Liquid's star Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski earns his first entry in the ranking with a 12th place in the Top 20 players of 2017 powered by EGB.com as one of the most consistent and impactful players of the year.
|Top 20 players of 2017: Introduction|
Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski started out as more of a casual player in Counter-Strike 1.6 at a very young age, though at the time he focused on the competitive side of StarCraft some eight years ago.
"I played 1.6 on and off playing other games at the same time and I was competing in ESEA leagues, but I wasn't that great and then when I was 12, I switched to focusing on SC2 when the Wings of Liberty beta came out. I wasn't anywhere close to being pro, I was just competing for the thrill of competition and to have fun."
While he still played the game in his free time, it wasn't until much later when made the switch to CS:GO and started taking it seriously. He worked his way up the ESEA ladder until he got on his first notable team in 2014, JusTus, which also featured Peter "ptr" Gurney and Kyle "flowsicK" Mendez.
"I played SC2 for a while for that time, but when I saw the CS:GO beta came out and I got a key I started playing it whenever I had the time, and I really enjoyed it. I started DMing more and more and when I failed to qualify for the second season of WCS, because they released a patch the night of the qualifier finals that completely changed the match-up I prepared for, I was completely done and ready to switch over to CS:GO.
"When I was playing at the end of 1.6, the last team I played for I remained friends with and they are who I went back to talking to when I came back to CS. It was basically composed of mSpaz players and their friends who were all Premier level and I started to play in the 10-mans with them. It got my name out there with them and dmize [Matthew "dmize" Alfaro] got me on my first main team, and then it progressed to ptr recommending me for JusTus during the same season and then it took off."
Once he got on the radar with JusTus, as well as SKDC and eLevate, it didn't take long for him to get a chance in one of the best in North America, Liquid, in March 2015. While the team didn't achieve much outside of the region that year, EliGE garnered much-needed experience and got to play his first Major at DreamHack Open Cluj-Napoca.
After Liquid joined up with Spencer "Hiko" Martin in 2015, who later brought Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev over to the United States, the team took off in 2016. They achieved what no other North American team could, placing 3rd-4th and second at that year's Majors, MLG Columbus and ESL One Cologne. However, much of the team and the Ukrainian superstar didn't see eye to eye and s1mple took his leave in the middle of the year.
"There were a lot of things that made it possible for us to be better in 2016. In 2015, it was mainly just adreN telling us all what to do because we were super inexperienced, we weren't all 100% focused on the game with nitr0 and I still in school. In 2016, we started to think more independently, we got stronger from Hiko's stability when he joined and we got one of the most skilled players in the form of s1mple that could make things happen out of nowhere.
"I think looking back at it, we were all very immature about how everything was being handled internally. No one was dealing with anything in a mature way, nobody was tackling issues head on and it just set everything up as a ticking time bomb for when it was all going to explode. I learned a lot during that time about myself and I'm happy it all happened for me to be able to learn from it."
Even though EliGE had already evolved into one of North America's best players by that time, it wasn't enough to push Liquid to more achievements from there on aside from a respectable semi-finals finish at ESL One New York, setting the tone for the beginning of 2017.
The ELEAGUE Major in Atlanta was where Liquid started the year's journey and certainly seemed competitive, playing three narrow matches to start it off with EnVyUs, FlipSid3, and FaZe. However, they could only close out one of them — a 16-14 win on Overpass over FlipSid3 where EliGE put up a beastly 1.85 rating —, which played a big factor in the team's elimination after the Swiss format's last round, as they met the best team in the world at the time, Astralis.
Unhappy with how things had gone in the previous several months, Liquid cut Hiko in February to finally get an in-game leader in Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz after struggling with who to pin the role on for over half a year. While the team had a three-month break from offline tournaments, Jacob "Pimp" Winneche soon followed suit, making room for Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken.
"It was a breath of fresh air to have someone dedicated to being the IGL join the team and one who saw so much success in the recent months want to join the team. After adreN departed, we took a long time to figure out the IGL situation and it was never really fixed until then, the issue was instead masked by skill.
