Five storylines to follow during ESL Pro League Groups A and B

Roster changes and inconsistent results dominate the headlines ahead of the first two ESL Pro League groups.

ESL Pro League Season 13 will run between March 8 and April 11 with 24 of the world’s best teams in contention. The tournament will kick off with the group stage, featuring four six-team groups and a round-robin format, with the top three sides of each group advancing to the playoffs. The second and third-placed sides in each group will go to the Round of 12, while the top seeds will face off in a play-in, with the winners going to the semi-finals and the losers to the quarter-finals.

ESL Pro League will run for over a month with 24 teams in contention

ESL had originally hoped to have the playoffs held at a studio in Malta, marking a transition back to LAN, but travel restrictions and quarantine regulations in Europe have forced the tournament organiser to scrap those plans.

The group stage will be played progressively, with Group A taking place between March 8 and 12, and Group B following right after, between March 13 and 18, setting up a packed schedule full of top contenders clashing, many of whom are still looking to prove themselves after underwhelming starts to 2021 or trying to stabilize following roster changes. Below are some of the storylines to explore as the first two groups get under way:

Roster changes aplenty

Three teams are coming into Group A with fresh starting lineups: FunPlus Phoenix have brought in Miikka "⁠suNny⁠" Kemppi as a stand-in and in-game leader, Heroic are playing their first proper event with Ismail "⁠refrezh⁠" Ali and Rasmus "⁠sjuush⁠" Beck, and OG are expected to continue to field Nikolaj "⁠niko⁠" Kristensen, who was picked up ahead of the DreamHack Masters Spring qualifier.

If early results are anything to go by, Heroic seem to be adapting well to the new players as they made it through the DreamHack Masters Spring qualifier by beating VOYVODA and Cloud9 without dropping a map, although the team's first big test will only come now.

suNny will be returning to the servers for the first time this year with FunPlus Phoenix to try to take the European team to the next level after they showed great potential in smaller tournaments with Chris "⁠chrisJ⁠" de Jong as a stand-in, finishing second in DreamHack Open January — losing only to Evil Geniuses and Spirit — and beating Gambit in the Snow Sweet Snow 1 grand final. Right now, there are more questions than answers about FPX, and fans should be feeling somewhat apprehensive to see the keys to the team handed to someone who might not be here for the long haul.

OG, who recently removed Nathan "⁠NBK-⁠" Schmitt from the starting five after plateauing and failing to make progress for several months, have taken a steep drop in the ranking and are sitting in 17th place. They will nonetheless be gunning to finish top three in their group and prove they are a playoff contender, although a recent thrashing at the hands of Complexity and an upset by VOYVODA in the DreamHack Masters Spring qualifier certainly shook the squad's confidence.

G2 will play ESL Pro League without a dedicated AWPer after removing kennyS

Possibly the most notorious of all of the changes ahead of the upcoming Pro League season was made in Group B by G2, who benched Kenny "⁠kennyS⁠" Schrub after four years of the French sniper starting for the squad. The striking move came after a slew of barely average or below average performances by the AWPer and middling results for the team, who decided to bring Audric "⁠JACKZ⁠" Jug back to the starting lineup.

ESL Pro League will be an interesting evaluation of how the Franco-Bosnian squad want to proceed in the future as a role shuffle has taken place following kennyS’ departure — with Nikola "⁠NiKo⁠" Kovač now set to take the 'Big Green' when necessary. The team's coach, Damien "⁠maLeK⁠" Marcel, believes the switch will add "more flexibility within our game and the current meta," but such a meaningful change could also bring with it equally large growing pains in the short term.

Can Complexity find a way to get the best out of jks?

