Due to the lack of offline events since March, can we actually determine the 'best' CS:GO player of 2020?

18:31, 03 Jan 2021

Ever since the rise of Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, he has dominated the Counter-Strike scene. While he still had some form of competition in the form of Marcelo “coldzera” David in 2016 and 2017, he was the undoubted leader of the pack in 2018. His reign of professional CS:GO esports was firmly set in stone, until a new contender stepped onto the scene.

Granted, Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut wasn’t entirely new. He was already an integral part of the French scene and analysts counted down the days until he would finally join a bigger French organisation to compete internationally. He definitely showed enormous potential, but rarely anyone would have anticipated his rise to stardom to be this quick. After he joined Team Vitality, they became a Top 5 team within months. From one second to the next, ZywOo just started decimating his opponents in style.

At DreamHack Masters: Malmö 2019, Vitality and Natus Vincere met in a Best-of-Three for the first time. NaVi kicked things off with a 16-6 Nuke victory, in which s1mple posted a 1.49 rating to ZywOo’s 0.97 stats. But the tides turned quickly, as the Russian team suddenly found themselves on the receiving end of two straight and rather one-sided map wins on Vitality’s part. On these two maps, ZywOo achieved 1.55 and 1.51 ratings, respectively. In the end, s1mple went negative, while ZywOo topped the server scoreboard for their first Best-of-Three duel.

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Image via ESL

Obviously, this rivalry continued, but as Natus Vincere failed to attain any meaningful trophies and ZywOo dragged his team into Grand Finals, s1mple lost his edge over the youngster. Within a year of competing at the highest-level, the Frenchmen was awarded with HLTV’s Player of the Year award - rightly so. This is a ‘zero-to-hero’ story unlike any other. But now it’s 2020, the coronavirus pandemic is raging across the entire globe, and both these talented fraggers have posted incredible numbers throughout the year. They’ve been responsible for their teams mounting deep tournament runs, and they made up for their colleagues underperforming in countless situations. Without any LAN tournaments in the last nine months, this impressive rivalry has been reduced to online competition. It’s incredibly difficult to now put one player ahead of the other in the rankings.

WHO SHOULD GET THE TROPHY THIS YEAR?

Before we really dig into this question, we need to preface this. For most of 2020, there have only been online matches. This needs to be a huge factor in this discussion, because there are so many elements impacting a player’s online performance that are just beyond their reach. Particularly teams from less developed parts of the world frequently have to fight with ping issues, giving their opponents a clear and quantifiable advantage. Depending on the internet service provider, a player can have a great connection, or horrible ping and packet loss on top. In many cases, this even depends on the time of the day.

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Anything that is part of this discussion should be taken with a grain of salt. 2020 was an awkward and unprecedented year for esports, so maybe there shouldn’t be a ‘player of the year’ who is put onto the same kind of pedestal as the winners from 2019, 2018, and so on. But let’s just entertain the thought of there being a Number One player of 2020. Obviously, the decision has to be made between either ZywOo or s1mple. No other players can come even close to this level, no matter if the competition has taken place online or offline.

There are dozens of different metrics with which to compare the two. ZywOo holds a 1.28 HLTV rating, whereas s1mple can boast a ridiculously tiny 0.01 advantage in that field. But ZywOo has more assists and kills per rounds, has died fewer times, has a higher ADR, and the list goes on. However, the differences are so small that there’s just no clear winner in any case. So what it really comes down to is the impact of the two players. But how do we measure impact?

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Image via Starladder

Taking a look at the competitors’ stats in each game reveals that the odds of either team winning are closely tied to their respective star players performing well. However, there is one stark difference. Ever since June, Natus Vincere have won more than half a dozen maps in which s1mple didn’t post a positive rating. Contrast this with Vitality, who only won one single map with ZywOo going negative - and that was a 0.98 rating versus OG.

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This just goes to show how much weight ZywOo is constantly shouldering for his team. For 99.9 percent of their matches, there is no winning if he doesn’t secure his multi-kills. Interestingly, NaVi used to have the same issue, but now they’re much less reliant on s1mple than they were two years ago. He is still the cornerstone of their entire gameplan, but they don’t automatically lose if he has a bad day. Unfortunately, the same doesn’t hold true for Team Vitality.

So while this is a scathing report on the French team, it does make a case for ZywOo being the best player of 2020. Obviously, he has little to no back-up. While players like Richard “shox” Papillon and, most recently Nabil “Nivera” Benrlitom, do actually chime in, they still need ZywOo to post above-average numbers on almost every single occasion. And the crazy thing is that, most of the time, he does. So if we really had to name a winner in this 2020 race, it would be the French prodigy. But still, s1mple deserves a spot on the winners’ podium that is almost exactly as high up as ZywOo’s.

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Images via DreamHack | StarLadder | ESL

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