ESL Pro League Season 17 Conference Europe kicks off on Monday, with 12 teams competing for three spots in the ESL Pro League proper, which kicks off in late February.
Getting to the ESL Pro League would be a huge coup for many of these teams, who are often unable to compete against the world’s best. The tournament is a double elimination bracket, meaning two losses in succession will spark elimination.
With five matches to choose from on Monday, we preview all the action as CS:GO begins its return from the winter break.
Perhaps the most competitive of the opening round of matches, there is very little to separate SINNERS and Team Falcons.
SINNERS, led by veteran oskar, struggled towards the end of 2022. They were eliminated in 17-24th at ESL Challenger Season 43 and, although they did win Sazka eCup Fall 2022, that was against weaker opposition than they will face here.
They faced Falcons in the ESL Challenger League Season 43 relegation tournament in December, where Falcons picked up a relatively comfortable 2-1 victory.
Falcons survived in ESL Challenger League as a result and it was a return to form for the French side, who had been out of sorts at prior tournaments. Both sides have their positives and negatives, but Falcons ultimately need better performances from legendary AWP’er kennyS, who has struggled since his competitive return.
With that in mind, the match of the day can go the way of Falcons, with the hope that kennyS can show some of his MVP form as 2023 kicks off for these sides.
A first competitive meeting of HEET and Partizan should be a fascinating encounter, although HEET are expected to come away with the win.
The French squad were disappointing at ESL Challenger Season 43, but bounced back with a strong run at CCT North Europe, defeating Astralis on their way to a 3-4th finish. They did fail to qualify for ESL Challenger League in their most recent tournament, however.
This should be a tall task for Partizan, whose core have only been together since August. They sit 77th in the world rankings and their form is hard to quantify, as they have played lower-ranked opposition at recent tournaments.
It would be foolish to dismiss a side in the winning mood, but HEET are the class side and have a significant edge in this encounter; a 2-0 victory for HEET is the likely outcome.
The biggest mismatch of the early games is KRC Genk against Eternal Fire, with the latter Turkish squad expected to win this match.
Eternal Fire played at some premier tournaments in late 2022, including ESL Challenger Rotterdam, where they were far from disgraced in 3-4th. After that showing, however, they lost four matches on the bounce, including disappointing defeats to the likes of Websterz and IKLA - who are lesser-known opposition.
That sparked a roster reshuffle, however, and quickfire victories at ESL Turkey suggested they were back on track. If that is the case, then Genk are in for a long afternoon.
At the time of writing, they are yet to confirm a fifth player for this match and recent results include a heavy defeat to Partizan, who are one of the outsiders at this tournament. One win in their last six matches does not bode well and an Eternal Fire 2-0 seems inevitable in this match.
The first of the evening matches sees Case take on Endpoint in what should be an action-packed game of CS:GO.
Endpoint, who head into 2023 with a dangerous roster of MiGHTYMAX, Surreal, Nertz, HeavyGod and mhL, are expected emerge victorious. They ended 2022 in good fashion, including a map win against ENCE at CCT North Europe.
The same cannot be said for Case who, despite boasting a core of strong Brazilian talent, have been unable to post consistent form against domestic opposition of late.
Endpoint have been prone to throwing some inconsistent showings into the mix and a series that goes all the way is certainly not out of the realms of possibility.
As the odds suggest, this game is likely to be over in the blink of an eye. SAW, ranked 21st in the world and arriving off the back of winning ESL Challenger Season 43, take on Babos Gaming, who have only played two official matches.
Is there upset potential in this match? The quick answer is no, as SAW are a classy side who will not let complacency get in the way. If this was a best of one, perhaps you could make a loose argument but, over a three-map series, SAW should provide all the answers.