Complexity peaked at No.5 in the world ranking last year after winning BLAST Premier Spring Europe, but not long after Owen "⁠oBo⁠" Schlatter departed the squad, they began to slide down the rankings until finally settling for Justin "⁠jks⁠" Savage as their new fifth. The Australian took a leap away from his countrymen for the first time in a high-profile move, but strong results have been hard to come by as Complexity have yet to find how to make the most of their firepower-heavy roster — possibly in part due to Valentin "⁠poizon⁠" Vasilev's absence for almost two months halting the team's progress.

jks has struggled to perform at his best in Complexity

The Bulgarian AWPer’s return in the BLAST Premier Spring Groups gave Complexity the boost they needed as they picked up 2-0 series wins against Vitality, G2 and Evil Geniuses. It looked like they had finally found their way, but the IEM Katowice Play-In followed and Complexity’s struggles returned as they went out in 9-12th place, missing out on a spot in the main stage. Once again, jks wasn’t at his best with a 0.92 rating, showing there is still something stopping the two-time top 20 player of the year from playing to his full potential.

Complexity will go up against a group of teams that have either had struggles of their own or faced recent roster changes, which could be a good measuring stick to gauge where they stand as they continue to try to find a winning combination. If taking past performances into consideration, that could mean getting jks comfortable and firing on all cylinders as the team seem to reap their best results every time the Australian puts on solid performances — like in IEM Beijing-Haidian last year and in the BLAST Premier Spring group stage this year.

First real test for FaZe and mouz under new leadership

FaZe and MOUZ were both talking points last month when they changed in-game leaders on the eve of IEM Katowice, Finn "⁠karrigan⁠" Andersen going back to FaZe and MOUZ importing Christopher "⁠dexter⁠" Nong, but they were thrown into a stacked event without time to set a plan in motion. MOUZ made their debut in the Play-In stage and FaZe in the main tournament, with neither team managing to go deep.

FaZe will be looking to give a better account of themselves after the return of karrigan, and although the Danish tactician has said that his plan is for the team to continue to develop until the Major comes around, the star-studded roster will no doubt want to prove that they are once again a top contender and a team to be feared, which hasn't always been the case in the last year.

karrigan will face his former mousesports teammates in Group B

MOUZ made it through the IEM Katowice Play-In, edging past Renegades, beating Complexity and taking a map off of the tournament’s champions, Gambit, but in the main tournament, they lost four straight maps — albeit to two of the strongest competitors at the tournament, Astralis and Gambit —, making it a bittersweet debut.

Having played their last official match on February 19, MOUZ have had some time to tackle some of the issues dexter has identified in his first few weeks on the job. He should now be more settled into his new life in Europe and have a better grasp of how he wants to run his playbook.

Vitality look ahead after turbulent month

Vitality, a top-three team in 2020, started off the year with a third-place finish in the BLAST Premier Global Final, narrowly missing out on a grand final appearance after losing to the top two teams of the previous year and of that tournament, Astralis and Natus Vincere. Despite the solid start, internal problems at the beginning of February put a damper on the French squad’s efforts as Dan "⁠apEX⁠" Madesclaire ended up on the sidelines following their opening BLAST Premier Spring Groups match, a 0-2 loss to Complexity, and the team bombed out in last place without their IGL, losing 1-2 to Evil Geniuses.

Vitality struggled in February, dropping three spots in the team ranking

apEX returned to the starting five ahead of IEM Katowice, but Vitality failed to take off despite winning their opening match against OG, going on to lose against Liquid and Virtus.pro in what ended up being a 9-12th place finish. The instability in February also affected the team's star player, Mathieu "⁠ZywOo⁠" Herbaut, who was well below his usual numbers. A few weeks with no tournament play may have given Vitality just enough time to refocus and work out the kinks before their opening match against FaZe in Group B.

Which side of NIP will we see?

NIP got off to a flying start after bringing in Erik "⁠ztr⁠" Gustafsson at the beginning of February, securing a spot in the BLAST Premier Spring Finals and going through the IEM Katowice Play-In with a 2-0 record. The Ninjas did so by beating several high-profile squads, taking down both BIG and Astralis in the BLAST tournament, and Complexity and Virtus.pro in the ESL competition, unexpected results after picking up a 17-year-old player without experience at a high level.

