Top 20 players of 2022: YEKINDAR (15)
Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis makes a return to the Top 20 players of the year list by 1xBet after being the difference-maker for Liquid with superlative impact and world-class entry-fragging.
Top 20 players of 2022: Introduction
YEKINDAR made his first blip on the radar back in 2017, when he recorded his first-ever appearance on HLTV with his fellow Wolsung countrymen. The entry-fragger then bounced around the CIS region for the next two-and-a-half years, honing his skills and raising eyebrows with strong individual showings whilst playing alongside the likes of seasoned veteran Dmitry "hooch" Bogdanov, whom he had impressed during his time on the all-Latvian squad, and players of his own generation like Aleksei "NickelBack" Trofimov and Aleksei "El1an" Gusev.
The Latvian had to wait until 2020 to get his first big break, when he put pen to paper to join Virtus.pro in May as a replacement for the outgoing Timur "buster" Tulepov. YEKINDAR was brought into a roster that was in a period of stagnation, exiting four of their past five LAN outings in last place, and his addition looked to reinvigorate the slumping lineup.
YEKINDAR's recruitment proved to be the right course of action in the grand scheme of things; the team went from sitting just inside the top 30 at the time of his signing to being on the cusp of a top-10 placement as the year reached its end. The newcomer had a clear impact as he performed remarkably well during this transition period, averaging an impressive 1.15 rating throughout the year to complement the international combine's first-place showings at online tournaments like Flashpoint 2 and IEM New York CIS 2020—an uptick in form compared to his 1.11 rating during his 18-month tenure with pro100 prior to his addition.
Those interested in a more in-depth look into YEKINDAR's history and backstory can do so via his top 20 article from 2021.
YEKINDAR's breakout year didn't come until 2021, when he sat in the green in all but one of his 13 event appearances and even took home EVPs at cs_summit 7—Virtus.pro's only tournament win of the year—, ESL Pro League Season 13, IEM Katowice, and IEM Fall CIS. YEKINDAR also didn't cower during his Major debut in Stockholm, leading the way for his team with a 1.09 rating during their 5-8th place run through the Valve-sponsored competition, something surprising given his relative lack of experience at such a prestigious event.
The strong performances throughout the year also came in spite of his often sacrificial role as the entry fragger, a job which is simply to make space and often to the detriment of his own statistics. The Baltic rifler sat atop the ranking with the joint-most opening kills per round (0.18), which was coupled with a 53% success rating. Taking all of his personal accolades, statistics, and the team's results into account, he was named the eighth best player of 2021.
"It obviously feels amazing to be among the best second year in a row, this year was important in my own improvement since I had to prove that even with switching teams, I can be on the level I want to be. [I'm] happy to be here but two years is not enough."
|TournamentEvent||Team (place)||Rating 2.0 (in team)||ADR||KPR||DPR||Impact||KAST||Award|
|1.04 (3rd, -1%)||75.1||0.67||0.69||1.16||67.5%|
|1.07 (3rd, +4%)||76.9||0.70||0.69||1.14||68.4%|
|1.05 (1st, +6%)||78.2||0.72||0.70||1.17||63.2%|
|1.05 (4th, -2%)||75.7||0.67||0.68||1.19||67.7%|
|1.18 (1st, +15%)||88.6||0.77||0.73||1.50||66.5%||EVP|
IEM Rio Major
|1.00 (3rd, +2%)||75.9||0.68||0.71||1.11||64.7%|
BLAST Fall Final
|1.27 (1st, +17%)||87.5||0.81||0.69||1.63||70.1%||EVP|
BLAST World Final
|1.08 (2nd, +4%)||79.9||0.69||0.69||1.20||69.1%||EVP|
ESL Challenger February kicked off Virtus.pro's event calendar. The international ensemble, who were fifth in the world ranking, returned from the player break in red-hot form and started the year on the right foot. Brushing aside the likes of 9z, Movistar Riders, and Complexity, the multinational roster cruised through the eight-team tournament, going on to deconstruct FURIA in a ruthlessly savage grand final to win the event without conceding a single map. YEKINDAR's prowess in the server was nowhere close to being matched all tournament long; the Latvian put up a mind-boggling 1.61 rating over the six maps played, close to 0.30 rating points higher than his closest competitor, and more than enough to earn his side a commanding first-place finish to kick off 2022 in style.
