Next up on our top 20 ranking is Virtus.pro veteran Filip "NEO" Kubski, who makes the list for the very first time since CS:GO was released. With one of the highest clutch records of the year - 67 in total - the 28-year-old played a key part in his team's success, and his versatility made him one of the most exciting players to watch during the summer season.
Filip "NEO" Kubski's career stretches back to the early days of competitive Counter-Strike, with his first international success coming in March 2005, when his Pentagram G-Shock team won the Samsung European Championship, in Hanover, over SK Gaming's Danish team. Success continued to come NEO's way and titles kept piling up in the following years, but perhaps the most remarkable thing was the team's ability to stick together despite all the hardships thrown at them - and they were quite a few.
NEO and his four teammates - called the Golden Five - were on more than one occasion left on their own, but they still managed to pull through, becoming the first team to win three WCG medals and two ESWC crowns. But despite their considerable success - which also includes two Extreme Masters titles -, the team struggled for form when CS:GO came around, spelling the end of one of the longest and most beloved rosters in the history of the game. Jakub "kuben" Gurczynski and Mariusz "Loord" Cybulski were replaced by two up-and-coming talents, Paweł "byali" Bieliński and Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski, and the team have gone from also-rans to title contenders.
After a year which had seen Virtus.pro win EMS One Katowice and finish 3rd-4th at DreamHack Winter, the Polish team began 2015 in dreadful fashion as they crashed out of ASUS ROG Winter - a relatively easy tournament - in the group stage, despite NEO posting a 1.16 rating - the fifth-highest overall. Then came Inferno Online Pantamera, where Virtus.pro came in fourth place, with just one victory from five matches in the round-robin stage. In Sweden, the 28-year-old had a disappointing 0.90 rating, the second-lowest of the team, only ahead of Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas (0.82).
Weeks later, Virtus.pro once again travelled to Katowice for a major, and NEO came into the tournament with fire in his belly as he hoped to help the team to replicate the success from 2014. In the group stage, he picked up 20 frags in the team's victories against 3DMAX and Cloud9 but he was just the squad's third best player, rating-wise, in both matches. In the quarter-final match against Keyd Stars, NEO delivered a monstrous performance, amassing a whopping 75 frags (+35 K/D, 1.56 rating, map 3 POV video) throughout the series to single-handedly send the team to the last-four stage, topping the tournament's daily charts in the process. With a spot in the final on the line, Virtus.pro were downed 0-2 by fnatic, with NEO putting up the team's second-highest rating (0.94) of the series. In the end, he was one of the top performers of the event in a total of nine categories.
NEO had the second-highest rating in Katowice, only behind olofmeister
After the Polish major, NEO went through a slump in form and was the worst-performing player of Virtus.pro in two of the next three events, Gfinity Spring Masters 1, which the team attended with Michał "MICHU" Müller as a stand-in, and Copenhagen Games. The Polish giants won the title at the Danish event, but still NEO finished the tournament on a 1.08 rating, and it was in no small part thanks to his performances in the first three bracket rounds, when the team faced Lions, Publiclir.se and Atlantis - hardly top-level opposition. After that, he posted positive ratings on just three of the next nine maps, which shows that the 28-year-old was far from his prime.
The following months brought a mixed bag of emotions for NEO, who performed well when his teammates struggled (FACEIT League Stage 1 Finals, ESL Pro League Winter Finals and Gfinity Summer Masters) and failed to having a meaningful role when the team were delivering, such as at the ESL Season 18 Finals and at Gfinity Spring Masters 2. NEO's stars seemed to finally align in July, when he put in solid numbers at the ESL ESEA Pro League Season 1 finals to power the team to the semi-finals of the event. Against fnatic, the 28-year-old was the only player of his team to avoid a negative score as Virtus.pro were defeated 1-2, and he had positives to take from this tournament, having scored the fourth-highest rating of the entire competition (1.15).
Later that month, Virtus.pro were handed a heavy blow, finishing 7th-8th at the FACEIT League Stage 2 Finals, in Valencia, following back-to-back defeats against Na`Vi and Team Kinguin. NEO, just like his teammates, was largely disappointing, but redemption would soon come his way. At the CEVO Season 7 Finals, he became the primary AWPer on the roster, a move that instantly bore fruits as he was the joint-highest performer of the team (1.17 rating), together with Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski, putting in great numbers when it mattered most, in the semi-final against Cloud9 (1.22) and in the grand final against Natus Vincere (1.15). This was the tournament where he used the AWP the most, and his contribution to the team's success did not go unnoticed as he earned the unofficial title of MVP of the competition.
