This article is part of our Upcoming Schedule series.
Peak season for Counter-Strike is upon us, folks. Which means that just two days after the PGL Major Qualifier wrapped up, we've got another major event to sink our teeth into.
Starting this Tuesday, it's ESL One Cologne. While this event isn't technically considered a Major anymore, as ELEAGUE and PGL took those honors this year, the talent at this year's event is second to none. The 16 teams consist of Cloud9, FaZe Clan, Fnatic, G2 Esports, Heroic, Immortals, Team Liquid, mousesports, Natus Vincere ... *takes a deep breath*... Ninjas in Pyjamas, North, OpTic Gaming, SK Gaming, Space Soldiers, TyLoo, and Virtus.pro.
That is one stacked slate of teams. With another Swiss group stage upon us, let's take a deeper look into which eight teams are most likely to advance to the playoffs.
SK Gaming: This one is almost a no-brainer at this point. Since last year's ESL Cologne that SK Gaming won, they have only failed to make it out of the group stages of a tournament two times. Betting against them is just silly. Not to mention that they're coming off back-to-back wins at DreamHack Summer and the ECS Season 3 Finals. They're playing at the top of their game, and it shouldn't change in Cologne.
G2 Esports: After qualifying for the PGL Major Krakow with a strong 3-0 performance at the Offline Qualifier just last weekend, G2 is in top form. While there is plenty of tough competition at this tournament, they should be able to get into the playoffs fairly easily.
FaZe Clan: With the addition of Nikola "NiKo" Kovac in February of this year, FaZe has had an incredibly hot hand. From failing to get out of the semifinals over and over last year, FaZe now has three grand final appearances and one overall win since NiKo came on board. Most recently, they came up just short against SK in the grand finals of the ECS Season 3 Finals. This will be yet another stepping-stone to greatness for them.
Cloud9: The North Americans were the only team to make it into the PGL Major Krakow, and things shouldn't be much different here in Cologne. This is a team that seems to be hitting their stride after coming up short ever since their win at the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals last fall. Cologne should be another chance for them to keep the hype train moving.
Immortals: After squeezing into the PGL Major Krakow with a 3-2 finish at the Offline Qualifier last weekend, Immortals are riding high. As such, they should be able to take that momentum into this tournament against teams that haven't played in at least two weeks. It will likely be another tight finish, but these Brazilians are scrappy and should be able to get into the playoffs.
Natus Vincere: Na'Vi is a bit of an enigma these days. While they haven't made it out of the semifinals since their win at ESL One New York last fall, they still have what it takes to make it in. This is probably the biggest "gut" prediction out of all that I'm making here, but there's just something about this team that gives me hope. Look for Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev to have another trademark performance to get this team into the playoffs.
North: KING IN THE NORTH! Oh, sorry. I'm just really excited for Game of Thrones to come back in a couple weeks. But really, North is a scary good team. Comprised of the former members of Team Dignitas, they have had quite a good start since taking up the North mantle earlier this year. They started off with a quarterfinal finish at the ELEAGUE Major in January, made it to the semifinals of DreamHack Las Vegas, and most recently came in second at the ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals. While they've got some less-than-stellar finishes at StarLadder Season 3 and IEM Sydney, they're still playing pretty darn good. It should be a 3-1 or 3-2 finish for the Danes.
Virtus.pro: Oh, Virtus.pro. They were once on top of the world, but have since shrunk into shells of their former selves. They have been making some strides to get back to the Polish Plow that we all know and love. They took a strong 2-1 win over SK in the grand finals of DreamHack Las Vegas and then, well, that's their best finish of the year. They didn't make the playoffs of ECS Season 3 or ESL Season 5, but those were online events that have a different feel. At this LAN in one of the most storied events in CS:GO history, VP should be right back on track. Or maybe it will turn out that I was simply under the spell of Jaroslaw "pashaBiceps" Jarzabkowski's biceps. Don't act like you aren't mesmerized, too! You're lying if you aren't.
So there you have it. Those will (maybe) be your playoffs teams at ESL Cologne. This means that I've got TyLoo (although I think they're on the cusp of a breakout), Space Soldiers, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Team Liquid, mousesports, Heroic, Fnatic, and OpTic Gaming (not falling into that trap again) not making it in.
Things kick off at 6 a.m. ET with mousesports taking on Fnatic and FaZe Clan facing off against Heroic. Don't miss this one, as it will be a great prelude to the PGL in a couple weeks.