Virtus.pro looked to carry this top form into IEM Katowice, the first Big Event of 2022, and things appeared to be going according to plan for the international lineup. They booked a spot in the playoffs after taking down both Copenhagen Flames and Ninjas in Pyjamas in the group stage, but their bid at going one further and locking in a top-four finish was quickly dashed by a formidable Heroic, who handily bested the international outfit 0-2 to force YEKINDAR and company to start their time in the Spodek Arena from the quarter-finals.
Virtus.pro's stumble against Danes followed them into the knockout stage of the $1,000,000 competition. The Russian-Kazakh-Latvian lineup bowed out of the flagship event in 5-6th place following a 0-2 loss to G2, unable to get into the right headspace after conceding a laborious triple-overtime loss on the first map of the best-of-three series.
While YEKINDAR was rock-solid in Virtus.pro's initial group stage wins, the Latvian fell flat when the going got tough, ending the two series versus Heroic and G2 with a peak map rating of just 0.98. These disappointing showings by the entry-fragger also showcased Virtus.pro's kryptonite—the team often struggled to post wins on the board when YEKINDAR was absent, and they very much lived or died by his sword.
Despite the two losses, YEKINDAR was still enjoying a solid start to the year as he ended his squad's run through IEM Katowice with a middle-of-the-pack 1.04 rating, but made up for this with an impressive 1.16 impact rating. In addition, his 1.61 rating through ESL Challenger February was still fresh in people's minds and a 5-6th place run through the first Big Event of the year was far from being a disappointment.
By the end of IEM Katowice, Russia had launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a monumental event that, like with many industries around the world, impacted the Counter-Strike circuit. Several prominent tournament organisers, namely ESL and BLAST, sought to distance themselves from Kremlin-linked organisations and Virtus.pro was caught in the crosshairs.
The quintet was forced to compete under the neutral Outsiders moniker moving forward and YEKINDAR was also already aware of the potential implications of the conflict just a week after it began, saying in early March that "if there are any regulations or restrictions regarding the arrival of my teammates from Russia to the tournaments, visa [issues], or rules from the organizers themselves, then it is very likely that there will be some changes."
"Obviously when the war [in Ukraine] started, it was hard for me to find peace of mind in a Russian organization. During Katowice, I tried to understand myself and my principles and after that event when we lost to G2, I had thoughts of leaving the team but of course, did not want to blow the chance for my teammates in the Major cycle.
"So it was kind of a long goodbye and during EPL and the Major [in Antwerp] everything was already decided and everybody knew. Maybe it somehow affected the motivation of practice with the team, but during the games we were ready to fight till the end."
Outsiders traveled to compete in ESL Pro League Season 15 despite the uncertainties, but their run was cut abruptly short. The international roster picked up just two wins during their time in Germany, besting FaZe (2-0) and Sprout (2-1), while being on the receiving end of beatdowns at the hands of FURIA, ENCE, and Vitality to exit the event in 17-20th place. YEKINDAR performed well in spite of his side's early exit, sitting in the green in four of the six main categories and recording a respectable 1.07 rating as well as mustering an even stronger 1.14 impact rating and 76.9 ADR. The turbulent nature of world affairs was an apparent reason for the lacklustre showing, and it went some way to help alleviate people's concerns about the lineup's underperformance in the past two events.
The next stop on the calendar for the team in limbo was arguably one of the most important events in their schedule, the PGL Antwerp Major RMR, where a ticket to one of just two Valve-sponsored events for the year was up for grabs. The road to qualifying for the Major was far from a straightforward one and the multinational outfit were on the brink of elimination by the end of the tournament's second day with a 1-2 record after suffering defeats to both BIG (8-16) and MOUZ (12-16).
Outsiders kept their Major dreams alive by the skin of their teeth, eking out wins over Dignitas and SAW to narrowly book their ticket to the $1,000,000 Major tournament. YEKINDAR posted poor numbers in the final series against the Portuguese ensemble, but otherwise was a key cog in the Outsiders machine for much of the Major-qualifying competition, his roster-leading 1.11 rating and impactful 84.4 ADR being the difference maker in keeping the CIS squad in contention when elimination from the Major cycle was a real possibility.
The PGL Antwerp Major in May ended up being YEKINDAR's final appearance with Outsiders, confirming reports that circulated in the weeks leading up to the event that suggested his days on the roster was numbered. Nonetheless, things initially looked bright for the side, a 3-1 run through the Challengers Stage being in stark contrast to their shaky campaign through the RMR a month prior. This confident form in the opening stage, where the Latvian entry fragger once again topped his team's tally with a splendid 1.18 rating, soon vanished when they reached the final 16; the neutral-named lineup exited the tournament in 12-14th place with just one victory over Vitality to show for their time in Belgium. This was also a victory that was hard to write home about, given the fact that the Franco-Danish roster was still far from reaching its peak following their international pivot.
