ESL Pro League Finals – Preview & Predictions

The online portion of the ESL Pro League for both North America and Europe has concluded. Six European teams and six North American teams will head down to the Verizon Theatre in Dallas, Texas to compete against one another for their share of a $750,000 prize pool, and the title of ESL Pro League Season 5 Champions.

The teams that qualified from Europe are as follows:

  • North
  • mousesports
  • G2 Esports
  • Fnatic
  • Natus Vincere
  • Team EnVyUs

The teams that qualified from North America are as follows:

  • SK Gaming
  • Team Liquid
  • Immortals
  • NRG eSports
  • Cloud9
  • OpTic Gaming

Screenshot_2

source: Liquipedia

Group A consists of SK Gaming, G2 Esports, Immortals, Fnatic, Cloud9 and Team EnVyUs.

Group B consists of North, Team Liquid, mousesports, NRG eSports, Na’Vi & OpTic. 

In order to qualify directly to the semifinals, a team must place first. Two teams, one from each group, will be able to qualify directly to the semifinals, whilst the 2nd and 3rd placing teams from both groups will then qualify for the quarterfinal stages of the tournament.

With the formalities out of the way, let’s break down each team from both groups.

Group A

SK Gaming

SK have had a strong start to 2017 overall. They placed in the top four of the ELEAGUE Major with fox, who was a stand in at the time. They then went on to place 2nd at Dreamhack Vegas with their new addition to the roster, felps, who replaced fnx after fox’s tenure as a stand in was over.

After the event in Vegas, SK’s form seemingly took a turn for the worst, going out in groups at IEM Katowice and at the StarLadder i-League StarSeries finals. Their slump was only temporary, as they were able to come out on top at the cs_summit offline tournament, beating Gambit 3:1 in the finals.

The Brazilians would then go half way across the world to participate in IEM Sydney. SK looked like a force to be reckoned with from the start, thrashing VG 16:6 on Cobblestone, beating North 16:14 on Cobblestone & then beating Astralis 16:12 on Inferno. After a flawless group stage, SK would then meet OpTic in the semifinals of the tournament. SK asserted their dominance over the North American side, beating them 16:1 on Train & 16:7 on Overpass.

SK Gaming would then meet the mixed European side, FaZe Clan, in the finals of IEM Sydney. After a 16:12 victory on Train & a 16:7 victory on Cache, many thought that this was it for FaZe and that SK would have had the first three maps in the best of five series. However, after losing Inferno 13:16 to FaZe, SK would then go on to beat FaZe on Overpass with a scoreline of 16:11.

SK Gaming were able to stop their relatively short offline slump with two convincing first place finishes in both of the international tournaments they competed in after the StarSeries tournament. A contributing factor to this is the return of FalleN’s dominant AWP performances.

In the prior tournaments, IEM Katowice & StarSeries, FalleN struggled with the AWP, missing many shots that he would hit under any given circumstance, and it costed his team in important situations. Now that FalleN is back and hitting his shots again, SK look to be set on the path of dominance once again.

Overall, SK are a well rounded, high performing team, and it shows, obviously in their victories but also in their defeats. There’s always players doing their bit. Without FalleN contributing, SK looked like they were struggling, but now that he’s found his stride once again, SK look like a force to be reckoned with once again. On top of this, felps has had more time to settle into the squad now, and it showed at cs_summit & at IEM Sydney, where felps performed relatively well, was consistent and was a player that always had an impact on the game.

G2 Esports

On February 3 2017, the French super team was born. G2 retained shox and bodyy, and they acquired NBK, apEX & kennyS from Team EnVyUs. Smithzz was reallocated to the coaching role, enkayJ was brought in as an analyst. This roster move saw RpK and ScreaM head over to the Team EnVyUs camp.

Disregarding their online season, their offline career got off to a slow start at the Starladder i-League StarSeries Finals, where they were knocked out by FaZe Clan 1:2 in the quarterfinals of the tournament.

