acoR - The overlooked talent
How did a star AWPer in a flourishing scene go unnoticed for years, despite having been part of a team whose purpose was to find and develop talent? Ahead of MAD Lions' playoff games in Flashpoint 1, we bring you the story of Frederik "acoR" Gyldstrand, the rising talent who flew under the radar.
In today's era of Counter-Strike, potential prodigies are scouted from their early teen years, and by the age of 20, they are already in their countries' best teams, with a dozen Big Events played and a couple of trophies in the cabinet. You can find a handful of examples of players who fit that bill in today's top 5 teams: Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev, Denis "electronic" Sharipov, Robin "ropz" Kool, and Ludvig "Brollan" Brolin had all signed professional contracts by the age of 17. The rise of academy teams also helped teams scout talents, with Nicklas "gade" Gade and Maikil "Golden" Selim showing that supportive players can be identified and promoted to the main team too.
Then, why is it that the North Academy alumnus acoR has only gotten onto people's radar as a 22-year-old? The Dane, who has averaged a 1.13 rating over the last 12 months, is a few months older than s1mple but has just one Big Event under his belt so far, in comparison to the Ukrainian's 47. To try to figure out what caused acoR's late bloom, we talked to the player, two of his former teammates, and his ex-North Academy coach.
"I noticed acoR before he joined North Academy, so we have to go back to 2016", Nicolai "HUNDEN" Petersen, notorious for scouting talents, points out. At the time, acoR was a part of Team123, a squad that would become eFuture shortly afterward. He went on to have an impressive ESEA MDL debut season (S24), averaging a 1.21 rating with 14 out of 16 games with above-average numbers. A good showing at his first international LAN followed (ChinaCup - 1.07 rating), putting him in the spotlight at the perfect time as the North Academy team was being assembled.
"His talent was undeniable and has always been", Nicolai "glace" Jensen, his former teammate from North Academy, states. The squad's coach, Alexander "ave" Holdt, who was part of the legendary mTw 1.6 lineup in the late 2000s, adds that acoR's versatility and mechanical prowess made him stand out. "I don't believe I've ever seen a player with better movement; it's really beautiful to watch when he has the chance to show it," he says.
acoR admits that joining North Academy was "a big move" as it gave him a taste of how top teams worked. "I had pretty high expectations at that point, I came from a team outside of the top-100 and I think and we peaked at around No.30," he adds. North Academy featured two veteran players — Frederik "LOMME" Nielsen and glace —, and an experienced coach in ave. The idea was for the more experienced members to nurture the younger ones so they could potentially get a spot in the main North squad — which Daniel "mertz" Mertz and gade eventually did after some time.
As we dig into the roles and relationships within the team, we can start to understand why acoR never came into the limelight. His "quiet and down to earth personality", as glace recalls, along with his willingness to sacrifice himself for the betterment of the team, stood in the way of him taking a central role.
"We had plenty of vocals in LOMME and me, and then we pushed mertz in a direction where he would develop and take charge of his rotations with the AWP," glace explains. "acoR never had any issues taking the less interesting roles that LOMME and I couldn’t fill, to make sure that we were well balanced all around."
Despite always showing proficiency with the AWP in the second-sniper role, acoR was mostly used as a supportive and late-round rifler, with clutching being the only place he could shine. The role distribution doesn't come as a surprise, however, with glace recalling that mertz was "one of the hottest up-and-coming players in the scene at the time".
Read more: Examining mertz's relentless aggression
"I have always been a team player, I feel like I sacrificed myself for the team a lot in order for us to win," acoR adds. "To take an example of coldzera and TACO - I was sort of playing like TACO in order to make it easier for mertz to perform."
In a team where talent is being developed, acoR's versatility and willingness to put the team first ended up hindering him, as he was often the one changing roles. Talking about issues acoR might've had early on, glace points out a lack of aggression due to "not being super comfortable in the roles that he took, creating a lack of confidence", while ave notes that he had "a tendency to focus too much on external factors like table height, chairs and FPS", which impacted his game and communication negatively "quite a few times".
After acoR had been an "invisible" player in the original North Academy lineup, the departures of LOMME and glace for two younger players, including another star prospect in Johannes "b0RUP" Borup, made it even harder for him to get into the spotlight. The team as a whole didn't improve and withered out a year after creation.
"I wouldn’t consider the project a success at all," glace says. "That was partially mine and LOMME's responsibility, but I definitely don’t think that North at the time was mature enough as a company to maintain two CS:GO teams". He explains that difficulties were caused by not being able to participate in the same competitions as the main team, but also puts some blame on the lack of proper guidance from a coach. "ave was excellent in terms of anti-stratting and management, and also a great guy to be around. But I think what we needed more was a coach who could take charge and be an authority."
