On paper, North have one of the strongest lineups out there, with a big professional organisation behind them. But the Danish team are currently looking anything but solid. We take a look at their struggle for form and ask Director of Esports Jonas "whimp" Svendsen if and how things can be turned around.
Last week saw one of the weirdest matches in recent professional CS take place.
The first map was close, with AGO squeezing out a 16-13 victory on North’s Overpass pick. On Inferno, North completely dominated the Poles and ended up going 16-0. The Danes ploughed through in the Mirage decider and strolled to a comfortable 13-7 lead in the second half.
Then something happened. AGO defended a quick B hit from North with a shoddy buy and from then it went downhill for the Danes, who lost important advantageous situations and seemingly lacked the mental fortitude to close out the game.
The total round difference ended up at 43-32 in favor of the Danes. But they still didn’t win. Seasoned rifler Philip "aizy" Aistrup ended the bo3 with a 1.41 rating and 101.5 ADR. But they still didn't win.
The result is somewhat symptomatic of the team's recent struggles as they tend to blow hot and cold, playing extremely well one day but seemingly losing confidence in themselves and each other the next.
In recent weeks, North have failed to qualify for important upcoming events such as the ESL Pro League Finals in Dallas, ESL One Belo Horizonte and the aforementioned Starseries i-League Season 5. But they will still attend the latter event after three of the invited teams declined to go due to a busy schedule.
Their offline appearances also haven’t gone as one would expect from a team boasting some of the bigger profiles in the Danish scene, such as Valdemar "valde" Bjørn Vangså and Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye. North didn't go past the group stage at IEM Katowice 2018, went out in the semi-finals on home turf at Copenhagen Games 2018, and couldn't close out the match against HellRaisers in the final of the Bets.net Masters.
We would have liked to sit down with in-game leader Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen or other North players to discuss the team’s current form and possible roster changes. These requests were declined, but the organisation's Director of Esports, whimp, agreed to discuss what is going on with the team:
What’s your take on the reason why the team have been showing a level of play below what one would expect from players of their caliber?
I believe that our poor results are a reflection of all the changes that we have made at the beginning of 2018. With the promotion of Alexander "ave" Holdt to head coach and the additions of Kjaerbye and mertz, the team entered a learning process, which has turned out to be tougher than we initially expected. The team and ave are trying hard to harmonize their view on how to play a perfect game of CS:GO. In this harmonization, we are working on how we can come together as a team, while everyone can contribute and utilize their strengths to their fullest potential. On top of this, we are also implementing a new performance model, which is built around the word “balance”, where we make sure that we work on the different mental and physical aspects every week that contribute positively to an esport athlete’s performance. This is, of course, adding to the already mentioned changes, which is not easy for the team.
You talk about changing your culture and making changes outside the game that will enhance performance. What about just playing and practising some more Counter-Strike?
In my opinion, enhancing performance is intrinsically linked with changing the culture on the team while practising more Counter-Strike. Practising without purpose is a waste of time, and, in order to find that purpose, in order to facilitate a better practice environment and a stronger team spirit, our culture needs work. The two are not mutually exclusive, however, and we definitely need to play more Counter-Strike on an overall level. As part of changing the culture, the team understands that everybody needs to put in an extra effort, work harder and play more individually if we want to achieve our ambition of being a top contender in CS:GO.
Do the players have confidence issues?
Our players are trying their absolute best to cope with the poor results and our constant struggle of qualifying for the big tournaments. This coping process will undeniably have an impact on the player’s in-game performance, but when they show up for work and we have our team talks, it is easy to feel that their inner confidence is intact and they believe in each other and in the project. We are working actively, as a unit, and individually with the players, to increase confidence, because, at the end of the day, CS:GO is a game of constant shifts in momentum – and being able to cope with those is, in my opinion, tied directly to the players’ mental resilience.
How do the players feel about being the target of negative comments?
We are in a period of weakness due to our poor results and performances, and this has weakened our armor. I know that players are reading comments on social media and trying to avoid getting affected by them – but I also know that, when you are under a constant barrage from people to either step down, replace a player or being made the scapegoat of a situation that isn’t your fault, it can be difficult to focus. It is, unfortunately, a part of the game, and in times like this, we need to stand together and look forward as a team and as an organization.
We, as an organization, also try to look inward and show more humility on our social media channels and in interviews. There is a fine line between being professional and encouraging about a tough situation, and being perceived as arrogant, which is difficult to communicate and something we can get better at.
Many fans and followers point to MSL and both his leadership and his individual play as being the problem. What do you and the organisation leadership think about that? Are they right?
It is difficult for fans and followers to get a full picture of who is contributing to our team without listening to our TeamSpeak communication or seeing the effort outside official games. Also, as I mentioned earlier, we are working hard on harmonizing our views on how to play a perfect game of CS:GO, and this puts extra stress on MSL because he is the one leading a unit of players who have not yet fully found each other.
Are you going to make any roster changes to make things better?
No, we will not make any roster changes as of now. Before we can expect to see excellent team play and great results, we, as an organization, need to invest our time and energy in creating a culture that fosters a deep respect for the team, creates a strong sense of belonging and cultivates the determination to put in the hard work, day in day out. To me personally, that is what had been lacking from a leadership perspective when I came in. It is part of my philosophy that our players fully understand that coming back to the top should only be the first step. Having the hunger to stay there, and keep putting in the effort and improving are the key elements for me.
It is very important for me to point out that we have a vision of being a part of the absolute best, but as long as our players are coming in with that hunger, and show up with the right attitude and mindset every day for work, we will continue to believe in them.