April 11, 2022
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For fans of Counter-Strike’s esports scene, March was a month dedicated to one of the game’s biggest tournament series: ESL Pro League. The event, which just finished its fifteenth season and it’s already looking at the next one happening later this year, was packed with surprises and excellent matches, and plenty of storylines got developed over the course of these past weeks.

However, as great as this season of EPL was, it ran for over four weeks. After so many groups and matches, it’s no surprise that some of the events that took place might not be clearly remembered. So, in this article we’ll be covering some of the most key development we saw over these past weeks. Take a look – and as always – spoilers ahead!

THE COVID IMPACT

The online era that affected all esports titles might as well be considered over by now. Games like Counter-Strike, Halo Infinite and Rocket League already saw their first events with a live crowd attendance in the past months, and LANs are becoming normal once more. However, this doesn’t change the fact that COVID-19 is and will be impacting esports for some time still.

As for how we’ll be seeing this impact in esports now, ESL Pro League Season XV had plenty of cases. G2 and Natus Vincere captains, for example, couldn’t play during the first days of their respective groups due to testing positive for the virus. In G2’s case, missing their captain hurt their chances of making through the group stage. In this particular case, it was a major disappointment for the team and fans alike. After all, G2 had just finished IEM Katowice 2022 in second place.

Now, there’s nothing we can’t do but accept that players missing events, at least its early days, will be common from now on. There’s nothing teams and tournament organizers can do to prevent players from getting sick ahead of events other than taking the necessary and recommended precautions, which as seen recently, aren’t always enough to prevent the infection.

Now, with this more “general” point settled, let’s take a look at some teams that stood out at the fifteenth season of Pro League.

ENCE HAS COME TO

I mentioned ENCE plenty of times in these past months in our sister’s site previews. The squad led by Danish veteran Marco “Snappi” Pfeiffer has been a step away from becoming a high-level team, but something was lacking until now. In late January, ENCE did a much-needed roster change by bringing Pavle “maden” Bošković to the roster, replacing Joonas “doto” Forss. While the latter was an incredible support player, his individual level wasn’t enough for ENCE’s ambitions.

Initially, though, maden didn’t impress. Snappi was still trying to adjust his gameplan to fit him in, and during that time, ENCE wasn’t seen any definitive improvements, but the glimpses of what this roster could be were already showing up. As we saw in their encounter with Natus Vincere during IEM Katowice, the potential was there. For example, Lotan “Spinx” Giladi, which had been the team’s star for a while, looked even better with maden around.

Expectations for ENCE coming for Pro League weren’t much higher than IEM Katowice’s either, but a surprise was in its way. Right from the start, ENCE impressed. The Europeans managed to defeat FaZe in their first match in EPL XV, and followed that by taking down both Vitality and Virtus.Pro’s players without dropping. FURIA managed to best ENCE, but Snappi’s team closed the group stage with another win over Sprout, and took the second-place spot in their group.

ENCE had got many eyes on them by then, but the real surprise would come at the playoffs. ENCE proceeded to beat FNATIC, Movistar Riders and NiP to reach the grand-finals. Most impressively, only the Riders’ managed to take a map from Snappi and Spinx. Unfortunately, FaZe proved to be too much for ENCE in their rematch, and took the win at the grand-finals.

IT ONLY GETS BETTER, AND HARDER, FROM NOW ON

ENCE breaking through isn’t something unexpected. As mentioned, they have always been just a step from realizing their potential. And it seems that maden feeling comfortable and fitting around the team is this one step they lacked until now. However, now the true test will begin, as teams will take ENCE way more seriously, and Snappi will have his work cut for him. From now on, he’ll need to keep reinventing his approach for one. Also, he definitely will be spending more hours watching every level of competition.

Yet, if there’s one team that I’d bet that could become the break through story of early 2022, it’s ENCE. Spinx is an incredibly talented player, and maden is finally working in this roster. Aleksander “hades” Miskiewicz is making a name for himself as a premier AWPer, and Paweł “dycha” Dycha, while facing consistency issues, has plenty of potential, too. This roster has all pieces they need to become a top ten team.

MORE THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS: A NINJAS IN PYJAMAS TALE

When Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz in mid-December, no one expected his leave to be so long. More surprisingly, though, is the fact that NiP has been way better than anyone could’ve predicted. Even with an inexperienced AWPer standing for the legendary player, NiP has been able to exchange punches with the best teams in the world, and this is no short of an achievement.

