The three favorites seem set on paper, but can a switch-up like in Group B happen here?
ESL Pro League Season 14’s Group D is set to begin this Wednesday, September 1. It is the final of four groups in this season of EPL, with six teams playing in a round-robin format and competing for three spots in the twelve-team playoffs. Alongside partner teams NIP and Liquid, the group features two world ranking invites Gambit and FURIA and ESEA Premier teams Entropiq and TeamOne.
In this preview, we will cover each team within Group D and break down the main storylines for them coming into this event. The group seems to be fairly predictable, with Gambit, NIP, and Liquid being the favorites to advance, sitting a cut above the Nicholas “guerri” Nogueira-infused FURIA and the two Premier teams.
As the longest-reigning #1 team in 2021, Gambit come into Pro League looking to reinstate themselves at the top after Natus Vincere overtook them in July. Other than seeking revenge for losing in the StarLadder CIS RMR final, they will want to prove to the world that their loss to FaZe at IEM Cologne isn’t indicative of their future and that they can still fight for titles.
As for Cologne, while Gambit didn’t achieve the result they wanted, it was still a strong performance for the team’s first tier-one LAN outing with such high expectations. Decisive victories over mousesports and NIP and extremely close losses to G2 and FaZe is nothing to scoff at, but for the former number one team, it just isn’t enough to go out in the round of six.
The other storyline for Gambit will be the return of their coach Ivan “F_1N” Kochugov, whose ESIC ban for abuse of the coach bug with Gambit Youngsters concluded in June. During the time of his ban, Gambit CEO Konstantin “groove” Pikiner stood in as coach and the team rose from a top 30 team to the best in the world.
Their group-wide head-to-head is essentially flawless, going 2-0 in matches against NIP, FURIA, the Winstrike/Entropiq core, and TeamOne during 2021. They have not faced Liquid during this year however, with EPL marking the first time these two cores will have ever played each other. Much like Natus Vincere in Group C, Gambit is the safest bet to advance, and will likely be battling for top four come playoffs.
NIP is a team who has steadily risen through the ranks since April this year, starting with a top-four placing at ESL Pro League Season 13. Shortly after, they made the massive addition of Nicolai “device” Reedtz and made an impressive top-two finish at Flashpoint Season 3. While their placings have dipped slightly after the addition of Linus “LNZ” Holtäng to replace Erik “ztr” Gustafsson, they’ve still been solid, only being eliminated by Virtus.pro or G2 in their last three events.
A potential stumbling block is their early-tournament game. At both IEM Summer and the BLAST Spring Finals, NIP lost to teams ranked below them in their initial matches (OG and Complexity, respectively) before going on lower bracket runs that eventually ended in losses to Virtus.pro and G2. Their first game in EPL against Liquid will be a rematch of their initial main-event game from IEM Cologne, which saw the Swedish side win 2-1. Another rematch from Cologne will be their encounter versus Gambit, although that game will be more important for Gambit going forward than NIP.
NIP‘s head-to-head in this group is not very telling, as apart from a 0-2 record against Gambit and a 1-0 record against Liquid, they only sport a series loss to FURIA in March at IEM Katowice, not having faced Entropiq or TeamOne all year. Overall, NIP should still advance to the playoffs, due to the inexperience of the Premier teams and becoming more accustomed to playing with LNZ.
FURIA‘s main storyline coming into this season of EPL is their roster troubles. After having played with Lucas “honda” Cano for a couple months due to the benching of Paytyn “junior” Johnson, FURIA looked to swap the young Brazilian with a different player from their academy team — André “drop” Abreu. Due to the Pro League roster lock, FURIA was instead going to play the event with honda, but now after honda‘s mother tested positive for the coronavirus and the 21-year-old stayed at home, it is coach guerri who will play with the team during EPL.
The Brazilian side seems to have stayed in Europe for most of the Summer this year, playing in some online cups before attending IEM Cologne. Their recent results haven’t been particularly strong, suffering a loss to 1WIN at Spring Sweet Spring #3, and only defeating Renegades at Cologne. This puts FURIA in an especially tough spot, as playing with a dead lineup after a couple months of rough results will likely have an impact on team morale.
