Season 16 was another action-packed season of the ESL Pro League, which saw the Counter-Strike scene head to Malta. Vitality take home the trophy on the European island beating out Team Liquid in the Grand Final . No prizes for guessing which category they fall into at this event. But which teams joined them in the winners’ section – and which teams left Malta wanting more? We’ve picked out six winners and six losers from ESL Pro League Season 16.
Vitality look revitalized with the addition of Lotan "Spinx" Giladi and take home the trophy.
The Parisian organization was in the first group of play at ESL Pro League Season 16, which took place almost a month ago. During the Summer break, Lotan "Spinx" Giladi was added to the international squad, and in Malta his addition was realized to be a great one. The Israeli rifle star has re-energized and revitalized the Vitality squad, and it ultimately led to a Grand-final appearance. Danny “zonic” Sørensen’s men started the tournament in Group A, the same group as Natus Vincere, and topped the group with a 5-0 score. This gained the international side a straight berth to the Quarter Finals, which saw them face Outsiders.
A key reason for Vitality’s success throughout the event was Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut, which isn’t exactly surprising, but his form in Malta was something else. The French superstar was far and away the highest-rated player at the tournament, and he was awarded the MVP for ESL Pro League Season 16. Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut, alongside Lotan "Spinx" Giladi, were the key ingredients for success as Vitality won their game over Outsiders and the following game over G2 2-0, gaining themselves a final appearance. Dan “apEX” Madesclaire’s men took the fight to Mareks “YEKINDAR” Gaļinskis and Liquid in the final and won3-2, cementing this event as a huge improvement, and the players should definitely be proud of themselves. From this point forward, Vitality are title contenders and will be in contention for the upcoming Major.
Despite making Playoffs, Cloud9 again stop FaZe and prevent the Intel Grand Slam win.
In a similar vein to Natus Vincere, this FaZe team entered every event in 2022 with the expectation of victory, and this was not the case in Malta. With only one event win needed to win the Intel Grand Slam, FaZe again fell at the hands of Cloud9 in the Quarter-finals of a tournament. Akin to IEM Dallas 2022, the Russian/Kazakhstan squad was the thorn in the side of Finn “karrigan” Andersen’s men, but that wasn’t the whole story for FaZe here in Malta.
FaZe played second fiddle in group B to G2, finishing 4-1 and qualifying for the Playoffs. This isn’t horrendous, but the fashion in which they lost to G2 was worrying for FaZe going forward. Being the winners of the last season of ESL Pro League, the American organization entered the tournament as favorites, so group dominance was expected. A second-place finish was not the end of the world; they progressed to the Playoffs and went up against Complexity to start the knockout stage. Their game against the American side was surprisingly close, and Complexity should have won, which shocked the Counter-Strike community. As mentioned, they followed that up with a loss to Cloud9 in the Quarters, which ended FaZe’s run in Malta.
Robert “RobbaN” Dahlström's team was nowhere near one hundred percent at ESL Pro League Season 16 and will need to find their form once more if they want to get their final notch on Season 4 of the Intel Grand Slam and finally win the one million dollar prize.
Liquid and Mareks “YEKINDAR” Gaļinskis make a Grand-Final appearance in Malta; surely the Latvian signs a permanent deal?
At ESL Pro League Season 16, Liquid finished second place with a player who has yet to sign a permanent deal. Since adding Mareks “YEKINDAR” Gaļinskis, the Liquid side has transformed. Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski looks back to his best, so the Dutch organization can compete at the highest level. They began their journey in Malta in Group D, and it came down to the final day whether Liquid would qualify for Playoffs or not. A win over Cloud9 on the final day of Group D sealed their Playoff berth, but a playoff place was not a certainty.
Once making the Playoff Stage, Liquid was on a charge. To start, they faced off against fnatic and demolished the international side. The majority American squad followed that up with a quick win over MOUZ and then a close-fought win over Cloud9, which netted them a spot in the Grand-finals against an in-form Vitality. It was a back-and-forth final but eventually, the trophy fell to the French organization. Disappointing, sure, but the sky’s the limit for this Liquid roster, who once again look like title contenders with the implementation of Mareks “YEKINDAR” Gaļinskis. As I mentioned in my Five Takeaways from Group D, Josh “oSee” Ohm was underperforming throughout the groups, but he came alive in the Playoffs, and with him online, Liquid looked almost unstoppable.
Losers: Natus Vincere
Natus Vincere is not at their best in Malta and needs more practice time as the Major gets ever closer.
Natus Vincere entered Group A with the expectation of domination, and although they did make it out of the group, it wasn’t plain sailing. The Ukrainian organization picked up some surprising losses - against Endpoint, Vitality, and NIP. Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev was not at his best, and things looked shaky for the Russian/Ukrainian squad entering the Playoffs stage. However, with being in Group A, Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy men had almost a month to sit down and improve their playbook.
