Number 11 on our top 20 ranking powered by EGB.com goes to Gambit's Abay "Hobbit" Khasenov, who is debuting on this list. The Kazakhstani talent was one of the most consistent performers of the year, in which his team most notably picked up a Major title.
|Top 20 players of 2017: Introduction|
Abay "Hobbit" Khasenov has enjoyed such a meteoric rise to stardom over the last 18 months that it becomes easy to forget that he is anything but a newcomer. In fact, he has been playing Counter-Strike since 2004, but his frequent breaks, sometimes for as long as a year or two, hampered his progress during those early times.
"I was 10 years old when I started playing and managed to secure a third place in an ASUS qualifier. This means that I have been playing for a very long time, but I was not able to break through [at the time] due to different factors. It was my brothers who introduced me to the game, they took me to a local LAN. [Growing up], I supported AdreN and mou, they showed everyone in Kazakhstan that it is possible to break through and play on a professional level."
Everything changed for Hobbit in 2016, when he was offered the chance to play for Tengri, who were already an established team in Kazakhstan and in the CIS region. That year, he played in the qualifiers for ELEAGUE Season 2 and in the ECS Season 2 Development League, and helped Tengri to finish third at the Adrenaline Cyber League Finals, in Moscow.
As we entered the final quarter of the year, Hobbit was approached by Gambit, who had recently parted ways with Ivan "spaze" Obrezhan and Dmitry "hooch" Bogdanov, and ended up signing for the UK-based organisation, initially on a six-month loan from Tengri.
"I was at a difficult situation in my life at that point. The results of my team did not live up to expectations, and if I kept playing like I was playing I would get expelled from my university, so I considered going inactive. That is when I got offers from several organisations, including Gambit. I was really happy and understood that this was my chance, so I spoke to Tengri’s owners about it. They did not want to give me away for free since they knew I had potential, so they decided for the very first time in the history of esports to arrange a loan deal."
Gambit’s new roster was not an instant hit, the team crashing out of ESWC 2016 in the quarter-finals at the hands of Space Soldiers. But then they ended the year with a bang, winning the Acer Predator Masters Season 3 and DreamHack Winter. It was at the latter event that Hobbit really showed himself to the world as he earned an MVP medal.
"ESWC and Acer Predator Masters were like practice for us, for the team to gel and for me to get experience prior to DreamHack Winter. Personally, I believe that we could win it and I was confident in my team. But I did not expect to perform so well that I would get an MVP medal. I did not even know what it was at that point.
"After that, our goals for 2017 were to be a top-five rated team on HLTV and to secure the best possible achievements in all tournaments."
Gambit did not have the best of starts in 2017, finishing 5th-8th at their first two events, the ELEAGUE Major and DreamHack Masters Las Vegas. On both occasions, Hobbit was rated second in the team, with the DreamHack event providing his second-highest tournament rating of the year (1.19) and a very high 1.22 Impact.
After those two playoff runs, the team were at one of their lowest points in 2017 as they were eliminated from the StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 3 in 12th-14th place - with Hobbit still putting in decent numbers despite the team's shortcomings (1.10 Rating, 1.21 Impact and 81.4 ADR).
"We were in very good shape for the Major and for DeamHack, and I was certain that our form would allow us to reach the final in both tournaments, but I did not take into account that we were not ready to win such big tournaments from a psychological point of view.
"We played a lot prior to StarSeries. We had never played so much. We crashed at this tournament, where we understood that we got burned out from playing so much. But all the work ended up paying off further down the road."
cs_summit was the event that marked a turning point for Gambit. Its more relaxed atmosphere and the double-elimination format really suited the Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko-led team, who beat every opponent who stood in their way bar SK, finishing in second place after a three-map final against Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo's men. Hobbit, who had a memorable 2.43 rating in the Train game against Liquid, earned his first EVP mention of the year after securing a 1.14 rating - 10% higher than the team's average -, with his only below-average ratings coming against the Brazilians.
Riding the wave after that runner-up finish in Los Angeles, Gambit took it one step further at DreamHack Austin, showing their predilection for these medium-sized $100,000 tournaments. In Texas, the Kazakhstani team topped their group after moving past Heroic and HellRaisers, then passed a difficult test against a G2 team still looking for their first title before defeating Immortals in a two-map final. Hobbit, whose only below average rating came in the overtime defeat to G2, finished the event with a 1.15 rating/+21 KDD, earning his second EVP of the year.
“All the practice before StarSeries paid off at cs_summit and DreamHack Austin, where the strats we had prepared for StarSeries finally began to work. I remember that we had the chance to win both titles, but SK turned out to be a level higher than us. These tournaments showed me that hard work pays off sooner or later. cs_summit was one of the most memorable events of my life. It is too bad we did not get an invite to the next event, even though we were the finalists last year."
Gambit were left frustrated with their inconsistency once again after their next event, DreamHack Summer. The Kazakhstani team reached the end of the road following defeats to CLG and fnatic, which did not bode well for their chances at the second Major of the year.
