As 2016 closed, for Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, the upcoming year looked to be to be one of realising potential. With the momentum of his first international LAN victory, the talent-loaded Na`Vi line-up around him and a relatively shaky top-end of the scene to attack, s1mple’s career was poised to exponentially continue its upwards trajectory. However, as 2017 closed though, s1mple remains the only true superstar to have not manifested results through his terrifyingly boundless raw talent.
While his struggling Sisyphus counterpart in NiKo ascended to the absolute apex of CS:GO competition, s1mple bombed-out of multiple premier tournaments with Na`Vi and contended with intense internal team conflict. In many ways, one could look at s1mple’s 2017 and see it as the first backwards step of his career, and from a macro perspective, it’d be hard to argue otherwise. Undoubtedly he lacks results, MVP performances, and the dominating series wins for what we expect from a real prodigy.
To focus on s1mple’s 2017 at this scoped-out level though, would be to miss the in-game micro signs of a true superstar about to ascend. Do not mistake the choppy waters of Na`Vi’s 2017 above for a volatile and unstable s1mple heading into 2018 below. While I might be victim to the perpetual cycle of an analyst turning s1mple-apologist, the relative performance of s1mple with Zeus to that of with seized, and even further back in Liquid, suggests a monstrous next 12 months for the Ukrainian.
The two largest issues with s1mple have always been how he tries to mould within a team system and how the team system moulds around him. Whether it be with his own mentality trying to align or how he fits role-wise as an AWPer, s1mple has never fit flush within a side.
This is also in large part, due to s1mple’s way of approaching the game. The Ukrainians philosophy has always been axiomatically centred on the idea: “I’m better than you, and I know it.” And rightly so. The only reason it perpetuates and can be justified is that the talent is there to support it. Without that kernel of indomitable confidence, and early-on, boyish arrogance, the very fibre of what makes s1mple, s1mple, would not exist.
To s1mple, his performance is the most direct factor for victory, and historically he’s employed a pressure-based, duel-focussed style to make it happen. S1mple’s early demos are filled with wide-peeking one-deags, totally brazen positioning, aggressive opening entries and constantly self-applied pressure onto the ever-expanding boundaries of his own skill set. They’re the type of POVs you’d watch at double speed with a Rage Against the Machine album in the background, and a beer in one hand.
We saw this most prominently on Liquid where the clash of his style/culture/mindset and the team’s created massive internal conflict. In the game though, this contrast of ideas created a very tough to stop T-side that could overwhelm defences from multiple prongs - especially with EliGE in-form. It was layered, explosive, geared towards s1mple’s mindset, terrifyingly efficient and the key to both of their Major runs. The conflict it was birthed from though, led to the destruction of the team itself.
Upon joining Na`Vi, s1mple not only was pushed off the primary AWP, but also worked with a completely unsuited IGL for the team dynamic and his style. The roster sorely lacked that integral explosive T-side chemistry to unlock his play and intangibles like motivation seemed to be a big factor in that. Unlike the heated conflict of Liquid, the frustrating friction of Na`Vi didn’t create any fire - but it did force s1mple to continue to develop his game.
In Na`Vi, s1mple was forced to consistently come up against some of the absolute best teams and players in the world in massive series - especially at the start of the year. People might forget that in the first four months of 2017, Na`Vi only lost series to Astralis and SK Gaming; the number one and two teams in the world at the time. S1mple wasn’t contending against online NA competition and foreign culture like in Liquid, he was doing consistent battle with the apex of competition at the time and against some of the best shutout CT-sides in the world.
Despite this though, s1mple still posted some of the most absurd stat-lines of the year. S1mple in seized’s Na`Vi was at his best when he was afforded degrees of freedom and could work off his teammates as a third-man and close-out post-plants or work off of pressure. Earlier sides saw s1mple’s talent and looked to use it to open up rounds on T-side, which was key in developing the infamous aggression we know today. As 2017 went on, however, s1mple showed a world-class ability to dominate in clutches and from unfavourable positions while also being able to use his aggression as a switch-up or to overwhelm significantly less skilled sides.
On CT-side his aggression and willingness to hunt for early round advantages became more fine-tuned overtime as well. When he was given the secondary AWP, the picks he was finding were done in a more shut-out, position-orientated style rather than through flashy, movement-based flicks. The best examples of this were on Na`Vi’s Mirage and Overpass, where s1mple commanded massively important areas of the map on CT-side and was able to use the mixture of different ranges very effectively with positioning - not his wrist.
Even in spite of not being on on the AWP all the time, not having a team orientated around his skillset and working in an intensely negative environment, s1mple still managed to massively improve his own game in this way. We also saw s1mple from this position further back in the fragging pack start to flash for his team more and be more willing to split alongside, rather than bait, his entries.
This growth and development culminated with Zeus and Electronic joining him for his final performance of 2017 at DreamHack Winter. With Zeus joining and changing the system to be totally based around s1mple finally feeding him a staggering amount of resources on top of his developed game, we saw him flourish magnificently in Jönköping. Finishing at +117 and with a 1.52 rating - s1mple’s DreamHack Winter might’ve been the most dominant MVP performance of the year, even if it was against lower-order competition.
Now on the primary AWP, s1mple has taken many of the elements that made his secondary AWP in Na`Vi so deadly but can now apply it every time his team has the money along with team support. Flamie, as both an entry and secondary AWPer was seemingly revitalised around the space s1mple was able to create and became an incredibly proficient secondary star. Na`Vi has always had the talent around s1mple, but with Zeus it seems it is actually being activated and utilised.
S1mple’s sniping impact was found through completely annihilating enemy AWPers off the server, and through being able to consistently deny angles most players feel comfortable taking. He wasn’t closing out clutches through big, flicking AK headshots, it was through calm, poised AWPing that could, and should be studied by upcoming players around the world. He was also allowed to consistently open up sites on Na`Vi’s default and posted a ludicrous 2.74 opening kill ratio (next highest was Edward on 1.38). Zeus understands what this developed s1mple brings while balancing what he needs and wants. No other leader in s1mple’s career has been able to pull this off.
In seemingly every other eco and/or half-buy round, s1mple was being dropped AK’s, upgraded pistols, SMG’s - anything Na`Vi could afford to increase s1mple’s chance of creating impact. Na`Vi looked to incessantly fuel their superstar. In every map we saw them throw flashbangs for his peeks, drop weapons, work map control to get him in a position to duel and also entry constantly so that s1mple could trade off of them. Every member of this Na`Vi lineup can open up a round as a hard-entry, and as a primary AWPer, this dramatically increases the chance of success in any XvX scenario.
S1mple has taken a developed style from the struggle of seized’s Na`VI and applied it to a system totally designed around him. S1mple is heading into 2018 armed with a mission and it’s not about improving upon the results of 2017, as much as it’s going to be ascending into the other-worldly heights of the ‘best player in the world’ discussions and having legitimate ground to stand on.
Photo Credit: Adela Sznajder // DreamHack