Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev is not just the best Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player in the world but his career form and now seemingly endless peak, spanning over a year, see him on a firm trajectory to become the greatest player in history, with some already debating whether or not he has reached that status. Nobody, arguably in any version of Counter-Strike, has ever been as good as s1mple at his peak and, as such, the gap between him and whoever others would put up as second in line is greater than for any other world number one yet seen.
Only one other CIS region player has ever been considered the consensus world number one in the Counter-Strike franchise and that was markeloff, who played for arguably the best team in history and was on a streak of winning an unparalleled four majors in a row from 2010 to early 2011.
Having already wowed audiences and fellow professional players alike for the better part of half a decade, s1mple, the still only 21 years old prodigy, has shown a level of individual excellence, on bad and good teams alike, which already establishes him as one of the Mount Rushmore players of the game.
His team accomplishments have begun to catch up, but this is the one area in which he is lacking in contrast to most of the other G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All-Time) candidates. Were he a poor team-mate still, that could be held against him. With the exception of kennyS’s ill-fated prime on Titan, over the latter part of 2014 and early 2015, no player close to s1mple’s level has ever had less help in the quest to lift trophies. Now considered one of the best ambassadors for the game, most acknowledge s1mple’s excellence in spite of missing championships only further cements his dominance over the game.
There has never been a player like s1mple and there likely never will be again. Miss his prime, if this proves to be it, and you will regret it for a life-time. Such are the masterpieces this young maestro paints.
Born to win
Terms like “prodigy” and “genius” are thrown around all too often and with little reverence in today’s media-driven narratives, so it bears emphasising that I use those terms sparingly in the context of both Counter-Strike and esports as a whole. A prodigy is not simply a player who is good when he is young and a genius is not merely a very good player who excels. To call s1mple a prodigy was once provocative, but now seems practically academic and provable by many metrics.
It’s no exaggeration to state that s1mple came into the professional scene at a world class level, individually, and has not only maintained such form but improved upon it year on year to his current peak. Nobody in history has had as ridiculous a debut and seemingly unending rise.
Having just turned 17, s1mple was defeating the world number one FNATIC, winners of the previous three international LANs, on mirage, one of their strongest maps, at his first major. At 18 he took a North American team to a major final for the first time in history, all with broken English and a poor attitude towards his team-mates which as since been repaired.
On his 19th birthday he was decked out in the colours of Na’Vi, at last, and helped them win both their first $250,000 or more prize pool tournament, then a marker of the most prestigious events, and the first of Hall of Fame level star and team-mate GuardiaN’s career. GuardiaN weeps on stage as s1mple comforts him. At age 20 he leads Na’Vi to his second major final.
Now, at 21 years and five months old, he stands before the greatest to ever play Counter-Strike and measures up favourably.
The perfect carry
s1mple’s natural ability, as precarious a concept as that can appear, was clearly one of the highest CS:GO has ever seen even early on. Combined with a machine-like work ethic and drive to improve, he has crafted a seemingly perfect Counter-Strike carry. His aim is absurdly precise, his reflexes peerless and his audacity to attempt normally impossible shots and hit them is legendary.
s1mple has hard carried teams in a manner so brute force that it even exceeds the Herculean efforts of kennyS, during his prime with Titan. It’s no exaggeration or blatant disrespect to suggest that this Na’Vi line-up, now having been together for a lengthy 16 month span, would likely not even be a top five ranked team in the world if s1mple was even 5-10% less dominant individually.
If we wind the clock back to the first four to five months of the team being essentially solo carried by s1mple, as new recruit electronic had yet to be adequately implemented into the team structure to shine in his own right, they might not even have been ranked in the top 10. Hell, after electronic’s stellar summer run, where he displayed individual form worthy of being considered one of the best players in the world himself, he has finished six of the last eight offline events with a pedestrian 0.6X FPR (Frags Per Round average).
Despite such circumstances, s1mple had Na’Vi ranked second in the world in seven of the 12 months of 2018 and putting together a streak of top four finishes at their first nine events with this line-up, taking them as a team into the rarefied territory of some of the greatest line-ups in history, despite not passing the eye test of being one themselves.
