Players making their way from anonymity into top teams via pick-up game services like FACEIT and ESEA might be common now, but it was ropz that laid the path with his, at the time, unique way of becoming a professional player. The Estonian began his Counter-Strike: Global Offensive journey in 2014, after a couple of Majors had already been played, but he adapted to the game quickly. After all, he had played CS 1.6, spent countless hours on KZ servers, and experimented with Call of Duty before schoolmates told him that a new version of his favorite game had been released.
Like most players, ropz initially turned towards his country and region when looking for teammates and competition, but quickly realized that being from Estonia, a country with a population of little over one million people, was going to be a limiting factor. Therefore, he set out to play FACEIT and make a name for himself that way, qualifying for FPL Challenger in April 2016 and taking it to the next step by earning a spot in FPL (FACEIT Pro League) before the end of the year.
It took ropz less than a year to go from reaching FPL-C to qualifying for his first Major, but that doesn’t mean the period was easy for him. He was an instant sensation in FPL, winning the competition in his second month and outperforming some of the most proven and decorated players of the game. But the fact that an unknown 17-year-old Estonian kid was doing so well didn’t sit right with everyone. Despite ropz streaming his games, cheating accusations were hurled at him, with a stream clip including Jesper “JW” Wecksell‘s comment describing the atmosphere at the time quite well.
It was not only the kills he was getting, but the manner in which he played, checking every angle, always being aware, that made people suspect there was foul play at hand. The fnatic member was far from the only professional who doubted ropz‘s legitimacy, which prompted FACEIT to fly out the youngster to their offices in London, where he was expected to play as he did at home to prove that he wasn’t cheating.
With immense pressure on his back, ropz performed adequately, and slowly but surely, the suspicions died down. The test happened in March, and by April, he signed his first professional contract, joining mousesports. He wasn’t lacking options at the time, with multiple organizations recognizing his potential, but he decided on the team featuring Chris “chrisJ” de Jong and Tomáš “oskar” Šťastný as they were willing to be flexible and allow him to continue his education.
“When I qualified for FPL, I knew that the accusations would eventually start. It had been the same deal in FPL-C, a lot of people even wanted to dodge games if they were against me, so I was prepared for it. I tried to do everything in my power to prove myself (even streaming with a camera that showed me playing), but no one, of course, believed anything, because why should they? So I kind of started to question myself and I was feeling really down. Then FACEIT approached me and that was my only option left, so I just took it. I think it proved to me how good I really am and nowadays it’s just fun to look back at what a lot of people said.” – ropz talked about the situation after ranking 19th on the Top 20 players list in 2018.
ropz‘s slow and meticulous playstyle made him slot right into the lurk role, which he continues to play to this day, perfecting it over time. On his LAN debut at DreamHack Open Tours 2017, mousesports finished 3rd-4th and the Estonian posted a 0.97 rating, but he picked up the pace at ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals a few months later with a 1.12 rating, quickly adapting to LAN play. Not long after he had officially become a professional, mousesports earned a spot at the PGL Krakow Major 2017, with the Estonian posting an outstanding 1.49 rating in the Main Qualifier. At that point, it was apparent that he was the real deal, and his zero-to-hero story opened up the doors for many other players.
The first Major he attended with mousesports was nothing to write home about, as they finished 12-14th, leading to a roster change. The additions of Martin “STYKO” Styk and Miikka “suNny” Kemppi created the most successful mousesports lineup until that point. They won their second event together, ESG Tour Mykonos 2017, and went on a playoff streak that lasted 11 LAN events and included the ELEAGUE 2018 Major, ropz‘s first time reaching this stage of a Major. During that time, ropz also won two tournaments, StarSeries i-League Season 4 and the ~$600,000 prize pool V4 Future Festival 2018.
A standout player during the run, ropz earned a number of EVP mentions and kept up his form for the second half of the year, when Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski was introduced instead of STYKO. In a sea of underwhelming performances with that roster, including a last-place FACEIT Major exit, mousesports managed one great result, winning ESL One New York 2018. For his consistency in a historic year for mousesports, ropz was ranked 19th on that year’s list of the top players, but he showed even better form in 2019.
“I think communicating in a language that is not your native language isn’t that big of a thing nowadays. As long as everyone is used to it, it’s hard to notice. Well, I actually have nothing to compare it to. But from my own experience, once people are used to playing with each other and know how we talk, etc., it just becomes smooth and easy. There are many things to do, of course. For example, we had some very specific talks and exercises with our psychologist on how to ‘help communication’. We met and made up a lot of keywords, not even make all of them up because we already naturally use many to shorten sentences to just a word or a few. And we put it on paper and turned them into ‘facts’, so no one gets confused.