NEO produced a master-class of CS at the CEVO finals
The next offline tournament was ESL One Cologne, where Virtus.pro once again managed to finish in the top four. NEO was in the green in every match up until the semi-final clash with fnatic, in which he finished just one map with a positive score. In the end, he netted a 1.04 rating, which was Virtus.pro's fourth-highest of the tournament.
The next event on the calendar was Gaming Paradise - a tournament marred by controversy. NEO had the second-best rating in the team (1.05), who finished in fourth place, but not many conclusions should be drawn from such a troublesome competition. After the adventure in Slovenia, the players flew straight to Dubai for the ESL ESEA Pro League Invitational, featuring a hefty $250,000 prize pool. NEO's best performance came in a game against TSM on de_mirage, where he posted a 27-19 score, and it was overall a great showing from the 28-year-old, who inspired his team to win the title with a 1.06 rating - the seventh-highest of the entire event.
One of the lowest points of 2015 for NEO came in the next tournament, the Gfinity Champion of Champions, as he had the worst rating in the team (0.67) with just 60 frags (almost half as many as Snax) across the best-of-five clash against EnVyUs. He made up for that at the PGL Season 1 Finals, in Bucharest, where he posted a 0.99 rating to help the team to finish runners-up to TSM.
Virtus.pro returned to Romania weeks later for DreamHack Open Cluj-Napoca, which turned out to be Virtus.pro's - and NEO's - worst major of 2015 as they finished outside the top four for the first time following a 0-2 defeat against G2 in the quarter-finals. For NEO in particular it was a disappointing tournament as he ended up with a rating of 0.87 - the team's lowest - and a -12 K/D score.
Cluj-Napoca was NEO's worst major of the year
The Polish team travelled to North America hoping to win another CEVO title and put the results at the major behind them. Snax and pashaBiceps were both on a hot streak during the tournament, but NEO also looked sharp, scoring a 1.06 rating that put him just outside the top 10 performers of the tournament.
Two weeks later, Virtus.pro competed at IEM San Jose with MICHU once again as a stand-in, and this time they were sent packing after one just game as they fell short against Liquid. For NEO in particular, this was a tournament to forget as he posted an extremely low rating of 0.40 (-24).
Before the end of the year, Virtus.pro still had one final test, which was the FACEIT League Stage 3 Finals, at DreamHack Winter. Until the last-four stage, NEO had just one sub-1.00 rating in four maps, and despite scoring an impressive 1.45 rating on map one of the semi-final clash against fnatic, he was unable to prevent the Swedish team from turning the series around in convincing fashion.
Why is he the 17th best player of 2015?
NEO makes the cut primarily due to his important role in most of the big tournaments where Virtus.pro placed well, including the first two majors of the year. In Katowice, he truly displayed his talents, being overshadowed only by fnatic's Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer.
At times, the 28-year-old struggled for consistency, but he still finished the year with the seventh-highest K-D difference at majors and as the fourth-best clutcher in the game, which are tremendous achievements. It is worth noting that NEO's two worst events - Gfinity Champion of Champions and IEM San Jose - were single matches, which offer very little in the way of painting a picture of consistency.
NEO is the oldest player on our top 20 list
The fact that NEO became Virtus.pro's main AWPer at CEVO 7 and was right there the MVP of the event really says it all about the 28-year-old's versatility and quality. Since he started using the glass cannon regularly, Virtus.pro have won 74.8 per cent of rounds in which he picked up at least one AWP kill, which has since been the highest percentage among AWPers in the game.
Being the oldest player of this top 20 list is in itself a major achievement for NEO. At the age of 28, he continues to prove that he is among the best in the game, and his ability to swap between roles and continue to deliver on a regular basis just shows that he is ready for all the challenges that will be thrown his way in 2016.
What do you think about NEO's performances in 2015? Does he deserve our 17th spot or do you rate him differently? Let us know your opinion in the comment section below.
Stay tuned to our Top 20 players of 2015 ranking powered by EGB.com and keep track of the list over at the Introduction article.