EPL Season 14 Group Preview

Play-In Preview

Introduction
The end of the Counter-Strike season saw Natus Vincere fall into the place of the world’s most dominant team. A highly competitive IEM Cologne preceded a turbulent online event that will officially kick off the return of competitive Counter-Strike. The debut of new rosters, budding rivalries, the determination of the underdogs, and the potential culmination of the IEM Grand Slam all lead to the Pro League. Where consistency is rewarded and greatness is heralded, welcome back to ESL Pro League Season 14.

Group A

Ence

The Hungry International Underdogs

ESL Pro League Season 13 had ENCE in disarray. The formerly Finnish squad had shifted to an international roster and found themselves in a dangerous group stage. Nonetheless, the team nearly placed first in their group and were on the cusp of clinching the next playoff round. Following their surprising playoff appearance, the team still struggled in the turbulent Tier 1 event qualifications and needed a change. Long-standing Finnish AWP’er, allu, decided to take a step back from the competitive scene and allowed for the upcoming Polish hybrid, hades, a chance in the spotlight. Heading into EPL Season 14, the core of hades, dycha, and Spinx, have wreaked havoc upon the lower tiers of Counter-Strike and are hungry to replicate their last season’s performance. With many of the teams in Group A being in limbo, the time may be perfect to strike once more for ENCE.
Vitality

The Mysterious Disappearance of France’s Best

Since the abandonment of the six-man roster, Vitality has never been the same. More worryingly, ZywOo has never been the same. IEM Summer proved that potentially the roster had returned to form as one of the best squads the world had to offer. However, IEM Cologne sent the French hurtling back to reality. Vitality defeated FURIA in a close two map affair, but were simply outclassed by Natus Vincere and FaZe to end their season. The volatility of the squad’s aim continues to plague their results and must be kept under wraps if they wish to advance past the rouge’s gallery of Group A. ZywOo remains the key piece in the team’s success but still needs the youngsters, Kyojin and misutaaa, to provide star performances alongside his own AWPing. A terrifying core of young riflers on one hand and a worrying floor of discombobulation on the other, which side of their fickle coin will the French Bees harness at EPL?
Heroic

Turbulent Ecosystem Turned Turbulent Results

A sad but willing transfer of power seemed to be on the cards for the Heroic squad after rumblings of their coach HUNDEN leaving to Astralis surfaced. When news broke regarding yet another cheating scandal surrounding the Dane, suddenly the puzzle pieces of Heroic’s losses begin to fit together. This turbulent environment has left the Danish squad with poor performances at IEM Summer and IEM Cologne. These recent results have also found players like refrezh shaken in pressured positions and remains a sign of worry for the Danes. Nevertheless, ESL Pro League Season 14 has the return of online Counter-Strike which has been a staple ecosystem in the team’s success. Rearing to return to professional CS:GO, cadiaN’s crew have a chip on their shoulder to say the least. Hopefully with the return of consistent fragging from nearly every Heroic member, the team may hungrily return to their former number one spot and defend their Pro League title.
Team Spirit

Bouncing Back from Disappointment

Team Spirit had a season filled with new highs, incredible revelations, bitter losses, and struggles aplenty. The Starladder CIS RMR treated the squad fairly well with a third-place finish. Nearly defeating Natus Vincere twice and sweeping through the rest of the competition, it seemed that the squad would be a brooding dark horse at IEM Cologne. The team was immediately met with stiff competition during the Play-In where they had to heave past a double OT affair against MIBR. Although they still arrived at the main event, Spirit faced a combo of Heroic and FaZe losses and exited the coveted tournament in last place. Now the CIS Dragons return from the player break to battle back from their sour end to the season. Spirit’s EPL group allows a prime opportunity for their return to form. Can degster and mir continue their stunning form and take over Group A?
Astralis

