Top 10 Players to Watch in 2017

2017 has had an explosive start, with a wide variety of teams competing in a wide variety of tournaments, such as the WESG Finals in China, the ESEA Season 23: Global Premier Challenge, Dreamhack Leipzig, and the recently concluded ELEAGUE Major, which was hosted at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia.

With such an explosive start to the year, we have witness top talents from around the world compete at the various events that kicked off the year. Subsequently, we have already been exposed to some amazing Counter-Strike matches. Just like the events, there is a variety of younger talent ready to make their mark on 2017.

This piece will take a look at ten players that may do some damage in tournaments and leave their mark on 2017.

10) Jay “liazz” Tregillgas – 19 years old

Liazz announced himself to the world in 2017. Whilst most Australian Counter-Strike fans will be familiar with liazz and his skill, many were unaware until the ESEA Season 23: Global Premier Challenge offline tournament in Burbank, California. In their opening match vs. RUSH, liazz had a huge impact on the game, and subsequently the result. Liazz went 25(14)/4/11, posting up 109.8 ADR, and an HLTV rating of 1.62, 56% of his kills were headshots. In their next match, which was a 16-9 loss to Kinguin, liazz was the standout performer, posting a positive score, 81.5 ADR, and a 1.09 rating, despite such a heavy loss.

Onwards to their best of three against Muffin Lightning, liazz outshone everyone on the server, dropping 36 frags, 17 deaths, 116.9 ADR and a rating of 1.89, and continued these relatively strong performances throughout the other two maps against Muffin Lightning. He was a clutch player for Tainted Minds against Muffin Lightning, having impact on several important rounds.

As Tainted Minds came up against Team LDLC, the Australian side struggled against the French team. Considering their losses, liazz’s performance was still a relative consistency throughout Tainted Minds’ lifespan in the event.

Whilst liazz started 2017 off relatively well, his performances in 2016 were not at the same level but were still strong. His standout performances were at the ESL Australia & NZ Championship Season 1 Finals, EB Expo Finals Sydney, PGL Regional Minor Championship Asia, ESL Australia & NZ Championship Season 2 Finals and the WESG 2016 Asia-Pacific Regional Finals.

The start that liazz had to 2017 was a start that did catch the eyes of a lot of people, event analysts included. If liazz is able to continue with the form that he displayed throughout the ESEA LAN Finals at a domestic level, and if he continues to perform like he did at the ESEA LAN on a consistent basis whenever Tainted Minds compete internationally, he certainly is a player to keep an eye on.

9) Denis “electronic” Sharipov – 18 years old

Electronic is a player currently on trial at FlipSide Tactics, and a player that played for Team Russia during the WESG 2016 Europe & CIS Regional Finals.

During his short time in the FlipSide Tactics lineup, he is arguably already one of their stronger players.

The Dreamhack ZOWIE Open Winter 2016 was a relatively poor event for FlipSide, considering the likes of Kinguin were present, yet electronic was able to give a good account of himself throughout the event, competing against some good teams on paper. He finished the event with 145 frags (53.8% headshots) and 141 deaths and 83.6 ADR across the 7 maps played. He finished the event with a 1.03 rating, which was topped by only WorldEdit, who sat at a 1.15 rating overall.

Dreamhack Leipzig 2017 came along sooner rather than later. This event was regarded as a tier two event, but it had some strong teams such as BIG, Heroic, and LDLC, all of whom made the playoff stages of the tournament alongside FlipSide. Electronic performed well against BIG in their opening match, with a 1.51 rating (27 frags, 16 deaths & 97.8 ADR), and followed it up with a strong performance over two maps against LDLC in the playoffs. It was not until the finals of the tournament (ironically against BIG) that electronic was able to put up some big numbers consistently throughout the two maps played in the best of three series. 28 frags, 16 deaths, 105.1 ADR (1.41 rating) on Cache and then 26 frags, 15 deaths, 99.3 ADR (1.36 rating). Overall, electronic finished the event with 141 kills, 100 deaths (46.1% headshots) 91.2 ADR and a 1.26 HLTV rating.

FlipSide only played three maps at the ELEAGUE Major under the Swiss system, however, electronic was able to stand out and give a good account of himself against some strong teams, such as FaZe, OpTic, and Liquid. In the losses against FaZe and Liquid respectively, electronic was one of the stronger performers. Against FaZe, FlipSide lost 16-9 with electronic posting up a 22/19 scoreline, with 89 ADR and a 1.28 rating, and subsequently was the only player to post a positive scoreline on his team. In the close 16-14 loss against Liquid on Nuke, he was once again a stronger performer on his team, with a 24/21 score and 74 ADR. In the game against OpTic, his performance on a statistical basis was disappointing compared to the performances against the other two opponents, but it was still electronic that was able to get into the backside of OpTic and cause them a bit of trouble.

