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The ESL Pro League is in full swing. The teams from Group A are the first to compete, and their games have been underway since August 31. The top three teams from each of the four groups will qualify for the playoffs, and the rewards for the winner of the tournament are huge – a qualification spot at the BLAST World Final, and the IEM Katowice in 2023.
As most predicted, the two toppers of Group A are the indomitable Natus Vincere, and Team Vitality. All six teams will play on Saturday, and while it’s pretty obvious which three will make the cut, it’s likely that this group should still throw up some interesting results.
Ninjas in Pyjamas
NIP are heavily favoured to come out on top in this contest. While they haven’t had a great year by their own standards, they will likely make short work of their opposition. Endpoint haven’t really proved itself on the global stage yet, and have a long way to go before they can compete with teams at this level. Both teams are two games in and still waiting for a win, so at least one will be able to open their account in the coming match.
Before heading into the ESL, NIP are coming off a decent showing in the BLAST Fall Groups. They seeded 4th-6th, bringing home a prize of $17,500, in the same category as FaZe Clan and G2 Esports. But they’ve had a miserable start to the ESL, entrenched sixth and last on the standings for Group A after defeats in their two opening games. They lost dismally to Fnatic in Ancient and Nuke, 2-0 and 16-4 across both maps.
They picked Overpass as well, but unfortunately, the game did not get to that stage. Fredrik “REZ” Sterner was the sole point of solace in both games against Fnatic. The entry fragger averaged 0.65 kills in both maps, and an impact rating of 0.94 and 0.87 respectively. In both games they were totally outclassed, managing an average overall rating of 0.65 across maps, while fnatic’s was 1.45.
Team Vitality took them to the cleaners as well on Thursday, 14-16 in Nuke and 8-16 in Vertigo. Patrick ‘es3tag’ Hansen was the best of the lot, with an impact rating of 1.19 and 0.69 kills per round. But still they were no match for Vitality, whose new addition Lotan ‘Spinx’ Giladi is a class above the rest. NIP have been grouped with some tough opponents, so the start they’ve had is far from ideal. After Endpoint they will come up against Na Vi, so they certainly have to get their act together before then.
Endpoint has had just as rough a start to the ESL as their opponents in this game. They’re currently fifth seed, just one place better than NIP, and they have lost both their opening matches. They came up against Vitality in their first game, and naturally the odds were stacked against them.
The result was predictable. Endpoint lost 0-2, going down 12-16 in their own pick Vertigo and 5-16 in Inferno. In total they managed just 146 kills as opposed to their opponents’ 181, and an overall team rating of 0.87. Joey ‘CRUC1AL’ Steusel played out of his skin in Vertigo, managing 0.82 kills per round and dealing 78.2 units of damage per round while maintaining an impact rating of 1.27.
Guy ‘Nertz’ Iluz had similar figures in that map as well, 0.86 kills per round and 84.6 damage per round.It’s not surprising that they picked Vertigo considering their performance in this map wasn’t particularly bad, it’s just that their opponents were better. But overall, Endpoint’s gameplay and tactics were quite a way below the level of Vitality’s. After Vitality they lost 1-2 to Team Sprit, winning Ancient but losing Overpass and Vertigo.
Nertz was the standout performer for Endpoint again, averaging 0.76 kills per round across all three maps, and an overall impact rating of 1.20. Endpoint have to up their game, and quickly, if they want to break into the top three.
The match-up between these two teams should be quite fascinating. Team Spirit are the likelier winners, but Fnatic received a recent shot of confidence after a decent run at the IEM Road to Rio: European RMR qualifiers. Neither of these teams have inspired much confidence this year, however it should produce an interesting contest.
Fnatic are currently third on the standings, with one win and loss apiece across their matches so far. In their opening game they took Ninjas in Pyjamas to the cleaners, blowing them out of the water in two straight games. Entry fragger Fredrik “roeJ” Jørgensen was on a rampage, dealing most kills per round (42) and most damage (100.7). The new recruit, Dutch rifler Dion “FASHR” Derksen has settled well into the team too.
Against NIP he managed 1 kill per round and an impact rating of 1.27. Nico “nicoodoz” Tamjidi was unstoppable in Ancient, producing 25 kills, 126.3 units of damage, 18 AWP kills and six first kills – the highest by any player in the map across each metric. Overall, it was a clinical team effort from a well-rounded team. In their second match they came up against Na Vi, a far tougher opposition than NIP, and they lost 1-2.
They claimed a victory in the first map, Ancient, after a lengthy and closely fought battle. IGL and rifler William “mezii” Merriman stepped up to the plate and dealt 25 kills, most by any player in the map. Overall he averaged 0.83 kills per round, and an excellent impact rating of 1.45. But Na Vi are not the kind of team who will roll over without a fight. They came back roaring to take Mirage 16-8 and Inferno 16-7, and left Fnatic in their dust despite being 0-1 down.