They opened the Playoffs Stage taking on Heroic, a team that in the past has caused them troubles but was expected to take the win, and that they did. Natus Vincere won the series 2-1 and was set to face G2 in the Quarter-finals. Coming up against the international squad, looking revitalized, Natus Vincere was expected to take the win and fight for the trophy in Malta up against their year-long rivals FaZe. It was not to be, however, as Denis “electroNic” Sharipov’s squad fell at the hands of G2 and exited the tournament in 5-8th place.
Although not an awful result, they underperformed expectations and did not look their best. Natus Vincere looks beatable, which is not something anyone has said for a long time.
Winners: Cloud 9
The Russian/Kazakhstan side was in strong form, but Liquid was seemingly a thorn in their side
Before ESL Pro League Season 16, the last LAN event the Russian squad attended was IEM Cologne 2022, almost two months ago. Therefore they entered the competition with high expecations, and Konstantin “groove” Pikiner’s men certainly delivered. With ease, Cloud9 topped Group D; they went 4-0 in the opening matches without losing a map, and with their group victory already confirmed, they went up against Liquid. That fact led to what seemed to be a rather lethargic display from Cloud9, which led to their 2-0 defeat against the American side.
This was not a reason to worry, as Cloud9 still looked incredibly strong in Malta, but it showed they were indeed beatable. Vladislav “nafany” Gorshkov’s men faced FaZe in their Quarter-Finals match, and akin to IEM Dallas stopped the international side in their tracks and handily dispatched them from the tournament. This set up a Semi-finals bout against Liquid. Again, they fell short against the new-look Liquid with Mareks “YEKINDAR” Gaļinskis, ending Cloud9’s run in Malta. The CIS side was in the conversation for the trophy at ESL Pro League Season 16 and can certainly get more silverware under their belts before the end of the year.
A terrible trip to Malta for the famed Danish organization.
At IEM Cologne 2022, before the Summer break, Astralis had a big result. They made the Semi-finals and peaked at number three in the world. Since then, they haven’t been able to build on this result and suffered embarrassing losses to the likes of Aurora, los kogutos, and SAW during the RMR qualification for the Major in Rio. These teams are nowhere near the level of Astralis, which set the tone for the Danish side heading into ESL Pro League Season 16.
Astralis failed to make the Playoff Stage in Malta, finishing fourth place in Group C. They suffered losses to Complexity, HEET, and Heroic on their way to that finish, and this just is not acceptable for an organization of this caliber. For years, Astralis have prided themselves on being the pinnacle of the Counter-Strike world, and at the moment, that just is not the case. With rumors of Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke getting into a fight and therefore being injured for the upcoming RMR, things do not look good for the Danish organization, and this trip to Malta might be one to forget. Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander will have to work some magic if he wants his roster with Mikkel “MistR” Thomsen standing in to qualify for the Major in Brazil.
The new G2 roster has a strong tournament in Malta and will look to build on their Semi-Final appearance with the RMR coming up next
Rémy “XTQZZ” Quoniam’s new squad had a successful trip to Malta. Sure, they would have liked to make the Grand-final, but a 3-4th place finish is definitely not a poor result. G2 flawlessly finished top of Group B, not dropping a single map, gaining themselves a direct route to the Quarter-Finals. In that match, they came up against Natus Vincere and Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev. They took the series 2-1 and really cemented themselves as a team to be feared in Malta. This is where the Spanish organization’s run came to an end as they fell apart against Vitality, dropping a 15-7 lead on the second map of Inferno to lose the series 2-0.
Although disappointing, Rasmus "HooXi" Nielsen should be proud of what his team achieved in Malta. There has been a noticeable improvement from event to event, and a key thing the community noticed was the performances on display from Ilya "m0NESY" Osipov under his leadership. The young Russian sniper averaged a 1.25 rating and looked lightning quick on the server. Newcomer Justin "jks" Savage also had a successful event as he continues to bed in, and with that, G2 will look to build on this result to fight for trophies for the rest of 2022.
The German squad was not at their best in Malta. LAN troubles still present for Florian “syrsoN” Rische.
The disparities between the German side’s performances on LAN and Online are no secret, but Florian “syrsoN” Rische, in particular, is a key worry for BIG going forward. As I mentioned in my Five Takeaways from Group B, earlier in the year, the Berlin-based organization won an Online tournament - Roobet Cup 2022. At that event, the German sniper won the MVP award for the competition and averaged a 1.23 rating. In Malta, the 26-year-old had a mere 1.05 rating. Therefore, the issue remains, if BIG can find a way for their AWPer to replicate his online performances on LAN, things would look much brighter for this German side.
Now, don’t get it twisted; all of BIG’s issues are not the fault of Florian “syrsoN” Rische. This tournament saw Nils "k1to" Gruhne return to the roster, and although he has played for this team before, his arrival will surely take time to bed in. Tizian "tiziaN" Feldbusch was a crucial member of this side, and he was certainly missed at ESL Pro League Season 16. So, the German squad did not have the best of times in Malta, and they exited the Group Stage, picking up only two wins.
There was one positive, however, Josef “faveN” Baumann, who had a solid tournament and put up some good numbers. Sadly, he will be missing their next event, the Road to Rio RMR, due to illness and will be sorely missed in BIG’s attempt to make the next Major tournament. Academy player Elias “s1n” Stein has big shoes to fill and will need to fill them if BIG wants to qualify for the upcoming Major tournament.