The perfect arsenal
It’s entirely fair to describe s1mple as being extremely good with every meaningful weapon in the game. All of his pistols create nightmare save round scenarios for opponents. With a rifle in his hands he is still the best player in the world and a threat to carry any round, as many an enemy has discovered on a Na’Vi force-buy round. This all in the context of being one of the most disgustingly dominant and unstoppable snipers in history. There have been a number of elite riflers who displayed a hybrid skill-set and could pick up the AWP when their form was hot, the situation demanded it or their team lacked an AWPer. Even so, you don’t need many fingers to count the number who were legitimately in contention for best AWPer in the world.
“s1mple is kind of still a young player, but he’s maybe the most talented player in CS history”
GuardiaN on s1mple (SlingshotEsports, November 2016)
As an AWPer, s1mple has every shot in the book and then some. He is notorious for hitting unlikely noscope shows and beloved by fans for his almost unreasonably aggressive playing style which pressures opponents. His firing style is a barrage of constant flick shots, from any point on his screen to the enemy, and yet he does not suffer from the erratic hit-rate common to that kind of AWPer, but rather has one of the most consistent ever seen, more in line with the slower style tracking aim snipers.
Said latter style of AWPer typically achieves their consistency not just from their firing technique but also playing around a specific position and re-peeking opponents conservatively. s1mple again defies expectations for what is possible, as he is infamous for moving around the map constantly and attempting seemingly any shot into any player and still hitting.
How do you beat a player with that arsenal? Apparently you don’t, most of the time, and so you must beat his team instead.
From precocious to undeniable
As far as s1mple’s playing style goes, his skillset allows him to create and take advantage of situations even many other great players would not attempt. He is perhaps the most aggressive force in history and this, along with the lack of trophies won, stood out as a primary point of criticism for many onlookers even up to the end of 2017.
While more ignorant fans would sometimes mischaracterise s1mple as an “all aim and no brain” player, due to his wild flicking style and unusual crosshair placement when moving around, the more nuanced and eloquent analytical version of said criticism was to suggest he was a very strong individual player who sometimes pushed the boundaries of the possible too much and should discipline himself more. Some experts even suggested s1mple give up the AWP to team-mate GuardiaN, who was one of the best in history but not as good as s1mple during their time playing alongside one another.
Such theorising was firmly put aside last year, as s1mple pushed his game past its perceived limits and into uncharted territory. He is simultaneously an incredibly aggressive player early in rounds, opening up rounds with kills and taking duels, and yet also one of the best clutch round players in the game, closing out even disadvantageous scenarios for his team.
A reason he is able to find himself in late round scenarios, despite being so aggressive early, is born out in his impossible statistical dominance. Here is a player who can frag at a higher frequency than anyone else to ever play this game and yet at the same time record fewer deaths than even some of the best conservative stars we’ve seen over the years.
Na’Vi makes use of s1mple’s entry talent by often equipping him with a lone rifle when attempting weak force-buys, knowing he can create something from nothing at any moment and break them back into the game and a playable economic state. “s1mple, go kill” is almost not even a joke when it comes to Na’Vi’s playbook in such circumstances.
s1mple’s statistical performances have worn down even the most ardent of critics, as 2018 saw him reach a level where his best performances set new standards for what a super-star could accomplish and his worst events still being near career best levels for other top 10 players in the world at that time. s1mple’s ability to put kills on the board is so established, his carrying so routine and his skillset so phenomenal that every big series could seemingly be turned into an impressive mini-movie highlight reel.
In fact, when a movie-maker set out to create a highlight movie for each of the top ranked players of 2018, he made most less than 15 minutes long, yet s1mple’s reached a running time of 45 minutes, half of the average running time of a typical Hollywood blockbuster.
Rivalled only by history
s1mple’s peak has been so unbelievable that it can only be contrasted in CS:GO by the early dominance of GeT_RiGhT, whose NiP team were the first world number ones for more than a year to open the circuit. Beyond that, one must look to the finest players CS 1.6, a previous title in the franchise, to find comparable super-star form. s1mple can legitimately be put up against NEO and f0rest, the consensus greatest 1.6 players, and arguably even exceed their overall peak.
NEO was a famously consistent player, ever able to carry a large fragging load, yet didn’t have the skill peak s1mple has displayed. f0rest had arguably the best skill peak in 1.6, but not the same consistency over his whole career of NEO and s1mple. Certainly, f0rest had a few years, 2006-2008, where he was both dominant and consistent, but s1mple has legitimately been excelling for the better part of half a decade now, though not always against the same tier of competition at the same frequency, taking into account the early years.
