CS:GO

Stuchiu: Why North Need MSL

by Stephen Chiu
Jennika Ojala/DreamHack

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The North experiment has failed and they need MSL in order to get back on track in CSGO heading into 2020.

While the team still retains a squad of skilled players: Philip “aizy” Aistrup, Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjaerbye, Nicklas “gade” Gade, Jakob “JUGi” Hansen, and Rene “cajub” Borg, there doesn’t seem to be a guiding light on their team. With Valdemar “valde” Bjorn leaving the team, it is time for North to consider getting Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen back into the team.

MSL’s Career in Retrospect

MSL remains one of the most underrated in-game leaders in the scene. Among the in-game leaders of today, he gets an undue amount of criticism from the community. He has faults and weaknesses, but he is rarely given the accolades he deserves for a leader in his position.

Adela Sznajder/DreamHack
Adela Sznajder/DreamHack

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From 2015 to now, he’s led multiple lineups to greater results than their on paper potential would suggest. The most memorable of the different lineups he led at the time was: himself, Kjaerbye, aizy, Jacob “Pimp” Winneche, and Nicolaj “Nico” Jensen. They were a solid top 10 team and looked to be on the verge of going even higher. Most famously they pushed EnVyUs to their limits in the Gfinity Summer Masters.

Before the squad could build towards anything greater, aizy left the team to play for G2. At the time aizy was the superstar player of Dignitas and popular sentiment was that he was the next great Danish talent. If superstar talent was the primary reason why Dignitas was more successful than it should have been a blow the team couldn’t recover from.

That didn’t happen as MSL had structured his team in such a way that it let the next man up shine so long as they had the talent. After aizy left the team, Kjaerbye stepped up as the next star. By mid-2016, Kjaerbye was another Danish superstar that people believed was going to represent the next generation of players. On May 19th, he was traded to Astralis for cajunb.

Adela Sznajder/DreamHack
Adela Sznajder/DreamHack

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This pattern of rising the ranks only for the superstar to join a better team is common in the tier2 scene of CS:GO. For aspiring in-game leaders, it is one of the hardest positions to get out of. The problem with this position is three fold. Teams at this level cannot recruit an experienced superstar. This forces them to scout for the next big talent and then help them grow into an eventual superstar.

MSL has specialized in this exact situation throughout his career. As he told HLTV, “When I reflect on the past four years, I’m proud of what I accomplished, especially considering I’ve never had four players who were already ‘educated’ and had their shit under control, like on a team like Astralis.”

So in 2016, MSL got the raw material he needed to make a big leap forward. In 2016, the best Dignitas lineup consisted of: MSL, cajunb, Ruben “RUBINO” Villarroel, Emil “Magisk” Reif, and Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke. MSL was the leader, cajunb the tactical consistent AWPer. Magisk and k0nfig were the stars of the team. Magisk the consistent passive lurker while k0nfig had insane mechanical skill that made him an unholy terror as an entry-fragger. When combined with MSL, the two of them consistently took map control, got even trades, and broke open sites.

Adela Sznajder/DreamHack
Adela Sznajder/DreamHack

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This culminated in the magical EPICENTER run where Dignitas won the event and looked like they could be the best team in the world. They were one of the many contenders during the uncertainty era and it looked like they could solidify their spot as a contender going forward. Soon after the players moved from Dignitas to North, but the lineup started to break at the seams. Under the spotlight, cracks started to form.

RUBINO stepped down and North never found a suitable fifth to take his spot. Cajunb was a stable AWPer, but limited in scope and started to get diminishing results as time went on. Magisk and k0nfig were still too early in their development. Magisk couldn’t keep the form he needed to be a consistent secondary superstar on North. MSL tried to change his roles to make him work, but it never quite worked. Magisk only recovered that form after he joined Astralis in 2018.

North continued to make moves throughout the year, but never got to the same levels. Well except once in 2018. The North lineup at the time was: MSL, Kjaerbye, aizy, valde, and Nikolaj “niko” Kristensen. The team went to DreamHack Stockholm where they upset Astralis in two bo3 series. It was one of the most shocking upsets in CS:GO history as Astralis was in the prime of their era, but for that one tournament, MSL upended the Danish order with his tactics and MVP level AWPing.

However, that wasn’t enough for North and they benched MSL soon after on September 27th.

MSL’s style of leadership

Now that we’ve gone through an overview of MSL’s career, it’s clear to see that MSL has been very successful at raising teams from scratching and bringing them close to contention status. To understand why he succeeded, we need to look at MSL’s style of captaincy.

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MSL is one of the great tactical minds of CS:GO. There are two elements to what makes him a great tactical mind. The first is his understanding of structure and roles. MSL is very good at knowing where to put young talent and maximizing their potential. He sets a rigid structure, assigns roles, and helps communication. As someone who was stuck in that strange tier 2 cycle where his best players got poached by better teams, it has become one of his specialties. He described the process a bit to Tomi “lurppis” Kovanen, “In general I think I come up with some structure that makes people feel comfortable and they know what to do and when to do it. I also think that I focus a lot on communication which makes it a lot easier for everyone within the team to perform.”

