In the era of super teams, it is only natural that writers and casters alike focus the majority of their attention on the top eight teams. There are compelling arguments as to why Fnatic, G2, FaZe, etc. could potentially end up at the top given their combination of skill, teamwork or tactics. But what makes this era of Counter-Strike even more competitive is the strength of the next strata. The new crop of Tier 2 teams don’t serve as mere farm systems that train potential stars for Tier 1 teams to snatch. They can legitimately upset the best organizations given the right maps and right players going off. These teams lack the collective experience and talent to threaten the upper echelon in extended tournaments, but they have stars who can stand up to the best on any given day.
Many of these players have few chances to attend premier LANs because their teams can’t consistently qualify for them. That is what makes the Counter-Strike Summit so compelling. The only Tier 1 team in attendance is SK Gaming. The rest are good teams lacking in certain areas that keep them from competing against the likes of Astralis and Virtus.pro. They all have amazing players who can match the best. Here are the five who intrigue me heading into the Summit.
Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom, EnVyUs: When we look at the French scene as a whole, it’s fair to say ScreaM is the third best player behind Kenny “kennyS” Schrub and Richard “shox” Papillon. ScreaM is a monstrous fragger, infamous for his uncanny headshots and ability to string together multi-kills. He was the second star of the G2 iteration that peaked in the middle of 2016, and he was widely considered a shoo-in for the revamped roster. The problem was he wasn’t considered versatile enough to meet the new team’s needs. Theoretically, G2 already had enough firepower with shox and KennyS, so they elected for role players. ScreaM understandably felt snubbed as he was playing the best CS of his life.
What will ScreaM do now that he is on the second best French team? That is where the story gets interesting. The only way for ScreaM to get revenge is to become an even better player than either shox or KennyS, proving G2 made the wrong move.
Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski, Liquid: For my money, EliGE has the highest carry potential of any North American player. I’ve seen him play at MLG Columbus, ESL One Cologne, ESL One New York, IEM Oakland and the ELEAGUE Major. He had a star performance in every one of these events regardless of opponent or overall results. I’ve seen him play sidekick to both Nick “nitr0” Cannella and Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, and I’ve seen him be the main focus of the team, performing both roles well.
This incredible skill comes at a certain price, though. In terms of vocalizing and addressing problems within the team, EliGE is not the best teammate. But this reveals a great aspect about his mental character. EliGE has publicly admitted he can shut down when confronted with conflict and unintentionally make the team worse, so he is working hard to improve that aspect. Whereas other players might look at the top 4 at MLG Columbus as a great run, he regards it as a fluke that required a lot of luck. Given his individual skill, his ability to consistently shine at a top level and his work ethic, EliGE is the player on which North America should pin its hopes.
Jake “Stewie2k” Yip, Cloud9: Stewie2k is a vital figure in North American CS:GO right now. His rise to fame is also one of the most unlikely stories in the scene. It is based upon a lot of extenuating circumstances that had nothing to do with his personal skill. Christopher “Get_RiGhT” Alesund needed his plane to get canceled, other players needed to be put into contracts with high buyout options, and Sean Gares needed to leave the organization. All were significant events that wouldn’t have affected Stewie’s future in isolation, but because hey all happened simultaneously, it gave him the opportunity of a lifetime. Within months, he made Cloud9 his team. He is now the figurehead of the team, both leader and star player. He has raised C9 to heights thought impossible when the team was at the bottom.
But this has also put him in a different position to maneuver. Whether or not it’s fair for a 19 year old to burden all the responsibilities of leadership and reputation, Stewie is the symbolic and practical leader of Cloud9. It is his duty to address the systemic issues that plague this roster, ranging from squandered potential to lack of commitment (especially since no one else is stepping up in that department). Cloud9 as a team cannot go forward unless Stewie2k can become a great in-game leader or recruit fresh blood. As the roster has decided to stick things out, it must be the former.
Dauren “AdreN” Kystaubayev, Gambit: AdreN is a compelling figure thanks to his history. He was fairly skilled as a player and consistent in-game, but he never had the opportunities or right team around him to showcase his true talent. Kazakhstan never had enough players to make a national team and after the dissolution of Astana Dragons, AdreN didn’t make it back onto a top CIS team. Fortunately for him, the scene has grown, which has allowed for new players to rise up. At the same time, Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko was kicked from Natus Vincere, creating a serendipitous set of circumstances. AdreN now finds himself on an up-and-coming team with an intriguing mix of old school veterans and young talent. What makes AdreN exceptional is his uncanny ability to win clutches.
Simon “twist” Eliasson, Godsent: Twist is a strange player. He is undeniably talented and has been courted by top organizations, but besides his stint on LGB he has never played at the top level. This wasn’t by accident, either. Allegedly NiP called him every time it needed a fifth player, but he turned down the Ninjas to play with friends instead. For years he played on lesser competition as the star of various teams. He eventually got the chance to reach the next level when Markus “pronax” Wallsten reached out to him for a new team last year, which became GODSENT. He reminded people of his latent promise with a robust performance at DreamHack Malmo.
What makes twist especially magnetic is the ceiling on his potential. Watch him at his best and you would conclude that his talent is comparable to the likes of Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer or Patrik “f0rest” Lindberg. He has the raw aim, movement, flair and ineffable ability to shatter sound strategies and tactics through individual skill. Yet he has not taken the next steps to fulfill said possibility. Twist still lacks experience at top level competition and remains an unrefined talent. What I’m looking for now is his evolution into something greater. Once upon a time, twist said he joined GODSENT because pronax was the leader who could mold him into the best player in the world. They are once again reunited. It’s time to see what he can do.