A season of ESL Pro League is always a premium event on the Counter-Strike calendar and Season 15 is no exception. These tournaments are highly contested, with the field of teams at ESL Pro League Season 15 consisting of the best Counter-Strike has to offer - all packed into four round-robin groups.
According to the Louvre agreement, Natus Vincere, Ninjas in Pyjamas, FaZe, and G2 Esports are considered “Partner Teams” and receive automatic invitations to these competitions. Other teams like Heroic and Entropiq obtain their invites through their position on the ESL World Ranking. Outside of these phenomenal teams backed by huge organizations, different lineups have to gain access to the event in an alternate fashion.
These quote-unquote lesser teams can either qualify through ESL Pro League Conference, which acts as a qualifier for the main event or their respective region’s ESEA Premier Season. The biggest underdogs here at ESL Pro League Season 15 acquired their space at this competition through these methods - with Looking For Org, Sprout, Party Astronauts, and AGO being notable mentions.
The Australians at Looking For Org came into the tournament ninety-fourth in the rankings and so far have noticeably struggled in Group A, alongside some of the world’s best. Observing these teams is consistently an exciting prospect; there is always the potential for upsets. So let’s take a look at the perspectives for these remaining underdogs here at ESL Pro League Season 15.
Sprout failed to qualify for ESL Pro League Season 15 through the ESL Pro League Season 15 Conference finishing in fourth place in November last year. The roster that played the ESL Conference had two differences to their lineup for this event. The previous contained German star Josef “faveN” Baumann, who made a blockbuster transfer to BIG, and Kamil “KEi” Pietkun, who proceeded to return to the Polish scene to again play with Polish legend Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski.
Sprout chose the youthful route when selecting their replacements and acquired two up-and-coming teenagers from the European scene. Danish rifler Victor “Staehr” Staehr and Luxembourgian Max “Marix” Kugener were the incoming players, the latter of which has shone in particular since joining the German organization. These recruitments saw Sprout once again move away from a German core. The two have immense potential and look to develop as Sprout has ambitions of rising in the rankings.
In Group B at ESL Pro League Season 15, Sprout looks out of its depth. Despite being ranked twenty-third in the world according to the HLTV rankings, the level of competition in this group is far superior compared to their usual opponents. In Group B, Vitality, FURIA, Outsiders (formally Virtus.pro), ENCE, and IEM Katowice winners FaZe. In their last tier-one foray, at IEM Katowice, the Sprout team failed to make the main event, falling short at the Play-In stage. Throughout this stage, they lost a close map against FaZe and suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Epitacio “TACO” de Melo’s GODSENT.
I expect much of the same here at ESL Pro League Season 15. Rasmus “raalz” Steensborg’s men will likely finish last in Group B but will utilize this opportunity to gain some much-needed experience at the highest level. Any map wins will be much appreciated and aid the development of their young players heading into the future.
Party Astronauts are an organization-less Counter-Strike team from North America and gained a place at this event through their region’s ESEA Premier Season 38. The team utilized fundraisers through GoFundMe to get set up in Europe and have a proper boot camp before ESL Pro League Season 15. So to say that they are underdogs is more than a fair statement. Five days before the ESL Pro League roster lock, 22-year-old star David “cynic” Polster departed the team, stating long-term internal issues. The timing of this decision couldn’t have been much worse as the Party Astronauts only had five days to find a replacement.
To rectify this abrupt departure, Wesley “viz” Harris was added to the lineup. However, Wesley would not have his passport in time for ESL Pro League Season 15, so the Americans had to look elsewhere for a stand-in. Coming out of retirement, North American veteran player Peter “ptr” Gurney was announced to be standing in for Party Astronauts for this season of ESL Pro League. Given that they are utilizing a stand-in and their forty-fourth place position on the world rankings, things look bleak for the Astronauts at this event.
They reside in Group C, one of the more manageable groups. Gambit looks to be the clear favorite to top this group, alongside BIG. Liquid, GODSENT, and Movistar Riders are the remaining teams, who will all be favored in a head-to-head against Party Astronauts, but don’t look unbeatable. Regional matchups, akin to their matchup against Liquid, always create exciting games full of scrappy Counter-Strike, which should be a joy to watch. Party Astronauts can win the odd map throughout their time at ESL Pro League but expect them to finish last in the group.
AGO is the last remaining underdog at ESL Pro League Season 15. They are currently ranked one hundred and seventh in the world. Heading into 2022, they lost their star AWPer Miłosz “mhL” Knasiak, who is now thriving at MOUZ NXT. This came as a massive loss to the Polish squad as mhL was their highest-rated player throughout his time with the team. However, they did manage to retain the services of 18-year-old talent Maciej “F1KU” Miklas, who is now considered the team’s star player.
The Polish organization has seven players on their roster, and their starting lineup for ESL Pro League Season 15 is unknown but look set to play with - the previously mentioned Maciej “F1KU” Miklas, Roland “ultimate” Tomkowaik, Denis “Grashog” Hristov, Szymon “kRaSnaL” Mrozek and long-time member Eryk “leman” Kocȩba. AGO has been placed in Group D, where they will face off against Natus Vincere, Heroic, Astralis, Evil Geniuses, and Complexity. This will be an incredibly tough test for the Poles and considered underdogs in every matchup.
Natus Vincere and Heroic are in solid form, both making the semi-finals of IEM Katowice 2022, and will be expected to dominate against AGO. Astralis is fielding their new roster, which contains ex-FunPlus Phoenix AWPer Asger “Farlig” Jensen. This new addition is likely to turn around the trajectory of the legendary Danish organization, and a loss at the hands of AGO would leave the community in shock. Complexity and Evil Geniuses are North American teams put together for the new year. The former contains many young and unproven players, while the latter contains serial winners from the North American scene looking to rediscover their old form. AGO is still expected to struggle against the Americans, but winning a map or two could well be on the cards.
There are always underdogs at ESL Pro League and if Group A has taught us anything, never doubt the lesser teams. The Counter-Strike community expected G2 Esports to cruise through Group A, even with François “AMANEK” Delaunay standing in, But that was not the case. A heavily hindered Fnatic progressed from the group. There will be more underdog stories here at ESL Pro League Season 15?