ESL Pro League S4 Finals preview
As the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals are set to start, we will take a look at all 11 teams that will be competing at the event, analyzing their players, map pools and historic matchups.
The $750,000 ESL Pro League Season 4 will conclude with a LAN final that will be held this week in São Paulo, Brazil - making it the first $100,000+ CS:GO event in South America.
Due to fnatic dropping out because of personal issues, the tournament will feature 11 teams split into two groups. Each team will play every opponent in their group in a best-of-one round-robin format, with the best team from each group advancing to directly to the semi-finals, and the second and third best team moving to the quarter-finals.
The groups at ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals are as follows:
|Group A||Group B|
|OpTic||Ninjas in Pyjamas|
Even though all of the top teams played the regional online leagues, there are some notable absentees from the LAN finals with teams such as Natus Vincere, Virtus.pro, and G2 not being able to finish in the top six spots of their region and qualify.
The last minute withdrawal of fnatic, the team that finished first in the European division, was yet another blow to the already weakened tournament, leaving group A significantly less stacked compared to group B.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the teams that will be competing in Brazil this week:
|Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski||19||1.05|
|Josh "jdm64" Marzano||26||1.04|
|Nick "nitr0" Cannella||21||1.03|
|Jacob "Pimp" Winneche||21||1.02|
|Spencer "Hiko" Martin||26||1.01
* Ratings used in this article are in the past three months
The top HLTV ranked team of Group A came in seventh in the online portion of ESL Pro League - North America and made the LAN only because Renegades dropped out due to an overlap with the Asia Minor. Liquid's recent showing at ESL One New York has been solid, as they got out of the Swiss group with wins over G2 and a double over fnatic, before going out to Natus Vincere in three maps. Throughout the LAN, the team depended on EliGE's superstar performances, with others chipping in from match to match.
On the other hand, their online form has been far from impressive; a defeat to Echo Fox left them without a spot in ELEAGUE Season 2, losses to teams such as NRG, CLG and Splyce in the online portion of the Pro League took the matter of getting to the LAN out of their hands, and recent stomps from Immortals in ECS Season 2 (1-16 on Train, 2-16 on Cobblestone) are surely not instilling confidence before they face off against the Brazilians again on their home soil.
Even though the team didn't have a player change, two leadership changes happened after their top four placing in New York: nitr0 once again renounced the IGL role, passing it on to Hiko, while their coach Luis "peacemaker" Tadeu announced his departure from the team just a couple of days ago, citing “differences on doing business” as the reason.
Hiko will be taking over the IGL role in Liquid
When the two changes are combined, Liquid are facing a crisis on the tactical side of things. peacemaker looked like an important part the team, and even though he was originally picked up to be the coach-IGL, he seemingly adapted to the new coaching rules well. In his absence, the team's manager, Steve "Joka" Perino, will step in as interim head coach during ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals, but presumably in more of a motivational than a tactical coach role.
Looking at their map pool, it is interesting to note that they almost don't play Cache, a map that used to define previous iterations of Liquid. Instead, they found home on maps such as Cobblestone, Train and Dust2.
It's hard to say what we can expect from Liquid in Brazil; on LAN, they should be able to take down their North American rivals in OpTic, but as Immortals seem to have their number, they will be looking for wins over Envy or MOUZ to get out of groups.
With all three teams liking Dust2, the infamous upset map combined with an in-form EliGE might be their ticket to the playoffs.
|Kenny "kennyS" Schrub||21||1.18|
|Dan "apEX" Madesclaire||23||1.07|
|Vincent "Happy" Schopenhauer||24||1.03|
|Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt||22||1.00|
|Christophe "SIXER" Xia||25||0.91|
|Niclas "enkay J" Krumhorn (coach)|
The once dominant Frenchmen are far from their Major winning form, but have shown some signs of improvement and stability over the past couple of months. Online, they finished fifth despite a lot of stand-in issues, deploying their coach in five matches (and losing all of them), as well as using SIXER who they later picked up instead of Timothée "DEVIL" Démolon.