“An example – if we say freeze or gap, it usually means one of us is in a super good position which could determine the round and everyone else should react to what this player does next, you could imagine me on a lurk or someone found a gap, etc. In general, I think speaking in your mother language is always going to be superior in a game like CS, in which communication is very important and everything needs to be said without delay. However, the effect nowadays feels minimal to me at least, considering I’ve been playing on such a roster for four years.”
The year started with heartbreak, however, as his team failed to get out of groups at the Europe Minor, leading to a massive roster overhaul. In-game leader Finn “karrigan” Andersen, young talent David “frozen” Čerňanský, and star AWPer Özgür “woxic” Eker came in for the trio of suNny, oskar, and STYKO, creating the core that represents the team to this day. The new mousesports took some time to get rolling and become a top-10 team again, but ropz was again always performing, finishing only one event “in the red” across the whole year – the StarLadder Major Berlin, where he was unable to get out of the New Legends Stage.
The team reached its peak at the end of 2019 with four great events, winning three and finishing second at the other one. ropz was instrumental to mousesports accomplishments and picked up his career-first MVP at the ESL Pro League Season 10 Finals, the team’s biggest trophy of the year. In the end, he placed 10th on the Top 20 players of the year list, standing out with an extremely high rating (1.20, sixth-highest) and as one of the hardest players to kill (0.60 deaths per round, seventh-best).
“I don’t think we’ve had such a good start so far in our mousesports career”, ropz said after his team had won the ICE Challenge 2020 in February, their first tournament of the year. The LAN event didn’t have the highest level of opposition, but taking down Natus Vincere in a BO5 grand final and continuing their stretch of strong performances indicated that mousesports hadn’t lost their pre-break form.
ropz was influential in the victory, posting a 1.21 rating and year-low deaths per round, 0.57, netting himself a strong EVP mention from the tournament in London before heading for IEM Katowice.
“The expectations were really high. What I meant back then was indeed the fact that I’d never had such a great start to a year, especially considering how we had ended the previous one. We continued with our success and everything seemed to be falling in place. It felt like we were reaching the No.1 status, for which I and everyone else had grinded for so long. The ICE Challenge in specific was supposed to be a tournament where we were like, ‘Okay, so let’s see if we can replicate what we did just a bit ago, in 2019’. And we did just that, that’s why I said what I said. The final being a BO5 against NaVi, taking it home quite comfortably was a beautiful sight. Though looking back, it was one of those rare occasions where s1mple didn’t perform to his best level also, so that could have been a factor (laughs).
“Because we won ICE Challenge, we instantly felt the confidence we had back in 2019 and we brought it into Katowice. I think what happened there was rather unfortunate. I can recall winning the first map against 100 Thieves, stepping outside of the booth, and seeing on the TV that the news was out. There would be no crowd, and things were looking bad. It was felt within the team that we slowly lost energy after that and ended up losing the match.”
The Estonian was outstanding in Poland as well, showing up in every map victory for his side, including the one in the 2-1 series loss to G2 and those in a 2-0 win over MAD Lions. But being the only above-average rated player in the final map of the decider series against 100 Thieves wasn’t enough to pull mousesports across the line, resulting in a 16-14 loss and a 7-8th finish at the event that ended up being the most competitive of the year.
The European squad was back to deep runs in the first tournament of the “online era”, ESL Pro League Season 11 Europe. Across 31 maps played in March and April, ropz exhibited his late-round ability by pulling off ten clutches and posted a team-high 1.14 rating in mousesports‘ second-place finish (1.13 in playoffs). ropz was his team’s best player in the grand final against fnatic as well, but the efforts of Ludvig “Brollan” Brolin and Freddy “KRIMZ” Johansson denied him anything more than a silver medal and another strong EVP mention.
“From my personal view, it’s almost as if nothing affects me when I play CS and perform at my best. My teammates call me a robot at times because of how I can just play and play, put in all the hours. Of course, I would rather play on LAN, but playing from home against the same competition doesn’t change much for me and I keep putting in the work. I mean, we had played online leagues just a while before anyway, so it was nothing new obviously. I guess the level of motivation dropped just slightly, but as I said, I can be like a robot in this so I’m going to work hard, no matter what happens. I had learned my lessons before, when I don’t work hard it never ends up well. But a lot happened to me during this time. I had my first ever break-up, with someone I had been together for over two years; because of not traveling I finally got time to get my driver’s license; I’ve seen more of my family, etc. There have been many ups and downs.