It let us all focus on our game and have one less thing to worry about. Having Twistzz join with so much skill, potential, and fitting well into our system also made it really encouraging."
Even though the Canadian youngster soon proved himself a great addition, Liquid's first results were hardly encouraging, as they went out in groups at two medium-sized events in a row in April. At cs_summit, where EliGE showcased his consistency, Liquid fell to Gambit and OpTic, while Immortals and G2 saw to the North American team's elimination at DreamHack Open Austin — one of EliGE's worst events of the year statistically, still an average 1.02 rating — after close matches a few days later.
It wasn't until the new lineup's third event together where Liquid finally demonstrated their strength, albeit with a favorable route. Beating OpTic, NRG, and North in groups, Liquid earned a quarter-final match-up against EnVyUs and passed that test as well, but in the end a rematch with the Danish squad proved too difficult. Awarded with his first EVP of the year, EliGE was one of the best players of the tournament with a 1.22 rating and 88.7 ADR.
The 20-year-old continued with great play at ECS Season 3 Finals, mainly opening up rounds with great success (0.19 opening kills per round to only 0.08 opening deaths per round), although Liquid met Astralis twice in the group stage and lost both times in relatively close fashion en route to an early exit.
It seemed as if Liquid were at least on the right track with the new roster, but the biggest blow came when they failed to qualify for the PGL Major following a 2-3 record at the preceding Main Qualifier despite facing no top teams, losing to FlipSid3 after a triple-overtime battle on Mirage in the very last round.
"I was never worried. I think that the internal conflicts from past iterations of the team were still there, especially with me, and it was holding us back. Looking back at it, I think the lineup changes were necessary in the end for growth to finally happen. It wasn't until we failed to qualify for the Major for things to hit a breaking point and we had to turn things around later on."
"My biggest regret has been not being able to get over and fix the problems that lingered from the past generation of the team and not being able to move on from it. However, I think without it I never would have grown into what I have today and for that I am still grateful."
Even after placing first in the group stage at ESL One Cologne before losing to FaZe in the quarter-finals, Liquid certainly went into the off-season disappointed. That led to a change in roles as stanislaw started lurking and Nick "nitr0" Cannella assumed leadership, having gained some experience throughout the latter part of 2016, and something suddenly clicked after a month-long break.
"It was the change of leadership and change of atmosphere in the team. We were playing more comfortably inside of the game for what people wanted to do, and we liked each other more as teammates.
"We also had a bootcamp after the player break, where we went to EU with our sports psychologist Jared Tendler, who really helped tackle every issue that still existed and was able to work with us in-depth with everything he saw. I credit a lot of it to his work that he did and what he was able to do with us."
Liquid's first tournament with the new setup was in early September at ESG Tour Mykonos. The North American roster beat BIG twice in a row in groups, with a loss to Virtus.pro in between, and topped it off with a shocking 2-0 win over SK in the semi-finals, as EliGE led the way with a 1.37 rating in the series. The title eluded Liquid after a grueling best-of-five against mousesports, but it was clear that things were going much better than they had been for most of the year.
Traveling back across the pond, Liquid soon proved it wasn't just a one-off with another second place less than a week later, that time at a big event, ESL One New York. In the team's impressive run to the grand final following series versus Virtus.pro, Astralis, and SK once again, EliGE earned another EVP mention in large part thanks to fantastic play on the deciding maps of each of those series. Even though Liquid received a beating from FaZe in the best-of-five final, they were at least able to compete on the second map, Overpass — unlike everyone else before them at the tournament.
"I equate [beating SK and Astralis] to a honeymoon period when teams usually get new players, where nothing is wrong and everyone is firing on all cylinders. We had no worries and complete confidence in each other and that is why we were able to play as well as we did. We also had Jared there with us who helped reinforce what he was teaching us in a tournament environment."