Since the addition of SIXER, the French team attended WESG Europe & CIS Finals, topping their group over Astralis with four straight wins before going out in the quarter-finals to Virtus.pro in three maps. Even though the final placing isn't impressive, the result was impacted more by an unlucky bracket draw than the form of NBK- and co.
EnVyUs still depend on KennyS and apEX
Their map pool relies mostly on Dust2, Cobblestone and the less and less played Cache. They play some Mirage and have shown an affinity for Nuke since the pickup of SIXER, playing it four times.
As they had some time from WESG to now, it will be interesting to see if the Boys in Blue implemented a deeper tactical system, but even without it, they are looking solid to make it out of the groups on the back of experience and their two stars. After that, it's hard to see Envy taking down teams such as SK or Dignitas, so they will need a bit more luck with the draw than they had in Kiev if they want to go far in São Paulo.
|Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas||21||1.12|
|Tarik "tarik" Celik||20||1.04|
|Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz||22||1.04|
|Keith "NAF" Markovic||18||1.04|
|William "RUSH" Wierzba||22||1.03|
stanislaw's team attended ESL One New York alongside their fellow North Americans from Liquid and had some decent results - taking best-of-one wins over Astralis and G2, but being eliminated in the end with a 16-14 loss to Virtus.pro. However, what we can draw from the results is uncertain as both of their wins have been against teams which were in bad form over the tournament.
There is no doubt about the fact OpTic are a solid team, but they still haven't proven they can take down international opposition on LAN with any sort of consistency - and that's what they will be trying to show in Brazil.
The high-quality Spanish import in the form of mixwell is still paying dividends for the team, although he has recently announced moving away from the AWP role, passing it onto NAF. The decision came after the New York event, where mixwell had some tough games against strong opposition that seemingly swayed him away from the sniper rifle.
mixwell has decided to drop the AWP after ESL One New York
In the online games they played since ESL One, not much has changed in his individual performance as he is still the strongest player for OpTic, followed by tarik, but the question mark for the team is how NAF will handle the primary AWP role on LAN. Adding in the rest of the team - stanislaw and RUSH, the team has fire power balanced throughout the team, but are seemingly missing a clear second star to help mixwell carry the load against tougher opposition.
|Henrique "HEN1" Teles||21||1.23|
|João "felps" Vasconcellos||19||1.15|
|Ricardo "boltz" Prass||19||1.15|
|Lucas "LUCAS1" Teles||21||1.04|
|Wilton "zews" Prado||28||0.90|
|Rafael "zakk" Fernandes (coach)|
The second best Brazilian team came in second in the North American division of ESL Pro League, qualified for ELEAGUE Season 2, ECS Season 2 and won the online iBUYPOWER Invitational Fall 2016 in the past couple of months, with the loss to OpTic in the qualifier for ESL One New York being their only recent online mishap.
At Northern Arena, a not-so stacked NA LAN, Immortals cruised to the finals where they took down Cloud9 and were looking in good form before their chapter at ELEAGUE. In the Turner Studios in Atlanta, the Brazilians were eliminated by losses to MOUZ and FaZe and finished last in their group, casting a shadow over all of their good results from the start of the ESL Pro League Season.
With Immortals coming in with a somewhat mixed form, the group stage could've been a more demanding task if fnatic hadn't dropped out. With the current constellation of teams in Group A, they shouldn't struggle to get out, relying on their stars felps and HEN1 to do the fragging.
The addition of zews didn't have a big impact on Immortals
Problems might arise if the team's flashy AWPer has an off game and the opposition forces them off their strong Cobblestone (15-1 in the past three months) towards something like Mirage, the map that they lost in both series at ELEAGUE.
Another question that has to be asked is how much the release of peacemaker back in the first part of the year and changing Gustavo "SHOOWTiME" Gonçalves for zews actually helped the team. It must be said that zews individually isn't dragging the team down, however, none of the roster changes seem to be adding much to the team, as they've been fluctuating between the top 8-15 spots in the ranking for quite some time now.
