CS:GO is a game of stars and it has become tradition for rankings to be created at the end of each year outlining who the best players in the game were. Determining who the best players in the world are and for the span of an entire year is not a simple endeavour, though.
As a team game, Counter-Strike can only conclusively tell you who the best team is and even then it's not always as simple as who won the most championships, with more factors to be considered. When it comes to individual play within the context of a team game, there is much to factor in and many angles from which to break down a players' performance and its value.
When creating any kind of ranking, one should outline the criteria considered and explain which one gives prefers or weighting to over others. With these guidelines in place, the author is free to explicate in the context of those factors and considerations.
One of the first places people will begin when ranking players is their statistics. Whether that be simply looking at an overall rating calculation, based on a hidden formula, such as HLTV.org's "Rating 2.0" or more in-depth and focused statistical filters. The sentiment behind such thinking goes that the higher the rating or specific stat, then likely the better the player in question performed and relative to the other players being judged alongside them.
Particular context I consider significant to bear in mind when looking at a player's stats are the quality of the tournament, performance over the whole tournament, the number of maps played at the tournament and the opponents he performed well against. Stomping a tier two tournament clearly carries less weight than playing well at the major. These factors are also weighed against the context of the player's role.
As such, magisk may have better or more impressive numbers than dupreeh in many statistical contexts but I do not consider him a better performing player over the year, due to how much more key I judge dupreeh's role and performance to be in Astralis and how much more difficult it is for dupreeh to get kills and avoid deaths, in direct relation to magisk.
Similarly, with it being a team game, I think it's important to look at how much help a player has from his team-mates. NiKo was one of the best players in 2016, yet played with team-mates who had no business being in the positions in tournaments NiKo could carry him to and arguably were the worst help any world's best player contender has ever been surrounded by. As such, NiKo's performance was actually more impressive than the raw numbers might have suggested.
Looking at teams like Team Liquid, mousesports and FaZe Clan, all were stacked with highly skilled individual talents, but all were not required to perform at the same time for the team to win. So while a star on a small team may have his ranking limited by being unable to get enough maps under his belt at tournaments or place highly enough, so players in stacked line-ups should be docked if they had their stats inflated due to how good their team was and were sometimes carried to placings even when playing at an objectively poor level, eye test or stats-wise.
This is most relevant when it comes to Astralis, the undisputed best team of 2018 and who won double digit trophies over the year. The sheer strength of their team and number of dominant map wins, rarely losing maps and being taken close, combined with factors like their exceptional team-work; great comms and revolutionary tactics, mean Astralis' players ended up with their stats inflated beyond what the eye test or focused analysis would say was reasonable for their players' actual performance level. Hence, I do not have most of the Astralis players in my top 10.
Accomplishments are taken into account when considering players for this list, but in the context of chances to compete. I don't take championships won into account for an individual's level of play over the year, at least directly. If a player plays very well in finals, is the MVP or otherwise distinguishes himself with great play in the biggest moments then he gets credit for that, but not simply because it yielded a trophy for his team. This is an individual ranking, not a team success ranking.
Finally, the eye test is a significant component of determining who the best is and, for my money, always should be. As such, I did my research, assessed the data and considered all of the factors I've laid out, but I also watched VODs to ensure an idea which sounds great was actually present when watching the player in the field of battle. Hence, I can say with certainty that I consider coldzera to have been a better player than dupreeh over 2018, even if dupreeh won many more championships and had tournaments where his numbers looked better.
Matters of principle
Taking into account the above outlined guidelines and principles of thinking, Astralis did not receive the three or four top 10 spots many others granted them. They had other great players as team-mates and the other factors mentioned. Likewise, a team like Team Liquid "did it by committee" in terms of fragging and star player performances, so some of their stars did not make the cut. A player like suNny had an exceptional few months, but was quieter earlier in the year and had a terrible latter portion of the year, so is absent entirely.
Five new players entered my top 10 and I've put the change in ranking from 2017 next to each player's name.
Here are my Top 10 CS:GO Players of 2018.
10. GuardiaN (FaZe) [NEW]
GuardiaN is a player who would be a lock for a CS:GO hall of fame if one were ever to be set up, so legendary has been his career and individual level of excellence. The last couple of years have been less impressive, though, for the Slovakian sniper. Where GuardiaN in 2015 and times in 2016 was a contender for world's best player, the last couple of years have seen him much more muted or simply a very good player but not always a super-star force in the server.
