Number 15 on our top 20 ranking powered by EGB.com goes to Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye, who goes one place higher than in 2016. The Danish youngster had some really high peaks throughout the year, helping Astralis to win two big international tournaments, including the ELEAGUE Major.
Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye’s story is unlike that of his teammates, for he only began his journey in 2014, when everyone else on the current Astralis roster was already making waves in the CS:GO scene. For him, it all began that summer, when he was asked to join NO SIR!, who had just lost Emil "zaider" Brandt after he admitted to cheating.
Led by Danish veteran Danny "BERRY" Krüger, that team ended up winning Assembly Summer 2014 under the myRevenge banner, defeating some well known sides along the way, including Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi’s Publiclir and the hometown favourites, ENCORE.
Kjaerbye’s good performances for NO SIR! did not go unnoticed, and in October he was asked to join CPH Wolves alongside two other young talents, Casper "cadiaN" Møller and Nichlas "Nille" Busk. Before the end of the year, the team would qualify for the DreamHack Winter Major, where they were eliminated without a win.
The start of 2015 brought a revolution to the upper echelon of the Danish scene as the then-dignitas squad was picked up by TSM in the aftermath of a third-place finish at MLG X Games Aspen. To fill the gap, the UK-based organisation signed Kjaerbye’s team, who had been playing under the name Deponeret since leaving CPH Wolves. That was the start of an 18-month spell with dignitas that confirmed the 19-year-old as one of the most exciting young talents brewing in Denmark, even if the team found success hard to come by and was no stranger to making roster swaps.
Under the dignitas banner, Kjaerbye most notably attended the DreamHack Open Cluj-Napoca Major, where his team was once again out in the groups, placed second at the Global eSports Cup, in Vilnius, and won DreamHack Tours, in May 2016. By then, he had grown too big for dignitas, so it was not a surprise that he was involved in a player swap deal that saw Astralis’ René "cajunb" Borg move in the opposite direction.
Kjaerbye’s first months with Astralis were anything but easy: the team struggled for form and only reached the semi-finals of a big tournament once. In October, following a group stage exit at ESL One New York and a shock defeat to GODSENT in the WESG Europe & CIS Regional Finals relegation stage, the Danes hit the panic button, replacing Finn "karrigan" Andersen with Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander, who had stepped in for Kjaerbye at the ESL One Cologne Major in the summer.
The in-game leadership changes delivered immediate results, with Astralis finishing second at ELEAGUE Season 2, third-fourth at IEM Oakland and first at the ECS Season 2 Finals under their new skipper. Kjaerbye, who admitted that he was now free from the shackles that had limited his performances and forced him to play spots that did not fit him, ended 2016 as the 16th best player of that year, even without having attended a Major, and with Astralis at the top of the world ranking.
"We obviously felt very confident after winning the ECS Finals. I think we were in great shape there and did not drop a single map. The win gave us a lot of expectations going into the Major as well, obviously, it just felt great to be the best team in the world and we wanted to get started right away almost without a vacation so we could win the Major."
And win the Major they did. Astralis were able to carry their form from the last two months of 2016 into the first big tournament of the year, hosted by ELEAGUE in Atlanta. But the Danish team’s campaign was not without mistakes, as defeats to GODSENT and SK in the Swiss stage put them on the brink of elimination going into the fifth round, and the playoff matches against Na`Vi, in the quarter-finals, and Virtus.pro, in the final, both went down to the wire.
Kjaerbye has fond memories of that tournament, which earned him his first MVP award after inspiring his team to win the tournament with an average 1.21 Rating, 49 opening frags and an extremely high 1.33 impact rating. Even though he was eclipsed by teammate Nicolai "device" Reedtz in many categories, it was his grand final performance, with a 1.38 series rating when no one else on his team went above 1.01, that ultimately landed him the medal as it pushed his playoff rating to 1.26, by far the team’s best.
"I remember the Major as a rollercoaster ride. We had been practicing for around 20 days and we finally got to test our new strategies in action against GODSENT. So it was a huge wake-up call for, losing that game. We also didn’t perfectly cope with the pressure at that point, it was completely new for us going into a tournament as favourites and now it was the biggest of the year. We had just landed a huge brand like Audi and we had a big film crew with us from Denmark. I remember the Na’Vi game as one of the best and most interesting games I have ever played, it’s hard to describe, we really peaked in that game! The final against Virtus.pro was just legendary, in my opinion, who would have thought you could win a major rushing outside in the last two rounds?
“I remember starting the tournament a bit shaky, so before our final [Swiss] game against Liquid I just decided to change the resolution and it gave me some more confidence. It was great to play well in that game leading to the playoff. So I was really happy with my performance in the final, I felt like it was meant to be for us. Instead of feeling the pressure, I used it to my advantage to play better. Up to this day, I still am very proud of that, and also the fact that it gave me the MVP medal was something I could only dream of."
