The Making of a Future Legend: s1mple's Journey to Natus Vincere
At the age of 18, Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev has experienced quite an eventful career. He went from being on the best team in his region to getting banned from premier events. He was stuck on a team that was much worse than him before attending a Major final. His career seems to have come full circle, considering how he is now back on his region’s premier team. Recently, it was announced that s1mple signed with Natus Vincere in place of Zeus, one of Na’Vi’s original players from when the organization was formed in 2009. This feature tells the story of how s1mple went from playing on CIS mix teams to playing for Na’Vi with a Major final under his belt.
S1mple first started his Counter-Strike: Global Offensive career on lesser-known Ukrainian and Russian rosters. Entering the esports scene in 2013 on a team called “LAN DODGERS,” and by February 2014, he joined Courage Gaming and spent time playing with the legendary B1ad3. With Courage, he performed well in SLTV StarSeries IX, but never achieved anything substantial with the organization. The team left the organization in April of that year and became “Hashtag.”
While on Hashtag, s1mple achieved his first notable victory when the team won the Voronezh Cup 2014 over the incredible 2014 HellRaisers lineup and USSR team, who hosted two of today’s best players in Natus Vincere’s Flamie and Seized.
In the quarterfinals, Hashtag had to play the Russian team, ALLIN. They went into multiple overtimes on the first CS:GO map, Dust II, but eventually won with a score of 22-18. The second map was a much quicker victory, only allowing ALLIN to score nine points on Inferno. For the semifinals, Hashtag was matched up against HellRaisers. S1mple’s team won both of the first two maps, Nuke and Inferno, in overtime with scores of 19-17.
Beating HellRaisers advanced Hashtag to the Grand Finals against the Belarusian 97club. It became one of s1mple’s most important matches in his career.
Hashtag won the first map, Inferno, in regulation with a score of 16-11. The next map was Mirage, and was also the very first map that Hashtag lost in the tournament, as 97club beat them quickly with a score of 16-9. The third map, Train, would determine who won the ₽150,000 prize. Hashtag had their strongest win of the tournament on Train, beating the Belarusians 16-8 allowing s1mple to win his biggest tournament yet.
More important than the ₽150,000 prize for first place was the exposure it gave the team and its players, including s1mple. Despite this victory, s1mple left the team only two weeks after the tournament to rejoin LAN DODGERS, who went on to sign with the Amazing Gaming Organization. He didn’t achieve anything notable with that team, but he already had a reputation in his region of being an extremely talented aimer with both the assault rifle and the sniper rifle.
In late 2014, s1mple had a chance to show the world that he could perform at the top tier. In September, the iconic HellRaisers team announced that AdreN would be leaving the squad, but didn’t reveal their new fifth team member until a week later when s1mple was put under the spotlight. He spent a few months with HellRaisers, and did very well for a player who had never played with Dosia or Markeloff before.
In his time with HellRaisers, s1mple took home a few medals, but arguably his most important pre-Liquid result was getting to the quarterfinals of DreamHack Winter 2014. S1mple played one of the most impressive games of his life in HellRaisers’ group stage match against Fnatic. He played for a K/D ratio of 1.5 and carried his team to a 16-14 victory against one of the two favorites projected to win the tournament. HellRaisers won their group and ended up playing Ninjas in Pyjamas in the quarterfinals. In the end, the Ninjas ended up winning a silver medal at this event and beat HellRaisers in the quarterfinals.
S1mple played with Dosia’s team for a little while longer, but was kicked soon after the last Major of 2014 due to his ban from participating in ESL events and leagues. This two-year ban from ESL is an extremely important (and unfortunate) fact to note in s1mple’s career, and he has felt the effects of this ban ever since.