His performances against the teams in the events he has played with FlipSide were strong, and if this continues he is sure to do huge things should he stay with FlipSide in 2017, thus making him a player to watch.

8) Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken – 17 years old

A young, talented Canadian gun with seemingly endless potential. That’s the best way to describe Twistzz. Formerly of TSM through all of their iterations (SicK, autimatic, FNS, Semphis –> SicK, FNS, Semphis, Relyks), Twistzz is a younger talent that has shown a lot of raw skill and has the potential to be a great talent hailing from Canada. The former TSM squad were not able to participate in a wide variety of international LANs, but whenever given an opportunity to participate at one, players like Twistzz were able to give a solid account of themselves. At Northern Arena Toronto, TSM played domestic opponents in the form of Echo Fox and OpTic Gaming. Over the course of 6 maps, Twistzz had 119 kills with a 56.3% headshot ratio and a total of 113 deaths, with 73.5 ADR. At the ECS Season 1 LAN Finals, Twistzz was able to perform well against top international teams, such as Luminosity, Fnatic, and Astralis, as well as encountering domestic counterparts Cloud9. Over the course of 6 maps, Twistzz had 111 kills, 59.5% headshot ratio, and 77 ADR. Against top teams at such a young age, these performances are huge. At the time, TSM weren’t the strongest side compared to their other North American counterparts in hindsight.

However, with Twistzz at a new organization, Misfits, and with new teammates, he definitely is a player to watch in 2017. This is largely due to the possibility that his team would be able to perform at a high level with the addition of Sean Gares and Shahzam. With a stronger team around him, Twistzz may finally be able to flourish with a stronger team, perform at more events and perform better. On top of this, under the leadership of seangares, Twistzz should be able to improve dramatically over the course of the year, provided the team stays together for that long period of time.

An already awesome talent with seemingly boundless potential, 2017 should be the year that Twistzz flourishes, considering he has a much better team around him. He should be able to qualify for more events, build on that experience and become a top North American talent, with some guidance from the older players on his team.

7) Abay “HObbit” Khasenov – 22 years old

Whilst Hobbit is not the same age as these teenage players, he is new in terms of competitive Counter-Strike, having only started in 2014, according to Liquipedia. HObbit is currently on loan to Gambit from Tengri.

At Dreamhack Winter 2016, HObbit stepped up against teams like OpTic, Cloud9, GODSENT and Renegades. Throughout the tournament he proved to be one of the more consistent and reliable individuals on his team, only having two bad maps (vs. Cloud9 in a BO1 and GODSENT in the BO3 series). HObbit was plucked from near obscurity and performed at such a high level against international teams.

Gambit then headed to the ELEAGUE Major to kickstart 2017, and their campaign was not disappointing but surprised many. This was likely HObbit’s first tier one international LAN tournament, and he certainly did not disappoint, winning crucial rounds for his team many times. Statistically, his performance at the major was also strong. Considering that this was HObbit’s first big tournament, he was able to give a good account of himself against top teams involved in the tournament and did not fade away during the harder matches either. He constantly made his presence known and contributed to his team’s cause throughout the game.

If this is the level that HObbit performed at after two bigger international offline events, if he chooses to stick with Gambit, it will be interesting to see his development throughout the year, as he could be a heavily impactful player for Gambit or any other team he plays for.

6) Valdemar “valde” Bjørn Vangså – 21 years old

valde is an incredibly strong Danish talent who currently plays with Heroic. In most of the offline tournaments he has competed in, he has had a relatively strong showing. The two tournaments that stood out, in particular, were IEM Oakland and Northern Arena Montreal. Over the course of 5 maps, valde had 116 kills (56.9% headshot ratio), 92 deaths, 98.3 ADR and a rating of 1.24. These statistics came from strong performances against top teams like SK Gaming, FaZe, NIP and Cloud9. In their losses against FaZe and NIP (16-3 and 16-8 respectively), valde’s performances did not waver in terms of strength and quality. This element of consistency whether win or loss is an element that most teams seek from their players, but may struggle to find. At Northern Arena Montreal, valde was able to perform against the likes of G2, Liquid, and OpTic, and was once again above and ahead of his team on a statistical basis.

valde also filled in for Magiskboy during the ECS Season 2 finals and looked more than comfortable against his world-class performances, considering he was a stand in with a completely different team around him. Whether they practiced with him prior to the event or he did what he does best, valde’s consistency and high-level performances can only yield greater things for him sooner rather than later and is certainly a player to watch this year.

