Distant roar: the future for North
North clearly needed changes, but most probably did not expect the North roster to include Kjaerbye going into the rest of 2018. Is this the change the team needed?
Denmark’s Dog Days
After Team Dignitas’ roster ran out at the end of 2016, North was announced as their new home at the start of 2017. With a lineup that made it through the qualifiers and ended up taking first place at EPICENTER 2016, they looked like a solid team with plenty of potential. One year later, only leader Mathias ‘MSL’ Lauridsen remains part of the team despite the original line-up signing three year contracts. In the latest shuffle, under-performing star player Kristian ‘k0nfig’ Wienecke and veteran AWPer Rene ‘cajunb’ Borg were replaced by North Academy player Daniel ‘mertz’ Mertz and Markus ‘Kjaerbye’ Kjaerbye, a surprise transfer from Astralis.
The latter was a huge surprise not only to the community, but to the rest of Astralis who only found out less than two hours before a North press conference that the big news was the signing of Kjaerbye. Astralis had been the superior Danish team over the last year, with Kjaerbye being the MVP of ELEAGUE Major 2017. While Astralis had fallen from the top spot on HLTV by June and finished the year without their star player Nicolai ‘dev1ce’ Reedtz, their results were respectable both online and on LAN, with a third place finish having made the ECS Season 4 Finals and being the runners-up at BLAST Pro Series: Copenhagen in their native Denmark while using stand-in players. Astralis had a pool of North alumni to potentially pick from, with Emil ‘Magisk’ Reif joining at the start of February.
North had a far more disappointing run by the end of 2017. While the team had made the ESL Pro League finals, they finished last in the event having been beaten by SK, Misfits, NRG and Ninjas in Pyjamas. MSL was the second worst rated player at the event (only Team Liquid’s coach who was standing in finished with a lower average ranking) and k0nfig was also in the bottom five worst rated players. cajunb and valde were the only members of North to break a positive average rating.
cs_summit was the first LAN outing for the team, which ended in disappointing 0-2 losses to both SK Gaming and Heroic. The latter had also beaten North a week earlier during an IEM Katowice qualifier best-of-three match. While Heroic was beaten convincingly at ELEAGUE Premier, the last time the teams had met on LAN, North seemed to struggle against a fellow Danish squad in Los Angeles.
North and Astralis were in opposite groups for IEM Katowice so a Danish derby with Kjaerbye’s old team never happened in Poland. The next time the teams are due to meet is online in ESL Pro League. North and Heroic met in a rematch of cs_summit, with North defeating the one other Danish team that had proven to be a thorn in their side recently.
Not only do North have to prove themselves against other established Danish teams like Astralis and Heroic, another North academy player, Nicklas ‘gade’ Gade, as well as k0nfig and cajunb have joined OpTic Gaming to form a brand new roster alongside former OpTic players Shahzeb ‘ShahZaM’ Khan and Peter ‘stanislaw’ Jarguz. A tweet from k0nfig to his former leader reads ‘When we meet I’m gonna have 3x your kills 🙂 I just don’t wanna be fake.’ after MSL had Tweeted to the departed members of the team.
The LAN finals of the ESL Pro League will be the most likely meeting place for North and OpTic due to competing in separate regions and OpTic not receiving any invites due to the team yet to play an official game.
North’s future success could hinge on how aizy performs. With a streak of negative ratings since EPICENTER 2017, rediscovering his past form that made him one of the most promising talents in the region would help elevate North back to a formidable team. In North’s opening ESL Pro League matches, aizy finished at the bottom of the scoreboard in both wins and losses against Natus Vincere, with only 20 kills across the two best-of-ones. With a 0.94 rating at IEM Katowice, aizy’s worst performances were admittedly against a very dominant FaZe Clan, but his overall form should rise as his teammates’ have since the changes.
With two of their players already removed, aizy is in no danger of being kicked unless North were willing to sacrifice their spot in the Qualifier for the next Major, hosted by FACEIT in September at Wembley Arena, London. There are six months for aizy to become a more consistent source of firepower once again and that is a very long time in CS. North’s entire roster under-performed in Atlanta, but further disappointment could lead to MSL removing the only other player on the team that has been present for over six months.
MSL as an in-game leader faces criticism too. His questionable map picks against opposing teams and his own frequent underperformance often overshadow his strong leadership abilities. Unlike aizy, MSL has made personal improvements since the signing of Kjaerbye and his own performance will also be crucial for North to remain a top team.
Since October, the team has slipped from third in the world to 17th. With so many strong teams on the rise and underdog teams making deeper runs at tournaments, North need the entire roster to perform as they did around the time of DreamHack Montreal which brought them their only trophy of the last year, with the new players stepping up with consistent firepower that North has lacked in recent months.