Top 20 players of 2023: SunPayus (6)

Álvaro “⁠SunPayus⁠” García makes it into the Top 20 Players of the Year ranking for the first time at the age of 25, in sixth place, and in doing so becomes the first Spaniard to make the year-end list of best players. “I’m very happy on a personal level, I know that I can do more and this is just the beginning for me,” SunPayus says about the feat. “I just hope I can keep my level up and continue competing for my team, which is the most important for me.”

Before dazzling among the world’s best, the Spanish AWPer appeared out of nowhere in 2018 at the grassroots level in Spain and went on to play for local sides KPI, in 2019, and Wygers, in 2020, making his largest strides as a player in the his early days under the guidance of Swedish veteran André “⁠BARBARR⁠” Möller.

The story of how he started to play team Counter-Strike, before that, is unique. He was at a LAN center in his hometown of Murcia, competing at a Hearthstone tournament, when the owner of the establishment learned he was ranked Supreme Master First Class in CS:GO’s matchmaking system and asked him to join his team, Myrtia Wolves.

SunPayus didn’t have a PC growing up, so he occasionally jumped on his brother’s machine or traveled to BYOC events on borrowed gear, and wasn’t focused solely on gaming until he received his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering in 2021.

He was destined to be a great player and if he keeps at it he will only get better

It was then that his career started to go on an upward trajectory as he joined up with David “⁠dav1g⁠” Granado Bermudo and Raúl “⁠DeathZz⁠” Jordán Nieto in what would become the core of Iberian Family and later Movistar Riders, when they joined veterans Alejandro “⁠alex⁠” Masanet and Alejandro “⁠mopoz⁠” Fernández-Quejo Cano in Spain’s top side.

Despite a not having the most experience or hours clocked in the game, SunPayus handled himself like a veteran and was alex’s right hand when it came to mid-round calling. This constellation of players made history for Spain, becoming the first team to qualify for a Major at PGL Stockholm, the first to win international trophies, ESL Challengers in Valencia and Melbourne, and the first to reach a Big Event arena by making it to the semis at IEM Cologne 2022.

SunPayus on stage with MR at the LANXESS Arena

“SunPayus still has a lot to prove,” bladE, SunPayus‘ coach in Movistar Riders, told HLTV before traveling to Stockholm to play the first post-pandemic Major in 2021, “but I could tell you that he’s the perfect player. The way he thinks in and out of the server, his attitude, his desire, the way he sees the world […] He was destined to be a great player and if he keeps at it he will only get better.”

Much of the success Riders garnered was due to SunPayus’ proficiency with the AWP and as a second caller, so inevitably a bigger fish came along. He made the move to ENCE halfway through 2022, playing under the orders of coach Eetu “⁠sAw⁠” Saha and in-game leader Marco “⁠Snappi⁠” Pfeiffer, although it wasn’t until 2023 when he left his mark on the world stage.

ENCE started out 2023 on the wrong foot, falling to Cloud9 and Complexity after an opening best-of-one victory against paiN at the IEM Katowice Play-in. The two losses ended up with the team going out in 9-12th place, but SunPayus already started showing promise with a 1.10 rating in Poland despite the messy showing.

The next LAN for ENCE was ESL Pro League Season 17, and the team completely turned the ship around in Malta as they beat two big contenders in the playoffs, G2 and Vitality, before being eliminated by Cloud9 in the semi-finals. SunPayus averaged a 1.13 rating across 15 maps, which was enough to earn him his first VP award of the year.

We were professionals on the server before Paris, but not so much outside of it, and that affected us

A shaky RMR gave way to a good Paris Major Challengers Stage, but the team blundered when it mattered most and crashed out of the most important tournament of the year in the group stage. “It’s easy to understand what happened in Paris,” SunPayus says. “After that tournament, you can see that we changed a lot.

