Online and LAN qualifiers have been held to finalise the teams that will be competing in the inaugural PUBG leagues, and while there were few surprises in who missed out on getting into the top leagues (Method and Reciprocity not making it in EU and Team Gates not making it in NA are the main ones that stood out to me) it didn’t stop these qualifiers, that were not officially considered to be a top tier event in themselves, from being some of the most entertaining games PUBG has put on – particularly in North America.

The official final for the NA “Pre-Season” fizzled out, in part due to the resetting of points after 6 days of play to inexplicably have a best of 4 free for all to get the money, but the actual elimination games were fantastic.

The recently signed team of Simplicity fired a warning shot, not only to North America but also to the rest of the world with a dominant display that saw them finish head and shoulders above the rest of the pack, and an outstanding last day of play from the experienced Ghost Gaming saw them jump from 10th to 2nd overall, but as you can imagine, in an elimination competition, it was closer to the cut off that things were the most interesting.

Due to the format of the tournament, heading into the last day, half the teams had already played all of their games. They had to sit and wait for the other 16 teams to play their final 4 matches to determine if they would make it into the Pro League or be relegated to the Contenders League.

There were smaller teams such as Smokin’ Aces who had no games left to play but looked like they had probably accumulated JUST enough points to scrape in (though it was going to be a long day) and big name teams such as Tempo Storm and Noble that had 4 games to turn around what had been dismal tournaments for them both up until that point.

The expectation for both Tempo Storm and Noble on that final day was that they would get an early win and put themselves in position to comfortably make it in with a game or two to spare, but that was not the reality. Heading into the final game of the qualifying phase, Noble had 1954 points (at 178 points per game) and Tempo Storm had 2094 points (at 190 points per game). They would both need to REALLY outdo their performance in the prior 11 games to get past the 2400 points mark and give themselves a chance to scrape into the NPL. With 2 big teams both desperate to get a top 3 finish (at least) and rack up as many kills as possible, it seemed unlikely that they would not come across each other in game and one of the teams be wiped out. Their fans needn’t be worried though as the experience from a multitude of big tournaments that both teams had played in ended up creating an amazing final game where both teams finished top 3 with almost half the kills available between them. Noble got a whopping 688 points and Tempo Storm got 456 points with both teams making it through comfortably in the end.

It set the scene for what is anticipated to be a thrilling season, and gave a window (for me at least) into how PUBG can use the disadvantages it has as a spectator esport as advantages. The suspense was brilliant, but because of the chaos of 16 teams, it didn’t end as soon as the match finished. It seemed like they had both done enough, but nobody could know for sure until the final scores were officially announced. We got to see not just the reactions of the players jubilant at a win, but also the range of emotions that they went through as they waited to find out if what they did was enough. It’s certainly something for both the broadcasters and competition organisers to think about if they want to push PUBG into the top tier of the esports world.

Which brings me to my preview for phase one of the NPL.

The matches begin February 1st – less than 3 weeks after the end of the NPL – but teams have had enough time to learn from their Pre-Season games, make adjustments and take their improvements into scrims.

The format of the season is such that at the end of Phase 1, the top 10 teams will be confirmed to continue in the NPL while the bottom 6 teams will have to play for their survival in the Phase 1 Relegation battle against the top teams from the Contenders League. Interestingly, the teams in the NPL break into 3 different types. There are the Experienced Teams that have been playing at the top level in NA since the beginning, the Established Teams that haven’t been around as long, but their consistent strong results have established them as a threat, and the teams that have made their name in the NPL and are striving to move up into the established tiers.