5) Hunter “SicK” Mims – 18 years old

Another young gun that was signed to TSM and played alongside Twistzz through the various iterations the squad had until seangares and Shahzam came in and then were transferred to Misfits. Simply put, he arguably TSM’s strongest performer throughout 2016 at their offline events, and had a strong element of consistency with his performances.

Now that SicK has a better team around him, 2017 is sure to be his year, as Misfits should be able to qualify for more events, play offline on a consistent basis and play against tougher opponents, which increases a player’s experience and gets them acquainted to the top tier of Counter Strike. Under the guidance of seangares, SicK should be able to flourish alongside Twistzz and perform better now than ever before and release the potential he has always had.

4) Jake “Stewie2k” Yip – 19 years old

Stewie2k has had a phenomenal 2016. He has a load of raw talent, and was finally picked up by a top North American team, and was able to show himself to the world through the various events that he played in. Since his arrival, Cloud9 were able to gradually improve as Stewie2k improved and developed. After the arrival of autimatic to the squad, Stewie2k became more of an in-game leader type player, whilst also contributing to the team’s fragging capabilities. With Stewie’s leadership and autimatic’s insane run of form, Cloud9 were able to win the ESL Pro League Season 4 Offline Championship.

Stewie2k’s development since the start of 2016 has been nothing short of amazing. His rise to the top of the North American scene was something that inspired many, and his growth as a player is simply outstanding. Keeping an eye on Stewie2k in 2017 is an absolute must because there is a strong chance he may improve and develop further, and might even inch his way up to being North America’s best player this year.

3) Simon “twist” Eliasson – 22 years old

twist has been a player that has impressed when he was at GODSENT but has definitely raised a lot of eyebrows at the ELEAGUE Major with Fnatic. He is currently Fnatic’s highest rated player on average throughout the events he has played with the team. Whilst he has posted up decent numbers throughout the events he has played, his most impressive performance so far has been the ELEAGUE Major. He is a player that is mainly a rifler but is more than good enough with the AWP. This hybrid player has come in handy for Fnatic in opening and closing rounds throughout the ELEAGUE Major, particularly in the playoff stages.

Should twist’s strong form continue, he is a must-watch player for 2017. Additionally, if the Swedish shuffle rumors bear any truth to them, whoever gets twist on their team is gaining a huge asset who has proved he is comfortable with playing in the top tier of CS:GO.

2) Emil “Magisk” Reif – 18 years old

Magisk is definitely the most important, impactful and consistent player currently on North. At such a young age, he is able to compete at such a high level and play consistently well against top tier teams. This was evident during their huge win at EPICENTER in Moscow in particular. At this event, over the course of 15 maps, Magisk had 327 kills (50.8% headshot ratio), 237 deaths, 87.2 ADR with an HLTV rating of 1.23. He was able to put up insane numbers against teams like Na’Vi, NIP, G2, Fnatic and Virtus.Pro. That was probably the strongest that the ex-Dignitas lineup had performed, and have not been the same since.

However, Magisk’s individual performances have not wavered, despite his team’s wavering form. He was the star performer at the Pro League Finals and ELEAGUE Season 2, and these were tournaments that Dignitas had a short lifespan in. His performance at the major was electrifying, and the best of three decider on Cobblestone vs. Virtus.Pro is an example of what a player like Magisk can do – drag his team kicking and screaming through the rounds. In that game, he had 37 kills in regulation time, 128.3 ADR and a rating of 1.87. The teammate below him was cajunb with 16 kills. A player of that caliber is a definite must watch for the future. If he’s able to do that now, imagine what he’ll be able to do in the next year or two. An absolutely phenomenal young talent.

1) João “felps” Vasconcellos – 20 years old

With Tempo Storm/Immortals, felps was somewhat of a reliable force. felps is a strong rifle player, and with his impending move to SK, he will have to step up to the level that SK requires of him on a regular basis. Considering felps is a quality player, he should be able to make the leap without hassle, but it still remains to be seen. If he is able to hit the ground running with SK, he will definitely be an impactful player for SK, and under the guidance of FalleN and the other world-beating Brazilian players, felps should quickly evolve into a tier one rifler and somebody that people will want to keep on watching.