Who stood out during the WePlay Academy League group stage?
Hugo Byron and several youth team coaches share their thoughts on the top performers from the academy tournament's group stage.
The first-ever WePlay Academy League group stage ended and was followed by a play-in that wrapped up the online portion of play. During the larger part of the off-season, eight teams of youngsters representing some of the biggest organizations in Counter-Strike fought in a round-robin marathon to claim four spots at the event's main attraction, the four-team LAN finals that will be celebrated in Kyiv, Ukraine, on August 27-29.
Each team played a minimum of 14 best-of-one maps in the tournament's round robin stage, with some even getting in an extra few maps in the play-in, which gave players ample opportunity to showcase their talent in a field stacked with opponents of similar characteristics in regards to their youth and experience.
To break down the summer tournament and celebrate some of the highest performing youngsters and their teams, we spoke to a handful of the participating coaches, namely Amiran "aMi" Rehviashvili from NAVI Junior, Young Ninjas' Frederik "JAEGARN" Andersson and Tugay "TuGuX" Keskin from BIG Academy, as well as commentator Hugo Byron, to get their thoughts about the top players, statistically and otherwise, at an event marked by both the inexperience of youth and the dogged dedication of up-and-comers fighting to make a name for themselves on their way to the next level.
m0NESY, the outlier
One player undoubtedly stood out among the pack, NAVI Junior's 16-year-old star AWPer Ilya "m0NESY" Osipov, who ended the group stage with a sky-high 1.64 rating across the 18 maps he played in the group stage. m0NESY's numbers were so impressive that upon opening his stats page in a demo review, commentator and analyst Mohan "launders" Govindasamy exclaimed "Do you have eyes? This is unbelievable!"
The Russian youngster played five maps above a 2 rating, dropping as many 30-bombs in maps without overtime, and even had two maps going all the way to 2.50 and 2.52 ratings. Some of his best performances came in thrashings against some of the weaker teams at the event, such as FURIA Academy or VP.Prodigy, but he also stood out in important victories against fnatic Rising and Young Ninjas, and even averaged a 1.38 rating in the 9 maps NAVI Junior lost. One of the most impressive statistics, however, is a ludicrous 3.67 opening kill rating with a 110:30 opening kill to death ratio and 1.02 kills per round.
Despite m0NESY ending the Academy League's group stage as the most accomplished player by far, NAVI Junior failed to qualify for the LAN finals, and although the 16-year-old only had two maps out of the 18 in the red, the first coming in the opening loss to BIG Academy, it was the second that stung a bit deeper as it came in the final match of the play-in. A loss which ended up with fnatic Rising taking what was supposed to be a punishing pick in the best-of-three series, Ancient, to qualify for the event in Kyiv.
When digging into his style, NAVI Junior head coach describes him as a balanced player. "He is still learning, but already knows where to look for frags, when to show aggression and when it is better to give the enemies a break," the skipper said. "Of course, he is still young and makes mistakes, but with every game he gets better. At the same time he has to work hard and gain new knowledge, then in the future he will become an outstanding player."
Coach aMi also lauded the player's attitude outside of the server, saying that m0NESY is "always cheerful and positive. He has no ego at all and he is always ready to sacrifice himself for a common result, characteristics that are not common for such young players. He is now at such an age that it is important not to go off the right path, in professional esports there are a lot of temptations and it is important how he will accept them. Only time will tell, everything is in his hands, he is still very young and like any ordinary child he is still getting to know this world. Our goal is to help him. I like being around and watching him develop not only as a player, but also as a person."
regali came out of nowhere to be the best of the rest
The second-highest rated player at the Academy League, albeit far behind m0NESY's 1.64, is another AWPer, Iulian "regali" Harjău. The Romanian, mostly under the radar until he was drafted into the last-minute fnatic Rising team just days before the start of the WePlay Academy League, ended the tournament with an impressive 1.25 rating and will be the highest-rated player from the group stage traveling to the LAN finals in Kyiv. He played many good maps throughout the group stage, but his highlight came in the final play-in match where he had to face m0NESY in a battle of AWPers, from which he emerged victorious as one of the top performers in the series to help his team qualify for the main event while his Russian counterpart floundered.
