With the transition to Counter-Strike 2 now well and truly completed, teams and players are facing a tough period of adaptation to the new game in all of its quirks and issues. The uncertainty surrounding the latest iteration of the Counter-Strike franchise, however, also represents a potential breakthrough for multiple young talents aiming to rise through their ranks. BLIX’s 20 Under 20 is our way of answering the age-old question: who will be the CS stars of tomorrow?
Author's Note: As this article focuses on upcoming talents and new faces within the scene, no players who are already established in tier-one, such as Jiri “Jimpphat” Salo, or who have already qualified for a Major have been included. This is Part 2 of our list; you can find Part 1 here.
Danil “donk” Kryshkovets
It would probably be impossible to compile a list of the most exciting CS2 prospects without mentioning Team Spirit’s donk. The Russian rifler signed with the organization’s academy team as a fourteen-year-old after being scouted by Alexsey “OverDrive” Birukov on FACEIT, and over the past two years, has amassed a cult following thanks to his outstanding individual talent.
Donk is now inarguably the most anticipated talent in the game’s recent history, drawing parallels to Nikola “NiKo” Kovač in his dizzying rise to the top of the Counter-Strike world. Similar comments have been made regarding his playstyle, with the Russian representing a dying breed of aggressive playmakers. It’s hard to imagine him spending much time in Spirit’s ranks, especially with the amount of interest he’s attracted over the course of 2023.
Josh “JBa” Barutt
NA’s only representative on the list is Wildcard’s 19-year-old JBa, who first broke through as part of the new wave of American talent during the COVID-19 era, alongside the likes of Jeorge “Jeorge” Endicott and teammate Keller “SLIGHT” Nilan. While he wasn’t as quick to find his footing, 2023 saw the young American rifler steadily progress under the watchful eye of Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz.
What sets JBa apart from his predecessors, who have very often failed to live up to the North American hype when facing tier-one opposition, is this mixture of constant improvement and impressive consistency. For this reason, while a step to international competition is seemingly unlikely in the near future, this could also play out in his favor, allowing JBa time to further develop his game before the big leap.
Can “kyuubii” Ali
With BIG at the helm, German Counter-Strike has routinely been able to produce tier-one level players when none seemed to exist, as Karim “Krimbo” Moussa’s growth has once again proven. The next name in this list might not come from the Berlin-based organization but from Turkish representative Sangal, kyuubii’s home since the start of 2022.
Now 18, the German rifler has developed into his team’s primary threat and one of the most methodical players in the tier-three scene. He is also one of the players who came closest to being disqualified from this list, as he and Sangal were eliminated from IEM Rio Major contention by MOUZ in a close 2-2 match. Still, kyuubii’s performances will make sure that BIG’s eyes will be on him if changes were to take place.
Author's note: since this piece was written, kyuubii has been picked up by fnatic on a trial basis
Felipe “insani” Yuji
Another obvious pick for this list, MIBR’s insani is one of the hottest prospects to come out of Brazil in recent memory, and he’s now proven to be able to hang out with the big boys. It’s no coincidence a series of impressive performances by the youngster, which included top-fragging in a 2-1 win over MOUZ, were the key to MIBR’s relatively deep run at ESL Pro League S18.
More significant than anything else, even his exceptionally high mechanical ceiling, is insani’s innate ability to replicate his game at all levels of competition, a trait shared by most of the best players in the world. On top of this, the young Brazilian can act as both a round opener and closer, whether it’s securing an important clutch or catching CTs by surprise on a late lurk. The only thing missing from this package? Experience.
Aulon “krabeni” Fazlija
Among the names announced as part of the new NAVI Junior roster, the Kosovar duo of krabeni and Drin “makazze” Shaqiri was the most intriguing pick-up. The duo had been playing together in KS and shone under Atif “gejmzilla” Mustafa’s leadership, with krabeni, in particular, looking like a completely different player from his BLINK days.
