Young players are what feed the professional Counter-Strike ecosystem. As more players capable of competing at the top level sprout up, the more competitive the tournaments will be. However, at some point that new talent gets picked up by a big name to replace someone who has started to fall off. A example of that in 2016 was Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev being added to the Na'Vi roster as the organization said goodbye to long time player, Daniil "Zeus" Teslenko. S1mple was a player to look out for at the beginning of 2016 and here are some for 2017.
Abbay "HObbit" Khasenov
Former Tengri player now playing for Gambit has really proved himself to have much potential on the big stage. After his new team triumphed at DreamHack Winter he took home the title of HLTV's MVP for the whole event and rightfully so. He put up great performances in the series against GODSENT and Renegades. He was no doubt the best player for Gambit at the event and was pivotal in their victories.
DreamHack Winter was his first test in an offline setting for Gambit and now he quickly has a big task ahead of him, the major. Atlanta will be where HObbit can prove DreamHack wasn't a fluke. This rookie had one of the biggest performances of his kind and now he has a chance to be much more than that. Before the switch over to Gambit, many people didn't know his name, but perhaps many people will be chanting it at the Fox Theater next weekend.
Hunter "SicK" Mims
One of the two younger players on the list, SicK, has really proved to be a talented rifler on North American soil. He was the best player throughout the time of the previous TSM lineup that included Kory "SEMPHIS" Friesen and Putan "FNS" Mehta. Most of the hype around SicK was from his reputation of running over players on the NA Rank-S. He has a high skill ceiling and it will be very interesting to see him on the competitive level more often now.
TSM was not in the fourth season of ESL Pro League due to losing in a ridiculous fan vote idea from ESL which caused them to kind of fall out of relevance for a while and they failed to qualify for the LAN portion of ECS Season 2. It was an unfortunate situation, but TSM's performance did fall off after having an impressive showing at ECS Season 1 Finals. For these reasons we haven't seen much from SicK despite him being around the scene for a while.
Under the new Misfits name, SicK is under Sean "seangares" Gares' leadership and it is time to see if anything changes for SicK. TSM had a much more loose style so in result players were more individualistic, but now we can expect a system to be in place and it's time for SicK to prove he can thrive. He is the obvious superstar player for the Misfits lineup so maybe we'll see his teammates set him up for greatness. The next time we'll see him play on a big stage will be at DreamHack Las Vegas next month and maybe he'll seize his moment.
Denis "electronic" Sharipov
Electronic has attended three different tournaments for his current team, FlipSid3, and for all of them he's put up good numbers for someone who hasn't played at the top level quite yet. DreamHack Winter was his first international event with F3 and he showed promise there when his performance was the reason they were able to upset Dignitas, now North, on Nuke. DH Winter was where he really proved to be something special even under pressure.
More recently, FlipSid3 took home the trophy at DreamHack Leipzig and I'd say that electronic was the clear MVP for his team. He was absolutely pivotal in F3's victory being the best player at the event. The Russian hasn't been at the very top of competition just yet, but you can expect him to catch someone's eye this year. He looks like he'll be a solid player for any team he gets put on.
This coming week he will be competing at the major for FlipSid3 and this will be a chance so he can prove himself early on under the pressure of one of the biggest tournaments in CSGO. He will be a key player in F3's success for the coming months and with it he will take on experience to slowly improve individually. His development now will be vital for him to set up his own future.
Nikolay "mir" Bityukov
Not much is known about mir by the casual fan considering he's only competed in the lower tier of the CIS scene, but with the stats he has put up on LAN he has lots of potential. The only other player who can reach his level on his current team is Leonid "chopper" Vishnyakov. The duo was instrumental in Vega's recent rise and it's hard to choose only one to focus on.
The reason I'd say mir is better than chopper is because mir has shown to be more consistent than his fellow teammate. Over the course of the CIS minor to DreamHack Leipzig mir had great numbers for a player new to the international level. The performance at the minor was nothing but expected. However his performance at the major qualifiers was stellar despite going missing in the match against Immortals. In the NiP game he was running over the Swedish opposition. His start at DreamHack Leipzig was great, but he fell off in the playoffs which costed them the series against BIG.
Mir still hasn't been truly tested under high pressure situations and it's not known when that will happen. I expect that Vega will make more appearances at lower tier international competitions similar to the tournament this past weekend in Germany. The CIS region has blessed us with many amazing players. Maybe mir will be the next one.
Kevin "keev" Bartholomäus
Statistically, keev is the least impressive on this list, but that can be attributed to the fact that he has been the main sniper on the teams he plays on. On ALTERNATE he was the most outstanding player. One series worth mentioning was the series against GODSENT for a spot in the second season of ELEAGUE. He was no doubt the best player on the server and it caused the legendary players their chance to be on television.
Keev was brought into Fatih "gob b" Dayik's new team, BIG. They had a decent first showing at DreamHack Leipzig with a second place finish after losing to FlipSid3 in the finals. Keev individually had some very good rounds and despite not being my MVP for the event he did very well. His AWPing is nothing special, but it is consistent and occasionally he has some flashy plays.
It should be said that keev isn't as young as the rest of the players here. I think that for him to really be a top talent he needs to have his breakthrough early this year. BIG is a team that actually has potential. Under the leadership of gob b, Johannes "nex" Maget has come alive. That mixed with Johannes "tabseN" Wodarz and keev is enough to really make this team for sure be top 20. That will be the perfect field for keev to really prove his worth and improve as an AWPer.
Valdemar "valde" Vangså
This should come to no one's surprise. Valde has already impressed many of us in the events he has played at and he is the obvious player to put your money on this year. However I don't think he has really broken through to the top just yet. On his current team, Heroic, he is the obvious best player. Heroic isn't a bad team, but think they lack the ability to match up with the best teams of the world. They definitely have decent talent with Andreas "MODDII" Fridh and Nikolaj "niko" Kristensen, but the remaining two players just won't cut it.
Valde first caught the public's attention when he stood in for Magiskb0Y at DreamHack Summer of 2016. He wasn't especially amazing throughout the whole event stat-wise, but he did have a great opening game against Immortals and he continued to make big plays as the event went on. After falling in the group stage there, it was later announced that valde would permanently replace Magisk and then SK became Heroic. Under the Heroic banner valde kept playing super well against better teams at bigger events like StarLadder and IEM Oakland.
It would be great to see valde get picked up by a bigger team, but at this point it is unlikely. With the two top Danish teams looking successful there won't be any roster changes and valde will keep playing for Heroic. This means that unless Heroic improves as a team then we won't see much of valde at the very top of competition at the moment. However there is no doubt in my mind that he will be one of the best players in 2017 provided he is picked up by a top team.
Photo Credit: the MAKKU, HLTV.org - Twitter