Written by: Richard Lewis
Twitter: @RLewisReports       

       It’s been a long and wild year for Counter-Strike with high points and low points a plenty. In keeping with the industry tradition to bombard the first few weeks of January with lists and awards, ELEAGUE shall be no different. Here are my picks for the 2016 best and worst in Counter-Strike. 

Breakout of The Year: Jake "Stewie2k" Yip

       There can be little doubt about who deserves to take this award, even if things did get interesting towards the year’s end with more new, emerging talent. Regardless, few of them will enjoy an ascent like young Mr. Yip. Back in January of last year, the Cloud9 organization was widely ridiculed and their fans let out a collective groan that would have put Charlie Brown to shame. They were heavily linked with CLG’s Tarik "tarik" Celik, but a sizeable buyout prevented that move from going ahead. When Yip was unveiled as the new fifth player, it seemed to show a lack of spending power and, more importantly, ambition. At the time, I wrote a column telling fans to be patient and that there was no better place for a young player to develop in North America than the Cloud9 organization. Even I couldn’t have predicted what would come next.

       As a player who was widely mocked for his playing style in pick-up games – it was common knowledge that“everybody hates Stewie2k” – the prescribed wisdom was that he could never deliver that aggressive, care-free style offline against the best. He did this and more, quickly rising to outshine a team that was already replete with some of the biggest names in NA Counter-Strike. For a young player, his consistency was remarkable, but despite this addition, the team was still failing to deliver on its promise. The team lacked a natural in-game leader and when they added Alec "Slemmy" White, thought he would bring the structure that the team clearly needed. While they did improve on a tactical level, it was also clear White wasn’t anywhere near the individual level he needed to be as a player. His time in Cloud9 was a short-lived and ultimately failed experiment.

 

       What happened next once again prompted comments from doubters, who were in a sensible majority if truth be told. Yip was installed as the team’s in-game leader and also turned recruiter bringing in the (as of then) unspectacular Timothy "autimatic" Ta. Sure, the tactics weren’t exactly high art, but they played to the strengths of the team and proved to be brutally effective. As for Ta, he hit career-high form as his wingman, given the roles and the space he needed to shine. Suddenly, Cloud9 weren’t just vying for the number one spot in America, they were global contenders.

       The high point of the year came with the unlikeliest of tournament victories at season four of the ESL Pro Series in Brazil. Even with some teams dropping out, Cloud9 was way down the pecking order of those that could win on Brazilian soil. Instead, Cloud9 overcame SK Gaming in the grand final, despite losing the opening map in heartbreaking fashion in overtime. It showed the team not only had firepower and tactical acumen, but also guts. Even though Ta would be rightly given the MVP award for a string of phenomenal performances at the event, there’s no doubt that Cloud9’s transformation is owed largely in part to a player the fans never wanted to begin with. It’s a crazy story rarely seen across the whole of esports.

Player of The Year: Marcelo "coldzera" David

       Weird to think that when we recorded our Eleague Xtra focusing on the best players in the world, this guy barely got a mention despite my best efforts. While there were others who may have a higher skill ceiling and catch the eye more easily, there isn’t anyone who has delivered anything near the level of consistency that David has over the course of a twelve-year period. He was (for most of 2016) the best player on the best team in the world, and even when they weren’t at their optimum, he rarely fell into a personal slump. The fact that he can maintain a consistently high level with either rifle or AWP as his team depends on him is what, for me at least, makes him one of the most valuable commodities in world Counter-Strike.

 

       Statistics don’t always tell the whole story, but some can’t be spun any other way but towards the truth. David played in 23 tournaments in 2016, excluding exhibition and qualifiers, and it was in only one of them where he went into a negative differential for kills to deaths. He was awarded the MVP at the two majors his team won because of his effectiveness. Even now, as the team encounters some significant resistance for that world number one spot, he remains the bedrock on which the team victories are built.

       There have certainly been some low points for the player in 2016. He’s been a controversial figure and hasn’t adapted well to his team no longer being kings of the hill. At various points, there was some lashing out at fans, stand-in players and opponents on social media. While that might not win him any popularity contests, it at least points to a perfectionist’s outlook. Whatever people think of the person behind the talent, there was no-one else really in contention for this year’s award and the plaudits are universal. That alone is an accolade that few will achieve in their playing careers.

Veteran of The Year: Patrik “f0rest” Lindberg

       Veterans deserve a special recognition of their own, partly because esports is very much a young person’s game. Somehow, a select few manage to fend off the young and eager, possessing faster reaction times and bodies free from injuries, while maintaining the level required to win tournaments. While NiP has been something of a mixed bag across 2016, making roster, in-game leader and coaching changes as they look to get back to tournament winning form, one thing has remained the same; If f0rest performs, NiP always has a chance, no matter who they play.

     Despite approaching 30 years of age and already one of a handful of names in the discussion for who is the greatest of all time, Lindberg has delivered an incredibly high level in 2016. NiP won three tournaments across the year, IEM Oakland, perhaps representing the toughest of the lot. In a tense and close final against SK Gaming, Lindberg was a difference maker, with his natural aim and experience winning so many vital rounds for his team. It was no surprise to see him declared the tournament MVP at the end.

 

     That wasn’t just some freakish anomaly. Prior to that, he had shown he was still competing with the best in the world at the StarSeries Season 2 Finals, tying for total kills with Team Dignitas’s Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke, a player almost ten years his junior. He also turned in the best kills to death differential of any player in attendance. While people want to talk about upcoming prospects or those with more flamboyant play styles, Lindberg is still getting it done, and is happy to stay out the spotlight as he does.

      It’s a shame that 2016 had to end on such a low note for the seasoned pro. NiP bombed out of the major qualifier in shocking fashion and will miss the first CS:GO major since they came into existence. This led to the usual bout of speculation about possible roster changes and retirements. Whatever decisions are made, let it be known that over the course of 2016, Lindberg was still an elite level player and should still be a long way from hanging up his mouse.