The 18-year-old rifler is one of the most unproven names on this list, having recorded a handful of maps against tier-three opposition before signing with NAVI. Nonetheless, his aggressive rifling style, while not always successful, has set him apart from his new teammates. It’s still very early days for the Kosovar talent, but a strong showing against Aurora might be a sign of things to come.
Tomas “tomaszin” Corna
While it feels wrong to list an Argentinian player not named Santino “try” Rigal, BESTIA’s tomaszin is the most exciting new prospect coming out of Latin America alongside Mario “malbsMd” Samayoa. It would be dishonest to present the 19-year-old rifler as a prospect as highly rated as Ignacio “meyern” Meyer was in his Isurus days, but this might help him avoid the pressure his compatriot had to face.
While some of tomaszin’s strong performances at the regional level can be explained by his lurking roles, it’s hard to deny his skillset was instrumental in helping BESTIA become a consistent force over the past few months, even taking second place at Copa BetBoom over the likes of paiN and Imperial. Still, a decent amount of maturing as a player will be needed before taking the next step.
Munkhbold “Senzu” Azbayar
Initially touted as the most exciting prospect out of Mongolia since Enkhtaivan “Machinegun” Lkhagva, senzu’s career seemingly derailed in the first half of 2023. The rifler failed to shine in NKT all the while TheMongolZ shocked the world at multiple international LANs, and in the Summer Senzu was caught up in a skin betting scandal which left him teamless.
It was fate that gave him a second chance at greatness: left toothless by Tengis “sk0r” Batjargal’s sour departure from the roster, TheMongolZ picked Senzu up in the hopes he could fill the aggressive playmaker gap in the roster. And so he did, breaking through as the team’s best player in their first regional outings. There’s still a lot of road left to travel, but Senzu’s career might finally be on the right track.
Danila “TruNiQ” Polymordvinov
TruNiQ’s career had seemingly taken a wrong turn in the first months of 2023, with the 19-year-old dropped by Denis “seized” Kostin’s 9Pandas after failing to impress like Danil “d1Ledez” Kustov. Against all odds, the Russian rifler emerged a better player from the shuffle, finally finding his place in HYDRA and Space to do damage against established tier-two and tier-three names.
This culminated in him and Timofey "fozil" Komkov leading Space to an unlikely title at CCT East Europe 1, taking down Into The Breach, BIG and Monte in the process. What makes TruNiQ stand out is his ability to peak in high-pressure situations, with the rifler heavily contributing in matches over FORZE, Falcons and BetBoom in the last few months. In a region as deep as CIS, this talent won’t go to waste.
Qianhao “Moseyuh” Chen
The second Chinese player in this list, but also one of the more established names, Moseyuh is only eligible for our “20 under 20” thanks to Rare Atom’s pathologic inability to secure a Major slot over the past two years. Now under the legendary banner of TYLOO, Moseyuh has overtaken Jingxiang “Mercury” Wang in the team’s hierarchies, becoming a powerful rifling presence on both T and CT.
While his mechanical skills, particularly his signature spray transfers, have garnered Moseyuh quite a bit of attention, the Chinese rifler still suffers from the lapses in judgment plaguing Asia’s talent since the early days of CS:GO. Nonetheless, Moseyuh has had the privilege of multiple years of international experience, even at his young age, and manages to shine despite these mistakes.
Artem “r1nkle” Moroz
r1nkle first appeared in the CIS scene with Marlian as a 16-year-old, but it wasn’t until he found a stable home in B8 that he broke through as one of the most exciting AWP prospects in recent memory. The young Ukrainian quintet would end up qualifying for two RMRs, throwing away 2-1 and 2-0 starts in part due to r1nkle’s inexperience shining through.
However, desperately fighting against elimination against Apeks at the BLAST Paris RMRs, r1nkle also showcased much-needed maturity and willingness to put his team on his back and carry them to the finish line. While it wasn’t enough on that day, it’s now clear the Ukrainian’s real ceiling is still to be revealed, and these growing pains will only make him more ready to take on his first big chance at greatness.