NaVi come in as the clear favorites for Group A. Will they take the crown?
The last trophy to lift before the IEM Rio Major is here. EPL Season 16 kicks off with Group A featuring some massive names like NaVi Vitality and NIP, alongside some plucky underdogs, all with their all specialties. Will NaVi wipe their group clean like in Season 15? Or will someone else take the throne? We'll find out after 5 grueling days of matches.
NaVi: The clear favorites
At the top of the table is Natus Vincere. The Ukrainian squad has been one of the only two consistently elite teams so far in 2022. While they do rank below FaZe in the world rankings, they are millimeters behind them at every step. And with immense firepower, they can knock even the best team out in a single blow, as FaZe learned at BLAST Lisbon.
Even without the best player in the world, this team topped their group at BLAST, defeating teams like Liquid and G2 while doing so. Their systems are the best in the world, their fragging is unmatched and they are showing no signs of slowing down. In this group the only team that can challenge them is Vitality. And even then we have only seen one event from that international roster. NaVi are a lock to go 5-0 in this group, anything less, and coach Blad3 will surely have some stern words for his boys.
Ninjas in Pyjamas: Consistency the Ally or Foe?
The Swedes have been hard done by their 2021 selves. Back in 2021, they fluked an RMR event with a poor format to earn a fake ranking spot at #2 in the world going into the major. And their star REZ was overhyped beyond belief, with people acting like he was a top 10 player in the world instead of the mediocre inconsistent star that he actually was.
But now in 2022, when dJL's coaching has managed to completely flip that script, nobody is willing to give these guys their due. Not only has REZ truly stepped into the starring role he was supposed to take in 2017, but the team as a whole also looks far better than any NIP roster has in ages. Brollan, Sweden's prodigy has found his new home and settled right in, helping propel this team to a consistent top 10 quality.
Unfortunately, the consistency that is their greatest strength is also their drawback. While you can predict a variable team like Spirit could take down NaVi on a perfect day, NIP isn't that team. So while they can make it to the playoffs, expect to see a lot of variance in where they placed thanks to the other teams' performances.
Vitality: Great Expectations
The once-French roster is finally starting to get going. Largely thanks to the addition of Spinx. The Israeli star has been the key to unlocking Vitality's potential. IGL apEX has mentioned already how Spinx's addition has fixed a lot of their roles, and it's apparent on the server as the team looks comfortable, despite being at an early stage in this move.
With ZywOo and Spinx fragging, that's already enough to dust off a lot of smaller teams, and the mega-veterans in apEX dupreeh and Magisk are playing their roles perfectly. The loss against G2 was shaky but extremely close. Expect fireworks on the server and actual potential for an upset against even the top dog.
Fnatic: Need another Mezii Miracle
Last season, ALEX managed to pull off one of the biggest miracles in CSGO history. The British IGL took a team full of stand-ins and academy players and cobbled together a performance strong enough to carry them into the playoffs. With only mezii by his side, ALEX took a team of peppz0r, banjo, and poizon to the playoffs of EPL Season 15 over teams like MOUZ and G2.
After multiple changes, the team has settled on their new roster, adding roeJ and nicoodoz from Copenhagen Flames and signing FASHR from ECSTATIC. Alongside these changes mezii, who was the rookie revelation of 2020 has transitioned to the IGL role very early in his career. Can he repeat the success of his old mentor? On paper, Fnatic should end towards the bottom of the group, but they have the firepower to sneak into the playoffs once again.
Team Spirit: If we go down, we'll take you down with us
After Degster decided to leave the roster, Spirit announced the signing of w0nderful. Coming off their highs at the Major with a top 4 finish, and then looking at their 9th-12th placing at Cologne doesn't look like a great result. Especially as they were eliminated by a struggling Furia.
But one rule you always follow in CS is, don't doubt a Chopper team's potential for an upset. They will not make it into the playoffs themselves, but they will surely ruin the day for another team's qualification.
Endpoint: Kjaerbye Returns
Qualifying via the EPL Season 16 Conference, Endpoint netted themselves a spot in Group A. While the team struggled in the Open Qualifiers for the RMR, they have been a tier 2 squad on the up and up. Keep an eye out for the return of Kjaerbye, who we last saw donning a FaZe jersey. And most importantly Nertz, the touted next star from Israel who was reportedly on ENCE's shortlist for Spinx replacements.
The 6 teams will battle out in a round-robin best-of-three group stage, taking place in Malta. NaVi is expected to dominate the group, but with the firepower present in these teams, we're bound to see some exciting games and scrappy tactics. Whoever comes out on the top nets themselves has a guaranteed top 8 placement in the playoffs.