Every year HLTV.org releases their Top 20 players of the year, and since 2016, every player is asked to name a “bold prediction” that should take the following year by storm. The criteria for what constitutes a bold prediction has been better defined over time, perhaps as to avoid having a repeat of the 2018 edition when Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný named Ľuboš "HenkkyG" Ilko simply because he’d seen the Slovak player’s fragmovie on Reddit.
As someone who has closely followed the lower echelons of Counter-Strike for a number of years, I figured I’d take a shot and try to pick out 20 bold predictions for 2023 while also trying to follow HLTV’s requirements:
- The players must be 20 years old or younger
- The players can’t have played for a team ranked within the Top 20
- While this isn’t required by HLTV, I also won’t pick someone who has been named in the past
Now obviously it’s impossible to pick out 20 bold predictions who will all make the HLTV Top 20 Players of 2023, but my goal is to pick out the players who have the best shot or who are set to have a meteoric rise in 2023 given the above constraints. This means that Frederik "Fessor" Sørensen or Aleksej "znxxX" Zlatkovskij are disqualified for both being 21, Laurențiu "lauNX" Țârlea and Victor "Staehr" Staehr are disqualified with Sprout currently being ranked #19, and the likes of Peppe "Peppzor" Borak is disqualified by having been named twice in 2020 already.
#20 kauez (19) - FURIA Academy
Starting off the list is Kaue "kauez" Kaschuk who has been on FURIA Academy’s books for the last year. The 19-year-old Brazilian particularly stood out in seasons 4 and 5 of WePlay Academy League with his hyper-aggressive rifling, which truly embodied the FURIA style. While last season wasn’t as kind to kauez, he still managed to go toe-to-toe with the best the academies had to offer in 2022 and has looked really sharp in domestic competitions. However, he currently sits at the bottom of this list for two reasons. Firstly, as a Brazilian player, there aren’t a lot of openings for kauez to get his shot at the top level, especially as FURIA already has two world-class riflers in the form of Yuri "yuurih" Boian and Kaike "KSCERATO" Cerato. But, if an opening ever were to appear, he would certainly slot into Andrei "arT" Piovezan’s system quite well. Secondly, during his time with DETONA Gaming, it was brought to light that kauez had a VAC-banned account due to using a skin changer. While it’s been roughly four years since the ban in question, it’s unlikely kauez gets the call up until his ban is cleared five years after the fact, which will likely limit his prospects for 2023.
#19 donk (15) - Team Spirit Academy
Team Spirit has had a great track record of discovering and promoting talents over the years and Danil "donk" Kryshkovets is certainly no exception. The young rifler started playing for Team Spirit Academy at just 14 years old and has only gotten better with time, averaging 1.05, 1.12 and 1.22 ratings in the last three WAL seasons, respectively. What especially stands out about donk is his “dinks”, as he averaged a clean 60.0% headshot percentage in 2022, putting him between Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken and Valerii "b1t" Vakhovskyi (albeit at a lower level). The firepower he brings to Spirit Academy certainly can’t be understated as he has been a crucial part in them placing second for the last two seasons of Academy League, and the only reason he places so low in this list is because he is still only 15 years old, which makes it unlikely he gets the call up to the main team quite yet. But with his birthday coming up in late January, anything is possible.
#18 podi (18) - ENCE Academy
If you hadn’t heard of Paavo "podi" Heiskanen prior to 2022, I can’t blame you as I hadn’t either. He very briefly plied his trade for SAWO Esports at the start of the year before joining ENCE Academy in July, but the rate at which he has improved has been incredibly impressive. Even though he had no prior experience in the role, podi joined ENCE Academy as an AWPer, despite his teammate Ville "myltsi" Vilkman having been the primary AWPer on ENTERPRISE esports earlier in the year. According to the team’s head coach George "Whitey" White, podi approached him during the trials asking to be tried out as an AWPer, to which the coach agreed and he was blown away by the young Finn’s raw potential and overall attitude towards improvement. While it was certainly a gamble, it seems as though Whitey made the right call with podi who has steadily gotten more comfortable on the sniper and is looking like one of the hottest prospects in Finland at the moment. With a bit more time and experience, the 18-year-old could certainly be a force to be reckoned with, although where he may find an opening at a higher level is certainly to be determined.
#17 nilo (17) - Young Ninjas
17-year-old Linus "nilo" Bergman was part of the original Young Ninjas squad that played in WAL S1, finishing the online stage as the third highest-rated player with a 1.21 rating over 14 maps. 2021 was a generally solid year for nilo and YN as a whole, as they played over 200 maps and achieved relative success for an academy lineup prior to the academy league’s formation. However, despite his amazing performance, the aforementioned online stage was nilo’s last event with Young Ninjas for over a year, as he only became active again relatively recently, rejoining Ninjas in Pyjamas’ academy in September. Despite the small sample size of 81 maps, nilo has had a great end to 2022 with no events below a 1.00 rating and a 1.16 average rating. He was Young Ninjas’ highest rated player during their campaign to win WAL S6 and place second in the Svenska Elitserien Fall 2022 Finals. The only thing somewhat holding him back is his inexperience and the one year hiatus, but if the last few months are anything to go by, 2023 should be a stellar year for nilo.
#16 OWNER (19) - Team Spirit Academy
The observant among you might be noticing a bit of a pattern with academy players, as Mykhailo "OWNER" Lymar takes the #16 spot in this list. While he’s been recently plying his trade for Team Spirit Academy as the in-game leader, he was also formerly a rifler for B8 in 2021 and HellRaisers in 2022, where he was the second star behind the teams’ AWPers. His arrival in Spirit Academy couldn’t have come at a better moment, as he gave the young squad the boost in firepower and experience they needed. Despite his IGLing duties, OWNER has been the third-highest rated player in Spirit Academy, behind only the aforementioned donk and 21-year-old AWPer Artem "ArtFr0st" Kharitonov who easily would’ve made this list in his own right had it not been for his age. OWNER’s addition also coincides with Spirit Academy’s two second-place finishes in WePlay Academy League, which is a testament to both his individual firepower but also his great shot-calling during his short time as the team captain. Fragging IGLs are always highly sought after, so if OWNER can keep up these performances in 2023 he should have a bright future ahead.
#15 SLY (20) - 777 Esports
Steffen "SLY" Amundsen from 777 Esports finally comes to break the pattern of academy players. The 20-year-old has by far been the best up and coming player in Norway for the last year. He most notably stood out towards the start of 2022 when he and the rest of Apeks Rebels attended and placed second at Fragadelphia 16, finishing the event as the highest rated player with a 1.48 rating, +107 K/D difference, and 99.4 ADR. Shortly thereafter, he got the opportunity to join 777, the best team in Norway. Sadly for the young Norwegian, consistency has very much been lacking for 777 in 2022, as the team looks like they’ve been going through a bit of an identity crisis. Despite this, his individual form has still been very good throughout the year, and with the recent arrival of Swedish sniper Alex "PALM1" Palm, 777 might finally be able to address some of the issues around the AWPing role and find better results going into 2023. Regardless, SLY is definitely capable of making the leap to an international team and put up fantastic numbers.
#14 Dytor (19) - Dynamo Eclot
Martin "Dytor" Handl has been quite the surprise coming into 2022. He’s by no means a completely unknown talent, as he notably represented GUNRUNNERS and Team Sampi in 2020, but after being largely inactive in 2021, he joined Dynamo Eclot on trial at the start of 2022. He instantly brought a lot of firepower to a team that was already doing quite well thanks to key performances from Lukáš "capseN" Koláčný and Vojtěch "Valencio" Mydlář, both of whom slowed down significantly as the year went on. But Dytor has managed to stay relatively consistent, averaging a 1.10 rating this year which is especially impressive considering that Dynamo Eclot has been the third-most active team in 2022, with 284 maps played. Dynamo Eclot are currently the highest ranked Czech-Slovak team on HLTV’s world ranking, in large part thanks to Dytor, and while it’s true that many CZSK players tend to stay in the domestic scene, the 19-year-old would be a great prospect should he ever choose to go international.
#13 sl3nd (18) - ONYX (benched)
Henrich "sl3nd" Hevesi is the biggest Hungarian talent since fellow AWPer Ádám "torzsi" Torzsás. He only really started competing in 2021, at first in the lower echelons of the Hungarian scene with Honvéd, and then later playing with a Romanian GameAgents lineup. He would join ONYX at the start of 2022, a team that established themselves as the new top dogs domestically and managed to find relatively decent success internationally. ONYX hasn’t played in too many competitions this year, but sl3nd has managed to be quite competitive within the Tier 2 European scene. He’s still a relatively raw talent, but he was easily ONYX’s best player, and with the Liechtensteiner organization parting ways with the lineup going into 2023, the 18-year-old should be on a lot of people’s radars. In all honesty, given that MOUZ NXT has struggled to find a replacement AWPer, maybe another Hungarian sniper to follow in the footsteps of torzsi is what the team needs?
#12 AZUWU (19) - 1PIN
When I think of rising talents in 2022, no one really comes close to Oscar "AZUWU" Bell. That’s not to say that he displayed the highest skill ceiling or that he played at the highest level, far from that really, but the speed at which he has developed in an organization-less team with no prior team experience is what makes him really stand out. He first really stood out at Insomnia 68 and later at EPIC.LAN 36, where he played very well individually despite playing these LANs with mix teams. He would then get the opportunity to join the core of 1PIN, then known as ex-Heaven & Hell Esports, and he would establish himself as a great star player alongside Andrew "Wolfie" Allan. AZUWU’s stats may not seem especially impressive at first glance and his only real team experience is with 1PIN, thus it might seem a little outrageous for him to place so highly in this list, but I think that it’s just a testament to his growth and immense potential. His movement and aim is very fluid, his understanding of the game is especially surprising given his inexperience, and I truly believe that if he gets the opportunity to develop in a structured setting or even in an academy like Fnatic Rising, he will become a real prospect for the future. Here's hoping that 1PIN can get signed in 2023 so that we can see an even better version of AZUWU in the future.
#11 kRaSnaL (19) - Monte
Szymon "kRaSnaL" Mrozek first really rose to notability once he was picked up by AGO in 2021. He had already been playing in the lower levels of Polish CS for a while, namely with los kogutos, and was starting to make a name for himself in FPL-C, but ultimately kRaSnaL failed to find the consistency needed to be AGO’s third star behind Miłosz "mhL" Knasiak and Maciej "F1KU" Miklas. After being released by AGO in May 2022, he would go on to rejoin his former teammates in a new iteration of los kogutos where his individual level seemingly skyrocketed, perhaps due to the freedom found in the less structured setup. Even in AGO, kRaSnaL’s high skill ceiling was very apparent as he had stellar maps every so often, and the eye test was enough to say that he had tons of potential. The young Pole has since linked up with Monte, which has been making quite the splash towards the end of 2022, and he has been able to maintain an impressive level with them so far, averaging a 1.12 rating in his tenure. Things look bright for kRaSnaL going into 2023, who will certainly look to prove any doubters from the AGO days wrong.
#10 Soulfly (18) - Sangal Esports
Caner "Soulfly" Kesici is widely regarded as the best Turkish talent in recent times. He only really started competing in 2021, namely with Şahangiller Espor, before getting picked up by Sangal Esports at the end of the year. He only got to play with Engin "MAJ3R" Küpeli and co., the greats of Turkish CS, for roughly two months before they all departed Sangal and moved over to VALORANT. Soulfly would then stay on for the European rebuild of the Sangal squad we know today. He has been Sangal’s most consistent and highest rated player throughout 2022, averaging a 1.12 rating. Soulfly also notably tends to have good performances in important series and tournaments, like with the IEM Road to Rio 2022: European RMR B where he was Sangal’s top performer averaging a 1.15 rating. While the team ultimately failed to qualify for the Major, going 2-3 in the RMR, Soulfly has undeniably caught the attention of many in Europe and looks poised to have a great year in 2023.
#9 Sapec (20) - EYEBALLERS
Anton "Sapec" Palmgren has been one of the most interesting prospects to watch develop over time, and not just because he has good stats, but because of his playstyle. He’s an incredibly selfless player that won’t hesitate to entry on the bombsite when asked to, and not only that, but he’s usually good for a kill or two if not even three. He’s a very mechanically well-rounded player and from an outside perspective, it seems like he has a really good attitude as well. While he’d been active for a few years already, he first really started getting noticed once he joined Young Ninjas, and while he wasn’t always the team’s stand-out star, he often felt like the most reliable player on the server. After all, it’s no coincidence that he was later picked up by Jesper "JW" Wecksell and Robin "flusha" Rönnquist to join EYEBALLERS, as JW even described him as the “perfect teammate”. Despite EYEBALLERS not living up to their own expectations in 2022, Sapec was still the team’s top performer, and with the recent addition of Peppzor, the Swedes are in a great position to make miracles happen in 2023.
#8 nqz (17) - 9z Team
Lucas "nqz" Soares has been another big surprise coming into 2022, as he has averaged a 1.21 rating this year. The 17-year-old AWPer notably played for DETONA in 2021 before making the leap to B4 eSports at the start of 2022, where he was the team’s best player by far. Where he has really shined, though, is with 9z Team, with whom he has attended a few international events throughout the year, including the IEM Rio Major 2022. While his stats might be a little inflated due to the sheer amount of domestic competitions in which he participated, his international showings have all been very respectable, not unlike 9z’s former AWPer Santino "try" Rigal. Reports currently link nqz to Brazilian squad Fluxo, and if this move does come to fruition, we might see a whole other level to the young talent in 2023, especially if his new team is still able to attend European events such as the BLAST Premier: Fall Finals. And who knows what happens from there, perhaps nqz’s talent will be so undeniable that FURIA (or whoever else is the top Brazilian team in the future) will look to pick him up?
#7 CYPHER (20) - ex-Into The Breach
Cai "CYPHER" Watson has been competing semi-professionally, primarily in the UK scene, for a matter of years already, representing the likes of Velocity Esports, CeX, Aura Esports, and most notably Into The Breach for the last 1.5 years. He has easily established himself as the next big UK talent after William "mezii" Merriman, and a large reason for that has been his consistency during his time with ITB as he was easily the team’s best rifler. The team managed to find great results both domestically and internationally during his tenure, and with the organization parting ways with the lineup recently, CYPHER is a name most people should be keeping an eye on. He hasn’t always played star positions yet always tends to excel in his roles, the progress he has made since joining ITB has been very impressive, and considering he’s only just turned 20 today (December 31st), his experience at his age also makes him an incredibly interesting prospect.
#6 matys (20) - Team Sampi
Matúš "matys" Šimko is probably the most underrated player in T2. He’s one of the most mechanically gifted CS players I’ve ever seen, including players in T1, and has had an absurdly rapid path to pro, playing in Advanced with BRUTE by his second-ever season of ESEA. He has a ridiculous 68.5% career-wide headshot percentage, which rivals even the Headshot Machine Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom and surpasses the aforementioned Twistzz and b1t, while also maintaining a respectable 77.3 ADR and 0.73 KPR. He first really made his mark with ENTERPRISE in 2021, but dare I say he’s only gotten better in 2022 despite everything that has happened since he joined Team Sampi Slovak superteam alongside Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács earlier in the year. I’ll happily admit that I was very excited to see this team in action given that it united many of the country’s top talents, albeit I was equally uncertain about what version of GuardiaN we’d see in the modern day. Sadly, the AWPer was placed on medical leave in September, which left matys in a precarious situation having to IGL a team of very raw talents as the sole experienced player, contextually speaking, and also somehow being the top performer. From my understanding, matys was really looking to build something for the future with Sampi, and while I’m unsure what the future holds for him and I find his dream very commendable, a selfish part of me really hopes he leaves the CZSK scene as I think he could deal some serious damage in Tier 1 if he was ever given the opportunity.
#5 r1nkle (18) - B8
Artem "r1nkle" Moroz is someone whose praise I’ve been singing for a long time, as I truly think he’s one of the smartest players to come up in recent times. His approach to the game, the way he plays out specific late round scenarios, it all just feels and looks like a player that has ten times his level of experience, yet r1nkle only started playing semi-professionally in 2020 with 5balls and later with Marlian eSports. He made the jump to B8 in August 2021, and has only gotten better with time, as 2022 saw him average an impressive 1.19 rating. One can’t help but draw parallels between r1nkle and fellow 18-year-old Ukrainian AWPer Ihor "w0nderful" Zhdanov, in part because of the similarities between their profiles but also because their careers have mostly developed side by side, yet the latter has had a much greater opportunity in joining Team Spirit. I’m very confident that if r1nkle is given a similar chance in 2023, he would be able to take the scene by storm in a year’s time, as his levels of potential on the AWP are really something to behold.
#4 BOROS (18) - Monte
When people think of Jordanian CS:GO, their first thought might be Issa "ISSAA" Murad, but I’m confident that in a short period of time Mohammad "BOROS" Malhas will become the country’s new CS icon. Since I first watched him play in NASR Esports in 2020, I could tell that BOROS was gonna make it far, and so far so good. The Beast of the Middle-East was by far the most promising talent on NASR, and as such it didn’t take long for Endpoint to recruit his services, a team who had already had a good experience with MENA talent following Shahar "flameZ" Shushan’s tenure with them. BOROS ultimately played very well with Endpoint, but after failing to qualify for the PGL Antwerp Major 2022, he decided to explore his options, which leads us to today where he currently represents Monte. Alongside Fessor and kRaSnaL, BOROS forms a deadly rifling trio that has been threatening a lot of good European teams in recent times, in large part due to his great mechanical skill. Another headshot machine, BOROS currently averages a 64.7% headshot percentage career-wide, and paired with his incredibly positive personality, the 18-year-old Jordanian is a great prospect for the future.
#3 headtr1ck (18) - NAVI Junior (benched)
Of all the players I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing for WePlay Academy League so far, none have given me a “Tier 1 vibe” quite like Danyyl "headtr1ck" Valitov. While obviously it’s quite superficial as a scouting metric, his overall energy and demeanor gave me the impression that reaching the top levels of Counter-Strike wasn’t a question of “if” for headtr1ck, it was a matter of “when”. And I’ve learned to trust my gut when I get those sorts of feelings. In all fairness, the 18-year-old Ukrainian talent has had a stellar 2022 already, averaging a 1.27 rating, although a large portion of his matches have been in WAL with Natus Vincere Junior. Still, he managed to average an impressive 1.12 rating versus the likes of Complexity Gaming, G2 Esports and Team Liquid over the four maps he stood in for NAVI’s main team at the BLAST Premier: Fall Groups. Reports have tied young headtr1ck to NIP going into 2023, where he’ll allegedly be taking over as the team’s primary AWPer. This move leaves me with mixed feelings, as headtr1ck more than proved himself capable of being a star in NAVI Jr. following Ilya "m0NESY" Osipov and Evgeniy "Aunkere" Karyat’s departures, but I ultimately feel as though headtr1ck is best as a hybrid player, having the freedom to pick up the AWP on CT sides when he feels like it rather than having the pressure that comes with being a dedicated AWPer at the highest level. If NIP are hoping for their very own m0NESY, I’m not sure they’ll find that in headtr1ck, but he’s still incredibly capable with the Big Green and his overall skill and level certainly can’t be understated, which is why I’m excited for his 2023 regardless.
#2 Jimpphat (16) - MOUZ NXT
Somehow MOUZ NXT got away with signing another super talent earlier this year, as they picked up Jimi "Jimpphat" Salo in May. I first heard of the 16-year-old in 2021 when he was playing for IQUE.gg, before realizing that he was Jere "sergej" Salo’s younger brother. He’s represented a number of sub-top Finnish teams like NYYRIKKI Esports, SJ and Conquer Gaming since then, continuously getting better individually and showing no signs of stopping, until eventually joining MOUZ’s academy ahead of WAL S4. He generally played pretty well in the international squad, averaging 1.03 and 1.07 ratings in his first two seasons of Academy League, respectively. But with the roster rebuild going into S6, we’ve seen a completely different Jimpphat, one that has been given back a lot of his former star roles, and one who quite frankly looks unstoppable at times. He finished the season with a 1.28 rating, second only to headtr1ck who finished with a 1.36 rating albeit with fewer maps played. It’s relatively crazy to think that sergej was touted as one of the best young talents not that long ago, being only 16 himself when he joined ENCE, but much like with Nabil "Nivera" Benrlitom and ScreaM, it seems as though Jimpphat has no intention of living in his brother’s shadow. He’s been forging his own path, putting up incredible performances and opening up opportunities of his own right, and quite frankly I think it’s inevitable that he surpasses his brother in no time. I suspect that Jimpphat will be a name a lot of pro players will point out as their bold prediction this year, as he’s by far one of the best rifling talents there is at the moment. It’s also worth pointing out that the Finn has a VAC ban expiring at the end of January, which I imagine will open up a lot of doors for him in 2023.
#1 regali (20) - Copenhagen Flames
And claiming the #1 spot on this list is none other than Iulian "regali" Harjău, currently playing for Copenhagen Flames. The Romanian sniper’s career started on GameAgents in 2020, where he coincidentally played with lauNX in 2021, the other major Romanian prospect. Despite the roster changes, regali firmly remained as GameAgents’ best player, having incredible performances on the AWP and on the rifles. He would eventually get the opportunity to join Fnatic Rising, a squad that had been assembled just a matter of days ahead of the inaugural first season of WePlay Academy League, and he certainly impressed everyone watching, finishing the online stage as the second-highest rated player behind m0NESY, who was on a completely different level. Still, regali looked like the only other sniper in the league even capable of challenging the Yellow Flash in Season 1, which was certainly no small feat. Things kind of slowed down for regali in Seasons 2 and 3, as he was apparently busier with school, his ability to practice was much more limited and his motivation as a result started to waiver. Nevertheless, he played his heart out in S4, his final season of Academy League, with the team placing fourth after losing to eventual tournament winners and four-time champions MOUZ NXT. He would go on to join Copenhagen Flames in August, marking his first time communicating in Danish in a team setting despite the fact that he’s lived in Denmark for a few years already. And things have been going great for regali, as Copenhagen Flames has won five tournaments over the last three months, and the 20-year-old AWPer finishes 2022 with a 1.20 rating. Needless to say, regali has been an absolute beast the last two years, and going into 2023, I expect he’ll be on a lot of T1 teams’ shortlists for potential AWPing replacements, as his individual level, growth and attitude has been magnificent.
And there you have it, my top 20 bold predictions of 2023. The constraints used mean that a number of other promising players like Andrii "npl" Kukharskyi, Robert "Patsi" Isyanov, Dorian "xertioN" Berman, ArtFr0st, lauNX and many others I suspect will have a great 2023 sadly couldn’t be included, but I still think these are all players to be looking at going into the New Year. So many other players like Can "kyuubii" Kamber, Joel "joel" Holmlund, or Cristi "smekk" Flutur just to name a few, could’ve made this list, and as such I’m curious to hear your input. Who would be in your bold predictions of 2023? Be sure to let me know!