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Experienced Teams

Cloud9 – They are the big name, flashy, aggressive players that like to take risks, however the downfall of that style of play is that you can come in 16th as often as you come in 1st. I think they will have the biggest highlights through phase 1, but I expect them to fall just short. Prediction: 3rd
Ghost Gaming – In spite of Simplicity getting all the headlines in the Pre-Season, Ghost actually had the best single day of anyone and finished second in qualifying. They are the only team in the NPL with the experience of having played in last year’s world championships in Germany and on top of all of that they have been playing extremely well in scrims lately, racking up Chicken Dinners every time they play. For me they have to be the favourites to take out Phase 1. Prediction: 1st
Why Tempt Fate (formerly Optic) – I see WTF as a team that will get better through the year (as they did through each day of the Pre-Season) but when they aren’t having 20 kill wins, they tend to be fairly quiet on the kill feed, and under the adjusted new rules announced yesterday, that could hurt them. Prediction: 5th
Wildcard Gaming – This team had a rough day 1 in qualifying but recovered strongly and ended up playing well enough for second place in the best of 4 finale. I expect to see more from them over the course of Phase 1. Expect bigger things from the likes of Sharpshot, who was quieter than expected in the Pre-Season, and in particular Xtreme as he gets used to playing this level of competition on LAN. Prediction: 4th
Tempo Storm – This team has been struggling to reach their previous heights for a little while, but something clicked for them when they made their late run to qualify and they rode that momentum to take the money in the best of 4. They still have a way to go to show the consistency that they are going to need to reach the heights that they are capable of, but expect them to be a bit more comfortable qualifying for Phase 2. Prediction: 7th
Shoot to Kill (formerly Dignitas) – They are capable of big matches, and they are right at home playing in this level of competition, but if they want to make an impact they need to find a way to make their big games become the norm. Prediction: 9th
Spacestation Gaming – I expected a lot from this team in the Pre-Season, but they just seemed to do enough to get through, and I fear that if they take that into the NPL, they are going to find themselves in a fight for survival with too many great teams ahead of them to catch up. They are my first big name team that I am expecting to miss the Phase 1 cut. Prediction: 11th
Noble – They have the experience and showed that when the pressure was on, they could produce a result, but at this level, it simply isn’t enough. They need a big turnaround from recent form to make any waves in the NPL. Prediction: 13th

Established Teams

Simplicity – Sure, you could write off the NPL result as a fluke, but the most impressive thing for Simplicity was the consistency. They scored over 1200 points on each day that they played. No other team scored over 900 in all 3 days. You just can’t dismiss that kind of performance. I think they will be very close to the top. Prediction: 2nd
eUnited – Any team that can get 17 kills in a match while finishing 6th is a team that you need to pay attention to. They’re aggressive, experienced and have played together for a while. But they tend to run hot and cold, and much like Cloud9 their particular brand of aggression can see them with 16th place finishes too often to ignore. Watch for them to have at least one huge day during phase 1. At least. Prediction: 8th
Team Envy – They had the toughest route of any team to qualify as one of their biggest name players (Caden) was unable to play due to illness and they had to have a last minute fill in replace him. It seemed like Venerated took it upon himself to cover for Caden as he absolutely obliterated the kills leaderboard with 47 kills in qualifying – 10 clear of second place. Once they have their full squad back, I expect to see big things from them. Prediction: 6th

New Teams

Adapt – One of the biggest problems for the teams in this bracket is consistency, but Adapt have not had that problem. They looked right at home playing with the big kids, and they seem the most likely to make the move into the Established group. Prediction: 10th
Oxymoron – They are another team that is relatively consistent (if unspectacular) but they need to lift their kill game to move up the ladder. Nobody in the team was able to get over 15 kills across 12 games and I fear that the new points system will hurt these guys more than anyone. Prediction: 14th
Lazarus – When the pressure was on in their final day of competition, these guys were another that stood up to the challenge by getting enough points to scrape in to the NPL in the final slot. When every week is like that, I think they can show a little more than they did in the Pre-season. Prediction: 12th
Vicious Gaming – Never got more than 6 kills in Pre-Season and when every team you play is a top line team, there is no room to be passive. Prediction: 16th
Smokin Aces – They showed that they are capable of a lot after multiple chicken dinners in the Pre-Season. They may find their success further into the year with some consistency if they can stay in the NPL, but when every team is as good as the 15 that these guys will be facing every week, inconsistency is a killer. Prediction: 15th

Disagree? Let me know!