Will NIP be able to put their best version forth consistently?

Hampus "⁠hampus⁠" Poser’s charges weren’t able to keep the results up after the Play-In, however, and were taken out swiftly in the main tournament, in which they lost their opening series to FURIA 0-2 before being knocked out by Virtus.pro, once again without being able to win a map in the series.

One month into their time with ztr in the starting five, NIP will now have the chance to measure where they stand and how far they have come since parting ways with Simon "⁠twist⁠" Eliasson as the Swedes will face five teams with plenty of firepower in Group B and they will have to finish at least better than three of them to secure a spot in the next round of play.

France Nathan 'NBK-' Schmitt
Nathan 'NBK-' Schmitt
Age:
28
Team:
Rating 1.0:
1.03
Maps played:
1919
KPR:
0.70
DPR:
0.67
Denmark Rasmus 'sjuush' Beck
Rasmus 'sjuush' Beck
Age:
23
Team:
Rating 1.0:
1.04
Maps played:
613
KPR:
0.70
DPR:
0.64
Australia Justin 'jks' Savage
Justin 'jks' Savage
Age:
26
Team:
Rating 1.0:
1.08
Maps played:
1044
KPR:
0.71
DPR:
0.63
France Damien 'maLeK' Marcel
Damien 'maLeK' Marcel
Age:
36
Team:
Sweden Simon 'twist' Eliasson
Simon 'twist' Eliasson
Age:
27
Team:
Rating 1.0:
1.06
Maps played:
1432
KPR:
0.72
DPR:
0.67
United States Owen 'oBo' Schlatter
Owen 'oBo' Schlatter
Age:
19
Rating 1.0:
1.05
Maps played:
282
KPR:
0.71
DPR:
0.66
Denmark Nikolaj 'niko' Kristensen
Nikolaj 'niko' Kristensen
Age:
24
Team:
Rating 1.0:
1.03
Maps played:
1090
KPR:
0.70
DPR:
0.66
France Dan 'apEX' Madesclaire
Dan 'apEX' Madesclaire
Age:
29
Team:
Rating 1.0:
1.03
Maps played:
1769
KPR:
0.72
DPR:
0.70
Australia Christopher 'dexter' Nong
Christopher 'dexter' Nong
Age:
27
Team:
Rating 1.0:
1.14
Maps played:
772
KPR:
0.78
DPR:
0.65
France Audric 'JACKZ' Jug
Audric 'JACKZ' Jug
Age:
29
Team:
Rating 1.0:
1.02
Maps played:
839
KPR:
0.70
DPR:
0.68
Bosnia and Herzegovina Nikola 'NiKo' Kovač
Nikola 'NiKo' Kovač
Age:
25
Team:
Rating 1.0:
1.16
Maps played:
1381
KPR:
0.80
DPR:
0.67
Bulgaria Valentin 'poizon' Vasilev
Valentin 'poizon' Vasilev
Age:
23
Team:
Rating 1.0:
1.13
Maps played:
940
KPR:
0.75
DPR:
0.63
Sweden Hampus 'hampus' Poser
Hampus 'hampus' Poser
Age:
23
Team:
Rating 1.0:
1.02
Maps played:
1123
KPR:
0.71
DPR:
0.69
Sweden Erik 'ztr' Gustafsson
Erik 'ztr' Gustafsson
Age:
18
Team:
Rating 1.0:
0.96
Maps played:
98
KPR:
0.66
DPR:
0.70
Finland Miikka 'suNny' Kemppi
Miikka 'suNny' Kemppi
Age:
27
Rating 1.0:
1.06
Maps played:
1191
KPR:
0.74
DPR:
0.69
Netherlands Chris 'chrisJ' de Jong
Chris 'chrisJ' de Jong
Age:
32
Team:
Rating 1.0:
1.02
Maps played:
1722
KPR:
0.68
DPR:
0.66
Denmark Finn 'karrigan' Andersen
Finn 'karrigan' Andersen
Age:
32
Team:
Rating 1.0:
0.92
Maps played:
1790
KPR:
0.63
DPR:
0.69
Denmark Ismail 'refrezh' Ali
Ismail 'refrezh' Ali
Age:
24
Team:
Rating 1.0:
1.06
Maps played:
773
KPR:
0.72
DPR:
0.65
France Mathieu 'ZywOo' Herbaut
Mathieu 'ZywOo' Herbaut
Age:
21
Team:
Rating 1.0:
1.28
Maps played:
785
KPR:
0.86
DPR:
0.62
France Kenny 'kennyS' Schrub
