Each era of CS:GO has been defined by the best teams and their superstars. In the earliest days of the game, players like Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund and Richard “Shox” Papillon battled for the world. The next generation of stars came after them: Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer, Kenny “kennyS” Schrub, Nicolai “device” Reedtz, Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács and Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski. Then in 2016, the generation of miracles started to break into the top of the scene: Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, Nikola “NiKo” Kovac, and Marcelo “Coldzera” David. Each were era-defining talents and all three dominated the scene in unique ways. Now in 2019, the fourth generation has arrived to usurp the old gods.
The two standouts of this generation are Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut and Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski. ZywOo is the French prodigy that people crowned the moment they found him, comparing him to s1mple since the inception of his career. The analogies were overblown at the beginning as people tried to equate the Frenchman’s early LAN debut at DreamHack Atlanta to s1mple’s at DreamHack Winter Major 2014. Since then though, the comparisons have been warranted. ZywOo has not only lived up to the hype of being the next superstar: he has exceeded it.
From late 2018 to 2019, he has been the hard carry of Vitality. The team was a mess in terms of tactics, strategy and skill. Their win conditions amounted to getting the right maps (Dust2 and Inferno) and hoping that either Nathan “NBK-” Schmitt or Dan “apEX” Madesclaire had a good game alongside ZywOo. Once Alex “ALEX” McMeekin joined the team and took over the in-game leadership role, the team found its shape. They are now a far better unit tactically and strategically but ZywOo is still their superstar and polarizing player.
ZywOo’s rise to the top is one of the fastest we’ve ever seen: he was playing in DreamHack Atlanta less than a year ago. Now he is on the second best team in the world and potentially the best player in the scene. The numbers are fantastic by themselves, but what really puts ZywOo over the top is his versatility and impact as he is brilliant both with the AWP and rifles. While Vitality’s primary plan revolves around getting him into trade frag scenarios where he can win the clutch or post-plant, he’s also brilliant at winning opening picks and duels.
In that sense, he is quite similar to s1mple and if you account for the number of maps he’s played, he’s shown better consistency than the Ukrainian did (given that Na`Vi skipped out or failed to qualify for multiple LANs this year). While it’s arguable as to who among them is number one, for now I give the nod to s1mple. He is a better force-buy player, has more versatility (he can play the wings), and is proven at the Majors. This could all change at Berlin as it will be ZywOo’s first time attending the Major with an elite team.
Read more: The rise of Vitality
People can argue whether s1mple or ZywOo is the best player in the world, there is no doubt that they are the top two right now. For third though, there is no argument: EliGE always showed the potential to rise to the heights of the CS world, but has only made the ultimate breakthrough this year. He was already the best NA player in 2017 and on track to become a member of the international elite, but his progress stalled out. In 2018, Keith “NAF” Markovic and Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken were Liquid’s best. As they were headed into 2019, it looked like either one of them were going to step up as the team’s superstars going forward.
Instead, it was EliGE who broke through, reaching the potential people believed he had shown years before. The years of growth, the addition of Jake “Stewie2K” Yip as an entry fragger, Eric “adreN” Hoag as coach, and Liquid’s new paradigm of roleless Counter-Strike have created the perfect environment to allow EliGE to thrive. His versatility on the rifle is vast as he can entry, lurk, clutch or play the wings on the T-side. His combination with Stewie2K as his entry man is like a supercharged edition of the EliGE-Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella combo or the duo of Stewie2K-Timothy “autimatic” Ta was in Cloud9.
While he plays a different role, EliGE reminds me of device in 2018. Back then, the Dane was the consistent superstar player of Astralis, but the rest of the team were also competing with him for MVP awards across the calendar. The entire roster was on fire. Similarly, all of the Liquid players are having incredible games, but EliGE has been their consistent superstar in 2019 so far.
While ZywOo and EliGE have already broken through, there are a multitude of young talents trying to break into world beater status. This is why we’ve had so many rising teams in 2019 asENCE, FURIA, mouz, Vitality and NRG all relied on such players. Three stand out above the rest in this category: Jere “sergej” Salo, Robin “ropz” Kool and Twistzz.
While overshadowed by ZywOo, sergej’s rise is miraculous in its own right. At the age of 17 and hailing from Finland, he has been the most consistent star in the ENCE lineup. His path to the top was slightly longer than the Frenchman’s, but otherwise it still was pretty much a speedrun. In 2017, he was playing in online tournaments. In 2018, he joined ENCE and started to take over the tier 2 scene, and in 2019, he became a superstar of a top three team in the world.
