Mouz made the boldest and most ambitious roster among all of the CS:GO teams in 2019. Valiance eliminated mouz at the EU Minor Championships for the Katowice 2019 Major. In the wake of that upset, mousesports decided that it was time to reset the entire project. They realized that they could not win the present, so they decided to gamble on the future.
To understand why the move was so bold, we have to rewind the clock a bit. From the end of 2017 through 2018, mouz was always on the verge of title contention status. Their international squad of: Chris “chrisJ” de Jong, Tomas “oskar” Stastny, Robin “ropz” Kool, Miikka “suNny” Kemppi, and Martin “STYKO” Styk consistently finished in the top four and finals of big tournaments. Prior to losing at the EU Minor Championships, The Europeans attended three tournaments towards the end of 2018. They got top 4 at ESL Proleague Season 8 Finals, 5-6th at ECS Season 6 Finals, and 5-6th IEM Chicago.
In all three tournaments mouz lost to the finalists and eventual winner of each tournament. Astralis and Liquid beat mouz at IEM Chicago. MIBR and Astralis eliminated mousesports at ECS Season 6 Finals. Astralis then went for the hat track as they defeated mouz at EPL Season 8 Finals. So while the placements weren’t the highest, losing to the eventual winner was acceptable. This was especially true as late 2018 was firmly in the Astralis Era.
So when they dropped out of the group stages of the EU Minor Championship, it was possible that the org could have continued with the same line-up or made a slight modification to it. Fnatic for instance, had an almost equally disastrous result at the IEM Katowice Major and decided to stick with the same five.
Instead mousesports went for the bold move. The current lineup and style of team had reached its maximum potential. it was unlikely that making a single change could boost mouz above the likes of Astralis, Na`Vi, or Liquid. Instead the team decided to bet on the future. They initially benched ChrisJ and STYKO and looked to build around oskar, suNny, and ropz. That plan fell through and mousesports instead went for Karrigan.
Karrigan described the situation in a HLTV interview, “I knew they needed two players after benching chrisJ and STYKO, but they never reached out to me so I never expected them to be interested in me. Something happened between oskar, ropz, and suNny, and suddenly mouz came to me asking if I wanted to build a team with two more new players.”
Mouz finalized their lineup on March 14th, 2019. Their squad included: ChrisJ, karrigan, ropz, Ozgur “woxic” Eker, and David “frozen” Cernansky. While the lineups potential ceiling looked great, it also come with incredible risk. From the outside looking in, mousesports had to win out on multiple gambles for this lineup to work. The three biggest risks revolved around their trio of young stars: Ropz, woxic, and frozen.
Ropz was great in his rookie year from 2017 to early 2018. However by the latter half of 2018 he hit a sophomore slump as other teams and players learned his playing style. While still a good player, it looked like it could take another year or two before he could break through to the next level. That level was fine for the previous lineup as he was the third star behind oskar and suNny. In the new team though, he needed to become the primary carry of the team.
Woxic was the star player of HellRaisers from late 2017 to early 2019. HellRaisers was an international mix that had some moderate success in the latter half of 2018. On HellRaisers, woxic got the most resources as they built their strategy, tactics, and economy around woxic’s AWPing prowess. In mouz, woxic had to move from the primary star position to a secondary star position. There would also be more pressure as HellRaisers was a smaller team with no aspirations to become a title contender. While this mousesports lineup was new, their goal from the outset was to become a top five team in the world and eventually win titles. Woxic had never played with that level of pressure and scrutiny before.
The third wager was the biggest. Frozen was a 17-year old player with no notable LAN experience in his career. He had incredible aim, but was an unknown in every other aspect. No one knew how he was as a teammate, his level of game sense, what his strengths or weaknesses were, or how he’d perform on LAN. There have been hundreds of players in CS history who had the potential, but it took them years to realize it on LAN.
Mouz’s general management sent a clear signal saying that they were betting their competitive success on future potential. Potential is a dangerous thing to gamble on as the passing rate of potential greatness to realized greatness is dismally low in any competitive field. With all three players so young in their career, there was no guarantee that all three could get to the next stage of competition. Luckily for the team, they had one of the all-time greatest leaders at the helm of the project.
