As the 18th season of ESL Pro League came to a close in Malta earlier last week, with MOUZ taking home the last CS:GO big event crown, BLIX takes a look at the best-performing players in each role.
With Counter-Strike 2 releasing to the entirety of the player base mid-event, ESL Pro League Season 18 will go down in history as CS:GO’s last big event. Of the thirty-two teams congregating in Malta, MOUZ’s young international quintet was the last one standing, securing the organization’s fourth and final Big Event crown. With a plethora of impressive runs and an underdog taking the crown, multiple players returned to form at the last time of asking, and many others finally showcased their full potential. Who were BLIX’s most improved players at EPL Season 18?
IGL: Kamil “siuhy” Szkaradek
Multiple IGLs led their teams to deep runs in Malta, but few can say they are fully satisfied with the results. The choice, albeit maybe an uninspired one, ultimately fell on the most deserving candidate, young Polish IGL siuhy. The MOUZ captain ended up directly eliminating most of the competition, including Marco “Snappi” Pfeiffer’s ENCE, with the Dane being too established at this point for the “most improved player” moniker, and Aleksi “Aleksib” Virolainen’s NAVI, who fell at the final hurdle. The only other potential choice for the role was Volodymyr “Woro2k” Veletniuk, Monte’s AWPing-IGL, but the Ukrainian wasn’t particularly impactful during his team’s shaky group stage.
Having secured his first Big Event crown, siuhy has now established himself as a real contender on the international stage and he has done so without ever looking shaky from an individual standpoint. The Polish IGL was never one of the best-performing players in his squad, but he was able to consistently get involved in the action. His only real stumble in the entirety of the event was the semi-final match against ENCE, where siuhy recorded a measly 35 kills across the three maps (even conceding seven first deaths on Vertigo alone), and MOUZ narrowly escaped elimination.
So why is siuhy’s stock rising after the event? Not only did he lead his team to the title, but the Pole did so while significantly improving his performances when compared to IEM Cologne. The biggest step forward was in the opening kill department, as siuhy cut over 10% of his attempts in favor of the team’s stars, mainly torzsi (whose attempt rose by nearly 6% across the two events) and Jimpphat (5.5%). Simultaneously, his success rate rose from 15 to 35%, slotting right alongside other space-creating IGLs like Snappi and Rasmus “HooXi” Nielsen. In little over a month, siuhy was able to fully implement a working tier-one system, and the EPL title is but the cherry on the cake.
Entry: Sergiy “DemQQ” Demchenko
BLIX’s pick for the entry fragger position is Monte’s DemQQ, with the Ukrainian rifler peaking after embracing a more aggressive playstyle since Alexander “br0” Bro joined the team back in July. DemQQ edged out MOUZ’s Dorian “xertioN” Berman, who performed admirably but played second fiddle to his teammates in most matches, NAVI’s Mihai “iM” Ivan, and even Eternal Fire’s Ismailcan “XANTARES” Dörtkardeş. The Turkish rifler was statistically the best player for the spot, but his unquestionable individual talent, also shown in his previous tier-one stint, already made him an established name in the international CS:GO landscape.
As Monte rose through the ranks in the first half of 2023, DemQQ was often little more than a piece of the puzzle, overshadowed by Mohammad “BOROS” Malhas’ relentless aggression and Viktor “sdy” Orudzhev’s quality lurking. Having now adapted his game to be more proactive in an attempt to fill the gap left by the Jordanian star, DemQQ produced his most impressive LAN performance by a significant margin, turning into a mechanically flawless round opener. The Ukrainian was Monte’s best performer in the team’s first three group-stage matchups and kept contributing alongside sdy and Volodymyr “Woro2k” Veletniuk to help the team secure a playoff spot.
Here DemQQ led Monte in kills against fnatic, with the Ukrainian organization taking home a 2-1 victory, before having his worst series at the event against Complexity. What followed in the quarter-finals was one of the most dominant individual performances in the entirety of the Pro League season, as DemQQ dropped 53 kills in 57 rounds against world #1 Vitality, with a staggering 32-16 record and over 110 damage dealt per round on the T side. Monte wouldn’t see a fairytale ending to their run, as they were swept in a close 2-0 series by NAVI, but still recorded the second-highest amount of opening kills among all riflers, showing a clear growth as a player from a tactical standpoint.
Lurker: Valeriy “b1t” Vakhovskiy
NAVI’s run to the second step of the podium in Malta was one of the best storylines of the event, with Aleksi “Aleksib” Virolainen’s squad finally reaching the heights that were expected of the organization’s recent international turn. Taking on a more passive lurking role in the Finn’s system was b1t, who returned to his best form at ESL Pro League and earned his place on the dream team over David “frozen” Čerňanský, who was statistically superior to the Ukrainian but less central in his team’s run, and ENCE’s Guy “NertZ” Iluz, who marginally quieted down in the playoffs.
Read More: Pieces to a puzzle: Aleksib's NAVI so far
While a bad Grand Finals performance against MOUZ meant b1t exited the tournament on a sour note, this was nonetheless the Ukrainian’s second-best Big Event performance since NAVI removed Kirill “Boombl4” Mikhailov in May of 2022, and his best tournament in almost a year and a half. His great run of form began in Group C, as NAVI took first place with a 6-0 map record, with victories over 5yclone (in what would be b1t’s worst performance outside of the Final), Apeks and FaZe. In the latter especially, the Ukrainian’s impact was instrumental to his team’s success, with 46 kills in 49 rounds across Anubis and Nuke.