As North Academy closed its doors, mertz moved to the main North lineup, gade went to OpTic, b0RUP ended up in Tricked, and Dennis "sycrone" Nielsen went to Sprout. Only acoR was left without a solid team to join.
"They overlooked acoR because he had been taught incorrectly the whole time," HUNDEN says. "They had always changed his roles and decided to put him in wrong positions. He is not a guy who complains - he will always take the position the leader or coach puts him into and he will just do his job."
With the benefit of hindsight, ave agrees that acoR was played out of position and should have been put into situations where he could shine. However, he adds that, following mertz's departure, the then 20-year-old was "a bit reluctant" to take up the AWP "since he thought he would have fewer options in his career path". HUNDEN also makes an interesting observation about acoR's early days, saying that "he never decided to take up a star role in any team".
That is where the problem with players like acoR lies. Even though they can be tremendously skilled, their personality will make it hard for them to become star players and make the team play to their strengths. His talent should've been recognized sooner, but it was his reluctance to take the reins that ultimately resulted in him playing second fiddle and missing out on opportunities earlier in his career.
Despite how it all ended for him, acoR doesn't regret being such a selfless player in North Academy: "I don’t feel like I took the wrong approach. There has to be someone who sacrifices himself for the team more than his teammates do — and in North Academy it was me. In the end, I got a lot of experience and evolved as a player."
While the experience was invaluable, his motivation did dip after he was only able to join Squared, while all of his former teammates were much better off. "It was a big setback for me personally", acoR admits. The Squared campaign lasted just a few months, after which he spent a few more without a team, until things finally took a turn for the better at the start of 2019.
"b0rup reached out to me and asked if I wanted to be a part of the team in Tricked," he says. "I started out rifling, since we had snedker playing as a sniper, but not long after we decided we wanted to try with HUNDEN and I started playing as the main AWPer."
This was where the story of the acoR we know today, that of a consistent and exciting AWPer, truly began. However, the transition from a supportive player into a main sniper was far from easy. "We had our working hours and our demo reviews to create a strong AWP player," HUNDEN recalls. "He had a hard time in the beginning; let's be honest, he had a hard time for the first four months. But after a good period of practice and too many demos watched, he finally started to create his own AWP style. When that happened, he started to shine and became the star player of the team".
Many like to romanticize HUNDEN's effect and pin the player development completely on the IGL, but the 28-year-old notes that it was "acoR's own commitment to something that started to pay off". He began to get rid of old habits during an intensive two-week bootcamp with 12 hours of daily practice, and the constant demo watching of prime AWPers — "mainly device, kennyS and later on in the year a lot from ZywOo" — helped him to get out of the mentality of supporting others and to start playing more for himself. "I was always the first one to offer my grenades, which resulted in me getting timed a lot," acoR explains. "To some extent, it still happens today. It’s a habit that’s hard to get rid of."
The amount of work put in really started to show after the summer break. acoR averaged a 1.22 rating across four LAN events in the second half of 2019, including a 1.20 rating in Tricked's tournament win at the V4 Future Sports Festival which HUNDEN believes could have warranted him the MVP medal. "He, sjuush and bubzkji were all even at V4 - so they all deserved to win that MVP. It was great to finally see all the hours pay off for him." acoR believes that his best performances so far came either at V4 or at DreamHack Sevilla (1.37 rating), but edges it towards the tournament in Budapest: "At V4, I was really proactive in reading the game, involving my teammates in mid-round, doing setups and taking initiative".
The story from that point on is pretty well known. acoR remained a key player for Tricked, who got signed by MAD Lions and continued their climb in the first months of 2020, qualifying for their first Big Event - IEM Katowice. They were unable to take a big scalp in Poland but managed to stabilize themselves in the top 10-15 area and claim the title of the second-best in Denmark, behind the untouchable Astralis. The controversial decision to remove HUNDEN from the active lineup seems to not have affected the team or acoR individually: he averaged a 1.17 rating as MAD Lions plowed through the group stages of Flashpoint 1 to cement their title credentials in the $1 million league, in which he is one of the marquee players.
acoR is happy with the style he has now, combining passive play with rounds where he cuts loose and takes over. "I feel like a have a pretty dynamic style right now. I can do it all, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. I'm going to do whatever it takes to get to a point where I feel like I can be the best version of myself possible, both for the team and me personally."
While acoR isn't the first Danish AWPer to break through and make headlines — after all, both mertz and Jakob "JUGi" Hansen were at one point touted as future stars —, HUNDEN believes his former teammate has what it takes to live up to the potential he always had but that was only recently discovered.
"He is playing for the second-best Danish team now," HUNDEN says. "He is different from mertz and JUGi. In general, he is a different person. He is such a nice guy to be around, and I think he will be a star player in 2021.
"It could be for the best Danish team, it could also just be for MAD Lions, but I think he will surprise a lot of people next year! I miss him!"