Legends In Disarray

With rumors of zonic and the core of Astralis heading their separate ways in the near future continuing to swirl, the legendary Danish organization remained under a lot of heat heading into IEM Cologne. Regardless of this, the squad defied all expectations and ended with a semi-final finish. Defeating the likes of Heroic, FaZe, and Virtus.Pro, the fight that the veterans’ names were built upon continued to shine through at Cologne. Gla1ve continues to mastermind any edition of Astralis to unimaginable heights but EPL could be his toughest challenge yet. To help with this, Tricked’s very own AWPer, Lucky, is now the sixth man added to the arsenal of Astralis. Wrought with inexperience but graced with solid aim, the young Dane has the most pressure on his shoulders to challenge the daunting legacy of device and become a staple of the organization’s gameplay. Underdogs, dark horses, and favorites, every crevice of Group A will be a challenge for gla1ve to repeat an incredible result and silence the few haters that lay before him.
Bad News bears

North America’s Tested Try Once More

The barren lands of North American Tier 2 Counter-Strike is ruled by the experienced core of the Bad News Bears. Earning multiple Cash Cup victories and qualifying for Tier 1 events like IEM Cologne, the Bears have another shot at making a statement for North America. However, their season ended with a fall into last place at the Cologne Play-Ins and ptr bidding adieu following the disheartening results. Now, BnB returns to international competition reinvigorated by the addition of junior. Although the American AWPer could not impress Brazil’s best, he now reunites with longstanding IGL Shakezullah and fellow teammate Spongey to get back to basics once more. The trials that these North Americans must face in Group A will be yet another dangerous affair. However, with another opportunity to make a statement for themselves, the Bad News Bears will be ready to scrap their way to unthinkable results.

Group B

Complexity

The Juggernaut Revamped

On the cusp of eliminating Virtus.Pro for IEM Cologne, Complexity had a prime opportunity to break the spell of poor tournament runs with a bang. Instead, Jame stole the show and the CIS squad battled back in overtime and survived their first elimination scare. Another last place finish was disappointing for Jason Lake and the organization, so changes were finally made. Complexity decided to part ways with keita and RUSH, making space for peacemaker and es3tag respectively. The now primarily Danish Juggernaut have a chance at revenge against Virtus.Pro in their EPL group. In order to make a statement, k0nfig and blameF must re-energize their Bulgarian pride, poizon, and smash back into international contention. Where the chips fall for Complexity in their first outing remains an exciting prospect. World beaters or international letdowns, how will the revamped Juggernaut fare at EPL Season 14?
Sinners

The Hero of the Czech Republic Returns

Benched from mousesports more than two years ago, oskar began his nomadic journey across international Counter-Strike. Hellraisers and Sprout both failed to click for the veteran’s liking, and it showed in their results candidly. Deciding to return to his domestic scene, oskar decided to take up one last dance with Sinners. The squad had some promising talent but could never create any meaningful results in the lower tiers of European play. However, when the grizzled AWP’er made his debut, oskar finally felt the pieces clicking around him once more. Players like NEOFRAG and ZEDKO continued to develop across the past six months and the team finally had their breakthrough performance at ESEA Premier Season 37, where they shockingly defeated BIG on their almost undefeated qualification for EPL. Now the Czech underdogs are looking to stir up some upsets in a potentially open return to competition.
OG

Recovering From A Stun

The international regime of OG had an incredible run to the grand final of IEM Summer. It seemed like the organization would be a shoo-in for the main event of IEM Cologne, only to be met with stellar Australian Counter-Strike. INS, the jack of all trades, had finally awoken after a slow start to the Play-Ins and stole away a coveted spot in the main event much to the world’s surprise. OG now must bounce back from one of their most heartbreaking eliminations in quite some time. Mantuu’s rookie year provided fruitful results; however, after being plagued with injuries across 2021, the Polish AWP’er has struggled to show the same kind of impact he splashed onto the scene with. FlameZ and valde have shown signs of brilliance and will need to hold the line until the final piece of their fragging trio can come alive at EPL Season 14. A chance at revenge and a shot at greatness, Aleksib’s men have a competitive group stage ahead of them.
G2 Esports