Another positive showing for the German organization as Dorian “xertioN” Berman debuts.
I have been doubtful of Christopher “dexter” Nong and his MOUZ project for a while now. However, my view of this team may be starting to change. At ESL Pro League Season 16 they showed a lot of promise and proved that the addition of Dorian “xertioN” Berman was a solid pickup. The German organization topped Group C with a 4-1 score, which netted MOUZ a straight passage to the Quarter-finals. Sadly, they lost out to Liquid, who eventually reached the Grand-Final of the tournament.
This performance in Malta is one of substance and can definitely be built upon. David "frozen" Čerňanský stood out as a superstar at ESL Pro League Season 16, averaging a 1.30 rating and having some really dominant maps. Ex-MOUZ NXT players Dorian “xertioN” Berman and Jon "JDC" de Castro also had a strong tournament, and it looks as if Christopher “dexter” Nong has some strong pieces to work with. Ádám "torzsi" Torzsás had a bit of a lackluster event, and if he comes online, MOUZ can undoubtedly look to consistently fight for playoff positions.
As Lotan "Spinx" Giladi shines with Vitality, the newly formed international squad has a poor debut without him.
Before the departure of Lotan "Spinx" Giladi and the benching of Olek “hades” Miskiewicz, ENCE were title contenders. Marco “Snappi” Pfeiffer’s squad entered every event fighting for the trophy, and the Finish organization was hoping that the replacements, Valdemar “valde” Bjørn Vangså and Alvaro “SunPayus” Garci, would help return them to a similar position without the elite level fragging Lotan "Spinx" Giladi brought to the team. ENCE still have Paweł “dycha” Dycha and Pavle “Maden” Bošković on their books: both of which have been consistently high performing throughout their careers.
So, the future does look bright for ENCE, but what went wrong at ESL Pro League Season 16? The international team suffered a 1-4 result in Group C and therefore exited the tournament in the Group Stage. They picked up their sole win over French side HEET on the opening day but failed to win any other maps for the rest of their time in Malta. Although that is quite a dire look, this was the first tournament with this new roster, and the community will expect more from them with the Road to Rio RMR coming up soon. Given more time, ENCE will be back to fighting for Playoff positions and possibly even a trophy - which has eluded the Finish organization since 2019.
Michael “Grim” Wince and the Håkon “hallzerk” Fjærli affect propel Complexity to the Playoffs.
Complexity had a really promising showing in Malta, Håkon “hallzerk” Fjærli looks like a super strong signing, and Michael “Grim” Wince was electric in Season 16 of ESL Pro League and showed the star potential he had when he first joined Liquid in 2020. Complexity found a Playoff berth after finishing third place in Group C ahead of the likes of Astralis and ENCE. This alone is a huge deal for a team that was in poor form heading into this event. The Dallas Cowboys-backed organization picked up wins over Astralis, HEET and ENCE in the Group Stage.
There is definitely room for improvement, Johnny “JT” Theodosiou’s team is nowhere near perfect, but their performance against FaZe in the first round of the playoffs showed clear forward steps had been made in the Complexity camp. They played FaZe close and probably should have won that series. They didn’t, but that isn’t the end of the world. Complexity can build on this and look set to qualify for the Major through the Americas RMR easily. Also, the signing of Håkon “hallzerk” Fjærli looks to have massively increased the mental fortitude of Complexity - he brings energy and is vital for the mental side of the team. His addition also seems to have brought the best out of Michael “Grim” Wince, who averaged a 1.19 rating across the event and shone incredibly brightly.
Losers: Movistar Riders
The Riders fail to repeat their heroics in Cologne and look lost without Alvaro “SunPayus” Garcia.
Before the Summer break, at IEM Cologne 2022, Movistar Riders shocked the Counter-Strike world. The Spanish side performed above the community and pundits' expectations, and their run was the fairytale story of the event. Their Semi-Final finish came fresh off a victory at ESL Challenger Valencia, cementing the Rider's rise to becoming a tier one contender. However, that momentum was cut short as their star sniper Alvaro “SunPayus” Garcia gained a spot on ENCE following his instrumental performances over this period of results. This left Movistar Riders without an AWPer heading into the Summer break.
They arrived at ESL Pro League Season 16 with their new replacement Antonio “Martinez” Martinez. He was acquired from VELOX, and he looked fairly strong in Group D, having a strong series against Liquid to open up the group. However, Movistar Riders do not look like the same side that could be establishing themselves as a tier one contender and lack the star factor they had when they still had Alvaro “SunPayus” Garcia on the books. They finished their group without picking up a single series win and just the sole map win. Given time, the Spanish side may be able to return to the heights of the previous roster, but this event was not a success, and they are far from where Alejandro “alex” Masanet wants his side to be.
So, with that, ESL Pro League Season 16 comes to an end. With the two IEM Road to Rio RMR Groups coming up next, who will continue their strong form from Malta, and who will manage to turn things around and qualify for the Major in Brazil?