YEKINDAR's performance lived up to a high standard even with the future of the lineup being far from certain. He was the only real difference-maker for the squad with a 1.05 rating, the highest in the team. While he was noticeably less potent with regard to KAST (63.2%) and more susceptible to dying (0.70 DPR), he made up for these shortcomings with above-average recordings in ADR (78.2), KPR (0.72) and a strong impact rating (1.17). He was moved to the inactive roster shortly after the side's exit from the Major, thus bringing an end to a two-year tenure for the rifler.
"VP [Virtus.pro] was my first ever tier one team. Jame and dastan gave me a lot of depth about CS knowledge, which led to me becoming the player I am today, so obviously it was sad that I was betraying them in a way by leaving. But we all ended on a good note and still are friends to this day. Everybody understood my decision."
YEKINDAR didn't spend too long on the sidelines until he found himself back in the thick of the action. Liquid came knocking in June while on the hunt for a replacement for Richard "shox" Papillon, who had recently benched himself after finding the balance between life in North America and Europe too difficult. The Latvian rifler was recruited in time for IEM Cologne and the team immediately surpassed all expectations. They bounced back after an opening-round loss to Spirit with a stellar run through the lower bracket, tallying wins over 00NATION, Cloud9, and FURIA on their way to an appearance in the esteemed LANXESS Arena.
"I saw an opportunity of creating my own character in Liquid, coming into a team with ideas and improving in those aspects. I value that a lot more at the moment in my career. And obviously, while talking to Liquid, I just felt how professional and welcoming they were to me."
Liquid's time in the Cathedral of Counter-Strike was short-lived, the side being narrowly defeated by Movistar Riders 1-2 to exit the Big Event in 5-6th place, but YEKINDAR's impact was felt far and wide. Damian "daps" Steele, the new head coach, praised their new import at the LAN in Germany for what he brought to the previously fledgling roster, and the groundwork was steadily being laid for an eventual permanent partnership between the two parties. Furthermore, Liquid made a strong campaign through the event even without YEKINDAR posting insane numbers, his 1.05 rating was the fourth-best in the quintet and only surpassed in-game leader Nick "nitr0" Cannella.
YEKINDAR really hit his stride in a Liquid jersey at the team's next event, the BLAST Premier Fall Groups, after the resumption of play following the player break. There was a distinct lack of pressure given the Latvian's status as a stand-in, which proved key in helping Liquid post a successful—though difficult—run through the group stage of the tournament in Copenhagen. They advanced straight to the second round of the knockout stage following hard-fought wins over G2 (16-12) and their compatriots of Complexity (16-14), before being obliterated by Natus Vincere (4-16).
Liquid's bid to earn a spot in the Fall Final went up a gear once in the second stage, where they scored another laborious victory over Ninjas in Pyjamas (2-0) and followed this up with a convincing showing over Heroic (2-0) to end proceedings in 1st-3rd place. YEKINDAR was particularly deadly throughout the event, only his second outing with Liquid, putting up an incredible 1.32 rating across the nine maps played—the second-highest showing of the whole event behind Ilya "m0NESY" Osipov—as well as being in the green in ADR (93.3), KAST (76.2%), and impact (1.39).
"The transition went pretty smoothly; language was not an issue, and when I came I just felt how much respect my teammates had towards me, and that allowed me to utilize some ideas and be on the same page with them.
"Since it's my first tier-one transition into a new tier-one team it was pretty cool to learn about personalities and characters of such great players and compare them in a way with your previous teammates, but of course, you come to a conclusion that every single player in this world is different and from those differences, you can learn a lot."
The ESL Pro League Season 16 group stage soon arrived for Liquid and the North American roster got the job done in the first week-long portion of the event. They went 3-2 with triumphs over Movistar Riders, Evil Geniuses, and finally Cloud9 to earn a spot in the playoffs, even if their two losses made things a bit too close for comfort. Potentially benefiting from the lack of downtime between their group-stage run and the commencement of the knockout stage, Liquid enjoyed a calm and collected campaign through the playoffs, advancing all the way to the grand final after repeating their initial win over Cloud9, this time in a three-map series in what was anyone's game.