DreamHack Masters Las Vegas was up next, but this time around Astralis could not fend off Virtus.pro and had to settle for a third-fourth place finish. Kjaerbye was only the third-highest rated player of his team at 1.13, posting above-average ratings in every game his team won.
IEM Katowice was where Astralis got back to winning ways. The Danish team finished second of their group, losing to Immortals and then to FaZe in the tournament’s peculiar tiebreaker stage, before going on a hot streak in the playoffs, defeating Natus Vincere and Heroic without dropping a map to earn a spot in the final, in which they beat FaZe 3-1. Kjaerbye was once again a major contributor, securing 1+ ratings in all 15 maps played and finishing the tournament with a 1.18 Rating. With the MVP title going to teammate Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth, Kjaerbye had to settle for an EVP mention, his first of the year.
Next up was SL i-League StarSeries, which would bring Astralis’ last appearance in a final in a while. For his part, Kjaerbye had a particularly unimpressive showing there as he was ranked fourth in his team (1.01 rating) and had a 0.83 impact rating - his second-lowest of 2017.
Astralis extended their streak of top-four finishes at IEM Sydney and at the ECS Season 3 Finals, with Kjaerbye putting up great numbers in the Australian tournament (1.19 Rating, the second-highest of his outfit, 81.6 ADR and 1.24 Impact). The British event was particularly disappointing for the 19-year-old, who showed only a 0.99 rating and finished just 37.5% of the maps with a 1+ rating.
These two events showed that Astralis were no longer at the top of the pile and that they needed to pick up the pace to catch up with SK and FaZe as the second Major of the year loomed.
"I still was not worried about the future. I felt like SK and FaZe were getting better, that we still had not peaked consistently enough in our games and it was just a matter of time before we did that. The StarSeries final, right before those events, had been a tough loss, because we ended up losing the third map in overtime."
In Krakow, things were looking up for Astralis, who went through the Swiss stage almost unscathed and saw FaZe, one of their biggest threats, crash out early. As the Danes moved past SK in the quarter-finals, it looked like the Major title was theirs to lose. But then came Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko’ Gambit. Kjaerbye did manage to stay above the 1.0 rating waterline, but his performance against G2 in the Swiss stage (1.72) was really the only one that stood out as he was only the third best on his team in Krakow with a 1.06 Rating/+1 KDD.
"I knew we would have a great game against SK. It’s always an amazing show and can go either way. But our anti-strating was really on point, everything we had prepared worked out perfectly and what a relief it was! We really utilized device’s strength and flashed him forward to take great peeks on Cache against FalleN, who is usually superior in his positions there.
"Gambit had been our kryptonite for a long time. They always played great against us, so we didn’t take anything for granted and prepared well against them. But it still hurt a lot losing, after having beat the favourites just a day before. Maybe we thought it would be easier from there and the title should be secured, but, honestly, I don’t know [what went wrong] apart from the fact that we were not as confident as we usually are and ended up letting them dictate the game on their terms."
DreamHack Masters Malmö was the event that brought Astralis' top-four finishes streak to an end. After topping their group fairly easily, the Danes were once again outfoxed by Gambit in the playoffs, with Kjaerbye delivering a 1.16 tournament rating, his team's second best. Things then turned very sour at ESL One New York, where Astralis went out in the groups for the first time since the start of the year and Kjaerbye posted a 0.85 Rating (the only time he was the team's bottom performer) 56.2 ADR and 0.82 Impact - all year-low stats for him.
After two disappointing outings, Astralis went back to top finishes at their next two events, ELEAGUE Premier (second) and EPICENTER (fourth). Still, for Kjaerbye there were almost no reasons to smile: he was ranked fourth in his team on both occasions, with a 1.07 Rating in Dallas and a 0.91 Rating in Moscow.
"We were just in a slump but tried to keep out heads high, even after our first group stage exit. It was hard for me to get out of my slump after a couple of bad tournaments in a row. I obviously had much higher expectations for myself after being the MVP at the Major, so I think I got lost for a couple of months and forgot the things I needed to do to be a good player. I just kept trying to work hard, but motivation was maybe a bit up and down at that time of the year for me."
IEM Oakland would be the event to bring flashes of the old Kjaerbye, despite Astralis crashing out in the groups (with the same number of victories as SK and Cloud9 but with fewer points thanks to the tournament's overtime point system). Kjaerbye was the second-highest rated player for his team at 1.15, but it is worth mentioning that this figure was boosted by his 1.45 rating against TheMongolz, the weakest team in the group.