Kenny 'kennyS' Schrub
Age:
27
Team:
Rating 1.0:
1.13
Maps played:
1841
KPR:
0.76
DPR:
0.63
POG
2021-03-08 10:01
3 replies
#16
 | 
Australia B_Tannen
YTB
2021-03-08 10:05
2 replies
#25
 | 
Australia opzy
YTB
2021-03-08 10:17
1 reply
FTB
2021-03-08 13:14
nice
2021-03-08 10:02
1 reply
Heroic gonna rekt group A😎
2021-03-08 12:09
#3
 | 
Sweden AFCHannes
EZ4ENCE IN EPL (fr tho like were actually fucked, nice to see ence back tho :)
2021-03-08 10:02
3 replies
EZ4ENCE
2021-03-08 10:03
1 reply
EZ4ENCE
2021-03-08 11:14
EZ4ENCE
2021-03-08 11:18
#4
 | 
Pakistan LoOuU2
Actually the 2 most exciting groups with many teams in either slump or with a few changes in their lineups , interesting to see how it all turns out. Group 3 and 4 on the other hand..
2021-03-08 10:06
4 replies
to be fair also interesting to watch who is gonna take first place cuz it give you so much, you play in 1/4 with second chane to play 1/4 again, while 2nd spot give you 1/16, so interesting to watch can VP prove 1 more time that they able to beat astralis and liquid and can navi surpass gambit? ESL worst ogr in entire universe when it comes to seeding, they always fucked up so hard, group A is a fucking joke and have 0 tier-1 teams, while group D have 3 top-5 teams (in real form liquid > vitality) group C have 2 team that won last 2 big events and 3 joke team wtf? why gambit matched with navi? and why 3 probably worst teams in event in same group Also ESL have shitty invite system and we not gonna see amazing spirit out there but yea 3 br teams)))!@#)
2021-03-08 10:17
3 replies
#33
 | 
Pakistan LoOuU2
yea ESL generally do always end up screwing with their groups and such , mostly its because of their own ESL ranking on which all the invites and seeds are based on. I too am really sad that Spirit arent in attendance here and somehow all 3 BR teams are in the same group. Both Group C and D really are uncontested while both A and B seem to be up for grabs.
2021-03-08 11:17
2 replies
yep, group A and B kinda stacked, but stacked by tier-2 teams i dont think any team from A and B gonna reach finals and even not worth to play in semis, but i bet esl retards gonna mached A and B group winner to play for semis spot tier-2 team like BIG gonna play agaist new faze roster for semis spot, while navi/gambit gonna fight vp/astrais/liquid 5 best team right now for 2nd semis spot while 1 tier-2 can get it for free, but if dont and A play C and B play D in semi finals gonna be team only from group C and D, maybe just faze can surprise and took semis spot or just vitality get their form back
2021-03-08 14:35
1 reply
#62
 | 
Pakistan LoOuU2
I hear what you are saying and I understand the point you are trying to make which makes sense. Groups really should have been better.
2021-03-08 16:33
Glhf
2021-03-08 10:02
Doesn't matter navi will win the event
2021-03-08 10:02
4 replies
-1 only if s0mple and boom will carry the team
2021-03-08 10:03
#20
 | 
Indonesia woooi15
remember last event? even lulquid beat them
2021-03-08 10:09
1 reply
#52
 | 
Russia ToughGuy
