The Thorin Treatment: s1mple and the Path of Greatness
"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)
Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev is the both the most talented player in CS:GO and the best. A prodigy of skill, the Ukrainian youth spent the last two years battling to learn the personal lessons which would allow him to finally become part of a team capable of harnessing his talents to become a world champion. That journey has brought him to Natus Vincere (Na`Vi), one of the best teams of the year and a team that themselves need the unbelievable level if impact s1mple can bring, having twice failed to capture a major title despite reaching the final.
Born to win
The title of this section is the rough translation of what Natus Vincere means in Latin, but it applies only too well to s1mple on an individual level. To call s1mple a Counter-Strike prodigy is not to invoke hyperbole, the Ukrainian has legitimately shown a level of performance at a young age that simply defies all expectations. Consider many of the young talents around the world of CS:GO and a pattern will emerge that they are seen to be skilled or with masses of potential, but it takes years to tease out and they need time to adjust to the mental pressures of performing to their top level in offline matches or against world class competition. s1mple had no such teething problems and seemed to come out of the womb ready to take the game to CS:GO's best.
A little over a month after turning 17, s1mple helped HellRasiers defeat FNATIC, the best team in the world, on mirage, one of their strongest maps, at Dreamhack Winter 2014, the last major of that year. Less than nine months later, still yet to turn 18, his talent powered FlipSid3 (F3) past NiP in a Bo3 quarter-final at ESWC in improbable circumstances. F3 had flirted with a top 10 ranking over the previous months, but on fairly tenuous grounds. NiP had fallen from elite status, but were still hovering around the outskirts of the top 5. In a Bo3 series, the gap between the two would have been significant even under normal circumstances.
FlipSid3 entered the contest without even their real five man line-up, forced to use North American player Hiko - who spoke no Russian, the language the team communicated in - as a replacement for WorldEdit, their second star. After being dominated on the first map 16:1, s1mple supernova'd the next two games to become the biggest star on the server and win his team the next two maps and the series, which at the time was the biggest upset NiP had ever suffered.
Fast advancing on the biggest stages
In March of 2016, aged 18, s1mple took Team Liquid, a squad of North American players, to the semi-final of MLG Columbus, the first major of the year, and they were on the brink of winning two maps against eventual champions Luminosity, only to yield both. Playing in unfamiliar circumstances with players from an entirely different culture, on the biggest stage in the game and in front of a primed North American crowd, s1mple had shown no fear or hesitation in performing. In Team Liquid's quarter-final match against fellow NA side CLG, he had exploded with a dominating performance which saw him working the crowd like a seasoned professional wrestling babyface.
"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)
Just over two months later, s1mple was back in Team Liquid as a stand-in and this time they went a step futher, reaching the final of ESL One Cologne, the next major after Columbus. s1mple's stamp upon the play-offs was undeniable, as the former FlipSid3 player was the dominant force securing wins for TL over Na`Vi and FNATIC, two of the world's elite squads. Against Na`Vi, a side filled with countrymen of his, he took over the deciding map of the series to remove any chance of GuardiaN and company making it a competitive match. Facing FNATIC, a team both bolstered by a confidence nearing arrogance and loaded with skill, s1mple treated a side filled with major winners and tournament champions with no respect, out-shooting and out-playing them.
s1mple's 19th birthday arrived on October 2nd and he celebrated it winning his first big international title. Now a part of Na`Vi, who had to run the s1mple experiment after being dominated by him and seeing themselves lacking for some firepower as GuardiaN, long their reliable super-star player, continued to fade, s1mple reached the final of ESL One New York after a flawless group stage and then a semi-final victory over his old team-mates at Team Liquid. Whereas in the ESL One Cologne final he had faltered and been unable to play at a star level, admittedly in a series in which he was facing one of all-time great teams at an imperious level and in which the rest of his team also fell far short of their best, this time would be different.
Na`Vi were facing Virtus.pro (VP), arguably the hardest team in the world to defeat in a series at that moment, and went down after the opening map of cbblestone. train was Na`Vi's pick and it was famously a favourite of VP, who often picked it themselves in 2016. The Poles would not come close to a winning opportunity on the map, as s1mple blew them out of the server and again seemed to elevate himself beyond the level of even a monster star player like Snax. The deciding map would see s1mple playing powerful impact Counter-Strike and being joined by GuardiaN, as they closed out a tight mirage game to take the title.
Just having turned 19, s1mple had won a big international event, show-casing some of the best numbers any player ever posted for a single tournament, despite facing only teams who ended up finishing top four at the event. The Ukrainian phenom had also been in the final of a major, reached the top four of two majors and three times played in the play-offs of a major. One of the game's most phenomenal talents was now amassing a resume which reflected that level of ability and manifest potential.