Liquid soon found themselves squaring off with Vitality in a grand-final tango. The series went the absolute distance, with five maps ultimately being required to separate the two teams. Liquid were even up 2-1 at one point and within touching distance of their first trophy since 2019. Alas, Vitality managed to eke out the win when all was said and done, pushing the North American side to a fifth map after prevailing in overtime on Overpass before using the shift in momentum to nab the final battleground, Vertigo, 16-11.
"Obviously advantage of enemy teams not knowing how we played and huge amount of work and theorizing [helped with Liquid's initial success]. The honeymoon phase allowed us to believe in success and find motivation to put in those hours, and now these half-year results will give us motivation further."
It was a gut-wrenching loss for Liquid, who had been on a steady upward trajectory since the Latvian's addition and the trophy was mere rounds away from being theirs at points. YEKINDAR netted himself his first EVP of the year in spite of the loss, with his performance in the grand final being particularly noteworthy. He often kept his team alive when up against the ropes and finished with 116 kills and a 1.14 rating. YEKINDAR's championship-level form was also present for much of the tournament, offering a huge boon to the North Americans, and he finished proceedings in Malta with a 1.18 rating and an exceptional 1.50 impact rating. His only below-average statistic was his DPR, which settled at 0.70.
All eyes were on the Major in Brazil by the time November came around and the $1,250,000 event in Brazil was hyped up for months with the Valve-sponsored spectacle being the first to be held outside of either Europe or North America. Liquid entered the tournament as one of the favourites after their silver-medal finish at ESL Pro League Season 16 and they benefited from the fact that they had secured a Legends Stage berth after a first-place run in the Regional Major Ranking event a month earlier. Things went drastically wrong at the onset of the Brazilian Major, however, and Liquid found themselves immediately fighting an uphill battle after being thrashed 2-16 by MOUZ.
The North Americans did rebound convincingly with much-needed victories over Sprout and Natus Vincere to inch ever closer to a playoff berth, but again disaster struck, 1-2 losses to both Heroic and Spirit consigning the squad to a less-than-ideal 9-11th place exit—a disappointing end after the highs of a grand final appearance at ESL Pro League just four weeks earlier. Things were also rather rough for the side's new Latvian import who only mustered a dead-even 1.00 rating, his lowest display at a Big Event across the whole year. What's more, his only above-average showing came in the form of his 1.11 impact rating, whilst every other statistic failed to live up to star form.
"[The modest performance at IEM Rio was a] combination of factors I would say. We were playing really good at the bootcamp before the tournament, but did not manage to put that form into the tournament itself. A lack of individual strong performances and that lead to some uncertainty in macro decisions.
"We managed to gain a lot of experience from Rio. Understanding in terms of the right schedule, preparation, and roles ingame were the main aspects that were key for us on not going further, but which gave us direction on improvement. In terms of my individual level, I was not fully focused as I needed to be and losing the balance of macro gameplay gave me second thoughts and loss of focus."
Liquid made the trip across the Atlantic and to Denmark in the wake of their disappointing campaign through the Major, this time to compete in the BLAST Premier Fall Final. Strong heroics from YEKINDAR powered his team through the group stage, a 1.27 rating in the North American ensemble's 2-0 win against G2 giving way to a team-high 1.25 rating versus Natus Vincere, a welcome result to prove their Major win over the majority-Ukrainian side wasn't a fluke. These superb showings against the then-No. 13 and No. 3 teams in the world carried over into the playoffs and the Latvian put up an even greater 1.30 rating when facing Heroic in the semi-final.
Fortunes didn't favour Liquid despite YEKINDAR's world-class form and they faltered by conceding the series 1-2, with both of the map losses notably far from competitive (10-16, 19-17, 9-16). YEKINDAR didn't go home from the Danish event empty-handed, however, and was awarded his second EVP of the year thanks to an impressive display all tournament long, where he ranked second-best with a 1.27 rating behind his compatriot Helvijs "broky" Saukants (1.29).
Liquid reached the end of their Counter-Strike calendar at the end-of-year BLAST World Final in Abu Dhabi. They earned a spot at the $1,000,000 spectacle thanks to their placing on the BLAST world ranking and their first test came in the form of YEKINDAR's former Outsiders. The Latvian rifler reigned supreme in his first match-up against his ex-teammates, although he was considerably quiet in the game, posting a 0.99 rating and 43-52 K-D over the three maps played.
