Undeterred by the grey cloud of FaZe and Astralis’ absence, the fifth season of ESL’s Pro League gets underway. There are a number of strong teams in attendance, including IEM Sydney winners, SK Gaming. While Group B will be a battle of consistency, Group A holds the majority of the title contenders. The groups for the tournament can be found here. Three teams from each group qualify for the playoffs. The number one seed automatically advances to the semi-final while the others will endure the quarter-finals. Here are my predictions for the group stages.
This group hosts a number of major champions who will all be competing for that first round bye. I predict SK to top the group. At IEM, Marcelo “coldzera” David’s top performances continued while the rest of the squad rallied around Fernando “fer” Alvarenga. It is expected that these two will shine again throughout the group stage.
Finishing second I have G2 Esports; they similarly are entering the tournament following their win at Dreamhack Tours. In France, G2’s more supportive players in Nathan “NBK-” Schmitt and Alexandre “bodyy” Pianaro outperformed their star players. If that continues it’s unlikely anyone will beat them through raw skill in groups.
Joining them in the playoffs from Group A I have Cloud 9. The Americans recently topped SK Gaming in Subaru’s online invitational. The reigning EPL champions are known to struggle with translating online results onto the stage. However, this could be the weekend to do it with their title on the line.
Of course, there is a chance for an upset through any of Immortals, fnatic or EnVyUs. Fnatic still doesn’t look fully polished, although, they have been trading maps online with the likes of Astralis and FaZe whilst handily beating the easier opposition. Fnatic is a team known for their offline performances, so they can definitely steal third place. Immortals are heading into the event with Vito “kNg” Giuseppe who is making his first LAN appearance for them. Meanwhile, EnVyUs are on the decline after losing to Space Soldiers in the ESL One Cologne qualifiers, so I see little chance of these two qualifying.
The second of the groups is much harder to predict. The top two on face value would be Natus Vincere and North, although both have faltered as of late. Biting at their heels will be the challengers in OpTic, Liquid, and Mousesports.
Advancing in first place, I still have Na’Vi. Despite their horrific performance at Dreamhack Tours, I’m banking on the fact that the world class talent they possess will not collapse again. Since the opposition in this group is highly inconsistent, it should provide easier games than Tours did. The team hasn’t played many competitive matches since that loss, hopefully meaning the CIS team has some tricks up their sleeve.
Taking the second seed I have North. Similar to Na’Vi, they exited IEM Sydney following a loss to local Aussie’s Chiefs. After a week long boot camp prior to the event, and with their opening games being against Mousesports and NRG, I believe they will pick up some early momentum. A strong tactical presence from Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen should be enough to see off Mousesports and the Americans. Top tier performances from Emil “Magisk” Reif or Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke may be needed to best OpTic and Na’Vi.
My last quarter-finalist will be OpTic Gaming. Although the team suffered humiliating losses to SK in the semi-finals of IEM Sydney, the team is slowly creeping back to the top. At this event, they will be able to play with in-game leader Jason “jasonR” Ruchelski, as opposed to their coach which should boost their chances of advancing. I don’t see them losing to either NRG or Mousesports, while they have the potential to take down Na’Vi or North. The game against Team Liquid may be crucial if they both happen to defeat the lower opposition while taking hits from the top two.
Mousesports definitely have the firepower to take third place with fan favorite Robin “ropz” Kool at the helm. However, my personal opinion is that OpTic’s core chemistry will help them reach the playoffs. Furthermore, Liquid are in the same position as Mousesports, meaning the games between each other will determine the winner or whoever can take down North or Na’Vi will get a shot at first place in the $750,000 tournament.
The ESL Pro League Finals kicks off today at the Verizon Theatre in Dallas, Texas.