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Stories to Watch at ESL Pro League S16 Group A Edition

Zakaria Almughrabi

The Counter-Strike: Global Offensive season is back in full force, as ESL Pro League Season 16 begins on August 31. The first six of 24 total teams will battle it out in Group A for one of three playoff spots. As always, the rapid-fire format of ESL Pro League will put these teams to the test. And with many new rosters trying to gel together post-player break, these five days could be full of chaos.

ESL Pro League NAVI

Image Copyright: ESL | Helena Kristiansson

ESL Pro League S16 Group A Participants

Natus Vincere Ninjas in Pyjamas Team Vitality
Fnatic Team Spirit Endpoint


NAVI Stay Consistent

The best team of 2021 has had a much more disappointing first half of the year by comparison. Not that they were bad, or even mediocre by any means. They just didn’t win as many trophies. While NAVI did claim the BLAST Spring title, they ended the season on a bitter note, coming up just short at IEM Cologne to FaZe Clan in an amazing five-map final.

Those last two events of the season were played with new rifler Viktor “sdy” Orudzhev being implemented into the team. Despite the sudden change of in-game leader, NAVI have maintained a spot at the top of the game. They further emphasized this point by taking a top seed at the BLAST Fall Group Stage last week.

One thing is for sure: NAVI has everything they need to contest for more championships. They are the heavy favorite to take Group A’s first seed and the round one playoff bye that comes with it. In terms of group difficulty, this one is on the middle to less difficult side. Even so, with five best-of-threes in five days, preparation and execution will be difficult no matter what. If any team can go 5-0 here at Pro League though, it’s NAVI who are going to do it.

The Same-as-Always Ninjas

NiP is one of the less interesting teams to track in the CS:GO scene as of recent. They’re a good team overall, but that’s all they’ve shown. The Ninjas haven’t been able to elevate themselves and truly be called a great team.

Of their results throughout 2022 so far, NiP has top eights at IEM Katowice, PGL Major Antwerp, and IEM Cologne. Their best performance was a top four at ESL Pro League S15 back in April. While consistent top eights do solidify you as a decent team, it’ll also keep you hovering in between a top five and top 10 rating for the entire season.

Unless the Ninjas can show a new side of themselves at Pro League, it’s safe to expect the same-old same-old from them. They’ll likely advance from Group A into playoffs then exit the tournament after one to two more matches.


When Will Vitality Contend?

Vitality’s expensive super team project ended the season in very disappointing fashion. They failed to break into the top six at almost every single S-Tier event. The only silver lining to the season for Vitality came at the BLAST Spring Finals, where they earned second place overall. While they couldn’t best a NAVI team hungry for their first trophy of the year, it was a great look for the squad. They then reverted to their old selves at IEM Cologne, placing outside of the top eight thanks to losses against Movistar Riders and MOUZ.

Needing a shake up during the offseason, Vitality shilled out even more for former ENCE star player Lotan “Spinx” Giladi. On paper, this addition heavily bolsters their firepower in the long run. But it also adds to the already long development time of a half French, half Danish roster that came from two very different play styles already.

Vitality’s ownership has talked about this team needing a lot of time to get things in order. They’re hoping that when that time comes, Vitality will be contending for trophies left and right. The first event for this new Spinx iteration did not go well for Vitality. They failed to qualify for the BLAST Fall Finals after a heartbreaking loss to G2 Esports. For Vitality, ESL Pro League is the first big test. Will things finally start to come together for the team?

Fnatic Look For an Identity

Fnatic’s CS:GO division has been a mess for quite some time now. Ever since their old, successful Swedish core was broken up, Fnatic has tried time and time again to put together a roster. They’ve tried developing Academy players for the main roster. They’ve tried building a team of strong free agent signings. Fnatic has even tried to bring back old faces to see if they still had it as a team.

In the end, nothing has worked out. And with their star player Ludwig “Brollan” Brolin leaving in the middle of the season, the signs are pointing at another mediocre rebuilding roster. Their recent additions include Nico “nicodoz” Tamjidi and Fredrik “roeJ” Jørgensen of Copenhagen Flames fame, as well as a relatively unknown signing from a lower tier Danish team.

While no matches in ESL Pro League are freebies due to the format, it’s hard to imagine many teams here losing to Fnatic. A top three seed is unlikely to say the least. The best case for this team is probably going to be earning two wins and building some synergy together.

Spirit Fight for Advancement

CS:GO’s perennial dark horse, Team Spirit, is back to try and prove that they’re a top tier team once again. It’s hard to forget the performance that they had at PGL Major Antwerp, earning a top four finish and only dropping maps to G2 Esports and FaZe Clan. While they couldn’t follow it up at IEM Cologne, this team’s potential is still very high.

That said, they’ll need to get the job done with a new AWPer. Staple Abdulkhalik “degster” Gasanov was purchased by OG during the player break. His replacement is 17-year-old Ihor “w0nderful” Zhdanov, most known for his time on Hell Raisers. If we’ve learned anything from Ilya “m0NESY” Osipov, it’s that young CIS AWPers are a different breed. The shoes that w0nderful has to fill are large, but he’s a promising prospect nonetheless.

Spirit has a combination of experienced leadership and young talent. Now they just need to put it together. While first seed may be out of their reach with NAVI nearby, their goal is certainly to advance to playoffs. The key will be winning their games against NiP and Vitality.


Endpoint’s Return to Pro League

Endpoint has qualified for their first ESL Pro League since Season 13. In that season, they actually performed admirably for a sixth seed team, earning two wins against Fnatic and Evil Geniuses. With veteran Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye added to their squad, they honestly won’t be as much of a pushover as sixth seeds usually are.

Playoffs are likely still out of reach for Endpoint, but they’ll certainly be fighting at every step. Repeating that two-win performance should be their goal, especially when every team in Group A but Fnatic is far above their punching level on paper.

ESL Pro League S16 Group A begins on August 31 at 6:30 A.M. The initial matchups are:

Natus Vincere vs Team Spirit

Team Vitality vs Endpoint

Ninjas in Pyjamas vs Fnatic