ESL Pro League Season XV is just the latest, but perhaps the most impressive showing from the Swedes yet. In the first week of the tournament, we saw NiP beating FNATIC and Entropiq without dropping a map. They followed on by taking down MOUZ and Looking for Org, and after guaranteeing their playoff’s spot, they were defeated by G2.

During this first stage of the event, we saw Fredrik “REZ” Sterner, Hampus “hampus” Poser and even Nicolas “Plopski” Gonzalez Zamora punching well above NiP’s weight. While hampus and REZ have both been the stars of this roster since device left, plopski has been improving slowly since the start of the year, and EPL saw a considerably far better plopski than usual, which certainly helped.

NiP went to the event’s quarterfinals with high hopes, and they didn’t disappoint. Their opponent then, Team Liquid, was definitely looking good before their encounter, and winning over them serves as another testament to how much effort everyone in this NiP roster is putting to make it succeed. Unfortunately, NiP couldn’t follow up their run once they faced ENCE, and were sent home in the semi-finals.

ROSTER STATUS: WIP

With ESL Pro League Season XV coming to an end, NiP is preparing to receive their newest player. Coming from FNATIC, Ludvig “Brollan” Brolin was acquired by the organization during EPL. Brollan couldn’t play at the event due to roster rules, but fans can’t wait for his debut. Which is expected to be soon, as he should be in NiP’s starting roster as for the RMRs. It’s unclear who Ludvig will replace right now, but either Love “phzy” Smidebrantor plopski are prime candidates.

Moreover, device is expected to return some time, and now seems like the perfect time for bringing him back. While phzy has been doing the best he can, his inexperience shows often. He definitely struggled against ENCE, for example. His lack of impact in that game ultimately led NiP to complete defeat. While device might not be in top shape when he returns, his experience alone should give him an edge.

Overall, ESL Pro League XV might be the last time we saw this NiP roster together as it is. While the possibility of a six-man roster have been hinted at, we’ll probably see one player out. The reason for that is the existing regulations regarding these in Valve events, that might not be viable. So, for now, we wait, but one can be sure that changes are coming for the Ninjas.

ZYWOO DOESN’T SPEAK ENGLISH

When Vitality unveiled Danny “zonic” Sørensen, Emil “Magisk” Reif and Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen, fans were excited, but cautious. After all, this move had a lot of potential, but it could also take time for that potential become a reality in the server. Essentially, the squad would start communicating in English, and while this might not be a problem for the veteran Dan “apEX” Madesclaire, it was unknown how much this could affect the team’s youngest Frenchmen.

As we all know, Team Vitality started well with this roster, but that honey moon didn’t last long. In IEM Katowice 2022 we saw the first cracks of this roster, and in EPL Season XV, these became even more obvious and transparent. The team was beaten by ENCE, FURIA and FaZe, and while they managed to take down Virtus.Pro, that win only helped FaZe, because Vitality themselves were already eliminated by that point.

During these games, we saw the same trends that we had started seeing in Katowice. Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut isn’t playing in his usual level, and Kévin “misutaaa” Rabier looks completely out of place in this roster. Right now, Team Vitality is a far worse team than they were at the end of 2021. And in hindsight, the idea of simply replacing Jayson “Kyojin” Nguyen Van with François “AMANEK” Delaunay looks really enticing right now.

FIRST STEP: FIND WHAT’S HOLDING THEM BACK. SECOND STEP: FIX IT

In a very interesting interview with 1pv, apEX discussed the issues Vitality is facing right now. First and foremost, he admitted that this roster still is looking for its identity, and as some might’ve forgotten, this takes time. Especially in a team that has two cultures so different as Vitality does.

Next on, apEX also talked about ZywOo. It seems than in his point of view, the AWPer isn’t entirely comfortable, and is struggling to find his role in this roster beyond holding the AWP. Another key point addressed by Dan that is leading this team to failure is the lack of confidence.

It’s clear right now that Vitality is struggling to find themselves in their current game plan, and of course this would lead to players being less confident in themselves and their teammates. No matter how good the players might be individually, if you don’t trust your teammates, you won’t succeed. FaZe’s captain has mentioned how his team trusts him, and it’s obvious that this is playing a big part in their success, for comparison’s sake.