Liquid soon met Astralis and SK once more in a tough Group D of ELEAGUE Premier, but that time around fell just short, reaching double digits in the initial round against the Danes and overtime versus the Brazilian side on the deciding map of the best-of-three series, placing last in Atlanta while EliGE averaged a 1.11 rating across the four maps.
Nearly a month later, Liquid came back to Europe for EPICENTER and fell short to North in the initial round despite winning the first map, Inferno, 16-14 with the American star pulling most of the weight. The squad then met Astralis for the third tournament in a row, which spelled another group stage exit for the North American side.
Having returned to their region, Liquid came out on top of the Americas Minor as EliGE dominated the competition alongside Twistzz, but Cloud9 then bested them in the semi-finals of iBUYPOWER Masters at the following regional tournament. It was at that point when internal conflicts divided the team for good and Liquid replaced stanislaw with Lucas "steel" Lopes despite having advanced to the next Major's Main Qualifier with the Canadian player.
"There started to become a divide in the team that brought back internal conflict that wasn't easily fixable. People didn't agree on how things were going and how they should go. The issues were completely different than they had been in the past, but with similar results in the end. However, we didn't think they could be fixed and that's why we ended up picking up steel. We wanted a skilled player that fit the roles really well, with a good attitude to go with it to revive what we had back after the player break."
Liquid went into IEM Oakland shortly afterward, having barely practiced with the Brazilian player. They seemed competitive early on during overtime wins over Renegades and Gambit, but that was all they could do as OpTic, G2, and FaZe sent them packing in last place despite a good effort from the 20-year-old, who finished the tournament with a 1.25 rating and all five maps above 1.00.
The roster rules then forced Liquid to attend ESL Pro League Season 6 Finals with coach Wilton "zews" Prado. With the odds stacked against them, Liquid overcame Astralis — who also fielded a stand-in — in a double-overtime match, and came close to beating FaZe and fnatic, but due to one-sided losses to underdogs HellRaisers and Luminosity they finished last at their second tournament in a row.
"Honestly, I would love to say it was a good learning experience, but it was a huge waste of time and a really big disappointment. To end the biggest tournaments at the end of the year without our starting five is not a good feeling. You can't get too upset about it because there's nothing more we could have done, but it still doesn't change how silly the situation was. A lot of love and respect to zews for doing it, though, because it is hard for him, going from not playing at all to having to play with little recent practice."
A week later, it was time for Liquid's first real attempt with steel at ECS Season 4 Finals. However, they were standing up against Nikola "NiKo" Kovač's record-breaking performance in the initial match and proceeded to lose to their regional rivals Cloud9, as EliGE dipped to barely average numbers at the last tournament of the year due to poor play on the Terrorist sides.
We asked Liquid's star about his goals for 2018:
"My goal for 2018 is to win a title and cement ourselves as a top team in the world with consistent top placements."
Why is he the 12th best player of 2017?
With no poor performances throughout the year, EliGE was one of the most consistent players of 2017 and also one of the best at the big events, ranking eighth with an average of 1.15 rating at tournaments of that stature.
Being the eighth best fragger (0.76 KPR) and dealing the fifth most ADR (83.5) already speaks volumes about the quality of his play in 2017, though it's the fact that he averaged 112.2 damage in the rounds Liquid won — the second most of all players with over 50 maps played in 2017 — that highlights just how much impact EliGE had on the team. That is further reinforced by the sixth highest 1.25 impact rating.
While for most of the year Liquid weren't able to bank on his qualities, that impact led to three EVPs in the squad's deep runs at ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals, ESG Tour Mykonos, and ESL One New York.
The numbers EliGE put up would normally justify an even higher placing, but he lacked more of those performances in the playoffs of big events with an average 1.05 rating across only 13 maps, which pales in comparison to his 1.18 rating in group stage matches and leaves him out of the company of 2017's greatest.
"People should definitely expect to see my teammate Twistzz on the list next year. He has been one of the most skilled players I've played with and has a high capacity for learning. I think he will be one of the top players in the world."