One for the future: mhL
mhL's introduction to Counter-Strike happened when he was just five years old, but unlike fellow prodigy Dmitry "sh1ro" Sokolov, the young Pole's interest for the game didn't last. mhL only really got into the game following the release of Global Offensive, in 2014, after being persuaded to try it by school friends. About 12 years old at the time, the game grabbed him instantly, with the scenes of Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas and co. winning the Major in the Spodek Arena giving additional inspiration to take on the game competitively.
"Before I started playing, I watched some matches and witnessed Virtus.pro winning Katowice 2014, so I told myself I want to be like them and I started playing," mhL remembers. "I knew from the first time I launched CS:GO that I wanted to be the best and took it seriously from the beginning."
Playing with friends at first, mhL didn't feel any pressure and enjoyed the competition, finding it funny when they were able to win against nominally better teams. Things started getting more serious over time, leading to his HLTV debut with AVENGERS, and a link-up with Invizy, a team featuring the likes of Olek "hades" Miskiewicz and Paweł "dycha" Dycha, who were on the rise at the time as well.
Joining forces with other young and ambitious Poles, the environment changed and mhL was forced to face his flaws. "When I started to play in my first teams I struggled a lot with communication and with stress", he admits while adding that his communication is still far from perfect, but that he continues to work on it. Aside from poor communication, he had a really hard time dealing with stress: "I couldn't really handle it very well and even in practice matches my hand was shaking and I was sweating", he explains, but says he has improved in that area dramatically and hardly feels any pressure now.
"I regret only one thing from my past", the Pole opens up about his early teams, "and it's that I was toxic when we were losing and I would blame my teammates for losing. I feel very bad about it right now, because I know that if I wasn't toxic we could have achieved more with Invizy guys".
When asked about his time with Invizy and mhL, dycha remembers them as a group of friends who sat in TeamSpeak and played League of Legends or FACEIT. "Already then, playing in the first teams together in Invizy, it was clear that he was hungry for victory and wanted to win, no matter who we were playing against", but performance-wise, mhL didn't particularly stand out from the rest of the gang.
Regarding toxicity, dycha doesn't really agree with the sentiment presented by mhL, putting down the team's issues to the group simply being young and inexperienced.
"Was Miłosz toxic? Each of us was in our own way because we had no experience and everyone wanted to win. I like him very much, there is no bad blood between us", the 23-year-old Sprout player explains. "The fact that someone 'bites' someone from time to time has nothing to do with toxicity. Somehow, we did not care if one day there was a quarrel because the next day everything between us was as it used to be, we enjoyed playing, winning".
Overall, it is the positive memories that remain with dycha from the time with mhL, such as upsetting bigger teams in the Polish scene, and he reveals that he would love to play in a similar composition again someday: "I would like such a team from the past to arise in the present times, and I hope that such times will come again".
"We needed a person with more experience to show us the direction in which we should work", dycha says about the Invizy adventure, with mhL getting exactly that in AGO from Dominik "GruBy" Swiderski, Damian "Furlan" Kislowski, and coach Mikołaj "miNirox" Michałków. However, he would have to earn that opportunity first, as he was not a standout player yet, averaging just a 0.93 rating from HLTV matches spanning 2018 and the first half of 2019.
"Someone that gave me a big opportunity was PAGO, he let me be in the Polish Pro League when I was no one and it helped me a lot to develop and improve as a person and player", mhL says, with Mateusz "PAGO" Pągowski, a prominent Polish Twitch streamer and personality that was involved in running the domestic PUG competition describing how he stumbled upon the young AWPer.
"mhL started as a subscriber on Twitch and we played some subscriber games, as well as Gfinity cups". Showing some promise, PAGO invited him to the Polish Pro League (PPL) when it was launched, and kept him in despite multiple negative reports by other players. "People were mad at him and reported - he liked to tilt people, others said he baited, but the truth is he contributes to his team".
mhL put a serious effort in PPL, playing nearly 2000 matches (55% win rate and 1.21 K/D), with the prize money helping him develop further. "I asked a friend and he remembers that when mhL bought a new PC from PPL winnings he started to really stand out. I still like to call him a baiter, just for fun, but nowadays, for sure, he's a completely different player", PAGO explains.
As he currently doesn't like to deathmatch or spend time on aim_botz, mhL was focused on watching demos, playing PUGs, and participating in qualifiers with Polish Pro League mixes as primary ways of developing. "If you want to be better you just need to play a lot and try to improve in every aspect. I'm sure of one thing and it's that watching big tournaments and POVs of players I admired, and still admire, has helped me a lot."
As with every young gun, one of the biggest challenges mhL had to face was not on the server, but within his home - winning over his parents' support. "Like every parent, they weren't really happy that I played video games for 7-8 hours a day, maybe even more", the youngster explains, but adds that things changed when he got his first serious team contract.
"When I got the offer from AGO, they changed their mindset from 'Games won't give you anything in the future, school is more important' to 'We hope you will make your dreams come true and we will support you'". He found his parents' concerns understandable and expands: "They really hope I will make my dreams come true, and I will do everything to make them proud".
At the same time, dealing with school and very busy days was no simple task. mhL ran us through an average day in his life as a high schooler and professional player: "I get up at 6:30 AM and go to school, come back at 3 PM and play Counter-Strike until 10 PM or 11 PM. It's not easy to play at 100% when you are exhausted physically and mentally. Sometimes I wasn't going to school for a day or two, because I was really tired and we had some important games".
"Not getting enough sleep and being tired all day is very hard, but I think it's worth it because I love this game and I will do everything to become the best - so school is not a big deal." mhL is now in his final year of education, after which he will give himself about two years to fully focus on playing to see if his "dreams can become reality".