Betting it all on Karrigan
While Ropz, woxic, and frozen were the biggest gambles, they weren’t the only ones. Mouz needed three other wagers to go right. All three wagers revolved around Karrigan’s leadership. First, Karrigan needed to construct a coherent team structure and strategy. Second, Karrigan had to guide and nurture young players into realizing their potential. Throughout Karrigan’s career as a leader, he has consistently reinvigorated the form of players on his team and taken them to the next level. The critical difference between Karrigan’s past squads and mouz though was that the old squads had rosters with experienced veterans, whereas the star trio only had two years of LAN experience spread between them. Finally, Karrigan needed to build a map pool and get the team competent in at least six of the seven maps if they wanted a shot at cracking the top five.
Karrigan aced all of the tests. Strategically, Karrigan understood how he needed to setup the team right away. He explained his thoughts to HLTV,
“chrisJ is going to be a hybrid, the secondary AWPer, secondary caller, and he can play any role I need in a round. He is experienced and has been playing at a high level for some time now. ropz, the FPL God, is going to be an important piece in this lineup, he'll lock down the small sites as CT and play a lurking role on T. woxic, the crazy Turk, is going to be the guy with a happy mood and will be the main AWPer. I’ve had my eyes on him for a long time, so I was happy we were able to get him on board. frozen is going to be our entry, he has really solid mechanics and is able to do some crazy stuff.”
If you look across the six month span the team has been together, all three stars have become far better players than they were before. Ropz has found his place as a passive superstar player that specializes in lurking and closing out rounds. Karrigan’s system has the other four players making aggressive moves and buying him the space he needs to excel. Woxic has become a better and more consistent AWPer. His trajectory is such that, he could be a top five AWPer in the world by early 2020. Frozen has paired well with karrigan and ChrisJ as part of the entry pack. Beyond being a great aimer, he’s also shown a level of versatility, poise, and game sense that is uncommon for his age. He reminds me of when Jonathan “EliGE” Jablownowski broke into the scene in 2015 as an entry-fragger. He has the potential to become a reliable star in the future.
ChrisJ and Karrigan filled out the remaining roles perfectly. ChrisJ is like a Swiss army knife. He can entry, AWP, lurk, and call. Outside of the game, he has proven to be a reliable soldier and this has been a stable foundation for Karrigan. Karrigan plays the sacrificial role well in enabling his teammates, but can also have really impactful individual games or series.
From March 14th to now, mousesports have continued to grind their way up the rankings. At IEM Sydney they got top six beating BOOT-dreanScape, Renegades, and BIG. MIBR then eliminated them in the quarterfinals. Karrigan established a solid foothold on Train, Mirage, and Inferno. Mouz then went on to win DreamHack Tours against smaller teams. The team then went to ESL Proleague Season 9 Finals where they placed top four by beating MIBR, HellRaisers, and FaZe, before losing to Liquid in semifinals.. In those two events, the team added nuke to their pool. At ESL One Cologne, they failed to make it out of the group stages as they played against Na`Vi twice. Both times it was a close affair. Na`Vi won the intial bo1 16-14 on Inferno and in the rematch Na`Vi won the series 2-1. The first map of that series was a close game that went to double overtime with Na`Vi winning the map 22-19.
Among all of the different games that mouz played during this time, the inferno loss to Na`Vi exemplified the dangers of having a mostly young team. The squad had outplayed Na`Vi for most of the map and were up 15-11. However their inexperience and nerves got to them and they failed to close out the map when they had the chance. Karrigan described the loss to HLTV,
“There were two afterplants we shouldn't have lost, especially the last one, 15-14, 4v2, miscommunication and missed shots cost us of going into overtime there. A few rounds before, 14-11, we had somehow lost a 5v3 afterplant. So that game was the first one I have had in mouz that was really disappointing, we didn't hit our shots, the communication was off and we couldn't finish the game.”
While Karrigan had done a brilliant job leading mouz to where they were, the final steps of their progress depended on the growth of the young players. The young stars had great aim, but needed more time to develop their overall game. To learn karrigan’s system, to comm correctly, increase their individual playbooks, better their teamplay, and most importantly to stay calm in high-pressure situations. The ability to stay calm under fire was tested directly at the StarLadder Berlin Major.