If ESL Pro League turns up to be another mediocre tournament, will Immortals be looking for an improvement before the Americas Minor and more importantly - where will they find it?
|Nikola "NiKo" Kovač||19||1.17|
|Christian "loWel" Garcia Antoran||19||1.08|
|Chris "chrisJ" de Jong||26||1.05|
|Timo "Spiidi" Richter||21||0.96|
|Denis "denis" Howell||22||0.92|
| Sergey "lmbt" Bezhanov (coach)
The team appropriately dubbed NiKosports has had a couple of horror months regarding roster moves, as the long awaited Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný addition didn't turn out as planned and the Czech took a (permanent) place on the bench.
On the bright side, the announcement of oskar joining the team sparked chrisJ to step up his game, as the Dutchman was the first one on the chopping board if he didn't improve. After relieving Johannes "nex" Maget from his duties and now adding loWel to the mix, MOUZ seemed to have found some sort of stability.
The Dutch sniper has found his form since oskar left the starting lineup
In Atlanta, the European team took the shortest route to the playoffs, winning two best-of-ones a row: 16-9 over Immortals on Mirage and 19-16 over Cloud9 on Dust2. The wins from MOUZ were impressive, but it has to be said that the matches were played on their two best maps. If those get banned out at the ESL Pro League Finals, NiKo and co. might find themselves in trouble even in the group stage.
However, an omnipresent problem for the team are the two support players in denis and Spiidi, who seem incapable of putting up numbers the team needs them two to to get wins against top six teams - even with an in-form superstar like NiKo in their roster.
This LAN will give us a better insight in their map-pool, especially if they reach the playoff stage, as well as how loWel fits into the composition of the team fragging wise. If he doesn't step up to be a strong third star, MOUZ will find themselves with another mediocre result in Brazil.
|Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke||19||1.16|
|Emil "Magisk" Reif||18||1.14|
|René "cajunb" Borg||26||1.13|
|Ruben "RUBINO" Villarroel||22||0.97|
|Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen||21||0.88|
|Casper "ruggah" Due (coach)|
Dignitas are coming to Brazil in strong form - after a tad disappointing second place finish at Power-LAN 2016 where they lost to Heroic, MSL's squad had two solid top four finishes: first at SL i-League StarSeries Season 2, where they lost to G2 and another at DreamHack Bucharest 2016, losing in three maps to Virtus.pro who went on to win the event.
After that, they used Philip "aizy" Aistrup as a stand in to cruise to the WESG Europe & CIS title and cemented their domestic dominance with a win at League of Sharks before adding their biggest accomplishment yet - first place at EPICENTER: Moscow, one of the most prestigious tournaments of the year.
The team's rise to the elite started when the Danish SK Gaming roster came to an end, and Dignitas used the opportunity to replace Jesper "TENZKI" Plougmann with Magisk - a rising talent at the time. Combined with k0nfig, who solidified his LAN play over the past couple of months, and cajunb fitting into the main AWP role well, the Danish team found themselves with three consistent fraggers, allowing RUBINO to move into a more supportive role for the team.
dignitas have been on a strong run since adding magiskb0y
MSL may be the statistically worst player in the roster, but with the aforementioned star trio, the team doesn't need him to help out in the fragging department much. As a leader and tactician, he showed a good understanding by adapting his tactical style to the tools he now has at his disposal.
At EPICENTER: Moscow, we saw Dignitas splitting maps with G2, Natus Vincere and Ninjas in Pyjamas, but moving on to the playoffs on round difference. In the single elimination bracket, their map pool advantage showed as they defeated fnatic, Natus Vincere and Virtus.pro - all in three map series.
Dignitas remain strong on the map that they were renowned for at the beginning of the year - Cobblestone, but also add Nuke to their locker, which they played more than any other top team. The Danes are also very strong on Mirage, followed by Dust2 and Overpass, leaving Cache and Train as their most banned maps.
Looking at their form and current placing in the HLTV ranking, Dignitas are certainly one of the favorites for the event. Their biggest challenge in São Paulo will be SK, who, despite their post-major slump, are still a very strong team.
