MSL: The River that Runs Both Ways
Because of his unique blend of strengths and weaknesses, MSL is one of the most contorted and confused figures in Counter-Strike.
Perhaps more than any other in-game leader in Counter-Strike, Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen defies expectations.
Think of all the talent that has either faded away or been taken away during his tenure with the constantly evolving the Dignitas/North squad over the past two years and a half years. Jacob “Pimp” Winneche went from being one of the better rifles in Europe to getting thrown into the wilderness after his disastrous AWP experiment. Philip “Aizy” Aistrup at the peak of his powers left to join G2/FaZe. Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbyev was gobbled up by Astralis after becoming a star in his own right on Dignitas. On of the better support players of his time, Ruben “RUBINO” Villarroell, left the team of his own volition. And the presumed Danish superstar to-be Emil “Magisk” Reif, fell off and eventually departed from North this past August.
The FaZe organization surrounded Finn “Karrigan” Andersen with a jarring level of firepower over this past year. Gla1ve was plucked up from Heroic and suddenly given the keys to all the best Danish players. But MSL dines on scraps. If his players get too good, they will just get picked up by the Astralis or an international team and has to compete with those same entities when trying picking up new prospects.
Many of the roster moves made by Dignitas/North have seemed hugely negative or lateral, yet the Dignitas/North core has been steadily within the world’s leading pack for the past year or so.
Their more impressive accomplishments include their first place finish at the very stacked EPICENTER 2016 and silver medals at both the ESL Pro League Season 5 finals and DreamHack Masters Malmo 2017, both premier events in their own right. They have also been fairly consistent, Over the past 12 top-level LANs they have attended, North has made the playoff or better eight times. More currently, Thorin’s last rankings update and the most recent HLTV rankings both peg North as the seventh best team in the world.
They fall upwards.
So accordingly, MSL seems to get a hefty share of the credit: North succeeds because of the combination of highly tactical play and alongside the more limited firepower he can develop or hold onto. Players like Kjaerbye, Magisk, and Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke have all peaked as individuals under his system. However, over last year, Dignitas/North have appeared to hit some intangible ceiling. While they often flirt with greatness, they never can consistently hold onto a demonstrable world leading or near world leading status.
After EPICENTER, Dignitas failed to make it out of groups at the ESL Pro League Season 4 finals and DreamHack Winter 2016, and were eliminated in the first round of ELEAGUE Season 2’s playoffs. After the EPL Season 5 finals, North didn’t advance through groups at ESL One Cologne and only placed top-eight at the major. After Malmo, North placed top-4 largely thanks at ELEAGUE Premier to an easy draw, before they were eliminated in groups again at EPICENTER 2017. And for these slips up, MSL also receives much of the blame.
On one hand it’s hard to deny MSL and North’s effectiveness of the T-side. Thanks to MSL’s trademark executes and the recent superstar-level of output of K0fige on the T-side,
by, North can put up rounds against the versus the best CT-sides in the world.
When FaZe were in god-mode tearing through two straight tournaments without a single map loss, North were the only team to look decent versus FaZe’s often immaculate CT-sides. Across the two maps of their best-of-three, North won 13 of 26 T-rounds. In comparison, in their own best-of-X series versus FaZe at this time, Liquid won 14 of 35 T- rounds, Cloud9 won 4 of 19, EnVyUs won 9 of 30, and Astralis won 5 of 30.
Yet, there are been significant problems for North on CT-side for the past year, and I think MSL’s ability to properly assign CT-positions has increasingly come into question. After Magisk left North after a long-running slump, Sam Delorme pointed out in a mid-August article, ‘How MSL Set Up Magisk For Failure,’ that MSL perhaps ceded too much territory to the returning Aizy at the cost of their former best player. While this could be a another instance, like the Pimp on the Awp scenario, where certain decisions made by individuals in conjunction with the team are perhaps overly understood as the choices of MSL, at some level the leader of the team has to bear some responsibility for negative developments.
And criticism of his leadership can only be intensified by his individual performance.
MSL’s output has been heavily criticized especially during the days when Dignitas was less relevant internationally. However, MSL doesn’t perfectly fit the mold for a under fragging in-game leader. He is not someone like Gob B whose very clear lack of skill is somewhat offset but intelligent decision making and positioning.
In contrast to the intelligence of his T-sides, his decision making is often poor, and when he is having a rare strong performance individually, it’s not because he suddenly found his inner-Xyp9x. It’s the opposite. On a rare good day, his raw-skill carries him through finding entries and winning duels at a surprising rate. Famously, MSL had some very strong days of play at DreamHack Master Las Vegas apparently thanks to the placebo of changing his sensitivity.
But what muddies the waters is the fact that MSL depresses his own output by design. On the CT-side, while MSL doesn’t always play the most supportive CT positions, he definitely leans in that direction. For example, he plays drop on Cobblestone and the small site anchor on Mirage currently.
And On the T-side, MSL often likewise attempts difficult entry to make an opening for his best aggressive rifler, which is currently K0nfig. For example, when dropping down into ladder room on Train, MSL will be the first one down with K0nfig to follow with MSL often dying due to the difficulty of that entry. The approach has the dual effect of boosting the numbers of his hand-picked star while weakening his own.
Yet, this apparent humility doesn’t exist at all in North’s pick-and-ban phase which has been heavily criticized, especially in recent months, for being too top-heavy. In every single best-of-three series since the player break in August, North has either choosen to play Cobblestone or Mirage with their first pick. From the outside, it feels like MSL will play whatever he feels is their best pick is at the moment with no consideration of the opponent whatsoever.
For example, in the finals of DreamHack Masters Malmö, North picked Cobblestone into G2 despite the fact that G2 were 10-2 on Cobblestone at the time and had only introduced Mirage into their pool that tournament as it had been their former permaban. Likewise, North picked Mirage into FaZe in the semifinals of ELEAGUE Premier, which is one of FaZe’s clear best maps when they could have easily gambled on something like Train.
And MSL’s extraordinary confidence in Mirage specifically is even more puzzling when you consider North don’t even win on it that often. They are only 5-1-4 (win-draw-loss) on it since the player break without a win versus Astralis, G2, SK, or FaZe.
The pattern repeats. You can criticize MSL putting good players in bad roles or at allowing them to move into roles of their own volition, but you also have to credit him for developing talent. You can point out his often poor individual performances, but you have to respect that he must have some awareness of his own weaknesses as he positions himself accordingly. You can be disappointed in his CT-sides, but still be in awe of his T-sides. You can see huge flaws in his pick-and-ban phase, but perhaps on some level you have to respect that MSL appears to furiously assert his team’s own superiority on these maps each pick and ban phase against the grain of past failures and the opinion of the rest of the world.
While obviously flawed, he has that certain quality we sometimes see in fiction in an Edmond Dantes or a Captain Ahab or a Jay Gatsby: someone who seems to exist in their own time zone, whose expectations and abilities indignantly gnash against the banality of common sense again and again over the course of their own adventure.
And for good or ill it’s this double bind, the duality of expectations, that makes MSL this quixotic, enigmatic figure, a natural wonder even in the mastermind and star-studded world of Counter-Strike.
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