The way mhL got into AGO wasn't typical, as the organization decided to hold extensive, three-month long trials, with players such as hades, Eryk "leman" Kocęba, Maciej "F1KU" Miklas, as well as Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski taking part.
"In the course of assembling a new team we tried to look for a sniper who would play in a similar style to snatchie - a person who is not afraid, who likes to play aggressively looking for frags", the team's Head Coach, miNirox, remembers. He notes that mhL fit the style they needed the best, but there were concerns whether the youngster was just having a hot streak and if he was going to be able to continue performing to the same level after the trials. "Time showed that the choice was excellent", the coach concluded.
mhL was unveiled as a permanent member in September 2019 and aside from a five-day stint on the bench in February of this year, kept his place in the starting lineup since, despite the team experimenting a seven-man roster.
To do so, mhL had to work on his teamplay a lot, veteran teammate GruBy points out: "When mhL joined the team he needed to improve his communication, learn how to react and cooperate with his teammates. He also had a lot of shortcomings when it comes to grenades, but it's not surprising because he didn't have the opportunity to play in a professional team before".
The AWPer's development in AGO was swift. After his first season of ESEA MDL, which he finished with a 1.03 rating from 17 maps, mhL started fitting in and doing damage. Shortly, the Poles won their first event, Polish Esport League - Warmup PGA, where the youngster had a 1.26 rating.
mhL stood out more as time progressed. He was the team's best player in the LOOT.BET Season 5 victory at the end of 2019 (1.23 event rating), where they outplaced the likes of Winstrike and HAVU. The schedule was even busier as we entered 2020, with AGO managing to reach the IEM Katowice Closed Qualifier early on. Facing ENCE, Heroic, and G2 in BO3 series, mhL showed he can hold his own against the highest caliber of opponents, posting a 1.21 rating over nine maps played.
GruBy noticed that it is in these kinds of matches that mhL does his best, especially in terms of communication, where he otherwise lacks. "When we play versus much better teams, he takes more initiatives when it comes to peeking with the AWP, he communicates more and just wants to win very much. Also, if he gets into the match strong and plays well individually, he is able to make a show".
While most of his matches played for the team so far still come from Polish LANs or online games where he faced the European sub-top, his 1.19 rating and 1.25 impact rating in AGO are still impressive, as is his flawless record of above-average-rated events since joining the team.
During his tenure in AGO, the team has often been on the outskirts of the top 30 but fell short from getting into it. Their biggest breakthrough only happened recently, in August, as after finishing 5-6th in ESEA MDL Season 33 (1.22 rating from 21 maps for mhL), the team managed to qualify for ESL Pro League Season 12 by winning the playoffs of the tournaments, including a spectacular 3-0 over Sprout in the grand final.
mhL was certainly the man of the match, showing up with an exquisite 1.48 rating and whopping 0.98 kills per round in the game against his former teammate dycha. Mirage, Train, and Dust2 all went AGO's way to ensure a 3-1 victory, recovering from the one map lower-bracket deficit with ease, and grabbing the Pro League spot.
"I think that winning versus Sprout in the MDL Final and making it to ESL Pro League was the moment that made me think, 'The hours, my life, the ambitions I put into this game have paid off'," mhL says. "When we won the BO5 I was very happy because we are going to play against teams and players I admired for most of my career, but right now I only feel hunger for winning against them and I will do everything I can to upset them".
Heavily focused on the AWPing duties, with 51.8% of total kills coming with the Big Green, mhL's weapon kill distribution is nearly identical to that of his inspiration: Kenny "kennyS" Schrub. "I knew I was going to be an AWPer from the start, seeing how kennyS was playing and destroying his enemies made me think: 'Yep, that's what I want to do - and I want to be better than this man'." The fact that Poland has historically lacked great primary AWPers wasn't a consideration when he decided to embrace the sniper, but he was — and still is —, confident about his choice. "I don't want to play a different role, because I know it won't make me happy".
The Pole is also capable with the Scout and is comfortable pulling out a sidearm or an HE grenade to finish off tagged players, with good quickscope ability helping him get out of tight situations when he gets caught out. However, that isn't a common occurrence, as mhL avoids overly risky plays and tries to stay alive and help out in the late-round. His coach miNirox said he has the chance to become "The Polish ZywOo", and while there are some similarities in playstyle, mhL is still not close to the super-carry level of the French star, nor does he display his immaculate gamesense and clutching ability Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut did even early on.
Still, the comparison alone means a lot to the youngster: "These words make me really happy and it will give me a lot of confidence in my game. I play different than ZywOo and I'm not on his level yet, but I hope that someday I will be able to rival him for the #1 player in the world", he says about our first "One for the future" player.
Although the trajectory of his 18-year-old teammate has been great, GruBy insists that mhL "has to do more work and train harder", explaining that his performances so far are based on raw talent. "When a worse period comes, he will not know what to do and why it is happening because he doesn't have a system of individual training".
Through his answers, it is clear that mhL isn't just talented, but also supremely confident - something miNirox mentions as his biggest strength. Teammate Furlan adds that what sets mhL apart from other young Polish players is that his confidence isn't affected by recent results: "It's always on the same level, regardless of whether we win or lose a few matches in a row".
mhL confirms his tenacity at the end of our conversation, when he says he wants to eclipse the exact players that inspired him to start his Counter-Strike career.
"My goal as a player is to surpass the Golden Five as a team and be the best player in the world. I know it's an almost impossible dream, but I will give my best to achieve it. It will be a long and very hard road, but I hope I will make this dream become reality."
The youngster opened the tournament with a respectable 1.06 rating against BIG, but is hoping to show more against the top European teams in order to deliver on the promise of being the next big thing in Poland.