The 18-year-old first appeared on HLTV in a best-of-five Romanian Esports League Season 2 grand final loss to Nexus in June of 2020, after which he joined GameAgents, the team he remained with for a year. His jump to the international scene with fnatic Rising was given to him by in-game leader Kevin "Kevve" Bohlin and Maikil "Golden" Selim, who was helping out with the academy squad's creation. During the WePlay Academy League regali showed his quality as an AWPer week after week and gave a series of interviews showcasing an affable yet fiery personality that made him an instant favorite among fans and a player to watch at the upcoming LAN.
"I couldn't write about players to watch without including this fella," Hugo Byron, who cast the entirety of the WePlay Academy League's group stage, says. "Surprisingly, he's one of the less experienced players at a high level, having never played above ESEA Main, but you certainly couldn't tell from his ability on the server. regali came into WePlay Academy League swinging and taking names.
"Many doubted fnatic Rising just due to the little amount of warning we had on this roster's formation — only finding out the day of the tournament — and they felt like an easy write off. regali and his merry men, however, were anything but and when we spoke to him it was clear that nerves were apparent, as I'm sure they were for many other players. Knowing how big of an opportunity this was to showcase himself, regali took it by the neck and day after day out-AWPed whoever you'd put him up against and tore open Vertigo's A site with numerous multikill entry rounds.
"In addition, regali managed to lead the way in clutches, finding 12 1vXs. Only fielding three maps in the red throughout the online stage and always delivering interview answers with a smile on his face, I'd bet that regali is an even more capable beast on LAN. One thing's for certain, don't sleep on fnatic Rising."
Young Ninjas trio round out top 5 rated players
The third highest-rated player at the Academy League was Young Ninjas's youngest member, 16-year-old Linus "nilo" Bergman, who was the last to finish with a rating above 1.20, averaging a 1.21 rating across 14 maps. But the top three performers on the team were all within shot of each other as AWPer Love "phzy" Smidebrant and Anton "Sapec" Palmgren ended as the fourth and fifth highest-rated players with equal 1.18 ratings, showing that the Swedish youth squad is a well-greased machine with all cogs working together.
"I was impressed at how calm the Swedes looked at this event," Hugo says. "Rarely getting flustered when things didn't go to plan and when we were able to listen to their comms they not only sounded focused but also like they were having a lot of fun with it. It's certainly hard to only pick one player in this team. Everyone seemed to have their place and know their roles well. Playing clinical Counter-Strike and offering their opposition no way back into man-disadvantage rounds. No other roster was able to dismantle opponents in the same fashion. As far as one-sided stomps went, Young Ninjas had many."
When asked about the Young Ninjas players themselves, head coach JAEGARN had a glowing review for nilo, stating that he "is one of the greatest talents that we have witnessed in a long time. Being 16-years-old sets him up to be the next big thing like when f0rest, GeT_RiGhT and Brollan hit the scene. You can just see the magic when he plays and is feeling it, and he has a massive impact on our squad. He has played different roles and developed well, so with even more experience he will surely be ready for top-tier CS in an upcoming future."
The 34-year-old was also chock-full of compliments for the rest of the members on the team, including the other two highest-rated players in the group stage. "phzy is that guy that you truly feel connected to early," JAEGARN says. "He sees you and understands you as a player, and that's what makes a great AWPer in my eyes, being great at adapting to numerous situations and finding openings, but also secondary calling setups and ideas from time to time have made our team more competitive. And I would say that his recent form has been mindblowing, so this is surely one of the best rising snipers out there.