fluke
2021-03-08 13:03
Nice bait.
2021-03-08 10:55
#8
 | 
South Africa ZNDC
nice
2021-03-08 10:03
EZ FOR?
2021-03-08 10:03
7 replies
ence or vp
2021-03-08 10:04
6 replies
I want say group a and b So ez for Ence and maybe BIG
2021-03-08 10:30
5 replies
yes EZ4ENCE
2021-03-08 11:24
1 reply
EZFORENCE
2021-03-08 11:53
In what regards? Beating some shitty teams in snow sweet snow doesn't mean it's going to be easy.
2021-03-08 12:08
2 replies
OK
2021-03-08 12:46
1 reply
Ok
2021-03-08 13:22
#10
 | 
Netherlands BigBoyTies
OG picked up niko on loan?! Lets gooo
2021-03-08 10:03
5 replies
Danish Niko, not Bosnian superstar Niko :p
2021-03-08 11:36
4 replies
#40
 | 
Netherlands BigBoyTies
I know! Still lets gooo :)
2021-03-08 11:57
3 replies
OG will sadly bomb out of groups
2021-03-08 12:08
2 replies
#46
 | 
Netherlands BigBoyTies
Hell naw!
2021-03-08 12:16
1 reply
I have no high hopes only wishes :(
2021-03-08 12:33
Faze will rek everyone lol
2021-03-08 10:04
JKS stop whiffing >:(
2021-03-08 10:05
lets go renegades ♥
2021-03-08 10:05
FazeUpAssDown
2021-03-08 10:06
#18
 | 
New Zealand SWARN151
Cool!
2021-03-08 10:07
#19
 | 
France Uexo
#VforVictory
2021-03-08 10:07
Only shitty international teams LUL Ez for Vitality, heroic and nip.
2021-03-08 10:10
3 replies
#26
 | 
Jordan Zereeni
Heroix??? nip?? 0/8
2021-03-08 10:21
1 reply
??? Best teams here in order: Vit Heroic Nip G2 COL
2021-03-08 13:41
+1 EZ4HEROIC
2021-03-08 12:10
EZ4ASTRALIS
2021-03-08 10:14
#23
 | 
Serbia LtN))
cool
2021-03-08 10:15
#28
 | 
United States Hindy
FaZe will go 5-0
2021-03-08 10:33
Renegades will go 3-2 and make it out of groups ez
2021-03-08 10:45
#30
 | 
Finland Dulc3t
How OG can play with niko if Heroic is in same tournament?
2021-03-08 10:46
1 reply
#35
 | 
Ukraine futplxyer
heroic have allowed him to play as he's benched and OG paid them
2021-03-08 11:23
How much ence paid esl to not put them in the same group as OG and FPX so they cant get embarrassed again by their former players?
2021-03-08 11:42
#43
RpK | 
Finland Lattee
this should be interesting
2021-03-08 12:09
Can Complexity find a way to get the best out of jks? Theyve already done that. And hes a bot still.
2021-03-08 12:59
#55
 | 
Germany F0kussi3rt
#GoBIGorGoHome
2021-03-08 13:33
nothing about the renegades wasted reading time thanks hltv ...
2021-03-08 13:45
#58
 | 
Poland SebL
Group A could be really surprising since 3 teams are after big changes. I would expect Complexity to go out in groups since the structure of this team doesn't really exist. I don't know what to expect from FaZe and mouz since again those lineups are new, and I have no idea how will they work. I would also expect Vitality to continue the struggle, since they really hasn't showed anything since apEXs comeback. I consider NIP still a new lineup with ztr aswell so it's hard to predict what is to come from them aswell. This will be a very interesting tournament, GL to all teams.
2021-03-08 13:52
Ez gambit vp or liquid
2021-03-08 14:33
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