The ESL Pro League is back for yet another iteration, this time in sunny Malta! As the second ESL Pro League event to feature brackets and last chance stages (as opposed to a more traditional league system), we can expect a month of quality competition between some of the best teams in the world.
ESL Pro League Season 18 – Group D
Cloud9 vs. Eternal Fire
Cloud9, valued at 1.072* in this opening match, have arguably the easiest run to the group’s upper bracket final. Since this team formed, they’ve played at IEM Cologne, Gamers8, and a BLAST Premier Qualifier. Given the changes and the challenges they’ve faced at some of these tournaments, they’ve done fine so far. This will be the test to show the world that Cloud9 are once again in a position to challenge for titles. On paper, this team have a ridiculous amount of firepower, but can Denis "electroNic" Sharipov harness it through his leadership? They face Eternal Fire in this opener, who are valued at 3.190*. They recently played at the aforementioned BLAST Premier Qualifier, where Cloud9 took the win 2-1. Whilst Eternal Fire weren’t able to take the victory that time around, İsmailсan "XANTARES" Dörtkardeş and Özgür "woxic" Eker were two of the highest performing players at the event. If they can continue this form going into ESL Pro League, they could certainly make a run in the lower bracket.
Complexity vs. 9INE
Complexity, valued at 2.390*, come in as the underdog in this match against 9INE, who are valued at 1.588* by Pinnacle. This match will very much depend on who has the more in form individuals, as it should go to three maps. Without a doubt we’ll see Vertigo picked by 9INE, a map they’ve become quite feared on. Unless Complexity are able to upset 9INE by winning Vertigo, I would expect 9INE to come out ahead in the series. Following the addition of Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski, the team have struggled internationally. This will be yet another opportunity for a North American team to show they’ve got what it takes, but considering that Cloud9, Liquid, Virtus.pro, and G2 exist in this group, it will be difficult for the other teams to make it to the playoffs.
Team Liquid vs. Virtus.pro
Virtus.pro, valued by Pinnacle at 1.262* in this match, have been absent from most S-Tier tournaments since their Major victory last year. They’ve been attempting to rebuild the team, primarily with the approach of removing David "n0rb3r7" Daniyelyan, adding him back, removing him again, and eventually adding him back (again). They’re almost as bad as Eternal Fire with the re-addition of players at this point. I expect them to do well in this group, especially as their opponents are reportedly missing a player. Liquid, valued at 3.910*, will reportedly be missing Robert "Patsi" Isyanov due to visa issues. His replacement would be their coach, Damian "daps" Steele. This is bad news for Liquid fans, as anyone who remembers “daps” as a player will know he was never known for his mechanical ability. Due to this, he could take over the In-Game Leader (IGL) duties and let Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis off the leash. This shouldn’t be the case, as it would go against what the team are attempting to build, but stranger things have happened at CS:GO events. Given the stand-in situation, I’d have to give the edge to Virtus.pro in this one.
G2 vs. Lynn Vision
G2, valued at 1.072* in the match, have one of the easiest openers of any team at this event. Their opponents, Lynn Vision, are valued at 9.260* by Pinnacle. Due to the recent hot streak G2 have been on, it would take something extraordinary for this game to go Lynn Vision’s way. I would expect this to be a great game for those looking to purchase G2 players in their HLTV Fantasy teams as well!
ESL Pro League Season 18 – Group C
FaZe Clan vs. 9z Team
FaZe, valued at 1.130* by Pinnacle in their opening match, will be the favourites to win Group C. Although their placements at recent events haven’t exactly been what they might have hoped for, this team are leagues above some of the competition they’ll be facing in this group. The addition of Filip "NEO" Kubski as their coach hasn’t gotten off to a great start, with a ninth-12th place finish at IEM Cologne 2023 and a ninth-16th place finish at Gamers8. This will be a good chance for the team to experiment and get back on track. 9z, valued at 6.200*, have been winning small events in South America, but haven’t been able to replicate that success in Europe.
Imperial Esports vs. fnatic
fnatic, valued at 1.552* in this opener, have been having a rough time since they made their changes during the player break. They’ve had poor results at IEM Cologne 2023, Gamers8, and RES Western European Masters: Fall 2023. Out of these, losing to Sprout and ALTERNATE aTTax to finish dead last at RES is definitely the most concerning result. The leadership change was meant to unleash the full potential of William "mezii" Merriman we’ve previously seen glimpses of, and he’ll need to reach it for fnatic to progress in Group C. Imperial, valued at 2.480* in this match, haven’t been playing very much at all. Whilst this team are no longer led by Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo, it still has some recognisable names like Henrique "HEN1" Teles, João "felps" Vasconcellos, and Ricardo "boltz" Prass. It’s difficult to rank Imperial in this group with their lack of recent playtime, but I imagine that them, fnatic, and Apeks will be battling for the third and fourth spots in this group.
