One of the biggest events on the Counter Strike: Global Offensive calendar begins this week with season 16 of the ESL Pro League getting underway on Wednesday.
Featuring some of the biggest sides in the Esport from Natus Vincere to Team Vitality, the event features 24 teams and begins with them divided across four sections in the group stage.
Each of the group winners advance straight to the quarter-finals with those finishing second and third progressing to the round of 12 and from there the tournament moves into single-elimination playoffs.
There is plenty at stake in season 16 of the ESL Pro League with an overall prize pool of $835,000.
The winning team scoops $175,000 of that pool and will also be awarded with spots at the BLAST Premier World Final 2022 and the IEM Katowice 2023.
ESL Pro League Season 16, Counter Strike: Global Offensive
Salini Resort, Malta
Wednesday 31st August 2022 - Sunday 2nd October 2022
How to watch
ESL Twitch channel
FaZe Clan 7/4, Natus Vincere 2/1, Cloud9 5/1, Heroic 7/1, Team Vitality 9/1
Beginning with Group A, it is hard to look past Natus Vincere at 5/6 to win their section.
They are currently first in HLTV's world CS:GO rankings, having been one of only three sides to win their section at the recent BLAST Premier Fall Groups.
In the finals of the play-in stage, they then booked their place in the BLAST Premier Fall Finals with a 2-0 victory over Team Vitality, who are likely to be their closest challengers in Group A of the ESL Pro League.
In the last few months, Natus Vincere have finished runners-up at the IEM Cologne, won the BLAST Premier Spring Finals and placed second in the PGL Major Antwerp.
As the odds suggest, it is likely to be a toss up between NAVI and FaZe Clan for the ESL Pro League Season 16 title but given NAVI's consistency and a slight wobble from FaZe recently, it is the Group A side who are worth chancing in the outright market at 2/1.
What might put some off juggernauts FaZe Clan in season 16 of the ESL Pro League is their performance at the recent BLAST Premier Fall Groups.
They failed to win Group C at that event, losing 16-10 to Heroic in the final, and they then lost their semi-final match at the play-in stage to OG.
That meant they were on the brink of elimination from the BLAST Premier Fall Groups, only to secure qualification for the finals with a 2-1 win over Astralis.
That aura of invincibility around the team has surely taken a hit as a result of that underwhelming campaign and NAVI are the better outright pick, but that does not mean FaZe will flop entirely.
After all, it was FaZe Clan who won season 15 of the ESL Pro League, bouncing back after losing two of their five group games to storm through the playoffs and beat ENCE 3-1 in the Grand Final.
G2 Esports, who placed in the top four at the BLAST Premier Spring Finals back in June, will be FaZe's biggest competition in Group B but the Clan are still the best bet to top their section at 8/11.
As for the other two groups, Cloud9 are 8/13 to top Group D, while Group C is a more open betting heat with Astralis a great bet to win the group at 5/2.
Heroic are above them in the group betting at 6/4, having impressed with that win over FaZe Clan at the BLAST Premier Fall Groups, but Astralis make plenty of appeal.
The plucky Danes finished second at the Pinnacle Cup Championship in June before top-four finishes at both the Roobet Cup and the IEM Cologne.
In season 15 of the ESL Pro League, Astralis edged into the playoffs behind Natus Vincere and Heroic with a 3-2 record - the same as eventual champions Faze Clan.
They won their first playoff contest before crashing out in the playoffs but they have gone from strength to strength since and should fancy their chances of finishing above Heroic this time around in an open section.