“I don’t think I’m the best, but I don’t think there is anyone better.” – Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer
Those were the words uttered by the best Counter-Strike player in the world from the end of 2014 through early 2016. They were also true. At the time, no player could claim to be better than Olofmeister, and no team could show it was better than Fnatic. After all, everyone had tried and failed during that period. But during that period, three generational talents rose and made their first entrance into the global scene. They were Marcelo “coldzera” David, Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev and Nikola “NiKo” Kovac. Each of their individual battles showed their latent potential. They are the generation of miracles, and they will shape the future of CS:GO.
Coldzera entered the international scene as a nobody. A completely new player with no international experience, no one outside of the Brazilian scene could guess what he was capable of. Even the teams who recruited him believed he would turn out to be simply a good player, not the once-in-a-lifetime star he became. Among the three aforementioned superstars, he was the first to break into prominence. From the beginning, he was thrust into the spotlight as he and Luminosity (and later SK Gaming) fought Fnatic tooth and nail in multiple memorable matchups: FaceIt Stage 3 Finals, the semifinals of StarLadder i-League XIV Finals, IEM Katowice 2016. Fnatic won each of those battles, making it clear Luminosity still had room to improve. There was a little bit of fear, a lack of something more that Luminosity needed if it ever wanted to beat Fnatic. But the team never had the chance to overcome their bete noire as LG’s rise happened at the same time as olofmeister’s injury last April. The blow weakened Fnatic so severely that it never recovered.
That made the eventual rematch in 2017 much sweeter. Although Coldzera never got his victory against the dominant version of Fnatic, he still exacted some measure of revenge. This time, SK and Fnatic met in the finals of DreamHack Summer with SK the clear favorite. SK convincingly beat Fnatic 2-1 and by the end, it was clear that the star players on Fnatic were more afraid of Coldzera than he was of them.
“In the past, they played really good and we were too scared to play against them because they were the best team in the world,” he told HLTV after the tournament. “But now, I think it changed. Now they play scared against us. That’s why we had more control of the game.”
Where Coldzera was able to find a stable team rather quickly, s1mple’s path to the top was a much longer affair. S1mple was an incredibly skilled player: anyone who saw any of his games could tell you that. His problem was that he was out of control. The ambition that drove s1mple to be the best also made him an incredibly difficult teammate to manage. He couldn’t connect or understand those “lesser” players who couldn’t do what he did, nor was he keen on developing the type of interpersonal skills that could persuade others to buy into his vision of the game. His awe-inspiring skill in the game made him belligerent to criticism and unreceptive to advice. Despite being picked up by multiple CIS teams due to his individual prowess, he was inevitably kicked from each one as he was too difficult to appease.
But he was saved by a man who, ironically, s1mple himself had saved. Spencer “Hiko” Martin was lost in the ether after the match-fixing ban for iBUYPOWER. Simultaneously, s1mple was still on Flipsid3 Tactics and the team was playing at ESWC 2015. The team needed a stand-in and as the tournament was in Montreal, the only player it could get on short notice was a North American player. On s1mple’s recommendation (Hiko was the only NA player he respected), Flipsid3 added Hiko. During their first team up, they made a deep run to the semifinals that including upsetting Ninjas in Pyjamas in a best-of-three. It was a surprising run for a team that had a stand-in and didn’t speak the same language. The time together formed a sense of respect and camaraderie between the two players.
So when Hiko joined Team Liquid and the team needed a player, s1mple came up, and from there, the Ukrainian prodigy joined Liquid. His time on Team Liquid was incredibly volatile: internal issues threatened to split apart the team at any given moment. The most famous episode the public knows was when s1mple and Luis “peacemaker” Tadeu went into screaming matches at boot camps. Those faults were superseded by the fact that the team was incredible when everything came together. S1mple proved his worth as he helped carry the team to the semifinals of last year’s MLG Columbus Major, then did it again at the ESL One Cologne Major, except he took Liquid all the way to the finals.