“On a team level, of course not everyone can be like me, and sooner or later the signs of COVID started to show. I would say the first couple of losses after EPL S11 were kind of a coincidence, but then we just couldn’t pick it up anymore. I don’t know what happened. A few of us said COVID was making us lose motivation and not care as much, but I didn’t want to blame it on that myself. If other teams could show that they were still the best, then so could we. But no matter what we tried, we even had a bootcamp at the very end, it just didn’t pan out as we wished.”
mousesports were ranked fourth in the world at the time, dropping from the second place they had held from December to February. Not having better results in Pro League or Katowice meant that ropz missed his chance to see his team finally ranked first in the world, with the opportunity to reach that milestone not appearing again in 2020. The team’s form would dwindle as time went on, dropping outside of the top 20 by the end of August.
It all started with ESL One: Road to Rio, the Regional Major Ranking (RMR) tournament which mousesports opened up with shocking losses to Movistar Riders (ranked 37th at the time) and North (26th). ropz posted a respectful 1.10 rating in the team’s group-stage exit, but was more impressive in the following DreamHack Masters Spring Europe, in which he was the sole mousesports member with an above-average rating as he posted a 1.11 rating (25% higher than the team’s average). The team managed just one map win from seven played, being eliminated in 13th-16th place following losses to Complexity, BIG, and MAD Lions.
But mousesports‘ woes were far from over. They were denied a place in the BLAST Premier Spring Finals after losing 2-0 to ENCE in the Showdown stage, making cs_summit 6 their last event before the player break. The second RMR tournament was one of ropz‘s worst outings of 2020 as he managed just a 1.04 rating in the team’s 13-16th place. The best-ever start to a year had turned sour as mousesports headed to the player break, with the dream of becoming No.1 now replaced with the goal of getting back to the top 10.
“To be honest, it’s hard to name THE worst moment, but maybe one was when we started to lose. And that also happened to be the Major qualifier for Rio and those meant the most in the online season, I would say. We basically ended up not qualifying, but it was postponed so let’s hope we have a slim chance still.”
Time off and a bootcamp didn’t help the team turn things around. In ESL One Cologne 2020 Europe, mousesports were eliminated after just two matches, a 2-1 loss to Natus Vincere and a stomp by MAD Lions, who gave up just nine rounds across the series. ropz was again the only shining light, his 1.15 rating 39% higher than the team’s average. He also put in a year-high impact rating of 1.36.
The Estonian kept his impact rating high throughout the tournaments in the second half of the year, improving significantly in that regard compared to earlier in his career. That uptick coincided with ropz using the AWP more —averaging between 0.07 – 0.15 AWP KPR over the last six events of 2020 —, as well as finding opening kills at a significantly higher rate than before.
The roster change that followed after Cologne required those changes in ropz‘s game. woxic, the AWPer who had been named the 12th best player of 2019 ended up benched after struggling for form during the first half of the season. ropz remembers that the decision wasn’t an easy one as he had to weigh in his opinion as mousesports were looking for a way to get out of the rut.
“In regards to woxic, everyone had their say. It was a very tough call. We had to do something because people were starting to point fingers not only outside the team but also inside. Since I am such a hard worker and well-rounded player, people inside the team look up to me and always ask what I think and whatever it is they respect it. I don’t say stuff out of the blue, I give complete reasoning for every argument. Most of it should stay behind closed doors.
“What we were expecting was a new AWPer in the following months, which sadly never happened. We knew that the first few events we would play with Bymas, given he was signed as a sixth player. Bymas was never meant to replace woxic. We wanted to do our best in the next few events, but sadly we never got around to a new AWP, had to switch a lot around to make it work, and somehow had a few nice events at the end of the year, which we can be proud of. The team was very dysfunctional at the time.”
The first event with Aurimas “Bymas” Pipiras on the roster was a massive success – at least compared to what the team had been going through in previous months. mousesports got out of the group stage in ESL Pro League Season 12 Europe after beating the No.1 ranked Vitality in a crucial match (ropz with 1.39 rating) and earned a fourth-placed finish.
While his team wasn’t even close to winning the title, ropz did so well that he was a part of the MVP race. He posted a 1.22 rating overall but did better in the playoffs (1.27) than in the round-robin group stage. He also only had three maps “in the red” out of 29 played, and secured 13 clutches while averaging 0.13 opening kills per round.
That form didn’t hold for DreamHack Open Fall, in which mousesports suffered another 13-16th place exit, while ropz‘s 1.01 rating was again the best in his team (23% higher than the average in the squad). Back to his standard for 2020, the lurker blew out BIG with a 1.41 rating in the opening game of IEM Beijing-Haidian and showed up in map wins over Astralis and G2, but mousesports suffered 2-1 losses in both series and ended up with yet another group stage exit.
ropz‘s fourth and final EVP came from DreamHack Masters Winter in December. The Estonian began the event with an underwhelming Inferno against Liquid (0.80 rating), usually a standout map for him, before kicking into a higher gear. He topped the charts in a 2-0 victory against woxic‘s Cloud9 and made the difference in a hard-fought semi-final against GODSENT as mousesports reached their first grand final since ESL Pro League Season 11 Europe.
