With the Intel Extreme Masters Season XVI – Katowice in the rearview mirror, the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive esports scene moves to the third S-Tier tournament of 2022 – ESL Pro League Season 15, the final big event ahead of the PGL Major Antwerp.
Today, we’ll take a closer look at the event, what to expect, and which teams have what it takes to impress and are worth betting on. But firts, a few words about the ESL Pro League format.
ESL Pro League Season 15 Format
The 15th iteration of ESL Pro League will kick off on Wednesday, March 9 and run until Sunday, April 10, when the top two teams will clash in the grand finals for the lion’s share of the $823,000 prize pool and a ticket leading into the BLAST World Final 2022.
The tournament will feature 24 CS:GO teams, divided into four groups of six. The teams from each group will play each other once in a best-of-three (Bo3) game, with only the top three teams from each group advancing into the playoffs.
Group winners will proceed into the quarter-finals while the second and third-placed teams advance to the round of 12. The playoffs will use a single-elimination bracket, with all matches played as Bo3, except for the grand finals, which will be Bo5.
ESL Pro League Groups
Group A (Mar 9-13): G2 Esports, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Entropiq, Fnatic, MOUZ, LookingForOrg
Group B (Mar 16-20): Team Vitality, Virtus.pro*, FaZe Clan, FURIA Esports, ENCE, Sprout
Group C (Mar 23-27): Gambit Esports*, Team Liquid, GODSENT, BIG, Movistar Riders, Party Astronauts
Group D (Mar 30-Apr 3): Natus Vincere, Heroic, Astralis, Complexity Gaming, Evil Geniuses, AGO
* Due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, all esports organisations “with apparent ties to the Russian government, including individuals or organisations under alleged or confirmed EU sanctions related to the conflict” will not be allowed to play in any ESL tournaments. That includes Gambit Esports and Virtus.pro, who will not play under their banners; however, the players will still attend the tournament under a different name.
The Affect Of The War
We’re not going to get political here, but the Russia-Ukraine war and its effect on the players and teams can’t be ignored. Obviously, for most of the CS:GO teams, the recent events in Ukraine are just something that’s happening several hundred kilometres away, but for some, it’s way more than that.
Most notably, Natus Vincere (11/8) are a Ukrainian-Russian roster, and we saw their performances drop at the IEM Katowice shortly after the war broke out. Of course, that makes sense since the team’s star and the current best CS:GO player in the world, Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, is Ukrainian, and the added stress definitely can’t help.
He is clearly hurt with what’s happening in his home country, and I can’t imagine how hard it will be for him to focus on the game, so there is something to be said about the bookies pricing Natus Vincere as the main favourites to win ESL Pro League Season 15 (11/8). S1mple is not the only Ukrainian player on NaVi, but it’s tough to see Natus Vincere as serious title contenders if he does not play at his best.
Similarly, the trend of worse showings carried over to Russian players, who might not be the ones having their home country invaded but are getting an insane amount of hate on social media. Virtus.pro (11/1), who we backed to make the finals in Poland, looked like one of the strongest teams during the group stage and had a straightforward road to the main stage, yet they completely collapsed in the quarter-finals against G2 Esports (5/2).
Even though CIS CS:GO teams are currently some of the strongest in the world, I would avoid betting on them since we don’t know whether the players will be focused enough to play at their best. The same goes for Russian players.
That includes G2 Esports’ rookie AWPer Ilya “m0NESY” Osipov, who had a monstrous performance at IEM Katowice. However, he seemed to perform well even after the invasion happened, so who knows?
Don’t Expect Too Much From Natus Vincere
Even though the ESL Pro League is a very long tournament that will see plenty of matches and betting opportunities, there aren’t that many good outright options. As noted above, NaVi are the main favourites to win ESL Pro League (11/8), but I wouldn’t bet on them since they weren’t that good in Poland.
They can still do some damage, but I don’t expect the players to perform at 100%, which could be a problem in the latter stages of the tournament. The same goes for Gambit Esports (7/2) and Entropiq (50/1), who are a Czech organisation but a full-Russian team.
If I had to pick which team looks the strongest ahead of ESL Pro League S15, it would be FaZe Clan, who were exceptional at IEM Katowice. The team had to play without their star player Robin “ropz” Kool and were without Håvard “rain” Nygaard for the playoffs, yet they still won the title.
Admittedly, some of their success was thanks to Justin “jks” Savage, who won’t be with the team here. The Australian CS:GO pro served as a substitute and emerged as one of the best-performing players of the event.
We don’t know whether FaZe will manage to keep the wind in their sails and be just as good at ESL Pro League, but that does not explain why they are priced at 7/3 in the head-to-head market against Natus Vincere.
The IEM Katowice 2022 title was FaZe’s only notable achievement since 2019, so it doesn’t guarantee that FaZe are now suddenly one of the top teams. But with the roster this team fields, it was only a matter of time before FaZe start winning. Admittedly, at their best, NaVi are better than FaZe, but given the current situation, NaVi should not be priced at 1/6 to outperform FaZe Clan.
Heroic Should Do Better Than Gambit Esports
Gambit Esports finished IEM Katowice 2022 in fifth-sixth place, which isn’t terrible, but they were the second-favourites to go all the way, so you would expect them to do better. Still, I can’t say I was surprised with Gambit crashing out in the quarter-finals.
In the IEM Katowice 2022 preview, I said:
“Gambit Esports continue to claim how they have no issues playing on LAN, but it’s no secret that they are getting significantly better results online.”
And nothing has changed. Gambit Esports are still very talented and a scary team to play against; however, they did not show enough in Poland to deserve to be viewed as the third-favourites (7/2) to win the ESL Pro League Season 15.
In the Tournament Match-Up betting markets, Gambit got paired with Heroic (7/1) and are priced at 1/2 to outperform the Danes, while we can bet on Heroic at 6/4. There is no real reason to believe Gambit have a 66.7% chance of beating Heroic.
Admittedly, Heroic choked in the IEM Katowice 2022 semi-finals against FaZe Clan, but they were outstanding up to that point. Moreover, I wouldn’t overreach to Heroic losing that bout knowing how good FaZe were.
Realistically Gambit Esports did not show anything noteworthy in Poland. They lost against Ninjas in Pyjamas (1-2) in the first round, barely made it past Copenhagen Flames (2-1), then defeated the disjointed Team Vitality (2-0) and claimed a revenge win against Ninjas in Pyjamas (0-2), before losing against FaZe in the playoffs.
I have only two selections for this tournament, as I couldn’t find much value elsewhere. There are also many questions we don’t have an answer to – how will CIS teams perform, have the new rosters had enough time to gel together, can FaZe Clan be as dominant as they were in Poland, and will G2 Esports finally break the curse and avoid losing the grand final?
Sometimes less is more, which is why we will settle on only two bets for ESL Pro League Season 15.
Prediction: FaZe Clan to beat Natus Vincere (Tournament Match-Up) 7/2 at bet365 (0.5u)
Prediction: Heroic to beat Gambit Esports (Tournament Match-Up) – 6/4 at bet365 (0.5u)