“We were professionals on the server before Paris, but not so much outside of it, and that affected us. We played two important matches early in the morning and we were completely off. This was due to bad routines that we had been carrying long before then. Things like not having breakfast, waking up late, going to bed late the night before… Those out-of-game habits killed us. We had two bad days because of that and all of a sudden we were out of the Major.”

The opening victory to Bad News Eagles in Paris gave way to three straight losses to Vitality, Into the Breach, and Ninjas in Pyjamas and the 1-3 record put them out in 12-14th place. SunPayus left the Super-Elite event in Paris with his only below-average rating of the year, a 0.91.

The Major was a wake-up call for ENCE to work on their out-of-server habits

“The first thing we focused on after the Major was that,” SunPayus adds. “We sat down and talked, we had some professionals come in and help change our routines, and you can see that immediately after that everything started to go much better for us.”

Elimination from the Major came on May 15, and just two weeks later the Snappi-led team unexpectedly rose from the ashes to win their first-ever Big Event trophy at IEM Dallas. SunPayus became the first Spanish player to earn a Big Event MVP award in Texas when he was given the accolade for his 1.27 rating, 79.2 ADR, 74% KAST, and 1.30 impact.

SunPayus was superlative throughout, but especially deep in the playoffs and in the big moments, such as in the 31-28 decider map victory over FaZe in the semi-finals, which he topped with a 1.16 rating, or in the grand final against MOUZ, which he finished with a leading 1.45. He also showed a knack for clutching in Dallas, with six 1vsX situations to his name by the end of it.

“The best moment this year was winning IEM Dallas,” the AWPer tells us. “IEM Cologne was nice, playing in that arena is always amazing, but the victory in Dallas was very important for us because we needed a win and it was a unique experience in my life. I had never won such a big event, so I’d say that was the most beautiful moment of 2023.”

SunPayus became the first Spaniard to take home an MVP medal

Regarding his individual accolade, the MVP, which is something that goes far in making a case for his placement on this very list, he doesn’t let it get to his head. “I don’t value the MVP that much,” he says. “It’s not the most important thing for me. The most important thing has always been and will always be the team, although of course there was a lot of emotion, a lot of joy, a lot of work that went into it, so I’m happy.”

What came next was a sort of European version of the Summer of Cloud9. ENCE played ESL Challenger Katowice, IEM Cologne and Gamers8 between June and August, making the final at all three events, but failed to bring home any hardware. At IEM Cologne and Gamers8, the two events big enough to carry weight in the Top 20 Players of the Year ranking, SunPayus was on fire. He tallied 1.17 and 1.22 ratings, respectively, and was an EVP at both.

SunPayus’s confidence was at an all-time high as he put on a world-beating performance in one of the scariest match-ups for an AWPer, running circles around Mathieu “⁠ZywOo⁠” Herbaut in the IEM Cologne semi-finals. He finished the match against Vitality with a whopping +30 KDD, 1.48 rating, and a beautiful highlight on Nuke to show for it.

The run of good form continued into the ESL Pro League, where SunPayus earned his third and final EVP of the year in his team’s semi-final campaign. The Spaniard topped off his incredible run of form with a 1.27 rating, 10 clutches, and something which proved how far he has come since analysts doubted his ability to show up on the T side, a staggering 1.37 T-side rating across 13 maps. ENCE lost in the semis to the eventual champions, MOUZ, but before that SunPayus got to play his former Movistar Riders teammates and smashed them in the quarter-finals on the way to the top-four finish.

“I’ve matured a lot mentally,” SunPayus says of his growth during his time in ENCE. “I’ve found a new mental facet to develop and work on; be it with mindfulness or some aspects inside the game, or to be able to reset quickly if I get frustrated. When it comes to the game itself, my T sides have gotten much better and a lot of that is thanks to the teammates I’ve played with. I’ve learned to see the game in a new way compared to when I was in Movistar Riders, I’ve developed a lot in that sense, but I still believe I have a lot more to keep learning on both the CT and T sides.”

ESL Pro League was the end of SunPayus’ most productive era individually and ENCE’s last competitive tournament of the year after fighting for trophies in four grand finals in a row and falling in the semi-finals to the winners of the last ever CS:GO event.

The truth is that when we changed games my attitude wasn’t the best. I was pretty frustrated, but I eventually learned how to deal with it and I think that these days I’m much better

“There was a mix of choking and lack of experience,” SunPayus says about not managing to lift more than one trophy during that period. “The best athletes in the world in any sport need to make several finals to know what that feels like and what it’s all about before they can start winning consistently. So for us, I think we choked in that sense, but also the competition in CS these days is very high and any team that makes the playoffs, let alone a grand final, will be very good. The game then really just comes down to a handful of rounds and details, so I think it was a mix of all of these things.”

IEM Sydney marked a before and after in Counter-Strike, as it became the first Big Event on the new Counter-Strike 2. It was also the end of an era for ENCE, as it marked the last event with this iteration of its roster. Opening victories against Lynn Vision and fnatic gave way to losses to G2 in the upper bracket final and a red-hot FaZe in the playoffs. SunPayus’ rating took a hit in the new game, which has been hard on some AWPers, as he finished with 1.08 — still good enough for a VP mention.

IEM Sydney, the first CS2 Big Event, was the last time the ENCE gang played together

“The game still needs a lot of changes,” SunPayus says about the move to CS2. “The truth is that when we changed games my attitude wasn’t the best. I was pretty frustrated, but I eventually learned how to deal with it and I think that these days I’m much better. I’ve gotten much better and I enjoy it more. That also affected my performances at the last tournaments of the year a bit, but that’s just because it’s part of adaptation. There’s a bit more inconsistency in general in these early days of CS2.”

CS Asia Championships, a Medium Event, came next, but Paweł “⁠dycha⁠” Dycha had to miss the tournament due to visa issues, and Vladan “⁠VLDN⁠” Radevic was brought on as a momentary patch. SunPayus posted his second-lowest rating of the year in Shanghai, a 1.02, finishing less than half of the maps played with a 1.00 rating. The Spaniard came alive momentarily, in the last two maps of the semi-final against FaZe after going up 1-0 in the series, but it was in vain. The final maps were decided in overtime and the final round of regulation and SunPayus’ attempt to turn things around was just a death-rattle as the team went out in 3rd-4th place.

“I wasn’t consistent at the end of the year, but that was caused by external factors,” SunPayus says. “We were making changes and had problems in the team, which was reflected on the server. To be consistent you just have to have a good routine, understand how important that is, make sure you’re really well prepared when you get to a tournament, and enjoy yourself. Enjoy the moment, your teammates, the travel… Even if there are some setbacks, you still have to just brave them with a smile and keep moving forward. That’s the most important thing.”

Rumors were widely circulating about Snappi joining Falcons alongside countrymen Danny “⁠zonic⁠” Sørensen and Emil “⁠Magisk⁠” Reif, and the Finnish organization decided to wrap up the year without their longtime in-game leader and coach sAw, who was Heroic-bound. So, ENCE flew to Helsinki for Elisa Masters with Lukas “⁠gla1ve⁠” Rossander and Jakub “⁠kuben⁠” Gurczynski taking over the vacant positions.

Read more

Media: Snappi and Falcons reach verbal agreement; ENCE eye gla1ve as possible replacement

ENCE finished semi-finalists at another Medium Event with the newcomers, but it was quickly clear that things were not well in the team. “I would love to work with a group of people that are eager to play for the org and for this lineup,” gla1ve said at the time, “but it’s not happening yet.” An upset loss to HAVU gave way to two victories over fnatic and GamerLegion, but in the end it was kuben’s former team, Apeks, who put an end to the crumbling squad in the semis. SunPayus finished with a 1.10 rating before the last event of the season.

