Slotting into the 17th position of the top 20 players of 2016 is the Slovakian sniper Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács. GuardiaN is featured in the top players list once again due to his impressive AWPing and entry fragging, especially in the first half of the year.
Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács is another returnee to the top 20 players list, making it for the fourth year in the row now. His first top 20 placing came in 2013, a turbulent year for the then 22-year-old Slovakian. GuardiaN had already proven himself in Counter-Strike: Source, but after transitioning to Global Offensive, he couldn't find the same level of success playing with a Czech-Slovakian roster - 3DMAX at the time. After a few unsuccessful events in which GuardiaN was head and shoulders above the rest of his team, he made the decision to move away from the domestic scene.
Shortly after, he found himself in TCM-Gaming, a team that also featured the at the time teamless Richard "shox" Papillon. With what was always just a short-term international mix, GuardiaN managed to defeat Natus Vincere and catch the eye of another CIS team that decided to pick him up - Virtus.pro. GuardiaN managed to learn enough Russian to communicate with his new team and went on to be a part of the team that earlier defeated NiP for the first time at a LAN tournament. Just as things started to look good for the Slovakian, the Virtus.pro team was brought to an end by the formation of the CIS super-team Astana Dragons.
GuardiaN playing the DHW 2013 BYOC qualifier, with STYKO
GuardiaN didn't stop there - he attended the BYOC qualifier for the first CS:GO Major, DreamHack Winter 2013, with Nostalgie, a mix-team formed by Alexey "OverDrive" Birukov. The rag-tag group was one match away from qualification, losing to Reason in the finals - but his effort wasn't for nothing as both him and Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev, his teammate in Nostalgie, got picked up by Natus Vincere following the tournament.
After a rough ride, GuardiaN had finally found a team that he would play on for the years to come. He maintained his 2013 level throughout 2014, finishing at #11 in our rankings, but his biggest year was yet to come. Moving on to 2015, GuardiaN was able to unlock another level and become the main driving force behind Natus Vincere's wins - with the MVP award at all four tournaments the team won and a commanding 2nd place in the Top 20 of 2015.
After closing out 2015 with a second place finish at ESL ESEA Pro League, where they lost 3-2 to fnatic in the grand final, Natus Vincere attended SLi StarSeries XIV to kick off 2016. At the first event of the year, GuardiaN was in stellar form from start to finish. It didn't matter if he was playing against weaker teams such as CyberZen, losing to Luminosity in the group stage or edging out G2 in overtime, the Slovakian was consistently topping the scoreboard for Natus Vincere.
His one and only below average performance of the tournament was in the quarterfinals against Team Questionmark (who later became Astralis), where GuardiaN struggled on the second map, Overpass. Still, his showings on Mirage and Dust2 pulled his team through to the semifinals, where they walked over Envy - GuardiaN finished that series with a +21 K-D difference, securing another grand final match against fnatic.
The Swedes were an unsolvable mystery for Natus Vincere at the time, and it proved to be a similar case once again. Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer and co. smashed the CIS side on their "home soil" in Minsk, allowing Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko's team to pick up only 10 rounds over two maps. Despite the sizable defeat, GuardiaN was still able to finish the series with a positive K-D - something no other Natus Vincere player was particularly close to.
GuardiaN was giving his all against fnatic at StarSeries, but it wasn't enough
With a second place finish and an EVP award, GuardiaN traveled to Leipzig to compete at the first DreamHack Open event of the year. With no fnatic in attendance and "" going out in the group stage, Natus Vincere seized the opportunity and made a dominant run to the grand-final where they once again met Luminosity (now SK). The Brazilians put up a tough fight, pushing both maps to overtime, but weren't able to take the title in Germany as the CIS side closed it out with two 19-16 scorelines.
GuardiaN had a stunning performance at the event, finishing with a 1.19 rating and without a single below-average map. The Slovakian also excelled in round-to-round contributions, getting a kill, assist, survive or trade in 76.2% of the rounds. Overall, his teammate Egor "flamie" Vasilyev edged him out in terms of individual contribution at DreamHack Leipzig, grabbing the MVP award, but GuardiaN was awarded a second consecutive EVP for his performances.
Natus Vincere with the DreamHack Leipzig trophy, their first tournament win of 2016
Kovács first underwhelming event came in March, when Natus Vincere attended IEM Katowice 2016. After initial losses to fnatic and Luminosity in the group stage, the team managed to bounce back with victories over mousesports, NiP and TheMongolz. GuardiaN wasn't having his usual impact in the first part of the tournament, and struggled once again in the round-of-six match against Tempo Storm, where he was outperformed by the Brazilian AWPer Henrique "HEN1" Teles (15:11 in direct duels).
With the rest of the team stepping up, Natus Vincere were able to close out the series and move on to the semifinal where they were to play Luminosity once again. At this point, the Na`Vi - Luminosity rivalry was becoming one of the most enjoyable to watch - the community was excited to see two tactical teams go against each other, with the Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo - GuardiaN AWP duel only adding more enjoyment to the matchup.
"It was a game of nice actions and a lot of mistakes by both teams. I remember that we have used our 2 boosts for the first time in this game and I think we moved the game possibilities to the next level. Even though both boosts were successful, we lost the game, but still, we can say it was a very nice game for the viewers."
Even though the game delivered in terms of excitement, the Slovakian sniper didn't - he ended the series with another below average performance, and his team was eliminated from the tournament for a 3-4th place finish.
As most of the teams were doing their final preparations for the Major, Natus Vincere and a couple of other top teams accepted an invite to play at Counter Pit Season 2 Finals in Split, Croatia. Despite the quality of teams at the tournament not being very high, Natus Vincere had to play more maps and had a harder bracket overall than at DreamHack Leipzig. They started by beating their domestic rivals FlipSid3 over three maps, moving on to Virtus.pro, who they took down fairly easily in two, and closing it out with a three-map grand final against Astralis to win their second title of the year.
GuardiaN was on point at Counter Pit Season 2 Finals
This time around, it was GuardiaN who was the best player on his team and the clear-cut MVP of the tournament - 1.38 rating, 1.49 impact, three-times player of the match and a mind-bogglingly high ADR, especially for an AWPer - 92.5 over eight maps.
"There was nothing special [about Counter Pit], after this event my injury started and since then everything from my game disappeared. It was a lovely event for me, I really felt every single frag and I felt as confident as ever. Where I went, there I killed."
It seemed like the #2 player of 2015 couldn't be in better shape going into the first Major of the year, MLG Columbus. The truth was quite the opposite though, as GuardiaN started to feel pain while playing - the result of an injury sustained while playing football a month earlier.
"Well all the pain started during the group stage of MLG Major, till then it was lets say OK, but then it just came and never wanted to disappear. I can't regret anything since I've done everything I could to fix it. I had some laser and ultrasound treatment which helped me a lot. The only thing i regret is that I haven't helped my team at all this year, I was completely useless and I feel sorry for that. I hope I will change it this year." [GuardiaN about the injury and potential regrets]
Despite their star player struggling, Natus Vincere still fought their way to the grand final where they once again faced off against the Brazilians of Luminosity. In pain and playing on a ~4 times higher sensitivity than usual, GuardiaN was still able to have an impact in the first map, but wasn't able to carry that onto the second map, where Natus Vincere were crushed 16-2, losing the series 2-0.
"I was not frustrated, I was very sad I could not help my team at all. I got carried to the final and the feeling of not being able to do anything for the team is just very awful. I hope nobody will experience anything like that, nobody in the game and job we love to do."
Despite being hampered by an injury, GuardiaN had a good group stage showing and got a Player of the Match award in his team's stomping of Virtus.pro. With that in mind, the Slovakian was still a valuable player for his team in Colombus, although his overall rating was pretty low due to some hardships in the playoffs.
Following the Major, GuardiaN took a rest from Counter-Strike, focusing on his recovery while Natus Vincere attended DreamHack Masters Malmö using their coach Sergey "starix" Ischuk as a stand-in. The Ukranian, who wasn't renowned for his individual play in CS:GO, was holding his own surprisingly well, but the team still decided to fly in their primary AWPer to play with them in the playoffs
"I felt like everything is alright, I told them I could come and play, but they could decide to refuse it and play with starix for the whole event. The team talked about me, and I think they believed in me, so they decided that I should come for the playoffs."
After a two week break from Counter-Strike, GuardiaN stepped back into the team and was looking formidable for someone who couldn't even play on his normal sensitivity just a month ago. Natus Vincere comfortably dispatched of TyLoo in the quarterfinals and had an even easier game against EnVyUs in the semis, reaching the grand final where they would play the home crowd favorites - NiP.
GuardiaN aceing TyLoo at Malmö after coming back from an injury-induced break
It was against the Swedes that GuardiaN's lack of form came to show, as his middle-of-the-pack performance left his team without enough 'oomph' to close out a map, but instead losing 16-14 twice. However, he still put up good numbers for a recovery tournament - 1.04 rating, 70.3% KAST and a decent number of AWP kills per round (0.41) showed that he was slotting back into his role slowly.
The injury was behind GuardiaN shortly, as he finished off the first half of the year with three good showings. It all started with the SLi Invitational, where Na`Vi shockingly lost the opener to Dobry&Gaming, ending up in the lower-bracket from the get-go. Natus Vincere almost completed a miracle run through the lower-bracket, but were stopped by Virtus.pro in the grand final in the end. GuardiaN was a big performer throughout the tournament, earning him an EVP award to go along with another second-place finish.
The time for the next Major came around, and GuardiaN once again delivered in the group stage to secure his team the playoffs after maps against FlipSid3 and NiP. After a day off, Natus Vincere took on a Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev-powered Liquid - and were defeated 2-1 despite the heroics of the Natus Vincere legend Edward (+21 K-D for the series).
GuardiaN entering the arena at ESL One Cologne
If there was anything good to take away from the loss in Cologne it was that Kovács didn't seem hindered by his injury at all and they had another big event coming before the break - ELEAGUE Season 1 playoffs.
Unfortunately, one disappointment followed another, as Natus Vincere once again fell to fnatic, this time in the semi-finals of the TBS CS:GO league. After losing the first map to the Swedes (16-4), GuardiaN was determined to claim the second one for his team. The Slovakian put up 31 kills, including 17 with the AWP, but even that wasn't enough as he was outmatched by an on-fire Dennis "dennis" Edman.
With GuardiaN in decent form once again but big titles even further away than at the start of the year, Natus Vincere decided that it was time for a change and replaced their longest standing member Zeus with the young star s1mple in August. The plan was to have starix calling from the coaching position, as he was doing for some time while adding more firepower to the team. However, shortly after the swap happened, Valve announced a change to the coaching rule that limited the interaction between coaches and the team to four 30-second pauses.
"[The coaching rule] had a huge change on us, we had to decide who will call and who will be the captain, we chose seized who is still struggling to lead us. It's getting better day by day, but we have a lot of things to work on. We are trying to help him, but you know, skill is not everything. A captain has to gather the skill and lead it in some way, we all believe in him."
It was hard to gauge what impact the roster change would have on the team and GuardiaN himself, but it was certain that the input of a veteran such as starix would be missed, even if the team still had an experienced in-game leader on the roster.
"Starix is always trying to help, he's watching a lot of demos, saying snipers are playing like that and that, be aware of certain positions or grenades and combinations. He is and has always been very helpful to me and to the team. It's sad they changed the rules of coaching, I agree and don't agree at all. It's like banning coaches from ice hockey and leaving the players to play alone without a coach." - GuardiaN about what starix helped out with the most
After the summer break, the new Natus Vincere lineup had it's debut at SLi StarSeries Season 2 Finals in Ukraine. Despite the IGL and coaching issues, the expectations around Natus Vincere were still pretty high. However, many Natus Vincere fans were left disappointed as the team didn't even make it to the arena - going out to TYLOO and Astralis in the group stage after playing only two maps.
Natus Vincere members gathered around s1mple at StarSeries S2
All the hype around the super-star team came down to little, as the Natus Vincere had its worst performance of the year and it wasn't any different for GuardiaN - with a 0.82 rating, an impact in 54% of the rounds and only 61.2 ADR, StarSeries Season 2 was GuardiaN's worst event of the 2016.
After almost a month of wait, Natus Vincere attended another tournament - ESL One New York. Featuring an exciting Swiss group stage format, a large prize pool and a lot of top teams, this was one of the most prestigious events of the year. Natus Vincere were flawless in the group stage, moving on to the playoffs with a 3-0 score. GuardiaN contributed highly in all three matches, but struggled a bit in the playoffs - where s1mple took the mantle. However, as the grand final against Virtus.pro came down to the last map, it was the Slovakian who stepped up once again, going 34-19 on Mirage to secure the first big, $250k+ tournament for Natus Vincere.
The MVP award of the tournament went to the young Ukranian for his overall performance, but GuardiaN was an EVP once again thanks to three Player of the Match awards, high impact and overall rating.
"Of course my favourite moment was to finally win a big event, ESL One New York. There were a lot of events that we lost in finals. Winning is everything and yeah, we did it in New York."
"I haven't had the same thoughts. Winning one event doesn't say anything as I mentioned. Yes we won, we won crazy rounds, clutches and that helped us to win the finals. I still think Virtus.Pro were the winners of the finals and not us. We just won some crazy rounds that made us the champions. To be honest, I still don't feel like we are champion or anything. But I believe it will come."
Looking back, Natus Vincere's ESL One New York performance looks more like a fluke than their initial display in Ukraine. In the last couple of months, the CIS team attended EPICENTER, ELEAGUE, and IEM Oakland, all with very little success - and GuardiaN's individual form dipped accordingly.
Guardian looking worried at IEM Oakland, Na`Vi's last event of the year
At both EPICENTER and Oakland, the Slovakian was no better than in his injury hampered showing in Columbus, and while he had a decent rating at ELEAGUE Season 2 - his numbers were inflated by playing two maps against a greatly inferior team in ALTERNATE aTTaX.
"I think it was all about team game, nothing worked out and also we failed skill wise too. There are no excuses, we were no good, we lost in all factors of the game and we didn't deserve to be in top4 at all." - About the last three events of the year
In the end, the second half of the year ended poorly for Natus Vincere and GuardiaN: the Zeus - s1mple swap did result in one big tournament win, but also poor form overall. This is what GuardiaN had to say about the differences between the two players:
"They are completely different players, s1mple is a super skilled and talented player while zeus is a player with tactical mindset and huge leadership skills. It will take some time to get some achievements with s1mple, even though we won ESL New York, but still, it doesn't say anything at the moment."
To end off our talk, we asked GuardiaN about his regrets about 2016 and plans for 2017. This is what he had to say:
"As I mentioned, I regret I could not help my team at all in the game and that I disappointed them many times."
"My team goal is to carry Natus Vincere to be the #1 team in the world and personally to become the #1 player in the world for 2017!" - Guardian about his goals for 2017
Why is he the 17th player of 2016?
Firstly, GuardiaN has excelled at his role - the one of Natus Vincere's main AWPer - by picking up the most average AWP kills per round - 0.44. That number might be slightly inflated by playing on some smaller events, but makes him one of the elite AWPers nonetheless.
GuardiaN also had a great start to the year with EVP performances at StarSeries XIV and at DreamHack Open Leipzig followed by an MVP at Counter Pit - one of the best performances at a tournament this year. He got another EVP at SLi Invitational before the summer break, with only MLG Columbus playoffs staining an overall good eight-month period.
However, the second half of the year wasn't as good, with only an EVP at ESL One New York standing out. Inconsistency plagued him as well, which is apparent in the fact he dealt 0 damage in 36% of his rounds throughout the year (5th most) and that Na`Vi lost 47% of those round - more than any other team when a player did no damage.
On the flipside, he still has a very high impact and has been the Player of the Map 21 times over the course of the year, ranking fifth in the category. He is also fifth in survivability, living through 38% of the rounds - an extremely important statistic for a player wielding a $4,750 gun.
GuardiaN has also shown a tendency to be better on the CT side, boasting a 1.14 rating, but is also good at opening rounds - winning 56% of his opening duels.
We asked GuardiaN to name one player he expects to break through and become a candidate for 2017's Top 20 players:
"I feel like valde could show us something good in this year, he already did in 2016, so if he gets some attention and opportunities, I think he will do good."