Mouz finally broke through the glass ceiling when they won EPL 10 and defied the odds. But how?
All teams have an expiration date and by the end of October, the community believed that Mouz had reached theirs. Mouz stopped having linear progression in their results and it looked like they had hit a ceiling in how far they could grow. Mouz shattered that narrative as they broke through that barrier and won CS:GO Asia Championships and ESL Proleague Season 10.
On the verge of collapse
While it is easy to mock the community in hindsight for saying that Mouz needed to make roster changes a month ago, there were legitimate reasons why someone would have thought that. Mouz faced heartbreak in the StarLadder Berlin Major group stages where they barely lost to Liquid 2-0. After that loss though, a flurry of roster changes happened. Most notably, ENCE kicked out Aleksi “Aleksib” Virolainen and Vitality kicked Nathan “NBK” Schmitt. Those were two of the top three teams in mid-2019 and this created an opportunity for Mouz to break into the top five.
Mouz failed to capitalize on that opportunity in September or October. Mouz went to V4 Budapest where Virtus.Pro beat them 2-0 in the semifinals. They lost to Vitality in the top 6 of DreamHack Malmo and then bombed out of StarSeries i-League Season 8. While no single result was alarming, when put in the context of this lineup’s career, there were some notable patterns.
First, Mouz couldn’t for the life of them start off well in a big LAN tournament. At StarSeries i-League, North beat them 2-1 in the first round. At Malmo they lost to NiP, at Cologne they lost to Na`Vi, and at IEM Sydney Mouz lost to BIG. While it was commendable that Mouz always made it through the lower bracket, this invariably put them into worse positions later on. The second notable pattern was that once the team got into the playoffs, they consistently barely lost to all the other teams. MIBR beat them in double overtime on Mirage at Syndey before taking the series 2-0. In the elimination match at Cologne, Mouz lost the first map to Na`Vi in double overtime, won the second, and then lost the third. This pattern repeated again at the StarLadder Berlin Major, Malmo, and StarLadder i-League Season 8.
For my part, I had a hard time deciding whether to buy or sell into Mouz. The results and patterns were fairly conclusive. Mouz were about 7-8 months old and the standard lifespan of most CS:GO teams is somewhere between 6-9 months. Teams that lose in the same parts of the tournament (playoffs) in similar ways (close, but not quite good enough) against a wide array of opponents (Vitality, MIBR, Fnatic, Liquid, and Na`Vi in Mouz’s case) indicates that there is some mental barrier that the team couldn’t get past.
When I watched the games though, it seemed to me that Mouz were constantly improving. Finn “Karrigan” Andersen had done his job as leader and Mouz developed their map pool. They first honed in on Mirage, Inferno, and Train. They expanded to Dust2 and Nuke, added Vertigo for the Major, and started to dip their toes onto Overpass. The younger players were getting better. Ozgur “woxic” Eker was volatile, but he still had a great ceiling. Robin “ropz” Kool was expanding his game, David “frozen” Cernansky was incredible for someone as young and new to this level of competition. Chris “chrisJ” de Jong was still doing his role well. None of the pieces seemed wrong to me and they were continually growing as a squad. While Mouz hit a barrier, I believed that their growth could break through it, though I didn’t know in what form that would manifest itself. So when it came time to write my Buy and Sell, I decided to put them on the Buy side and put my faith that Karrigan could find a way. He and the team eventually did.
The Karrigan Effect
When I look through Mouz’s growth in the last month, the big three factors is a shift in roles, mentality, and growth of individual players. The growth of the squad seems to be correlated to karrigan. At the beginning of the lineup, Ropz said, “Teamwise, it's much less stressful since we got karrigan, he's putting the team together very well, everyone knows their place, what to do and what not to do.”
Woxic repeated this sentiment to HLTV, “I had never seen an in-game leader that is this hard-working. He was analysing opponents and creating new ideas for the next day, and in the morning before our games, he would point things out to us that we had not seen before.”
Beyond expanding their tactics, karrigan has also done a good job of managing the mentality of the team. An example of this was when he told HLTV why he called frozen the joker, “I don't want to put pressure on a young guy like that, that we have to rely on him being the second star of the team. So right now I call him the joker.”
This ability to grow the team on a tactical, individual, and mental level has helped Mouz break through their barriers.
The biggest tactical shift in Mouz’s success from October to November was the role change. To understand what I mean, I’ll lay out the basic roles that Mouz started with at the inception of the lineup. The team wanted to have karrigan and frozen as their map control and entry duo. Woxic was the AWPer, ropz was a lurker, and ChrisJ filled out the remaining roles. This usually put chrisJ in a secondary lurk or lurk entry position.
This initial formulation made a lot of sense. Frozen was a completely new player to this level of competition, so no one knew what his exact strengths were or where he would fit best. In that case, the best way to use mechanically skilled young players is to usually pair them together with the in-game leader so that they can take map control and the young player can use their fragging skills to trade the in-game leader. The problem with doing this is that the role can be hard on a young player’s ego, but there was no problem for frozen’s end.
