After four weeks of competition, the field of teams at ESL Pro League Season 15 has thinned from 24 to 12. The playoffs begin today, with the Round of 12 pitting the second and third seeded teams from each group against one-another. The first day of competition will open with ENCE taking on Fnatic in a best-of-three series, followed by FaZe Clan in action against Players.
By the end of the day, two of these squads will be eliminated from the event - and the outcome in both cases is entirely unpredictable.
Fnatic vs. ENCE
Fnatic came into this season of the Pro League with a stitched-together team, with Matias “Banjo” Kivistö, Peppe "Peppzor" Borak and Valentin "poizon" Vasilev completing the roster alongside Alexander "ALEX" McMeekin and William "mezii" Merriman. Despite the turmoil surrounding the team, Fnatic found magic and squeezed out of their group in third place with wins over LookingForOrg, G2 Esports, and MOUZ.
The uncertainty regarding Fnatic's roster has clearly impacted the players, worsened by the complications that COVID-19 continues to create. When asked about the difficulties in maintaining a consistent roster, Mezii commented:
Mezii: Recently it's been hard with COVID problems and so on. I think with all the other factors, transfers and playing with different rosters, it's hard for us because every player in CS just wants a stable roster. It's out of our hands and we're just trying to do the best we can with what we have and our main focus is what we can do on the server and get the best results we can. It's a rough period at the moment, but we're just trying to do the best we can.
To keep their Cinderella run alive, Fnatic must defeat an ENCE lineup that has looked particularly formidable at this event. When asked about their opponents, however, mezii suggested that Fnatic's chances may be better than they appear:
Mezii: ENCE are a pretty strong team and they always come in strong at these big events against the better teams. They've definitely had an upgrade to their firepower with maden and they're really strong individually, but we are just focusing as much as we can on ourselves and replicating what we had in the group stage. We are just having fun and building that team chemistry because we're a new lineup and we still have tons to work on, but we can focus a lot on the outside-the-game stuff and building that good team chemistry. We can definitely beat ENCE, because we've done it before and even with their upgrade, I still think we can beat them because our firepower can easily match it.
The international squad most recently added Pavle "maden" Bošković to the roster ahead of IEM Katowice, and after a middling performance at the event they arrived at the Pro League looking to establish themselves as championship contenders. So far they've done just that, finishing with a 4-1 record in their group with wins over the likes of FaZe Clan and Team Vitality.
Much of the credit for ENCE's success falls on Lotan "Spinx" Giladi and Aleksander "hades" Miskiewicz's shoulders. With strong performances on the rifle and AWP respectively, ENCE's young stars pulled the team over the line on several occasions. Hades received praise from in-game leader Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer for his work with the AWP:
Snappi: Most of the time hades decides what he wants to do, on CT at least - on T he has to go into a role of setting up the team. Setting up your team with an AWP on T side is actually what ends up setting up yourself, because you don't wanna run around with the AWP. It's better to get put into a 3v3 or 4v4 situation mid round, where you have a site, because that's actually where you get the good shots - when the CT's have to retake. He is getting better and better at helping teammates, but also getting more and more confident of taking control whenever he wants to do something. It'll only get better with time. Hades is still a new and young player, so it's not gonna go downhill, it's only gonna go up.
As expected, the ENCE players are confident heading into their Round of 12 match-up:
Spinx: The preparation against Fnatic will be just the same as any other game. Just a normal game against a normal team, and we will do our best.
Fnatic and ENCE will kick off the Round of 12, with their best-of-three series set to begin at 1:30 PM GMT on April 5th. The losers will see themselves eliminated from the tournament, while the victors will continue on to face the undefeated Movistar Riders in the quarterfinals.
FaZe Clan vs. PLAYERS
FaZe Clan came into Group B of the ESL Pro League hot, having captured the trophy in Katowice only weeks prior. Their start in the league, however, would not begin in the same fashion: losses to ENCE and Outsiders would put FaZe at an early 0-2 deficit, putting them on the edge of an early elimination. In-game leader karrigan spoke to us about the team's losses:
karrigan: Obviously the ENCE game was really tough. We all watched it together and saw that this is not how we normally play since adding ropz. We lost a lot of clutches which we shouldn't have, but that's just part of the game sometimes. Obviously, after losing 2-0 to Outsiders it got kind of tough in the group - it was out of our hands, basically. We just took it game by game.
Despite this, FaZe managed to recover with sudden 2-0 victories over Sprout and Team Vitality, the latter of which saw Vitality winning only twelve rounds. A third win over Furia - and the lucky elimination of Outsiders - gave FaZe a ticket to the Round of 12. They now head into their game against Players with momentum behind them, and a valuable lesson learned:
karrigan: I think beating Vitality the way we did sent a signal that even though we had a bad start, we can turn around. This taught us that, even though it looks really bad, we can still manage to get out of groups. This is part of what we learned at this tournament - if it's looking really bad and we don't have synergy on the server, but we can always grind it back.
Their opponent in this stage is a familiar foe. FaZe Clan have most previously competed against Vladislav "nafany" Gorshkov's Players in the playoffs of IEM Katowice, defeating them in a 2-0 series. Players entered the Pro League looking for redemption, making it through Group C relatively unscathed. A surprising defeat at the hands of Movistar Riders prevented Players from securing the top seed in the group, but wins over the likes of Team Liquid and BIG left them with a 4-1 record, locking in another confrontation with karrigan's squad.
Unfortunately for both teams, things will only get harder after the Round of 12. The winner of this series will take on Natus Vincere in the quarterfinals, who enter the playoffs undefeated and at full power with Kirill "Boombl4" Mikhailov back on the server. The series will take place following the Ence vs. Fnatic series, at 5:00PM GMT on April 5th.