The superteam would then travel to Austin, to participate in Dreamhack Austin. There, G2 made it to the semifinals, only to lose out to Gambit 1:2 in the semifinals of the tournament.

Their last, and most recent offline tournament, Dreamhack Tours, was where the French superteam would claim their first international LAN victory. After a shock loss to Tricked Esport in their opening group match, G2 were able to qualify from their group alongside HellRaisers with a 2-1 record, and met a new look mousesports in the semifinals. G2 were able to beat mousesports 16:8 on Overpass, before dropping Cache to mousesports 16:14, and then snatching the third and final map, Cobblestone, with relative ease, with a final scoreline of 16:6.

G2 met HellRaisers in the finals and beat them 2-0, 16:6 on Cache & 16:14 on Cobblestone. This secured them the Dreamhack Tours title. Whilst the French superteam won their first international LAN, it’s hard to justify Dreamhack Tours as a tournament filled with tier one teams. The best team there, apart from G2 was Na’Vi, and they flopped out in the group stages of the tournament. If G2 hadn’t won this tournament, many would have considered the superteam experiment as a likely failure. Dreamhack Tours was a must win for G2.

G2 are a very, very strong team on paper. Their line up is internationally experienced, and they boast some of the deadliest players in the world.

The Pro League Finals will be a supersized test for the superteam, and hopefully it’s a test that they pass.

Immortals

Immortals have looked good since the start of 2017. A top 4 finish at IEM Katowice, a disappointing, group stage exit at StarSeries followed by a 2nd place finish at Dreamhack Austin & a 1st place finish at the most recent Esports Arena tournament. For the most part, Immortals have looked good and have looked like a side that were on the up with the addition of fnx.

However, this upward trend has now been thrown into disarray, with the departure of fnx from the active lineup, or at least put a big question mark over Immortals, for the time being, headed into this event.

Immortals have yet to publicly announce their new addition, although rumors have been flying about who they will add. A new addition to the team more than likely means inserting him to the Immortals style of Counter Strike, which is something that they may or may not be used to.

Immortals might use this offline tournament as a “testing the waters” phase with their new player, and it’s quite the testing ground, with a wide variety of international teams to play against. On the other hand, they could be well prepared and come into the tournament swinging.

Immortals are a massive “?” at the moment due to this sudden roster change, and their performance at the Pro League Finals will be interesting to observe.

Fnatic

Fnatic have had a weak run ever since the ELEAGUE Major. For those of you who are unaware – Fnatic and GODSENT were apart of a Swedish shuffle, which saw flusha, JW & Krimz go to GODSENT to play under pronax, whilst GODSENT sent Lekr0 and twist, with wenton joining the active line up. Lekr0 and Krimz are then swapped once again, and then Fnatic dropped wenton to pick up disco doplan. After the major, JW & flusha returned to Fnatic, with Lekr0 and disco doplan headed to GODSENT.

Multiple shuffles indeed, and rather confusing to keep tabs on if you are someone that is not familiar with the scene.

After the final move of the shuffle, the roster has been locked. The old Fnatic line up is back together, and you would think that their form and their cohesion that they had once upon a time would return.

This was not the case.

Fnatic have been struggling offline. The offline tournaments they have participated in were all short lived for the Swedish side, placing extremely low at Dreamhack Vegas & IEM Katowice. A side of this calibre should have higher finishes in tournaments, but so far this has not been the case for Fnatic.

Simply put, considering the quality of the players that are in the Fnatic side, their finishes in offline tournaments have been relatively underwhelming.

Cloud9

Cloud9 are, on paper, an incredibly strong team. The rise of Stewie2k over the past year has been something for the record books. A rookie player has risen quickly through the ranks to become one of North America’s top players. Additionally, the addition of autimatic to the Cloud9 squad essentially means that Cloud9 have two new star players, in the form of Stewie2k and autimatic, meaning players such as shroud would have to take more of a supporting role to ensure players like Stewie2k and autimatic are able to flourish in the highly competitive environment.

As stated previously, their team on paper is great. However, their offline results have been relatively disappointing ever since their Pro League Finals tournament win in late 2016.

Their most notable finish was their 4th place finish at cs_summit. Cloud9 were able to beat teams such as OpTic & NIP, before being knocked out by OpTic in the losers bracket.

They fell short at Dreamhack Austin, IEM Katowice & due to extremely unfortunate circumstances vs. NIP, at Dreamhack Vegas.

Given their groups in those respective tournaments were extremely difficult, Cloud9 still should be able to perform slightly better given the potential of their roster. This group that they have been put in for the offline finals may allow them to get past and into the playoff stages.

Team EnVyUs

Team EnVyUs lost NBK, apEX & kennyS to the French shuffle, but acquired xms from LDLC on top of RpK and ScreaM from G2. They have not looked too good offline and are probably the weakest team coming into this group. Whilst their online placing was enough to get them a spot at the finals, their recent offline tournaments have been nothing short of disappointing, failing to impress at both cs_summit and Dreamhack Tours.

Group A Qualifying Predictions:

  • SK Gaming – SK Gaming have been looking like their old, dominant selves that we saw throughout a large portion of last year. With two international titles behind them, their confidence should be high, and with FalleN AWPing like his old self again, SK are once again pushing for greatness. Furthermore, now that felps looks to be settled in, performing comfortably and consistently, SK will definitely be able to qualify for the playoff stages. To be specific, SK should be able to clinch the automatic semifinals qualification.
  • G2 Esports – G2’s roster is nothing short of super. It consists of France’s best players, and furthermore their recent triumph at Dreamhack Tours, whilst it might not be that significant in terms of the international title spectrum, it may be the confidence booster that the team needs to compete successfully at an international level, and the Pro League finals may be the start of that international run.
  • Cloud9 – Having another look at this group makes me consider Cloud9 as a possible candidate to qualify from the group stage. Whilst Cloud9’s form has been woeful in the offline context, they do have a sense of longevity in their line up. Immortals will have a new player on their team, which draws a massive question mark over them, the EnVyUs lineup is significantly weaker than their French counterparts. The Fnatic team might have the best chance at qualifying from the group stage instead of Cloud9, but it is entirely possible to see Cloud9 qualify considering the form & freshness of these other teams.

Group B

North

North are a team equipped for greatness but have been full of disappointment. A team that have a well equipped in game leader in terms of smarts and strategical prowess, a young star player, and the rest of the team, who are absolutely capable of putting up numbers. On paper, this North team should be pushing other teams to the limit in the playoff stages of various international tournaments, but they have failed to do so.

Their most notable finish was Dreamhack Vegas, where they placed in the final four of that tournament. Otherwise, they placed in the top 6 at IEM Katowice, placed 6th at the StarLadder finals & were knocked out of the IEM Sydney group stages by Chiefs.

With that being said, their group does look like it is the easier group, since many teams are considered weaker or are out of form. However, North is one of those teams that could be considered out of form, for the most part.

The group on paper looks significantly weaker overall, however, considering most teams in the group that North are in are woefully out of form, it may prove to be an interesting contest, and North may be able to push through to the playoff stages.

Team Liquid

Team Liquid have made some roster moves in recent months by announcing the addition of stanislaw, the departure of Hiko, the departure of Pimp and the arrival of Twistzz.. In the short time these roster changes have been made, particularly with the addition of Twistzz, Liquid have failed to make much impact. They struggled at cs_summit & at Dreamhack Austin. It is understandable, the addition of Twistzz and then two events in rapid succession will not yield immediate success. Roster moves take time to gel and set before the new lineup is fully utilisable.

Liquid have had a short amount of time with Twistzz since cs_summit and Dreamhack Austin, and hopefully have been able to make him adjust to his new role. Twistzz is a player that is able to perform at incredibly high levels, as seen at Dreamhack Vegas under Misfits.