Team Spirit headed into the ESL after a middling performance at the IEM in Cologne, where they seeded 9th-12th on the rankings. They are ranked fourth in Group A at the moment, with one and a loss each. They had a tough start to the league because Natus Vincere was their first opponent, and they were dealt a heavy 0-2 loss in their opening game.
After going down 11-16 in Nuke, they were taken apart 9-16 in Dust II. Team Spirit have three relatively new faces in their roster, Robert ‘Patsi’ Isyanov, Pavel ‘s1ren’ Ogloblin, and Ihor ‘w0nderful’ Zhdanov all signed in June. All three pulled their weight, although s1ren was a bit under par, but their efforts were still nowhere near enough to beat Na Vi. w0nderful was the top player for Spirit in Nuke, with 0.85 kills per round and 0.65 damage per round. Patsi and s1ren weren’t far behind, with 0.56 and 0.52 kills per round respectively.
The next day they beat Endpoint without too much trouble, losing Ancient 17-19 but winning Overpass 16-3 and Vertigo 22-19 and walked away with an overall rating of 1.18. Patsi was the star of the show, ending the game with most kills (81), most damage (98.3), most assists (16), most first kills (25), and the best rating (1.36) to top it off. He was far and away the best player in Vertigo, the deciding map, with 25 kills, 8 assists and 12 first kills, the best by any player in the match.
No one will disagree that Na Vi have been among the best of the best this year. They’ve had a year most other teams can only dream of, a juggernaut on their lonely path to glory. Team Vitality have been excellent, on their own terms, but one frustrating step behind Na Vi at all times. This is their chance to exact payback for the Blast Spring Finals and Fall groups, and it remains to be seen whether they’re up to the task.
Na Vi currently stand second behind Team Vitality on the rankings in Group A, with two clinical victories in their games so far. Of course it’s helped that they haven’t exactly been up against the strongest opponents. They’ve just come off a successful campaign at the Blast Premier Fall groups where they seeded 1st-3rd. In season 15 of the ESL pro league earlier this year they finished at 5th-8th seed, incidentally their worst result of 2022.
Most other teams would give an arm and a leg for a run like this, but Na Vi have a point to prove at the ESL. They swept past Team Spirit 2-0 in the opening game of the tournament, winning Nuke 16-11 and Dust II 16-9. Perfecto was a class apart in Nuke, dealing 26 kills, 94.2 damage, five assists, and four first kills, and was the best by a stretch across every single metric. Overall they inflicted 88 kills to Spirit’s 79.
B1t and w0nderful took the reins in Dust II, and ended the game with ratings of 1.6 and 1.21 respectively. Na Vi are one of the popular favourites to bring home the trophy, as they are at practically every tournament they play. Even though season 15 didn’t go according to plan, the rampage they’ve been on since then suggests they don’t intend to repeat those mistakes.
Team Vitality are top seed, kicking off their tournament with two confident, convincing wins. They walked all over Endpoint in their opening game, securing an easy 2-0 victory to open their account in the ESL. First they won Vertigo 16-12, and followed it up with a 16-5 victory in Inferno.
All eyes were on Spinx heading into this game, and although he certainly pulled his weight, it was ZywOo and apEX who stole the show for the most part. ZywOo topped the charts across both kills and damage, inflicting 50 and 98.9 respectively. He also dealt the most first kills, six, and finished with a performance rating of 1.61. apEX led the way in Inferno with 1.10 kills per round, and ZywOo’s was 1.36 in Vertigo.
Vitality had quite an easy time of it in their game against NIP as well, winning 2-0. NIP picked Nuke and Vitality picked Inferno, and though Inferno was leftover the match never got that far. Spinx thoroughly enjoyed the Vertigo map, bringing home 24 kills, four first kills and a damage of 105.2. His signing was one of the best things that could’ve happened to Vitality, who’ve had a so-so year by their own standards. Now they’re rearing to make up for all the lost time, and it’s obvious they’re going to be one of the toughest sides in the ESL this season.
|Na Vi vs Vitality, Fnatic vs Spirit, NiP vs Endpoint
|Played in Malta
|Saturday, September 3 at 6.30 AM ET
|How to watch
|Official Twitch channel
With an interest in strategy and mathematics, applying that to sports writing was the natural progression. A writer at night and the founder of a gaming company, Nikhil’s previous experience includes working with ESPN for five years. His specialization includes soccer, basketball, tennis, and esports betting. Email: [email protected]More info on Nikhil Kalro
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