In 2013, s1mple allegedly cheated on ESL servers. In the past three years, so many stories have emerged as to what game he was cheating in, and how he cheated, or if he even cheated at all. We’re not going to pretend to know the true answer, but all that really matters is that he was given a temporary ban for cheating. After doing a bit of research, it seems that s1mple cheated in a CS:GO one-on-one ladder back in March 2013 and was manually banned by an admin, rather than getting caught by Wire, ESL’s anti-cheat.
In January 2014, he tried to qualify with his team for the upcoming ESL event in Katowice using a different account. He ended up getting caught, and was not allowed to compete in any ESL events for an extra two years until Jan. 2, 2016.
This ban caused him to get kicked from HellRaisers as they couldn’t compete in many events with him, and this forced him into lower tier teams for quite some time. This undoubtedly hurt his career in both the short term and the long term, and if it weren’t for the ban, s1mple may have still been a dominant force for HellRaisers today, or would have potentially made it on to Natus Vincere much sooner.
Trying to Settle in Flipsid3 Tactics
Along with s1mple, HellRaisers also kicked out Markeloff, the legendary sniper from the original iteration of Counter-Strike that was struggling with the newest iteration of the game. They stuck together when looking for a team to join, and immediately joined forces with s1mple’s old teammates (WorldEdit and B1ad3) on dAT Team, as they had two empty spots due to AdreN and flamie leaving dAT Team for HellRaisers, the team that originally kicked s1mple and Markeloff.
Almost immediately after picking up the two Ukrainians, the team was signed by Flipsid3 Tactics, the former sponsors of a decent Swedish team. Though they played with s1mple during most of their matches, they had to use DavCost and CyberFocus as substitutes for any games that were hosted by ESL due to s1mple’s ban.
The team performed well in smaller and regional events, but could never beat the best teams in the world, which is what a player of s1mple’s caliber at that time was meant to do. They attended every single Major since getting picked up by Flipsid3, but could never get out of groups, which is what a player of s1mple’s caliber at that time was meant to do. He was often found carrying with WorldEdit or playing way too loose and cocky; he often ended up doing both.
The team had three good results at high-level events with s1mple. The first was Copenhagen Games 2015. Flipsid3 was put up against Team Dignitas in the first round of the event, and lost the series 2-0. s1mple carried the first map, Inferno, with 22 frags in 25 rounds, while Markeloff, B1ad3 and bondik combined for only 25 kills on the map.
Flipsid3 went on to narrowly win the next four losers bracket matches, and then earned a dominant 16-3 victory over LGB Esports in order to secure a spot in the top-four. Unfortunately, they had to play Team Dignitas again, and that match went even worse for Flipsid3 than the series at the start of the event. Team Dignitas won the only map played, Mirage, with a score of 16-4, not letting a single CIS player get more than 12 kills. s1mple had the worst performance of the match, getting only seven kills in 20 rounds and not doing much damage in any other way either. Flipsid3 left the event with a fourth place ribbon and €1,000.
s1mple’s next decent result was Flipsid3 Tactics’ victory at CIS LAN Championship in mid-April 2015. They won both their group stage matches, allowing them to skip to the semifinals. In the semifinals, they made easy work of a USSR team, which was the only squad that had to qualify for the tournament rather than get invited.
In the winners bracket final, Flipsid3 beat HellRaisers convincingly, featuring a star performance by s1mple on the first map in the best-of-three, Mirage. While no one else on the server was able to break 20 kills, s1mple 30-bombed. Flipsid3 went to the Grand Finals, where they faced HellRaisers again. s1mple had yet another strong match, especially the first map. Flipsid3 Tactics beat HellRaisers in two maps to win the series, the tournament and the $5,000 prize.
The third good event that s1mple had with Flipsid3 was StarLadder StarSeries XIII. The playoffs was a round robin between all six playoff teams, which would feed into a four-team bracket. In the round robin, Flipsid3 only lost a single map to Natus Vincere. It was on Cobblestone, and s1mple top-fragged the match. While no one on his team could get more than 20 kills against Na’Vi, s1mple earned 31 kills, as much as WorldEdit and B1ad3 combined.
