians of paiN and 00Nation, and the remnants of a once-great Australian scene in Grayhound and Rooster.

FaZe - a worrying drought

FaZe became the most dominant force in international Counter-Strike after Robin “ropz” Kool’s addition in early 2022, triumphing at IEM Katowice, EPL Season 15, the PGL Antwerp Major and IEM Cologne. After the Summer, however, karrigan’s squad crashed out of the Rio Major in last place and lost out to eventual champions G2 and Heroic in BLAST’s season-ending events. 2023 started in a similar fashion, with FaZe missing out on the Katowice top-six after losses to G2 and Liquid.

The team’s issues are hard to diagnose, as no player’s individual performance has dropped off significantly. Whatever the cause, FaZe will need to show their early-2022 self in Malta if they want to go into the RMR for the BLAST Paris Major as a title contender. Helvijs “broky” Saukants and ropz need to regain form and confidence, as Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken cannot be expected to act as the only contributor.

Fortunately, Group C looks to be quite uncompetitive and will provide FaZe with the perfect environment to start a successful campaign. Their opening-day opponents, the Australians of Rooster, are by far the weakest team at the event. Furthermore, no team outside of Vitality can realistically compete with the star-studded roster and therefore FaZe have a relatively clear path to the Playoffs.

FaZe Clan Despite no clear weakness, FaZe haven’t been able to match their 2022 peak. Copyright PGL | Joao Ferreira

Vitality - the superteam that wasn’t

One year on, Vitality’s international experiment has failed to produce anything close to “making history in Europe and beyond”, as Esports Director Fabien “Neo” Devide had stated. Even if Lotan “Spinx” Giladi’s addition allowed the organization to claim a single title at EPL Season 16, Vitality remains a non-factor in big events and has failed to make the Major top-eight in its last two attempts. By all metrics, the French-Danish superteam has been a clear failure.

Although it’s extremely unlikely for Vitality to make roster changes before their home Major in Paris, EPL feels like the last call. Dan “apEX” Madesclaire’s In-Game Leading has drawn massive criticism over the past months, and Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen’s individual form is a far cry from his Astralis peaks. The Danish rifler will not be present in Malta, being replaced by Audric "⁠JACKZ⁠" Jug for personal reasons, and whichever form Vitality will take in the second half of the year, it’s unlikely to be this one.

Playoffs in Malta are still likely not in discussion, as Group C sees the French organization start off against Grayhound, and then face equally stand-in hampered OG or 00Nation. However, with JACKZ in the mix and Cloud9 looking like a potential title contender, Vitality’s chances of back-to-back titles are very slim.

OG - another wake-up call?

OG reaches Malta amid a period of instability and disappointment. In-Game Leader Nemanja "⁠nexa⁠" Isaković has stepped down from the active lineup for personal reasons, and the team found an uninspiring replacement in Nikolaj “niko” Kristensen. Even before the roster troubles, OG had an abysmal record in Big Events, showing some competitiveness at BLAST Premier World Final but coming back down to Earth with losses to Heroic and Outsiders in Katowice.

Despite this depressing picture, some positives can be found for the international quintet. Abdul “degster” Gasanov has turned into a true superstar on the AWP, and Shahar “flameZ” Shushan started 2023 on the right foot. However, the team will remain uncompetitive unless Adam “NEOFRAG” Zouhar and Maciej “F1KU” Miklas can finally unlock a true Tier-1 level. A bad showing in Malta might therefore mean missing out on Major qualification for the second time in a year.

Despite a less competitive group this time around, OG is effectively required to beat a stand-in fielding 00Nation in their opening matchup to keep themselves in the running for the first spots. Falling to the Lower Bracket will probably be inevitable, but the rivals won’t be particularly threatening.

nexa nexa’s absence will harm OG’s chances to make the Playoffs even in an easier group. Copyright PGL | Stefan Petrescu

paiN - no greater enemy than oneself

paiN will debut at ESL Pro League Season 17 with Gabriel “NEKIZ” Schenato, as long-time IGL Vinicios “PKL” Coelho benched himself to deal with a spine problem. The change might turn out to be a blessing for the young Brazilian roster, who looked to be on the verge of a breakthrough in 2022 but stagnated and failed to qualify for the Rio Major. IEM Katowice confirmed the team’s struggles, with paiN recording one-sided losses to ENCE and IHC.

Now led by its star, 26-year-old Rodrigo “biguzera” Bittencourt, paiN have to show improvement in Malta to put themselves in contention for a Major spot again. Most eyes will be on the young duo of Felipe “skullz” Medeiros and Romeu “zevy” Rocco, who like biguzera, were a non-factor in Katowice despite an extremely high ceiling. skullz and zevy were paiN’s best players in their title-winning campaign at ESL Challenger Melbourne, the team’s biggest achievement so far, and need to show up for the team to compete.

The Brazilians’ opening matchup will be against Ninjas in Pyjamas, as the Swedish organization tries to find its direction after picking up Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke. NiP had a similarly dire time in Poland, so paiN have a real chance of upsetting and putting themselves in a good position to make the Playoffs.

Grayhound - Oceania’s last hurrah?

Grayhound are still Australia’s leading team, facing little to no competition in local qualifiers, but have consistently failed to be competitive on the international stage. The team still qualified for both 2022 Majors against the odds, as Mongolian and Chinese Counter-Strike has taken the clear lead in the Asia-Pacific region, but failed to make the main event at both IEM Cologne and IEM Katowice. Grayhound couldn’t even make the Playoffs at ESL Challenger Melbourne, despite an approachable group and the home crowd advantage.

Grayhound, and Australian CS as a whole behind them, therefore find themselves in limbo. Due to a stark decline in individual and tactical prowess, the region’s best-ever result in Pro League, a top-eight finish by 100 Thieves at the EPL Season 10 Finals, is unlikely to be matched. The man to watch is still Joshua “INS” Potter, who has proven to be capable of competing at the international level and might need to look for a spot in North America to progress his career sooner rather than later.

The Oceanic quintet will very likely miss out on the Playoffs, crashing out of the event with a handful of map wins at best. However, a Group C filled with stand-ins and recent changes is the team’s best chance to make a name for their region in over a year. In a scene where Mongolian and Chinese quintets record wins against decent European and American sides, Australia cannot afford to be left behind.

Alistair Despite scoring some upset wins, the Renegades-Grayhound core was a non-factor in international events. Copyright: PGL | Joao Ferreira.
CS Virtual Trade Ltd, reg. no. HE 389299 Registered address and the principal place of business: 705, Spyrou Araouzou & Koumantarias, Fayza House, 3036, Limassol, Cyprus
Copyright © 2024 BLIX.GG. All rights reserved.
CS Virtual Trade Ltd, reg. no. HE 389299 Registered address and the principal place of business: 705, Spyrou Araouzou & Koumantarias, Fayza House, 3036, Limassol, Cyprus
Copyright © 2024 BLIX.GG. All rights reserved.