After four groups of play, the field of competition at the ESL Pro League had thinned down to 12. Another round of play saw four more squads eliminated as we said goodbye to Heroic, Fnatic, Entropiq and Players in the Round of 12.
Now, only eight rosters remain and we draw ever-closer to finding the team that will get their hands on the Pro League trophy.
Today, we discuss the four teams that qualified directly into the quarter-finals, taking a look at their journey through the group stage and the opponents that will test them over the upcoming days.
Ninjas in Pyjamas
The Ninjas in Pyjamas fell just short of the playoffs at IEM Katowice after their 8th-place elimination at the hands of Gambit Esports. They would be among the first to play in the 15th season of the ESL Pro League, squaring off against a mismatch of opposition in Group A. Many Group A teams played the event with various stand-ins, leading to some unexpected outcomes and a highly competitive group. In-game leader Hampus "hampus" Poser spoke about how the Ninjas dealt with these sudden roster changes:
Hampus: Yeah, of course it's a bit hard cause you don't know how teams would play — if the stand-in will just take the positions of the guy who's not there or if they will change things around. Most of the time we just do our own preparation: we focus on our own game, what did we do last game, what will we change, things like this. We just focus on our own game instead of trying to guess what they will do.
This plan clearly worked, as the Ninjas in Pyjamas began their campaign with convincing 2-0 victories over Fnatic and Entropiq. MOUZ and Australia's LookingForOrg would pose some difficulty, but the Ninjas were able to take them down in respective 2-1 series. They would take a 2-0 loss to G2 Esports on the final day, but by then their position as the top of the group was sealed, and the Swedes locked themselves into the quarter-finals.
The Round of 12 confirmed Team Liquid as the Ninjas next opponents. They are yet to face the new North American roster, who defeated Heroic in a 2-0 affair to reach the quarter-finals. A win against Liquid will see them through to the semifinals, where they will compete against either ENCE or the Movistar Riders.
Ninjas in Pyjamas will compete in a best-of-three series on the first day of the quarter-finals, at 5:00PM GMT on April 7th.
The Movistar Riders are in a position no one expected to find them in prior to the start of Group C. The all-Spanish squad were looking likely to end up somewhere in the middle of their group, and a 2-1 victory over GODSENT on the first day put them in good position to hit that mark. It was their 2-1 win over Players on day two, however, that got people paying attention to the Riders.
The next day, Movistar Riders defeated Team Liquid, advancing to a 3-0 record and securing their slot in the playoffs. Wins over BIG and the Party Astronauts would keep the Riders atop Group C, allowing the undefeated Spaniards to skip the Round of 12 and pass directly into the quarter-finals. Team leader Alejandro "ALEX" Masanet Candela spoke with us about the team's attitudes as they worked their way through the group and into the playoffs:
ALEX: It was good in every single match we played. Yeah, we are super motivated to keep playing, to keep improving as a team, and if it's possible, to keep winning.
Movistar Riders had a few days off to study their opponents as the Round of 12 was underway. With ENCE and Fnatic both waiting in the wings, ALEX seemed to prefer a series against Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer's international roster:
ALEX: I don't know which one is going to be our opponent, but I'd prefer to play against ENCE, to be honest.
After ENCE's 2-0 victory over Fnatic, it looks like ALEX will get the matchup he wants. The two teams will kick off quarter-final's competition on April 7th, with their best-of-three series beginning at 1:30PM GMT.
With the recent addition of star AWPer Rafael "saffee" Costa, FURIA's goal for 2022 is simple: refind the form that put them on the map in the first place. Their performance at IEM Katowice was a sign of things to come, although the team was eliminated before playoffs at the hands of eventual finalists G2 Esports. With more time together as a team, FURIA arrived in Group B firing on all cylinders.
Labeled the “group of death,” even making it out of the group stage would be a difficult task against the likes of FaZe Clan, Outsiders and Team Vitality. The Brazilian's first test would come from the Outsiders, whom they defeated in a tight 2-1 series. A victory over Sprout on the second day put FURIA in excellent position to seize a playoff spot, and they would do just that with a 2-1 win against Vitality. Another win against ENCE guaranteed their placement atop the group, a result that saffee was quite pleased with:
saffee: They're really good teams, but it doesn't matter where we are in the bracket. We know that we have to be able to beat everybody to win the tournament, which is our main goal. We had the toughest group of the group stage as well, so it was good for us to be able to be on top of the group of death.
With the quarter-finals confirmed, FURIA got to watch as their potential opponents, Astralis and Entropiq, battled it out in the Round of 12. The Danes would prove victorious in a nail-biting three-map series, confirming their date with the Brazilian squad.
These teams last met at IEM Katowice, with FURIA coming out on top 2-0 across Overpass and Mirage. Astralis has added AWPer Asger "farlig" Jensen to their lineup since that defeat, posing a threat to FURIA's new AWPing talent. In-game leader Andrei "arT" Piovezan touched on some of these troubles, but believes they will be eased with time:
Art: I think [saffee] is struggling to be more comfortable, because the way we play makes it kind of hard to settle in and play the best you can. With time he's gonna be more comfortable and have more confidence, he's gonna become a beast soon.
FURIA Esports will open the second day of quarter finals action, with their matchup against Astralis set to get underway at 1:30PM GMT on April 8th.
Natus Vincere entered the Pro League the way they've entered every tournament in recent months — as the best team in the world. Their campaign at IEM Katowice cast a shadow of doubt over this, as Kirill "Boombl4" Mikhailov's squad fell to G2 Esports in the semifinals, barring them from the finals of a premier tournament for the first time since April of 2021. To stay atop the mountain, Na'Vi would need a dominant showing in the ESL Pro League.
AGO: 2-0. Evil Geniuses: 2-0. Complexity Gaming: 2-0. Astralis: 2-1. That was the team's record after the fourth day of Group D. Their final opponents, however, were in similar form: Heroic had beaten the exact same teams, with the exact same number of map wins and losses. In the process, the Danes had stretched their group stage undefeated streak to 14 after going 5-0 in both the 14th and 13th seasons.
Na'Vi wiped Heroic from the server in two maps, with the Danes scoring only twelve total rounds against their opponents. The win locked Na'Vi into the quarterfinals, and made it perfectly clear to all teams in attendance that they would not let the result of Katowice repeat itself. After the dust of the Round of 12 had settled, Na'Vi saw that this would be easier said than done: FaZe, champions of Katowice and the team that had declawed G2, would be their quarter-finals opponents.
FaZe Clan have looked shaky throughout their group stage play, making the undefeated Na'Vi squad a clear favorite heading into the series. The team's talents are performing at a level above most others, as well: Valerii "b1t" Vakhovskyi is the third-highest rated player at the event with a 1.29 rating. As is often the case, he is outshined by Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev, who tops the tournament rankings with an astounding 1.50 rating across 11 maps.
Natus Vincere and FaZe Clan will wrap up the ESL Pro League quarter-finals, with their best-of-three series taking place at 5:00PM GMT on April 8th.