Due to their placement in the round robin, Flipsid3 played Na’Vi again in the semifinals. Na’Vi made incredibly easy work of s1mple and Flipsid3 Tactics, beating them 16-4 on Cobblestone and 16-5 on Inferno. Flipsid3 Tactics still got third place at the tournament and $5,500.
Things started to get a little bit better for Flipsid3, but in late 2015, s1mple stated that he was having trouble playing with some/one of his teammates. He was reacting poorly to their mistakes in-game and felt like they were too bad of players to deal with. He also said that he wasn’t going to play with some of the Flipsid3 players ever again, and he was taking a short break from competitive Counter-Strike overall.
Though he was still contracted to Flipsid3 Tactics, he came back to the game a short time later and spent time playing with a CIS mix team who went by Evolution/Worst Players. He played on-and-off with them, but it didn’t seem like it was a serious, long-term squad that s1mple was going to stay with anyways. He also had some games as a stand-in with HellRaisers and Flipsid3, even though he said he would never play with some of the Flipsid3 players again.
During this time, he also started to try to change his behavior when it came to interacting with teammates. He called this new attitude “#news1mple” when he was banned from the FaceIt Pro League TeamSpeak server by TaZ. He seemed to have realized that he was being more toxic, for lack of a better term, than he wanted to be. This change in attitude, along with his ESL ban and contract with Flipsid3 Tactics being close to over, made s1mple a very attractive free agent in high level teams that wanted to increase their firepower in late 2015.
Rumors were emerging that s1mple would be joining a North American team around the turn of 2016. Even he was hinting at it, but many people thought that he was trolling his fans until the day that those rumors were confirmed. He joined Team Liquid on Jan. 2, 2016 – the exact day that his ban was lifted.
At first, s1mple was playing poorly for a player with his skill level. He was doing decent compared to his teammates and opponents, but his job was to be a hard-carry, not a regular fragger. Within weeks of s1mple joining the team, Liquid took adreN off of the starting roster and replaced him with the rising Koosta. This was an interesting move considering that there would be two good snipers on the team and no one seemed to be able (or wanted) to lead in-game. It was discovered later that the main reason for kicking adreN was because s1mple simply didn’t want to play with him.
Liquid continued to play with Koosta, but due to certain rules and restrictions when it came to rosters at MLG Columbus, they had to play with adreN at the Major. adreN shocked everyone and played extremely well throughout the event - almost as well as s1mple. In the group stage, Team Liquid had a good win against FaZe Clan, but it was followed by a huge upset against Fnatic in the winners match. The match was on Dust II, which was a good map for Team Liquid and an okay map for Fnatic at the time. In regulation, both teams had good terrorist sides, since both halves ended with scores of 10-5 in favor of the attackers. The first overtime was even as well, but the second overtime was clinched by the Americans.
s1mple had a star performance against the Swedes, getting 37 kills in 41 rounds; that’s almost a kill per round. He also dealt an average of 90 damage per round, meaning that s1mple topped the server in both kills and ADR. He also was very impactful in a way that couldn’t be measured on stat-sheets, since many of his kills were important to the round.
Later on in the tournament, Team Liquid famously played Luminosity Gaming. This was the series where Luminosity came back from a 15-9 deficit on the first map, and then a 15-6 deficit on the second map. Even though s1mple lost the series, he still played well against the best team in the world.
The first map was Mirage. s1mple didn’t have such great ADR, as he averaged only 67.5 damage per round, but he still got 24 kills in the match. Only EliGE, FalleN and Coldzera earned more kills than s1mple on Mirage. s1mple played much better on the second map, Cache, even if it wasn’t enough to win the game. He top-fragged for Liquid, with 29 kills in 35 rounds. He did 80.5 ADR, a 13 ADR jump from the first map, which is a significant number. Even though he played well, he didn’t play well enough and Team Liquid lost the series to Luminosity Gaming 0-2.
