An exciting season of Pro League came to a close yesterday, finally back on LAN, even if it was without the crowd we grew to expect and love. The most likable FaZe Clan squad in the org’s history has picked up the title, cementing themselves as one of the favorites for the upcoming RMR. If was just one many exciting storylines from the event.

So much has changed since Season 14

It’s worth taking a quick look at the results from Season 14 back in August/September 2021 just to realize what a trip down memory lane it is: NAVI’s victory is no huge surprise but most of the other top squads are nowhere to be seen now. The all-French Vitality squad finished in second, Aleksib’s OG in fourth, the FalleN-infused Liquid and a dev1ce-led NIP in the top eight. Heroic, ENCE and Gambit serve as reminders of consistent approaches, and it’s interesting to see how they were among the better sides this time around as well. The eventual Season 15 winners? FaZe went out in the groups on tiebreakers. Imagine what could have been this time around.

Na’Vi remain a mystery heading into the RMR

5-0 in the groups, then a clean 0-2 loss to FaZe Clan in the semis? What to make of this team? Of course, the only reason this is even a question is the horrific situation in Ukraine, which serves as a powerful reminder that it’s ultimately pointless to demand politics to stay out of (e)sports. Real life, and in this case, warfare, will have a tangible impact, and the casters’ decision to minimize this effect because a month has already gone by was really rather tasteless.

Global chaos continues to keep the CIS region in flux

Na’Vi aren’t the only ones in this state, of course. We can’t even be sure if the roster gets to stay together, whether travel limitations and sanctions will make it feasible for Russian players and orgs to continue competing. We haven’t even gotten into the tribulations and tragedies of Ukrainians. From a CS esports perspective, Valve’s inadvertent decision to trade elite-level play and event organization from NA entities to CIS ones last year seems worse than ever.

The most likeable iteration of FaZe could be the best yet

Veteran viewers will remember that karrigan’s first superteam on FaZe was more about popping heads than 200IQ plays, but this new iteration seems to have even more of brains and brawn alike to work with. The team is also chock-full of loyal, quiet and reasonable individuals, a far cry from the first FaZe squad in terms of internal dynamics and external likeability. For the first time in a very long time, it’s tough to root against FaZe Clan.

Speaking of which…

The trajectory of ropz and tabseN show the importance of ruthlessness

Remember all the “save ropz” discussion? Well, he’s been well and truly saved, and it’s quite clear that he has saved the FaZe project as well in the process. Compare and contrast his career trajectory with tabseN from BIG, who’s

Liquid remain the only glimmer of hope in NA

Let’s get real: there isn’t much else in sight, and they are the only team who could realistically make it through an international qualifier for a top-tier event. Their win over Heroic was very impressive and they put up a decent showing against NIP as well, but there’s still a lot of work to do if they want to make progress on the rankings charts. No one else is anywhere near from the continent.

G2 remain a work in progress

With or without Aleksib, consistency continues to elude this new-look G2 lineup. At least they went 2-3 instead of 0-5, but now it’s quite clear that their Katowice run was a bit of a fluke. On a macro scale, the big issue seems to be that even a strong G2 feels like a poorer version of FaZe Clan at the moment, leaving them with an awful matchup to contend for titles. Of course, they’d need to get there first.

Evil Geniuses show the problem with franchise slots

No merit-based system would allow an org with such a streak of poor decisions to compete at the highest levels. Unfortunately, this is the new normal in esports. At least their failures are somewhat entertaining, unlike past teams who kept receiving invites way past their expiration date. Yes, they’re trying – what, to recycle North American has-beens, hoping for the best?

The poorest teams were really not like the others

For the second season in a row, all of the groups had a team with a clean 0-5 record, unable to put up a reasonable fight. Last time around, seeing G2 and EG at the bottom of the standings was a bit of a shock: this time, it was altogether more predictable. LookingForOrg, Sprout and Party Astronauts were clearly a level below the field, and you could honestly say the same about Evil Geniuses at this stage as well. Having the occasional whipping boy is fine, but when the lowest-tier seeds consistently fail to put up a fight in their CS:GO matches, their presence doesn’t add much to the competition.

The group stages could use a hefty dose of change

This is just one of the problems with the Pro League group stage format, where the arcane tiebreak rules and insane set of same-y series made for a repetitive viewing experience. There’s a lot that could be changed here, but based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s not likely that ESL will revamp this format.

Fnatic remain a tantalizing mystery

What a mess. In the end, ALEX and co. barely made it to the RMR, squeaking by at the fourth time of asking once all reasonable teams have already qualified, still running with stand-ins and trying to figure out the next steps after both smooya and Brollan departed from the squad. All this made their top-12 finish really rather impressive here, especially seeing just how deep a run ENCE ended up making. Still, the ship is far from stabilized and there are still a ton of leaks to patch up before the RMR event. Perhaps there’s enough here to provide a glimmer of hope – trouble is, we can’t know for sure.

NIP can’t stay in limbo much longer

All things considered, a semi-final finish is pretty good for the Ninjas. They still didn’t get to field arguably their two best players (dev1ce and Brollan), and at this point, it has to be a real concern whether they can get all their core players on the same wavelength by the time the RMR rolls around. The performances are decent, the signings are great – so why is it all such a mess and how much longer can this pantomime go on?

ENCE impress even with room to grow

In the end, it wasn’t EZ 4 ENCE in the grand final, but this was still a very impressive showing from the constantly improving international squad. Without the toxic influence of allu and a clear increase in firepower (just note how nobody from the original squad survived after Aleksib’s forced departure), this new-look roster seems set for a bright future. This top two finish seemed somewhat the product of some other teams’ temporary deficiencies, but that’s not to take away anything from this promising bunch of players.

Astralis look better but still nowhere near competitive

Lucky just wasn’t going to work, this was clear for a while now. You don’t get time to grow into your role as the player with the most expensive and most impactful weapon in the game. No team managed to reach the summit of CS:GO without an elite AWPer, and even if farlig turns out to be little more than a sidegrade or a slight improvement, it’s a step forward for the Danes, as evidenced by their eventual result here.

FURIA are good, but are they ever going to be great?

The Brazilians are excellent and clearly the best in their region, but that top-tier event win remains elusive for them and there’s little to suggest that they can make the great leap forward. The firepower is simply not there, and the ease they were outgunned by FaZe should be a concern for their fans going forward.

Photo credit: HLTV / theMAKKU