On paper, the Liquid line up is incredibly strong, featuring players such as Twistzz and EliGE. stanislaw’s mid round calling capabilities would do this side wonders, as it made OpTic do wonders towards the later stages of 2016. It will be interesting to see how their new lineup is able to measure up against the international teams present at this tournament.

mousesports

mousesports lost NiKo to FaZe, and so their roster was oskar, chrisj, spidii, lowel, denis. They then made a change, which was the addition of ropz for Spidii.

ropz is an incredibly young talent, full of potential, and already showing off loads of skill. At such a young age, he is bound to do more as he grows older. On a personal level, this LAN will be a major test for ropz on a professional level and a personal level. Will he be able to compete with the best and against the best on an offline stage?

Outside of mousesports, realistically speaking, mousesports is still a relatively weak side. They may not be able to do anything regarding this offline tournament, since NiKo was largely the driving force of their playoff placements in the variety of offline tournaments they participated in.

However, with that being said, this group could be deemed as the “weaker group” , and makes it possible for mousesports to do damage.

NRG eSports

NRG head into these finals with a team of veteran players, and some players that are lacking in international experience. Whilst players such as ptr, FugLy and daps have played internationally and at the top flight for quite a while now, players like Brehze and LILMAN are lacking in that international experience compared to the other three players. Little is known about NRG’s performance offline with this new lineup. They have only participated in one offline tournament, which was the Copenhagen Games. In this tournament they managed to qualify from the group stages, but lost out 2-0 to Tricked Esport in the quarterfinals of the tournament, which resulted in a top 8 placing in this tournament.

NRG are headed into this tournament lacking in offline tournaments. However, the team has done reasonably well online under the leadership of daps, so it will be interesting to see how they measure against these teams in their groups.

Natus Vincere

Na’Vi’s form has been concerning. If we look back to 2016, where Na’Vi won ESL One: New York, many would have said that this current line up is the optimal line up for Na’Vi. Having the young gun s1mple, it seemed like everything finally fell into place. After EPICENTER, Na’Vi have been on a constant downhill slump, failing to achieve any respectable results, aside from a top four finish at the StarSeries Finals.

Many would argue that the form has worsened after the departure of starix, or that there’s something else wrong with Na’Vi that they’re just not able to fix. Regardless, whilst their line up is star studded, they have failed to yield any reasonable results considering the talent at their disposal.

OpTic Gaming

Since the departure of stanislaw, OpTic have been left in an incredibly tough spot. Left without an in game leader, the side initially struggled to find somebody that would fill the gap, albeit on a temporary basis, until they find their fifth player. They tried Hiko and it did not work. They tried fREAKAZOID, and he looked good with them online.

However, the team still lacked what it lost. Leadership.

Enter JasonR and hazed. Under the leadership of JasonR and later on hazed, the team improved dramatically offline and online. Under Jason, the team managed to place 3rd at cs_summit, beating teams such as EnVyUs, Liquid and Cloud9.

With hazed instead of Jason, the team headed to IEM Sydney, where OpTic made the semifinals only to get brutally beaten down by SK Gaming.

Nevertheless, the team has looked good under Jason, because they finally have that leadership, and going forward that element of leadership is incredibly important. OpTic Gaming boasts a roster of players that can both AWP and rifle, with the exception of RUSH, who solely rifles. Players like these, whilst they are talented, need the leadership to guide them and under Jason they have been performing quite well.

This tournament will be a test for OpTic. They have shown that they can hang internationally with Jason and with hazed, but this tournament would cement that claim, should they do well.