Both times he faced Fnatic and defeated them with his incredible skill, his astounding ability to take over the game and his ability to treat a Major as if he was in FPL. His match against Fnatic was incredible, and his 1-v-2 retake with the falling AWP shot has now been memorialized on Cache. His Cologne Major run had him defeat EnVyUs, mousesports, Natus Vincere and Fnatic.
S1mple’s own fate seems partly associated with Coldzera. The two met in both runs at Columbus and Cologne. At the Columbus Major, Coldzera pulled off the insane jumping AWP shenanigans to bring Luminosity back into the game and engineered the comeback that stopped Liquid dead in its tracks. At Cologne, it wasn’t nearly close as SK dominated the finals.
Regardless, Columbus showed the world s1mple could play at a world class level. Afterward, he was picked up by Na’Vi. Sadly, the same story repeated itself as the roster is in shambles internally. Those issues were exacerbated when Valve excluded coaches from in-game leading, making Sergey “starix” Ischuk all but useless. Na’Vi has shown glimpses of what it can do if it can enable the star players, but without a good, dedicated in-game leader, s1mple must wait before he can once again challenge for the throne.
The final genius from this generation is NiKo. No player in the history of CS:GO was forced to carry as hard as NiKo did during his tenure with mouz in 2016. Many laud the current mouz roster as more solid than its previous incarnation, and perhaps it will surpass it in time, but no one on that squad has eclipsed what NiKo had to do to get his placings. The version that NiKo was on had Timo “Spiidi” Richter, Denis “Denis” Howell and Johannes “nex” Maget in some of the worst forms of their careers. That was exacerbated by the fact that everyone on the team and everyone in the world saw NiKo was a world class talent. His ambition, hard work and willingness to do whatever it took to win seemed to accidentally crush the confidence of the mouz players. They didn’t want to disappoint him, but that worry only made them play worse, which in turn made NiKo have to carry harder, which in turn made them even sadder that they failed him. It seemed to be some dark never-ending cycle.
Even with all of those issues, who could forget the incredible game at IEM Katowice last year between Mouz and Fnatic? In that game, NiKo pulled out every move he had in the book to secure the victory. He was playing against the best team of that era, Fnatic in the midst of its six LAN win streak, as well as olofmeister in his prime. It was an elimination game in the group stage with a supporting cast infamous for cracking under pressure. Nevertheless, one man nearly bested the legendary squad in its own area of expertise. The game ended 19-17 in Fnatic’s favor with NiKo dropping 42 kills and 114.3 ADR.
NiKo continued to try everything he could to make the mouz roster work, but it was never meant to be. But his moment of relief eventually arrived as FaZe Clan came knocking, which made him the final player in this list to join a top team. FaZe has since been in the finals of every tournament it has attended (with ESL Cologne pending), as well as winning StarLadder Kiev in April.
All three players in the generation of miracles have a distinct style of play. Coldzera is a versatile player but chooses to play the hard roles and specializes in gaining advantages mid-round with his incredible decision making. S1mple is an incredibly explosive marksman who can destroy anyone with his aim and instinctive creativity in impossible situations; his peak plays are among the best CS:GO has ever seen. NiKo is an all-around amazing player and is used selectively within FaZe’s system, as the team is filled with powerful specialists. He can entry, support, lead, clutch, and lurk whenever required. In terms of potential, the players capable of matching those three in the entire world can be counted on one hand.
Olofmeister was right when he uttered that famous remark, but no one can stay on top forever. In competition, the fastest way to gain a reputation is to kill the king, and the king has been slain. In his place have come three prodigies, each with the potential to go down as one of CS:GO’s greatest players. It is the nature of competition that a new challenger must rise, and olofmeister’s time has ended. It is now time for the new generation of stars to enter the limelight and usher in a new age of Counter-Strike.
Cover photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com