Bulgaria’s Kombat for Recognition:
While Bulgaria is mostly known for its beautiful landscapes, rose fields and delicious yogurt, the country is also becoming renowned for its Counter-Strike players. Cvetelin "CeRq" Dimitrov, Valentin "poizon" Vasilev and Georgi "SHiPZ" Grigorov have demonstrated incredible skill and signed with prestigious international organisations. That said, the widely acclaimed trio aren’t the only prodigies stemming from the region.
Though there were a few CS 1.6 teams, the franchise’s popularity in Bulgaria really picked up with the launch of Global Offensive. The core of Kamen "bubble" Kostadinov, Viktor "v1c7oR" Dyankov, Emiliyan "spyleadeR" Dimitrov, Nikolay "nkl" Krustev and Simeon "dream3r" Ganev were the country’s first notable CS:GO team. The quintet played under multiple organisations such as HEADSHOTBG, GPlay.bg, E-Frag.net Esports Club and Team Orbit, but they often struggled to find a long-term sponsor. During their stints without an organisation, they would go by the now-famous moniker of Mortal Kombat. Having played 1.6 and attended multiple early CS:GO LANs, the five are by far the country’s most seasoned veterans and paved the path for future Bulgarian talent.
In 2016, a second generation of Bulgarian players was born. The lack of investment had plagued the scene, but two Bulgarian organisations rose to the occasion. Coinciding with the arrival of these new players, BPro Gaming and Outlaws were formed and picked up promising and exciting rosters. It's also around this time that the MK members went their separate ways, with spyleadeR and dream3r joining BPro.
Many of the now-notable names of Bulgaria, such as Teodor "SPELLAN" Nikolov, Ivan "Rock1nG" Stratiev, Nikolay "niki1" Pantaleev and Nikola "nk4y" Radushev, got their starts at this time. The MK veterans were able to share their knowledge with this new generation of players. The scene was growing and rosters looked like they could contend with international opposition.
That said, it wasn’t all roses in Bulgaria. Between CeRq’s transfer conflict from Outlaws to NRG Esports and poizon’s contractual dispute with BPro, Bulgarian organisations were developing a pretty bad reputation at the time. Outlaws eventually released its CS:GO roster, even though the team looked incredibly strong domestically, winning back-to-back ESL South East Europe Championship seasons.
Fortunately, the ex-Outlaws roster consisting of SPELLAN, niki1, SHiPZ, bubble, Nikolay "pNshr" Paunin and head coach Anton "ToH1o" Georgiev was picked up by Windigo Gaming, a Ukraine-based organisation. Though the initial squad failed to replicate its past success, Windigo later housed the best Bulgarian team to date. The roster consisting of bubble, v1c7oR, SHiPZ, poizon and Yanko "blocker" Panov won WESG 2018 and Moche XL Esports 2019, climbing up to #13 on HLTV’s world ranking.
In November 2019, however, things looked grim once again, as Windigo ceased its operations and the lack of investment in the scene became apparent once more.
Nowadays, the situation is finally changing as more Bulgarian lineups are being backed by international organisations. FATE Esports, SKADE, BLUEJAYS International and Granit Gaming have all picked up teams in the country, whilst BPro currently sponsors spyldeadeR’s latest MK roster. A new organisation by the name of Team Excellency also emerged at the start of 2020, though nk4y is the only Bulgarian on its European lineup.
Like a blast from the past, this new investment also coincides with the emergence of a new generation of Bulgarian players, perhaps some of the most promising to date. Second generation players have taken up leadership positions within their respective teams and most of the current rosters have a perfect balance of experienced veterans and new blood.
FATE has managed to reach #35 in the world ranking and looks like the country’s best team. Deyvid "h4rn" Benchev is proving to be an incredible AWPer whilst Martin "mar" Kuymdjiev has shown to be a very impactful rifler. With niki1 and blocker on the roster, there’s a fantastic mix of firepower and wisdom which will undoubtedly allow the team to reach new heights.
Closely following FATE, SKADE is led by SPELLAN who has displayed incredible skill on Windigo and Epsilon Esports in the past. Nowadays, he and coach pNshr guide the three stars of the team, Alex "Rainwaker" Petrov, Denislav "dennyslaw" Dimitrov and Viktor "duplicate" Mitev.
Though this iteration of the roster is still quite recent, BLUEJAYS has the pieces to be the country’s third best team and could even contend with its rivals in the future. Led by Rock1nG with the help of dream3r, the team is rounded out by three incredible stars in the form of Hristiyan "REDSTAR" Pironko, Rumen "numb" Dimitrov and Krasen "Zix" Minchev.
This current mixture of talent and experience paired with the financial backing of international organisations makes a fantastic recipe for success in this region with so much untapped potential. Most of the recent online cups have seen either FATE, SKADE or BLUEJAYS participate, as the teams gain some much needed experience together.
Things still aren’t perfect, but they’re definitely improving. In the past, many Bulgarian teams have opted to replace players when they’ve struggled rather than working as a team to fix issues. As this new generation of players is still developing, it’ll be crucial for the veterans to avoid making past mistakes and guide the youngsters to success. While there’s still a noticeable lack of domestic investment, hopefully these foreign organisations will serve as good examples to future Bulgarian backers. Investors will need to be patient; expectations need to be realistic in order for the scene to grow properly and sustainably. Once a return to LAN is possible, it would be amazing to see more events hosted in the land of the roses, perhaps even an event like DreamHack Open Sofia.
Bulgaria has a rich and underappreciated history when it comes to Counter-Strike. A lack of investment has held back the scene’s development in the past, but amazing players have still emerged despite this. Now that organisations are starting to take notice of the country’s immense potential, more teams and players are surfacing. It’s only a matter of time before names like mar, Rainwaker, h4rn and REDSTAR are on everyone’s lips when it comes to identifying future stars. Sooner rather than later, bubble, SPELLAN and Rock1nG will be recognised as amazing leadership figures in the global Counter-Strike community. So while Bulgaria is still fighting for the recognition it deserves, there’s certainly comfort to be found in knowing that it’s a winning battle.