ESL Pro League Season 17 begins in Malta and sets us up for over a month of Counter-Strike. Group C has two strong contenders on either side of the bracket in FaZe Clan and Vitality. However, Brazilian contenders paiN Gaming and 00NATION will look to challenge less confident teams.
An opportunity for the Intel Grand Slam
FaZe Clan were the talking point of ESL Pro League Season 16, as this would secure them the Intel Grand Slam. The Intel Grand Slam is a condition that teams have to meet to receive a prize, in this case it’s winning specific ESL and Intel sponsored events for $1,000,000. Previous winners are Astralis, Team Liquid and NAVI. Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken was on the former Team Liquid winning roster, as he now goes for his second run to win the competition. That being said, FaZe have struggled with retaining champion form since the second half of 2022. They are contenders at any event due to the sheer firepower this team possess, but can they find whatever it is they’re missing?
Another team in the Grand Slam run is Vitality. They won ESL Pro League Season 16, securing a place in the running and denying FaZe Clan a quick victory. They are the current EPL champions and any team would like to obtain back-to-back victories. Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut started the year with exceptional performances at BLAST Premier: Spring Groups and IEM Katowice. He will be aiming to keep this consistent to achieve another year as the world’s number one player. A run of form from the Israeli national Lotan "Spinx" Giladi has put Vitality in winning form, as In-Game Leader Dan "apEX" Madesclaire has hit a particularly poor run of form which saw them in a Quarter-final exit at IEM Katowice
OG and paiN Gaming (151.500*) are two of the youngest teams at the event and have shown instances of greatness over the past year. OG are a Partner Team of BLAST and have had BLAST tournaments where they’ve looked competitive against the world’s best. At the 2022 edition of Fall Groups, they came in the 1-3rd bracket of the tournament, taking down Complexity, FaZe and Astralis. Unfortunate circumstances came around for OG at IEM Katowice as Shahar "flameZ" Shushan fell ill during the lower bracket run.
Brazilian side paiN Gaming made qualification via ESL Challenger Melbourne, a tournament that also featured Imperial. They have been a promising team to look at, and can caused some damage to many of the lower ranked teams. Fellow Brazilian team 00NATION (151.500*), led by legends Marcelo "coldzera" David and Epitácio "TACO" de Melo is also in Group C. Many had high hopes for 00NATION at the IEM Rio Major 2022, but many of the Brazilian contenders at this event fell short. We are all hoping to see a classic “coldzera” performance, but as the years pass, so does the reality of that happening.
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Although Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP) have some players that have been established throughout the scene for the past few years, the new addition of Danyyl "headtr1ck" Valitov narrowly puts them in the “rising talent” part of this article. At just 18 years old, the Ukrainian has a lot to live up to given the legacy of the organisation and the impact fellow countryman Ilya "m0NESY" Osipov has had in G2. It must be said that “headtr1ck” has been thrown into a slightly more chaotic system, as NiP continue to field substitutes to best support the health of their main line-up. This is a great attribute the players can depend on, although the impact roster instability has on performances and results must be noted. It would be unwise to predict how the Ninjas will place at EPL, as I’m unsure even they know what to expect.
Grayhound (769.170*) and Rooster (3333.070*), both respectively Australia and New Zealand’s representatives, have been placed into the same group. Grayhound is a familiar name to many who have watched CS:GO over the last year, featuring familiar names like Jay "Liazz" Tregillgas. Given that both of these teams are amongst the bottom six at the event, with Rooster being ranked the lowest of any team, it isn’t expected they will progress very far in this tournament. All hope is not lost for Australian fans, as G2 should progress far in Group A with Justin "jks" Savage.
*Odds are subject to change.