s1mple’s American Dream

This article was originally posted in late May of 2016. It has since been re-uploaded here as I move to Medium for my writing.

In my opinion, there is no CS:GO story more interesting, exciting, and perhaps controversial, than that of Oleksandr Kostyliev, more commonly known by his in-game moniker, “s1mple”. After his departure from FlipSid3, where he was remarked as a “toxic kid” by his former teammates, s1mple bounced around through multiple teams through the duration of 2015; that is, until he found a new start.

On that fateful day, I got a message from my friend about some exciting news, and he sent me a link to a news post from the Team Liquid official site:

Today, we announce the addition of s1mple to our CS:GO roster. Known as one of the most talented yet raw players in the scene, s1mple is determined to make a mark with more than just his aim…

I’ll be the first to admit; I hated s1mple when I first got into watching competitive Counter-Strike. I first saw him when he was playing for FlipSid3, and part of me just loathed the way he played; not cooperating with teammates, going for ill-advised no-scopes and knife kills when the game could be tied at 13–13; to me, it seemed like he treated his matches like just another PUG, like nothing mattered except his stats. When he left FlipSid3, I lost track of him until I read that post on January 2nd. When I first read the news, it was bittersweet. I knew of his raw skill, his incredible ability, but I also knew of his toxicity and his incredible knack for tilting off his rocker and possibly losing the game for his teammates. But, as I thought to myself, Liquid needs the possible boost. With the addition of Hiko and the skill nitr0 possessed already, this could be what propels this team to the international level — possibly.

At first, s1mple struggled with finding his place on the team, but soon helped his team qualify for the major. Since I didn’t watch too many of Liquid’s games until around MLG Columbus, I’ll not go into too much detail. What I can go into detail on, however, is the extreme amount of pressure that s1mple experienced while he played for Team Liquid. Imagine packing up from your home country, saying goodbye to everything you once knew — friends, family, girlfriend — for a chance at stardom in a foreign land. Imagine dropping out of college for this opportunity — this slim chance at a bright future. s1mple did it all for the game. When the 18 year old arrived in Los Angeles, he was criticized for the “toxicity” and the “baiting” that he carried with him from his home country of Ukraine. He was criticized and insulted by fans, casters, even fellow pros in the scene. You may already know about the infamous “bullying scandal”, where fellow pro and then-player for Cloud9, fREAKAZOiD, insulted the skill, personality, and accent of the foreigner — bullying the “new kid”. This incident blew up (right in fREAK’s face), and ended with the “bully” being forced to publicly apologize and participate in an anti-bullying seminar, along with being fined an entire month’s salary. Even if it was just “normal trash talk” being thrown around — and yes, s1mple dealt a decent amount too — this proves that there were many that wanted to see nothing but s1mple’s failure, perhaps due to his infamous reputation back over in Europe.

Obviously, all of this pressure — playing in a new league, knowing nothing of America, being “bullied” by peers — can build up on someone, especially someone so young. It all culminated just a few days after the bullying scandal, when the Counter-Strike community watched Team Liquid just nearly scrape a win off of one of s1mple’s former teams, HellRaisers. s1mple was not doing particularly well during this best of three, and his demons got the best of him — yelling at teammates when he was doing poorly, and screaming in joy when his teammates could pull through without him. When Liquid barely pulled through with a 16–14 victory, s1mple got out of his chair and hugged his teammate, Hiko. He later expressed his concern with his own skill, and shared his overwhelming joy when his teammates were able to secure the win and send Liquid off to the major in Columbus.

…I was a lurker, and I don’t do anything… like [a] support player. And I [felt] that we were gonna lose. It was the first time that I was on tilt. And after this last kill.. I was so happy… Because HellRaisers [was] so bad.

A bit of shade thrown the way of s1mple’s former teammates at the end there. Even so, s1mple’s gratitude for his teammates was shown.

Then MLG Columbus rolled around. The big stage. A place where s1mple could show off his talent for the world. A place where s1mple could expose himself to the world as a top-tier player, and help his team secure 1st place at a CS:GO world championship, something that is unprecedented.

The first day for Liquid’s tournament run saw the North American underdogs secure a 16–11 upset win against FaZe Clan, an intermediate European team. Although some might have suggested that the win wasn’t surprising, it’s interesting to note that this is a North American team beating a relatively skilled European team by a pretty impressive margin. This fact was only amplified by an upset few saw coming; Liquid outlasting fnatic in overtime, finishing at a 22–19 scoreline. Let me repeat that: this is fnatic we’re talking about here. What many would call the best team in the world lost against a team that some would (wrongly) place an entire tier below fnatic. This is significant. Maybe s1mple’s acquisition was a good idea after all…

With two impressive wins against two more than competent European teams, Liquid advanced out of the group stages, which were best of 1’s, and moved onto the quarterfinals against fellow North American team (minus the European star), Counter Logic Gaming. They handily defeated CLG, ending them 16–13 on Cache only to destroy them 16–3 on Mirage, advancing them to the semifinals.

The next part you’re about to read is perhaps the biggest choke I’ve ever seen while watching competitive CS. Liquid, with a 3–0 match win/loss ratio at this major, advances to their semifinal opponent, Brazilian squad Luminosity Gaming, before they can advance to the finals and face off against European juggernaut, Natus Vincere, or Na’Vi.

When I watched this game a couple of months ago, I had a feeling that Liquid were going to get so close, only to lose out to LG and take a loss. But I had faith in s1mple, and I had faith in Team Liquid.

Well, Liquid got way, way, way too close for comfort. After an impressive performance by the entirety of our favorite North American squad, Liquid left LG at match point on the first map — 15–9. The North American crowd was absolutely rooting for Liquid, and s1mple did his part, going so far as to hyping the crowd himself. The Ukrainian pickup was loving it. “There’s no way that Liquid could let this one go,” I said out loud to myself and to my friend, who was sitting in TeamSpeak with me at the time.

coldzera, Brazilian AWPer for Luminosity, had other ideas. With an absolutely mad performance on the B site of Mirage, coldzera (with the help of fellow teammate TACO to clean it up) saves Luminosity from a loss on map 1.

One can imagine how s1mple, highly regarded as one of the most toxic pros to play the game, felt after that massive 4 kill AWP play by coldzera. It tilted him out of his mind, and his performance, along with his attitude, was severely impacted. The rest of his team struggled to contain s1mple, and their performance as a team suffered as a result.

Incredibly, Luminosity achieved the unthinkable. They take Team Liquid, slayers of fnatic, from match point to overtime, and then win it, 19–15.

“Okay,” I said, at a complete loss on how Liquid managed to tilt themselves right into a loss on the first map. “Liquid’s got Cache in the bag. They won’t let this happen again.”

I’ve never been the best at predictions. This game starts off the same way the first one did; with Liquid playing well during the first and second half, which included an absolutely insane 1v4 clutch by Hiko (one that moved s1mple out of his chair to shake Hiko’s hand), bringing the Brazilian team to an even more daunting match point scoreline — 15–6 for Liquid.

And yet, LG somehow found the strength to come all the way back, put the game into overtime, and win it 16–19. That means that Liquid lost 10 match points in a row. 2–0 for Luminosity Gaming.

With that loss, Team Liquid hung up their headsets and exit stage left, and Luminosity, emboldened by their success against TL, go on to 2–0 European superstars, Na’Vi. With that, Luminosity Gaming became the world’s first Brazilian CS:GO team to win an international tournament. s1mple would go on to play one more major tournament with Liquid, in which they would lose two games in the group stage (one against European tier 2 team mousesports, and one against a then relatively unknown Chinese team, TyLoo).

Shortly after, s1mple would leave for Ukraine in order to see his family, friends, and girlfriend again, with the expectation that he’d return back to the United States and continue playing for Team Liquid. However, the homesickness was too much for s1mple to bear, and Team Liquid’s director of eSports, Robin Nymann, announced s1mple’s departure from the starting lineup of Team Liquid via TwitLonger.

…As you may know, we have been playing with koosta and adreN for the past couple of days due to s1mple needing to fly back to Ukraine in order to arrange his ESL Pro League Visa for London. After having greatly missed his family throughout his stay in the United States, he was looking forward to spending some time in his home country. As s1mple spent more time at home with his family, it became even more apparent that he had missed them so much. This, in combination with concern over his in-game role on the team — and consequently the team atmosphere — led him to reach out to us about his desire to play for a European team and not return to the States.
We take requests like this very seriously and after thorough discussion, we’ve decided to help s1mple find a new home on a European team, where he can really find his stride. We are going to figure this out together and we will work with him to find potential organizations. In the meantime, s1mple will remain under the Team Liquid banner as a CS:GO streamer…

There are many that are dissapointed to hear about s1mple backing away from Team Liquid, but some are fine with him being gone. adreN, who s1mple was set to replace in Team Liquid, had some words to say about s1mple’s performance and attitude in-game:

…You can’t have someone that’s just gonna be tearing the team apart, and just — even if you’re winning.. he’s still gonna be yelling at the team, and bringing the team down, so.. I mean, you need good positivity in the team, to be winning, in my opinion…
“And do you think the way the public perceives [s1mple] is a fair assessment?”
Uh, not really, I think it’s a lot worse… I mean, he’s got a lot of maturing to do…

Thoorin, the eSports Historian, created an entire video detailing and discussing s1mple’s departure from Team Liquid. In the video, he points out some of the flaws of s1mple, but also pointed out some of the mistakes that Team Liquid made in accommodating s1mple, who many perceived as the star player.

s1mple now plays for a team called “Worst Players”, back in his home country of Ukraine. Worst Players has had, at best, mixed performances, and currently sits at a 1–6 win/loss ratio. It’ll be interesting to see what Worst Players can do in the coming months, as it’s clear that s1mple is taking his new lineup seriously. Team Liquid, now with adreN back in the saddle and with a promising AWPer, koosta, joining them, Team Liquid has also seen some mixed results — upsetting fellow North American team Cloud9, and nearly beating tier 1 European team, Ninjas in Pajamas. However, they haven’t seen the results that they saw with s1mple on the squad.

With that, s1mple’s “American Dream” as I’ve liked to call it, was over. I think that s1mple’s story over the past few months has perfectly encapsulated the American Dream — An 18 year old from Ukraine leaves everything he knows for a chance at greatness in America. In my opinion, he did achieve great things, both for himself and for Team Liquid. He put himself on the map, exposed his raw skill to a rapidly growing North American team, raised the skill ceiling of North American Counter-Strike, and gave Team Liquid one of the best runs we’ve ever seen from an American team in a major. Even with the demons he faces in the form of his toxic attitude and his tilt-factor, he brought, in my opinion, a gift to NA CS; one that we might not get anytime soon. I am looking forward to seeing the next chapter of your Counter-Strike career, s1mple. As I see it, you’ve awoken from your American Dream.