It's time for the ESPN esports end-of-year acknowledgements. In 2017, 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 and teams 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 most impactful plays made by an individual player or team, so here are our four nominees for best play of 2017 and the winner below.
Astralis' Tec-9 rush
Down 13-7 in the decider map of the grand finals of the ELEAGUE Major, Astralis opted into a perilous Tec-9 force-buy. Known for struggling in pressure situations, no one expected that the Danish squad would call an A-site rush, laying its hope of holding a Major trophy on the line. The bold decision caught Virtus.pro completely off guard, and the risk paid off. The call proved to be the stepping stone needed for a momentous comeback by Astralis, who went on to win the map 16-14 thereby winning their very first Major. --Sam Delorme
Ruler's flash-ult to kill Faker in Game 3 of Worlds
During the 2017 LoL Champions Korea Summer split, Ruler became one of the best in his position. Despite support CoreJJ's struggles in a tankier, initiation-focused support meta, Ruler steadily improved, transforming from the rookie AD carry who was caught out by SKT in the 2016 World Championship finals to a smarter, position-based player. Gone is the AD carry who cost his team a spring playoff series with KT Rolster due to his small champion pool. To say that Ruler stepped up this Worlds is an understatement. In an almost reverse of last year's finals, he made the decisive play onto Faker, ultimately netting his team the title. The play itself is flashy, but it's the context that makes it one of the more striking plays of the year. --Emily Rand
Kaiser's 5-man Earthshatter
In the dead heat of a deciding fifth game between RunAway and LW Blue during the Overwatch APEX Season 2 semifinals, Ryu "Kaiser" Sang Hoon made one of the best plays of his career. Kaiser, on Reinhardt, used his Earthshatter to knock five members of the opposing team to the ground and push his team into the finals. This entire series had been marked by his superb initiates, but this one was the gem. --Steven Nguyen
Salem's final set vs. ZeRo at Evo
It was the biggest stage of Salem's life, Evo 2017. Thousands of live spectators at the Mandalay Bay Arena and tens of thousands more online were on the edge of their seats as he, the man who once slayed titans in his prime, was attempting to take out ZeRo, the god of gods.
It was the final stock of the final game of two best-of-five series. Pressed against the wall with a seemingly insurmountable deficit, Salem converted a single opening into a death combo that we now know as one of the greatest comebacks in the history of competitive Smash Wii U. --Justin Banusing
And the winner is: Salem's final set vs. ZeRo at Evo
The stadium wasn't at full capacity yet, but the screams from the crowd were deafening. The players sat on stage; they were laser-focused on the TV screen. Eyes on the win, eyes on the prize, eyes on the title.
The game of adaptation continued throughout the set, but patience paid off for Salem this time around, as he chipped away at ZeRo's early lead. One percent, two percent, 101 percent. And it all came to the final set. They were in the air, fighting off screen, then it was over.
In front thousands of in-house viewers and thousands of Twitch viewers, Salem took down the best Smash 4 player of all time. He pulled off an upset like no other. It was a monumental win, a win to remember. How did Salem feel after the match? "A little bit sad, a little bit happy. It's a mixture of both. I wanted to beat the best in the world, but doing it immediately...well, the goal is done." --Rachel Gu