In some senses, GuardiaN's form can be considered in the context of his initial period in Na`Vi, where he was a flashy player who would take over maps or series, but could also be less explosive and fizzle out in big matches. In FaZe, of course, he has much more help around him to secure victory or ensure the team is not eliminated early.
GuardiaN's general form in 2018 was that of a top 20 player who bordered on top 10 during his best moments and, hence, tipped over into cracking this list. For most of the year the battle over who the best AWPer was would have been between s1mple and device, also two of the very best players in the world generally. GuardiaN was more of a month-specific consideration, along with mouz star oskar, but would have been voted best over the year by very few experts if any.
GuardiaN's AWP is still very strong and his strengths of having a lightning quick firing speed and yet a high hit-rate remain both clear and relevant to CS:GO at the top end. Not only can he shut down CT halves from his chosen positions, making it no surprise FaZe often forced maps like train in their pool, but he remains one of the most clutch snipers CS:GO has been graced by.
The best moments of the year for GuardiaN were largely when the team lost olof and had to operate using stand-ins. The two tournaments they won (IEM Sydney and ESL One Belo Horizonte) were supernovas of superlative sniping from GuardiaN, who legitimately put up MVP performances under difficult circumstances and was essentially only denied MVP awards due to playing with NiKo, legitimately one of the handful of god-like players over the entire year. FaZe almost certainly would have been taken to five maps or even beaten in the Sydney final without GuardiaN flashing back to his early 2016 prime against what we now know was the hands down best team the year would see.
Certainly, GuardiaN plays with a lot of talent, including a number of players who have been the best or contenders for the best, but I think the inflation on his stats is less pronounced than for teams like Astralis or Team Liquid. FaZe were not a team marked by great comms, very tight team-play or a deep and effective tactical approach. With that said, playing with a player ranked higher on this list should be counted against GuardiaN, in as much as there were games and tournaments he was carried by a superior figure, right now.
9. KRiMZ (FNC) [NEW]
FNATIC were up and down throughout the year, with more lows than highs overall but some of the highs being very prominent - such as winning IEM Katowice over FaZe and almost slaying Astralis at IEM Chicago. While the leadership of golden and some throwback performances from flusha might have been topics of discussion, the man allowing FNATIC to keep their heads above water during the hard times and push on to potential glory during the better days was without a doubt KRiMZ. It's not exaggeration to point to 2018 as the stand out year in his long and decorated playing career.
KRiMZ was winning MVPs and putting up monster numbers in late 2014, with his FNATIC team the dominant force, and was an admirable performer in 2015, playing alongside monstrous figures like olof and flusha. Nonetheless, he was not the player we witnessed last year. The old KRiMZ was a rock, masterfully playing the small site on inferno, owning the connector on mirage and ever the reliable soldier playing in an entry role when necessary. Here was a player revered for his consistency and positioning, not as a monster fragging force in the server.
2018 KRiMZ was a beast on another level and far and away the best Swedish player over the year. Not only were his stats big time, even on a team which often struggled to surround him with consistent or high level performers, but even his aim passed the eye test more, with his ability to frag out and produce highlight clips practically revelatory, in the context of his career. He was also clearly the best player in his team.
The primary knocks against KRiMZ, which keep him lower down this list, are that his team didn't have enough deep runs to give him the required amount of maps played against top tier opposition to prove his elite tier quality and that he did have a lull in form around the summer. The first four or so months of the year and the last few were exceptional, though.
8. dupreeh (Ast) [NEW]
The underlying story of the early portion of the year that is missed by many regards dupreeh's return as a star player and his role within Astralis. A key factor behind kjaerbye's discontent at being an Astralis player and decision to gamble and move to North was that at his best in Astralis kjaerbye was used as an entry fragger and worked along with gla1ve in that role, even famously winning the ELEAGUE Atlana major MVP from many outlets. Those circumstances had changed by 2018 rolled around.
kjaerbye had seen his numbers drop over the latter half of 2017 and his team no longer won tournaments. With dupreeh increasing in performance level over a similar time-frame and then getting a chance to shine when he filled device's role due to the super-star's health concerns, dupreeh was the player Astralis could reliably pivot to in order to increase their chances of winning. After all, dupreeh had been a world class entry for many years and had given up the role to kjaerbye in the first place and when the latter was the player seen as having more potential in it.
2018 was a glorious return for dupreeh entirely, not just again positioning himself as arguably the best entry in the game, but delivering star power performances from the role, often a difficult one to build big numbers in, and even making a serious claim for MVP consideration himself at times. Playing in a team with device, for many the second best player of the year and winner of more than half a dozen MVP awards over the year, it's no joke to have contributed as much as dupreeh did from a statistical perspective and in the context of his role.
