Counter-Strike’s growth as an esport in 2015 is perhaps unmatched by any other game. Prize pools went up, viewing figures went up, and the amount of investment needed to create a top-tier lineup went way up.
As the potential winnings go higher and higher, teams are starting to take bolder steps to join the game’s highest echelons. The huge influx of new tournaments, and the bump in prize totals for old ones, created an competitive environment like never before in Global Offensive.
Sometimes all it takes is one change to turn a formerly average side into championship contenders. This year featured hundreds of roster changes, from the almost unnoticed to the downright bizarre. Here are the 10 that mattered most.
10) Dennis Edman joins Fnatic
Fnatic claimed their second and third major championships in 2015, establishing the team as the most successful in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Unfortunately for Fnatic, no king rules forever, and their slumping form towards the end of the year warranted a change. Two years after joining the lineup, team captain and in-game leader (IGL) Markus “Pronax” Wallsten stepped aside to allow Dennis “dennis” Edman to complete his transfer from G2.
It’s been an explosive second half of the year for Edman. The player burst back into the spotlight when his addition to Team Kinguin transformed them into a threat on the international stage. His performance at DreamHack Cluj in October drew Fnatic’s attention, where Edman and his G2 side finished in the top four.
At DreamHack, Fnatic switched up their style, with Robin “Flusha” Rönnquist taking over the role of IGL. This move paved the way for a more reliable fragger to replace Pronax, whose main contribution to the team had been his leadership and strategy. Edman’s first weeks with the team indicates that their issues at DreamHack Cluj seem to have been resolved, with wins at DreamHack Winter and the ESL ESEA Pro League finals.
9) S1mple joins Flipsid3
This is another roster change that inevitably didn’t actually change anything. What we did see, however, is proof that Aleksandr “S1mple” Kostylev could be one of the best players in the game. He’s so good that Flipsid3 retained him on the starting roster despite having to use a substitute at every ESL event they attended, including the entirety of the ESL ESEA Pro League and ESL One Katowice in March.
Kostylev is the definition of a highlight reel player. In fact, slap some dubstep over almost every map the Ukranian plays and you’ve got yourself CS:GO content for life. Initially Kostylev was a deadly rifle player. During the latter parts of 2014 and throughout 2015, however, he’s proven to be a deadly AWPer as well.
Kostylev transformed the team from an average tier two side into a team that could compete with the best in single map series—and give them a fright in best of threes. Throughout the whole of 2015 he’s maintained some of the best stats out of every player in the world. Even taking into account that those numbers are almost entirely from online matches and tournaments, there’s still no denying this is an impressive feat. The player has maintained a 1.19 KD ratio in over 200 maps this year.
8) Hiko joins Team Liquid
One of the biggest names in North American Counter-Strike found himself struggling to find a stable home in at the beginning of the year. Spencer “Hiko” Martin was poised to join a promising IBuyPower lineup, only to find his future teammates had been caught throwing a match in order to win skins from an online betting website. With that team dead, Hiko spent the majority of 2015 as the standout player on a relatively weak Nihilum lineup.
Hiko eventually found an opportunity to link up with Team Liquid in September. Liquid hadn’t achieved anything particularly noticeable before his arrival, but the team had a number of young talents that simply failed to produce when it mattered the most. The addition of Hiko—who’s a veteran, a leader, and, most importantly an extremely reliable player—was the ideal move to allow these players to flourish.
Since his arrival in September, Liquid has become a completely different animal. The era of Cloud 9 dominating North America is over, and Team Liquid now look to be one of the most threatening teams from the region on the international stage. At worst, this move allows Team Liquid to firmly grasp a top two spot in North America. At best, it serves as a catalyst for the team to continue improving and (with perhaps another change), make a challenge internationally.
7) Jkaem joins Gamers2
Another breakout player in 2015, Joakim “Jkaem” Myrbostad enjoyed a quiet start to the year with Norweigan outfit LGB. His time with the team was uneventful, carving out a few upset victories in online matches before being pushed aside offline. For a brief period, the player even featured the new-look Copenhagen Wolves outfit, only a few weeks before his consistent performances caught the eye of Gamers2, who needed someone to fill the very big shoes left by the departure of Adil “Scream” Benrlitom
Given just a month with his new teammates, Jkaem was thrust into the spotlight when G2 headed out to Romania for the major at DreamHack Cluj. Expectations for the team were mixed; they’d shown some strong performances, but with Scream, a star player, out the door and Jkaem joining, no one expected more than mixed results on the big stage. Instead, the Norwegian player and his team made waves by toppling Polish giants Virtus Pro in the quarterfinals before falling in a three game series to eventual champions EnvyUs.
Both G2 and Jkaem’s future looks bright. The team ended the year on a high note, thanks in part to Jkaem’s large contribution. Next year could be a landmark year for G2. Indeed, while this move currently sits seventh on this list (because of how little time we’ve had to see its impact), it could prove to be one of the best roster changes of the year going forward.
