Is deko the truth?
On the brink of his first international LAN, HLTV answers the question: Just how good is Denis "deko" Zhukov?
CS:GO has been blessed with a plethora of AWPing greatness over the years, whether it be the swashbuckling Jesper "JW" Wecksell running out mid doors on Dust2 with a CZ in his pocket, the brutal efficiency of Nicolai "device" Reedtz’s meticulous approach, or the breathtakingly arrogant play of the superlative Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev. There has also always been a consistent conveyor belt of sniping talent rising through the ranks throughout the history of the game, with names like Dmitry "sh1ro" Sokolov, Ádám "torzsi" Torzsás and Ilya "m0NESY" Osipov in recent times producing star numbers despite their tender ages and lack of tier-one experience. These youngsters have shown that even in an era with such strength in depth, the right talent can shine from the off.
The CIS region has, particularly in the last few years, been a hotbed of AWPing prowess, and deko is one of the latest players to catch the attention of analysts and his peers alike. sh1ro and Kaike "KSCERATO" Cerato both referenced the Russian sniper as a player to watch in their HLTV top 20 player of the year interviews, and it is not hard to see why; the 21-year-old averaged a stunning 1.25 rating in 2021 whilst on one of the most active teams at the tip of the tier-two scene.
With his first international LAN on the horizon, the European RMR A, and a prestigious spot at the IEM Rio Major on the line, it is now time to ask a vital question. Is deko the truth? More specifically, can he transition his success to top tier LAN play?
Let’s first take a look at deko’s style as a player. The first question most people will want an answer for when discussing an AWPer’s play style is simple; are they aggressive? Taking a look at opening attempts, we can get a good idea of the answer. deko in 2021 against top 50 opposition took 18.3% of his team's opening duels, with this number dropping to 16.9% for 2022. These numbers put him in the middle of the pack compared to other top AWPers, below the >20% of players like Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut and s1mple, but above relatively passive AWPers like Dzhami "Jame" Ali and sh1ro, who are both below 16%.
Taking a look at deko’s numbers in the clutch, a more complete picture emerges. With an average of 0.43 clutches per map, the young Russian was one of the more prolific clutchers amongst his fellow snipers, whilst not quite reaching the very highest numbers of 0.55+, like sh1ro, ZywOo and Jame. The numbers suggest deko is something of an all-rounder, understandably not as present in the late-round as the most passive AWPers due to his higher opening duel percentage, but still often called upon to get the job done for his team.
The eye-test supports this. Watching demos shows that deko is utilized as would be expected for a star AWPer, given opportunities to open when the team’s approach to a round allows for it, but also priority is often given to keeping him alive and creating space for him to succeed. Rather than residing in the "passive" category alongside sh1ro and Jame, or the "aggressive" category like Abdul "degster" Gasanov or s1mple, deko is someone whom his team relies upon to be both. deko alludes to this mixed kind of approach when describing his own style, calling it "careful and sometimes aggressive."
This balanced style is by no means a limiting factor for deko, in fact it has powered him to some of the best raw fragging numbers in the professional scene. His average of 23.1 kills per 30 rounds (KP30) puts him amongst the elite, with only five AWPers boasting better numbers for 2021. For context, sh1ro, the fourth best player of last year, managed 22.5 KP30. His multikill numbers are even more impressive, with only Josh "oSee" Ohm, s1mple and ZywOo oustripping him for >1 kill rounds in 2021. Make no mistake deko has been fragging out of his mind in tier-two, producing numbers that only a precious few in the world can match even at that level.
Characterizing deko as an all-rounder feels even more apt when you take a look at some of his other stats. His AWP% is fairly low for a dedicated sniper, his 44.2% sitting below the 55+% of sh1ro and Aleksei "El1an" Gusev, and frankly lightyears away from the 67.6% of Jame. deko is similar to ZywOo and s1mple in this sense, displaying the flexibility to operate with a rifle when the economy or strategy of his team demands it, and this flexibility is a boon in top-level CS. This is something that the young star does off his own back: "That, personally, is my decision, on many maps for me it's easier to play with rifle, instead of the AWP." His 1.30 pistol rating too is spectacular, on par with s1mple, further emphasizing his prowess with weapons other than the Big Green. One area deko is deficient in, however, is utility usage. deko has some of the lowest flash assist and grenades thrown numbers of anyone playing in the top 50. Don’t expect the star man to be pulling out grenades for his team, expect him to be keeping a gun in his hand at all times.