The grand final featured masterclass displays from both ropz and the star player on the opposite side, Nicolai “device” Reedtz. The BO5 series went the way of Astralis, 3-1, and the Danish AWP edged out ropz for the MVP, but the event still went down as one of the best for the mousesports star, highlighted with some impeccable statistics: 1.21 playoffs rating, 1.31 CT side rating, 1.21 impact rating, 81.6 ADR.
“I think I played the best CS this year during the times we had VERY important matches, such as in playoffs. I could feel that I was ready for the big matches every time and I feel like I delivered.
“I can definitely recall the couple of times we played Astralis, those were amazing. I think the one in DH Winter is the most memorable one, where device went 15-0 on Train, the first map we lost. I thought: ‘Is this it? Is this how it goes again?’ But then I just dropped all the emotions and turned up my robot-self again and did the exact same as him on the second map, Inferno, going something like 15-0 myself. Those performances in those important matches are what I want more of, it was an amazing feeling.”
The last event of the year, the BLAST Premier Fall Finals, was a write-off. While mousesports were faced with a tough bracket, having to take on Astralis and then Vitality, being unable to get past the eight-round mark on any of the four maps played was disappointing. ropz wasn’t the difference-maker either, mustering just an 0.84 rating, recording his first below-average rated event of 2020. It was also just the fourth event of the year in which ropz wasn’t the highest-rated player of his team, topping the charts for mousesports in the remaining eight.
“I think the year wasn’t as disheartening as it looked. To be honest, I hate to say, ‘Damn, 2020 was tough’, or whatever year was tough. Of course every single year is going to be tough in some way. It goes without saying. But indeed I think as a player I’ve reached a very high level, I think I’m becoming a very complete player who has both talent and experience. I remember some people were calling me the best lurk there is, and I’m very proud and thankful for that, I hope to keep raising more eyebrows and rise from here.
“Personally, I felt like I was at the top of my game almost every tournament, except for the last one, where we simply got stomped. I guess there might’ve been some similarities with people losing motivation and not working as hard. However, the reason for that is crazier than anything ever before. A damn virus. Obviously, not an excuse, but just saying, if anyone is ever going to lose motivation then this might be why.”
Why was ropz the 7th best player of 2020?
We’re down to the final seven spots, and we reach a group of players that separate themselves from the rest with world-class consistency, fragging output, and superb peaks at the biggest events. ropz particularly excelled in the fragging department, averaging the fourth-most kills per round (0.78), getting multi-kills at the third-highest rate (in 19.8% of his rounds), and getting headshot frags very often (0.41 per round, third-highest overall).
Even though his team had very volatile results, ropz remained a stable performer, only recording a below-1.00 rating at his very last event, while otherwise being a beacon of consistency on every level: his 72.3% KAST meant his round-to-round contribution was up there with the best (19th-highest) and his map-to-map consistency was rivalled by only a few as he had 1.00+ ratings in 76% of his maps played (fourth-highest).
His play in big matches was another way in which he stood out, as even though he only reached the top half of an event five times, he averaged a 1.21 rating in Big event playoffs (sixth-best). It never resulted in an MVP medal, but he did have four very strong EVP performances, including in both ESL Pro League seasons as his team’s best player en route to a runner-up and a top-four finish.
All that, combined a generally great level at the biggest events (1.16 Elite event rating) and against top opposition (1.15 rating against top-10 teams), was what clearly separated him from those ranked below. But the remaining six players either had more great performances at the biggest events or were even more consistent at the highest possible level.
“It’s easy to say I would like to be better and reach new peaks. However, the thing I feel like I want most, is that, at the very minimum, I keep the level that I’m at now. No matter what, I DO NOT want to fall from this level. I am a person that when I fail, I just tell myself to try harder. That’s basically my motto and I feel like it’s going to be super devastating to me if that was to happen. I am so happy to have finally reached such a level. I must maintain it and keep going and going, and if possible, go even higher.”
“flameZ is such a talented player and from the few times I’ve seen him play or faced him, he is definitely on to something. Not only is he talented, but he’s also a super nice, lovely little dude. I know he looks up to me and I’m happy to talk to a guy like that and give him all the support I can.”
For more information about flameZ‘s career, check out Lucas Aznar Miles‘ article, “How three players are changing the face of Israeli Counter-Strike”.
Stay tuned to our Top 20 players of 2020 ranking and take a look at the Introduction article to learn more about how the players were selected. This year’s ranking is supported by: