Top 20 players of 2016: Kjaerbye (16)
Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjaerbye hits the 16th position in our top 20 ranking of 2016. Starting out the season in dignitas and finishing it in Astralis, the 18-year-old has proven to be one of the top prospects in Denmark’s incredibly dense youth talent pool.
Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye started out his journey in NO SIR!, who had at the time qualified to go play at ASUS ROG CS:GO Summer Tournament 2014 in Helsinki, Finland. The then 16-year-old Kjaerbye and his team, under the banner of myRevenge, went on to win the tournament beating Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi’s Publiclir, Miikka "suNny" Kemppi’s Recursive, and Joona "natu" Leppänen’s ENCORE on the way.
"I feel like NO SIR! was a really good place to start because that was actually the first real team I played in. They had qualified to Assembly Summer 2014 in Finland and suddenly needed a player after zaider got VAC banned. I remember BERRY told me I was one of the candidates as they had seen how good I was in the Danish gathers.
I wanted to do anything to get the chance to play with them but it wasn’t easy to convince them at all since I was on a summer vacation in Spain with my family and they couldn’t even try me out before making the hard call. That’s something I’m still really grateful for today since I think I wouldn’t have come so far to this day without such a big opportunity."
A couple months later Kjaerbye was brought into CPH Wolves, where he shared a team with the likes of Jacob "Pimp" Winneche and Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander. With one of the iterations of CPH Wolves, Kjaerbye played his first Major, DreamHack Winter 2014.
Kjaerbye with CPH Wolves at ESWC 2014
As 2015 rolled around the corner, Dignitas left to play under the banner of TSM, which prompted the British organization to pick Kjaerbye & co up. There the youngster would ply his trade for over a year and a half, albeit with a revolving door through which players came and left.
"I joined Copenhagen Wolves in October 2014 since they needed 2 players for the Danish ESWC Qualifiers. Pimp chatted with me on steam and convinced me to join them because they were a much better team than NO SIR! and this was my chance to take my career to a higher level. Sadly, though, I had to leave some really good friends behind who had helped me improve a lot over a very short amount of time.
The adaptation process was pretty easy since my communication was already pretty good at that point in my career, in large part thanks to coming from a very tactical team. So yeah, from there on out a lot of changes happened and I was eventually the last core member of that original team in May 2016 before joining Astralis, as we went from CPH Wolves to dignitas in January 2015 and since then I played for that organisation for 1,5 years, just with different players."
The first iteration of that Dignitas lineup included Philip "aizy" Aistrup, Pimp, Nicolaj "Nico" Jensen, and Henrik "FeTiSh" Christensen, who had been playing for Dignitas before being dropped for Finn "karrigan" Andersen. A little bit later that year, with Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen and Jesper "TENZKI" Plougmann for FeTiSh and Nico, Dignitas made it to the DreamHack Open Cluj-Napoca 2015 Major, Kjaerbye’s second, where he once again went out in groups.
Dignitas made a couple changes, with aizy and Pimp being substituted by Ruben "RUBINO" Villarroel and Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke, and erupted into 2016 with a semifinal run at DreamHack ZOWIE Open Leipzig 2016 and a second place finish to Envy at the GEC Finals in February, showing the world they had a lot of potential to make a name for themselves as more than just a dark horse.
Kjaerbye dropped this gem at DreamHack Leipzig
DreamHack Leipzig was particularly good for Kjaerbye. There the 17-year-old finished the tournament with 85.5 ADR and was the best rated player on his team, earning him his first EVP award of the year. He followed that up with EVPs at GEC and ESL Barcelona, where he scored a year-high 1.23 rating en route to a fourth place finish.
"Some of my best moments are getting far at DH Leipzig in our first team with Rubino & k0nfig on board. It was just a pleasure to see the confidence for the future in my teammates’ eyes, huddling together after our loss against Na’Vi, beating the giants Virtus.pro in the decider match in our group, and probably also playing my first really good tournament since Assembly Summer 2014!
Of course there were a few low points as well, one of the biggest standing out for me was surely not qualifying for MLG Colombus. We went into the qualifiers as favourites and full of confidence. I think we made a "Major" mistake participating at ESL Barcelona just before travelling to Columbus, 5 days prior to the tournament, without any chance of keeping in shape by practising or playing at all.
That felt like a horrible turning point for our team as we had been performing really well at Leipzig and GEC, and were developing quickly. It was a big setback for everyone but we were good at using our losses to our advantage and knowing how to fix most of the mistakes we made.”
At this point, Dignitas went to DreamHack Masters’ first edition in Malmö, an event with a little bit more cachet than the aforementioned three first events of the year. The team slowed down a bit, going out in 5-8th place, but Kjaerbye still managed to put up impressive numbers including a 1.30 impact rating, his highest yet.
"Another big moment for me was to walk on the DH Malmö stage in front of our families and a huge crowd in the arena. A lot of Danes showed up as well and it was a really good opportunity to show them what we were made of. We were trying to make our countrymen proud as Astralis was already out of the tournament.
Walking out on stage during the team introductions was just an awesome feeling as it was our first test on a big stage, and regardless of the fact that we lost against EnVy I will always look back on it as a really big and emotional experience in my career."
Kjaerbye’s last event with Dignitas which counted towards this year’s ranking was CEVO Gfinity Season 9 in London, where he had a less impactful showing. There, his team ended up going out in groups after losses to Tempo Storm and local rivals SK.
Kjaerbye led the way for dignitas in Malmö
At this point, there were three Danish teams vying for the best team in Denmark, but Astralis still held onto their prestige from a very strong 2015, while Dignitas and SK were trying to figure out how to best complement their rosters and become truly competitive.
With Astralis having failed to exit the group stages of two of the bigger events up to that point, the ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals and DreamHack Masters Malmö, a roster change was brewing in Denmark and Kjaerbye was called up to be the fresh new face to help Astralis get back on track and reclaim national supremacy.
"I feel like I was used to playing big tournaments coming from dignitas where I believe we were ranked 6th in the world at some point. I actually felt really prepared and confident coming into Astralis as I had been much more consistent and better than in 2015 and could feel improvement.
I sort of became aware of my strengths, weaknesses, the role I’m supposed to be playing, and the fact that I perform best when I just think about the team—then the frags and so on will come by themselves."
Kjaerbye’s first two events with Astralis were the first season of ELEAGUE, one of the biggest tournaments he’d been in, and DreamHack ZOWIE Open Summer 2016. The event in Atlanta started out really well for the Danes, as they breezed past their group. Then DreamHack Summer came around and Kjaerbye had another 1.23 rating tournament, with an astonishing 94.2 ADR, 1.37 impact—his highest of the year—, and 76.9% KAST.
What is notable about DreamHack Summer is that it isn’t a very large or weighted tournament, but three of the maps that made up Kjaerbye’s five maps at the event were against Astralis’s nemesis, Ninjas in Pyjamas, giving such good numbers solid grounding.
Ups and downs made for a bumpy road after Kjaerbye joined Astralis
Right after that great individual display Astralis hit a wall, crashing and burning at the ECS Season 1 Finals and going out in groups with losses to two North American teams, TSM and Cloud9. There, Kjaerbye was unable to hit the 1.00 rating for the first of only two times this year.
"I can speak honestly now since we are performing a lot better. I think I was in some ways disappointed about how different situations were handled. Losing was handled the wrong way, for example. At least for the way I work mentally. I think it’s really important to keep faith in the system and have specific roles everyone is confident in playing, and we kind of had a role clash.
Coming into the team I was promised my best positions on maps but we quickly had to switch some of those up since it was hard for Finn to call from the outer positions of the map, which I 100% respect and understand as most callers have to be where the action is to take map control in order to read the opponents and make the perfect call."
After ECS, Kjaerbye had to sit Major in Cologne out due to Valve’s restrictions on Minor system players being traded to qualified teams, and was therefore substituted by gla1ve, who helped Astralis lock down a spot at the next Major.
Having to sit Cologne out meant Kjaerbye would miss both Majors in 2016
Following the Major, Kjaerbye & co. flew back to the United States to play the ELEAGUE Season 1 Finals, but they didn’t go far as MOUZ took them out in two maps, which the team tanked collectively. Despite the respite of remaining Legends at the Major, the catastrophic loss at ELEAGUE kept the cloud above their heads, and kept Astralis in general and Kjaerbye in particular in a dark period.
"I’ve learned that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and that there will be ups and downs no matter what. In the end it's about how you and the team manage to handle it in order to bounce back and strengthen yourself while not getting stuck in the past, especially since there are so many tournaments nowadays.
I’ve always learned that I need a strong tactical leader that I respect and truly believe in—in all kinds of different situations—, and that I need to feel like my team believe in the fact that I can win every round or tight situation. There are many such nuances, 2016 has been a long journey for me and there are so many different things that I’ve learned and experienced in both teams that I could probably talk about it all day."
SL i-League StarSeries Season 2, in Kiev, was the first event after the summer break for all of the teams in top flight Counter Strike, including Astralis. There, the Danes made it out of groups but were unable to make it past a 5-8th place finish, with young Kjaerbye playing a decent tournament but far from his full potential.
ESL New York was a crucial point of inflection for Astralis and for Kjaerbye, as his future was going to change after what was his worst event of the year, and what was also karrigan’s last event with the Danish squad. Going out 7th out of 8 teams with the swiss format in play, a change had to happen.
"I think I just joined Astralis at a bad time. I feel like I played really well in the beginning as expected, but the team spirit was very different from my old team and in bad state after having repeatedly gone out of groups all of sudden, something they weren’t used to, so it actually got really hard for me to bounce back from bad tournaments and we just started over thinking every loss because losing close games was so frustrating and we just weren’t performing the way we should.
We ended up changing playstyle a lot and we lost faith in karrigan and his way of calling which didn’t benefit any of the parties in that situation and therefore it was best for him and the team to go separate ways and not waste time being outside the top 10."
