Four key storylines of ESL Pro League S17 Group B

The first week of ESL Pro League Season 17 came to an end on Sunday with a chaotic match between fnatic and Eternal Fire, which resulted in the European squad rounding out the first four teams to advance to the playoffs alongside Cloud9, Outsiders, and G2. The focus is now on Group B as the second set of teams prepares to take the field in Malta and claim the next four spots in the playoffs.

The world’s second-best team, Heroic, will headline the upcoming game week. The IEM Katowice finalists are expected to make a challenge for the title from the start by cruising through the group stage. The Danes are joined by two Brazilian representatives, FURIA and Imperial, while the Iberian duo of SAW and Movistar Riders round out Group B alongside MOUZ and BIG. The new-look German team will appear on LAN with Marcel “⁠hyped⁠” Köhn instead of Florian “⁠syrsoN⁠” Rische after the latter’s decision to step back from the roster, and will take on Complexity in the opening match.

Heroic are heavy favorites to top Group B

Group B

Can anyone slow down Heroic ahead of the playoffs?

The Casper “⁠cadiaN⁠” Møller-led squad kickstarted their year in great form by qualifying for the BLAST Premier Spring Finals and achieving a runners-up finish at IEM Katowice, which was cut short by the seemingly unbeatable G2. Heroic now come to Malta with their sights set on the trophy, with anything else other than a final appearance being considered a disappointment. The Danish squad has enough firepower to dominate most matchups, and their teamwork is second to none — other than G2, which appears as the only obstacle between Heroic and the title. The only other challenger we have seen so far is Cloud9 after the Russians topped Group A following wins against G2 and Outsiders, but their sample size with Timur “⁠buster⁠” Tulepov is still too small to seal them as title contenders.

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sh1ro dominates as Cloud9 quash G2 streak at ESL Pro League

The one player to keep an eye out for Heroic is Jakob “⁠jabbi⁠” Nygaard, especially after his magnificent performances at IEM Katowice which propelled Heroic to the final. The young Dane was untouchable throughout the event and registered a 1.27 rating across 13 maps played as well as being in the top three for several statistics such as impact rating (1.31), opening kills (46), and total headshots (155). The 19-year-old’s incredible form was, however, not enough to power Heroic to the title and they went home empty-handed, with the only consolation prize being their shutdown of G2‘s 21-map win streak.

If jabbi can carry this form at EPL and Martin “⁠stavn⁠” Lund and cadiaN continue to perform, it’s difficult to see anyone in the first stage of the tournament stopping them. Heroic start their campaign in Group B and there should really be no competition for them in this set of teams as the highest-rated teams of Complexity, FURIA, or MOUZ are nowhere near capable of stopping the Danish squad at the moment. The North American squad’s woes in the online qualifiers for IEM Rio definitely slowed down the hype train surrounding Håkon “⁠hallzerk⁠” Fjærli and company, while FURIA and MOUZ‘s flops in Katowice made it clear they are not ready to compete against the Danes.

alex’s men had a good run at CCT, but can they continue to perform in Malta?

Heroic face off against Movistar Riders for their first match, and despite the Spaniards’ short resurgence at CCT Central Europe Finals in Malta, they are nowhere near in the form necessary to beat the world’s No. 2 team in a best-of-three series. Alejandro “⁠alex⁠” Masanet‘s men have not looked the same since losing their star AWPer Alvaro “⁠SunPayus⁠” Garcia last August, and they’ve only taken one notable win over Spirit this year. Heroic should have no trouble taking the top spot in Group B as the only teams capable of stopping them — such as G2, FaZe, and Cloud9 — are not in this group.

Can BIG cope without syrsoN?

syrsoN decided to bench himself after BIG‘s disappointing 13-16th place exit from IEM Katowice 2023. Before their ill-fated last-place exit, the German team cruised through the play-in, but failed to bring the same level to the group stage and suffered back-to-back losses to G2 and Spirit, punching their ticket back home.

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BIG promote hyped to main roster; syrsoN benched

The 26-year-old marksman was the highest-rated player for BIG across his three-year stint with the organization, sporting an average 1.13 score across nearly 700 maps played. He added more than just pure fragging output for the team; his 1.19 impact rating showed that his contributions often exceeded what the scoreline showed. syrsoN was also BIG‘s most important opener, taking 22.4% of all opening duels with a 62.5% success rate, an incredible return that netted him a 1.25 score in opening kills stats. Despite all these positives in syrsoN‘s game, his main drawback was his inability to perform up to his ceiling against top opposition on LAN with just a 1.02 offline rating against top 10 teams.

Johannes “⁠tabseN⁠” Wodarz and Fatih “⁠gob b⁠” Dayik will now have to work with hyped, the young sniper from the academy, who could be living up to his name in the coming months. The 21-year-old impressed for the junior side and showed what he is capable of in his first outing alongside the seniors in the online qualifier for IEM Rio 2023, which he left with a 1.28 rating. However, hyped still has a long way to go before he’s able to perform consistently at a high level, as shown in his 0.81 rating disaster against Spirit Academy in CCT West Europe Series 1.

