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The Greatest player of all time: part 1 - Potti

There were many moments when this article could have been written but none seemed as apt as right now. Now is the right moment to decide who is Counter-Strike's greatest ever player. With no major tournaments left, and thus no world championship titles to be added to anyone's resume, one can look back across the entirety of Counter-Strike's 11-12 years of competitive play and find three names which stand above all others. Three titans of the game who have dominated their eras, in their own unique ways, and made an indelible mark on competitive Counter-Strike as far as in-game excellence, tournament success and a consistently elite level of play are concerned. Those three names are Potti, NEO and f0rest.

Sure, other players have had their time in the sun as the world's best player, other players have won major titles and racked up prize money, others have shown us incredible things in-game and left us with unforgettable memories, all of that is true. What sets these three apart from all others though is that they are, as the title of the article suggests, the greatest. The greatest winners, the greatest players in terms of what they could do in a server to their peers and the greatest in terms of their impact on history.

December 2000 through to 2003 belonged to Potti and 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011 and some of 2012 have been the property of NEO and f0rest, collectively. Out of ~11 and a half years of competitive Counter-Strike the case can be made that for over half of that collective time period those three names were the dominant forces. Other players can at best lay claim to a solitary year or a most a couple of years in a row. So now that we have the three names in the discussion for G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) we come to the meat of this article, wherein I will sort through the three for the one who stands out as the very greatest player, according to my criteria of judgment.

Part one will outline how Potti initially secured of the title and part two will pit NEO against f0rest as I decide who now stands as the greatest to ever play Counter-Strike.

#3 - Tommy "Potti'" Ingemarsson - The original Grandmaster of Counter-Strike

The attentions of fans have flitted to and fro on a near monthly scale throughout Counter-Strike's history when it comes to the topic of the game's greatest player. Simply being the best player on the team which won the last big event was often enough to thrust a name into the discussion amongst the CS masses. For me there was never really much of a debate though, and as a result I never felt the need for an article such as this one. From 2001 right up until early 2011 my answer had always been the same: Potti was Counter-Strike's greatest ever player.

What made Potti so outstanding as to be the concrete best player ever for me was that he checked all the boxes of my criteria for the G.O.A.T.: he came up big in the high pressure situations over and over, he won more major titles than anyone else in his era, he was one of the few players who could truly mastered the game in terms of maximising his in-game skillset and he was the dominant force for the majority of the game's history, up until my realisation in 2011, which I will get to in the second part of this article.

Start as you mean to go on

While Counter-Strike was being played by clans from its inception, in the middle of 1999, the first year and a half of the game's competition was essentially all online. There was nothing comparable to a world championship or a major tournament, with the world's best teams gathered and battling it out for big bucks and worldwide fame. The first instance of a tournament fitting that description was CPL Winter in December of 2001, where NiP and X3 so famously clashed.

Prior to that event the game's competition level had gradually worked its way up to the equivalent of regional championships, events where the best in one continent battled each other to see who was better. On both the continents that mattered back then, North America and Europe, it was the CPL which led the way, and it would be that way for a number of years to come. The first significant event to feature top Europeans against top North Americans was the Babbage's CPL in December of 2000, a whole year before the moment the game's first true world championship arrived.

Almost entirely a North American tournament Babbage's CPL also marked Potti's first venture into that continent, as his NiP (or e9, as they were relabelled during that time period) team were the lone Scandinavian side to make the trip across the Atlantic, the only other Europeans in attendance being Germany's mTw. The prize money for first place was only $5,000 and the main game at the event was Quake III Arena 1v1, the Counter-Strike competition being a side tournament. What's more, there was no way to actually watch any of the games online, since HLTV had yet to be invented, and the rules bore no likeness to today's. Maxrounds had yet to make an appearance, with timelimit per half being the ruleset of the day.

Even during that era, Scandinavians were considered the very best in Europe and so the prospect of having one of the best Swedish teams attend and battle the best North American teams, like CK3 and syn, seemed like a great storyline for the first international clash of CS teams. The problem with that storyline is that it wasn't quite on the money, as far as e9 goes that is.

Online e9 were Europe's best team, but their first international LAN, CPL Europe Cologne, had been a disaster the very same month as Babbage's. Age restrictions in Germany had prevented two of their starters from playing, a different player missing a flight had forced them to draft in one of their organisation's Quake III players, who had no experience in CS, and the game's buggy state had led to BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) errors during their match against the tournament's eventual champions.

Now, the very same month, e9 had its two starters back, with less oppressive age restrictions in the USA than Germany, but the same player who had missed his flight to Cologne managed to repeat the feat for his flight to Dallas. With Quake III on the docket for the American CPL e9 brought in the very same Quake III player from their organisation (litzer) and were essentially playing 4v5, against North America's best. The Cologne experience also meant that, even though they had four of their desired starters in place, that unit had never actually played together an international LAN before. It sounded like a recipe for disaster and yet the eventual outcome couldn't have been better.

e9 won the tournament, without a single loss and without even losing a single half of Counter-Strike. They defeated the best North American teams and took home the first place prize money back to Sweden. The significance of this story, and why it bears retelling in such detail, is that Potti was the best player in that e9 lineup, and having dominated North America's biggest LAN tournament to that point, effectively became the best player in the world as of that moment. The legend of Potti had begun and his heroics in leading a disadvantaged team, essentially playing 4v5, to an undefeated run against North America's finest showcased the kind of uniquely special dominance he would display time and time again over the next three years.

The first ever Counter-Strike World Championship arrived a year later, with the best European team, NiP, meeting the best North American team, X3, in the upper bracket final and eventually the final itself. With $50,000 on the line, ten times the first place bounty of Babbage's, the game's first true world champion level team would be crowned. What often gets lost in the, admittedly seductive, storyline of the team which dominated North America going head-to-head with the team that had dominated Europe though, is that the NiP lineup which showed up that event was not even the best edition of that team.

The NiP team which had won back-to-back European CPLs that year had featured the Norwegian phenom XeqtR as their fifth player, while this NiP team fielded former MAFIA in-game leader vesslan and ex-GoL star ahl in the fifth and sixth spots, running a six man rotation. To add in some more adversity on the NiP side of things that CPL was the first tournament they had ever played under the maxrounds ruleset in, with the dominant ruleset in Europe having been CO (Chargers Only) right up until that point. Still, even with all of this context in tow, the outcome was the same: Potti and NiP walked away with the oversized novelty cheque for first place and became the first ever World Champions of Counter-Strike.

Most successful, most dominant and most wealthy

Those first years were a time of titans and it was the great individual players ruled the game, as those early versions allowed individual players to exert even more of an impact on the outcome of a match than would be possible in later years. Right up until CS 1.5's release, in June of 2002, players could still chain together any number of jumps without losing speed, could repeatedly tap the walk key to run at ~75% of the running speed without making sound, could quickswitch to the AWP without any delay and could control the spray of the rifles with more consistent potential precision.

During that, more individually-biased, era Potti won Babbage's CPL, two of the four European CPLs, placing second and fourth in the other two, and the first ever World Championship event. In the post-1.5 release era, in spite of the aforementioned changes to the game, Potti continued to rack up titles to add to his resume, winning three more American CPLs, a WCG gold medal and two more European CPL titles. Despite attending a total of 15 CPL events during his career, European and American combined, Potti never placed below fourth at one. He won nine of those 15 CPL events and on 12 occasions was playing in the final. He also played on the only Swedish CS team to ever capture WCG gold.

Until 2005, when the CPL's misguided decision to initially drop CS 1.6 and schedule their event parallel to ESWC caused the French event to reach world championship level status, the American CPL events were the undisputed world championships of Counter-Strike. WCG was a spectacle, and winning it had its own special feeling associated, not least because the first three events were held in the exotic location of South Korea, but no matter what happened in the outcomes of any other tournament nothing mattered as much as winning CPL Summer or Winter. Those events were the panacea that could cure all tournament season ills for a six month span.

Taking CPL Winter 2001 as the first of those world championship level events and CPL Winter 2005 as the last of them Potti competed in we can see that he won four the seven world championship level American CPLs he attended during his career, not attending CPL Winter 2004 due to the SK contract dispute.

Over his career Potti racked up an incredible total of over $387,000 won in prize money with his teams. During his active time span (2000-2005) nobody else's total winnings even came close, excluding his long-time team-mate HeatoN of course. For the sake of contrast, consider Ksharp's total of only ~$147,000 won across the exact same time span.

When his career ended very early in 2006 Potti stood out as the game's greatest ever player, even though vast majority of the HLTV watching public was largely unaware that he had been the singular dominant force amongst all of the game's glittering champions!

Most respected by his peer group

From 2001-2002 it had been HeatoN's frag-heavy spraying style of play and Ksharp's flashy flick-AWPing brilliance which had ignited the imagination of CS fans. In 2003 elemeNt's addition to the SK.swe team Potti played in had put them over the top from a contending team to unquestionably the world's best team, and the greatest ever seen to that point in time. They won every single tournament and lost only one official map during the last five months of that year. Since elemeNt had been the missing piece of the puzzle, and had also won the MVP award for the CPL Summer event, many declared the young Norwegian prodigy the world's best.

During the last few months of that 2003 run SpawN had been added to the team and had really begun to come into his own individually, and finally at the very top level of international competition. With Potti and HeatoN gone from SK only a year later, and SpawN returning relatively soon after that for a number of future years of service as the team's main star, he would take up the mantle of the game's chief star figure, sharing it with the American fRoD in the year (2005) of his return to SK. Back at the end of 2004 Potti's activity level became questionable and his motivation for the game began to finally wane.

The point of this brief timeline of CS' perceived best players is that there was always someone else whose play was more flashy or higher up on the scoreboard to catch the casual fan's eye. Yet the insider's secret during that entire time, as all of the above mentioned players would tell you themselves, and have told me in conversation, is that Potti was always the top dog in the eyes of his peers, especially in terms of consistency over that three and a bit span of years.

While HeatoN was mowing down all those players with his impossibly good pre-1.5 colt spray and Ksharp was noscoping his opponents and switching to the deagle to finish them off and elemeNt was commanding his troops to a flawlessly money-system abusive unparalleled string of wins and SpawN was showcasing his skills with every weapon under the sun, while all of that was taking place over those three years, there was one man they all considered the greatest: Potti.

The first to master the game

Putting aside his illustrious accomplishments and mountains of dollar bills won, what made Potti so extraordinarily special during his era was that he was the first player to truly master every significant aspect of the game. In the first two to three years of the game players were much more specialised than they are now, you did not see players using every gun, and definitely not using every gun well. Potti could dominate the game on the pistol round with his USP play, in the gun rounds with his AK and colt technique and in the clutch with his uncanny sense of where to be and when.

HeatoN's spray excellence pre-1.5, back when full-auto spraying was much more viable, had influenced the competitive scene worldwide to the extent that a staggering majority of CS professionals sprayed practically all of the time with the AK and colt. It wasn't until around 2005 and onwards that you saw a growing trend of tapping and bursting introduced to the rifle play of the world's best players, as a whole. What's incredible is that everyone else was late to the party, Potti had been using those techniques his entire career.

One can go back to demos from 2001 and see Potti showing off what would now be considered textbook two and three bullet AK sprays. When he had an opponent hurt and in his crosshairs he could spray with the best of them, but he would also apply finesse by opting to tap, to ensure a kill which might have been more at risk with the full-auto approach. Nobody taught Potti to do these things or showcased those techniques to win him over to that style of play, he found his own way to them and implemented them into his game because he was in pursuit of excellence and his only benchmark was himself.

Listing off players who were "clutch" back during Potti's era was not as simple as it might be for the modern era. There were far less tournaments per year, the step from a continental tournament up to an international tournament was much greater, in terms of pressure, and everyone collectively had much less experience at big LANs. Thus, there weren't as many players who excelled at winning in clutch situations with any significant frequency.

If you were the best German player and had mostly only played the best players in Germany, then you would find yourself in a very different environment than you were used to, and thus prepared for, when you attended your very first international CPL event in America, with all of the world watching you on HLTV and players of incredible talent facing you across the server. Outside of their comfort zone many talented players struggled, relative to their skill level, early on in their international careers.

Yet in that regard, as a clutch player, Potti also blazed a trail. Players like XeqtR and Rambo had the self-confidence and all-around skillset to win a lot of clutch rounds in their careers, and players like Ksharp and HeatoN definitely had the raw skills to have been capable, but nobody took clutch play to the same level of consistent success as Potti did. As HeatoN said in an interview in 2010: "[Potti] couldn't lose a 1on1". Potti was not only confident and disposed of the requisite skillset, but an unrelenting competitive drive and his outstanding in-game smarts meant that he seemingly always came through in the clutch, even at the most most high pressure moments of CPL runs.

Potti's diverse technical ability, as outlined with his ahead-of-his-time use of different firing techniques, allowed him a wide toolbox from which to select the right approach to securing a specific kill in a 1vX situation. His incredible game sense meant he could seemingly always position himself correctly and construct a viable sequence of actions which would lead to to winning the round. Most importantly, his confidence and his competitive drive meant that he had the nerve and the poise to execute upon all of the above, succeeding where others sometimes buckled or fell prey to a simple mistake.

From the final round which send $50,000 NiP's way at CPL Winter 2001 to the CPL Summer 2003 which began the legendary SK.swe run of dominance through to the crucial 1v1 win in overtime against Rival at CPL Summer 2004, to secure a spot in the final, Potti was the deciding factor whenever his team needed a hero to bridge the gap between them and their opponents in a tightly contested match.