Snapping the Finals Curse

Semifinal finish after semifinal finish, G2 have been on the precipice of greatness for too long. IEM Cologne saw a shift in the team’s performance and now EPL seems like the ripe opportunity to take revenge on their CIS rivals. Defeating Gambit in the upper-bracket finals, clutching out a series win against Astralis, and pushing Natus Vincere, G2 have showcased a potential to win titles but have yet to completely cross the line. NiKo and huNter found incredible form at IEM Cologne and will look to continue the same quality chemistry throughout their arduous EPL journey. While no clear gaps in the team’s gameplay are apparent, the intangibles of pressure and closing out games have seemingly plagued the roster. Can the international organization finally snap their drought of titles at ESL Pro League Season 14?
Virtus.Pro

A Tier Away From Contention

The CIS Polar Bears refuse to bow out early from every event they have attended. IEM Cologne remained no exception. Their first lower bracket match against Complexity found the squad on the precipice of one of their earliest eliminations in months. However, the heroics of Jame’s AWP heaved Virtus.Pro back into their series and shockingly battled back a series win. Growing in strength, the team took down NiP, BIG, and nearly silenced Astralis in the quarterfinals before their run came to an end. Now, VP enters Group B as one of several favorites to advance to the playoffs. All eyes remain on qikert and YEKINDAR to bring their precise entries alongside the omniscient Jame as they set their sights on their first ESL title.
ForZe

Another CIS Squad Enters the Fray

After a sudden withdrawal of the Renegades due to travel restrictions, forZe now has their first Tier 1 shot with their new lineup. The additions of youngsters zorte and KENSI have been working well despite the community’s outcry in benching xsepower and facecrack from the roster. ForZe have always competed admirably in the Tier 2, placing decently at the RMRs and nearly winning their season of ESEA Premier. However, the established core of almazer, Jerry, and FL1T, have also had their fair share of opportunities to become a mainstay at the apex of the scene but surprisingly collapsed at every major hurdle. Perhaps with the young additions to the organization, the surprising chance that they have been given can bring forZe to new heights. Group B remains an international challenge and the same level of difficulty shall fall to the hardy lineup. Can yet another CIS team enter the conversation as one of the best in the world?

Group C

Evil Geniuses

Indecision and Fatigue

Pressure was relieved at IEM Summer for the Evil Geniuses. An uncharacteristic playoff finish for the North Americans found the squad hopeful to reclaim their lost glory in the last few years. Sadly, more signs point to the result being a fluke as the team was eliminated in last place at the BLAST Premier Spring Finals and failed to qualify for the main event of IEM Cologne. Internal issues have seemingly also come to light as stanislaw has decided to take a step back from the active lineup for EPL, citing a lack of motivation and fortitude to compete. Instead, the shoes shall be filled by the prolific Canadian IGL turned coach of daps as he returns to Counter-Strike after nearly a year. The chips continue to stack against EG heading into the most competitive group of ESL Pro League. The duo of oBo and MICHU continue to drag the squad through the mud, but the onus will continue to lie upon CeRq and Brehze to return to their MVP-caliber performances. Hope dwindles for Evil Geniuses…can the brute-force nature of the North Americans create another miracle at EPL?
Fnatic

A Colossal Change in Power

Major winners, former MVP’s, and legends of the Counter-Strike scene, fnatic remained to be home to one of the most decorated organizations in the game’s history. However, in its most recent years, the relevancy of the team has catastrophically collapsed to its lowest ranking in the organization’s history. The heavy decision had finally been made to bench both JW and Golden and inject the British duo of mezii and ALEX into the squad to lift the team back to former heights. Objectively the best pieces of the failed Cloud9 project, ALEX creates a tantalizing prospect of locking hands with a dangerously established core of KRIMZ, Brollan, and Jackinho, while Mezii tore up the Tier 2 scene under Endpoint and remains a selfless element that could reignite the Swedish core back to their winning ways. Although the tribulations of Group C remain daunting, the motivating factors of these colossal changes will make this fnatic roster a threat to even the favorites of the group.
BIG

