HUNDEN: "I saw a lot of weaknesses from pretty much all the teams at BLAST Premier"
As MAD Lions prepare for their first Big Event at IEM Katowice, Nicolai "HUNDEN" Petersen talks about the relief of finally finding some stability, the mental block his team have run into, and his expectations for the Polish tournament.
It's rare for a team making their Big Event debut to be in a position to do well at the tournament, much less at one as stacked as IEM Katowice. Twelve out of the current top 14 teams in the world will be in action this upcoming week in Poland and MAD Lions are one of them, but even though they are on the lower end of that lot, HUNDEN's squad are touted as one of the biggest dark horses of the tournament.
That's because his roster has made a great impression at the lower tier over the last six months, with a well-rounded playstyle captained by the veteran in-game leader and complemented with a deep pool of rising Danish talent. They have steadily climbed the rankings since April, when they were barely a top 30 team in the world.
"I think the success comes from that I finally have my own lineup for longer than three months," HUNDEN tells HLTV.org. "Normally, I would have decent results and then my 'star' player would be sold. I think it's because I finally have time to create a team that believes in me as a leader."
HUNDEN is referring to most of his career, of course, but mainly to last year's loss of one of his best performers in Johannes "b0RUP" Borup, who got the call from Heroic in August. The current version of MAD Lions was formed with the addition of Fredrik "roeJ" Jørgensen, a rather unknown player who joined from Copenhagen Flames. The team then still known as Tricked certainly made the best out of the situation and had their big break the following month at V4 Future Sports Festival, where they won their first notable title amidst much bigger names such as mousesports, MIBR, and NiP.
The victory instantly springboarded them into a position where they were no longer only the fourth-best team in Denmark but had a claim for the No.2 spot above Heroic and the struggling North. That claim was soon reinforced with a couple of runner-up finishes at Forge of Masters and DreamHack Open Winter, while the team was getting ready for the next phase of their careers as MAD Lions bought the entire roster at the end of 2019.
That meant not only that the Danish squad were competitive within their region but also that they finally had an organization behind them that could withstand pressure if the likes of North came asking for players. "The biggest change is that we are not the weakest link in the Danish food chain anymore," HUNDEN says. "I can now focus on the future, and I know that no one from this team is getting bought out of the contract from a Danish team if Heroic or North starts to perform badly. That safety is nice to have in your mind after you were the weakest link in the food chain for so many years."
With the transfer also came the arrival of a new coach in Luis "peacemaker" Tadeu, whose reputation from the earlier years of CS:GO, when he often went from team to team and was heavily criticised by some of the players who worked under him, is something HUNDEN has previously downplayed. "We needed a guy who had a perfect mindset for CS," the Danish captain adds. "In my opinion, he was the guy we needed to take the next step. Luis knows how to create strats, how to create deeper strat books. He is a hard worker — if he gets more than five hours of sleep at tournament days, he is not 100% prepared! I have never met a guy who works more than this guy!"
Adding a Brazilian coach to an all-Danish team might seem counter-productive, but HUNDEN guarantees that the language difference is not a problem. "After two years in Heroic, he has a good understanding of what is happening in-game. When we talk strats and when we take timeouts, we just speak English. At the end of each timeout, I start to explain to everyone in Danish what we are going to do so that no one gets lost in the Danish/English thing."
As the calendar turned, MAD Lions started the new year by qualifying for DreamHack Open Leipzig and IEM Katowice, and while they continued to make deep runs on LAN at the German event and then at ICE Challenge, the Danes were still missing something to bring home more titles. "When you go from being the underdog to being one of the favorites, the mindset for younger players changes," HUNDEN explains. "We need to learn, to live with that we are one of the favorites at every single $100,000 tournament now. People have started to understand some of our tendencies."
But the unfamiliar status of favorites is not something MAD Lions need to worry about when they are placed in a group with three top-five teams as well as two more top-ten sides at IEM Katowice, all looking to make the playoffs. HUNDEN doesn't think too much about the other attendees' status, claiming he has seen enough of the big dogs' issues to know that they are not unbeatable.
"I think it depends on how good your preparation has been before the tournament," he says. "I saw a lot of weaknesses from pretty much all the teams at BLAST Premier. It will be hard to make playoffs, but if the teams make the same mistakes and show the same weaknesses, we can for sure use them to our favor. If we make the playoffs with three top-five teams in the world, I think it's fully deserved. But we need to be on point, we need to show up on our weaker maps. GOD HUNDEN AT SPODEK? LET'S FUCKING GO!"