Once again mousesports started in the EU Minor Championships stage. While they had a completely different squad, they were once again favorites to qualify for the Challengers stage. NoChance broke any hopes of an easy run into the Major as they upset mouz in the first game. The team then played the elimination bo3 where Sprout won the first game on Train. Sprout then went up 12-3 in the second half. The European squad then had a heroic T-side as they won 12 rounds in a row to take the second to close out the game.
After the close brushes with death, mouz refocused, found their form and make it through the rest of the qualifier easily. They beat NoChance in the rematch 2-1. Once they got into the playoffs, they smashed Fnatic and North 2-0 each.
The most interesting difference between mouz’s form in the group stage and their form in the playoffs was their CT-side. When they lost to Sprout on Train, they had 3 rounds on the CT-side. The same thing happened on Dust2. Mouz’s CT-side had lost all synergy. The CT-side is more based on individual skill rather than tactics or teamplay. Mousesports had brilliant individual players, but the fact that their CT-side was falling apart now seemed to indicate that the nerves of the moment was starting to get to the players. They weren't hitting their shots, their rotations were off, and they looked hesitant on what to do as the round time ticked down.
In the playoffs though, the team was able to fix this by being more proactive with their aggression. Going for early duels and dictating the pace seemed to calm the nerves of the team as they started to comm, rotate, teamplay, and aim far better than what they had in the group stages. While it didn’t have much impact on their overall run, their weakness on the CT-side did pop up a few times in their later run at the Major itself.
Mouz used the downtime between the Minor and the Challengers stage to improve their Dust2 and add Vertigo to their map pool. This made them one of the most dangerous teams in the tournament as they could now play six of the seven maps at a good level and this allowed them to play mind games on the map veto.
In the Challengers Stage, the team went 3-0 beating ForZe, AVANGAR, and G2 2-1. The Legends Stage was where the Europeans struggled. They lost their first map to FaZe 8-16. The first half was fine as they went 6-9, but FaZe reset them on their CT-side and they couldn’t get back into the game. From there, it was a battle to the end. Mouz beat North 16-13 and Na`Vi 19-17 to go 2-1. Vitality then smashed them 2-0 in the fourth match. Mouz’s final match was against Liquid, the best team in the world in the midst of their era.
It was an epic battle as mouz lost both maps in overtime. Liquid won 19-17 on Mirage and 22-20 on Dust2. It was a battle to the end with Karrigan putting on a monster performance on both maps. While they lost the series, it may become one of the most important losses in this lineup’s life. The biggest weakness of this mousesports squad has been playing to their best in high pressure moments. Mouz lost to MIBR in the playoffs of IEM Sydney. Lost to Liquid at the semifinals of EPL 9. Lost to Na`Vi in the group stages of ESL One Cologne. Nearly died to Sprout in the group stages of the EU Minor.
In this match, mousesports were playing against the best team in the world with their tournament lives on the line. While they made some mistakes, they went head-to-head against Liquid and played fantastic Counter-Strike. While they didn’t make it to the Legends Stage, the level they showed in that final game was of that pedigree.
It has been six months since the lineup has come together. In that time, karrigan has answered all of the questions. Could he build a team from the ground up? Could he lead new players into the highest levels of competition and make them better than they were before? Could he build a comprehensive map pool? Karrigan has checked all of the questions and proven once again why he is one of the greatest leaders in the CS:GO world. He’s helped improve the form of all three young stars, created a cohesive system, and mouz can now play six of the seven maps.
Karrigan has been brilliant, but the final push for this squad to go from a good team into a contending team must come from its trio of young stars. Mouz’s competitive success relies on Ropz, Woxic, and frozen taking the next step to become superstars. Their progression reminds me of Liquid’s current trio: EliGE, Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken, and Keith “NAF” Markovic. From 2016-2017, all three players had to grind up the ladder, gain experience, and use that to improve themselves as players and teammates. That experience eventually helped them grow into the superstars they are today. Now it is Ropz, Woxic, and frozen’s turn. They are the players of potential and mouz has become the team of tomorrow. A team filled with incredible potential that could one day be one of the best in the world.
NEW from Dexerto: Why 100 Thieves is the hottest brand in esports right now: