CS:GO

Thorin's Take: The Immovable ELiGE

by Duncan "Thorin" Shields
Twitter: @PapieroweDrzewo

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Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski is the super-star force of Team Liquid, the squad with the most championship titles won in a year still featuring the Astralis line-up widely considered the best in CS:GO history.

A mere year ago he was still labeled, appropriately, as a choker and someone who could not be relied upon in a big final. Indeed, he had never won one until this year.

2019 has seen EliGE turn around his team's fortunes, his personal reputation and his mentality as a competitor. He now stands as one of the very best players in the world; a titan of Counter-Strike. An overwhelming majority of MVP (Most Valuable Player) medals awarded by HLTV.org have gone to players from the winning team of a tournament, so EliGE's failure to secure a big trophy until this year precluded him from entering that conversation for many. The North American stud has caught up quickly enough, though, as his three from this year alone sees only 18 players in the game's seven plus year history boasting more over their entire careers.

Stewie2k brought the rebellious fighting spirit Team Liquid needed to transform them from perennial runners-up to dominant champions and super-star talent. Twistzz displays a streaky but unparalleled skill ceiling for a North American player, but it is EliGE's elite baseline level of consistency that has been the foundation upon which Team Liquid's would-be era has been built. Seven titles won, five in a row at one point; the $1,000,000 Intel Grand Slam bonus and a nearly unrivaled 22 series (Bo3 and Bo5) streak of match wins in a row offline stand as monuments in time for the play of the most consistent player North American Counter-Strike has ever produced in any version in the franchise's history.

The gradual climb

EliGE is not a player who came out of the womb dominating offline play and whose play screamed that he must be the next great star. For the first few years of his career, he was just another name in the server, with his initial success coming as a byproduct of helping enable nitr0's carry potential, working as part of an eventually deceptively strong entry duo and creating space for nitr0's streaky but spectacular aim - think Twistzz's mechanical ability but with more variance in performance level.

Sebastian Ekman
Sebastian Ekman

When nitr0 failed to fully become North America's next CS:GO star, the inheritor of the mantle Hiko first established and swag was denied the opportunity to embrace and Skadoodle could only manifest as for around a year, the field looked bleak. North America had plenty of good players with strong aim, but nobody with a game which could legitimately be contrasted against the best the world had to offer. Certainly, nobody around whom a potential era of dominance could be established.

Team Liquid were not a squad shy of spending money to get talent or a big name, as their initial investment into Hiko had shown, and so NA borrowed its super-star talent, as Team Liquid brought in s1mple, the greatest gun-for-hire Counter-Strike will ever see and considered by many experts to be the best player in the game's history now, almost four years later. The fiery Ukrainian prodigy delivered in the server mechanically and Team Liquid rode him to a major semi-final at MLG Columbus 2016 and then a step further, reaching the final of ESL One Cologne, the following major. In the latter performance, EliGE was a worthy side-kick, delivering key performances offline against some of the game's elite squads, stacked with star talent and veterans.

A carry is born

s1mple's greatest limitation was always his attitude towards team-mates and inability to communicate in a productive manner. During this run of form, that no North American line-up had ever come close to at the game's most important tournaments, s1mple was tearing his own team apart emotionally with a similar unabating ferocity as he was obliterating opponents inside the server. A vote was held to determine whether the NA side should commit to this phenomenally talented but unbroken wild beast or if they should let him go and chart another course.

Hiko, the motivating factor behind s1mple's acquisition, wanted only to win at all costs and voted in favour of keeping the CIS boy. Another member was willing to ignore s1mple's attitude at that time. One more team-mate was on the fence but acknowledged that if they wanted to win then s1mple was likely the player to select, but was waiting to see what the tally would be before coming down one way or another. EliGE, as it was relayed to me later, was firmly of the position that he did not want to play with s1mple, even suggesting it was a "him or me" scenario.

The obvious counter was to ask "well who will carry us to the championship if not s1mple?", with the Ukrainian having just posted a god-like 0.80 KPR (Kills Per Round) to only 0.69 DPR (Deaths Per Round) at the recent major. "Me" came back the answer. Perhaps that story is apocryphal, taking an overall sentiment and verbalizing it in a manner that seems to come right out of a Hollywood script, but the premise and the actors outlined are in line with the people I knew and the information my sources gave me. Regardless, on that day, EliGE the future Hall of Fame player was born. Few knew, though, that he had his own demons to overcome before he would be fully unleashed, a similarity he ironically shared with the departing s1mple.

Teething problems

What EliGE did not know or perhaps was oblivious to at the time was that he was no ideal team-mate himself. Certainly, he did not shout and explode upon his comrades as s1mple was wont to do, but he had his own way of corroding the squad's atmosphere and inhibiting their collective progress. EliGE was a player who would shut down when he seemed uncomfortable in a match or felt frustration with a team-mate's play or the direction of the score-line.

Where s1mple was brash and decisive enough to challenge team-mates directly in practices and team meetings, seeking to resolve an issue at its first instance, EliGE was more likely to complain and point out problems privately and to an unrelated team-mate, building unacknowledged resentments in the core. Where s1mple's issues were clear and forced the team's hand eventually, EliGE's were more pernicious and subtle.

Robert Paul
Robert Paul

Few will know or perhaps remember that in 2017 EliGE was essentially cut from Team Liquid behind the scenes, and after a failed transition to Cloud9 found himself awash and even considering joining the newly returned DaZeD and swag in their new team, which would be prohibited from competing in majors due to the aforementioned players having indefinite bans for match-fixing. To the public, EliGE was a premier NA CS:GO talent, and to insiders, he was living up to his commitment to be the carry Team Liquid could build around.

Circumstances aligned so that EliGE could rejoin Liquid without any fanfare or need to inform the public and Liquid soon hit their second patch of strong form, partnering EliGE's consistent and powerful play with rising talent Twistzz's wildly erratic but massively promising peaks of form.

A step back

After TL's Autumn explosion, reaching two straight finals at ESG Mykonos and ESL One New York 2017 and defeating world number one team SK Gaming twice along the way, Liquid again struggled to contend for titles and top placings. The following year they would shell out for more talent, as Renegades star NAF arrived in blazing form. With a more passive game, NAF established himself as TL's star for his first few months but seemingly at the expense of EliGE's game. With Twistzz and NAF producing runs of super-star level play, it appeared EliGE was content to take a back seat and allow these younger names to flourish.

The result was a then never-before-seen level of consistent accomplishment from a North American CS:GO side. Where past NA squads had either been one tournament wonders, as far as true championship form went, or strong performers for a period of a few tournaments in a row, Team Liquid established themselves as arguably the second best team of 2018, a year in which Astralis dominated in epic fashion.

Sacrificial lambs

In five of their six big finals appearances, Team Liquid would fall to Astralis, leaving them in the unenviable position of being the Karl Malone to Astralis' Michael Jordan - the truly great figure more than capable of championship glory but forced to always come up second best due to inhabiting the same era as the best to ever do it. With the other big tournament final seeing TL fall in a fifth map heart-breaker to underdogs mousesports, many again spoke in louder and louder tones about TL's choking and inability to get over the finish line and win "the big one".

Most frustrating of all was that Team Liquid were one of the best semi-finals teams in the game. In 11 meaningful semi-finals appearances, they had progressed six times to the finals stage. Such victories came against elite squads like Na'Vi and FaZe, the former being a team they never lost to in series play - despite the CIS line-up boasting the best player in the game in s1mple - and the latter a side which won three titles in their own right that year.

Astralis were obscenely dominant over the scene and Team Liquid were one of the sides who matched up against them well, even if TL never secured the series victory they obsessively chased. The other elite squads might beat Astralis, only to be trounced the next time around. For Liquid, victory was always seemingly in sight and yet just too far, conjuring up images of an elite running NFL team stopped short of Superbowl glory at the one-yard line on fourth down in the final minute.

Despite not being the team's best player at the time, EliGE's own mentality seemed to uncannily mirror TL's lack of belief when they had been beaten down by Astralis enough times. After impressive semi-finals performances they would be asked the usual questions from stage hosts like "are you going to win this tournament?" or "can you beat Astralis this time?". The answers were far from satisfying, as EliGE, in particular, seemed to settle for vague noncommital statements like "I sure hope so" or "we'll do our best". Hope they might have had, but their best was never good enough.

StarLadder
StarLadder

The turn

Just as EliGE's ultimatum back in 2016 and commitment to become the team's new s1mple showcased a level of drive that promised much for his future, it would be mirroring another super-star's journey that would bring him to the promised land of a stocked trophy cabinet. Astralis' many victories had seen them forge perhaps the most cohesive and efficient Counter-Strike machine ever witnessed, yet the key role and fragging of long-time star device ensured that, despite surprising parity among performers, it was the sniper taking home the majority of the MVP medals that year.

That was a staggering turnaround from the player device had been in previous years. Since 2015 he had been vying for the top spot individually in the game, with a fantastic all-around skill-set, but had been largely held back by his own mentality. Notoriously fragile under pressure, as evidenced by carrying Astralis to their first major final in early 2017 only to need youngster Kjaerbye to keep them alive in the most important series and thus costing himself an MVP medal, device could not be relied upon when the stakes were at their highest until Astralis' most successful year, 2018.

device had been a player who had seen himself as "just" another player in his team, which was admittedly highly skilled and with a strong distribution of talent from 2014 through to 2017. Why should he be burdened with carrying? Wasn't that a selfish mindset? Such was the dilemma of CS:GO's most reluctant super-star. When the Dane transcended such worries and instead reframed them as accepting the responsibility of carrying where others could not and overcoming situations his own mind largely held him back in, Astralis saw a flood of trophies flow their way, including what would eventually become three straight majors, totaling four for device - a new accomplishment for a super-star.

Inability to win the big one had cost device a number of years which would have made his case as the best player in history, thanks to his superb consistency and work ethic, but now he solely occupied the top spot as the game's greatest winner.

Adela Sznajder
Adela Sznajder

EliGE similarly bested his demons, helping Team Liquid become the best team in the world this year and leading them to numerous championships and himself an impressive haul of MVP medals. Reasserted as the dominant force in the team, EliGE's transformation could be seen in his words as well as his actions. After winning the ESL Pro League Season 9 Finals in June, he told HLTV "We're 100% the best team in the world".

Even during Team Liquid's difficult Starladder Berlin major run, where they came in as the biggest favourites to win in history but floundered, his numbers were spectacular. Facing Astralis, who had spoiled Liquid's major run, again at ESL One New York, the following tournament, he was bold enough to promise to perform at his peak in the match.

EliGE is now the complete package, in body and mind and North America may never see another player like him. As well as the trophies and MVP medals of this year, his accomplishments include a major finals appearance and two additional semi-finals. The chosen one has delivered in all but handing NA another major trophy and there's still plenty of Counter-Strike yet to be played.

A most under-rated set of skills

Speak of skill in Counter-Strike and discussion will centre around players like s1mple, NiKo and ZywOo. Even extending outside of those players, a name like Twistzz is more likely to leap to mind than EliGE. That's because EliGE's skill, similar to device's own talents, manifests more subtly and with less raw flair. Make no mistake, though, EliGE is one of the most skilled players in CS:GO.

pimp was EliGE's team-mate in 2016 and 2017 and has himself played with the likes of Magisk, dupreeh, Nico, Hiko, cajunb, aizy and kjaerbye. Yet the former TL import proclaimed this summer:

EliGE's spray has always been hailed as impressive, but the power of the Aug and Kreig this year has shown how devastating the consistency of his aim is. Those imagining he was boosted by such weapons are in for a shock when they see his M4A4 or AK, though. EliGE is not just a strong contender for best spray in the world, but has in my opinion the most under-rated first bullet accuracy in the game. It's not the wild flick of Twistzz, but rather smooth tracking and unwavering accuracy. If EliGE does not kill an opponent he is certainly doing damage to them and his style makes him appear to be the great 1.6 player we never had, as he hits the head with the first bullet so often and then seemlessly transitions into spraying to secure the kill or rack up an assist.

With pistols, practically any of them, he is a foreboding presence and this consistency paired with the wild Desert Eagle aptitude of the rest of his team helped them turn so many poor starts immediately around during their unbeatable run of the summer. Indeed, consistency is the primary mark of EliGE's game and the strength upon which he builds his MVP performances.

EliGE is one of best damage dealers Counter-Strike has ever seen. Kill or die. Win or lose. EliGE gets his shots in and is rarely left empty-handed. At big events this year (as classified by HLTV.org) he has averaged 86.4 points of damage per round. Best player in the world contenders ZywOo and s1mple, considered by most fans to be more skilled but admittedly with worse team-mates, average an inferior 86.1 and 83.7 respectively. Considering EliGE has played in 10+ additional maps to ZywOo and double-major-winner-this-year device and played in 10 finals to their four each, those numbers become even more emphatic that he is a player who can make an argument he is the best we have.

Even looking back in history, EliGE's numbers remain massively impressive. s1mple's 2018 form, which enshrined him as the god of the game, only had him averaging one point higher. device's 2018 run, in which he was awarded MVP of an event a record seven times, saw the dynamic Dane average over three points less per round. How about prime coldzera, voted best player in the world for 2016 and 2017? The former year he averaged 3.6 points less and the latter he was still unable to get within three points average of EliGE's body of work in 2019.

ESL
ESL

The Team Liquid star is so durable and impeccable because his understanding of the game's fundamentals, on an individual level, is close to the best in the world, again mirroring device's foundational strength. This is most obviously noticeable in EliGE's superlative sense for when to spam an opponent through smoke or wall without having seen them and his sense for when terrorists will hit the bombsite he is playing.

Where such fundamental in-game intelligence cost players like EliGE and device in big moments, over-thinking or finding themselves paralyzed by chaotic and uncertain decision trees, with their confidence built upon a stronger mindset and the results to prove their case, the two are now two of the game's great closers and big game performers. Such is the power of the mind working with you as opposed to against.

Moving at the speed of the game

EliGE's style begins to stretch the limits of description in as much as he appears to move at his own pace in the server, never rushed or forced into uncomfortable scenarios anymore and yet endlessly successful and not simply baiting or saving over and over. EliGE lets the game come to him, because it empowers him like so few other figures. An elite passive player, he is an incredible CT side player; one of the best big site players in the game; and stands as an immovable object blocking entry to his sites or enemies exiting chokes. Opponents peeking into the angle he is holding quickly discover the nightmare that is not only attempting to get the drop on him but especially trying to trade frag him - follow up the death of a team-mate by immediately attacking the player who killed him.

On the offensive side of the game, EliGE still displays the instincts that helped him build his name in another life as an entry player, either securing an area on the outskirts, with a view to pressuring the map, or going in with the entry pack directly. With a player like Stewie2k charging in ahead to create space, EliGE is secured a pocket - in the NFL quarterback sense of the term - from which to operate and from such circumstances will deliver. Whether it's entrying a site or retaking, EliGE is one of the world's best at working off a team-mate to gain ground.

The intelligence that allows him to play off a team-mate to such a degree also shows up in late round scenarios. A prime candidate to win a clutch, his lurking instincts ensure he is rarely caught off-guard and can decimate opponents one at a time. His one-versus-two clutch at the B site on mirage to all but seal the ESL One Cologne 2019 final against Vitality, winning Team Liquid the Intel Grand Slam and one million dollars, is a memorable example.

Greatness

To borrow the Chess premise of an "immortal game", a flawless example of the style and strengths that made a historically great player exceptional, EliGE's performance against Astralis at ESL Pro League S9 Finals stands out. Team Liquid were already three title champions at that point, but this would mark the first time they would again meet Astralis in series play since the Danes had taken their few months off largely attending events not labeled as part of the Blast Pro Series circuit.

On inferno, one of the two home maps Astralis had built the game's greatest ever era upon, EliGE was impossible to deal with. His CT side play was so impenetrable and his spray so deadly that Astralis could not execute upon the A site and were consistently forced into B hits. After a 14:1 CT side stomp against one of the game's best-ever T side line-ups, EliGE and company closed out the game, winning a cool 16:6. Astralis had not just lost their map pick in the series, but been unable to breathe and gain any footing in the match. This was not the Astralis of the previous year, but also not the EliGE of yesteryear.

EliGE is a complete player and the best his region has ever birthed in CS:GO. While he has yet to win a major, that already seems a point of discussion as to why not rather than an obvious answer that he wasn't good enough. Not only does he have many more trophies to win, but he is one of a handful of players in the world a truly great team can be built around.

ESL
ESL

If you want to hold a shy boy down then don't ever let him find true confidence or you may find it was the only thing holding him back from his potential.