Group B Qualifying Predictions:

  • North – they should be able to qualify from this group. Looking at the teams in this group, if North do not qualify, it will raise some serious questions about them. They are a side that has a wide variety of talented players headed by a smart in game leader. They have all of the tools they need to succeed, and in this group, succeeding would probably be something the North side can achieve.
  • OpTic Gaming – have a chance of qualifying from the group stage. Considering the fact that they have done well under JasonR at cs_summit is definitely something to run with, considering that he is a stand in in-game leader. OpTic have the talent at their disposal to do tremendous damage under good leadership. It has been shown in tournaments such as ELEAGUE, ECS and Northern Arena Montreal. JasonR has proven that he is decent at the leadership role, and the players in the OpTic side seem to perform well when he is at the helm.
  • mousesports – considering the woeful form of sides such as Na’Vi in this group, the relatively new Liquid roster and the lack of experience at top tier international events coming from NRG, mousesports have a decent chance at qualifying for the playoff stages.

What about the rest?

The rest:

Group A:

Immortals with a new roster shake up may or may not be able to pull it off, however it’s highly unlikely. New rosters usually take time to gel and settle, whether it’s one new player or three new players. It really does not matter, changes take time to set and see if they work. Immortals looked good for the most part with fnx. It’s a shame that there were a few hairy results and the subsequent fallout that lead to him getting removed.

Fnatic has their older roster, and their team has been reunited, but that does not guarantee results. It might take them a bit longer to reignite what they had a long time ago, and find that form that made them world beaters. They are a side that is extremely talented, and it is extremely possible for them to challenge for a spot in the playoffs in the future. At the moment, it does not seem like they are at the level that they need to be at, and it may hinge on Olofmeister’s performances.

EnVyUs probably got the weaker deal out of the French shuffle, apart from ScreaM and possibly xms. They simply have not been performing at an adequate level, and likely won’t do so for a while now. Where it stands now, it seems like the French side have a slim chance of qualification.

Group B:

Team Liquid are a side that have potential to be incredibly strong. Under the guidance of stanislaw, and with the new addition Twistzz. The side is loaded with incredible talent, however, it feels like it is too early or they may not have had enough time for Twistzz to settle in, and it’s something to always worry about. Liquid can qualify, but at the moment, it feels like this tournament is a more of a “test-the-waters” tournament.

NRG eSports could be considered drastic underdogs, since we do not really know what they will bring to the table. Whilst the side has looked strong from an online point of view under daps, it does not seem likely that they will do much damage in the group stages.

Na’Vi have not been looking to strong lately. It seemed like the ESL One: New York win was the start of a chain of decent Na’Vi placements across tournaments, but it did not come to fruition. Instead, Na’Vi have been stuck in or lower than mediocrity throughout the events that they have participated in over the last couple of months. After the departure of starix they seem lost, and it showed at Dreamhack Tours. Na’Vi’s confidence is probably at an all time low, and thus it is unlikely that they make it to the playoff stages.

 What about the rest of the event?

Assuming SK, Cloud9, G2, North, OpTic & mouz qualify for the playoff stages, I believe that SK should be able to secure the Pro League Finals title. They are the strongest team headed to this event & with two recent international tournaments under their belt, their confidence would be high, amongst other factors such as their overall form returning and the form of FalleN making it’s return too. This makes them the firm favourites headed into this tournament.

But if it is not SK, then who? Probably G2. G2 on paper are probably the second strongest team headed into the event, and their win at Dreamhack Tours might be the little confidence booster they needed to make themselves say to each other “Hey, it might work.” This event would be a huge test for G2 regardless, so their performance would be something to keep an eye on regardless.

To conclude…

This Pro League event is arguably the weakest Pro League event to date. No FaZe and no Astralis means that under-performing teams from Europe have been able to qualify as a result of this. Whilst this may spark a debate about EU vs. NA slots at the Pro League finals, this is not something that will be discussed any time soon. This event would also possibly allow for an increase in North American qualification from groups into playoffs due to the apparent lack of European strength in the tournament.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see the tournament unfold, and will be particularly interesting to see whether or not the under performing teams from both Europe and North America use this tournament as a stage to start getting some results.

 

 

The ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals kick off on the 31st of May and run from then until the 4th of June. The total prize pool is $750,000. 

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