ESL Pro League Season 17 begins in Malta and sets us up for over a month of Counter-Strike. Group A features some of the tournament’s favourites, seeing both G2 and Cloud9 on the same side of the bracket. This group also offers many potential upsets, with an ever-improving Fnatic and the frantic style of Mongolian side, IHC, residing at the top of the bracket.
Each group offers 4 qualification spots to Playoffs and with that in mind I think it’s best we start each of these overviews with who we think will win. Our tops picks are G2 (3.010*), Cloud9 (12.470*), Outsiders (13.010*) and Fnatic (25.970*).
Early exits and new challengers
Any regular viewers of tier-1 CS:GO will know this group has a lot of upset potential. IHC (249.990*), MIBR (151.500*), Evil Geniuses (151.500*) and Eternal Fire (75.750*) are all teams that display some of the sharpest individuals, however the teams aren’t in form or simply don’t have the same experience.
The best example of this is IHC. The Mongolian side came into the IEM Katowice Play-In stage with a decisive loss to Cloud9. After getting knocked down from such a blow, they picked themselves back up and eliminated FURIA from the Play-In and were able to enact revenge on Cloud9 in the main event. Facing Outsiders in the first round will take everything from Garidmagnai "bLitz" Byambasuren to out call the intricate mind of Dzhami "Jame" Ali. It’s possible we’re beginning to see an Asian team that can challenge teams inside of the top 20. Since IEM Katowice, IHC have moved into the top 20 and are the only Asian team to reside there.
It’s difficult for any team to look at Eternal Fire and not be concerned about facing the mechanical brilliance of İsmailсan "XANTARES" Dörtkardeş. Eternal Fire were only able to pick up two wins during Season 16 and “XANTARES” still managed to be the third best performing player at the event, with a 1.31 HLTV Rating across 11 maps. This is extremely impressive and it’s no doubt he is one of the most skilful players in the world; unfortunately, this doesn’t contribute an awful lot for a team that made a change in 8 months of 2022. When you take into account many of these are re-signings, a players longevity begins to look less secure than on a post-2021 Ninjas in Pyjamas roster.
Evil Geniuses and MIBR join from the Americas and are both teams that were eliminated during the IEM Katowice Play-In stage. Evil Geniuses have been especially disappointing for the past year, but started 2023 by taking down Heroic, who were the world number one at the time. Results following this brought the North American organisation back to the form we’ve come to known, making this game an anomaly in the regular string of losses.
It’s a shame that players like Vincent "Brehze" Cayonte and Timothy "autimatic" Ta, who displayed such a high skill ceiling previously, haven’t been able to recapture their form. EG are a partner team with ESL and BLAST, which makes it even more disappointing when they can barely compete with teams that gain placement via qualification. Time is up for this roster.
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Candidates for group success
The remaining four, previously mentioned at the start of this article, are all in contention for winning Group A. Winning a group awards a team with an immediate spot in the Quarter-finals. G2, the newly crowned world number one, will be clear favourites for this group. As when he stood in for FaZe at IEM Katowice 2022, Justin "jks" Savage is showing exceptional form at the 2023 iteration of the tournament. It’s difficult not to say Rasmus "HooXi" Nielsen truly is the “gigachad” Twitch chat ironically labelled him as, after the work he has done to excel this group of players to the next level. G2 will be favourites for the tournament, let alone the group.
Outsiders and Cloud9 both made changes following results at the IEM Rio Major 2022. Both were interesting for different reasons – Outsiders had won that particularly Major and Cloud9 were making various playoffs in 2022. Cloud9 seem to have come off the worst side of the roster changes, being eliminated dead last at IEM Katowice 2023. Many had their doubts about Timur "buster" Tulepov replacing Timofey "interz" Yakushin, and whilst I don’t think one showing is enough to judge the move, the result at IEM Katowice 2023 will need to brushed off quickly if they want to show what they’re capable of at ESL Pro League Season 17.
*Odds subject to change