MLG Columbus was a pivotal point in s1mple’s career. Before the Major, he was a talented player with a high skill cap, but no experience. After reaching the semifinals of a Valve-endorsed tournament, s1mple gained a significant increase in experience. He also got to prove to everyone that he could play well in high-pressure situations against the best players in the world, which is arguably the most important trait in a player.
Right after MLG Columbus 2016, there was DreamHack Masters: Malmö. In an interview right before the DreamHack event, s1mple mentioned that he would rather play with adreN than Koosta. This likely hurt Koosta’s confidence, as he played very poorly in Liquid’s matches against TyLoo Gaming and Luminosity Gaming.
Shortly after Liquid’s last-place finish at Malmö, as they lost both their matches against TyLoo and Luminosity, the Head of Esports at Team Liquid announced that s1mple would no longer be an active member of the Liquid CS:GO roster.
“We have been playing with koosta and adreN for the past couple of days due to s1mple needing to fly back to Ukraine in order to arrange his ESL Pro League Visa for London. After having greatly missed his family throughout his stay in the United States, he was looking forward to spending some time in his home country. As s1mple spent more time at home with his family, it became even more apparent that he had missed them so much. This, in combination with concern over his in-game role on the team—and consequently the team atmosphere—led him to reach out to us about his desire to play for a European team and not return to the States.
We take requests like this very seriously and after thorough discussion, we've decided to help s1mple find a new home on a European team, where he can really find his stride. We are going to figure this out together and we will work with him to find potential organizations. In the meantime, s1mple will remain under the Team Liquid banner as a CS:GO streamer.
This means that our starting lineup going forward will be: adreN, Elige, koosta, Hiko and nitr0.” -Robin Nymann, Head of Esports at Team Liquid
We know now that s1mple returns to play with Team Liquid for two more events: ECS Finals and ESL One Cologne 2016. At this time, though, it seemed like s1mple was without a team and without a plan. Team Liquid said that they were working with s1mple to find a new European team, but there didn’t seem to be a top-10 Ukrainian/Russian or English-speaking team that was looking for a new player.
In hindsight, we know that Na’Vi clearly wanted s1mple, since he’s on the Na’Vi CS:GO team now, but at the time of this announcement, he seemed to be stuck. s1mple said that he would play with Worst Players while he was in Europe, whose roster consisted of arch, F1L1N, fix, crush, and of course, s1mple, but this didn’t seem like a team he would stick with in the long run.
Fast forward a few weeks: while Team Liquid was waiting for Pimp, s1mple’s replacement, to be able to join the CS:GO squad, s1mple would be playing with them at the ECS Finals and ESL One Cologne 2016. This gave s1mple two last chances to show potential new teams what he could do at the highest level.
The ECS Season 1 Finals wasn’t a very remarkable event for s1mple and Team Liquid. They beat G2 Esports twice on Cobblestone, but lost all of their other maps in the group stage and failed to advance to the playoffs. ESL One Cologne 2016, on the other hand, could be argued as the most important event that s1mple has ever played in.
The group stage started with a match against Team EnVyUs. While s1mple had a very average map, going 14-14, Liquid was able to beat the French team with a dominant score of 16-7 on Train. They then narrowly lost to Virtus.pro on Cobblestone, 16-12. Because they lost the winners match, they had to go down to the decider match and win it if they wanted to go to the playoffs.
The match was against Mousesports, who were favored to win by many fans. That didn’t matter to s1mple and Team Liquid, as they beat Mousesports 2-0. Over the two maps, s1mple dealt an average of 91.4 damage per round. His teammate, nitr0, dealt a massive 101.7 damage per round, which is over a kill’s worth of damage per round against a top-10 team in the world. Those numbers aren’t nearly as important as the match win, since that’s what got Team Liquid to the playoffs, which is where their run gets really interesting.