To change things up gla1ve was brought in from Heroic to replace karrigan, and the newly formed Astralis noticed the effects immediately. At ELEAGUE Season 2 the Danes crushed their opposition in the group stage, beating ALTERNATE aTTaX and SK for the top seed. In Atlanta, Kjaerbye had a particularly good match against SK in which he was the highest rated player on the team.
Ahead of the ELEAGUE finals, Astralis took a trip to the Bay Area to play at IEM’s stop in Oakland. There, this facelifted team proved they were on their way to getting back on track with a semifinal run. It was a discrete tournament for Kjaerbye, who ended with a more than acceptable 1.05 rating, but things were just getting started ahead of the last two events of the year.
Signing gla1ve benefited Kjaerbye's personal performances
Back in Atlanta, Astralis took on their archenemies Ninjas in Pyjamas, who had been beating them all over the place in 2016 (SL i-League StarSeries Season 2, DreamHack Summer, DreamHack Masters), and eliminated them in a three map quarterfinal at the ELEAGUE Arena. Kjaerbye ended that match with a 1.49 rating, 101.5 ADR, and had a +29 KDD. Then, Astralis went on to beat SK again, in two maps, to make it to the final. Astralis lost to OpTic in Atlanta, but Kjaerbye’s numbers proved he had what it takes to play the big tournaments and shine ending with a 1.15 rating, 1.24 impact, and a team high 73.9% KAST earning himself his fourth EVP title of the year.
"I’m back to my old self. gla1ve knows how to utilize me well and I’m back at 100% taking map control on T sides which is really awesome for me. Now I feel like my performance isn’t limited to a certain extent as it was before when I would sometimes have positions that didn’t fit my playstyle, positions like dark in Dust2, for example, and a few other outer positions."
Kjaerbye’s last tournament of the season, ECS Season 2, was a walk in the park for Astralis, who took the trophy without giving up a single map against FaZe, SK, and then taking revenge on OpTic who had beaten them in the ELEAGUE Season 2 final. Kjaerbye had a staggering 1.21 rating, which was somehow the lowest on the team but still enough to earn him his fifth and final Exceptionally Valuable Player award of the year.
"Winning ECS was also a good moment, but it was pretty weird to win and it took me some time to realize that the further you get in a tournament the more effort you have to put into not thinking about the trophy and focus on your game.
You can’t let anything distract you because even though it’s a final it is still just Counter Strike and it doesn’t change if it’s a group stage game or a grand final, it is what you make of it and therefore it’s really important to stay focused and play like you have been doing in practice."
Finally, a big win
Why is he the 16th player of 2016?
For the first half of the year, when Dignitas were making a name for themselves, Kjaerbye was the best player on that team earning three EVP titles. Two of those EVPs were also carry performances, at DreamHack Leipzig and ESL Barcelona, although they were both medium sized events.
While we’re on EVPs, though, it is important to mention the last two he got at the end of the year while playing for Astralis at ELEAGUE Season 2 and ECS Season 2. Those two EVPs have great value as they were in some of the bigger events of the year.
One of Kjaerbye’s strengths throughout 2016 has been his consistency, with the exception of a couple tournaments while Astralis were slumping. Kjaerbye ranks well in ADR (#13), with 81.9, and is one of only five players with an above average record in kills, assists, and survivals.
"I didn’t actually know that, but I guess it’s pretty good considering my role as an entry fragger in which you either get the kill or die, although most of the time do enough damage to at least get assists. So yeah it fits my playstyle to be pretty aggressive, even though I’m not as aggressive when compared to some of the Swedish players or k0nfig, who are like full yolo (which works for them of course).
I believe I have a pretty good understanding of mixing it up and when to take specific chances or risks. The thing is you can’t play to not lose the game, you have to make plays, and have enough confidence that you will not force yourself into bad positions and thus take the right chances—meaning the ones you are used to from practise. This will work most of the time if you’re somewhat on point."
The young Dane’s stability mostly shows in his KAST (#12), with 72%, his amount of maps with a 1.00 rating or higher (#12), 64%, and perhaps most notably in the fact that he had a rating above 1.00 in 11 out of 13 tournaments. As a curious but mostly inconsequential fact, Kjaerbye is the ninth player with most headshots per round at 0.40.
"I hear a lot about my shake, and I’m not sure how to explain it. It’s just something that I have always been doing. Sometimes I feel like I hold onto the mouse so tight and want the kill so badly that I try to control the spray pattern and the pace at which I’m killing my enemy, if that makes sense."
What impeded Kjaerbye the most this season wasn’t his numbers or performances, which we have seen plenty of from him, but rather where they were garnered. Kjaerbye excelled in medium tournaments more than he did in big tournaments—although he did end the year on a high note—, and he missed the two most important tournaments of the year, the Majors. Finally, while Kjaerbye played well in quarters and semis of big events, with a 1.05 rating in 25 maps, lackluster performances in finals ultimately hindered his placing.
We asked Kjaerbye to name one player he expects to break through and become a candidate for 2017's Top 20 players:
"I’ll go with REZ as a bold prediction. He seems to be very talented and has played some good games throughout the year, and even though all their opponents might not be good ones I think if he gets a chance in a bigger Swedish team and gets some good roles for himself he can do some big things in 2017!"