“If I don’t win anything, then my career will have been a waste of time.” – Spencer “Hiko” Martin.
If I had to describe Hiko and Oleksandr “s1mple“ Kostyliev in one word it would be ambition. Every player that has gone pro is to some degree competitive. They like competing, they want to win. But there are always limits. A player like Mike “shroud“ Grzesiek of Cloud9 is touted as one of the most talented and skilled players in the region, yet his development as a player has been at a standstill, and he is more well known for his streaming than his competitive results. A player like G2’s Richard “shox” Papillon has incredible talent and has time and time again risen to become one of the best if not the best player in world. If he had went all-in on Counter-Strike he could be the greatest ever. Yet there are other things he wants from life, things like family and friends.
I respect their life choices. If I had to give advice to anyone I’d probably tell them to do the same thing. There are more things in life than just competing. It is better to have a balanced lifestyle, and a majority of the professionals who do this for a living do not give up everything for it.
I say all of that, but the most compelling and the most interesting players to follow are the madmen: those rare players who have made the choice that victory is what matters most. Family, friends, society, that’s all nice, but the main driving force of their existence is winning above all else. The thirst for victory is pure egotism. That madness to do anything you can to prove that in a field with hundreds of teams and millions of players that you are the best. That you will win. That no amount of failure will stop you from realizing this dream, this ideal.
Hiko and s1mple are madmen, idealists, platonics, romanticists. They believe that there is an ideal worth fighting for, worth sacrificing for, that is greater than themselves, and that should be all you strive for. And that ideal is victory. And their chosen field is Counter-Strike.
While the careers of Hiko and s1mple couldn’t be more different, the ambition that drove them was the same. Hiko spent the vast majority of his career trying to win the big one, trying to form the ultimate NA all-star team that couldn’t just compete, but could win tournaments. This led him to forming the IBP team that imploded after half the team was banned for match fixing. Left with no recourse, he allied with Tyler “Skadoodle“ Latham to try to form his own super team.
S1mple’s journey was much more volatile and much less prestigious. He was quickly recognized for his incredible skill and talent in the game which was backed by an incredible practice ethic. The problem was that his rage was uncontrollable and he was considered too toxic or too difficult for teams to deal with in the long term. Despite being the best player on every team he had been on, he was almost inevitably kicked or removed from each of them.
Hiko continued to try to make the superstar NA team, but no one was willing to take that risk and go all-in with him, and Skadoodle eventually left for Cloud9. With no choice left, Hiko joined Nihilum.
S1mple’s ambition and skill eventually landed him onto Flipsid3. He was there for five months but would eventually be kicked. Before that, however, the most important event in both Hiko and s1mple’s careers happened.
The Electronic Sports World Cup 2015 was held in Montreal, Canada. Flipsid3 was participating, but Georgi “WorldEdit” Yaskin had visa issues and was unable to attend. As the event was in NA, Flipsid3’s best chance for a stand-in was an NA player. S1mple was insistent that there was only one choice, and that was Hiko. There was no other NA player he respected more. Flipsid3 made the call and Hiko came to stand-in for the team. Together they made it to the semifinals of the tournament, beating Ninjas in Pyjamas 2-1 and losing to Natus Vincere 2-0.
Yet that moment, that meeting, did not go forgotten. Eventually when Hiko got onto Liquid, and Liquid was looking for a new fifth player, it was Hiko’s turn to call up s1mple. S1mple then joined Liquid and became the star player of the team. Unfortunately for liquid, there were too many problems with s1mple. He didn’t adjust well to his new life in America and missed his family. He couldn’t get the team on the same page, and his bouts of rage hurt the atmosphere. It was only exacerbated by the boot camp, role and roster issues. From the outside, it looked like Team Liquid was playing some advanced version of musical chairs with its roster.
The run up to the Major was an incredibly emotional time, as Liquid got rid of Eric “adreN” Hoag to only have to bring him back because its new fifth player, Kenneth “koosta” Suen, could not play. Liquid played the MLG Columbus Qualifiers, where s1mple broke into tears at his own terrible performance and gratitude for his teammates for carrying him to the major. S1mple swore he’d do much better next time.
And he did. S1mple carried the team as its superstar player and together they shocked the world in beating FaZe Clan and Fnatic in best-of-ones, Counter Logic Gaming in the playoffs and barely losing to Luminosity — the eventual champions — in the semifinals.
But it wasn’t enough. Two events happened almost simultaneously afterward. First, s1mple went back home to take a break and decided he wanted to stay there. Secondly, the other Liquid players were having a discussion on if they should keep s1mple or not, but nothing Hiko could do could sway their minds. The team eventually decided s1mple would be put on the bench for koosta.
It was a frustrating time in Hiko’s life, as the new team wasn’t nearly as good without s1mple. They went from event to event without any of the promise of that major. S1mple alone with his Worst Players team got a better result at the Starladder i-League Invitational than the Liquid roster did with adreN and koosta. Something had to change.
In the space of a month, Liquid made moves. It acquired Luis “peacemaker“ Tadeu as coach and two new players in Josh “jdm64“ Marzano and Jacob “Pimp” Winneche. On paper it was a fantastic fit, as jdm64 was a clear upgrade over koosta as a star AWPer and Pimp had the experience, firepower and clutch the team needed.
The problem, however, was that Pimp was not eligible to play with them for the major, so Liquid was once again stuck in a strange roster situation. And again Hiko argued for the case of s1mple as the best choice possible. This time, the team relented, as it was just a temporary setup and Liquid decided to play this roster in two events: Electronic Championship Series and ESL One Cologne, the major tournament that begins this week.
At ECS, the team had a decent showing as they beat G2, the eventual winners of the tournament, in a best-of-one and then lost 2-1 to G2 in the final group stage match. But all of that was just a warmup for the major.
This is when the real thing begins: The final run of the Hiko and s1mple tag team. Two players who valued victory above all else and in their lowest moments helped each other up. S1mple made the call for Hiko to play for Flipsid3 at ESWC 2015. Hiko made the call for s1mple to play in Liquid. Now Hiko will finally get his dream roster with Nick “nitr0“ Cannella, Jonathan“EliGE“ Jablonowski, jdm64 and Pimp. He is moving closer to that ephemeral dream of winning a major. Of becoming the best in the world. But he couldn’t do it with s1mple.
For s1mple, the future does not look so bright. He is still an amazing talent, but he is stuck without prospects or a strong team and will have to take time to mature and become a better team player. With Pimp officially joining the roster after the Major, there will be no more room for s1mple. He and Hiko will part ways. After that, no one knows what will happen. Maybe someday the two will play again, whether it be in the same roster or in opposing teams, fighting for the victory they cherish above all else.
This is the end of their love story. Two players who shared the ideal that victory above all else is an ideal worth fighting for. Two players that have given each other hope and the chance to fulfill their dreams. This is where it ends. With Hiko and s1mple. S1mple and Hiko. For one last time, one last tournament, one last run, they will end it on their own terms on the grandest stage possible.
Cover photo: HLTV.org