As someone who has seen every meaningful big Counter-Strike 1.6 and Global Offensive match in history and obsessively studied all of the great players, I imagined nobody could ever exceed NEO and f0rest. Yet I find s1mple’s career irresistible in its individual dominance. I can’t tell you the 1.6 greats were better, because what I’ve seen with my own eyes defies making such a statement with any certainty and the possibility of s1mple continuing to excel and exceed expectations is too intoxicating.
s1mple was the first player in CS:GO history to break HLTV.org’s near iron clad rule that the MVP (Most Valuable Player) of an event had to be playing for the winning team, taking half of his MVP honours at tournaments his Na’Vi side did not win. To use this metric of winning MVPs from a single authority figure in the community to contrast s1mple with the historical greats and his current peers shows how far ahead he currently is and has been for the last 15 months or so.
s1mple’s six MVPs in 2018 tie him with GeT_RiGhT for second most ever won in a calender year, and GeT_RiGhT was playing on the most dominant team in the world for that year. The only player to have won more in a year was device last year and that came with the context that he won most of his MVPs by a small margin over his team-mates and lost MVPs to s1mple at events device’s team won. It is telling that despite device breaking the record for MVPs won in a single year, a year in which his team seemed to win everything, that there were very few credible figures calling for device to be considered the best player of the year.
With such a seemingly flawless skillset, impossible peak level and consistent form, it’s understandable why Na’Vi, despite their problems, managed such a strong run of top four finishes early.
Work hard; carry harder
Due to such prodigious talent, many onlookers frequently mistook s1mple for a player who relied upon his innate ability as almost a crutch in the game, especially during the time in which he was criticised for his extreme aggression. What they missed was that one of the most talented players in history had also reached such an uncanny peak of performance through being one of history’s hardest workers too.
Those who have been s1mple’s team-mates over the years or watched his streams will attest to his relentless work ethic and obsessive focus on improving. Back in 2015 this player would have Steam names like “aspire to be the best”. Upon landing on American soil to play for Team Liquid in his first tour with them he immediately got online and began crushing the local talent.
“When he first joined [Team Liquid] […] I remember playing online matches with him and he was almost falling asleep playing some of the American opponents. It just seemed like it was so easy for him. Especially playing FPL […] it just seemed like it was a cake-walk for him. Like ‘this so easy’, ‘these guys are so bad’.”
Hiko (Reflections, July 2016)
Near the end of CS 1.6, when GeT_RiGhT had been the superior player over f0rest, on teams they shared spots in no less, the two Swedes were often setup as contrasting tales of talent and drive. Where f0rest was incredibly skilled but known to slack in practice hours, at least for periods of time, GeT_RiGhT was the less skilled player who worked harder than anyone else to improve and eventually surpass f0rest for a time.
I often wondered what might be if a player with the skill level of f0rest adopted the work ethic of GeT_RiGhT. It seemed easy to write that off as a fantasy, as an abundance of natural ability has often led to such players not feeling the need to practice as much as those who can only shine with much effort expended in the polishing process. I no longer need wonder or speculate on such a marriage of skill and will, as s1mple embodies both harnessed in one individual.
As such, the seemingly drastic mentality change s1mple eventually underwent as a team-mate and competitor can be traced by to this singular drive to be the best. Where in the past it was channeled into frustration at team-mates and his circumstances, now it has become a wholly positive force pushing him to newer heights of excellence.
Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?
The first years of s1mple’s career saw himself establish himself as a notoriously poor team-mate almost as much as a ludicrously talented player. Individually, he was excellent, but in his attitude to those on his side he scored poor grades. Not only would he critique and chastise players during live official matches, but he was infamous for rude behaviour to team-mates and opponents in pick-up games with Europe and North America’s best alike.
“In a world of CS:GO stars, s1mple has earned the title of super-star. If he can continue to play great Counter-Strike, he will end up as one of the 10 best to ever grace this game, should his personality allow it.”
Thorin (DotEsports, June 2015)
An early incident of note came when, following an ESWC 2015 at which he had seemingly made history by helping carry the lowly FlipSid3 past NiP and to a top four finish, he departed from his team and publicly stated that that would be his “last tournament with this team”, clarifying that “Either that or I will not play some of the players anymore”.
With the team containing not much individual ability, but legendary veterans names of the region like B1ad3, the first great IGL of Ukrainian CS, and markeloff, the aforementioned once-upon-a-time best player in Counter-Strike, s1mple’s statements seemed entirely disrespectful. FlipSid3 and their players came out and expressed happiness at no longer playing with s1mple themselves, highlighting his troublesome attitude as a team-mate.