I really wanted to continue competing with my ENCE teammates, but in the end we didn’t have the right circumstances for that to happen

The BLAST Premier World Final, an Elite Event, marked the end of the road for ENCE as we had known it. Two losses to Cloud9 and Natus Vincere were all it took to give the year-end Frankenstein monster lineup its coup de grace. SunPayus and company finished in last place and the Spaniard had just a 1.06 rating to show for it.

Guy “⁠NertZ⁠” Iluz was announced by Heroic and SunPayus and Pavle “⁠Maden⁠” Bošković soon made official their commitment to Falcons, where they were set to reunite with Snappi. ENCE signed a group of Poles, leaving gla1ve in an uncomfortable situation as the only non-Polish speaker on the team.

“I really wanted to continue competing with my ENCE teammates, but in the end we didn’t have the right circumstances for that to happen,” SunPayus says about the heartbreaking decision to part ways with not only teammates but also friends. “I’m very happy to continue with Snappi and maden in Falcons [in 2024], though. I’m very happy that we could make that happen and I hope everything will go well in the new team.

“It’s curious because going higher or even just reaching the same heights as we did with ENCE would mean that we would just win more tournaments, right? We got into the late stages of tournaments with ENCE, be it the semi-finals or finals, and I think that’s very hard. To do better than that would mean that we would win those events. I think it’s possible to keep competing at the highest level and hopefully win some trophies since that’s the main objective.”

Why was SunPayus the 6th best player of 2023?

SunPayus showcased several superb peaks in 2023 and spearheaded ENCE’s many deep runs throughout the year. Chief among his peak performances came at IEM Dallas, where his MVP-winning form allowed ENCE to clinch the title, as well as three more EVP-worthy displays, at the Super-Elite IEM Cologne, another Elite tournament, Gamers8, and a Big Event, ESL Pro League Season 18.

What made the Spanish AWPer so valuable was that he earned these awards as a big difference-maker in the late stages of tournaments and one of only a few players in the ranking to improve his numbers in Big matches, where most fall off. His 1.16 rating in Elite playoffs and a 1.17 rating in Big matches are better than even some of the players above him, and went a long way in helping him climb as high as sixth in a close-knit field towards the bottom of the top 10.

SunPayus is back under Snappi in Falcons for 2024

Otherwise SunPayus stood out as one of the best clutchers (53 1vsXs won, 5th) and hardest players to kill (0.58 DPR, 9th) and in his opening kill prowess (1.14 opening kill rating, 9th).

There was a significant gap between him and the rest of the top five, however, and that was in large part because of his fairly poor average output for a player this deep into the ranking. His 0.71 KPR is just 17th-best overall and his 72.2 ADR is the second-lowest out of all Top 20 Players of the Year. These numbers got dragged down by a worse end to the year in CS2, which was not to his usual standards, as well as the poor Paris Major performance.

“My main goal now is to win a Major, but we’ll go after any top-tier event we can win. I want to win some trophies, I’m at a place in my life in which that’s my main objective when it comes to my job, my work, and I’m going to work hard for it both inside and outside of the server, to develop as much as I possibly can in order to reach these objectives.”

Bold prediction by 1xBet

Kacper 'KukuBambo' Szlachta

Bold predictions are often timid and not as bold as they could be, but SunPayus was noble and broke that mold, betting on a dark horse Pole who had only 18 maps played at the time of the interview (23 now), Kacper “⁠KukuBambo⁠” Szlachta.

The Polish 18-year-old will now be more known to Spanish fans in general and not only the nation’s top AWPer, as they watched him play against KOI with 9INE in the PGL Copenhagen Major RMR’s open qualifier, where he gave mopoz and company a run for their money in the qualifying best-of-three series.

“I’ve seen him play and I think that if he develops properly in the next few years he can have great potential,” SunPayus says. “As always, the Polish scene delivers good talent.”

Stay tuned to our Top 20 Players of 2023 ranking and take a look at the Introduction article to learn more about how the players were selected.