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Stories to Watch at ESL Pro League Season 14 Playoffs

Zakaria Almughrabi

The ESL Pro League Season 14 Playoffs are now underway. Of the 24 teams that stepped into the ring, only 12 remain. They will be fighting for a $750,000 prize pool, a bevy of ESL Pro Tour and BLAST Premier circuit points, and a spot in the BLAST World Finals later this year. There have been tons of surprises throughout the Group Stage, making many matchups unpredictable. Even so, we’re still looking at a few key favorites to run through the bracket and take home the coveted ESL Pro League trophy.

ESL Pro League Playoffs

Na'Vi is just three matches away from securing the ESL Pro League S14 trophy and the Intel Grand Slam. Who can stand in their way? (Image Credit ESL)

Na’Vi’s Most Important Moment

One of those favorites is Natus Vincere. Na’Vi started their EPL run in Group C. While they did suffer a loss to BIG, they still managed to advance in the group’s first seed with a 4-1 record and claim a first round bye. So far, Na’Vi have done everything they needed to do to make this tournament run count. Not only would this be Na’Vi’s first ESL Pro League title ever, this trophy would also complete their Intel Grand Slam campaign.

With wins on the board at IEM Katowice 2020, DreamHack Spring 2021, and the recent IEM Cologne LAN return, Na’Vi is just one event away from the greatest achievement in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Na’Vi currently has three chances to earn their last tournament victory before their first tally at Katowice expires. Even so, Na’Vi are looking to put a cap on this achievement here and now. The CIS squad is in one of their best forms ever and has been dominating the scene for the better part of the year. If Na’Vi were to complete the Grand Slam, ESL Pro League is the most likely time for it.

Gambit the Greatest Threat

Standing on the complete opposite side of the bracket from Na’Vi is their familiar rivals in Gambit Esports. The young CIS squad has been rivaling Na’Vi for the entire year in terms of head-to-head and overall success. Gambit started out in Group D and also advanced in first seed with a 4-1 record.

Not only is Gambit one of the most talented teams in CS:GO, their tactics have been able to keep up with the rapid rise in exposure the squad has gained in 2021. While their run at IEM Cologne did end a little preemptively, Gambit will be looking to bounce back at another online event. They have a lot to play for as well. Gambit are currently second place in the IEM Grand Slam race with two events. Taking the title at ESL Pro League would not only stall Na’Vi’s campaign, it would also pull Gambit onto an equal Championship point.

Old Dogs Learn New Tricks

ESL Pro League Season 14 has been a great time for many teams who have not been too relevant as of late to throw their hats back into the ring. Most notably, Fnatic and Team Liquid have advanced to the playoffs.

Fnatic is the biggest success story here. The Swedish organization had been struggling to make any waves for a while now. Drastic measures were taken, opening up the all-Swedish squad to international ambitions for the first time ever. The arrival of ALEX, mezii, and coach keita has helped the team return to top-tier play. Fnatic’s Group C performance featured impressive wins over BIG and FaZe Clan, two teams who were favored to make the playoffs.

A Liquid Renaissance

Facing down Fnatic in the first round of playoffs is Team Liquid. The North American team led by Brazilian in-game leader FalleN has been incredibly inconsistent this year. While they have managed to find impressive results at IEM Katowice in February and cs_summit 8 three months prior, more often than not Liquid has been falling short.

Their frequent failure to reach their world-beating form of the past was one of the reasons Group D was so surprising. Liquid finished with a 4-1 record, losing out first seed to the 4-1 Gambit via head-to-head. However, that match was an incredibly close 2-1 in which Liquid were one round short of closing out map two and taking the sweep over the group favorites. Team Liquid could very well be the most threatening second seed in these playoffs.

Liquid CSGO

Team Liquid has shown an impressive performance within Group D. Can they use that momentum to make a run in the ESL Pro League Playoffs? (Image Credit ESL)

An Open Bottom Bracket

The bottom half of the ESL Pro League playoff bracket is actually incredibly wide open. Aside from Gambit in the very bottom quarterfinals match, there are no apparent favorites to run through to the semifinals. The five other teams lining up on this side are mousesports, NiP, and OG on the top and Complexity and Vitality on the bottom.

Right away, OG stands out. The international squad took first seed from Group B after an unpredicted collapse by G2 Esports that saw the group favorite fall to 0-5. Without G2, the field was wide open for anyone to take a playoff bye. It was OG who were able to take a 5-0 record and claim first seed in one of the weaker groups. That’s not to say that they are undeserving of it, however. OG finished the group with a +54 round differential, good for second best overall. Even so, mousesports and NiP are happy about this development. The winner of their round one matchup would likely much rather play OG than the likes of Na’Vi or Heroic.

In the other bottom round one matchup, Vitality must also be fond of their circumstances. The Group A second seed put up one of their better performances in recent memory to secure a 4-1 record, beating the likes of Astralis and ENCE on the way. As a result, Vitality is heavily favored over Complexity in their first match. COL are currently playing with a stand-in and only narrowly qualified for the playoffs as the only team to do so with a negative round differential. While their effort has been admirable, it’s hard to imagine them going any further.