There were many newcomers in 2016, but there were a golden 5 who outshone the others. Did your favorite player make the list?
We're finally at the end of a crazy 2016. This year saw the most volatile shifts in the world rankings in recent memory, with staple top teams tumbling and hungry teams from around the world climbing the ladder. Many of these rising teams were led by young players relatively new to top-tier CS. Five of these players are featured in this list of breakout players from 2016.
Now I know what you're asking yourself: What exactly is a breakout player? By my definition, a breakout player is someone who 1) started playing for a high-tier team no earlier than late 2015, and 2) made a large contribution to his team and played a significant part in the improvement of his team’s performance in 2016. This year, some of these players played so well that they may even be in consideration for the top 20 players of the year. So without further adieu, here is the list.
Oscar "Mixwell" Canellas - OpTic
Optic hit rock bottom when they lost in the last chance qualifier for the MLG major to an inferior Winterfox team. They knew a change was needed, so their AWPer Shahzam was kicked, and Mixwell was brought in. Canellas was a Spanish player who not many people outside of his national scene had heard of before, but he quickly established himself as one of the best AWPers in North American CS. What makes him especially lethal is that he does not need to have an AWP to do damage - even when the sniper role was passed to different players on his team, he was still comfortably at the top of the scoreboard using just a rifle. Since he joined Optic in April, mixwell's rating has only finished below 1.0 at 4 events (one being a .99 rating at ECS). He was integral in the team’s ELeague Season 2 win and qualification for the ELeaue major. Optic's reliance on mixwell to be a star, and his acceptance of the responsibility and ability to deliver on it, is the biggest reason they have finished this year in the top 5.
Emil "Magiskb0Y" Reif - Dignitas
Emil Rief was signed by SK Gaming at the end of 2015. A promising young talent in Denmark, he was consistently at or near the top of his team's scoreboard despite playing alongside CS legends MODDII and Friis and ex-dignitas player Pimp. Despite the great performance of this SK side, tragedy struck the team when the SK organization decided to kick them to the curb and sign Luminosity from Brazil, then the #1 team. Magiskb0y, having established himself as one of the best Danish fraggers with a 1.1 rating, decided to part ways with his old team and test the free agency waters. He immediately got a call from cajunb, asking for him to come to dignitas. There Reif continued his hot streak, consistently being rated well over 1.1 in more than half of the events he attended. He has proven to be the missing piece in dignitas’ puzzle, vaulting them into the top 5 for a couple months at the highest ranking of #2. Their run was capped with a huge first place win over Virtus Pro at Epicenter: Moscow, where Magiskb0y had a +90 KDR and 1.23 rating. Having done all of this at 18 years old, it's clear the future is promising for Magiskb0y.
Jake "Stewie2K" Yip - Cloud9
When Sean Gares left Cloud9, then the #1 team in North America, due to a lack of motivation in the team, everyone expected them to sign an experienced leader to whip the boys into shape. So when news broke that C9 had instead recruited a 18 year-old pugger with an attitude named Stewie2K, there was a great deal of backlash. Pros from Europe and America stated that the pick-up of someone as inexperienced and allegedly toxic as Stewie would amount to Cloud 9 willingly abdicating the top spot in the country. And for a while, their opinions were validated. Stewie struggled to adapt his play to that of the European teams, highlighted by a disaster of a performance at MLG Columbus.
But once C9 signed Slemmy as the IGL, things started trending up for Yip. His performance in matches steadily improved with guidance from Slemmy, C9’s short-time coach Drew, and fellow veteran teammate n0thing. Stewie started top fragging in matches against North American competition and even held his own at an above average rating against European teams. But to push his team back into the top-tier of CS, Stewie had to cede the fragging power to his new teammate autimatic and take what he learned from his mentors to become the new strat caller for Cloud9. With these roles in place, Cloud9 defeated SK in the ESL Pro League S4 Finals to win the tournament. Despite missing out on major qualification, this C9 team has looked revitalized – Skadoodle is fragging like it’s 2014, and autimatic could also be considered a breakout player of the year after his massive performances. But in this year alone, Stewie has gone through a huge transformation, from overconfident newcomer to top fragger to IGL and fan favorite, that takes other players years to transition through. As the cog that holds his team together, he is the biggest and most important breakout player for C9 this year.
Abay “HObbit” Khasenov – Gambit
Kazakhstan has always been an outsider country when it comes to Counter-Strike. Despite having a number of skilled players, poor infrastructure and long distance to European nations increases latency and makes it hard for the Kazakh players to compete with the best. That being said, a few players have managed to break into the CIS scene, namely AdreN and mou of Gambit Gaming. The former is best remembered for leading k23 in their Cinderella run through World Cyber Games 2005, where they finished 2nd to Team 3D.
So when Gambit announced they were acquiring Hobbit on a 6 month loan from Tengri, creating a predominantly Kazakh lineup, many saw the potential for a formidable roster somewhere down the line. Hobbit was without a doubt an incredible aimer. But he was untested against much top-tier competition and inconsistent to boot. Like many newcomers, his inconsistencies continued in the first month he played with Gambit. But Hobbit started gaining confidence at the WSEG Asia Pacific Qualifier, where he dominated weaker competition with a +99 KDR. He then proceeded at Dreamhack Winter 2016 to have one of the best tournaments any rookie has ever had. He led his team through touch matches against an amazing Optic side, a Cloud9 team experiencing continued success, and a GODSENT roster full of legends. Finally, he dominated a Renegades side that had beaten them earlier in the tournament, posting 27 and 25 frag games. He subsequently won the MVP award for the tournament and put his name on everyone’s radar. Gambit is in the major, where Hobbit has a chance to prove that his breakout November was not a fluke.
Joao 'felps' Vasconcellos – Immortals
Fnx and TACO left Games Academy at the end of 2015 to form the now legendary Luminosity lineup that won the past 2 majors. This left a void in the team that was filled by felps and boltz. Felps was an amazing aimer who was also rumored to be joining Luminosity, but was allegedly rejected due to his toxic nature. The beginning of 2016 was OK for felps, but he started to fall off in the spring. His fragging was inconsistent and he was having trouble adapting to the high level of play expected from Games Academy and Tempo Storm. However, there was a marked shift in his performances when the team was picked up by Immortals. Felps started fragging well again, elevating his rating from around 1.0 to well over 1.1. His best event by far was iBP Masters, where he had a +74 KDR throughout the event and help guide his team to their first big tournament win. Although he has started falling off again at the end of this year, especially at the major qualifier, he is the frontrunner to get picked up by SK Gaming to replace fnx. Getting recruited by one of the best teams in CSGO would be the cherry on top of Vasconcellos’ successful breakout year.
-Autimatic was ridiculously good once C9 picked him up, and he should definitely be on this list. However, I opted not to have 2 players from the same team (and 3 from the same region) in the list. I picked Stewie over autimatic for inclusion because while auti was a fragging machine, I would argue that Stewie had a greater transformation and greater overall impact on his team.
-Some might argue that players like coldzera, s1mple, NiKo, and xantares should be on this list. While they are relatively new and undoubtedly had amazing years, in my opinion, their breakout years already occurred last year.
Who was your breakout player this year? Who did I miss? Let me know in the comments below!
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