6) NiKo joins Mousesports
Technically, this is a roster change that occurred back in March. Nikola “NiKo” Kovač only started to prominently feature in the Mouz lineup after being brought up from the bench in late August, however. For such a talented player to remain as a substitute for that long was cause for confusion among fans, though many speculated it was because Mouz wanted to keep German as the team’s in-game language. Eventually, however, the team realized that NiKo was just too good to keep on the bench.
Before the NiKo’s arrival, Mouz were hovering on the brink of joining the ranks of top-tier teams in Counter-Strike. Multiple upset victories over some of the best teams in the world rarely translated into meaningful tournament runs, and balancing on the precipice eventually became too much for them. NiKo, who replaced the outgoing Timo “Spiidi” Richter, immediately improved the team. Mousesports claimed a top-two finish in the CEVO grand finals in November and are yet to compete offline since then.
5) dennis joins Kinguin
It shows just how remarkable a year it’s been for Dennis “dennis” Edman that he features twice on this list. The Swedish player ended the year on a high by signing with one of the giants of the scene, Fnatic. It was back in May of this year, however, that the player really started to showcase why he would eventually make such a prolific addition to an already top-tier squad. In July, he replaced the outgoing Alexander “Skytten” Carlsson on Team Kinguin.
The change transformed Kinguin from dark horses into serious contenders, including a quarterfinal finish at ESL One Cologne, a win at Gamers Paradise 2015, and perhaps the peak of G2’s performance this year, a top four finish at Dreamhack Cluj-napoca.
4) Allu joins Ninjas in Pyjamas
It’s always hard to judge the impact of a new player joining a struggling team. Obviously, the Ninjas had hoped Alecksi “Allu” Jalli might add something different to the aging lineup, which was still looking to fill the gap left by Robin “Fifflaren” Johansson. Allu was a huge upgrade, no doubt, but the team was still unable to have a major impact in 2015.
It was a positive start for Allu and the Ninjas. They picked up a second-place finish at ESL One Katowice, playing a very close grand final against the best team in the world. Similar tournament runs this year have been rare, however. And even when the team would find themselves in a competition’s later stages, they’ve been unable to see it through and win a major title.
Unlike Maikel “Maikelele” Bill, who had briefly held the spot before him, Allu offered stability on the AWP, consistently churning out strong performances, even when some members of the lineup struggled to match his level of impact. In December, Allu left, adding fuel to the rumors that this iteration of NiP could be coming to an end. While his time on the team didn’t propel him to the level of the elite AWP players in the world, he proved that he could consistently challenge them, and fit into a lineup capable of fighting for titles.
3) Flamie joins Na’vi
The timing on the release of this list is almost perfect. The last time you saw Igor “Flamie” Vasilyev in action was the ESL ESEA Pro League Finals, where he almost single handedly dragged Na’Vi into a grand final against Fnatic.
Flamie finished that tournament with a +99 K/D differential after 14 maps played. It was, without a doubt one of the best individual performances in tournament play this year.
Flamie took the place of the outgoing Sergey “Starix” Ischuk, who transitioned to a coaching role. Ever since his introduction to the lineup, Flamie has become an integral part of the team, often playing one of the key roles in big tournament runs. The newest addition to Na’Vi has even put up more frags than star AWPer Ladislav “Guardian” Kovács in 2015.
2) Skadoodle and Freakazoid join Cloud9
Looking at the situation as it stands, this roster move hasn’t really changed a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. For a couple of months though, Cloud9 with Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham and Ryan “Freakazoid” Abadir almost looked like contenders for top two in the world.
Skadoodle secured his spot on the list of elite AWP players in the world over the summer. Challenging the likes of Kenny “kennyS” Schrub and Guardian regularly. Freakazoid, meanwhile, offered a dedicated entry man, not afraid to bust into a site and draw the fire, freeing up space for Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert and Mike “Shroud” Grzesiek.
After their brief period of success in the summer, things have gone downhill for the team. Skadoodle has slumped and C9 now may not even be the best team in North America. Most recently, team captain and in game leader Sean “sg@res” Gares stepped down after poor performances. Perhaps yet another change could spark some more success for the team.
1) KennyS and Apex join Envy
With Fnatic dominating the scene for the first half of 2015, it took a new French superteam to challenge them. Kenny “kennyS” Schrub and Dan “Apex” madesclaire had been frontlining Titan before EnvyUs brought them onboard to replace Edouard “Smithzz” Dubourdeaux and Richard “Shox” papillon.
The change sparked one of the greatest honeymoon periods in recent memory, with EnvyUs instantly becoming a top two team in the world, challenging Fnatic at every event. KennyS wasn’t quite hitting the same unplayable form he had towards the end of his time on Titan. But he didn’t need to. Everyone on the new-look EnvyUs had carry potential. For a short while, they locked down the title of best team in the world. A slump towards the end of 2015, however means they once again drop below Fnatic to fight for No. 2.