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ESL Pro League Season 14 Group A Preview

Zakaria Almughrabi

ESL Pro League Season 14 is set to kick off on August 16. A total of 24 teams from across the globe will gather in Europe for a chance at $750,000, precious ESL Pro Tour points, and a spot at the BLAST Premier World Finals. This month-long event will be Counter-Strike’s return from the usual summer player break. The teams have been split into four groups with each taking place at a different time. First up is Group A.

ESL Pro League Astralis

Astralis will be looking to flex their muscles as Group A's favorite at ESL Pro League Season 14. (Image Credit ESL)

ESL Pro League Season 14 Group A

Heroic – Rank #8

Astralis – Rank #4

Team Vitality – Rank #9

Team Spirit – Rank #12

ENCE – Rank #23

Bad News Bears – Rank #57

Dynamic Danish Duo

Headlining Group A is Astralis and Heroic. These all-Danish squads are front runners to earn two of three advancing seeds barring any unforeseen collapses. Heroic are the current defending ESL Pro League Champions as they were victorious at Season 13 back in April. Since then, the squad has had decent results, but have not managed a big tournament win. Heroic placed 7-8th at IEM Cologne right before the player break. Unfortunately, they were denied a playoffs LAN appearance by the surging FaZe Clan in a three-map series.

Heroic has since terminated the contract of their head coach, Nicolai “HUNDEN” Petersen, due to a contract breach. They have not filled this vacancy and will play through Pro League without a head coach. This could cause an unexpected drop in performance due to a lack of new preparation.

As for Astralis, their 2021 has looked rather shaky overall compared to their usual world-beating form. That was until LAN play resumed at IEM Cologne in July. Astralis went on to earn 3-4th place, narrowly losing their semifinals match to G2 Esports. While ESL Pro League will not be played on LAN connection, Astralis will likely be able to ride their recent success to a playoff spot.

Vitality Need Revitalization

Another Group A team looking to earn a top three finish is Team Vitality. The French squad was one of the best performers throughout the back half of 2020. However, this year has not been nearly as kind. The once-proud French core has fallen flat countless times in 2021. For a four-month span, Vitality couldn’t crack top six at any event they attended. The one time they did find a top four finish in June was followed by a disappointing 9-12th exit at IEM Cologne.

For a team with so much talent and experience behind them, Vitality has been facing an abundance of problems. A squad with Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut on it should not be struggling this much to make an impact. The mid-year player break is always a point for teams to potentially turn their year around. Vitality has shown that their ceiling can win championships in the past. Hopefully, they can show up to Pro League fresh-faced and ready to return to form.

ESL Pro League Zywoo

Can ZywOo help Vitality return to form after a rough first half of the year? (Image Credit HLTV)

Spirit Stand their Ground

The sole CIS representative in Group A is Team Spirit. Even if they’re in the bottom half ranked teams in this group, Spirit should not be underestimated. The entire CIS region has proven to be a major powerhouse in 2021. As every team could only play opponents within their region during the online era, Spirit has essentially been locked in a hyperbolic CS:GO chamber with the likes of Gambit and Na’Vi.

While Spirit hasn’t had the easiest time translating their regional success to big tournament runs, they are talented and well-prepared enough to contest any team in the top ten on their day. If teams in Group A look past Spirit for a moment, they will likely regret it. Spirit could end up passing by the coach-less Heroic and struggling Vitality in a flash.

ENCE’s Expectations

ENCE is the fifth team among the Group A lineup. The Finnish squad’s expectations are likely tempered going into ESL Pro League, especially with four hungry teams already fighting for three advancing seeds. ENCE’s results haven’t been notable at all in the past few months. They’ve hardly even attended any high-level events. However, that’s not to say ENCE can be ignored.

In ESL Pro League Season 13, ENCE was in a similar position in a group with the likes of NiP, G2, mousesports, and Vitality. They were able to pull out three wins and miraculously advance to the playoffs. It was only an overtime map three loss to that kept the Finns out of a top eight finish when they were expected to be bottom eight. If ENCE can channel some more of that Pro League magic, they could be causing upsets in this group.

Bears Bring their Best

The final team to round out Group A is Bad News Bears. The org-less North American roster will be flying across the pond in an attempt to gain even a little notoriety for themselves. With long time core member Peter “ptr” Gurney retiring two weeks before Pro League, Bad News Bears have sought out Paytyn “Junior” Johnson on loan from FURIA Esports. A top three finish for this squad is a long shot to say the least. They will be hoping to at least get a win or two on the board, as Pro League rewards teams $5,000 per group stage win.