Examining mertz's relentless aggression
As North is getting ready to kick off their cs_summit 2 campaign, we take a look at their new AWPer, Daniel "mertz" Mertz, analyzing how he got to this point and what he will bring to the squad.
Young and talented players rarely get noticed at their first LANs and in their first official matches, they usually endure a few failures and suffer some tough defeats before breaking out and getting recognition. That was not the case of Daniel "mertz" Mertz, however, as he raised eyebrows at his first offline event—the Nordic Masters Season 2 Finals, which were held in February 2016.
A 17-year-old at the time and with just nine HLTV.org matches behind him, mertz attended the LAN with Optimum, his first serious team. He was fragging out with the AWP and finished on top of the scoreboard for his team in all five maps, but Optimum were eliminated in the group stage following losses to Kevin "HS" Tarn's Publiclir.se and Casper "cadiaN" Møller's Preparation.
mertz was the second best-rated player of that event at 1.34 rating and his raw talent was undeniable, but his skills weren't being utilized well enough to earn his side consistent wins, which could be put down to the team's lack of experience. mertz didn't get a lot of support; his Terrorist side play was fairly static, while, on the other hand, he tried to do too much on his own when playing on the CT side.
"Back then, in the 'Optimum period', mertz was the type of player who won us games on his own. Individually, he was something special, he could clutch, frag hard and was able to step up when it mattered the most. His talent was undeniable, he was our standout player, but overall he was very inexperienced back then, we were all young and inexperienced."
"Nordic Masters wasn't the LAN debut we had hoped for, mostly because we as a team didn't show up. He did, however, as he always does when it matters the most. In RGN European Open II and our ESEA Main campaign he practically carried us to top placings."
His star potential earned him a call-up to Team123, who were signed by Alpha before the year's Copenhagen Games, a must-attend event for Danish players on the rise. mertz played well in the BYOC qualifier (1.40 rating), helping his team to secure a spot in the main tournament, but there, both mertz and his team struggled, they lost to Epsilon and CPH Wolves and crashed out with a 0-2 record.
Still, mertz was called up to CPH Wolves after Copenhagen Games, joining the team alongside his current teammate Valdemar "valde" Bjørn Vangså. That was the AWPer's first break-out chance as he played under experienced players such as Danni "smF" Dyg, Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer and Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander.
mertz wasn't able to make the most out of that opportunity, though, as he was cut after just a couple of weeks with the team, in June. At the time, Snappi stated that mertz's main issue was lack of experience, but according to rumors, his lack of dedication and poor work ethic were the main hindrances at the time.
"In mertz, we saw an accurate, fast and explosive AWPer that might just needed the chance to prove himself. We tried him out for a short period of time, but we came to the conclusion that he wasn't ready for the level that we wanted to play on."
"His AWP was on point, but in every other aspect—such as communication, balancing aggression and utility usage—he needed time, and that is something that we didn't have back then."
After his CPH Wolves removal, the Dane wasn't seen competing for a couple of months, finally returning to action in September of 2016. Before the end of the year, mertz represented different teams for brief periods—NewStyle, Fragsport and Singularity—but only became a regular in a squad at the start of 2017, when he rejoined Team123.
That team was soon signed by Chinese organization eFuture and was invited to China Cup 2017 in March, which would be mertz's first LAN since Copenhagen Games 2016. The AWPer stood out for his team there, finishing as eFuture's best player with a 1.10 rating, but their 5-6th placing was disheartening and saw him depart the squad together with another promising prospect, Frederik "acoR" Gyldstrand.
The duo would join North Academy in April, a team where mertz would finally find stability. Copenhagen Games 2017 was the team's first LAN, and mertz proved his worth there, both in the BYOC (1.29 rating) and the main competition (1.18 rating). However, North Academy were not able to secure a great placing at the event, losing to the Swedish mix dreamchasers in the quarter-finals.
The story of mertz putting up big numbers without his team achieving great results would continue at the next three LANs they played. North Academy finished 3rd-4th at Binary Dragons LAN, Cross Border Esport and NGC Masters, with mertz averaging 1.22, 1.39 and 1.25 event ratings, respectively.
Even though he was the biggest fragger for North Academy, the team wasn't based around mertz as much as one would expect, which led to some of the same issues his early CS:GO teams had had: they weren't able to convert his frags into wins.
"We didn’t necessarily set up mertz to be the main star of the team, we had more of an overall gameplan. glace and I took more laid back, support roles to try to set up our young players. However, mertz always had free reign if he wanted to take certain peeks or do certain plays, and even though we didn’t build our gameplan only around him, he still managed to put up big numbers consistently. Looking back, we probably should’ve built it more around him, but we had a lot of official games and then there was a long summer break, so we didn’t have that much time to change up our game."
LOMME and Nicolai "glace" Jensen, two of the more experienced members of North Academy, were swapped out for Johannes "b0RUP" Borup and sycrone after Cross Border Esport, in October, and with that squad mertz was finally able to break through and qualify for events that featured top teams: the WESG EU&CIS Finals and DreamHack Open Winter. In the qualifiers, the AWPer recorded impressive 1.29 and 1.44 ratings, powering his team to LAN spots.