Team Liquid was placed against Natus Vincere in the quarterfinals. This was the same Na’Vi lineup that made it to the past two Major finals in a row beforehand, the only difference being that Guardian had a healthier arm than the previous Major.
The first map was scary for Liquid before it even started. Na’Vi picked Train, one of their best maps. Even though the Americans won the first half 10-5, Na’Vi was an impenetrable wall in the second half, winning 11 of the last 12 rounds to win the match. s1mple and Hiko were the two worst performers on the match as well. They totaled 25 kills on the map, with s1mple earning a low 64 ADR and Hiko getting an even lower 40.1 ADR.
The second map was Nuke, which was going to be very difficult to predict. ESL One Cologne was the first Major to feature the new Nuke and neither of the teams played a lot of Nuke recently before the Major. An important note was that Na’Vi were infamously bad on the old version of Nuke, as it was their permaban, which made it reasonable to assume that Liquid would win. The map actually went very well for Liquid, even though they started on T-side. They won seven T-side rounds, as Na’Vi was a much weaker defense force on Nuke. The second half was Liquid’s turn to be a wall, as they won nine out of the 13 rounds in the second half to win the map, tying the series score at 1-1.
The third map was Cobblestone, and a very pivotal map in s1mple's recent career; he was playing against a top-three team in an elimination map on the biggest stage he had ever been on. It was also his last shot with Liquid, meaning that this map could decide the direction of his career after the Major. He must have realized that, since he dominated Na’Vi. He got 28 kills on the map; GuardiaN, Flamie and Zeus combined for 29 kills on the map. s1mple dealt an average of 113.7 damage per round; GuardiaN and Flamie combined for 114.4 damage per round. The rest of Team Liquid weren’t slacking off either, as they won 13 rounds in the first half, making the map essentially over by the second pistol round. Team Liquid won the match, making them the first North American team to go to multiple Major semifinals.
On paper, Team Liquid should not have had a chance against Fnatic in the semifinals, but it seemed like the momentum from the match against Na’Vi carried over to the next day, especially in s1mple. The two maps played were Cobblestone and Cache, and Liquid won both maps 16-13 with s1mple topping Liquid’s side of the scoreboard on both maps. On Cache, he even 30-bombed with 31 kills, two of which are commemorated via a graffiti under Heaven on B-Site. More important than the graffiti was the 2-0 win against Fnatic, bringing Liquid to the first Grand Finals of a Major that a North American team had ever gone to, and the first Grand Finals of a Major that didn’t include a European team, as they would play against the Brazilian SK Gaming.
s1mple and Team Liquid played great up until the Grand Finals, but something inside of them turned off once they played against SK Gaming. Maybe it was nerves - everyone remembers what happened against the Brazilians at MLG Columbus. Even without that, Team Liquid had never beaten the Brazilians before that match. Maybe it was just that SK Gaming were that much better than Team Liquid and everyone that Team Liquid faced.
Either way, Liquid was only able to win 13 rounds over both maps combined. s1mple dealt only 50.2 ADR and was only able to score 21 kills over the two maps; coldzera scored 44 kills over the series and TACO scored 42. Liquid’s run ended on a very sour note, but the fact that they got as far as they did was sweet enough.
s1mple's time with Liquid changed him as a player. He learned to play better with a team, even though he's still far from perfect in that respect. He gained experience, which is always important in times of pressure. He got big tournament placings. Most importantly: he got another chance.
That was s1mple’s last event with Team Liquid. A few weeks went by with s1mple just streaming, but a huge announcement came out that Na’Vi would be dropping Zeus in favor of s1mple. This led to huge speculations: Will this be too many fraggers on one team? Will this be the start of a Na’Vi-dominated era? All these questions will be answered in the future, but for now - whatever happens, happens.
This is a big article with a lot of information. If there’s any false facts in this article, please message the author on Twitter (@jlbCS, DMs are open) so that those mistakes don’t happen again. Thanks for reading!
Photo credits go to HLTV.org, fragbite, DreamHack