YEKINDAR's modest start carried over into Liquid's second game against FaZe, where this time he averaged a 0.97 rating in a 1-2 defeat to the PGL Antwerp Major champions, but he awoke from his slumber at the outset of the squad's run through the playoffs. Liquid took home 2-1 victories over Natus Vincere and OG, results that were made possible thanks to YEKINDAR's 1.38 and 1.21 ratings in the two knock-out series.
"Of course I felt some sort of interest in that match [against Outsiders], I wanted to feel how it is to play them now. But it's important to understand that the game is not YEKINDAR-Outsiders but it's Liquid-Outsiders, so you focus the same way as you would be focusing against any other team."
Liquid faced off against G2 in their final official game of 2022, a result which had a Big Event title on the line and the potential of ending a three-year trophy drought. Despite looking rejuvenated after a relatively quiet group stage, YEKINDAR was again absent in the title decider; he went on to sit at the bottom of the scoreboard by the end of the best-of-three with a 0.73 rating. The Latvian's inability to step up when it mattered most proved to be detrimental to Liquid's chances at winning the $1,000,000 event and ending the year with a piece of silverware in the trophy cabinet. Liquid settled for a second-place finish to wrap up the year, one that showed YEKINDAR to be a world-class player albeit with bouts of inconsistency.
"The Rio Major gave me an understanding on the direction I need to be heading individually, but it's still a long way forward. Yes, I just wanted to play better and I just want to improve and each tournament to be better and better as a player, teammate, and a person."
Why was YEKINDAR the 15th best player of 2022?
YEKINDAR had a solid albeit unspectacular start to the year during his time with Virtus.pro and Outsiders, which alone would have prevented him from ranking among the very best in the world. Alas, it was his move to Liquid which really made him a contender to return to the Top 20 players of the year list for the second year on the trot. His team-leading performances provided to be the rocket fuel that powered his new team to second-place finishes at ESL Pro League Season 16 and the BLAST Premier World Final alongside their semi-final showing at the BLAST Premier Fall Final.
"Winning a big tournament has always been not only mine but our [Liquid's] goal. And now we see that we are getting closer and closer, we will do everything to gain maximum from each tournament and even if we don't win, we learn and prepare for next. That's our mindset."
What's more, the Latvian was one of the most impactful players in the world by the end of the year, ending 2022 with a stellar 1.30 impact rating. His exceptional 1.14 rating versus top-five teams and unmatched 0.17 opening kills per round often provided Liquid with a steady stream of advantageous situations. These openers stemmed massively from YEKINDAR's world-class precision in-game, where he sported the most headshots per round (0.43). He also showcased proficiency in multi-kills per round (18.3%). His top-15 placing in the category was of great use to his teams as they went on to convert these advantageous situations 82.4% of the time.
On the flip side of things, YEKINDAR's regular absence at Elite level events, where he recorded a top-20 low rating of just 1.05, contributed greatly to his failure to rank higher on the list. The Latvian also recorded one of the lowest Big Match ratings out of the whole top 20 players of the year ranking, only placing slightly above Valeriy "b1t" Vakhovskiy's 1.05. His playstyle also created a situation where his teams would often live and die by his sword. 24.3% of the rounds that Liquid lost came when the Latvian died first, and they were only able to win 35.1% of the rounds where YEKINDAR didn't get a kill, the fewest of any player recognised in this ranking.
"The highlight of 2022 was the EPL final, where we played the final for 8 or more hours and I enjoyed every second of it. I had the smile and fire in my soul at that moment, and those are the moments I'm playing for.
"The lowest point of the year would be either in Rio or Antwerp, because of the placings and overall feeling during the tournament. I learned from both of those events a lot and they gave me direction in understanding on what to improve as an individual and as a team."
Bold prediction by 1xBet
YEKINDAR mirrors Dzhami "Jame" Ali's bold prediction pick by also giving the nod to Aleksandr "KaiR0N-" Anashkin, who was moved to Aurora's bench back in November. The Russian youngster was a part of the roster that made it all the way to the IEM Road to Rio Europe RMR, where he averaged the team's second-best showing, a 0.93 rating, in their 15-16th run through the Major-qualifying event.
Outside of this, the 18-year-old first made a name for himself during his brief three-month stint whilst with Spirit Academy, where he was tasked with the bulk of the heavy lifting in the side's fourth-place showing in WePlay Academy League Season 3. The Russian youngster showcased a potent 1.22 rating throughout the 15 maps played in the academy tournament, enough to place him among the top five players of the competition.
Stay tuned to our Top 20 players of 2022 ranking and take a look at the Introduction article to learn more about how the players were selected.