ESL Pro League Season 15 Preview: Americas edition
ESL Pro League Season 15 is officially underway following the opening matchup between G2 and LookingForOrg on March 9 in Düsseldorf. Twenty-four of the world's top Counter-Strike teams will compete for the chance to take home $175,000 of the $823,000 prize pool, while also etching their names into CS:GO history. Of the 24 teams in attendance, 6 teams will be representing North and South America in the hopes that they will be taking the prestigious trophy back across the Atlantic.
With no North or South American representation in Group A, we move straight to Group B, with Brazilian side FURIA being the sole American representation.
The new-look Vitality will be hoping to re-capture some of the initial form that they showed in their 1st-3rd place finish at BLAST Spring Groups, as they crashed out of IEM Katowice in 9th-12th. The red-hot FaZe on the other hand will be hoping to continue where they left off in Katowice after winning the event with Justin "jks" Savage. Håvard "rain" Nygaard will return to the starting lineup, with all eyes on him as FaZe will hope to keep their momentum rolling.
Virtus.pro will be attending the event under the name Outsiders as a result of ESL's recent ban on organizations that have alleged connections to the Russian government. Despite their solid form recently, questions will understandably be raised in regard to the mental impact recent real-world events will have had on the team. ENCE and Sprout make up the remaining two teams in the group, both of whom have underwhelmed thus far at Tier 1 this season, with ENCE placing last at IEM Katowice recently and Sprout failing to qualify for the event at the Play-in stage.
Andrei "arT" Piovezan’s side will have their work cut out for them, with three of the top six ranked sides in the HLTV world ranking in their group. FURIA has gotten off to a slow start with their new-look roster featuring Rafael "saffee" Costa, placing 9th-12th at IEM Katowice after one BO3 win against a struggling Astralis. There is a chance of them progressing through this tough group especially when you consider the uncertainty the Outsiders roster is dealing with regarding the current circumstances surrounding the team outside the server. Only time will tell, however, as FURIA will kick off their campaign against Outsiders on March 16th at 02:30PM, with Group B running until March 20th.
In terms of North and South American Counter-Strike, Group C is easily the most exciting as 50% of the group is made up of teams from the region, with GODSENT, Liquid, and Party Astronauts all competing with each other for a spot in the playoffs. The other teams who make up Group C include German side BIG, who come into this tournament with some solid results following the addition of Josef "faveN" Baumann. Following their impressive 4th-6th place finish at BLAST Spring Groups, BIG would fail to make it past the Play-in at IEM Katowice. Despite the disappointment however, they bounced back by winning the PGL Antwerp Europe RMR Open Qualifier. Spanish team Movistar Riders come into this event with far less impressive form than BIG, failing to reach the RMR after placing 9th-16th in both open qualifiers, as well as failing to make it to the main stage of IEM Katowice from the Play-in phase.
The final team is CIS powerhouse Gambit, with uncertainty surrounding their participation currently. As of now, the organization has not made a statement regarding their representation in the tournament following ESL’s recent statement regarding teams with alleged connections to the Russian government. What this will mean for the team's involvement is uncertain as of now, with the team not being listed currently as competing on ESL's official website. If they are to compete, who knows how the outside circumstances could affect the HLTV ranked number 2 team in the world.
Party Astronauts have faced a tumultuous journey getting to this point, with a string of controversies and incidents occurring in the lead up to this event. David "cynic" Polster suddenly departed the team following the realization that he was insufficiently vaccinated by German standards, meaning he would not be able to enter the country for EPL Season 15. Despite cynic’s departure where he cited he had "lost faith in the future of the team", there was still the possibility for the side to find a suitable replacement in time for their planned bootcamp before the event. However, the orgless squad’s coach Joseph "Muenster" Lima, prematurely canceled the European venture, thus forfeiting an estimated $6,000 worth of crowdfunded expenses.
A twist of fate occurred on March 8th however, as the team announced their attendance following ESL’s offer to cover the difference between the salvaged $3,400 of their crowdfunded money, allowing for a brief 5-day bootcamp in Germany before the event. Notably, Wesley "viz" Harris, who replaced cynic in the lineup will not be in attendance due to a lack of a passport in order to travel, with veteran Peter "ptr" Gurney coming out of retirement to stand-in for the side. It will be an early start for any NA fans hoping to catch Party Astronauts' EU debut, as they will have their baptism if their match against Gambit goes ahead, with this match being set to kick off Group C on March 23rd at 07:30AM.