EPL will be hyped’s first LAN with the senior BIG lineup

hyped and syrsoN actually share a similar proportion of AWP frags, both sitting around 63% — putting them among the higher percentage users while players such as Nico “⁠nicoodoz⁠” Tamjidi and Abdul “⁠degster⁠” Gasanov get around 48% of their frags with the big green. This reliance on the AWP affected syrsoN‘s impact on the T side of certain maps, which benefit from a marksman’s flexibility with both a rifle and their weapon of choice. Fans should still expect hyped to be as reliant on the AWP as his predecessor, but should also prepare to see him less involved in opening attempts as Nils “⁠k1to⁠” Gruhne has taken the main bulk of them since his arrival (30.1% with a 49.1% success rate).

hyped will make his LAN debut with the senior side against Complexity and an in-form hallzerk in his first match at EPL. The Norwegian impressed at IEM Katowice with a 1.18 rating and powered the American squad to their best offline run since his arrival with wins over ENCE, MOUZ, and fnatic. It’s going to be a hard match for hyped, but the 21-year-old has previous LAN experience and a low-stakes, group-stage match at Pro League can actually act as the perfect entry point for a young player to ease into tier-one Counter-Strike.

Despite their recent change, BIG should still be in the discussion of teams to make it out of Group B. While they might not be competing with Heroic or MOUZ for the top two spots, they should be right in the mix with FURIA and Complexity for the third and fourth available spots in the group.

The new Imperial and KSCERATO’s red-hot form

Brazilian derbies always produce great matches, and FURIA vs. Imperial will be no exception. FURIA‘s deadly duo of Kaike “⁠KSCERATO⁠” Cerato and Yuri “⁠yuurih⁠” Santos, will take on the godfather of their scene in Gabriel “⁠FalleN⁠” Toledo and stars such as Marcelo “⁠chelo⁠” Cespedes and Jhonatan “⁠JOTA⁠” Willian. Sprinkle in the contest between Vinicius “⁠VINI⁠” Figueiredo and his old teammates, and you’ll get one of the most exciting matches of Group B.

KSCERATO will be Imperial’s main obstacle in their first series

Imperial have gone through several changes since the “Last Dance” project first joined the organization, and the lineup that previously came under criticism for being too tied up to the past now tackles the season with new faces. Coach Rafael “⁠zakk⁠” Fernandes, previously of 9z, now oversees the Brazilian project and is joined by JOTA following his transfer from MIBR. The young rifler was reunited with his ex-teammate chelo earlier this year, taking the spot left by Fernando “⁠fer⁠” Alvarenga‘s departure.

FalleN and company have only lost two matches this calendar year while competing in South America, and are currently on a seven-game streak after going through the qualifiers for the Paris Major Americas RMR and the BLAST Spring Showdown. The average rating for Imperial players during these online matches is not lower than 1.12, but it’s improbable they will all carry this form into their first offline event of the year.

EPL will be Imperial‘s first LAN event since the IEM Rio Major, so fans should not be expecting any flawless maneuvers or perfect decision-making from the players as they adjust back to offline play. The derby against FURIA will be made even more chaotic by the team’s notoriously aggressive brand of Counter-Strike, which will surely result in a spectacle for the viewers hoping for a group stage with a little more spice. The player to keep an eye out for is KSCERATO as the 23-year-old comes off one of his most impressive seasons yet, being crowned the No. 9 best player of 2022 and cementing his place as one of the world’s finest riflers.

MOUZ’s quest to redeem their failure in Poland

MOUZ‘s incredible run to the semi-finals of the IEM Rio Major last year marked one of the organization’s highest points in recent years and capped a great autumn for a team that thrived on their academy prospects. Despite their good run in Brazil, Dennis “⁠sycrone⁠” Nielsen‘s men really did not have a great deal to celebrate in 2022 and did not win a tournament for the first time in five years.

The international squad’s performance at IEM Katowice earlier this winter left a lot to be desired as they suffered back-to-back losses to OG and Complexity in the group stage before being eliminated. Dorian “⁠xertioN⁠” Berman and David “⁠frozen⁠” Čerňanský were the top performers for the team, but they received little help from their in-game leader as Christopher “⁠dexter⁠” Nong sat at rock bottom of the team’s ratings with a 0.82 average score.

More worrying, however, is Ádám “⁠torzsi⁠” Torzsás‘s inability to perform at his best since his promotion from MOUZ NXT. The Hungarian marksman was hailed as the missing piece in the MOUZ puzzle after a great stint in the academy roster, but has only averaged a 1.04 rating in the last year, not an incredible return when handling the most expensive gun in the game. dexter has to find a way to enable his AWPer to be more impacful in the server if MOUZ want to take the next step forward and become a consistent playoff presence.

torzsi will have to find a new level if MOUZ want to challenge for titles

The Europeans will line up against SAW in their first match, who come into this event after a fantastic start to the year. The Portuguese squad took home top-placed finishes at ESL Challenger League Season 43 Europe and ESL Pro League Season 17 Conference Europe as well as semi-finals from CCT South Europe Series 2 and OMEN WGR Challenge 2023, sealing the team’s highest-ever HLTV rank at No. 20. Regardless, MOUZ come into their opening match against the Iberians as the heavy favorites, and should be in the conversation for one of the four available playoffs spots.