ESL Pro League is one of the most prestigious tournament series when it comes to the professional CS:GO scene. With this year’s hefty prize pool of 835000$, we were guaranteed to see the best players in the world competing at the top of their ability.

Team Liquid, once considered to easily be in the top 3 of the best CS:GO teams in the world, has been suffering one setback after another. The fans remember Liquid’s golden era in 2019, when the team seemed unstoppable, but has since slowed down considerably. This year’s ESL Pro League tournament was their chance to get back on top.

Team Vitality, another favorite of the tournament, was like going through some tough times. After a radical change in the lineup at the start of the year, the French team struggled to recover their footing. Their lowest point was during PGL Major Antwerp in May, where Team Vitality failed to make it to the playoffs.

With many other amazing teams such as Cloud9, Fnatic, Team Spirit, FaZe Clan and others, this season promised to be very interesting to watch.

The Group Stage

Many of the top teams cut their way through the competition during the group stage with relative ease. Team Vitality, G2 Esports, MOUZ and Cloud9 showed great results and quickly advanced to the quarterfinals, with Vitality and G2 suffering zero losses.

Some of the teams which were considered favorites ended up falling to the bottom of the bracket and barely managed to hold on.

The biggest surprise was the performance of Natus Vincere. The legendary NaVi, which consistently ranked in the top 3 during many of the recent tournaments, barely managed to advance to the playoffs, losing 3 times, which pushed them down to the lower part of the bracket.

The other team who many placed their hopes on was Astralis. The highest rated team of HLTV that should have competed for the highest places, ended up suffering two early crushing defeats against HEET and Complexity, failing to enter the playoffs. A really disappointing performance from a group of players that should be playing way better.

The Playoffs

Team Complexity was a pleasant surprise. Going by their recent history, nobody was expecting much from Complexity, and yet they managed to go the distance. They lost to FaZe in the first stage of the playoffs and ended up ranking third in their group, which is a tremendous achievement, all things considered.

Team Liquid, G2 Esports and Natus Vincere ended up close to the bottom of the bracket, which meant that only one of them was going to make it to the final round. FaZe and C9 found themselves at the top of the bracket and would encounter little resistance.

NaVi entered the quarterfinals with a confident stride after their victory over Heroic. However, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, ended up losing to G2 with a score of 2:1.

Predictably, Cloud9 and FaZe Clan ended up facing each other, and the Russian team came out on top. Their next opponent was Team Liquid, who fought their way from the bottom all the way to the semifinals, beating Fnatic and MOUZ along the way. The North Americans ended up prevailing with a score of 2:1, earning the right to compete for the top spot.

Team Vitality was on a roll during the playoffs, achieving clean victories versus and later G2, and entered the finals. And with this, the teams that would fight each other for the ultimate prize in Malta were now decided.

The Grand Finals

Finally, on October 2, Team Vitality and Team Liquid clashed in the battle for the number one spot. The finals did not disappoint. Both teams were at the top of their game and equally matched.

The first map pick went to Team Liquid, who picked Inferno and beat their opponents with relative ease. Team Vitality returned the favor, defeating Liquid on Dust II.

Both teams pulled all the stops during the last set. TV seized the initiative, winning the first round scoring 25:21, but TL recovered, taking the second round 19:17. In the end the teams took it to overtime, but Team Liquid managed to pull out ahead scoring 16:11 on Vertigo.

The standout moment of the final match was the now infamous smoke grenade kill. NAF of Team Liquid managed to kill ApEX, the captain of Team Vitality, with an impact damage from a smoke grenade. It’s worth mentioning that Liquid was leading 8:0 when this happened, and it seemed like the champion was all but determined. However, Vitality managed to pull through in the end.

The Aftermath

With their victory, Team Vitality earned their first title since 2021 and received 200000$ of prize money, as well as the tickets to BLAST World Final 2022 and IEM Katowice 2023.

This ends the long spell of failures for the French team. Having done some necessary changes to the roster, Vitality is finally getting back in shape and ready to take on any challenge.

This year’s MVP award went to Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut of Team Vitality, becoming the lucky 13th MVP trophy in his career. A well deserved award, considering ZywOo’s insane record setting kill count in the tournament. He managed 143 kills over 5 maps consisting of 155 rounds, which is the new record for most frags in a single series. It’s safe to say that without ZyWOo the results of the final set of matches would have been totally different.

ESL Pro League Season 16 succeeded in attracting more viewers compared to the previous season. The star-studded lineup was its greatest asset in this regard, NaVi being chief among them, despite their somewhat disappointing performance. Their games managed to pull 229000 average viewers, beating the second most popular team by more than a third.

Unfortunately, the increased popularity of the tournament came with its own number of problems. The matches suffered from a large amount of technical difficulties and forced breaks, allegedly caused by targeted DDoS attacks. In response, Ulrich Schulze, ESL’s senior vice president, promised to take measures so that nothing similar happens in the future.