But excitement turned into disappointment quickly, as both LANs went poorly for North Academy, and mertz's streak of five consecutive 1.10+ LAN showings ended after facing higher-tier opposition. Even though the Dane wasn't able to assert himself at the final LANs of 2017, his in-game leader sycrone notes that he improved massively in terms of both team play and work ethic, compared to what he had been like when he broke out in 2016:
"mertz and I often go back in time and discuss our previous escapades together. We've been together on three separate lineups: Optimum, team123/efuture and North Academy. As such, I've have followed his evolution up close from the very beginning of his professional career. After Optimum he has become more realistic about who he is, and what his role is within a team. He was a star player then and still is now, but in his early days he thought the world of himself. He was hubristic, and also still very inexperienced.
"He's never had any issues performing, but since our first time together he has come to learn what it means to be a team player. He's putting more time and effort than ever into all aspects of being a professional, and it's clear to me that he's way more well-rounded in-game, and also more experienced. He has learned how to play off of others and to complement his team with more than just his raw skill. In my opinion, the biggest difference from then to now is his personal development. He's grown into a person that you can truly admire."
mertz ended the year in North Academy, but as Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth put in his Bold Prediction, it was "only a matter of time before he climbs the list". After North's struggle at the Major, the AWPer got a call-up to the main squad, replacing René "cajunb" Borg.
mertz finished 2017 with a 1.22 rating, which is of course fairly inflated by mainly playing against tier two and three opposition. 55% of his kills were made with the AWP as he gets the 'Big Green', either by buying one or as a drop, in almost every gun round. But mertz is also a fairly skilled rifler, capable of holding his own with the M4 or the AK when necessary, and can help his side win pistol rounds as he is proficient with both the USP-S and the Glock.
What we noticed by analyzing his demos from 2017 is that his AWPing style is based on small-to-medium distance flicks, which mertz hits on a consistent basis. Over the years, he has also added more composure to his CT side plays, but can still be too aggressive when holding sites or overzealous in retakes. Even though his fragging for North Academy was very good, those small mistakes saw his peak amount of kills limited—out of 243 matches played in 2017, he only secured 30+ frags in four non-overtime games.
One of the things mertz struggled with in the past was his decision-making when trying to mount a comeback into games, which he, in a way, confirmed in our interview in Barcelona. It seemed that the young star was trying to do too much at times, which is understandable considering that the majority of the weight on his previous teams rested on his shoulders.
Even though he was the obvious choice for North, coming in from their academy team, mertz isn't the only talented Danish AWPer on the market. Heroic's Jakob "JUGi" Hansen is the most notable one, and, unlike the rest of the players on the list, he took on elite teams on a regular basis in 2017. He is also already accustomed to playing at premier LANs and on big stages—where North aim to compete.
A case could be made that JUGi would be a better option for North than mertz, but even if the youngster wanted to leave Heroic—which is not a given—, it is unlikely that the RFRSH-run team would let their AWPer go to a rival squad easily.
The other two Danish snipers on the list—Thomas "Ryxxo" Nielsen and Niels-Christian "NaToSaphiX" Sillassen—, were both easier to acquire for North and easier to compare to mertz, as they all played versus similar opposition in 2017. However, North's new acquisition outshines them both in all relevant categories for an AWPer: mertz takes more opening duels and wins more of them, and his opening kills lead to round wins more often when compared with Ryxxo and NaToSaphiX.
mertz's addition to the team came at the cost of cajunb. The 28-year-old was known for his AWPing in the past but has moved more and more away from the role under MSL's leadership. However, even though both are AWPers, cajunb and mertz are very different players, which make this roster change far from a straight-forward swap.
To make the statistical comparison of the two players as fair as possible, we limited the data set used to matches they played against "top teams", a loose term used to define a collection of squads that, for example, made ESL Pro League Season 6-7, or attended the ELEAGUE Major 2018. Even with that filter in place, mertz still had a lot of easier matchups than cajunb and most of the games he played were online. Therefore, the numbers shouldn't be used to draw conclusions on which player was better overall, but to see how they differ stylistically.
The first and obvious difference is that, unlike cajunb, who passed the AWP to his teammates at times, mertz is a dedicated AWPer with 0.09 AWP KPR higher than his predecessor. As we already noted, North Academy did well in providing him the sniper as much as possible, so it will be interesting to see if MSL is able to rise to the task and allow mertz to keep his AWP KPR high.
When looking at the entry aspect, the difference between the two players becomes even more apparent. mertz goes for a lot of opening kills (in 28.3% of rounds played), has a great opening kill rating (1.20) and a good portion of rounds his team wins start by him getting a kill (22.3%). cajunb is a more reserved player, and in a way, mertz's aggressive nature makes him more of a replacement for Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke than cajunb.
That, then, begs to question: how will Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye, who was announced as k0nfig's replacement, fit in? As of now, North have their two new men play together on the T side, forming a map-control trio alongside MSL, which could see North have some teething issues until the players get accustomed to each other.
Even though they are solidifying their AWP role, with cajunb leaving the team, North lost their best clutcher. The veteran regularly showed up in the late portions of the round, finishing 1.48% of his rounds with a successful clutch, almost three times more than mertz, who sits at 0.57% in the same category. North will have to find someone to step up in that regard, with Philip "aizy" Aistrup and valde, the team's peripheral players, being the most likely candidates.
Something that can't be forgotten is that mertz still hasn't proved himself on LAN against top-tier opposition. His run with North Academy saw him play great in tournaments such as Copenhagen Games, but he only showed glimpses of that skill at the WESG EU&CIS Finals and DreamHack Open Winter.
North are set to attend two tournaments—cs_summit 2 and IEM Katowice 2018—in the next month, with each of those events stacked with the world's best teams. mertz has already shown what he is capable of, but now it's time to prove that he can pull off the same at the highest level of competition.