Apeks vs. M80
Apeks, valued at 1.348* by Pinnacle, have had a mixed bag of results as of late. They performed fantastically at the IEM Sydney 2023 Europe Closed Qualifier, but have had terrible results at the CCT events they’ve attended. The major put a lot of pressure on this side to continue performing to a level that achieves playoff spots. Since losing Justinas "jL" Lekavicius to NAVI, they’ve been unable to find their previous form. They’ve very recently promoted Torbjørn "mithR" Nyborg as coach from Apeks Rebels, so it will be interesting to see if this can swing the results in their favour. M80, valued at 3.260* in this opener, are the American core from ATK. They have been performing very well domestically, achieving wins in various ESEA circuits and narrowly missing out on qualifying to IEM Sydney 2023. Whilst they have had good results in North America, Europe is a whole other beast. I think it’s fair to say their best chance for a win will be in the lower bracket against 5yclone or 9z, but they could surprise us if Apeks start slow.
NAVI vs. 5yclone
NAVI, valued at 1.082*, have a lot to prove at this event. During the player break, they removed three of their players and became an international team. This is a huge commitment which hasn’t yet paid off. Even without the results to back it up, I can still picture NAVI reaching the Upper Bracket Finals. Many eyes have been on Ivan "iM" Mihai, who is still yet to recapture the form that almost won him an MVP performance at the BLAST.tv Paris Major and earnt him a spot on this team. 5yclone, valued at 8.480* in this match, formed after Rare Atom released their roster earlier last month. They’ve got some of the most mechanically-gifted players coming out of Asia, such as Andrew "kaze" Khong and Chen "Moseyuh" Qianhao, but will they be enough to compete with Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyljev in their opening match?
How do you bet on ESL Pro League Season 18?
If you are not too familiar with placing bets on CS:GO, you might need a hand to navigate the various methods available for making a bet. To help, we’ve prepared a handy guide for those looking to place a bet during ESL Pro League Season 18:
Pinnacle offers a number of markets for CS:GO enthusiasts to bet on during ESL Pro League Season 18. The most popular market for esports bettors is the Money Line market, which is a bet on the winner of a particular match. Futures markets are also on offer if bettors want to bet on the team that will win ESL Pro League Season 18.
If you’re an eagle-eyed bettor, be sure to stay up to date with our ESL Pro League Season 18 odds page. Pinnacle will offer the best CS:GO odds and a wide variety of different markets, both pre-match and in-play.
ESL Pro League Season 18 – Group B
Heroic vs. Rooster
Heroic, valued at 1.011* in this matchup, should be able to take this series 2-0 without much effort. Rooster come in at 20.540* for this opening match, and rightfully so. The current world number two up against a team from “down under” ranked at 104th - it would be the biggest upset of the tournament if Rooster were to somehow win this. Heroic continue to make playoff appearances, but are still falling short of winning titles once they’ve achieved qualification into the later stages of these events. Given that that’s been the case for them throughout 2023 (other than winning the BLAST Premier Spring Final 2023), it’s a nice group for Heroic, who will be challenged by ENCE to win it.
BIG vs. Monte
These two sides recently faced off in the finals of CCT North Europe Series #7, where BIG took the victory. Despite these results, Monte are still favoured by Pinnacle at 1.813*, whilst BIG come in at 1.934* to win this opening game. It needs to be said that the win BIG achieved was a 2-0 victory, making it quite decisive. Of all the games in Group B, this should be the closest opener. Both teams have been playing a lot of Counter-Strike at events such as Pinnacle Cup V and various CCT events, so they should be fully prepared. The battle between AWPers Volodymyr "Woro2k" Veletnjuk and Mateusz "mantuu" Wilczewski could be the deciding factor in this game, and they will certainly be the ones to watch.
MOUZ vs. MIBR
MOUZ, currently valued at 1.247* in this opening match, are one of the favourites to make it out of the group. Besides Heroic and ENCE, who are a cut above the rest, MOUZ have the highest potential. Following the re-addition of Kamil "siuhy" Szkaradek, the team has been working on improving. Their victory at Thunderpick World Championship 2023: European Series #1, where they beat BIG in the finals, is a great confidence-booster moving into EPL. MIBR, valued at 3.720* in this matchup, haven’t found the same success in recent months. They’ve competed at various CCT events and took part in Gamers8, but their time in Riyadh was cut short by the harsh single-elimination format there when they lost their opening game to Vitality. Whilst a slow start isn’t uncommon for MOUZ, recent results would say they are by far the better team in this opener.
Evil Geniuses vs. ENCE
ENCE, valued at 1.088* by Pinnacle in this match, are my favourites to win this group. They have made back-to-back final appearances at big events, and even took down Heroic at Gamers8, who should be the team to challenge them to win this group. It would seem that Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer and Eetu "sAw" Saha have once again been able to create a team that can compete for titles with limited resources. The addition of Guy "NertZ" Iluz at the start of the year saw him shine in the last iteration of ESL Pro League. As they are already on a hot streak, and familiar with how to take down favourites in playoffs, I’d expect ENCE to make a very deep run at this event. Evil Geniuses, valued at 6.860* in this match, are going to have a tough time winning their individual duels. They’ve once again continued to disappoint since making roster changes, losing out on qualification for IEM Sydney to M80 and Forsaken. They may have a chance to pick up wins against Rooster and MIBR, but wins against the other teams in this group should be unlikely for EG.
ESL Pro League - Group A
Vitality vs. ORKS
For anyone unfamiliar with ORKS, you’ve clearly not been keeping up with Pinnacle Cup V! They were able to capture a 2-0 start in the Pinnacle Cup V Swiss Stage, taking down OG in the process. Unfortunately, they fell short in the following three games, and were unable to qualify to the playoffs. Łukasz "mwlky" Pachucki played great at the event, but will have the toughest competition possible in his first game in the form of Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut.
ORKS are valued at 8.470* in their opening match at ESL Pro League. Whilst most conversations about Vitality end up just discussing “ZywOo”, it’s only right that we highlight the impact Shahar "flameZ" Shushan had at Gamers8. Considering how strong the individuals of Vitality are looking in their current form, it would be unwise to gamble on ORKS in this particular match. Pinnacle values Vitality at 1.061* in this matchup, and it’s one they should win comfortably.
Astralis vs. Ninjas in Pyjamas
No matter the line-up, Ninjas in Pyjamas have famously struggled against Astralis. NiP are valued at 2.420* by Pinnacle, whilst Astralis are valued at 1.523* in this opening match. Basing this purely on recent results between the two, Astralis dominated their last match at IEM Cologne, winning it 2-0. Given that both teams have changed In-Game Leaders (IGL) during the player break, it will take a while for both to achieve the goals they will have set out for the end of CS:GO.
However, Astralis have had a much better start with a surprise playoff appearance at IEM Cologne. I believe this comes down to their individuals performing much better than those on NiP. Nicolai "dev1ce" Reedtz is as reliable as he was before he took a break, and Benjamin "blameF" Bremer is proving his ability as a caller. If I had to pick between the reliability of “dev1ce” or the inconsistency of the individuals on NiP, I’d be siding with Astralis in this one.
FURIA vs. Movistar Riders
This is a matchup comprised of two teams that are struggling to achieve wins. FURIA, valued at 1.414* by Pinnacle, have been failing to qualify for events, or simply finishing last at the ones they do qualify for. The results for Movistar Riders, valued at 2.750* by Pinnacle, are almost the same. As bad as both teams have looked, there has to be a winner, and the sheer firepower of FURIA should be enough to take this one over the line.
This would be a great opportunity for the team to build some confidence, as they have a much easier route to obtain a playoff spot than the teams featured in the previous matchups we’ve spoken about. Kaike "KSCERATO" Cerato and Yuri "yuurih" Boian should have a field day in this game, but we’ll just have to wait and see if FURIA hit an even more worrying low.
Grayhound Gaming vs. GamerLegion
GamerLegion, valued at 1.271*, are still in early stages of their new line-up after losing Kamil "siuhy" Szkaradek and Ivan "iM" Mihai. Their placement at the BLAST.tv Paris Major has been helpful in obtaining invites to tournaments, which has been good at getting them the playtime they require to get the team on the same page. They have a very good chance of the making the upper bracket finals in Season 18.
Facing Grayhound, who are valued at 3.510* by Pinnacle, isn’t as clear-cut as it once was. Looking at how the bracket is set up, I wouldn’t expect them to go without a win in this group, but GamerLegion shouldn’t be where they achieve it.
*Odds are subject to change.