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Stories to Watch at the ESL Pro League S16 Playoffs

Zakaria Almughrabi

The ESL Pro League S16 Playoffs are about to get under way. Twelve teams have fought through the always treacherous Pro League Group Stage for their chance at the trophy. A $175,000 first place prize is on the line, as well as a guaranteed spot at both the BLAST World Final and IEM Katowice. All of the chips are on the table for CS:GO’s best teams in the last big event before the Rio Major.

ESL Pro League S16 Playoffs

Image Copyright: ESL | Adela Sznajder

ESL Pro League Playoffs Teams

These 12 teams will be fighting for the ESL Pro League trophy. Teams in the top row got first seed in their group, earning a first-round bye.

ESL Pro League S16 Playoffs Participants

Team Vitality G2 Esports MOUZ Cloud9
Fnatic FaZe Clan Heroic FURIA Esports
Natus Vincere Outsiders Complexity Gaming Team Liquid

Right away, the names of G2 Esports, Team Vitality, FaZe Clan, and Natus Vincere stand out as the favorites to win the cup. There are also some dark horses to keep an eye out for like Cloud9 and MOUZ.


A New Group of Death

Due to various unexpected group stage results, the team seeding coming into playoffs was a little bit off the rails. Notably, we have a single line of the bracket featuring Natus Vincere versus Heroic in round one, with the winner facing off against G2 Esports in quarterfinals. This is by far the most difficult position for any team in playoffs to be in.

While NAVI would usually be looked at as favorites to make it to the end of the tournament, their form during the group stage was anything but impressive. They were the only team to advance to the post-season with a losing record (2-3). Their one map win in their day five loss to NiP was the only thing that put the CIS giants over the edge.

Still, Group A was almost a month ago, and NAVI has had time to sort things out. Heroic will be a difficult first match, but the real test will be G2. The European squad recently added two new players during the summer break in Justin “jks” Savage and Rasmus “HooXi” Nielsen. It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows for the newly minted roster, but they’ve showed a ton of improvement very quickly and even earned a perfect record in Group B.

It’s hard to imagine this G2, or anyone who can beat this G2, not making it all the way to the finals. Aside from this stacked line of the bracket, only one team on this side could realistically get the job done.

Vitality Showing Life

Speaking of teams that made a change over the summer, Team Vitality showed up big with their new addition Lotan “Spinx” Giladi. The former ENCE super star has slotted in quite nicely in the previously all French-Danish roster.

Spinx has brought a ton of firepower and killer instinct that the team seemed to lack before. Coupled with the experienced ex-Astralis core and French phenom Matthieu “ZywOo” Herbaut, Vitality has become a truly threatening squad.

Their group stage performance was indicative of this. Vitality only dropped two out of 12 maps played and had a round differential of +40. It wasn’t an easy group either, as it featured NAVI, NiP, and a surprisingly strong revamped Fnatic. They were the only team besides G2 to earn a flawless 5-0 record.

Vitality will be looking to carry their form into the quarterfinals and further beyond. They already made their first Grand Finals appearance as of the year at BLAST Spring Finals three months ago. The next step is to win their first trophy of the year.


FaZe Shoot for the Slam

Any discussion of these ESL Pro League playoffs would be incomplete without mentioning FaZe Clan. This is the first out of six Slam point tournaments for FaZe after their dominant first half of 2022. All they need to do is win one ESL/IEM branded tournament over the next six to become the Intel Grand Slam champions.

When a team dominated so heavily earlier in the season, it would be strange to not think them favorites here. That said, FaZe has not been indomitable all this time. They’ve shown weaknesses here and there, notable at IEM Dallas and the more recent BLAST Fall Groups. Their group stage performance at ESL Pro League was easily good enough for second seed, but there were hiccups.

Notably, FaZe dropped very bad maps in their wins over MIBR and Outsiders. They were also swept by G2 in their matchup for first seed 16-7 on Dust2 and 16-12 on their beloved Nuke pick. Luckily for FaZe, their round one matchup is probably the easiest of them all against Complexity. After that, they’ll have a chance for revenge against the Cloud9 side the knocked them out of IEM Dallas.

If there’s one thing that FaZe does well, it’s performing when it matters. When they’re on, they’re on, and no one in CS:GO can stop them. If we see FaZe Clan come flying out the gate with ferocity while making a deep run, it’s then that we’ll be saying, “they’ve got this Grand Slam in the bag.”

An Academy Team, a Rebuild, and an NA Team Walk into a Bar

The most unpredictable line of the playoff bracket is in the top side. A third seeded Team Liquid will face off against Fnatic in round one, with a matchup against Group C winners MOUZ awaiting them.

North America’s best team came into a tough Group D hoping to make it out in first place. These hopes were dashed when they lost to their regional rivals FURIA on day three and the Turkish Eternal Fire roster on day four. Liquid very narrowly escaped a tiebreak situation on the playoff bubble with a day five win against group victors Cloud9. While their overall performance was average, Liquid displayed very high highs and low lows during the group stage.

Fnatic is their first opponent, and they took second seed in Group A with a 3-2 record. While they failed to beat the likes of NAVI and Vitality, Fnatic ended up winning a map against both of them while sweeping every non-playoff team. Over half of this roster came together less than four months ago, so this level of performance bodes very well for Fnatic.

Waiting in the quarterfinals is MOUZ. This team surprised everyone by topping Group C while coming off of a roster change. Now, three of the players on this roster (and the coach) have all been brought up from the MOUZ NXT academy team this year. Despite all the new faces to the top level of competition, MOUZ has quickly improved and poses a real threat to even the best teams in CS:GO.

It’s anyone’s guess as to which of these three teams makes it to semifinals. There’s pros and cons to all of them based on recent results. With a field as wide open as this, we could be seeing a very strong underdog threaten a Grand Finals appearance.


ESL Pro League S16 Playoffs Schedule

The ESL Pro League S16 Playoffs begin on September 27 at 9:30am ET. The first-round matchups are:

  • Team Liquid vs Fnatic
  • FaZe Clan vs Complexity Gaming
  • FURIA Esports vs Outsiders
  • Heroic vs Natus Vincere

The Round of 12 runs from September 27 to 28.

Quarterfinals run from September 29 to 30.

Semifinals will both be played on October 1 starting at 9:30am ET.

The ESL Pro League S16 Grand Finals will be on Sunday, October 2 at 11:00am ET.