Interestingly, there is no history between the two teams - in no iterations of any of their rosters have MSL's and Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo's teams ever met. With both teams being in group B, a best-of-one match is guaranteed, but the eventual playoff match is a much more interesting proposition. With Train being the strongest map of SK and Cache being one of the permabans of the Brazilians, the two teams match up nicely on maps such as Mirage, Cobblestone and Overpass.
Dignitas have already proven that they are an elite team with their win in Moscow, but they have a chance to take it a step further with a win in São Paulo - and start to carve their name among the legendary rosters of CS:GO.
|Marcelo "coldzera" David||21||1.25|
|Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo||25||1.13|
|Lincoln "fnx" Lau||26||1.06|
|Fernando "fer" Alvarenga||24||1.04|
|Epitacio "TACO" de Melo||21||0.98|
The era of SK, the double Major champions seems to be brought to an end as they failed to make the finals of two consecutive events - ESL One New York and EPICENTER: Moscow. The mediocre results come after a long period of the team playing without fer, who had health issues to take care of, fielding SHOOWTiME for their matches in the online portion of ESL Pro League. Along with that, following their Major win in Cologne SK decided to part way with their coach zews, who was a part of the team's rise to dominance, joining together with TACO and fnx at the end of 2015.
After winning their second Major, the Brazilians took an almost three months long LAN pause before attending ESL One New York, followed by EPICENTER: Moscow. At both events, the team had unimpressive group stage performances followed by semi-final eliminations by the hands of Virtus.pro.
That is something that could play into their favor though, as the Poles are not going to be present at the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals, and neither will Natus Vincere, who defeated them 16-6 in the group stage of the New York event, nor G2 - the team that matched up well against them in SK's most dominant era.
FalleN and co. have had a quiet period, but are looking to impress on home soil
The factor of playing on home soil is one that is often exaggerated, but due to the team coming from a region that is very rarely a host of top-level competitions, the location of the event just may have an impact on how the competition plays out. The SK players have publicly stated that this event means a lot to them, but due to the form the team is at the moment, the home soil factor could also add additional pressure to the team when things start going bad.
Keeping their composure and playing advantageous situations correctly has been a department in which FalleN's team has been unrecognizably poor at recent LAN events, and is something they certainly need to improve if they wish to make the São Paulo crowd happy and take the title.
Ninjas in Pyjamas (#6)
|Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund||26||1.11|
|Richard "Xizt" Landström||25||1.08|
|Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg||28||1.07|
|Adam "friberg" Friberg||25||1.05|
|Mikail "Maikelele" Bill (stand-in)||25||1.01|
Ninjas in Pyjamas travel to Brazil after a group stage exit in Moscow that told us very little. The Swedes split maps with everyone in their group - as did every other team in Group A, and got eliminated due to round difference. Before that, Ninjas in Pyjamas were triumphant at SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 Finals, defeating G2 in the finals and a deflated Cloud9 in the semis, while having solid results in the online portion of ESL Pro League to secure a second spot in the European division, of the competition.
The coach rule change and Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi's injury that forced them to use Maikelele for over a month now seemingly didn't impact them that much, as the Ninjas continue to be strong contenders but are still some distance away from breaking into the top 3-4 elite teams.
Statistically, it's still a f0rest and GeT_RiGhT show, with Maikelele filling in the role of the primary AWPer to allow f0rest more freedom. However, the often criticized friberg seems to be stepping up his game over the last two tournaments, the continuation of the trend is something to look out for in Brazil.
Can friberg continue with his strong showings at the Pro League Finals?
Looking at the group stage in Brazil, Ninjas in Pyjamas's unsatisfying exit from group A at EPICENTER is followed by another strong group at the ESL Pro League Finals. With three teams going through to the playoffs and Dignitas and SK in their group, the Swedes either must keep a clean record against the lower ranked teams, or grab a win or two against the tournament favorites to make it out.
Ninjas in Pyjamas are still looking solid to make it out of the group, and after that, everything depends on what team shows up to play.
