Two batches of esports/video game awards pierced the industry this year, and both had nominations for players of the year across multiple games. One was the Esports Industry Awards and the other was The Game Awards. I’ll focus on the latter because it was a bit more recent. The former seemed to have a better selection and larger range of players from different games, with the only glaring error being in the Street Fighter category, as Justin Wong isn’t in the same stratosphere as Lee “Infiltration” Seon-woo.
The finalists for The Game Awards were “ByuN” Hyun Woo (StarCraft), Infiltration, Juan “HungryBox” Debiedma (Super Smash Bros Melee), Marcelo “Coldzera” David (Counter-Strike) and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok (League of Legends).
The idea of using popular votes to determine the best esports player or team is dumb because the only metric it measures is popularity. It happened last year when OpTic, either the second or third best Call of Duty team, won the award despite not being even the best in its own game. Even without a popular vote, judges would have to make calls about the scene, tournament circuit and skill level of the game to come to a strong assessment on who was the player of the year. As far as I know, very few analysts have cross-game expertise and rarely have deep-scale knowledge across them all.
Despite these reservations, the idea of celebrating greatness is a good one, so I’ll explain the reasons as to why each of these players was chosen and in some cases offer alternative players that could be argued to be close to or above the recipients. I’ll also add a final category for Dota 2 player of the year.
ByuN’s selection wasn’t surprising given the level of skill and results he achieved over the year. He finished top six in SSL, top eight at IEM Gyeonggi, won WCA and won the GSL and Blizzcon, two of the biggest events of the year. In addition to that, his story of going into exile for two years and coming back was quite compelling. But if you were to ask me who the best player in the year of SC2 was, I’d side with Park “Dark” Ryung Woo. Dark was great the entire year, while ByuN struggled early on. Dark won SSL Season 1, took second in SSL Season 2, second at Blizzcon and top four at IEM Gyeonggi. Dark also took second at the Season 1 Cross Finals and first at the Season 2 Cross Finals. Although ByuN won the big one at Blizzcon, Dark was second, and the sheer depth of his results overshadows ByuN. Dark also did better against imbalance than ByuN did.
For me, Dark was SC2’s player of the year.
There are only two players who could contend for this award: Hungrybox and Adam “Armada” Lindgren. Hungrybox won the big one at EVO. He also had a super dominant first half of the year, and though he tapered off in the second half, that meant getting only second or third place instead of winning. Armada was consistently strong throughout the entire year and has a head-to-head matchup in favor against Hungrybox, with the only mark against his record being that he lost to Hungrybox in the EVO grand final.
Both players have mitigating circumstances. Armada lives in Sweden, and the vast majority of large events are held in North America, so he can’t attend as many or match the number of tournaments Hungrybox has played. On the other hand, Hungrybox proved his worth because of his consistently high placings wherever he went. In the end, it’s a tossup and can be argued either way. As my knowledge of Melee isn’t deep enough, it would take someone more entrenched in the scene to give a more definitive answer. For now, I side with Hungrybox.
League of Legends
The problem with analyzing player performance in League of Legends is that the current iterations are heavily focused on the team aspect. So it is hard to differentiate a team’s results from a player’s results. If we look at the results alone, SKT comes out on top, so the obvious answer is that Faker is still the best in the world. But many analysts had ROX Tigers as the best team of the year, and their superstar player was Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho. It gets even more complicated because there are only four events of note in the League of Legends calendar: spring split and summer split (for each region), the Mid-Season Invitational and worlds. That’s hardly a large sample size compared to other games.
Faker reigned supreme when it mattered most, though, which is the most logical defense of him receiving this award.
Coldzera is the only answer that could be given. His team was the best of the year, and he was the star. Perhaps most astonishing is the consistency he brought to the game. He has never fallen below a 1.00 rating at an event except once and has been the engine of the SK team. Regarding consistency, the only player that can match him is Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz, but Coldzera’s peak and results overshadow his. In terms of peak play, Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev has at times shown himself to have carried his team harder and in a more explosive manner. But Coldzera’s consistency is a mile ahead of s1mple. In the end, he was the only choice for this award.
This award is more complicated than the others. There are three players in contention. Infiltration, Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi and Du “Nuckledu” Dang. Infiltration dominated the first part of the year as an entity an entire level above the rest of the competition. In the only Premier event he didn’t win, he took second. He then won EVO, the most important event of the year. Infiltration then dropped off as he tried to build up a Korean scene, and though he has done well, he is back to just another top player rather than world dominator. Tokido was by far the most consistent player of the year, staying in the discussion of top three players in the world, almost never getting below a top four placing, and winning multiple events. The two biggest marks against him are that he lost both EVO and Capcom Cup Finals, undoubtedly the two most important events of the year.
Nuckledu was a surprise entry at the end. After the release of Guile, Nuckledu came into his own and started to win tournaments against the best in the world. This culminated in one of the most dominant runs of the year, when he destroyed the Capcom Cup Finals. In the end I sided with Infiltration because he had more achievements than Nuckledu and Tokido lacked the super major tournament win.
Dota 2 is another difficult game to decide an individual award because the rosters and patches change all the time. In the end, it came down to three players for me: Amer “Miracle-” Al-Barkawi, Chu “shadow” Zeyu and Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka. Miracle- was a monster earlier in the year and was the superstar of the OG lineup that became the favorites to win The International 6. The problem was OG was eliminated by TnC gaming at TI, and he moved to Liquid, where he found much less success. He is still a great player, but the Liquid move exposed the fact that he couldn’t function as well without a top-tier support.
In the middle of the year, shadow was the best player in the world. Wings Gaming is a unique amalgamation of talent where they can all make plays and create space, but shadow seems to be the player they go to when things get tough. Wings’ incredibly loose style was tied together with his carry style, and it worked for four tournaments in a row before they were eliminated at the Boston Major.
The final player, and the one I think wins the award, is JerAx. He was originally the support player for Liquid and was instrumental in their placings. He was the player creating space and making plays for the team and often elevated the team. His problem was he choked a bit in Major finals. Despite that, he and Liquid won multiple championships, and when he moved to OG he was the MVP of the Boston Major. He is the only player this year to reach all three Major finals and is the best Dota 2 player of the year.
Cover photo: Jesse Arroyo/ECS