If we can gather anything from their head-to-head, it’s that FURIA will probably lose to both Gambit and Liquid, as they are 0-2 against both and are unlikely to break the run with the coach playing. Their record against NIP was mentioned above, but with both lineups having changed since then, nothing can really be said about that matchup based on the past result.
FURIA certainly have a slim shot at making the top three in Group D, but I wouldn’t set their chances very high at all. Not only would they need to take down both TeamOne and Entropiq, which I wouldn’t say is guaranteed based on the latter’s recent performances, but they’d likely need to beat one of NIP or Liquid, which is a really hard sell for a lineup using a stand-in.
Liquid has been very inactive in the past couple of months, with IEM Cologne being their only outing since May. The team has been in a weird position during 2021, trying to return to their place at the top of world Counter-Strike after spending almost a year only competing in North America.
The long break both before Cologne and before Pro League now should have given them plenty of time to reacquaint themselves with Eric “adreN” Hoag after the departure of Jason “moses” O’Toole and get used to the in-game leading of Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo, who recently took over again from Jake “Stewie2K” Yip. While having time to rest, recuperate, and prepare is nice, being so inactive during the summer puts immense pressure on the NA side to perform well at EPL.
Liquid is the prime example as to why head-to-heads mean so little in this group, as their only meetings with other teams in Group D this year are the aforementioned records against NIP and FURIA, which came at only two events. And with the lack of recent tier-one results across the board, we have to rely on our past knowledge of the team and players. It’ll be a tough fight, but I expect Liquid to come through in the end and to secure at least two or three victories and slide into the playoffs.
On the topic of team activity, Entropiq ends up as the polar opposite of Liquid, as they participated in nine different events in the past three months. Among other results, they won Funspark ULTI 2021 Europe Season 2, European Development Championship Season 4, and the recent Malta Vibes Knockout Series 1. However, the Russian side haven’t participated in any tier-one events during this time, meaning they lack consistent experience against the very best teams.
The lineup have certainly pulled off some upsets in the last couple months, in particular their victory over ENCE last week in the Malta Vibes final, but translating that form to a tier-one event with the additional pressure that comes with it is difficult. There certainly is precedent for this at Pro League though, with forZe taking down the likes of G2, Virtus.pro, and Complexity to place second in Group B.
The player to keep an eye on from the Entropiq side is undeniably Aleksey “El1an” Gusev, the team’s AWPer, who has posted a ridiculous 1.27 rating over the past three months. The young Russian has long been considered a big prospect from the CIS region, and this event serves as a great time for him to prove himself as potentially one of the best in the world.
Despite winning ESEA Premier Season 37, TeamOne haven’t had particularly strong results in the past couple of months, even within North America. While they went out last at the IEM Cologne Play-In in July, they still took a map off of Sprout, which is still a level above the expectation of most tier-two NA squads.
Even though the Brazilian side doesn’t have any expectations placed on them, that shouldn’t be used as a knock on them. TeamOne are the second-lowest-ranked team participating in EPL, just above Bad News Bears, and will be using this tournament to gain valuable experience against the top teams, much like they did at EPL Season 13 in March.
This TeamOne core has been together for a good amount of time now, with the majority of the lineup having been assembled back in 2020, but still consist of mostly young players, with only Pedro “Maluk3” Campos being over the age of 23. The main player to watch out for will be 18 year old Guatemalan Mario “malbsMd” Samayoa, who was the team’s best performer in their ESEA Premier Season 37 run to victory.
TeamOne‘s best shot at picking up a win will definitely be against FURIA, who are not only their fellow countrymen from Brazil, but also regular participants within the North American scene. This means they have the most practice against each other, and with FURIA being in a somewhat weakened state, Maluk3 and coach João “righi” Righi could take an opportunity to strike while the iron is hot.
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