The eye test is an area where dupreeh really shines, not in terms of raw aiming ability or highlight kills but the context of the difficult entry positions, his ability to execute at a high level and his fearlessness forcing a way in when Astralis in poised to face stern defense from the opposition or in a make-or-break moment in the game. Without dupreeh's ability to batter down the door, Astralis would have experienced much less success over the year and been stopped and beaten so many more times than occurred in reality.
7. coldzera (MiBR) [-6]
The player I simply call "the master" was required to show a level of fortitude over 2018 that we had not yet witnessed from him. While he had dominated with MVP performances at the biggest tournaments in CS:GO, he had never played during his prime for a team that was at times far from a contender and often threatened with early eliminations from tournaments, rarely seeing semis or finals in the biggest competitions. coldzera even attempted to take over as IGL (in-game leader) at times in 2018, on specific maps at least.
Despite all of the above, coldzera remained one of the best players in Counter-Strike. Sure, there were bad moments which were uncharacteristic of Brazil's terminator, but there were also tournaments where he looked back to his best from 2016 or 2017 and would likely have won MVP awards had his team gone further or secured the trophy. coldzera was still the player who seemingly effortlessly racked up kills, while giving up few deaths and controlling the game at all stages while still alive. There were still very few players in the world as intimidating as coldzera in a 2vX situation and with a rifle.
2018 was a year to forget for MiBR as a team and most of his team-mates, but it was a character year for the best player that country has produced in CS:GO, and he passed the test with strong marks in most regards.
6. oskar (mouz) [NEW]
The Czech AWPer was probably the most under-rated player of 2018, for my money, and there were many times I heard others not even refer to him as the best player in his team. Certainly, mouz was a team with a very solid trio of stars (oskar, suNny and ropz) and they would often seemingly share the fragging load, though more taking turns than all contributing at a similar rate. Over most of the big tournaments and in most of the big matches, though, oskar was the player who distinguished himself from the rest. He was the X factor who was needed to break through better teams or the potential MVP if mouz were able to reach at least the final.
oskar's AWPing style may appear brittle, as he seemingly either dominates the opponent entirely or can be shaken and not recover, but when he is locked in there are many overall better players I would without hesitation trade out for oskar. Such is his ability to take over a game and force opponents to summon an answer to his also under-praised skillset. Not only is he one of the very best AWPers in the game, but oskar has a much better rifle than most primary AWPers.
oskar was a yo-yo statistically, able to go from a lacklustre 0.64 KPR performance one event up to the blistering heights of 0.84 KPR the next, as he did from IEM Chicago to ECS S6 Finals, but his highs were more impressive than many other names on this list. He also did it all without as much help as some of the other players on stacked rosters and with an in-game leader with no history of legendary success, unlike most other stars.
5. electronic (Na`Vi) [NEW]
s1mple is the saviour of Na`Vi, as he gives them life and a chance to win even in the games they end up losing, but electronic was the man brought in to save s1mple's morale and hopes of becoming a champion. It's telling of Na`Vi's fire-power issues that despite having the best player in the world, perhaps even of all-time, in peak form, they were unable to capture championships for so much of the year. As such, it was the arrival of electronic as both a star of the team and the global scene which elevated Na`Vi to holding trophies.
electronic went from a good player earlier in the year to one of the best in the world upon being activated fully, in a role and manner which suited him, around DreamHack Masters Marseille onwards. By the summer he had hit a level of form which made Na`Vi an exciting prospect at every tournament for more than just housing s1mple. Combined, the two were arguably the strongest duo of players in the entire world.
As the year went on, electronic did regress and find himself far too often a player posting sub 0.7 KPR numbers for tournaments Na`Vi were considered among the best teams attending. Had he been able to given more, then Na`Vi likely would have won EPICENTER, at a minimum. Still, electronic is proof that a blazing peak can overpower dips in form, especially when they are as exceptional as some of his were over the year.
Even playing with the best player on this list wasn't enough to knock back electronic out of the top five. What a transformation, from strong potential on FlipSid3 at a lower level to helping be a carry of Na`Vi and winning championships over the best teams in the world and history, in some cases.
4. NAF (TL) [NEW]
EliGE has long been a front-runner as North America's best player and Twistzz had a bonkers few months around the Autumn, but the best player for Team Liquid over 2018 was quite clearly NAF. The former OpTic and Renegades man took the form he displayed in the ELEAGUE S2 final or during his time carrying the Aussies and showed he could deliver at that kind of level on one of the best teams in the game and over most of the year.