The trend continued when Team Liquid flew him over to be their monster hired gun. Team-mates complained about his poor attitude, with the likes of adreN, nitr0, EliGE and JDM all publicly admitting that he was a nightmare team-mate who most of them would prefer not to play with again. Even team-mate and friend Hiko, whose bond in and out of the game went back further, acknowledged that s1mple was near intolerable as a team-mate and that he played with him due to wanting so badly to win and knowing s1mple was the likeliest path to glory.
Indeed, I have myself been privy to audio recordings of Team Liquid during their practices in 2016 and heard the hostile, argumentative and unrelenting attitude s1mple displayed. Hence my own admonishment that his personality and interactions with team-mates were all that was holding him back from accomplishing anything he could desire, in terms of team success.
As 2017 came and went, a new s1mple began to emerge. Again stuck carrying a team performing far below his level, though not as poor relative to the top tier as FlipSid3 had been, s1mple seemed to have mellowed as a team-mate and now understand that his fellow players simply could not do the things he could in the game and that his expectations of them must be attuned accordingly. It was for s1mple to carry and the others to contribute where they could. Such a mentality birthed the monster carry that ravaged 2018.
“There are lots of problems in Na’Vi and many tough decisions to be made in the future, but s1mple is not one of those problems and the decision to keep him and build around him is an easy and obvious one.”Thorin (DotEsports, February 2017)
Despite so many tournaments last year in which s1mple was the best player in the field but did not lift the trophy, he did not appear angered by his team-mates or openly critical of them. Perhaps the most startling highlight of the Ukrainian’s new found attitude came after Na’Vi’s finals defeat to Astralis at Dreamhack Masters Marseille, where s1mple could be seen standing off to one side of the stage and applauding the Danes who had beaten him as they celebrated with the silverware he had hoped would be his.
From an obnoxious troublemaker to one of Counter-Strike’s best ambassadors, improvement across the board has been seen in s1mple’s career.
Fabulous feats despite defeats
Considering s1mple has only amassed three big international tournament titles over his otherwise stunning career, it is not so easy to write him off as a great player who couldn’t win. As previously mentioned, nobody has carried as hard or as long and on as relatively poor teams as s1mple, in the context of having championship winning capabilities. Nay, this player’s feats litter his entire career.
As previously alluded to, s1mple helped HellRaisers win their group at Dreamhack Winter 2014, the fourth CS:GO major, and in doing so set FNATIC up with the quarter-finals match-up against LDLC which infamously decided the fate of the champion of that tournament, following the notorious “olofpass boost”. Playing for Team Liquid, he took them to heights they as an organisation had never come close to, twice taking them to not just the play-offs of majors but a minimum of the semi-finals, in his two appearances with them.
North America’s best ever major run prior to that had been when Hiko’s previous team of compLexity had reached the semi-finals of Dreamhack Winter 2013, the first major. s1mple’s monster carry performances against Na’Vi and FNATIC, two of the best teams of the year, pushed TL into the first major final for a North American CS:GO team.
In between his two spells in Liquid, s1mple took a team of semi-pros he was friendly with and formed “Worst Players”, a mix team to attend the StarLadder i-League Invitational #1. There s1mple’s men played series against only Virtus.pro, one of the game’s legendary line-ups; SK Denmark, who had reached the final of CEVO-P S9 Finals less than a month prior; and GODSENT, pronax’s new project which had nearly made the final of Dreamhack Masters Malmo a month before.
Despite this calibre of opponent and the lack of star names on his team, s1mple dominated the event individually with a mindblowing stat line of 0.97 FPR to 0.68 DPR (Deaths Per Round average) and a +61 differential.
Winning ways and MVPs
Playing in Na’Vi, months after his epic Cologne run with Liquid, s1mple helped them win their first ever $250,000 or more prize pool event, taking the ESL One New York 2016 title by defeating a Virtus.pro in the final who were ranked number two in the world. Following a fairly barren 2017, filled with runs which ended too early to see Na’Vi contend for titles and eventually even bottom out and outright flunk events, s1mple stormed 2018 to push Na’Vi to numerous memorable performances, even in circumstances where the opponent was expected to win.