We can confidently state then that deko is a star player in tier-two, an elite fragger that can do it both with aggressive and more passive play, and with a range of weapons. Can we paint him alongside the likes of ZywOo and s1mple as a player who takes games by the scruff of the neck to achieve victory through sheer power of will? On balance, no. His impact rating for 2021 was 1.14, a solid number no doubt that compares favorably to the 1.15 of sh1ro and 1.08 of Jame, but pales in comparison to the truly staggering numbers that s1mple (1.43) and ZywOo (1.36) produce. It would be fairer to describe deko as the engine driving the 1WIN system; he is supposed to deliver the raw fragging that is needed to win games, but do it within the concept of the team rather than stepping outside of it. Those who have watched enough of the aforementioned sh1ro and Jame will know these players are an apt comparison in this regard.
So far then, it seems that all signs are pointing to deko very much being the truth, at least at the tier-two level. This doesn’t mean that he is ready for tier-one. All that has been proven so far is that deko has been effective outside of the very top echelons of Counter-Strike competition on an individual level. To help assess where his future trajectory might lead him, it is best instead to examine his form alongside some other young stars who played in tier-two in 2021, and who have since successfully made the transition to tier-one CS.
m0NESY posted some utterly insane stats for 2021, with a 1.36 rating, 1.42 impact rating, and 0.86 KPR just a few of the highlights from what was an excellent year for the teenage sensation. Obviously these numbers exceed what deko managed, but the quality of opposition is key to consider here. m0NESY only had 35 maps against top 50 opposition, and once you account for this level of opponent, his rating drops to 1.20. Considering the significantly smaller sample size, this is not quite as impressive as deko’s 1.20. Much of m0NESY’s year was spent farming the WePlay Academy circuit, and even when he did participate in tier-two online events, his team rarely went deep enough to face off against the better teams knocking around.
Igor "w0nderful" Zhdanov is another CIS talent that had a strong 2021, mostly featuring for Trasko, but again he generally turned out against weaker opposition; of his 132 maps played, only 27 were against top 50 teams. Against said top 50 teams, his rating was 1.15, compared to 1.24 for the year overall. When you put deko up against two youngsters who were picked up by tier-one teams in 2022, he actually outstrips them. He played far more games against stronger opposition, and performed as well or better on average.
Arguably the best bar for a final assessment on just how good deko has been in tier-two is torzsi. Both played 2021 grinding their way through the tier-two scene, playing in many of the same tournaments such as the Malta Vibes events, although much of torzsi’s play in the WePlay Academy circuit is discounted as he was playing teams outside of the upper rankings. Accounting for only top 30 teams, we have 165 maps played for deko to the 64 of torzsi, meaning we have to give deko more credit for his larger sample size, emphasizing his impressive consistency.
All that said, the two players boast very similar numbers. Both sported 23.1 KP30, similar clutch numbers with 0.43 for deko and 0.45 for torzsi, and the same rating of 1.18. torzsi won on impact, 1.19 vs 1.14, but deko boasted more consistent contributions with 73.1% KAST vs 71.5%. torzsi took the opening duels battle, with a 1.15 opening rating to 1.10, but deko was far more potent in pistol rounds, with a 1.30 rating to 1.08. In essence, deko was at the very least as good as torzsi was at the tier-two level, whilst being slightly more versatile due to his higher propensity to pick up other weapons and better pistol performance.
What we can confidently conclude is that deko has a wealth of experience against a solid level of opposition, more experience and proven pedigree than other young AWPers who have found their way onto tier-one teams this year; players like torzsi, m0NESY and w0nderful. It would be a misnomer, then, to call deko inexperienced. Yes, he has played few games against the very best that the game has to offer, but he has far more time spent in the server against top tier-two opposition. If anything, deko would have been a safer bet than the aforementioned names were when it came to picking up a young AWP talent for 2022, and continues to be a safe bet when discussing AWPers that have the potential to make their way to the top in future.