Adela Sznajder/DreamHack
Adela Sznajder/DreamHack

The other aspect is his tactical acumen. If you could extrapolate the raw Xs and Os out of CS:GO and objectively quantify it, it wouldn’t surprise me if MSL ranks as one of the best tacticians in the game’s history. He was so good that Sean Gares put MSL on his Mount Rushmore of CS:GO leaders and once copied his strat book to beat a MSL team on cobblestone. Cobblestone in particular is a good showcase of MSL’s initial style. During the 2015-2016 period, he often used a tactical blitzkrieg.

He drilled his teams in executing tactics at the exact same time. So he had fast executes on long, the B-site, fast splits on either site or do rushes up mid. By having them all timed near the early round, he made it impossible for CTs to hard counter all of the potential options. By being such a tactic-oriented team, he also took a bit of the burden off his young stars. In loose teams, young stars realize that they have to go off for the team to succeed. In MSL’s system, they know that even if they have an off game, they can play a role and still have a chance to win the game.

Another thing to consider is MSL’s stability and consistency. He’s been an in-game leader for years with a wide variety of different lineups. Despite whatever players you surround him with though, all of his teams have a distinct MSL personality. This comes from his structure.

While I’ve heaped praise on MSL’s leadership, he does have flaws. In the map veto, he’s largely been an absolutist. A leader who always picks into his team’s confident pick rather than going for relative strength against relative weakness. This has hurt his squads as MSL is always able to build a fairly wide map pool for all of his teams. It’s hard to say whether this is to help bolster the confidence of his young players or because he has absolute confidence in his team to win regardless. Whatever the case, this means that he can’t take full advantage of his own team’s map pool or exploit weaknesses.

Another problem is his use of veteran players. MSL had both Pimp and cajunb transition from hybrid to full AWP roles. While they did their jobs, neither were particularly successful at the elite stage. Strangely enough, MSL’s best solution to this problem has been taking up the AWP himself. While it works for now, it’s hard to imagine a world where MSL can lead a team to #1 in the world while also being the AWPer.

Adela Sznajder/DreamHack
Adela Sznajder/DreamHack

The final problem is that MSL is stubborn, which is both a positive and negative. His stubbornness and adherence to his style is what makes him a great tactical mind and one of the best at raising young players. It can also hinder him when it comes to evaluating his teams pr map vetos. In the Dignitas lineup where Pimp was the AWPer for instance, he couldn’t recognize that it was hurting Pimp’s game and that the team needed to move the AWP to someone else. It is also worth noting that MSL isn’t a good individual player, so lineups have to be built with that in mind.

What have North done since the MSL kick?

When North kicked MSL in September 2018, it was a bold and shocking move. While North had failed at the Major, they had also just won DreamHack Stockholm over Astralis. So kicking MSL at that juncture was a message that North thought that they could build a better team and system without him.

It’s been a year since then, plenty of time for the team to experiment and prove that they could do better than what MSL’s Dignitas and North lineups. In that time we saw North bring inCaspar “cadiaN” Moller as the AWPer/leader for MSL. That move was largely a bust. They then moved valde into the in-game leadership role. The move was questionable as moving a player into the in-game leadership role could kill his form (as we saw with Janusz “Snax Pogorzelski or Denis “seized” Kostin). It was even more confusing as Valde was burgeoning on top 5 player form. In the end, Valde’s form did drop off, but it was likely more due to his role change than any drop in performance. Once valde moved to the leadership role, he focused more on enabling his teammates rather than securing positions for himself to succeed. Overall the gambled worked kind-of.

Valde was a good fragging in-game leader, but if you analyze North’s overarching direction and sequence of events, the moves made little sense. The last North lineup with MSL won DreamHack Stockholm against prime Astralis. They kicked him for cadiaN. CadiaN didn’t make the team better and he wasn’t a leader they could develop into something more. That move was essentially a dud and was a data point showing that North didn’t really have an obvious direction as they weren’t trying to get better nor or build up for a better future.

Valde taking on the role worked, but if you look at leaders historically, it takes years to build a team strong enough to become a contender. Valde is a top 10 player in the world and is ready to be a star of a championship team right now. There was no incentive for Valde to stay in North if a better team came knocking. North had kicked out the leader that had taken him there before and North’s subsequent moves had made them worse. So when OG came knocking, it made complete sense for Valde to move on. He had already tried his best to carry North as far as he could and no one could have asked for more.

The case for MSL

While I’ve been critical of North, they still have positives for the team. They have enormous backing and have an assortment of good players. What they need now is structure, tactics, and a leader that can bring it all together.

Adela Sznajder/DreamHack
Adela Sznajder/DreamHack

MSL is that leader. Tactically, he is still one of the great minds of Counter-Strike. While he has some faults, he still strives to improve. When Alexander “ave” Holdt was his coach, he implemented a lot more mid-round calls into his tactics. When he was on Rogue, he could have mailed in the effort. Instead he made a real go of it and got them to a fairly good level. Before the OpTic roster blew up, it was probably the second best Danish lineup in the region and he did it amidst huge internal team problems.

The timing also suggests that North need to make a move soon. With many orgs trying to build CS:GO teams, it’s possible that one of them will realize that MSL is a cornerstone piece to making a good team. If they build another team around MSL, then it will be too late. For North, the time to strike is now. North have the resources and players, but need a leader that can take them to the next level. MSL is a brilliant mind, but needs a good team to back him. Both have something the other needs right now, this is the move that North needs to make.