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Esports: ESL Pro League Thursday preview

It is the turn of the final section in the group stage of this season's ESL Pro League and we are edging closer to discovering the full line-up for the competition's playoffs.

The ESL Pro League is one of the most prestigious events on the Counter Strike: Global Offensive calendar and its 17th season is in full swing.

The S-Tier event began in Malta with 32 teams split across four triple-elimination groups of eight, with only four teams advancing from each section to the playoffs.

Already Groups A, B and C have concluded with Cloud9, Outsiders, G2 Esports, Fnatic, Heroic, MOUZ, FURIA, Movistar Riders, Team Vitality, FaZe Clan, paiN Gaming and 00 Nation through to the playoffs.

And four more are set to join them from Group D, which began this week.

The upper-bracket quarter-finals are already done and dusted and on Thursday there are the two upper-bracket semi-finals as well as the first two matches in the group's mid-bracket.

And the stakes are high with the winners of those two semi-finals guaranteed places in the playoffs phase which begins later this month.

At the end of this season's ESL Pro League the winners will take the lion's share of the $850,000 prize money and will qualify automatically for the IEM Cologne and the end-of-year BLAST Premier World Finals.

Rare Atom could spring another surprise

WhatRare Atom v ENCE
When10AM ET, Thursday March 16
How to watchESL Youtube & Twitch channels
OddsRare Atom +175, ENCE -250

Rare Atom sent shockwaves through the ESL Pro League with their opening match in Group D on Wednesday, taking down a Team Liquid side ranked third in the world in two maps to progress to the semi-finals of the upper bracket.

It was a remarkable performance, with Rare Atom dominating from start to finish and prevailing 16-3 on the second map Overpass against one of the strongest teams on the CS:GO circuit.

Rare Atom are down in 62nd spot in the HLTV world rankings so are hardly big hitters but now find themselves one win away from a spot in the ESL Pro League playoffs.

They will not be short of incentive going into their upper-bracket semi-final against ENCE and, although they have been playing in lesser tournaments, they can draw confidence from their 11-match unbeaten sequence.

ENCE also obviously got off to a winning start, but they did not have things all their own way against 77th-ranked ATK, losing the second map Vertigo in that contest, and Rare Atom could be worth a bet at +175 to win this contest.

Astralis can make life tough for NAVI

WhatAstralis v Natus Vincere
When1.30PM ET, Thursday March 16
How to watchESL Youtube & Twitch channels
OddsAstralis +175, Natus Vincere -250

Group D's opening batch of matches were full of surprises, with another being Natus Vincere's upper-bracket quarter-final defeat to forZe.

Natus Vincere, otherwise known as NAVI, were one of the most dominant teams in CS:GO across the globe last season, but have lost their mojo a little and lost to a forZe side ranked 32nd in the world.

Even with NAVI's inconsistencies over the past six months or so, few would have envisaged that result and they are vulnerable heading into their mid-bracket clash with Astralis, who lost a tight tussle with Team Spirit in their Group D opener.

Natus Vincere are undoubtedly the bigger of these two sides and they looked as though they were getting back to their best when making the 3rd-4th positions at the IEM Katowice, but the forZe loss was a major setback.

Astralis may not compete regularly at the same level as Natus Vincere, but they took the CCT North Europe Series Three title in February and are worth backing to win at least a map at -188.

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Team Liquid can get back on track

WhatTeam Liquid v ATK
When1.30PM ET, Thursday March 16
How to watchESL Youtube & Twitch channels
OddsTeam Liquid -1200, ATK +600

The most one-sided affair on Thursday in Group D pits Team Liquid against ATK with 74 places separating the sides in the world HLTV CS:GO rankings.

Third-ranked Team Liquid got off to a slow start in this season's ESL Pro League with a 2-0 defeat to Rare Atom but, unlike Natus Vincere, for Liquid that looks like an anomaly rather than a pattern.

Coming into this tournament, Liquid had made the 3rd-4th places at the IEM Katowice, finished second at the BLAST Premier World Final and made the 3rd-4th places in the BLAST Premier Fall Final.

They are all top events and making it out of a group at the ESL Pro League should be straightforward for a team like Liquid, so back them to bounce back with a 2-0 win at -200 or alternatively to cover their rounds handicap of -11.5 at -125.

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