It's time for the ESPN esports end-of-year acknowledgements. In 2016, esports pushed the envelope far beyond expectation as millions of fans entered the space for the first time, investment grew like never before and the bar for skill was raised to new levels across all games.
Looking back, the plays made by esports players across tens of titles and thousands of tournaments were some of the hardest to sort. But a few special moments stood out as some of the best plays made by an individual player, so here are our five nominees for best play of 2016 and the winner below.
Stixxay vs. RNG at the Mid-Season Invitational
It was the moment where Trevor "Stixxay" Hayes caught the world's eye for the first time. In a dirty, blow-for-blow match early in the group stage at the League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational last May, where both Stixxay's Counter Logic Gaming and China's Royal Never Give Up traded haymakers to knockout their opponent, Stixxay's quadra-kill (and near pentakill) was a game-saving play that extended the match. Although CLG came up short on that day, Stixxay's 11/5/7 performance was enough to turn heads from opposing teams that came into the tournament taking the North American representative lightly.
Stixxay received best AD carry of the group stage honors, and more importantly, revenge against RNG the next time the two teams played on Day 4 of the group stage. This time, CLG came out on top in one of the biggest comebacks in League of Legends history. Both teams advanced out of their group but would not meet again, with CLG falling to SK Telecom T1 in the finals. - Tyler Erzberger
Summit1g's premature celebration at DreamHack Austin
OK, maybe this isn't a "play" of a year per se, but good heavens, was it funny -- and boy, did it help the enemy team at DreamHack Austin last May. After clutching a round for his team Splyce against Counter Logic Gaming, stand-in Jaryd "summit1g" Lazar made a highly unexpected decision.
Upon celebrating his clutch performance with the standard in-game fist bump to his teammates, summit1g ran over an earlier-thrown incendiary grenade (that was thrown by his own teammate) on his way to defuse the bomb and win the round. The result was awful, yet hilarious, as his self-inflicted death cost Splyce the match and a possible further run into the DreamHack Austin Counter-Strike tournament. - Jacob Wolf
Tokido perfects Infiltration at CEO to qualify for Capcom Cup
Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi qualified for the Capcom Pro Tour Finals in the sweetest way possible. For the better part of the first half of 2016, Tokido was the bridesmaid to South Korea's Lee "Infiltration" Seon-woo, frequently coming in second to the consensus best player in the first season of "Street Fighter V." At Community Effort Orlando last June, one of the biggest SFV tournaments of the year on the Capcom Pro Tour, Tokido finally tasted success in a match against his ultimate rival, taking out Infiltration's Nash with a perfect game on Ryu in the tournament-winning game. Tokido did not just defeat Infiltration, he might have broken the No. 1 player in the world, as the 3-0 match win for Tokido would be the start of a string of disappointing finishes for Infiltration to end the year. - Tyler Erzberger
S1mple's double AWP no-scope at ESL One Cologne
If you talk about ESL One Cologne 2016 last July, the second and final "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive" major of 2016, one team (which didn't even win) comes to mind: Team Liquid. The odds for the team coming into the tournament seemed awful after a botched finish at the Esports Championship Series weeks earlier.
But Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostylev -- a temporary stand-in for the team -- led Liquid to a victory over his current team, Natus Vincere (Na`Vi), in the quarterfinals. And then again, facing one of the best teams in the world, Fnatic, had a miraculous play: No-scoping Fnatic's Dennis "dennis" Edman and Freddy "KRiMZ" Johansson and single-handedly putting Liquid in an advantageous situation toward the end of their second game versus the Swedes. -- Jacob Wolf
Evil Geniuses vs. EHOME comeback at TI6
In a year defined by meta-breaking drafts and an elevated level of "Dota 2" competition, the standout play has to go to a team that seized victory under impossible conditions. Pushed back into their base by EHOME at The International 6 last last August, Evil Geniuses looked finished in Game 1, but the team chose to hold on. They held defense, and it led to a teamfight that EG won, and it snowballed until the North American team pushed all the way back and took EHOME's ancient, seizing a the win in the most nail-biting game of The International 6. Few teams can exhibit this level of grace under pressure, and so EG earned their place with a comeback that will be inscribed in the annals of Dota 2 history. Check out the last six minutes of the match to get a feel for how epic this play was. -- Eric Van Allen
And the winner is: S1mple's double no-scope
S1mple's double no-scope takes the cake here. Of all of the top plays in 2016, none managed to carry their team to such an important victory. S1mple's clutch play swung the momentum in the favor of Team Liquid, which ran them through the rest of the match and onto the finals, where they lost to SK Gaming. This feat is unmatched by any other North American team and his performance at this event not only helped Liquid, but the tournament overall made s1mple deserving of his spot on Natus Vincere (Na`Vi), which he got a month later.
Throughout the year, s1mple not only showed himself as a star, but one of the best Counter-Strike players in 2016. This play is a perfect example of that. -- Jacob Wolf