There are other factors that are most definitely going in deko’s favor when trying to project his future trajectory. One is the presence of an incredibly experienced player in his team, Egor "flamie" Vasilyev. Having such a player alongside you, one who has won a plethora of the biggest LANs in the game and appeared at 12 Majors, reaching top-four in two and second in three more, should be a benefit to your development. Beyond that, his teammates all boast a healthy amount of experience in CS:GO, with all of them having over 500 maps recorded on HLTV to their name.
It is also worth considering whether deko has been aided in his development by sticking with 1WIN for nearly two years now, or hampered. This question is tough to answer. m0NESY spent a full two years with NAVI Junior before signing for G2, torzsi by contrast played for three other teams before joining MOUZ NXT, where he only spent around 8 months with the squad before being promoted. w0nderful also spent time bouncing around, short stints with multiple rosters sandwiching his 10 months with Trasko. Going through other AWPers' careers, players like ZywOo, degster, and s1mple, it can be seen that both paths can produce success, although the weight of the evidence does slightly tip in favor of the one-team approach; more top snipers spent at least a year with a team prior to stepping up to tier-one than didn’t.
Age is another detail to ponder. Being older than both w0nderful and m0NESY, an argument could be made that there is less room for deko to grow, that maybe he is closer to his ceiling. It is certainly conventional wisdom in football that once a player gets into their twenties they are likely reaching the point where their development slows, and it will usually be harder for them to adapt and grow in a higher tier of play. On the other hand, age and maturity can be a boon. Alvaro "SunPayus" Garcia is an excellent example of this, a player who burst onto the tier-one scene at the relatively ripe age of 23. Galder "bladE" Barcena, SunPayus’ coach during his time on Movistar Riders, was incredibly complimentary of the AWPer’s mentality:
"I could tell you that he’s the perfect player. The way he thinks in and out of the server, his attitude, his desire, the way he sees the world. He doesn’t overthink, he’s prepared to deal with any situation be it good or bad…"
There is something to be said for the added life experience and maturity that comes with age, and SunPayus’ success is a testament to that. Whether or not deko will follow a similar trajectory is tough to say, there does seem to be a perception in the community that he is "toxic," judging by the threads that crop up on the HLTV forums from time to time and videos that can be found on YouTube. 1WIN's coach, MSE, has a very different view, stating that "rumors might say that he’s toxic, a bad person, but in real life he’s very friendly." Plenty of people will fall on both sides of the debate, but there is certainly enough evidence to suggest that his slightly advanced age when compared to the teenage prodigies that have recently graced the top tier of Counter-Strike is not by default a disadvantage.
The one thing deko most definitely does not have going for him is LAN experience. He only has a single LAN recorded on HLTV, a local Russian event. Adjusting to the LAN environment is going to be a key test for the 21-year-old, and there are certainly plenty of examples of players and teams that have been unable to transition their form online to the offline environment. Take Florian "syrsoN" Rische of BIG, who was one of the best players in the world during the COVID-induced online era, yet struggles to recapture that form on LAN. Cloud9, back when they were playing under the Gambit banner, were the best team in the world at the start of 2021, yet saw their level dip dramatically when the game returned to offline play mid-way through the year.
It is also worth talking about the weight of expectation. torzsi and m0NESY joined top teams with a great degree of hype surrounding them, the latter also with a huge price tag. w0nderful did not engender quite the same degree of excitement and speculation, but still faced weighty expectations by virtue of needing to fill the shoes of degster. deko comes with some talk around him, as evidenced by the aforementioned future top 20 predictions he featured in, but not to the degree of w0nderful, and certainly far short of the hype surrounding torzsi and m0NESY in particular.
The evidence points to deko being in an excellent position to transition his superb form in online tier-two competitions to offline tier-one play. He is an elite fragger, a well-rounded player who can be both aggressive and passive when the need calls, and one who can succeed without the Big Green in his hands. Despite his success coming in tier-two, comparing his level to peers who have progressed successfully to top-tier teams suggests he is well poised to follow in their footsteps. Even when examining some of the more nebulous debates, like how his teammates or age might impact his suitability to play at the highest level, strong arguments can be made in favor of the young Russian sniper.
Actions speak louder than words or analysis, and through deko and 1WIN’s hard-earned success, the AWPer has the chance to prove his worth against some of the best sides Counter-Strike has to offer. deko was incredibly modest when asked about his team's chances at the RMR, simply replying: "We will do our best." The likes of FaZe, G2 and Cloud9 await, it's time see if deko really is the truth.