2017 ESPN Esports Awards - Player of the Year

Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong was the experienced jungler that brought Samsung Galaxy to a world title in 2017. Provided by Riot Games

In 2017, esports athletes reached new heights, with some unlocking their inner potential and others compounding more moments, statistics and plays to their already impressive résumé of achievements. Legends were made, with some players achieving lifetime and career goals, including victories in front of tens of thousands of people.

From Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Street Fighter V, Super Smash Bros. and League of Legends, these five players stood out as the ones who had the best years.



While players such as Marcelo "coldzera" David and Fernando "fer" Alvarenga are deservingly cited as some of 2017's best players, Nikola "NiKo" Kovač's meteoric rise to success on FaZe after a year of frustration on Mousesports best illustrates that excellence is rewarded in the end. Finally joining a strong roster, NiKo turned a good team into a contending one overnight, earning three international trophies and seven Grand Finals. Beyond the impact of his addition, Niko demonstrated his ability to take a step back from star roles to leverage his skill in more passive roles. Though his statistical performance might not show an improvement from his incredible year in 2016, there's no doubt that NiKo has grown into a superstar in this FaZe lineup. Versatile, passionate and incredibly skilled, Niko has earned a nomination as our player of the year. --Sam Delorme


By now, everyone knows the story of Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong, the prodigious mid laner displaced by a stronger prodigy (Faker). Ambition eventually became a jungler out of necessity on 2015's iteration of CJ Entus. When Ambition left CJ in the 2015-16 offseason, many expected the announcement of his retirement. When Samsung picked him up later that offseason, the move was universally panned. Ambition was past his prime -- but most importantly, he was not a jungler. Yet, he learned not only how to jungle but, in his own words, how to be a better teammate. With the wreckage of Blaze likely still in mind, he has praised Samsung repeatedly for being a trusting and vocal team and cited this as the reason behind their success. Most expected Ambition to win at least a South Korean title with Blaze, if not a World Championship, but it never happened. This year, Ambition finally won his title, guiding a Samsung team that he helped shape and lead for the past two years. --Emily Rand


For most of the year, Melee pro Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma was ranked just second behind heretofore No. 1 player, Adam "Armada" Lindgren; however, that has all changed. Hungrybox's play in the past couple of months has been crisp, consistent and, of course, just plain clutch. People call him "Clutch Box" for a reason. He performs breathtakingly well under pressure, to the point where he can (with seeming impossibility) regularly win in highly tense last-stock, last-game situations.

But to be No. 1, you need a little more than just the clutch factor on your side; you also need a mixture of patience, resilience and determination. And this is exactly what Hungrybox has shown us lately. He hasn't lost a tournament in the past four months, and at some of the most stacked tournaments (such as The Big House 7 and the more recent Smash Summit 5), he has regularly taken sets off Armada, a player acclaimed for his consistency. Needless to say, Hungrybox has earned our player of the year award appropriately. He has the wins and the resolve to show for it. --Bill Cozens


The bane of every rising talent is the sophomore slump. It comes in many forms. A rookie, running hot from early tournament victories, falls short in the most important tournament of the year. For Dota 2, it's The International. Failing in your first year, when all eyes are on you, is enough to strike down even the most talented and promising of players.

But Amer "Miracle-" al-Barkawi, Team Liquid's mid lane ace, is one of the exceptions. Coming off of a red hot 2016 run with OG but ultimately failing in the Top 8, the 20-year old pub phenom came back with a vengeance in 2017 to hoist the Aegis of Champions alongside legendary player and old-guard, Kuro "KuroKy" Salehi Takhasomi. In the lead-up to The International, Miracle-'s prodigious play allowed Team Liquid to run a gamut of flexible strategies that saw him operate in various positions. From safe laner to mid laner and occasional support player, Miracle- allowed his team to play the kind of Dota 2 that had their opponents reacting to their dictations. With Miracle-, you never want to be a step behind. His win at The International 7 earns him a nomination for player of the year. --Paolo Bago


Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi had himself a year. After a disappointing end to 2016 that saw Tokido go 0-2 in Capcom, he was the picture of absolute consistency in 2017. It was a good year for one of the original "Japanese gods of fighting games." Tokido ended his Capcom Pro Tour with 2,125 points (good for second place overall), took home the Evolution Fighting Game Championship crown and finished in the Top 8 of five premier events. His innovation and pioneering offense with Akuma finally paid off in 2017, as he was the most feared and dominant player toward the latter half of the tour.

Winner: Ambition

An excerpt from Emily Rand's story on why Ambition is the player of the year:

Aging gracefully isn't something that happens too often in League of Legends esports. The competitive landscape is littered with players who peaked and slowly fell with time or meta shifts, trying to outrun the fatigue and repetition by escaping to other regions in hopes of a fresh start.

Ambition reinvented himself, first by becoming a jungler to escape South Korea's rising mid lane talents, and secondly by taking the leadership role on a team that was considered just on the cusp of LCK playoff contention and taking them to two Worlds finals. His determination made him an invaluable leader for Samsung, while his teammates' more easygoing and considerate natures seem to have rubbed off on him more than his still stern visage lets on.

Read the full piece here.