Team Vitality is a team still developing. Sure, it’s a shock to see ZywOo playing like he did in EPL, but it’s hard to believe that the squad didn’t expect to struggle for a while. Danny and Dan knew that Mathieu didn’t speak perfect English, and this drop in performance certainly could be predicted to some extent. It was a risk they assumed when Vitality brough in the Danes, and now it’s important they don’t let other issues pop-up while the team finds its identity and Mathieu finds his place.

IT’S SAFFEE TO SAY: FURIA IS BACK

Before the second group of EPL XV started, the general sentiment about it was that FaZe, Vitality and the Virtus.Pro roster were the favorites. Of course, either ENCE or FURIA could get an upset against one of them, and qualify instead. But that was seen as a remote possibility. As we all know by now, though, FURIA and ENCE ended being the top teams of that group. FURIA, especially, looked great during the whole tournament.

The Brazilians kicked off the event by taking down Virtus.Pro without any issues. Sprout was an even easier challenge for FURIA, and while Team Vitality posed a bigger threat, they couldn’t stop Andrei “arT” Piovezan and his teammates. In the fourth day of their group, FURIA faced ENCE, which had done an incredible campaign to that point, and FURIA once more left the server with the victory. The Brazilians were defeated by FaZe in the final day of their group, but by then, FURIA had already qualified for the playoffs.

In the playoffs, FURIA faced an eager Astralis, but unfortunately for the Danes, arT, Kaike “KSCERATO” Cerato and Yuri “yuurih” Boian had other plans. They took control of the series after losing the first map with a 14.16 scoreline, and brought in the win. FURIA’s next and final opponent in Pro League was FaZe. While the latter would be the ones advancing in the tournament, FURIA put a great fight against the team which would win the tournament later on.

THE BEST BRAZIL HAS TO OFFER

Ever since bringing in Rafael “saffee” Costa to the team, FURIA has looked better each tournament they play. Hence, their performance at this season of EPL is just the latest from a team that has yet to see their ceiling. So, maybe they weren’t able to take a map from FaZe right now. Yet, who knows next time these two teams face off?

Overall, it’s great to see the best Brazilian team playing like one of the best teams in the world. For the better part of 2021, FURIA struggled, and they weren’t really a contender to win premier tournaments. Right now, though, they seem to be on the way to start challenging the best teams in the world, and maybe this roster ends up being FURIA’s best to the date.

FURIA ended ESL Pro League Season XV in 3rd – 4th place. This is the highest placement the team achieved since ESL Pro League Season 13, which happened a year ago. Differently than that time, though, FURIA managed to reach top four in this event with an inspiring performance. They didn’t barely qualify in a group with Cloud9, MiBR and Team oNe. In the playoffs, their run was shorter, but just as good if not better than back then, too. More importantly, as long as the Brazilians keep this form up, they won’t have to wait until the seventeenth season of EPL to get another top four finish.

AN INCREASE IN LIQUIDITY

Despite some claims, most members of the Counter-Strike community would agree that Team Liquid was the better team from the North America region coming to ESL Pro League Season 15. After these five weeks, though, if there were any doubts about this, they are gone. Team Liquid was the only team from the region to qualify to the playoffs. More interestingly, Liquid was the only team from the region to win against a European opponent, too.

Now, Liquid didn’t have an easy through the event, and they weren’t perfect either. The Americans started their group with the right foot by taking down BIG, including beating the Germans on their favorite map, Dust 2. Liquid followed that win by demolished GODSENT, but failed to best Movistar Riders. Fortunately, the absolute underdogs from Party Astronauts were next, and Liquid had no trouble beating them. The Gambit roster crushed Liquid in the final day of their group, but Liquid had qualified by that point.

In the playoffs, Team Liquid gave fans the best surprise they received in quite a while. In the first match of the final stage of the event, they were set to face Heroic, one of the best teams in the world. Casper “cadiaN” Møller’s roster was looking solid as always, but Liquid’s rifler Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski commented that he expected Liquid to defeat the Danes with a 2 – 1 record.