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After StarLadder i-League Season 8 though, things had to change. Karrigan enacted his backup plan, as he told Richard Lewis, “My backup plan with this team if we didn’t perform was to put frozen in more of a secondary lurk.” The single change switched had a cascading positive effect on the entire team. Frozen was good as an entry-fragger, but an even better secondary lurk as it fit his style better. Additionally, his time spent as entry-fragger gave him the experience to break open sites or be part of the entry pack when needed.
This in turn moved chrisJ back to the entry role. While chrisJ is fairly versatile, his most impactful role was entry-fragger. This gave an additional kick to Mouz’s explosive strength. A final unseen switch was this gave room for Karrigan to sometimes play the lurker. Due to ChrisJ’s experience as an in-game leader, he can have ChrisJ lead the pack while he calls from the other side much like how Vincent “Happy” Schopenhauer ran his old French squads. While this isn’t Mouz’s primary style of play, it’s added another look and karrigan is surprisingly impactful in this role as he can utilize his game sense and knowledge to get kills.
Mouz have also switch up some of the CT-sides and paired karrigan and frozen together on sites. This seems to have a positive effect as Mouz sometimes had problems being blown out on their CT-side and this is no longer a consistent problem for the team.
Mentality and growth
The other two factors are mentality and growth. At the CS:GO Asia Championships, Mouz were on the verge of losing. They were down 0-1 to TyLoo in the bo3 and were 8-15 on the second map against TyLoo. Woxic pulled out an epic play to save them from elimination. In a post-game interview with HTLV, he described the situation, After I won the clutch, everyone was super hyped and I said: ‘Guys, we can do it now. Let's go now, time to do it now. I cannot win like this every round.’ I didn't mean it in a bad way, I just wanted to give them extra power with that clutch and my words. I think it worked, so we went to overtime and won in the end.”
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This along with winning the tournament was a big stepping stone for Mouz. Recall all of the close losses I’ve counted up to this point. At Sydney, Mouz lost 19-22 to MIBR. At EPL 9 Finals, Liquid beat Mouz 19-17 in the second map of the semifinals. At ESL Cologne, Na`Vi won 22-19. At Berlin Liquid won 2-0 with 19-17 on the first map and 22-20 on the second. At Malmo, Mouz lost the first map 14-16 and the third 13-16. Mouz were always mentally strong enough to make games close, but lacked that extra something to win those close games.
At CAC, they proved to themselves that they could do just that. While confidence is an overused cliche to explain why teams do better, it certainly is part of the Mouz equation. In the semifinals of EPL 10 Finals, Mouz won two close games against Astralis. They won Train 22-19 and Dust2 16-14. Proof that on a mental level, Mouz are evolving.
Another thing to point out is the overall growth of the young stars. Frozen continues to impress as he’s shown he can play the entry and lurker role. Beyond him though, both woxic and ropz are expanding their games. Woxic’s biggest problem as an AWPer before playing for Mouz was that he had no B or C game. When woxic played for HellRaisers, he was their only win condition, so he had to play a hard carry style for the team to succeed. He then brought that style over to Mouz. While that style is a core aspect of his style, he also needed to round it out so that he could facilitate other players when they were having good games and he wasn’t. Additionally, woxic has grown as a carry. He has been dominant as an aggressive AWPer and been Mouz’s best player in their big tournaments runs at EPL 10 and CAC. What’s especially surprising is that he’s turned out to be Mouz’s best clutch player in high pressure moments.
As for ropz, he’s started to expand his game. In 2017, ropz had a solid, refined, but limited way of playing. He was great in his specialty situations, but once he was forced outside of his comfort zone, his impact was lessened. In this new Mouz though, ropz has continued to expand his game. He’s started to play more aggressively and is willing to be the first contact in a play if it’s required. He’s also more versatile and this is best exemplified in the 16-0 speedrun Mouz had over EG. In that game, ropz and ChrisJ kept switching positions as they swapped between playing aggressively around secret or holding the ramp room. Those positions require radically different styles and that ropz is willing to swap positions shows how much he has grown as a player. His all-around game has leveled up to the point where he can be the best player in the entire tournament. He proved just that with his MVP trophy at EPL Season 10 Finals.
The Next Test
This lineup is starting to crack into the top 5 and their victory at ESL Proleague Season 10 shows that they are starting to make headway into the elite sphere of CS:GO. At that tournament they beat three of the best teams in the world: EG, Astralis, and Fnatic. Mouz beat EG 2-1 with a stunning 16-0 sweep on Nuke. They prevailed in a grueling battle to the death against Astralis and smashed Fnatic 3-0. Mouz’s victory was a summation of all the work they had done as a team. Their shifting roles, their map pool, and growth in mentality and individual skills. In any other game, they could rest on their laurels, but CS:GO waits for no one. Mouz will CS Summit 5 and EPICENTER. As the victors of ESL Proleague Season 10, Mouz will receive a level of scrutiny they never had before. In the next few months, we will see Mouz’s consistency and mental strength be tested next as teams start to prepare for them. If Mouz can keep up their level, then the team I once called the team of tomorrow will become the team of today.