A panel of experts assembled by Esports.gg to reflect on the standout moments from the ESL Pro League group stage and look ahead to the playoffs.

In the past 24 days, 24 teams have faced off in four different groups for ESL Pro League. These 24 teams have now been narrowed down to 12, and the remaining will fight for the $175,000 prize pool along with earning a spot at the Blast Premier World Final towards the end of this year. Before the fight kicks off, Esports.gg has put together a team of experts to break down and preview the playoffs for this tournament.

The roundtable members

  • Zain Merchant - CS:GO Contributor Esports.gg
  • Josh 'Dweg' Nathan - CS:GO caster and observer.
  • Hugo Byron - CS:GO caster
  • Janko 'YNk' Paunovic - CS:GO Analyst/Caster
  • Tim Earle - CS:GO betting analyst
  • King T - CS:GO content creator

What team do you have taking home the trophy and the $175,000?

With such strong results, two teams stood out. Janko 'YNk' Paunovic and Zain Merchant both have Gambit winning while Josh 'Dweg' Nathan, Hugo Byron, and King T picking Natus Vincere. Both of these CIS teams have been at the top of their game recently, with a strong year overall from Gambit and NaVi winning IEM Cologne and the CIS Starladder event. Tim Earle also brought Heroic into this conversation. Despite the ongoing drama between Heroic and their former coach Hunden, the team has stayed strong and went undefeated in their group.

Dweg: "This is a proper tough one. I’m on the fence between Na’Vi and Gambit; both teams played really well in their Group Stage. You know what, I’m going to go with Na’Vi. After winning the StarLadder CIS RMR and IEM Cologne on LAN, I believe that Na’Vi will go 3 event wins a row and play some awesome and exciting CS in the Playoffs to go on an win the event."

Group C saw three teams at 3 wins and 2 losses so FaZe ended up not qualifying. In the future, should the format for group stage change?

There were a lot of mixed opinions of the tournament format. The three main formats - GSL, Swiss, and Round Robin - offer their own advantages and disadvantages. With this tournament being Round Robin, fans got to see each team in the group play each other, but not every match mattered. On the last day of Group D, Team Liquid and Gambit were already through to the finals and winning their match had no effect on the team. Although it is unlikely ESL will switch future tournament formats, they may be pressured if more situations like what happened in group C occur.

YNk: I'm not a fan of Round Robin, I want to see GSL BO3 make a return, but it's tricky with 24 teams

Byron: I personally enjoy the format. However, it can be difficult to seed new rosters, making group C inevitably stacked. In the other 3 groups, however, there was no doubt the better teams made it through. I hope to see more of FaZe soon, as they did play very well.

Dweg: I actually casted the final day of Group C, we had BIG vs. Mousesports on the B-Stream, so I’m very familiar with FaZe going 3 and 2 but not qualifying for the next stage. Personally, I really like the format of Round-Robin. Everyone gets to play everyone once, so there are lots of games and lots of CS to watch. For sure, the outcome of the games doesn’t always come out pretty. However, I almost look at that as further excitement. Watching all 3 games at the same time on the last day of groups to see the possible outcomes and see who will be advancing as the results come in.

Which team had the most surprising group stage run to make it to playoffs of ESL Pro League?

The most obvious answer to this question was forZe. 5 days before the tournament started, Renegades withdrew from ESL Pro League due to travel restrictions in Australia. So, forZe took their place, and even then, most had forZe not qualifying due to OG, Virtus Pro, and G2 being in that group. However, when the matches started, it soon became clear that G2 and VP were not in their prime form. Both of these teams made an opportunity for forZe and Complexity to qualify for playoffs, along with OG. Additionally, Fnatic and Complexity also had surprising group stage runs, according to Earle and King T. A month ago, Fnatic acquired Alex "ALEX" McMeekin and William "mezii" Merriman and in their first event, made playoffs. On the other hand, Complexity was forced to play Niels Christian "NaToSaphiX" Sillassen due to Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke's wrist surgery.

Dweg: There are a few teams: Fnatic, ENCE and forZe. However, I was most surprised by forZe. Being the Replacement Invite for Renegades, they beat Sinners, G2, VP and Complexity, only losing to OG. forZe have floated around the top of tier 2 for quite a while now but don't get the chance to play with the big boys that often. It's also the first big event for zorte and KENSI, and they made the playoffs. Insane.

Byron: forZe weren't even meant to be here, so it's great to see this upcoming CIS squad continue to battle it out against the best. Their opening match vs. ENCE is very much up in the air. It would be great to see them take on Na'Vi in the quarters if they get there.

Image via forZe
Image via forZe

What player earned the title of ESL Pro League Group Stage MVP

Statistically, there are three players that earned over a 1.30 HLTV rating: Kaike "KSCERATO" Cerato, Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev, and Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut. Out of our six members of this roundtable, YNk, Dweg, and King T picked ZywOo, Merchant, and Byron picked s1mple, and Earle picked KSCERATO.

Dweg: For me, it has to be ZywOo. With an okay showing from him in the Group Stage of IEM Cologne, EPL S14 was the perfect event for him to bounce back with some sick performances in the Group Stage. His CT-Sides were something special, playing 12 maps and dropping a +70 K-D Difference attached with a 1.53 Rating. His overall 33-15, +18 K-D Difference performance against Spirit on Nuke was a map to remember without a doubt.

Merchant: It has to be s1mple. Sure, ZywOo has some amazing games, but watching s1mple crush Fnatic, Mousesports, and FaZe was something special. With a +19 K-D difference and 75 kills in two maps, s1mple continues to prove why he is one of the best players ever to touch Counter-Strike.

Image via ESL
Image via ESL

That's it for this Counter-Strike roundtable. Special thanks to Janko 'YNk' Paunovic, Josh 'Dweg' Nathan, Hugo Byron, Tim Earle, and King T for their participation.