Stories to Watch at the ESL Pro League S18 Playoffs
The ESL Pro League S18 Playoffs are about to get under way. Sixteen teams remain in the hunt for Counter-Stike: Global Offensive’s final Pro League trophy. Most of the favorites have advanced to the playoffs in a top seed, leaving some threatening underdogs to fight their way up.
A Clear Top Tier
The format of the ESL Pro League S18 Group Stage allows each of the four group winners to advance directly to the Quarterfinals. Among those four teams, three of them are the top three ranked by HLTV.
Team Vitality cruised through Group A without dropping a map. The defending Major champions only gave up double digit rounds a single time to Movistar Riders in the group final. Their overall round differential was an astounding +54 in just six total maps. Few teams if any look as clean as them right now.
ENCE had a more difficult time in Group B, but still came out on top. Back-to-back overtime maps against MIBR were traded, forcing ENCE to win in three. The group final against BIG also went the distance, but ENCE were convincing enough on their two map wins. The international squad is coming off three second place tournament finishes in a row; they’re hungrier than ever for a second trophy in 2023.
Lastly, G2 Esports had a big scare in the Group D finals. Virtus.pro exposed a weakness G2 held on Inferno in round two, but couldn’t close out the series. Complexity Gaming took advantage of this in the finals, using Inferno to try and close out a 2-0 sweep. G2 clutched overtime then crushed COL on Ancient to win it. Now, the IEM Cologne champions are looking to add more to their resume.
Group C was a toss up between FaZe Clan and Natus Vincere. Both teams rolled through to the group final for playoff qualification with the bye on the line. It was Natus Vincere who picked up the 2-0 victory, displaying a new ceiling for the international roster. With only three matches standing in NAVI’s way, this run could be an important benchmark for the team.
Teams With a Lot to Prove
Since there is a clear line between the top contenders and the rest, many of the remaining ESL Pro League S18 Playoffs teams are playing to make a name for themselves heading into the tail end of the 2023 season.
Complexity Gaming made waves in the offseason with their acquisition of Jonathon “EliGE” Jablonowski from Team Liquid. With Liquid changing from a primarily North American roster to a European/CIS one, Complexity is the new fan favorite for NA stalwarts. Their display against G2 in the Group D finals was valiant to say the least, but they’ll need to either be better at closing out close games, or improve their map pool if they want to win multiple games here.
Astralis is currently ranked as the fifth best team in the world by HLTV, yet they’ll be starting from the very first round of playoffs. Their round one loss in Group Stage to NiP cost them big. Despite crushing GamerLegion and FURIA to make the playoffs, the damage has been done. There’s a lot of hype behind this Astralis roster. They could be a real contender some time soon, and what better way to prove it then to make a deep run at ESL Pro League.
Virtus.pro has been under quite a bit of roster scrutiny. Just in 2023, VP has played with Timur “buster” Tulepov, Aleksandr “KaiR0N-“ Anashkin, and now Nikolay “mir” Bityukov as their fifth player. This Virtus.pro lineup peaked with their IEM Rio Major victory in late 2022 as the Outsiders and haven’t come close to that same form since. If they’re able to show up and perform despite the issues, it’ll buy them a lot of faith moving forward.
Major Exclusions and Inclusions
A few notable teams failed to even qualify for the ESL Pro League S18 Playoffs. Heroic is the biggest exclusion. The fourth seeded team worldwide seems to be hitting a speedbump, as this is by far their worst result all year. Also missing playoffs are the likes of Ninjas in Pyjamas, Team Liquid, and Cloud9. All three teams are still trying to rebound from their player break roster swaps, but this was still a disappointing finish for them.
Taking the place of these teams are some squads that are looking to make their way up the top 30. BIG is the team that pushed Heroic into the lower bracket, earning a round one bye in the process. CS:GO’s only tier one German team has been away from contention for a while now, so it’s nice to see them crack into a top 12.
Eternal Fire made waves by knocking out both Cloud9 and Team Liquid in the Group D elimination bracket. They dominated their opponents as well, showing some promise moving into the next stage. This is already the best result in the last three ESL Pro Leagues for the Turkish team, and they’ll be loking to get even further.
Finally, there are two Brazilian representatives in this playoff bracket. FURIA got wins over Ninjas in Pyjamas and GamerLegion to secure their spot from Group A. In Group C, 9z Team lost both of their opening matches before making a 3-0 run against M80, Apeks, and 5yclone to earn qualification as the final seed. While neither team is likely to get further than the round of 12, just having them in adds the potential for a classic upset.
The ESL Pro League S18 Playoffs begins on September 26 at 9:30 ET / 6:30 PT.