Instead, though, TL defeated Heroic without dropping a map, and without Heroic getting more than 20 rounds in total, too. After accomplishing such an upset, Team Liquid hopes were high, but they headed to their final game in the tournament when facing NiP. The Swedes gave everything they had, and so did Liquid, but NiP were the ones leaving the server with the win.

A SLIGHTLY BRIGHTER FUTURE

Team Liquid has been facing a lot of issues since this new roster was unveiled. Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella, who had just returned from VALORANT, was a major question mark since he would obviously need some time to get back into the highest level of Counter-Strike. Richard “shox” Papillon was also a big unknown in this team, and his early showings weren’t great. His performance wasn’t good enough even for a more supportive player, and his decision-making was questionable.

In EPL, though, Team Liquid shown that this team does have a future together. Nicholas is slowly recovering his form, and his insistency in playing Ancient, the newest map to enter the competitive map pool after he left for VALORANT finally paid off. The Frenchman, shox, still isn’t playing on his best level, but he’s improving. And of course, while Joshua “oSee” Ohm impressed from day one, he still is surprising thanks to how competent he has shown to be. This Liquid is finally getting there!

FAZE. THE. HELL. UP.

FaZe Clan started ESL Pro League 15 with the wrong foot. While they were expected to easily top their group, they kicked off their group by getting beaten by ENCE. Virtus.Pro was next, and the Russian roster took FaZe down without letting Finn “karrigan” Andersen get a map. FaZe started bouncing back in the third day, when they defeated Sprout. They proceeded to take down Vitality and FURIA afterwards.

However, as you might know, that was enough to guarantee their qualification. If Virtus.Pro – which played as Outsiders by the way – had won their final game of the group against Vitality, they would have qualified for the playoffs instead of FaZe. Against all the odds, Vitality, which by that point had nothing to lose as they were already eliminated, beat VP. Thanks to that win, FaZe reached the final stage of the event.

A DIFFICULT BRACKET IN THE PLAYOFFS

Now, while FaZe looked way better by the end of their group, many weren’t convinced by Karrigan by then. When the playoffs bracket got fully unveiled, things looked even direr. FaZe was set to play in the most difficult side of the bracket, which featured both Gambit and Na’Vi.

Yet, a completely different and much improved FaZe showed up at the playoffs. FaZe started their run by taking Gambit’s roster, and followed that by taking down Natus Vincere. Na’Vi couldn’t take one map off FaZe, and that same incredible FaZe that conquered Katowice was finally back. FURIA wasn’t enough to best FaZe either, although they put a good fight. Then, finally, ENCE was up in the grand-finals. FaZe surprised ENCE in their own map pick, Vertigo. Snappi’s team managed to take Overpass, but FaZe took back the control of the match by winning Mirage confidently. Dust II was next, and while ENCE managed to get the upper-hand for a while, FaZe closed that best-of-five series then. Karrigan and his boys won D2 with a 16 – 12 record, and lifted ESL Pro League Season XV trophy.

PROVEN

Coming to EPL XV, FaZe had one objective above all others. Prove that their run in IEM Katowice 2022 wasn’t a fluke. Until the playoffs, the outlook for them doing so wasn’t favorable, but then, the final stage of the event came. Once in the playoffs, everyone in FaZe reached the level they are known for. The level they needed to challenge the best in the world, that is. Moreover, individually, FaZe players also proved all major questions surrounding them.

For example, Håvard “rain” Nygaard’s place in this team would still be contested if FaZe was eliminated during the group stage. Yet, in the playoffs he made very clear why he still is in this team. Robin “ropz” Kool was also on a mission to prove that he wasn’t just going through a honey moon period in Katowice. He proved that he’s the right man to take this squad to the top. Finally, Karrigan, once more, was on his way to prove doubters wrong, and he managed to do just that.

Yet, while FaZe managed to win EPL Season XV absolutely on their own, without any luck of the draw or anything like that, we can’t forget that they only reached the playoffs thanks to Vitality. In the future, FaZe simply can’t allow themselves to depend on their luck, and they need to realise that starting strong is just as important as ending strong.

COUNTER-STRIKE NEVER STOP, DOES IT?

If ESL Pro League Season XV wasn’t enough, then don’t worry. The best Counter-Strike teams in the world will return to action later this week. This Monday, the first RMR event will kick off, and the European RMRs will follow in the coming days. Until then, and afterwards, make sure to follow us here!

@mjunior