"It's all about the hunger" SPUNJ on the new generation of players, HLTV top 20 & CS:GO's legacy

"It's all about the hunger" SPUNJ on the new generation of players, HLTV top 20 & CS:GO's legacy
Image via ESL | Helena Kristiansson

Written by 

Harry Boulton

Published 

12th Jan 2024 16:13

In the midst of HLTV's end-of-year awards, we got the chance to speak to Chad 'SPUNJ' Burchill - one of Counter-Strike's greatest and most recognisable broadcast talents - about the past year of CS and his feelings as CS:GO came to a close.

2023 was a monumental year for Counter-Strike as there was the first 'new' iteration of the game in over 11 years, with CS2 bringing more than just a graphical overhaul to an esports scene that has sat at the top for much of its lifespan.

The legacy of CS:GO

There are few better people to consider the legacy of CS:GO than SPUNJ, as his position within the community spanned his playing career and his role as a colour commentator and analyst.

What has stood out to him though is how much CS:GO pushed the esport in a professional sense, giving everyone within the scene a chance to carve out a career and a reason to play beyond their love for the game.

"Before CS:GO was 1.6 and Source, and we had people who were making a bit of money and you could be 'professionals' where you would barely get by. It was prize money or just a little bit of cash.

"[Now] we've got landmark tournaments coming year after year. We have BLAST Copenhagen that always packs out, Katowice and Cologne too, and then the majors on top of that. So we just have a really strong scene of people who love to watch Counter-Strike, and I think that's great."

One stain, perhaps, on the legacy of CS:GO that SPUNJ recognises though is that "the scandals are the [defining moments] that tend to jump to mind initially."

From numerous cheating scandals and the notorious iBUYPOWER match-fixing incident to the coach spectating bug that tainted much of the pandemic, it would be remiss to not recognise how much the scene has had to power through to get where it is today.

Yet it remains a dominant force, and still reaching records as the year's sole Major Championship in Paris was the third most watched event in the game's entire history. There's a new slate to write history on too with the release of Counter-Strike 2, and the lead-up to this in the twilight of CS:GO's life was perhaps the peak for SPUNJ himself.

"I think in recent history, getting to go to Valve HQ and test early last year was like all of my 34-year-old worth of Christmases coming at once. 

"That was such an honour and very prestigious to get to go there and be a part of that because this is a game that I've been involved in since I was 14. I was just a kid who loved it and obsessed over it, so that was a great moment for me."

Evaluating the best players of 2023

The HLTV awards are some of the most exciting days as a fan of Counter-Strike, as the year's 20 best players are revealed. What makes 2023 different from most years though is the fact players had to stand the test of a new game and prove their skills in a new environment, and we certainly saw a few names celebrating the same success in a new environment.

"I've really liked watching players like Robin 'ropz' Kool - he was thriving in CS:GO, but he's someone who's taken to CS2 like a duck to water. It was the same with Jonathan 'EliGE' Jablonowski when we got to see him in Sydney, he looked like he was adapting very well.

"You always have to throw in Mathieu 'ZywOo' Herbaut, one of the greats alongside Oleksandr 's1mple' Kostyljev, who just made the game look otherworldly, doing things that none of us could ever possibly imagine. It's always fun to watch someone like Ilya 'm0NESY' Osipov because he tends to go for a lot of ridiculous plays."

Image of Twistzz and James Banks at the BLAST Paris Major 2023
Click to enlarge
Image via BLAST | Michal Konkol

There was one name in particular that SPUNJ wanted to highlight though for his contributions in 2023 and beyond, that might not otherwise get the level of plaudits that he deserves.

"I like the impact that Russel 'Twistzz' Van Dulken has within matches. It might not be the craziest 4k or anything, but it's this really impactful 2k in a round that he'll get, and it will change the outcome or stall a round that a team's going for.

"Those types of plays or moments I really appreciate, because they don't get all the shine necessarily. They're the type of things for me as an ex-IGL when I see them happen I go 'oh s***, that meant a lot for the context of the round or the game', so Twistzz is one I always like watching."

Are the new guard on their way?

The arrival of a new game always presents itself as the perfect opportunity for fresh faces to shine, and with monumental names like s1mple dropping out of competition in the latter half of 2023, we could start to see a new wave of players dominating the scene.

"Counter-Strike," SPUNJ explains, "is something that you need to put yourself into 110%, as cliché as that is… It's something you need to be refining day in, day out to stay at the top of your game, then there are just going to be those natural dips and declines.

"I don't think s1mple falls in that category though, but he's someone that's been on the grind for a long time. Wanting to take a break is probably great for him - especially if he comes back with that 's1mple ego' that we know he was. I'm sure he'll bounce back when he wants to into the upper echelons again, no doubt."

Image of s1mple at the BLAST Paris Major 2023
Click to enlarge
Image via BLAST | Stephanie Lindgren

There is certainly a way in for younger players though - a means to elevate themselves among the greats and take advantage of spaces opening up within the new game.

"I think what happens in times like this is that it opens the door to individuals who are keen to keep learning and take every possible advantage that they can grab, and every little detail they can grind about a new game.

"Because with Inferno - it's the same basic outline of the map, but there are a lot of different nuances. If you're willing to study all of those details and nuances when someone a little bit older goes 'Oh, I know Inferno' and they don't do it at that same level, then they're going to have to play catch up or be left behind… it's all about the hunger."

Spotlight on the broadcast

Image of SPUNJ and MACHINE at IEM Sydney 2023
Click to enlarge
Image via ESL | Helena Kristiansson

Much is spoken about the players that make up Counter-Strike's thriving esports scene, but as part of the broadcast talent, there are those that SPUNJ himself takes more influence from to bring to his own casting game.

"As a colour commentator, I don't have the same prowess as a play-by-play, so in terms of cadence, the thing that influences me or that I try to bring into my casts is what the analysts are saying on the desk. If they make a point about a player, I want to try and reinforce that in the cast and give a nod to the analyst and the points that they're trying to bring to the game.

"In terms of influence on the way I do my casting, I always think about Henry 'HenryG' Greer because he's the OG best colour commentator hype man. I don't think I've got the voice for it so sometimes if the moment's there I'll try and give it something, but I don't think it sticks the same way as HenryG."

From casting Major finals, being the voice behind some of Counter-Strike's most iconic moments, and even a show match or two - there's certainly a reason why SPUNJ has remained a big part of the legacy of CS:GO as we move into his future in Counter-Strike 2.

Harry is a Guides Writer at GGRecon, having completed a Masters of Research degree in Film Studies. Previously a freelance writer for PCGamesN, The Loadout, and Red Bull Gaming, he loves playing a wide variety of games from the Souls series to JRPGs, Counter-Strike, and EA FC. When not playing or writing about games and hardware, you're likely to find him watching football or listening to Madonna and Kate Bush.

Trending
Msdossary on EA Sports FC, Team Falcons, and more
'There shouldn't be social pressure to stop people from being a villain': James Bardolph on IEM Cologne, cadiaN, and NA CS
IEM Cologne: The last rites in the Cathedral of Counter-Strike
NiKo on HooXi proving critics wrong and G2's future in CS2
Vitality Neo on zen being the ZywOo of Rocket League