Upon returning from Oakland, Astralis found themselves in a less than desirable situation as device was ruled out until the end of the year due to medical reasons, forcing the team to find a temporary replacement for their AWPer. With no pressure on their shoulders, Astralis played some of their best Counter-Strike of the year at BLAST Pro Series, where Dennis "dennis" Edman filled in for them, and finished second to SK following a near-flawless round-robin stage.
Kjaerbye was on point throughout the group stage, standing out in the matches against SK (1.78 Rating), G2 (1.68) and FaZe (1.34). His level dropped a bit in the final, but he was still Astralis' top performer in the series with a 1.05 Rating, +2 KDD and an 80.8 ADR. His 1.26 tournament Rating was 14% above the team's average, and he also led his squad in KPR (0.83), Impact (1.35) and KAST (74.8%), earning his second EVP mention of the year.
"I would say everyone sacrificed a lot, we kept going as usual, but it still was not the same without device, so I would not say we went into the tournament at 100%. But I immediately saw it as a good preparation for me personally, to get my confidence back before the next Major. When we got the news it was really sad, but we just needed to make the most of it."
Ruben "RUBINO" Villarroel stepped in for Astralis at their last two events of the year, which were of stark contrasts for Astralis and Kjaerbye. At the ESL Pro League Season 6 Finals, the team bowed out in the groups, winning just one out of five matches, but the 19-year-old still averaged an impressive 1.13 rating, finishing all matches in the green.
Days later, Astralis travelled to Cancun for the ECS Season 4 Finals, where Kjaerbye put in great performances against Cloud9 (1.34 Rating) and FaZe (1.30) but was a mere spectator in the semi-final series against mousesports, in which he was the team's only player with a below-average Rating (0.82), which greatly affected his overall tournament rating, 1.03, only the team’s fourth best.
"I was a bit surprised that we could it make it so far at BLAST Pro without practice, but that is just CS sometimes. Suddenly, everyone has fresh motivation as we got to play in front of 12,000 Danish fans and we just had no fear to play on stage. We had no expectations at all going into it, we just wanted to perform well. That really changed our hopes for ESL Odense, where I was really disappointed to go out the way we did, but we did not play with the same confidence."
With ELEAGUE Major Boston just around the corner, Astralis find themselves in a worse situation than one year ago, when they were the No.1 team in the world at the turn of the year. Now, they are ranked third, and uncertainty about device’s health state continue to affect the team.
"Valve’s roster lock is outdated. I don’t know what’s the best thing to do about it is, but I know changes need to happen soon. I think it’s going to be very important for Valve to interfere more in this year as I sense a fight for power right now. With so many tournaments and the organizers wanting to have the final say, we might get stuck in some dilemmas we would need the game creators to fix."
Why is he the 15th best player of 2017?
Kjaerbye's rating can in part be explained by his consistency throughout the year. He only had three below-average tournament ratings, which coincided with Astralis' worst period of the year, and he was at his best in the team's two big title runs - winning an MVP medal at the ELEAGUE Major and an EVP mention at IEM Katowice.
He stood out at the Majors with a 1.15 rating (8th highest overall) and boasted a 71.0% event KAST throughout the year (15th), a category in which he was never more than five percent below the team's average.
Counterbalancing with Kjaerbye's consistency, however, are his infrequent peaks. Besides the ELEAGUE Major, IEM Katowice and BLAST Pro Series, he did not have any other standout events and was not the team's main carry in any of their other deep playoff runs. His ADR is also the lowest out of all non-AWPers in the top 20 and he had the highest percentage of kills assisted by teammates, making his impact in the game not big enough to warrant a higher place in the ranking.
"The team atmosphere has been filled with a lot of uncertainty for a long time, which has harmed our performance, without a doubt. But finally being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel is amazing. We can just start 2018 on a fresh note, find out team spirit, work hard and believe in what we do. I think it will bring us back to the top, and we are willing to sacrifice everything to win tournaments again, we are hungry and it is in our DNA. Personally, I look back at 2017 as a disappointing year, I worked hard to be consistent and ended up getting lost somewhere in the season. But I feel ready for the 2018 season, I have got my confidence and my motivation back. I think it’s time to prove I have matured as a player after being all in on the game for three years now, it is time to leave some of 2017’s bad habits behind!"
Quizzed on which rising talent he sees breaking into the top 20 next year, Kjaerbye had no doubts about mentioning compatriot Jakob "JUGi" Hansen, even though he noted that the Heroic star has been turning heads for some time now.
"For me, this isn’t a very bold prediction. This guy is going places, and his skill level is already really high, so for me it only a matter of time before he becomes a superstar!"