NAF's performance over the first few months was the focal point of Team Liquid's emergence as one of the world's elite squads. Where they had so often seen stars go missing in big matches now they seemed to have a bold and unafraid young talent who could battle even the game's best in big match play. It's hardly any wonder Liquid were able to parlay that, along with their other strengths, into so many international finals and top finishes. Teams like Na`Vi and FaZe know well that NAF was a serious threat in 2018.
A hybrid star, NAF was a strong volume fragger with a rifle, particularly an M4A4, and yet could also swap over to an AWP, when feeling in tune, and perform against some of the best teams in CS:GO. That versatility also allowed Liquid to rely on more than just nitr0's AWPing or their deep rifle game to get wins or push through tough moments in matches.
The eye is curious for NAF, as his aim often doesn't look like the pin-point precision of a NiKo or s1mple, yet his ability to secure kills and in mass quantity was apparent and impressive. NAF is a player who makes god-like aimers seem as if they are showing off, where a kill could be secured all the same by shooting an opponent in the chest or spraying. Certainly, he is a very skilled player, but not in undeniable sense of team-mate Twistzz, for example.
NAF's ability to play without being phased in big games did seem to carry a dark context, though, as in the latter part of the year there were a number of tournaments where he looked disconnected from the important context of how badly Liquid needed him to help them win some of those trophies that could have been theirs. The most notable example being the ESL One New York final, where the team almost certainly lifts the trophy if NAF plays anywhere close to his normal level and his poor play over the whole series hampered their chances at victory.
Taking the whole year into account reflects favourably on NAF. Never before has an NA CS:GO player been this good, this often, at a level comparable to the best Europeans and with his team so close to winning trophies on as many occasions. Truly a banner year for both NAF and his region.
3. device (Ast) [+2]
2018 was the year device made the strongest case for his individual value as a player and the difficult nature of declaring the best player on the best team to be the best player in the world, as he showcased a level of consistent form better than any of the previous yet impressive years he had put up and Astralis won seemingly every tournament and with him leaving as the MVP of most of them, breaking records along the way.
device's billing as the best all-around player in the game was apt, though also perhaps needed some context added. As a very strong AWPer and one of the best rifle players, device did not outmatch s1mple's overall skills and strengths, but was seemingly a better team-player, overall, and clearly fit his team in a manner practically no other star did. Dividing up whether Astralis fit device better or the other way around, I would likely come down on the latter side, as with a player of his wide skill-set and the other pieces the team had, I can see gla1ve and zonic had so much to work with. That is a discussion for another time, though.
device was a player who maximised his game both statistically and in the context of Astralis. He frequently hit numbers which would have been apt for the prime of a stats monster like coldzera or even the mighty s1mple, with very high average kills and yet also staggeringly low death counts. The latter came as a result of device's intelligent and coordinated saves, both knowing what battles not to take and working with his team to ensure he selected the right moments to save and thus bring a gun and potentially the chance to turn the game back around sooner over to his Danish squad.
In short, device was a coach's wet dream of a star player. There were no ego plays of constantly re-peeking into waiting opponents, ready to trade frag and neutralise advantages gained for Astralis. What device did was within Astralis' system and at all times engineered to give his team the best chance to win the game.
Ignoring the ELEAGUE Boston major, where he was still returning from injury and had his AWPing role given to dupreeh, device essentially didn't have a bad statistical tournament over the entire year. Even his lesser performances, stats-wise, would have been considered good or strong performances for some of the players on this list. Now, some of those numbers likely were inflated by playing on Astralis, but as the best player on the team it can be argued that some of the advantages of playing in Astralis were also generated by device himself and his big impact upon the flow of a game.
Without his AWPing and consistent, Astralis would not have been able to boast such a wide and deep map pool or so reliably dominate their home of nuke. Another strong point in his favour, which almost secured him the second spot on this list, was one made by Sam Delorme that device dominated consistently against Team Liquid, as has long been the case, and that ended up being of great significance for Astralis since they met TL in five different notable finals.
The old criticism of going missing in finals was still at times a bugbear for the Danish star, but playing TL in so many finals and having such a strong team around him helped him both stay afloat during the difficult times and overcome his issues in other moments. Taking into account device's excellent level for so many years of play he has now entered the conversation legitimately as a candidate for best CS:GO player of all-time.
