Looking back: Hiko's run for greatness
We take a look at the story of Spencer "Hiko" Martin after he parted ways with Cloud9 hoping to realize his dream of being crowned a Major champion.
December 14th, 2014 was the best day in Spencer "Hiko" Martin's career, despite not winning or earning anything. On that day he left Cloud9 and later agreed to join iBUYPOWER, whose players—excluding Tyler "Skadoodle" Lathams—, would be banned for match fixing in January. So how was that a good move?
The sheer amount of criticism and mockery Hiko faced for leaving what would be the best team in North America for quite a while was preposterous as it seemed to most that Hiko's career was on the decline and leaving Cloud9 was a mistake. He thought otherwise, saying he doesn't know how long his pro gaming career will last, and that not winning a Major will ultimately make his career feel like a wasted opportunity.
Hiko's biggest goal is to win a Major and he's been trying his best
Hiko demanded change after Cloud9 garnered poor results at the last Major of the year, DreamHack Winter, and the ESEA Season 17 LAN finals, but the rest of the team disagreed. They believed the core of the team was good enough but Hiko didn't think so, stepping down from the active roster. Today, only two members of that same core remain in Cloud9: shroud and n0thing. Parting ways with Hiko for wanting revision turned out to be the wrong decision in the long run, as Cloud9 eventually caved in despite some initial success.
The then twenty-four-year-old would remain teamless alongside Skadoodle for nearly four months after the iBUYPOWER ban, streaming from his home to a few thousand people. After Skadoodle, whom Martin had been playing and wanting to further his career with, signed with Cloud9 in April, Martin made his return and joined another ex-Cloud9 member—Semphis—in Nihilum Gaming.
Hiko didn't achieve much during his three and a half month tenure with Nihilum. He did, however, make a decision that would change his career forever: standing in for the Ukrainian team FlipSid3 at ESWC 2015 which took place in July.
Martin got to know s1mple at ESWC 2015
He played for FlipSid3 due to WorldEdit's visa application being denied by Canadian authorities. This turn of events resulted in Hiko and Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev bonding during their time in Montreal, hanging out together all the time as Hiko stated in his interview with Thorin and even playing with the endearing nicknames "Hiko s1mplovich" and "s1mple Hikovich".
While Hiko was unknowingly setting himself up for a bright future, Cloud9 were making the best run a North American team had ever made by coming in second at ESL ESEA Pro League Season 1 Finals, ESWC 2015, and FACEIT 2015 Stage 2 Finals. At this point, just about everyone thought Hiko had made a grave mistake.
The next chapter in Hiko's career began in September of 2015 after signing for Liquid, where he would finally find two critical pieces that would eventually bring him closer to achieving his dream of winning a Major: Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski and Nick "nitr0" Cannella. After a rough end to 2015, when Liquid made a last place exit at the Major in the Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca, the pieces slowly started coming together. After a failed trial with Finnish star AWPer allu, Liquid announced the signing of the young and dynamic superstar s1mple whose relationship with Hiko would progress even further. While everyone was putting s1mple aside for his behaviour, Hiko only saw one thing: this guy can take on anyone in the world.
nitr0 would turn out to be a valuable asset for Hiko
The prologue to the fairy tale came to an end and the real story kicked off in March when the first Major of 2016—and the first one to be held in North America—began at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Liquid had already signed koosta coming into the Major, but were unable to use him because of roster regulations and had to play with their now estranged former in-game leader Eric "adreN" Hoag instead. Nobody expected them to accomplish much, but they did.
After beating FaZe 16-11 and upsetting fnatic in a 22-19 nail biter Liquid were through to the playoffs, gaining Legends status. Hiko & company faced a familiar opponent in the quarter-finals, local rivals CLG, and closed the series out 2-0 going on to face Luminosity (the team now under SK) in the semi-finals where things would start to fall apart.
Liquid lost the first map in overtime despite a 15-9 lead and things got even worse in the second one as they wasted nine map points to get eliminated from the Major. It was easy to see the narrative here: They got victories over a vanishing FaZe and a fnatic whose superstar Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer was having problems due to an injury, then faced CLG—a team that wasn't up to the task—, and finally choked against Luminosity.
It was a fluke! Hiko reached the semi-finals because he got lucky and it was fun while it lasted.
Liquid suffered a crushing defeat in the semis at MLG Columbus
s1mple would soon leave the team after becoming homesick and unhappy in Liquid's League of Legends team house in California. Hiko revealed that when they were a few rounds into their match against TyLoo at DreamHack Masters in Malmö, which took place after MLG Columbus, s1mple said "Guys! Let's just lose, I want to go home." Everything was falling apart as Hiko had Legends status but his chances at maintaining it were fading. He was back at square one.
Following a slow build-up to the Major in Cologne, Hiko found two new reasons to smile again as s1mple joined him for one last hurrah and the team traded Kenneth "koosta" Suen, for whom they had high hopes but on which he failed to deliver, for Josh "jdm64" Marzano who was widely considered the best and most consistent AWPer in North America.
Suddenly Hiko had a chance again—a dazzling and explosive superstar in s1mple, the most reliable AWPer in North America in jdm64, an exquisite rifler in EliGE, the perfect entry-fragger in nitr0 who, at one point, had even considered retiring, and, last but not least, Hiko himself who is one of the best lurkers and clutchers in the entire scene. He finally had the team he had dreamed of, a team that could challenge the best and succeed at a Major.
Hiko had a promising roster going into ESL One Cologne
Although not as flashy of a move as their previous ones, Liquid struck gold with the addition of the recently acquitted Luis "peacemaker" Tadeu as the team's coach and the final piece in the puzzle. They finally had someone to fall back on in tense situations like the ones they had lived through in Columbus against Luminosity when they failed to close out two maps despite huge leads.
Tadeu was the coach who had brought the second best Brazilian lineup, Immortals, to international success. Internal disagreements with a young and overly hotheaded team led him to leave his fellow countrymen, barely dipping his toes into the free agent market before being scooped up by Liquid.
When the second Major of the year got under way in Cologne Liquid were, in the eyes of many, a strong dark horse who could maybe get out of groups. They did so by defeating EnVyUs in their opening match and eliminating mousesports in the decider match of the group.
But that was it, right?
It couldn't be the same as Columbus because they weren't facing a weak NA team in the quarter-finals. Instead, they were facing Natus Vincere, a team among the favorites to win the whole contest. Despite losing on Train—the first of three maps—, Hiko & company recovered to take the series as s1mple starred with a 67:54 KDR and a 1.23 rating across three maps.
Everyone watched in awe as Liquid advanced to the semi-finals
As if that wasn't enough to shock fans and analysts alike they came back from 11-13, twice, to take both maps in their semi-final series against fnatic, and thus becoming the first North American team to advance to the grand finals of a Major. s1mple exploded once again, putting fear into every player's heart and leaving inhuman highlights such as this flying noscope 1vs2 clutch in his wake.
What happened next, whether Liquid actually managed to grab the trophy by beating the best team in the world or not was second to the fact that Hiko was right. He was right about leaving Cloud9 and wanting change to achieve his goals. He was one best-of-three away from being crowned a Major champion.
The fairy tale ended and the nightmare began, as Hiko got yanked out of the dream by the beast that is SK, spoiling Liquid's journey and cementing the fact that the Brazilian side has taken over the top flight in Counter Strike. There was nothing Hiko, s1mple, or Tadeu could do to stop them.
Martin & co. couldn't slay the final boss
In this instance of the Biblical tale, the Goliaths disarmed their Davids. s1mple melted away in the grand finals picking up an underwhelming 21 kills in 45 rounds while Marcelo "coldzera" David put in another stellar performance like he had done months earlier in Columbus. The Brazilian superstar went 44:20, posting a 1.58 rating and paving the path for back-to-back Major championships.
While SK will go on to climb the ranks, nestling themselves amongst the world's greatest teams, Liquid will have to go back to the drawing board as the Ukrainian superstar went home and signed with Natus Vincere. Even though Liquid's new acquisition, Jacob "Pimp" Winneche, may be a more stable personality than s1mple, their peak levels can't be compared—something crucial when playing at the highest levels and against the fiercest competition.
After proving everyone wrong by reaching the grand final at ESL One Cologne, Hiko has to find a way to make Liquid great again without s1mple. Whether Hiko will be able to climb as high as he did with s1mple remains to be seen, but one thing can be said with certainty: Hiko was right.
BenjaCS is a staff writer at HLTV.org and can be found on Twitter.