While fans and talent were happy to see him finally shine in the new-look NAVI, b1t didn’t slow down in the quarter-final and semi-final matches, with 36 kills in a 2-0 over Eternal Fire and a server-leading 43 against an in-form Monte squad, a match he ended with a staggering 30-12 CT side K/D record. His terrible T-side showing against MOUZ was one of the key reasons NAVI struggled in the Grand Finals, but he was still the only team member to have some impact on the CT side across the three-map series. Ultimately, b1t was the main reason the Ukrainian outfit survived until the last day in the first place, even leading the MVP race going into the Finals, and a bad series won’t change his clear improvement compared to the previous events.
AWPer: Ádám “torzsi” Torzsás
With MOUZ taking home the title, the man who secured the MVP trophy was none other than Hungarian AWPer torzsi, who recovered from a dreadful Big Event debut under siuhy’s leadership in Cologne. torzsi’s strong run across the event was further reinforced by a lack of competitors outside of MIBR’s Rafael “saffee” Costa, who produced his best-ever international LAN performance but couldn’t make the playoffs. Even further distanced were 9z’s Santino “try” Rigal, whose development seems to have stagnated after a failed move to 00Nation, and the ever-inconsistent Antonio “Martinez” Martinez of Movistar Riders fame.
The keyword in the Hungarian’s run to the MVP crown was consistency rather than dominance. torzsi never led his teammates across MOUZ’s group stage berth, nor did he open the playoffs with a bang. What he was able to do, however, was rise to the occasion and produce better and better results as the pressure increased. torzsi recorded three consecutive server-high kill counts from the quarterfinals to the Grand Final, starting with 64 kills in MOUZ’s 2-1 win over G2 and continuing with 69 over ENCE and 68 against NAVI. While he wasn’t able to out-AWP their stars out of the server, the Hungarian was content to dominate riflers, only conceding the opening death six times across the three matches.
Ultimately, the stats speak for themselves. Even if certainly helped by MOUZ playing twenty-two maps throughout the event, torzsi recorded the highest kill-death differential with a staggering +124, while also simultaneously providing the second-most opening kills of any AWPer and being one of the hardest players to kill. While it’s true he did not shine in the first half of the event, especially against lower-tier opposition like MIBR, it would also be somewhat disingenuous not to mention that siuhy’s machine was so well-oiled he wasn’t required to go beyond being a reliable presence on the big green.
Support: Jimi “Jimpphat” Salo
This was probably the most obvious selection on the list, as Jimpphat was the true revelation of ESL Pro League Season 18. All of the other contenders for the spot, which included David “prosus” Hesse and even Freddy “KRIMZ” Johansson, either played too little or were too inconsistent during their stay in Malta. The choice, therefore, fell on MOUZ’s young Finnish star, who had to sacrifice most of his star spots to secure a place in the main team after shining in the academy, finding his footing at the right time to secure the title and even challenge teammate torzsi for the MVP crown.
Jimpphat’s tournament wasn’t as straightforward as he might have hoped, however, as he recorded two team-worst performances in MOUZ’s series against the Brazilians of MIBR. There were still bright moments in his Group B run, namely partnering with David “frozen” Černansky to defeat both Evil Geniuses and Heroic, but the young gun kept his best form for the playoffs. Jimpphat first stepped up against FURIA with a server-leading 38 kills, before dropping just as many in MOUZ’s win over FaZe, and eventually slowing down in the team’s win over G2. This step backward proved to only be temporary, as he and torzsi partnered to demolish both ENCE and NAVI, bringing home the EPL title in the process.
When the dust settled, the young Finn was the fourth-best player in the EPL playoffs, only trailing ENCE’s star AWPer Alvaro “SunPayus” Garcia, XANTARES and Vitality’s Emil “Magisk” Reif, comfortably clearing the rest of the supportive elements of the scene. Jimpphat also led the event in KAST rating, in no small part thanks to his high survival rate (only second to the legendary, or infamous, Dzhami “Jame” Ali), and won a tournament-best 13 clutches. None of his rivals came close to matching the Finn’s consistency, especially on the T side, and the mental fortitude necessary to perform at this level over twenty-two maps a little over two months after his tier-one LAN debut cannot be understated.
Read More: MOUZ Jimpphat: "I was really nervous"
Coach: Andrey “B1ad3” Gorodenskiy
The one of “Head Coach” is a very misunderstood position in modern-day Counter-Strike, in no small part due to the broad spectrum of both day-to-day and long-term proceedings they oversee and lead. For our pick, the choice fell on NAVI’s B1ad3, with the Ukrainian edging out MOUZ’s Dennis “sycrone” Nielsen and Movistar Riders’ Galder “bladE” Barcena. While NAVI might not have secured the title, their run wouldn’t have been possible without a stark improvement in the map-pool department compared to their last outings.
And this is exactly what happened, with the team finding a new home map in Anubis, where they recorded four straight victories at the Maltese event. Mirage, the first pick in most of NAVI’s previous outings, was temporarily sidelined but still appeared three times, with the only loss coming in the Grand Finals and in overtime. While their Overpass is still probably too shaky for a best-of-five match, with a 9-16 beating at the hands of siuhy’s side, a lot of progress has been made on Inferno, a map NAVI had only played once since their debut at BLAST Fall Groups. It’s this clear and sizable progress that allows B1ad3 to take his deserved spot on our team.