The league is back for its eleventh edition, we break down all the teams, groups and more!
Despite Thorin’s bravado, ESL came out of the CS:GO league war with barely a scratch - a damaged reputation maybe, but clearly not amongst the top 11 teams in the world, who all agreed to join the ESL Pro League, along with 13 other top 100 teams,
ESL Pro League features best of threes in every single match except one - the Grand Final, which is best of five. The group stages are held online, due to the coronavirus situation, with the top team from each group going to a ‘play-in’ to determine seeding for the round of twelve. The finals, then, will be played in Denver USA, coronavirus depending.
Starting on Monday, or 16th March, the league starts just a few days after Thorin and FACEIT’s offering, FLASHPOINT, and kicks off with a pretty strong Group A.
Astralis are pretty standout favourites, though. With Vitality, NiP, ENCE, GODSENT and Spirit in their way, one would be mad to bet against them, especially as three go through. The Danes have had a pretty slow start to the year, but they’re still by some stretch, a better team than the floundering ENCE, for example. Questions might be raised if Astralis continue to unimpress, and anything other than topping their group would be considered sacrilege in Denmark.
Misutaaa will make his debut in the yellow of Vitality at Pro League, after the departure from the French scene of ALEX. It’s a debut of sorts for apEX too, who will be taking the reins and leading the charge - figuratively and literally - for Vitality. NiP will be looking to finally differentiate themselves and show that they are more than also-rans, while ENCE would kill to be also-rans right now. Ever since cutting Aleksib they’ve been… well, they’re trying. And they’re having fun, apparently.
GODSENT knocked Aleksib out of the Minor Qualifiers, so maybe if ENCE can take them on and beat them, they can convince themselves it was a good decision, somehow. They’ve been quietly impressive in recent times and are coming off the back of a pretty big high after qualifying for the Minor. Spirit are coming in cold as late replacements for BOOM, who had to drop out. Their CIS roster with plenty of firepower could make them a banana skin for the bigger teams, especially online. iDisbalance and sdy are both seriously scary players, but finding a spot in the playoffs ahead of the other five should be a tough ask.
Group B hosts Natus Vincere and fnatic, who are two of the most dangerous teams at the tournament. NaVi won the last tournament and ridiculously convincingly too, with s1mple, the best player in the world so far this year, looking absolutely insatiable in his quest for virtual blood. fnatic made it into the semi-finals of IEM Katowice, which should be enough evidence for them to be top two in this group.
That would leave one spot for BIG, Complexity, forZe and North. Complexity on LAN have been terrifying, and have to be the favourite - but it should be noted that they got smashed by NaVi, which would make this group hard to navigate. Also, with it being online, CoL have looked far less reliable there, which may be an issue for them.
forZe would be super scary at the end of 2019, but have been extremely underwhelming at the start of 2020. They lost to Endpoint at Anaheim and were bested by Spirit in the WESG Qualifiers already, which is killing the hype for a team who were exciting. BIG were supposed to be at FLASHPOINT, but as Heroic were being picked up by FunPlus Phoenix, they were offered a spot in Pro League and jumped at it. They haven’t looked amazing since the changes to a full German roster, but with XANTARES they at least have a chance of upsetting.
North’s group before the reshuffle - against FaZe, OG and EG - was almost unnavigatable, but in this one, they have at least an outside shot of making top three. They’ll be reliant on the brain of MSL to outthink the brawn that their opponents can bring, especially against Complexity, where they’ll meet their old friend, k0nfig.
100 Thieves were destined to take on Renegades in an intranational clash in Group C - with Renegades wanting to prove they can be The Boys after all - but no longer. The final member of this group has not been announced, just yet, as Sharks also dropped out. 100T have looked closer to their top level in 2020, and their resilience is mightily impressive, consistently coming back from the brink to win games they seemingly had no right to. Swole Patrol instead are the replacement for Renegades, and they struggled in Season 10, in the Americas region, which will hopefully for them not be an omen.
100T are probably looking at a top three spot, and Liquid and EG are the most likely teams to join them. Both of them have been milling about near the top of the HLTV and ESL rankings, but rarely convinced anyone properly that they’re the true #1. In true Liquid fashion, they’ll probably finish second in this group - but the level of talent in that team is still absolutely obscene, and they should be good enough to get into the playoffs.
EG are the team who are most likely to be worried - their form is iffy, and their fellow will pounce on any weakness they see. Picking a top three is tough, and EG or OG are likely to miss out. CeRq hasn’t started 2020 the way he ended 2019, and tarik unfortunately has started 2020 the same way, leaving EG a little short on firepower. It should be enough to make top three, but it could be tough.
FURIA are an inconsistent team, but one who can comfortably walk through this group if they’re on top of their game. They’re rarely ever on their top form, though, which is why they’re not favourites - but they will pounce quickly on any weakness EG show.
The final group hosts mousesports, TYLOO, VP, OG, G2 and FaZe. G2, OG and EG have all become pretty familiar with each other, as they were grouped together at BLAST. G2 came out looking the best, and have been extremely good since the addition of huNter and nexa, with a resurgent kennyS tickling our nostalgia node. OG have been pretty hit and miss, especially online - they missed out on the Minor due to their online form - but have beaten EG on LAN recently.
FaZe have firepower in abundance, and will love to duke it out on any of the aim-heavy maps with any of the other international teams who don’t care so much for tactics - broky’s emergence as a genuine star has made FaZe a five-fold threat, and them missing out on playoffs seems impossible - but online, anything is possible.
mousesports and OG will likely be butting heads over the third spot, as strange as that sounds. OG are somewhat new, but the online format is likely to be an issue for them. They’ve looked awful in Minor Qualifiers and other online formats, and this group is absolutely stacked. Firepower against FaZe will almost certainly be their downfall, as they just can’t frag along with them. mousesports have firepower, but they are yet to convince people they’re as good in 2020 as they were at the end of 2019. They’re probably favoured to make a top three finish, but it’s nowhere near guaranteed
TYLOO and VP round out Group D. TYLOO come in with pretty much zero expectation - they’ve struggled since the departure of BnTeT, and fans are even talking about them not making it out of the Asia Minor, a first for the org. VP have been pretty shoddy since the signing of ex-AVANGAR, but an online format might help lower the skill gap between them and the top teams, and maybe bring back some confidence in their ability to duel with the best.
Teams accurate as of 6pm GMT Saturday 14/03/20.
Image via ESL.