ESL Pro League Season 17 is happening in Malta and sets us up for over a month of Counter-Strike. The Group Stage has concluded after four weeks of matches.
Viewers have been able to watch 64 games, totalling 156 maps. One of the biggest surprises in relation to maps is Nuke holding the top spot, being played 29 times. Nuke was the fourth most played map at IEM Katowice 2023, which could mean that lower ranked teams, who usually wouldn’t compete in the main event of a tournament like IEM Katowice, like to play this map.
The event has brought in a lot of interesting changes since the previous season, but one thing viewers have been enjoying most of all is the way Season 17 has been produced. The talent and players have had a lot of freedom to jump on the broadcast and move around the set - although not quite as much freedom as Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev had when he accidently walked into the forZe team’s booth. This event has felt more friendly and less commercial than other S-Tier events, and at times, similar to cs_summit. A huge amount of credit has to be given to the talent and teams involved for putting on such a fun event.
Now that we’ve briefly discussed some map stats and the event’s content, let’s get into some upsets and surprise victors before discussing the playoff games. Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP) and Astralis are two of the biggest names that have not made it through. Of the two, Astralis can be forgiven more easily, after suffering losses to Team Spirit, NAVI, and Team Liquid. NiP, on the other hand, lost to FaZe Clan, Grayhound Gaming, and 00NATION – a clear difference from the champions of the Astralis fixtures. Teams were given a lot of opportunities to qualify, especially if they won their opening matchup. This should have been an easy road for the Ninjas, however, they fell short once again following the loss of Hampus "hampus" Poser.
00NATION beating NiP gained them a spot in the playoffs, which I imagine came as a shock to anyone who isn’t Brazilian. Another team that surprised viewers is forZe. The Russian side took victories in both CIS derbies against NAVI and Spirit, and went on to win the group against ENCE. For those of you who have seen our podcasts surrounding the ESL Pro League, a large talking point was forZe in-game leader Andrey "Jerry" Mekhryakov. It was agreed upon by the guests that he could thrive in NAVI, and he demonstrated his capabilities in Group D.
The return to single-elimination
It’s no secret that the Group Stage for this event was awfully forgiving. Teams could lose twice before they were on their final strike for elimination, which could be the reason why we ended up seeing so many unexpected results. The playoffs return as single-elimination, but the bracket is a lot larger than we’re used to. 16 teams make up the bracket and it has two rounds before we begin the quarter-finals. The opening matchups are as follows:
- NAVI vs. 00NATION
- FURIA Esports vs. Fnatic
- paiN Gaming vs. Liquid
- G2 Esports vs. Movistar Riders
The most interesting of these matchups should be FURIA vs. Fnatic. Both teams are absolutely stacked full of talent that can change the course of the game. Kaike "KSCERATO" Cerato is by far the best Brazilian player in the scene currently, and is one of the top five Riflers in the world. William "mezii" Merriman and his band of merry men will have to do everything they possibly can to shut him down.
G2 are the projected favourites for the event, but they will have to beat Movistar Riders and ENCE to be able to play a rematch of Season 16’s semi-final against Team Vitality. This was ultimately the match that decided the champion of Season 16, and it very well could be the same here. Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut must be enjoying the air quality in Malta, as he currently holds a 1.61 HLTV rating - there’s just something about this guy and the Pro League! The young AWPer on the G2 side, Ilya "m0NESY" Osipov, hasn’t been doing too bad either, with a 1.25 HLTV rating. The Vitality stand-in, Audric "JACKZ" Jug, matches the rating of “m0NESY’, but will be heading home for playoffs as Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen returns to the line-up.
If G2 are upset by Movistar Riders or ENCE, the above is entirely speculative. However, it wouldn’t be foolish to start getting excited about this potential match-up!
Another team that is worth mentioning is FaZe Clan, who are just one win away from the Intel Grand Slam. We’ve been saying this since their victory at IEM Cologne in July 2022. However, the pressure of this prize may have been a contributing factor to their poor results at the end of 2022. Very few players have ever achieved the Intel Grand Slam, but FaZe have one of those players in the form of Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken. In terms of the events a player aims to win throughout their career, he’s pretty much done it all, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind being the first player to achieve the Intel Grand Slam twice.
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Who will claim the trophy?
It’s difficult to say who will win the ESL Pro League Season 17. So far, this event has been full of surprises, and I’m sure the playoffs will have more in store. G2 are still my favourites, but they start their journey in round 1, and it could certainly be rocky.
Cloud9 have less of an unexpected journey, as Abai "HObbit" Hasenov and his fellowship have already secured their place in the quarter-finals. This is a good place for them to be, considering the rough time they’ve had since the addition of Timur "buster" Tulepov. They’ll be hoping Team Liquid fall to either paiN or MOUZ, who reside in their portion of the bracket, having lost to them in the Season 16 quarter-finals.
Vitality, Heroic, and FaZe Clan also have a very good chance at winning the event, but have some big opponents to take down along the way. All of the teams in the playoffs have done well to earn their place here, and will give it their all to lift the trophy. Who will be victorious?