The impossible elixir
s1mple is an outlier in CS:GO in that he partners a seemingly impossible talent level with a ridiculous work ethic. CS:GO has often been modeled as game with stars who have one or the other but not both. Famously, GeT_RiGhT made himself the best player in the world in large part thanks to an unquenchable thirst for practice and improvement, but was not as wonderfully gifted in skill or aim as names like f0rest, GuardiaN or Dosia. The very same f0rest, GeT_RiGhT's NiP team-mate, on the other hand is best known as someone who was himself a prodigy level talent in CS 1.6, but has long displayed a pattern of failing motivation which has seen him invest many hours into games other than Counter-Strike over the last decade of playing at a world class level.
The question was always what would happen if a player came along who combined the talent and work ethic of such players. In s1mple we see the answer to such a question, as we did with NEO in 1.6. As with any strength, though, there seems to come a weakness or flaw which acts as a counter-veiling balance, unless the player in question can overcome it through improving with purpose some aspect of his skillset, style or mentality.
With NEO, that weakness was not having the talent pool from which to draw world class team-mates on a year-by-year basis, as all his peers had the luxury of. As such, NEO had to walk a path of extreme patience and discover how to play not simply as a super-star hard carry player, but also a versatile force who could temporarily plug the holes left by some of his team-mates. It's this latter talent which has seen NEO continue to have impact upon games in CS:GO, where he has not shown himself to be the same kind of force in terms of skill.
For s1mple, his Achilles' heel has been his attitude towards his team-mates. Many super-stars in competitive team disciplines must learn not simply to exert their own peak performance, but how to use their team-mates to achieve team success that they cannot consistently from their own play alone. s1mple has struggled with that component of CS:GO from the beginning and this was the primary factor which saw him playing outside of elite teams up until Na`Vi. Now that he has some world class players, champions and veterans surrounding him, only this aspect of his make-up can hold him back from more success on the level of ESL One New York.
s1mple could already hard carry lesser teams against world class opposition back in the Summer of 2015, but now he has the vehicle around himself to both win the biggest tournaments, including majors, and establish himself as the dominant player in the game, with a run comparable to those we've seen from the likes of GeT_RiGhT, shox, kennyS and olofm.
Brilliant across the board
s1mple is the best player in CS:GO today. On a skill level, he has a seemingly unfair array of qualities which make him capable of wielding practically every weapon in the game. His pistol play is consistently masterful, as his USP has produced countless highlights and his Desert Eagle makes him one of the most dangerous to face when his team cannot afford a full buy. With rifles the Na`Vi man is arguably the best in the game and under other circumstances may well simply be known as a rifler.
This is where his skillset seems to become unfair, as the former TL player is also known as one of the best snipers in the world. There are a number of players who have been world class riflers and also dangerous hybrid AWPers, with the likes of olofm and device immediately springing to mind, but the difference is that they were always very much the former first and foremost, adding in AWPing in specific situations. s1mple has proven so adept with the AWP that he is not a hybrid in the traditional sense, instead using the AWP whenever he can but still being able to fall back upon being one of the world's best riflers when the round or economy does not suggest AWPing as feasible.
The will to dominate
What sets s1mple apart from most young players is his killer instinct. As outlined previously, many young players are possessed of talent but it is frequently their own confidence and drive to play a star role which holds them back at the highest level and under the most pressure. This has never been an issue for s1mple, who stands out as a rare example of someone who seems to have never truly lacked for confidence or a steadfast sense he should be the best.
When the FACEIT ProLeague (FPL) first began it shocked some to hear s1mple chastising professional level players for their play and speaking as if he should have the most kills in and win every match he played. As much as this can be a negative, as seen by how this attitude has displayed itself towards team-mates in the past, it can also be the fire which powers the dominating player of the greatest players of all-time in team disciplines. For s1mple, he sees himself as the best player and as such he should dominate even legendary names and beat even the best teams in the world. They had their time and now it is his.
s1mple has the team to win world championships and the performances to establish himself as the best player in the world for a long time to come. This mixture of talent, ability and confidence reminds me of the League of Legends icon Faker, winner of three World Championships and the consensus best player of all-time in that game, as well as the most decorated. That kind of destiny can be s1mple's, such are his attributes. All that can hold back CS:GO's greatest prodigy is his own attitude and its affect on the politics of the game, as has been the case for the past two years. If s1mple can master himself then he can become not only CS:GO's best ever player but esports'.
"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 (GAMURS, June 2015)
Photo credit: ESL, Dreamhack, TheScoreeSports
Custom artwork by @PapieroweDrzewo.