Out With the Turk, In With the Dane

Former number one squad, BIG, had a decent run at IEM Cologne, but nothing reminiscent of their incredible campaign during the 2018 edition. After a continued slew of average results, the squad found that changes needed to be made in order to return to the top. XANTARES decided to bow out of his stint with the German roster and made way for gade, former North player. Experienced in his craft and well-known around the international space, the Dane is expected to partially relieve tabseN from his IGL duties. By doing this, the German superstar may have another gear unlocked to carry BIG back to number one. On the contrary, a lot of firepower has been lost with XANTARES moving to greener pastures, and gade will have to pick up the pieces quickly if the consistency of the BIG Clan can continue. The Germans now walk a fine line between collapsing and succeeding. Their first outing with the new Dane will be all the more exciting to watch unfold.
FaZe

Rectifying Their Brilliant Cologne Form

Karrigan’s international project had been a labored one for quite some time. Consistent last place finishes had the team written off heading into the prestigious IEM Cologne, but bucking all trends has always been the Danish IGL’s status quo. Flying through the Play-Ins while also fending off elimination three separate times, FaZe looked like a team possessed throughout their return to LAN. To top it all off, they also eliminated one of the favorites of IEM Cologne, Gambit, in the quarterfinals. As the team unfortunately returns to the online settings that burned them before, the international squad will have to continue their brilliant form and bear the unsteady tide of online gameplay. Consistent showings from Twistzz and broky have gone a long way throughout 2021 and will still remain the key pieces of FaZe’s success. Although Group C remains the most daunting group of EPL, the experience and firepower of karrigan’s squad have all the tools to repeat greatness.

Natus Vincere

IEM Grand Slam Frontrunners

The champions of IEM Cologne, the home of the greatest Counter-Strike player, CIS titans, Natus Vincere are back in the driver’s seat to win the IEM Grand Slam. Na’Vi fended off a deadly Astralis, shut down the miracle run of FaZe, and swept aside G2 to take home IEM Cologne and end their season on the highest note yet. Now the squad has only this season of EPL ahead of them before they can crown themselves the IEM Grand Slam champions. Targets continue to be painted on the backs of the Na’Vi crew with every top team salivating at the prospect of snagging the bounty of 100,000 dollars and temporarily stopping the CIS squad from their biggest victory yet. However, regardless of the challenges thrown his way, s1mple continues to deliver outlandish statistics and has found yet another gear throughout 2021. With his deadly duo of electronic and b1t by his side, the force of Natus Vincere seems to only have themselves to blame if they cannot return home victorious.
Mousesports

The Highest of Highs and the Lowest of Lows

After their victory at Flashpoint 3, mousesports were donned as one of the dark horses at IEM Cologne. Although the Play-Ins remained rocky, ropz and frozen remained in star-studded form and qualified for the main event. Unfortunately, heartbreak lay before the international roster once they graced the main event stage. Mousesports nearly pushed Gambit down to the lower bracket but were unable to finish the job on Mirage. Threatened by elimination, Team Liquid then took down the international roster in a third map quad-OT thriller, eliminating mousesports in last place. Now dexter’s crew face the group of death as another playoff contender. Ropz and frozen patiently wait to dish out their own heartbreak against the international titans of Group C.

Group D

Entropiq

An Unrelenting Russian Underdog Story

Spirit, Gambit, and Virtus.Pro found incredible breakthroughs throughout 2021’s online period. However, in their shadow remained another Tier 2 specialty in Entropiq. The little CIS brother team remained resilient throughout the year and put in astounding amount of time into honing their camaraderie as a squad. Logging nearly 70 maps in the month of June alone, Entropiq has the stamina to go toe-to-toe with the best in the world. Taking scalps off exceptional teams at the CIS RMRs and ESEA Premier matches, the opportunities for Entropiq are as ripe as ever. El1an and Forester remain the hot commodities for the CIS squad and will look to climb past their toughest competition yet.