This is remarkable when you consider that Finland hasn’t been an international force in all of CS:GO history. While sergej’s rise has been brilliant, ENCE aren’t as polarized around his individual form as Vitality are around ZywOo: their either rely on him to open up the round or to set it up so that he can subsequently close it, meaning their tactics are built around enabling the young starlet. On the other hand, ENCE have the overall gameplan driving the round with sergej playing his role within it. It is the tactics and teamplay of ENCE that has made them an elite squad, rather than their firepower.
Over on Mousesports, ropz is another rising star that looks to be close to becoming an elite contender. Like ZywOo and sergej, he was another young talented player, but he grew up in a very different CS culture – or lack thereof. France was one of the best regions historically in CS:GO. While Finland was not a powerhouse in CS:GO, it does have historical roots in 1.6. Meanwhile, Estonia had no elite international success in any iteration of Counter-Strike that I’m aware of.
Even so, ropz’s first year in top competitive play in 2017 was a revelation. He was the third star of the team which went on to become a championship contender from late 2017 to early 2018 before they were pushed downward by Liquid, Na`Vi, and Astralis. Shortly thereafter, ropz had a slump in form and the team hit a rough spot. Eventually, a complete revamp of the side saw Özgur “woxic” Eker, David “frozen” Čerňanský and Finn “karrigan” Andersen join the lineup. The veteran Danish IGL worked his magic once again as ropz has not only recovered his past form: he has surpassed it.
Instead of being the third star of the side, ropz has become their focal point. Among the various stars we’ve seen, he is most similar to coldzera in terms of playstyle. He likes to play off of his game sense in the mid-to-late round, so it is up to the rest of the team to get him into positions where he can succeed.
The final name I picked out for this list is Twistzz. While both he and NAF inhabit the secondary star role in Liquid, they have also shown the impact and potential required to be superstar players. What is so chilling about Twistzz though is that his raw mechanics are equal to the likes of s1mple or NiKo. He has the best headshot aim this side of 2013 Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom. Unlike ScreaM though, he’s shown an incredible versatility in his play despite his young age (currently 19 years old), and he’s already reached top five status before. While he plays less impactful roles and positions, he gets more impact out of those roles compared to his competitors on rival teams.
In 2019, we’ve seen the rise of two stars break into elite world beater status: ZywOo and EliGE. Beyond them, we’ve had numerous young stars rising up through the ranks as well. Beyond sergej, ropz, and Twistzz, many others – like the trio of young stars on NRG, Yuri “yuurih” Gomes or Kaike “KSCERATO” Cerato on FURIA – are also challenging the CS:GO establishment. As this year plays out, I can’t help but recall the similarities to the late 2015 to early 2016 period.
During that time, olofmeister had solidified his spot as the world’s best player. At the time, he famously said on ELEAGUE that “I don’t think I’m the best, but I also don’t think there’s anyone better than me.” During that time, he sat on his throne, taking all challengers. Three rose up: NiKo battled olofmeister to the death in an epic overtime battle at IEM Katowice where he hard-carried mouz and narrowly lost. Then there was s1mple who carried Liquid and killed Fnatic at the semi-finals of ESL One Cologne 2016. Next, coldzera outlasted olofmeister and became the best player in the world.
It’s the same story all over again: another generational battle as the established players fight to keep their status and the rising players aim to tear them down. Back then, olofmeister sat on the throne – now s1mple is the king, and it is his turn to fend off the pretenders.
ZywOo and ELiGE have already supplanted NiKo and device as the second- and third-best players in the world. Though coldzera is still a great player, he has lost his grip in the world rankings. The power of the CS:GO world is shifting and shuffling. NA has become an unstoppable juggernaut. French CS has risen from its ashes. Young up-and-coming teams are taking over the top ten as old legendary names like MIBR, VP, NiP and Fnatic fall off.
After all, every team with era-defining aspirations must have a superstar player. When s1mple, NiKo, Coldzera and device ousted olofmeister in early 2016, their four teams defined the following three years of play. Now we are at the precipice of another generational shift. Once again, the battle between the superstars of the present and the future could define the history of Counter-Strike for a long while.
(Photo credit: ESL / Helena Kristiansson)