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Stories to Watch at ESL Pro League S13: Group A

Zakaria Almughrabi

ESL Pro League Season 13 is set to kick off on Monday, March 8 with Group A up first. The six teams who will be doing battle are BIG, Heroic, Complexity Gaming, OG, Renegades, and FunPlus Phoenix. Many of these rosters have seen changes made in preparation for this event, so let’s take a look at the biggest stories to watch at ESL Pro League Season 13.

ESL Pro League Season 13

ESL Pro League S13's Group A has many questions to answer. Which of the four teams who have made recent roster changes will come out strong? (Image Credit OG)

Heroic’s Danish Shuffle

Heroic were one of the bigger success stories of the 2020 season. The fully Danish roster went from a solidly tier two team in the Spring to a rising threat in the Summer. By Fall, Heroic had blossomed into a top-level squad. Their crowning achievement was taking the ESL One Cologne EU trophy after sweeping Team Vitality in the finals. Heroic even peaked as the rank one globally after that.

However, they have been on the decline in recent months. Their end of 2020 was marred by failure to earn top four at any events they attended. After finally breaking that streak at cs_summit 7, Heroic only fell further with a 9th-12th place exit at IEM Katowice last month.

Heroic immediately replaced two of the players who had been with the team since the beginning of their rise to prominence. Nikolaj “niko” Kristensen and Johannes “b0RUP” Borup were moved to the bench. The same day, Heroic announced the acquisition of Ismail “refrezh” Ali and Rasmus “sjuush” Beck from MAD Lions.

Refrezh and Sjuush are both relatively well-known and respected players in the Danish scene. However, MAD Lions haven’t been particularly notable recently. After their win at Flashpoint 1, they didn’t accomplish much. On top of that, MAD Lions haven’t played together as a squad since Flashpoint 2 in early December. Refrezh did get some organized play in as a member of OPAA Gaming in some low-tier qualifiers, but aside from that, these two could be coming in cold.

It will be interesting to see how quickly and effectively Heroic can complete their integration. Although they have fallen to their lowest rank in over half a year, Heroic will still be major players in Group A. Only time will tell if they can rise to their former glory.

Niko In For OG

As for niko, he will have his chance for revenge immediately. The 22-year-old rifler has been picked up on trial for OG. He will be replacing their former Nathan “NBK-“ Schmitt who was benched following OG’s 13th-16th place finish at IEM Katowice. This is the first roster change OG has made since they entered Counter-Strike in December 2019.

NBK shared the in-game leader duties with Aleksi “Aleksib” Virolainen and was known to be a vocal player. In his official statement, he said that “we didn’t agree on how to consistently perform at the highest level.” Whether or not NBK was in the right doesn’t matter, as a divided mindset will hurt any team. Being on the same page is very important for a squad to find success.

OG have opted to give Aleksib full IGL duties and have brought in a strong rifler in niko. On the surface, this change looks very promising. If Aleksib and the OG coaching staff are able to deliver a cohesive and updated game plan, they have the ability to beat any team in their group. Adding niko to the mix just gives them more tools at their disposal.

It is important to note that niko is still a stand-in. Although OG have expressed interest in him, the results of this tournament will likely have an effect on the decision to pick him up full time. Niko will certainly be bringing his best to the table in order to secure a shiny new contract.

ESL Pro League Season 13

Will niko be the firepower that OG needs to propel them into the limelight? (Image Credit HLTV)

BIG Vs COL: Who Will Step Up?

Of the six teams present in Group A, BIG and Complexity are two favorites on paper to take first. The 7th and 11th ranked squads respectively found tons of success last year during the initial stages of the online era. They’ve been firmly within the top level of Counter-Strike for quite a while now. Unfortunately, their trophy cabinets have not seen any new additions recently.

BIG’s last tournament win (besides a regional German one at Merkur Masters) came at DreamHack Open Summer in August. Complexity has to go back to June to find their last trophy at the BLAST Spring Finals. Despite this, it’s not like these teams have completely fallen off. Both squads have broken into the top four multiple times at big events such as IEM Beijing and the IEM Global Challenge.

The problem seems to be consistency for both of these squads. They each have top-level talent at multiple positions and can beat almost anyone on their day. They just need to find it in themselves to bring it out. BIG did promote Dustin “DuDe” Großmann to the head coach position in early January, so they have been working out their issues in the time since. For Complexity, AWPer Valentin “poizon” Vasilev returned to the roster full time in February.

In the two biggest events since these roster stabilizations happened, BIG and COL have both won their BLAST Spring groups and been eliminated from IEM Katowice in the play-in stage. This further emphasizes their inconsistency. BIG and Complexity are the only two teams going into Group A without having a completely new player to work in. This should give them an advantage in the quest for first seed.

ESL Pro League Season 13 Group A kicks off on March 8 at 6:00 A.M. EST. The initial matchups are:

Complexity Gaming vs FunPlus Phoenix

Heroic vs Renegades