The ESL Pro League playoffs began yesterday, with ENCE taking down Fnatic in convincing 2-0 fashion and FaZe Clan edging out Players in a three-map affair. On day two, more Round of 12 action will occur with Heroic taking on Team Liquid and Entropiq squaring off against Astralis.
With elimination on the line in both games, we are sure to see some exciting competition as all four teams fight for their chance at the Pro League trophy.
Heroic vs. Team Liquid
Team Liquid entered the Pro League after a performance at IEM Katowice that left more questions than answers. The squad was swiftly eliminated from the tournament after two straight losses — that came at the hands of both tournament finalists, FaZe Clan and G2 Esports. However, they came into Group C swinging, taking down BIG and GODSENT in back-to-back 2-0 series, and locking out the Party Astronauts on the fourth day. With losses to Movistar Riders and Players, however, Liquid would only be able to secure third seed in the group.
The roster, newly reformed for the 2022 season, looks to be finding their rhythm together after several months of work in Europe. Alongside long-time members Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski and Keith "NAF" Markovic, AWPer Joshua "oSee" Ohm and France's Richard "shox" Papillon look to bring the organization back to its former position in the international scene. The return of Nicholas "nitr0" Cannella from 100 Thieves Valorant team may be the missing piece, having led the team throughout their IEM Grand Slam run.
Nitr0 spoke with us about the new Team Liquid, and his thoughts on playing with a mix of fresh and familiar faces:
Nitro: I've always admired shox and him being on my team is really cool, and I think we've learned a lot together. Obviously, John and Keith are two of my long term teammates and having a new rookie on the team is really cool. It brings a lot of positive energy to our team, and I think oSee can only grow from here.
Nitr0 is one of several players at the event to return to Counter-strike after a stint in Valorant, and acknowledged that the return back has been a rewarding, albeit difficult, experience:
Nitro: It's been a lot of fun. I think I learned a lot in Valorant, but when I came back to Counter-strike it felt like a completely different game in terms of the playstyles of these teams, and also just a lot more new faces.
Some of those new faces made their names on Heroic, after their sudden rise to the top tier of Counter-strike throughout 2020 and 2021. The Danish squad made it to the quarterfinals in Katowice before their defeat to FaZe Clan, and came into the Pro League with a 5-0 in the groups stages of both previous seasons. They got off to a similar start in Group D, achieving a 4-0 record. However, they could not overcome Natus Vincere on the final day, and fell into the second seed of the group and the Round of 12 alongside Team Liquid.
René "TeSeS" Madsen seemed unworried about that defeat, however, and had a bold prediction for Heroic's game against Team Liquid:
TeSeS: We have played Liquid a couple of times before, the one I remember the most is in the Royal Arena where it was extremely close. We have had some close games against them in the past but I feel like we are a better team now and have improved on a lot of things, and they're kind of a new team with two new players. But I have a strong call: I believe we will smash them, but we'll see.
Heroic already took wins over two North American teams in the Pro League — Complexity Gaming and Evil Geniuses — and would surely love to make Team Liquid their third. They will look to more star performances from Martin "stavn" Lund to make that happen, as he outshined the squad in the group stage with a 1.24 HLTV rating.
Heroic and Team Liquid will compete at 5:00PM GMT on April 6th. The victor will face the Ninjas in Pyjamas in the quarterfinals, who came out on top of Group A with a 4-1 record. The losers, however, will see themselves eliminated from the 15th season of the ESL Pro League in the Round of 12.
Entropiq vs. Astralis
Entropiq's 2022 hadn't started the way they wanted it to. The team failed to advance past the Play-In Stage at IEM Katowice, and have been largely unsuccessful in the smaller tournaments between then and the Pro League. Facing a tough crowd of competition in Group A, Entropiq found themselves at a 1-1 record after the second day. From there, however, Aleksey "NickelBack" Trofimov's team hit their stride, taking consecutive wins over LookingForOrg, G2 Esports, and Fnatic to secure a 4-1 record and the second seed in the group.
Igor "Forester" Bezotecheskiy led the charge for the Entropiq squad, with strong performances from Vladislav "Krad" Kravchenko and Aleksey "El1an" Gusev helping to close out series against MOUZ and G2. All three will need to keep up a similar level of play to defeat Astralis and advance beyond the Round of 12.
Entropiq defeated Astralis 2-1 in their last confrontation at Funspark ULTI in January. However, Astralis have since added Asger "farlig" Jensen on the AWP role in place of Philip "Lucky" Ewald, and are looking to him to be the difference maker. The Pro League mark's Farlig's first tournament with Astralis, and thus far he is pleased with his place in the team:
Farlig: I think the other players from the team have been really good at helping accommodate me on the team and make me feel welcome, and welcome to my ideas and how to play. Right now I'm not feeling that much pressure, I think it's important just to think about playing your normal game. In the end, it's a video game you're playing, you don't have to take it super seriously — obviously we have some expectations to live up to, but I think as long as you can be happy with how you are playing the game I don't think there's any need to think about any external pressure.
Astralis faced a similar start to Entropiq in Group D, reaching a 1-1 record after a victory over Evil Geniuses and a defeat to Heroic. A win against AGO would be followed by a 2-1 defeat to Natus Vincere, leaving the Danes at a 2-2 record with their future uncertain leading into the final day. All they needed to advance was a single map win against Complexity Gaming, yet they would take two and close the series 2-1 to find a winning record and the third seed in the group.
Benjamin "blameF" Bremer continued to be the standout player for Astralis throughout the group stage, with a 1.25 HLTV rating — the eighth highest at the event. Astralis is yet to find the same success with their new roster as they had in the past, but Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander may have finally found what he needs to make his system work once more.
Entropiq and Astralis will compete at 1:30PM GMT on April 6th, kicking off the second day of the Pro League playoffs. FURIA Esports are next in line for the winner of the series, while the losers will face an untimely departure from the event.