Every player that vies for the highest level of competition is on a journey. For most, this journey is punctuated by a mere theoretical understanding of victory, and a comfort with the reality of defeat. For a select few however, they are granted a momentary chance to bask in the grandeur and majesty of apex domination.
Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev is a player totally removed from the traditional eSports model of achieving victory, and transcends this sub-culture to almost fit Josef Campbell’s overarching idea of the ‘Hero’s Journey’. Although not identical to Campbell’s idea, his journey to winning ESL One: New York and having his “brief respite of winning glory” is one that shares many of the same points: a focus on personal struggles, innate skill, and most importantly of all – change.
S1mple is one of the most famous personalities in the competitive game – he flaunts over 100k twitter followers, a loyal stream adherence and an in-game magnetism that few can challenge. His devil-may-care, genuine, and at times vulnerable personality out of the game, can only be matched and then some – by his in-game level.
As a spectator, watching s1mple play is a forced hypnotism. For any other player – a 1v5 scenario is one that commands impossibility – to welcome the thought of success is to welcome the prospect of lunacy, but that’s what makes s1mple so great. Even if the scenario doesn’t pan out with perfect execution, he makes you believe anything is possible. That even if the mechanics of the game itself prevent him from winning, he will find a way.
For a select few they are granted a momentary chance to bask in the grandeur and majesty of apex domination. A brief respite of winning glory in the wavering ebb and flow of competition.
Whether this is a result of a conditioned expectation of our superstars, or just the weight of a name, is a different conversation altogether. The point is that this induction into a mesmeric state of expectation is created off the back of a persona and an empathy for s1mple to succeed. Whilst the persona was always there (as enigmatic as it might’ve been), the empathy only came recently. It came, in my opinion with the shortcomings of the koosta/AdreN Team Liquid roster.
At the beginning of 2016, when Team Liquid announced the addition of s1mple to their roster, the very paradigm of the CS:GO world, but particularly the North American scene, went into shock. The Ukrainian prodigy had been in a CIS team limbo of stand-in performances and rumoured roster swaps, so the promising thought of American life, and a bolstered Team Liquid skill ceiling led to a community brimmed with optimism. However, as with most things in life, immediate dominance from s1mple and Spencer “Hiko” Martin and company didn’t come in the expected fashion.
Nearly failing to qualify for the first North American Major, MLG Columbus, brought out an emotional interview from s1mple following their near-loss experience with Hellraisers. In the interview, s1mple broke down into tears and talked about how difficult it had been for him integrating into American society and trying to deal with the immense community pressure on his shoulders.
This moment of heartbreak and genuine relief for qualifying brought about widespread empathy from the very community that had put him in that emotionally broken position. The virtual affirmations and support manifested itself physically at Columbus, with the American crowd treating s1mple as one of their own. Every kill, gesture, word and action carried out by s1mple was done with the gravitas of an entire community wanting him to succeed.
This empathetic push from a community in love with the idea of Ukrainian success saw the Team Liquid roster finish in surprising top four fashion, with s1mple himself achieving some of the most memorable highlight clips of the tournament. Despite the wider populous becoming enamoured with s1mple and his story, the inner team controversy made his own team seemed less willing to deal with his shortcomings and extra emotional baggage, and only eighteen days after their finish at Columbus, s1mple left the Liquid roster.
Although the official statement cited homesickness as the primary driver for s1mple’s departure, it later came out in an interview with the Daily Dot, that the organisational choice of Liquid to add Kenneth “koosta” Suen upset the team chemistry. Arguments and broken promises over AWP priorities, combined with a longing for home was enough to see the exit of s1mple from the tournament side – though he did however remain on the Liquid payroll as a streamer whilst he sifted through offers from European teams and took time to pick his roster.
Whilst in this streaming position, he made a stand-in performance for the North American side at the final Major of the year – ESL One Cologne 2016. As a last hurrah, s1mple – with the welcome addition of CLG star Josh “jdm64” Marzano – drove through the competition at Cologne, scoring upset after upset to become the first NA team to ever make a finals appearance at a major.
Soon after his major finals appearance, the announcement of his induction into the Na`Vi side was announced, and whilst the move was exciting, it left in its wake the frustratingly impossible to answer question of what might’ve been?
With his new, more experienced and star filled team, the river of excuses and what ifs had run dry for s1mple. The only expectation was unparalleled success. He was in the best team of his career, surrounded by legends of the game and entered each competition with the same community push to win that he had accumulated in Columbus.
This is what makes his recent win at ESL One New York so satisfying for those that love the narratives of the greatest individual players. With his new brothers in arms, he beat the very team that gave him the vehicle to be supported by a community that wants nothing more than to see the 19-year-old from Ukraine win his first title.
So as s1mple was awarded the MVP of the tournament award following one of the performances of his career and lifted his first ever trophy, it’s hard not to look back on his journey with a sense of nostalgia. Crying on the stage and winning hearts, carrying his North American allies to unexplored heights, venturing into uncharted waters of his own to win his first international title – s1mple’s is the type of story that makes this game fun to watch.
S1mple’s narrative is one that not only mirrors our own inner dilemmas, but also embodies his own unique Hero’s Journey and the beauty of the eSports story.