The third best player in world CS:GO in 2019 was MVP of the StarLadder Major in Berlin, which his team won without dropping a map in playoffs. At Katowice, host of the first Major of the year, he was the highest rated player in the event, missing out on the MVP to his teammate Magisk, and was again a key part of the team that took the title without breaking a sweat. He did all this in a year where his team was under more pressure than ever before, and defied conventional wisdom along the way. So how are there two ‘better’ players, and is CS:GO truly a team game?
Nicolai 'device' Reedtz is the AWP/hybrid star of the greatest Counter-Strike team of all time. You can make arguments about the Fnatic or NiP teams from days of yore, but with the progression in skill the game has seen over the years their greatness is much like that of Pelé or Larry Bird: contextually, they were gods, but if they matched up against the top teams of 2020, they would get murdered – sometimes even by their own admission…
His place in Astralis is an interesting one, and quite different from s1mple and ZywOo, the players ranked above him in 2019. He isn’t the hard carry the other two are, who needs to play well for his team to have any chance, and that might be part of what hold him back from being rated as the best player of the year. The reality is that ZywOo and s1mple are the sole reason their teams win a lot of the time, while device can have an off day and Astralis still win.
Being great on an individual level matters of course, but in sport and esports alike, the one true measure of success is the number of trophies in your cabinet. Thorin recently gave an impassioned speech about what was termed ‘Mamba mentality’ by fans of Kobe Bryant, that hunger is the most important part of true greatness. Winning a Major might be an ambition for some players, who can retire happy once that box has been ticked, but success has become a habit for device – to the point where his position as merely a ‘top three’ player has to call into question how we think about CS:GO.
Many people point to the fact that device plays on the best team as a reason why he can’t be considered the best in the world, as though winning tournaments invalidates his claim to greatness somehow. While some American sports like to champion the idea of ‘MVP’ – the most valuable player, the one that is most important to their team as a whole – the majority of team sports reward exceptional players when their skill is combined with a level of material success.
One interesting correlation between US sport and CS:GO is the size of the teams, with the NBA having the same five-man sides that CS does, albeit with a much larger squad overall. That competition offers a separate MVP award for the regular season and one for the playoffs, recognising the difference between consistency and peak performance, and the fact that both are crucial to the success of a team, but equally are different skills.
Games with larger teams tend to require you to win outright, most likely with the logic that a carry can’t influence a team of eleven or more in the same way it can a team of five. However, it must be time to admit that while CS has a history of great carries – going back to the kennyS days and beyond – the modern game rewards the squads that build a five-man plan from the get-go rather than the galaxies centred on a single star.
The best teams of 2019 are the two without a single, identifiable hard carry in Liquid and Astralis, and yet, the best way to win the player of the year still seems to be having a team built around you. Nevertheless, the future of CS:GO promises more for teams with no single focus, and device might be the best player the greatest team in the world can support, regardless of placing third on individual metrics.
Photo credit: HLTV