Blazing a trail like no other

Back in 2002 HeatoN told me a story not long after the release of CS 1.5, when everyone else in the CS scene was still bemoaning the fact it was now more difficult to spray full-auto through to the 30th bullet with any reasonable level of accuracy. I'd enquired how he thought the patch update would affect him and the other elite Swedes, since they were so well known for their spray and, even though the new spray could be learned, it could not be harnessed to the same degree as before.

HeatoN told me that he and Potti, who were sharing an apartment at the time, had spent days in a listen server practicing spraying the main rifles at distance across the CT side of dust2. Over and over they practiced like this until they felt like they had mastered the new style of spraying to the best degree possible at that time. That's what the pursuit of excellence is all about. Sat in an empty server, outside of scheduled team practice, mastering your craft when nobody knows the toil of your efforts to improve, no one but you that is.

There was no great player for Potti to look up to in his time, he was the benchmark of success and excellence in CS. There was no champion before him with accolades and accomplishments for him to measure himself against. By all accounts Potti was unofficially, in the sense that he wasn't competing on LAN vs. the world's other elite players overseas, the best player in the world even back in the early betas, practically from day one of playing, relative to how long CS has been around now.

Despite that key lack of a figure in whose footsteps to follow or whose accomplishments to try and better Potti's desire and drive to win was unparalleled, perhaps even now. Even the other players people would reel off as their all-time favourites, and amongst the most skilled, all had a relative limit to their desire. Unless they were on the clear-cut best team in the world, and had been on a rampage winning prior, even the other greats on other teams could often find satisfaction in a third place finish or a runner-up spot.

They could convince themselves that "you can't win 'em all" and "some days it's just not your day", those phrases we've all heard so often. For Potti that never seemed to be the case, he won so early and so often that I've seen him look devastated at a second or third place finish, quite the contrast to times I've seen great players with a smile on their face holding a cheque for third. "On any given Sunday..." they'd tell you, and yet I always wondered: if that was the truly the case that why were there so few Sundays in Potti's long career when he didn't end up atop that podium?

The complete package

Talent can get you to the top, discipline to work and dedication to your craft can keep you up there, but to win again and again, against wave after wave of new teams and star players, is a matter of sheer will and inner strength above all else. Potti was the most mentally strong player Counter-Strike ever witnessed. He was gifted with talent, that much is certain, but he refined his to the extent that, when coupled with his competitive desire to win and refusal to lose, one can look back on his career and find so few occasions on which he "could" have won a tournament but didn't. Practically every time he was in position to take the title Potti got the job done and pushed him team over and past any obstacles in their path to the title.

Some players have the skills but not the will. Others have the desire but not the talent. A smaller group still have the skill, the will and a taste for winning, but not the discipline and dedication to practice long hours with their teams and refine their individual skillset. Potti had it all and even more, his taste for winning was, until late 2004, an unending appetite for success.

For some players winning a tournament is the destination, for a player like Potti it was the everyday reality of his journey. If he won today's world championship it would not curb his hunger to win the next. Time and motivational issues eventually ended Potti's career, as they have so many others, but not before he had carved his name in stone as Counter-Strike's greatest ever player.

Of course nobody could have known there would be over six and a half more years of competitive Counter-Strike to be played, almost double Potti's career span. Given the same amount of time the book could be reopened on who was the greatest, provided the next generation's players could live up to and exceed the mark of greatness Potti had placed so high. As it happened, two such players already sat in our midst, and during the year following Potti's retirement they stepped forwards to claim their first major titles.

With two spots remaining, and one of them to be hailed as Counter-Strike's greatest ever player, the battle for the first and second spots is the matchup that has caused CS fans to salivate for more than half a decade: NEO vs. f0rest!

(All photographs courtesy of their respective owners)
2019-05-16 17:14
Under helgen den 3-5 maj 2019 tog ArgaSkånskaMän över den skånska landsbyggden. På plats i Xtrfys kontor i Landskrona slog YouTube-profilerna upp SLASK LAN 19 i samarbete med Philips OneBlade och Xtrfy. Fragbite var på plats och deltagarna bjöd på en hel del goda skratt under helgens bravader.
2019-05-07 13:34
Sverige var fortsatt dominanta efter SK Gamings vinst i Samsung Euro Championship 2007, men året därpå var det Fnatic som tog plats på prispallen. Tillsammans med Samsung tar vi en titt tillbaka på svenskarnas framgångar.

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