Going into DreamHack Bucharest, the event’s main attraction was the fight between multiple Tier 2 teams that were trying to break into the top 10 of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. They were Heroic, Cloud 9 and Dignitas, as it was their third (and in Heroic’s case fourth) event of the month. And each team centers around a young star player. Heroic has Valdemar “valde” Bjørn Vangså, a player who has shot straight to the top of Danish CS:GO. For Cloud 9, it’s the duo of Jake “Stewie2k” Yip and Timothy “autimatic” Ta, who have risen to the top of North America’s talent pool and are the cause of Cloud 9’s resurrection. Finally, there was Emil “Magiskb0Y” Reif for Dignitas. After being an onliner from 2015 to early 2016, he finally broke out on Dignitas after the main star of the team, Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye, had left.
DH Bucharest was to be a battle of the to see which of the young stars was to rise to the top and win this event. The only challenge in their way was Virtus.Pro, a team from which you never really know what to expect. They had won one of the biggest events of the year in ELEAGUE. Then they dropped out in last place at StarLadder StarSeries, losing to VG.CyberZen and EnVyUs in group stages.
In this event, the plow came roaring back to life. It was an emphatic statement from the longest-standing lineup in the world. The machine kicked into high gear as every piece worked. Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski on the AWP. Jarosław “pashaBiceps” Jarząbkowski and Paweł “byali” Bieliński being super aggressive and pushing every CT side. Wiktor “TaZ” Wojtas holding down B and supporting his teammates.
But the stand out player of the event, and the one everyone will remember, is Filip “NEO” Kubski. NEO’s time as a superstar player has long passed. Since moving into CS:GO, he has given up his spot as the primary star of the team to help facilitate and support the other players in the lineup. He’ll fill in any role that is required, whether that’s lead, AWP, lurk, entry, throwing grenades or just holding an angle.
That is what made his performance this weekend so electrifying. NEO is one of the longest-standing players in Counter-Strike history and one of the few to be still playing at the top level. One of the greatest to have ever touched the game and even now, years after his prime, there is an almost supernatural belief that on any given tournament, on any given day, NEO will show up.
The idea in isolation is ludicrous. The very basis of human existence tells us this. The young will eventually overtake the old. The veterans run out of focus, stamina or skill as time goes on. Eventually, time will come for us all.
Yet NEO is one of the rare exceptions to this rule in CS and any esport. And in a tournament filled with young stars, he defeated all of them.
In the group stages, VP smashed Heroic, and valde had no chance against this squad. To be fair to Heroic, they were probably drained before the match even started as they had to play a 65-round match against EnVyUs earlier that day.
In the finals against Cloud 9, NEO demolished the young stars of Stewie2k and autimatic, as they crumbled under the pressure. The weight of the finals was too much for the young stars, while in the case of NEO, this was a place he had been in hundreds of times before.
The greatest test for NEO came in the semifinals against Dignitas. The series itself was a testament to the strength of Virtus.Pro, the grit of Dignitas and the overall team play of both teams. But in the second half of the third map on Overpass, it became a battle of wills. It was NEO vs. Magiskb0y. The old age vs. the new. And Magiskb0y was unwilling to let Dignitas fall, as he made a massive impact in every round to drag Dignitas to the finish line. Where valde, Stewie2k and autimatic had been underwhelming, Magiskb0y rose to the occasion and was fighting VP on even ground.
Even when VP finally took Dignitas to match point and forced them on pistols, Magiskb0y refused to give up. Even with pistols, he was still a menace, and the entire Dignitas side attacked and wiped out everyone on VP except for NEO.
The round was over. It was a 1-v-5, NEO against the whole of Dignitas. If this had been any other time, any other place, any other man, you could have looked away. But this was in semifinals, this was in an impossible moment, and this was NEO. This game, this moment, this round is what makes NEO who he is. NEO made the impossible clutch possible, as he smart played the entire Dignitas team and picked them off one by one until he had won the game.
One man against five. And the one had won. After finishing the winner’s interview, NEO got off stage and said, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”
Players like valde, Stewie2k, autimatic, Magiskb0y — the younger generation of players — are the future. They will one day take on the mantle as some of the great talents of the scene and some will rise to be legends themselves. The young will one day inherit the earth, but for now it still belongs to NEO.
Photos courtesy of HLTV.org