Introduction & Disclaimers
Welcome to the NA Top 100. Over the next six weeks, this series of articles will shine the spotlight on some of the best Invite players across North American TF2's history. That's right. A whopping one hundred players across the top levels of NATF2: from as recent as RGL Season 6 (summer 2021) to the first season of ESEA (spring 2009). It's going to be one hell of a journey. But before diving in, we'll lay the groundwork, address numerous roadblocks, among other things. If you don't want to read, skip down to the bottom for some honorable mentions.
Let's get the most obvious out of the way first: this is pretty much as difficult as it gets. Assembling a list of players across nearly ten years to be as objective as possible is simply impossible due to the many difficulties associated with such a task, the key issues will be dissected further in a bit. At the end of the day everyone has their own opinions on who was the better or worse player, longevity vs. peak, underrated vs. overrated, what qualifies as success, etc. etc. This is simply my list. Next, the rankings themselves. These should be considered more loosely - don't think the #57 player on the list is so much better than #85 or anything like that. This will be covered a bit more in Methodology, but players were placed into groups early in the process. So go into these with the understanding that while players are ordered, many within a given range are (for the most part) equal and a couple shifts wouldn't be out of the question. especially so for players at the higher end.
The Unholy Trinity
There are three major issues looming over this project, and I will go over each and their impact on the Top 100.
The Era Problem: Just like in similar lists for sports such as (American) football and baseball, you have to account for the era. The game played in 2010 was different, as was the game in 2015 and 2020. A lot has changed in ten years, whether it's new items being introduced, the meta evolving, whatever. We cannot neglect older players just because they played way back when, and at the same time we cannot neglect newer players because they weren't around for ESEA LAN. Don't get me wrong, that stuff (and others) will be considered when evaluating these players, but it won't ever be the driving force. The eras will be defined in the next section so you can have an understanding of what I worked with.
The Medic Problem: Next up, the Medic class. Trying to properly or fairly place them in a sea of Scout, Soldier, and Demoman players is super difficult no matter what criteria you want to utilize. This is a support class after all, one that relies on their teammates far more than any of the combat classes. The ceiling of this class while technical, does not compare to the impact that the other classes bring to the table. Think of the Medic as the garnish while the rest of the team is the main dish: they can add something, sometimes even to take it over the top, but aren't always required. However, being a Medic main myself, I made sure to give my fellow healing brothers and sisters some love. We play a thankless role, so it's nice to get rewarded in some way.
The Stats Problem: Unlike in sports, there's no uniform time limit per match. Games could last 20 minutes, or they could last an hour. Therefore, just because someone had lower or higher numbers over the course of a season doesn't matter as much. They may have just rolled (or gotten rolled). Any statistical analysis you see will typically adjust / account for the time played so no worries there, but I've found that not everything is 100% accurate on ESEA's end - likely due to the numerous updates to their website over the years. So seasonal statistics and any related anecdotes should be taken with a grain of salt, though career numbers should be more stable (granted they account for all seasons played, and unfortunately it's not possible to sort by specific divisions). There likely won't be any RGL data since they don't provide a similar service, thanks sigafoo. At the end of the day statistical input will be utilized - because this would be bland as hell without, but as always they never tell the whole story.
It began with assembling almost every Invite player I could think of. From arcticjoe to milehigh, Nosferatu to zbryan, many players were considered. Then it was onto data collection. How many seasons of Invite did they play? How many times did they make playoffs? How many times did they win it all? Those were the three primary numerical values associated with each player. Wins and losses were more secondary, since I have the ESEA, RGL, and Invite Index sites to reference, but not everything is gonna be perfectly accurate. Tried my best to triple check everything to the best of my ability though, and I'll be giving reminders throughout the series.
Because the era is an important distinction of when a player was active, let me detail the four ranges for y'all.
Ancient Era: pre-ESEA to ESEA S5
Welcome to the prehistoric times. TF2 definitely existed before ESEA, but records of CEVO, TWL, and the like are hard to come by so unfortunately they're all lumped into one "category." We won't draw upon them much at all for obvious reasons. Then we have the start of ESEA and their first handful of seasons. Although S5 was the first with LAN, I included it here to give the Ancient Era roughly the same timespan seasons-wise as the next smallest era (the RGL Era).
Golden Era: ESEA S6 to ESEA S19
This is what people nowadays refer to as "boomer TF2." With a total of 13 seasons, this is the largest of the four eras by a slight margin. While the metagame still saw many twists and turns throughout this timeframe, one thing remains constant: Invite LAN. Level playing field for the top four teams in the division was huge. This era saw old school legacies like Blight and compLexity, the b4nny vs. Platinum duels, and the rise of froyotech.
Dark Age: ESEA S20 to ESEA S31
Once ESEA dropped LAN for TF2, we entered the Dark Age. Without LAN, we reverted to the olden days for Invite playoffs being held online. Halfway through (in the middle of S26), the Jungle Inferno update dropped. Since then we have received zero major updates to the game. What you see today was forged in the fires of this era. Coincidentally, you could also call this the froyotech Era, as they won every season but one during this period.
RGL Era: RGL S1 to RGL S6
Naturally, we are here: the RGL Era. In a post-ESEA world, RGL became the main league for top-level play. There isn't much else to add, though it's important to note that RGL Invite has been...unstable. We've had a couple seasons with ten Invite teams, and then a couple seasons with six. Like the Dark Age, there has not yet been an Invite LAN but that could possibly change for the future. We'll just have to wait and see.
If someone played eight matches (or more) in an ESEA season, it was recorded as a full season. This does cause some inaccuracies where players got cut, stepped down, or jumped teams and the like. For example, serv0's ESEA S19 was logged as a championship even though he did not play in playoffs. At the end of the day though the consistency across all players trumps the limited people it inflates statistics for. With RGL, I checked roster information along with Liquipedia and whether or not players were paid up. From there, I trimmed the candidates down to the 100 players you'll be seeing in this project. Then, sorted them further into bins of where I thought they'd end up: top 25, top 50, etc. Finally, I worked on the full list using those ranges as a guideline. What you're about to view is the third and final draft of the NA Top 100.
Now that you've seen some of the building blocks, it's time to get things rolling. Based on your own opinions, memories, and criteria, I'm sure there will be placements you agree and disagree with, to varying levels of intensity. In essence, this project ranges from an incredible historical archive or an extremely elaborate shitpost. You as the reader will get to decide and have your own interpretations. This is a first in TF2 history, and I'm happy to be your guide through this journey. Let's whet your appetite with a preview of what's to come.