But then Gambit defied the odds and swept everyone off their feet in Krakow. Victories over mousesports, G2 and Virtus.pro put them through the first stage on a perfect 3-0 record, with Hobbit boasting an average 1.26 rating in the Swiss rounds. In the playoffs, the 23-year-old continued to show his incredible consistency, putting in 1+ ratings on all maps his team won, but he saved the best for last as he posted a 1.65 rating, his personal best in the tournament, and clutched a 1v3 in the third game of the final against Immortals, helping Gambit to add their name to the exclusive list of teams who have claimed Major titles. For his efforts (1.13 Rating, +24 KDD and five 1vsX situations won), Hobbit secured his third EVP mention of the year.
"I was really happy, there are no words to describe what I felt. It was one of the happiest days of my life. We had internal issues before the Major, and the atmosphere on the team was very poor. We came late to practice, we were constantly in a bad mood, but we kept doing our best and continued to practice. I remember that it was really tough, but we decided to ignore all outside factors and do everything necessary to win the Major."
After the event, Hobbit was rewarded with a permanent deal by Gambit, becoming the most expensive signing in the CIS region following a deal worth $100,000. But it was not all good news for the recently-crowned Major champions, who lost Zeus to Natus Vincere and had to improvise by handing the reins to Dauren "AdreN" Kystaubayev.
With Zeus no longer in the fold, Gambit travelled to Malmö with Bektiyar "fitch" Bahytov as their new fifth player. Even though Gambit's 3rd-4th place finish was one of their best results that year, the event was hardly memorable for Hobbit, who had 1+ ratings on just 54.5% of the maps the team played, with his 1.16 and 1.32 ratings against FaZe and Astralis being eclipsed by some below-par performances against NiP (0.86) and especially North (0.75). His 1.02 tournament rating in Malmö was his second lowest of 2017, only challenged by the 0.97 rating he brought in at ESG Tour Mykonos - his sole below-average tournament rating of the year. In the Greek island, Hobbit was conspicuously absent and looked well off the pace, even in his team's only victory (16-7 over Heroic), in which he had just a 0.82 rating.
"A combination of Zeus’s departure and a frustrating loss at DreamHack Masters made us feel worried and under pressure. We were afraid of losing and lacked confidence, especially me."
Hobbit quickly overcame such issues, however, and ended 2017 as Gambit's top performer at each of their last three big events, starting with EPICENTER, where he put in a respectable 1.11 rating despite the team going out after two matches (1-2 defeats to FaZe and Virtus.pro.
IEM Oakland turned out to be the event where Hobbit had his best performance of the year, bringing in a 1.26 rating, the next closest player being Rustem "mou" Telepov at 1.08. Curiously, the 23-year-old had a slow start, with back-to-back 0.99 ratings against OpTic and Liquid, but once he shifted into a higher gear there was no stopping him. He played a pivotal role in Gambit's comprehensive victory against FaZe (2.17 rating) and produced a one-man show against Cloud9 (1.26 Rating, +23 KDD), which, however, did not keep his team from losing the match. Hobbit's rating was the third-highest of the event and 22% above the team's average in Oakland, with the 23-year-old leading the tournament charts in terms of KPR (0.87) and percentage of rounds with at least one kill (57.8%), picking up his fourth EVP of the year.
"I do not think I peaked at that point. Andi helped me a lot and he continues to do so. I think he will continue to help me and the rest of the team to achieve as much as we possibly can. My family and my wife have also helped me a lot psychologically, and I think I can become even better!"
The final event of the year was DreamHack Winter, where Gambit could not repeat their heroics from 2016 as they went out of the tournament in the semi-finals. Hobbit crushed Rise Nation in his team's opening match (+25 KDD, 2.22 rating), but then his form took a hit as he put in below-par displays in the overtime victory against Natus Vincere and in the one-sided defeat to mousesports. Still, he finished the tournament with an above-average rating (1.07), the only Gambit player to do so.
We asked Hobbit’s about his goals for 2018, after an eventful year that brought two big titles, one of them a Major:
"I really hope that 2018 will be a productive year. Our goal is to become a top three team, and we want to achieve more things than in 2017!"
Why is he the 11th best player of 2017?
Without a doubt, the biggest factor behind Hobbit's place in the ranking is his remarkable consistency. He only had one under-1.0 tournament rating throughout the year and put in ratings of 1.07 or higher at 10 of the 12 events he attended, earning four EVP recognitions in the process - two at big events (PGL Major Krakow and IEM Oakland) and two at medium-sized competitions (cs_summit and DreamHack Open Austin).
On average, Hobbit secured 0.74 kills and dealt 81.1 damage per round, which ranks him 12th in the world in both categories. And even though 2017 was the first year in which he competed on a top level all year long, he showed that he can acquit himself really well against the best as he averaged a 1.11 rating in the playoffs of big events, the 12th highest overall.
Despite his heroics, the 23-year-old still finished outside the top 10 as he was not impactful enough and did not have enough standout performances over the year to break into the upper half of the ranking, which in part can be explained by the fact that Gambit only attended seven tournaments that fit the "big event" category.
"I think that fitch has a huge potential to become a top 20 player in 2018. Moreover, I think that everyone on AVANGAR has a chance to make a name for themselves, if they continue working and improving!"