Team Liquid

Finding Footing Once More

Although cs_summit 8 went well for the North Americans, Team Liquid struggled at IEM Cologne with a 9th-12th finish. Device returned to his demolition of EliGE’s squad once more on NiP and the hometown heroes of BIG ended any hopes for a stellar performance from TL. Internal affairs seem to have wrapped themselves around the organization after the sudden replacement of moses was announced. Rumors continue to spread that the IGL role will be passed once more to FalleN, who will work closely with adreN. Grim’s had a silencing debut against NiP but will need to keep up his form alongside NAF and EliGE if they want a chance to top their competitive field in Group D. The wild card remains to be the watchful eye of FalleN’s AWP. Can the Brazilian return to form at EPL and bring back the legendary North American roster’s dominance?
Furia

Struggling To Deliver the Brazilian Flair

After FURIA decided to bench their American experiment junior, the Brazilians reinstated the youngster honda back into the lineup. The country’s sole representatives had been rearing to return to LAN and home in on an incredible run at Cologne. However, regardless of KSCERATO’s heroics, the Panthers still fell 9th-12th in the group stage. Now that arT has to AWP on his lonesome, the incredibly important gun for the Brazilians has lost all impact on the server and puts FURIA in a dangerous predicament. Honda stepping into such a tenured roster leaves the youngster with unimpressive stats and a lot of pressure to shoulder heading into EPL Season 14. The competition in Group D will be sky high, but the door remains wide open for the men of FURIA to snatch away.
Gambit Esports

Rectifying Their Brilliant Cologne Form

IEM Cologne was the ultimate test for the Gambit roster, and they were certainly put through their paces. The pressure to duel against the most tenured superstars the world has to offer proved to be an uphill battle for Ax1le and it showed after he bowed out with an admirable quarterfinal finish. Now EPL returns to the online setting in which Gambit gained their notoriety. G2, FaZe, and Natus Vincere all remain prime targets for Gambit to take revenge on their previous series losses. The CIS youngsters still have what it takes to fight against greatness. It is time for them to return to their roots, deny any hopes of s1mple claiming the third Intel Grand Slam, and secure yet another title to inch their way to their own victory instead.
TeamOne

Another Shot at the Top

Europe has been a splash of cold water for the Brazilian underdogs of TeamOne. The attempt at warming up at the Tier 2 event, Pinnacle Cup II, had them eliminated immediately. The IEM Cologne Play-Ins did not suit the team well after they were rattled from their online affairs. Battered by OG and Sprout, their Counter-Strike season came to an abrupt halt. ESL Pro League Season 14 is another chance for TeamOne to gain experience and fight once more against the international titans. The heavy hitters Maluk3 and malbsMd are rearing to be let loose against the competition once more regardless of the difficult group ahead. ESEA Premier Season 37 brought them here, now they must prove why they deserve to be here.

Ninjas in Pyjamas

A Shallow End to the Season

Device’s debut on NiP had seemingly proven to the world that he made the greatness of Astralis a reality. However, the tail end of the Swedish roster’s season proved that it may have just been a flash in the pan. IEM Summer, BLAST Premier Spring Finals, and even IEM Cologne left NiP with a sour aftertaste of the trade. Their group should prove an easier time around the block but the outliers of Entropiq and FURIA will remain hot on the organization’s heels. So far, the addition of young LNZ has proven fruitless to the success of NiP. A resurgence of device’s stellar AWP and a collected LNZ could be the duo of fixes the team needs at EPL. Regardless, the pressure for the Ninjas to perform continues to build. It’s high time for another deep playoff run.
Learn more about the ESL Pro League: Season 14 and watch matches live between August 16th - September 12th at Twitch

Article written by Anirudh 'Paladin' Ajay - @DatPaladin