Following their strong conclusion to the year, where they placed 5th-6th at IEM Winter, Epitacio "TACO" de Melo’s GODSENT have struggled to replicate their form against Tier 1 competition. Since the new year, GODSENT has been underwhelming, failing to reach IEM Katowice, losing to MOUZ in a Bo1, beating Sprout 2-0, before stumbling against ENCE at the final hurdle. While only a small sample size, TACO, and co. will be hoping to make a statement by making it to the playoffs out of Group C. GODSENT will kick off their campaign against Movistar Riders following the Party Astronauts matchup, which is scheduled for March 23rd at 11:00AM
Liquid comes into this event having competed twice on European soil since forming their new roster. Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski and co. have struggled thus far, placing last at both BLAST Premier Spring Groups and IEM Katowice, with only two map wins across both events. Richard "shox" Papillon and Nick "nitr0" Cannella have both struggled since joining the roster, with neither player managing a rating higher than 0.86 at either event. Liquid will be hoping to turn their fortunes around when their EPL journey starts against BIG on March 23rd at 02:30PM.
Group C will take place from March 23-27, and below you can find the list of matchups of when the NA and SA teams are set to face each other:
Liquid vs GODSENT March 24, 2022 02:30PM
Party Astronauts vs GODSENT March 25, 2022 02:30PM
Party Astronauts vs Liquid March 26, 2022 11:00AM
In the final group for the initial portion of the tournament, there are two North American lineups in attendance, in the form of Evil Geniuses and Complexity. The North Americans are joined by the number one ranked team Natus Vincere, who, in the same vein as Outsiders and Gambit, has understandably been affected by the recent real-world circumstances. Question marks will be raised around the mental aspect within the team as a result of the current situation, with the organization as a whole being affected by the recent events.
Danish teams Heroic and Astralis will also both be competing in Group D. For Heroic, Casper "cadiaN" Møller will be hoping to lead his side to victory in Düsseldorf, following the Danish squads 3rd-4th place finish at IEM Katowice. EPL Season 15 also presents an opportunity for Heroic to silence anyone who may still question them as "onliners", as the team has the opportunity to take home the title they won at EPL Season 13, however this time in a LAN environment.
As for their regional rivals Astralis, the big talking point is the debut of their new AWPer Asger "Farlig" Jensen who will be hoping to hit the ground running for the storied organization. Polish side AGO rounds out the group, coming into this event with minimal Tier 1 exposure since the new year, and no real results of note.
Throughout the off-season, Evil Genuises set about reforming their Counter-Strike division following an embarrassing 0-3 venture at the PGL Stockholm Major. The Cloud9 major winning trio of Jake "Stewie2k" Yip, Timothy "autimatic" Ta, and William "RUSH" Wierzba were brought in to freshen up the lineup. In their one tournament thus far as a lineup, they disappointingly finished last place at BLAST Spring Groups. Despite spending over a year away from competition in CS:GO, autimatic adjusted relatively well, posting a surprisingly positive 1.03 for the event.
The biggest disappointment for this lineup by far came from their supposed star duo Vincent "Brehze" Cayonte and Tsvetelin "CeRq" Dimitrov, who posted measly 0.87 and 0.96 ratings respectively. If Evil Genuises are to have any chance of making it out of this group, Brehze and CeRq cannot go missing as they have done far too often in recent times. The questions surrounding Brehze and CeRq and the rest of the team will begin to be answered when they face Astralis on March 30th at 01:30PM
The final American team in attendance at EPL Season 15 is Johnny "JT" Theodosiou’s Complexity side. The Extra Salt core that added Michael "Grim" Wince and Paytyn "junior" Johnson during the most recent shuffle has had mixed results since landing in Europe. They placed last alongside Liquid and Evil Genuises at BLAST Spring Groups, as well as a last-place finish at Funspark ULTI 2021 Finals. Signs of improvement were shown however as they most recently placed 3rd-4th at ESL Challenger February 2022.
Complexity was scheduled to compete in the recent IEM Katowice Play-in for the chance at qualifying for the main event. As fate would have it, however, the North American roster was unable to travel due to several positive COVID tests, thus missing out on a valuable opportunity to compete against Tier 1 European teams. Complexity is an exciting young squad, stacked with raw potential, so with a month and a half between their last tournament and EPL Season 15, there should provide plenty of preparation for the team to show positive signs in Tier 1, especially with the PGL Antwerp Major on the horizon. Complexity will start their EPL journey against Heroic on March 30th at 10:00AM
Group D will take place from March 30-April 3, with the North American clash listed below:
Evil Genuises vs Complexity April 4, 2022 10:00AM
Playoffs for the 12 qualified teams are scheduled to commence on April 5th, with the grand final taking place on April 10th in a BO5 format to determine the champion after over a month of competition.