Na’Vi failed to win StarSeries S4 early in the year, an event with a stacked field a highly large sample size format of Bo3 (Best-of-3) Swiss system and stacked with the best teams in the world, but s1mple’s individual performances was arguably the best any player has ever put up in history, over that sample size and against that quality of opposition. Na’Vi came close to taking the final in the second map of the final against mousesports, as s1mple exploded for 42 kills in an eventual over-time loss in which captain Zeus managed only a measly and practically game-losing eight kills.
Even as he top the scoreboard in all metrics on the deciding map, s1mple could not force Na’Vi over the finish line and saw mouz take the crown. Nonetheless, the performance earned him the first HLTV.org MVP award ever granted to a losing player in CS:GO.
Later in the year, with Russian star electronic finally integrated as a power player in his own right, s1mple came back to the next season of StarSeries and dominated again to this time take the title. Along the way he not only got revenge on the very same mousesports line-up, frustrating them in a close semi-final, but butchered the SK Gaming core who had beaten him at the majors in 2016. Facing such legendary names as coldzera, former world number one; fer and FalleN, s1mple posted almost 100 kills over the three map quarter-final and died only 46 times, the least of any player in the server.
Finishing with an obscene +48 differential for the series, s1mple outlined the gap between himself and the other top players in the world, as coldzera kept apace on the first map but was outfragged heavily over the last two maps, going from 42 kills to s1mple’s 41 in the opener to 25 kills over the last two maps contrasted with s1mple’s 52.
That title, Na’Vi’s first big title of this line-up’s time together, sparked their run of three trophies won over the summer, taking the much smaller CS:GO Asia Championship and then besting world number ones Astralis and underdogs BIG to grab the ever prestigious and storied ESL One Cologne crown, with s1mple finally winning that event after three straight years of reaching the semi-final and two finals appearances in total.
The primary accomplishment missing from s1mple’s career and which makes him the odd man out in the typical list of CS:GO G.O.A.T. candidates is of course that elusive major. Yet a look at the context of s1mple’s career again shows that what might initially be perceived as a weakness can, when studied, counter-intuitively emphasise how impressive s1mple’s feats have been. s1mple has reached the final of the major twice and the semi-finals a total of five times. Those seven deep runs come in only eight major appearances.
s1mple was not a top pro for the first three majors, could not participate in either ESL major in 2015 due to a 1.6 ban on his record and failed to qualify for Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca to close the year’s majors out. From 2016 on, s1mple has played at every major, failed to make the play-offs only once and made all of those deep runs over that two and a bit year time span.
A glance at his teams’ rankings prior to some of those majors also tells a different story than simply stating that he failed to win the trophy. Prior to MLG Columbus 2016, Team Liquid were ranked 18th in the world and yet lost only in over-time on both maps of the semi-final to a Luminosity Gaming who ended up being the team of the year. At ESL One Cologne 2016, Liquid were ranked 11th and yet made it all the way to the final. Finally, at ELEAGUE Boston, Na’Vi were ranked 14th but reached the semi-finals nonetheless. Such has been s1mple’s history of defying the odds and pushing his team to exceed expectations.
At the last two majors, Na’Vi have been one of the biggest players and their rank of #2 prior to FACEIT London was matched with a runners-up finish and their #3 ranking prior to IEM Katowice also saw them correspondingly finish at an appropriate 3rd-4th, even if they were upset by an underdog in that last series. It seems unfair to harshly criticise s1mple for failing to win a major without ever having been anywhere close to a favourite prior to the last two. Of those eight majors attended, s1mple lost to the eventual champion of the major four times in the play-offs and a finalist a total of seven times.
s1mple has never played on the number one ranked team in Counter-Strike.
Collision course with history
Taking into account s1mple’s incredible ramp up in performance year on year, all he lacks to complete his case as the greatest is more team success and perhaps a continuation of his great form. A strong case could be made that, on the basis of individual play alone, he could already be called CS:GO’s best ever player.
If I was starting a franchise tomorrow s1mple is the player I would choose to build around. If I had the opportunity to sign a free agent for any other top team than Na’Vi, s1mple would be the first name in mind. Do not mistake s1mple’s life for a charmed one in which greatness followed him around, as has sometimes seemed the case in the careers of legends like shox and f0rest, but rather see him as someone who has overcome more than any other legend to stake his claim as the best to ever do it in a Counter-Strike server.
It’s said one man can’t beat you every time in this game, but it has frequently taken five to beat this one. There will never be another player like him. It’s that simple.
Header image artwork: @Chris_LC_Art