Will we see an explosive, dominant performance from the Ninjas or a timid display, similar to the one we saw versus Natus Vincere in the deciding match of EPICENTER?
|Jake "Stewie2K" Yip||18||1.13|
|Timothy "autimatic" Ta||20||1.13|
|Mike "shroud" Grzesiek||22||1.10|
|Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert||25||1.06|
|Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham||23||1.05|
n0thing's team departed to Brazil after a disappointing loss to FaZe in the group stage of ELEAGUE Season 2. Considering that they were having a solid LAN run and only lost to the group winners MOUZ in overtime, Cloud9 will be arriving to São Paulo a bit deflated.
Together with Stewie2K, the ex-TSM player was the main driving factor in the first place finish in the North American division of ESL Pro League, as well as solid playoff runs at SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 and DreamHack Bucharest, where they finished 3-4th and 2nd respectively.
Except the star duo, the veteran n0thing also picked up individually in recent times, but the main stars of the 2015 summer run - shroud and Skadoodle have dropped off, especially on LAN and against top level opposition.
autimatic is doing his job - can the rest of Cloud9 step up to the task?
That is in fact where this team struggled the most - when facing individually strong players, which this group is full of, the playmaking effect of Stewie2K goes down, and shroud and Skadoodle are not there to take over the load in the fragging department. With no greater tactical foundation, the team has at times looked helpless against teams such as Ninjas in Pyjamas and Virtus.pro.
Even though Cloud9 are still a solid team that could squeeze through in a few BO1's to get to the playoffs, the odds are against them with Dignitas, SK and Ninjas in Pyjamas in their group, as well as the individually strong FaZe.
|Aleksi "allu" Jalli||24||1.09|
|Håvard "rain" Nygaard||22||1.08|
|Joakim "jkaem" Myrbostad||22||1.03|
|Philip "aizy" Aistrup||20||1.00|
|Finn "karrigan" Andersen||26||0.95|
|Robert "RobbaN" Dahlström (coach)|
The Nordic mix of players impressed at ELEAGUE, in their first showing after picking up karrigan. After losing the initial best-of-one against Cloud9, FaZe managed to defeat both Immortals and Cloud9 in best-of-three series to grab a spot in the playoffs.
Over the course of the group stage FaZe interestingly only lost on Train - their home map before karrigan joined the team - however, two of the three losses were in overtime. Except Train, they also showed an affinity for Overpass and Mirage, with Cobblestone being one of their permabans over the course of the last three months.
FaZe have had their best result of the year two days after picking up karrigan
Individually, the Finnish sniper allu has been a solid rock for the team, with rain being the most prominent rifler. jkaem had a solid ELEAGUE, but hasn't been having star-level performances for some time, and neither has aizy. However, with karrigan's addition to the team, activating at least one of those two players is probably one of the goals if he wishes for FaZe to be propelled into the top 8 teams of the world.
At ESL Pro League Season 4 finals, they are in a similar situation to Cloud9 - both teams lack a tactical backbone at the moment, so they will be relying on simple stuff and trying to upset one of the higher ranked teams and secure wins against Cloud9 and NRG to make it through to the playoffs.
|Peter "ptr" Gurney||26||1.18|
|Johannes "tabseN" Wodarz||21||1.10|
|Jacob "FugLy" Medina||21||1.01|
|Nikola "LEGIJA" Ninić||26||0.92|
|Fatih "gob b" Dayik||29||0.85|
The North American based team populated by mostly European players secured the 5th spot in the NA division of ESL Pro League Season 4 by playing a lot of Cobblestone, Mirage and Dust2 with a fair bit of success.
The team relies on the AWPing of ptr and strong rifling of their most recent pickup tabseN, but looks like it still lacks firepower with FugLy and LEGIJA being more supportive players, and their tactician gob b being individually poor for almost all of his career in CS:GO.
Will tabseN help NRG upset another strong team on LAN?
When we add the fact that ptr's level mostly goes down a notch at LAN events, it's hard to see how they could do much more in São Paulo than get a single map upset.
On the bright side, NRG has nothing to lose at the event - a group stage exit is expected, so the team can enter every match with no pressure and potentially take a map or two if their two key players - ptr and tabseN, go off at the same time.
Professeur writes for HLTV.org and can be found on Twitter.