"Sapec is a fantastic player. And by fantastic I mean that he wants to be a true specialist in every role that he plays. Working mainly as an entry fragger he can just blow people's minds with how he reads situations and hits the timings right over and over again. It's like watching a great con movie where he's leading the show, and then his aim is just incredible. I would describe him as one of the best playmakers, because sometimes you only need one shot. One opportunity."
mouz NXT's Poles displayed lethal teamwork in a squad stacked with talent
MOUZ NXT was the big ticket item at the WAL group stage with the most well-known and experienced roster, including star AWPer Ádám "torzsi" Torzsás at the helm. Even though the Hungarian underperformed with a 1.14 rating during the group stage, a far cry from his 1.23 since joining MOUZ NXT, he was still one of the most impactful players alongside Israeli rifler Dorian "xertioN" Berman, who ended the group stage with a team-high 1.16 rating. Right below the two is the former Izako Boars duo comprised of Kamil "siuhy" Szkaradek, who ended with a 1.13 rating, and Hubert "szejn" Światły, who was not far behind with a 1.09, keeping all five members of the squad in a tight pack as Jon "JDC" de Castro followed with a 1.08 rating.
Putting the obvious aside, what stuck out the most to Hugo was "the one two punch of mouz NXT's Polish prodigies of siuhy and Szejn, who may have slipped under the radar considering how much talent surrounds them on the roster. But don't be fooled. Both of these players, who were together for five ESEA Advanced seasons under Izako Boars and finally made it into Premier in Season 37, have had a lot of experience playing together, which shows in their performance. Regularly playing bombsites together on the CT side, these two have great synergy.
"Not just talented when it comes to his aim and ability to enter bombsites, siuhy is also responsible for in-game leading his team to victory, which he did! mouz NXT topped the online stage of the league and looked good while doing it. He ended this stage as the second-highest rated IGL. siuhy's counterpart of Szejn will be found lurking in his enemies nightmares, disrupting rotations and being a nuisance you just can't catch out. This squad looks to be the most dangerous team in attendance at the LAN with an abundance of firepower. It's been a while since Poland has been at the top of CS:GO, but I'm willing to bet if that were to happen again it would be with these two at the forefront."
Can BIG Academy's Aqua find consistency to become a top performer?
BIG Academy took third place and landed a spot straight into the WePlay Academy League LAN Finals, but unlike the other three teams that booked their ticket to Kyiv and even NAVI Junior with m0NESY, the German squad didn't have a group of players, or even a single player, that stood out of the pack as an elite performer at the event. The team's highest-rated member, Nico "Aqua" Kembitzky, finished with a strong but not groundbreaking 1.09 average. Although it looked liked the young German player would smash the event early on, hitting 1.41, 2.04 and 1.51 ratings in his first three matches against NAVI Junior, Astralis Talent and MOUZ NXT, he deflated as the tournament progressed.
"He has a very good and deep understanding of the game, in my opinion," coach TuGuX says of the 18-year-old. "Sometimes I ask him about his views of different scenarios in-game or after something happens and I tell him that he could have done that in another way. He reflects calmly and comes to the right conclusion. Due to his nature, he is more of an anchor player, but he can play almost any role.
"If I have to go into detail, I just see one major flaw in his plays. The way he moves or reacts after one kill is often wrong, he could close the angle if he is in the open to survive and not be seen by the second player who wants to refrag him. Or he takes out a nade or picks up another weapon, which is just a habit and easily fixable. I wouldn't look at the stats to determine the progression, but he is doing the right moves more and more when we play, which is crucial to winning the round. If he goes on like this he will be a player to watch, for sure."
TuGuX doesn't just have praise for Aqua, however, and speaks very well of Christian "LapeX" Preuß, whose leadership was crucial in order to run a system that helped a team that was put together just days before the tournament find their groove and make the LAN finals after the previous iteration of the roster moved on to playing full-time in other squads.
"Every player in our team can shine and some did, like Aqua, NIKZEj and glaVed, if we just look at the stats, but it is the system that LapeX enables us to play more like a team so everyone has to do some support roles instead of just supporting one or two guys. I think in the long term this does much for the players as individuals since they understand the game on a deeper level than having hard roles. Props to LapeX, who really takes the responsibility here which is not easy to do as an AWPer who has never done it like this before."