2. NiKo (FaZe) [-]
Cards entirely upon the table, I thought NiKo was the best player in the world for most of 2016 and in 2017 I had him as the second best, behind only coldzera. Still, many will know I have long been an admirer and follower of device's game, and so it is of no small significance that NiKo snatched this second spot away from the best player on the best team of 2018, but more about that later.
NiKo is an exceptional individual talent in this game, with abilities which dwarf even his eyebrow-raising statistical output and the championships and many deep finishes his team managed over the year. The only player with a more compelling eye test score would be s1mple, who left everyone in the dust over this year. NiKo is a rare combination of outrageously good aim, flawless technique and an almost unfair level of gamesense.
It's no surprise to me that even during s1mple's peak there have been players who have cited NiKo's as the most skilled player in the game. From an opponent's perspective, playing CT side against NiKo means holding a spot and having an opponent shoulder peek into you and instantly kill you with a perfect headshot burst. When you see NiKo's name credited with the kill you don't think "What the fuck?!?", but rather simply "Well, it is NiKo. Not much I could have done."
With the days of NiKosports long behind him, NiKo has been surrounded by quality talent for over two years now, with most of the last two years seeing him teamed up with some of the best players to ever play this game. While on one hand, that does mean NiKo gets fragging help from his team, this is a rare example of team-mate strength further boosting the status of a player but with the team-mates theoretically being very good as opposed to very weak.
FaZe Clan were a shadow of the team their names would suggest when it came to championships won, though some consideration is given to olof's departure and their trying circumstances using stand-ins. Beyond some flashbacks from GuardiaN, NiKo was largely left to hard carry the team to relevance and their few championships over the year. NiKo is the primary reason FaZe won IEM Sydney, ESL Belo Horizonte and EPICENTER. Two of those tournaments he was playing with a stand-in as a team-mate, but you could not have guessed it based on his individual level of excellence.
It's also worth noting that NiKo took over as IGL in the latter third or so of the year and yet did not seem to individually suffer at all from it, even winning another trophy.
s1mple was the best player in the world and device had the most MVPs and won the most trophies, but NiKo squeezes between the two. Only s1mple can boast a better year individually, the eye test especially confirming as much, and device had not only more overall help from his team, even statistically, but had less demanded of him for them to win. NiKo's 2018 will likely go down as one of the most under-rated years in history, considering how strong the consensus was that device was the number two player over NiKo.
1. s1mple (Na`Vi) [+2]
If you've followed s1mple's career for more than just the last year and a half then you'll know that s1mple has always shown incredible potential and at times looked like the most skilled player in the game. His primary criticisms, though, have been that he played for teams without the requisite body of work, in terms of deep finishes, to meet the requirements for world's best player, in most people's book, and his poor attitude being a detriment to the morale of his sides.
With the latter point seemingly put to bed entirely, s1mple and Na`Vi were able to make the former no longer a concern and give him his first real chance to be the consensus number one player in the game. It is telling that in a year in which Astralis created perhaps the most dominant era ever and won most of the trophies, with star device breaking the record for number of MVP awards won, that the consensus never truly swayed from s1mple being the best player, even with his peers. There was no strong argument formulated that anyone else was better.
I've written at length about s1mple's incredible career elsewhere and on many occasions. The Ukrainian has developed from one of the game's unpolished prodigies into one of the hardest-working and yet most dominant individual carry players we've ever seen in competitive play. Even the concept of player strengths seem to disappear when s1mple's skill-set is considered, as apt opening a round or playing with low econ as he is closing a round or using the expensive AWP.
Over the first quarter or so of 2018, s1mple was a man tasked with an impossible burden, making a minimum of every semi-final and putting in MVP level performances, with numbers which left the galaxy in the context of world class standards, and yet denied the trophy so many times due to his team not being the best or capable of providing him with enough help. Such heartache did not break him, though, and he maintained his form so that when electronic began to deliver super-star performances of his own Na`Vi had a powerful arsenal of stars to pit against their opposition.
s1mple is not just the best player of 2018, especially given that I don't credit or punish a player for winning or losing the trophy outside of the context of his performance, but the best world number one CS:GO has ever seen. Even GeT_RiGhT had the likes of shox, f0rest and Dosia breathing down his neck. coldzera had NiKo, shox and s1mple, respective of the years in question. s1mple has nobody. Some of his worst event performances would literally be considered among the best for even his closest rivals and s1mple's very best performances have no equal.
For now, Counter-Strike is in a state of monotheism.