The Rise of the Reaper: A Grim tale
We took an in-depth look back at Michael "Grim" Wince's path to the top following his addition to Liquid earlier this year.
Grim’s journey to become North America’s hottest commodity recently reached a crescendo when he was signed by Liquid, a deserved upgrade for the 19-year-old after he had consistently demonstrated incredible form as a part of Triumph since the start of 2020. One would think that the rifler had only recently broken into the upper echelon as he made waves against top level competition, but his path has been one marred with setbacks that have led to his route to the top being prolonged.
Gaining a reputation as a star fragger with a high multi-kill potential, Grim was thrust into the limelight early on. Rising up through the ranks alongside another incredibly talented youngster, Ryan "Snakes" Amann, he made waves as SoaR topped their first-ever season of MDL to qualify for ESL Pro League, but the team were immediately set back as an age requirement of 16 years put his young teammate out of commission for the following season.
The loss of such a key part of their lineup left the team struggling to maintain their level in the prestigious league, and they quickly found themselves relegated back to MDL, which was the first of many setbacks the youngster would suffer in his career. Later attempts to qualify for EPL with the same core of players were also cast aside as ESL cut down the number of teams involved in their flagship competition, and although the tournament organiser would later go on to give the team a second chance to qualify, the damage had already been done as Snakes had stepped down from active play - an effect of waning motivation after having two opportunities to play at a pro level yanked away.
Left yet again without his partner in crime, Grim had to take matters into his own hands as he fought to find consistency in his form, overcoming confidence issues, gaining renewed faith in himself, and applying all that he had learned under the leadership of Matthew "mCe" Elmore on previous rosters as he rose to the occasion on Triumph to earn a spot on Liquid. As Grim turns the page on a new chapter in his career, having finally attained a spot on a top-level North American team, we took a look back at previous chapters of his career to see some of the hardships he overcame, as well as gain insight from his former teammates as to the setbacks he endured and how Grim grew as an individual.
Grim first truly came to the forefront on Broken Alliance, becoming a key part of the roster that formed following the addition of Logan "Voltage" Long in mid-2017. “We wanted to make some roster moves, and it conveniently happened that Voltage decided to leave his MDL team because he felt out of place and that he wasn't ready for the next step,” Grim explained. “We brought him on and played for a couple of weeks, and he made the proposition that we should replace two of our teammates with Snakes and motm. At the time we didn’t agree with how tacitus was calling at our level and wanted a change of scenery, so motm took over the calling and we decided to pick up xCeeD. When that roster change happened we were all incredibly motivated and dedicated and really wanted to take our game to the next level.”
Voltage recalls this moment as the turning point in his relationship with Grim. “The decision to replace tacitus as IGL with motm didn’t really sit right with Grim,“ Voltage recalls. “I remember him messaging me saying he intended to leave, so I talked to him for about two hours straight convincing him why he should stay and why it would be better in the long run. After that, I think it really solidified our friendship and his faith in me to always look out for him and try to help him make the best decision for his career.”
Broken Alliance later added mCe as a coach, with the team immediately making an impression as they qualified for MDL with a first-place finish in ESEA Main Season 25. Shortly after that qualification campaign, the team also took part in the North American qualifier for ELEAGUE Premier 2017, managing upset wins over CLG and Rise Nation before falling just short of attaining a spot at the main event with losses to Immortals and Renegades - an opportunity that would have been incredible for such a young lineup, and could have offered them the chance to compete against a higher calibre of opposition at a very early stage in their careers.
“They were so innocent,” mCe recalled when asked about his impressions of Grim and Snakes during that period. “Just good kids with great work ethics. No egos, no bad habits yet. They didn’t rage and didn’t really talk shit at all. We definitely had no idea how to play the game, though, so I had to do a ton of micro-managing while calling and that band-aided us learning individually for a long time.” mCe would go on to take Ian "motm" Hardy’s place on the active roster as the MDL season got underway, with his micromanaging helping the team reach new heights as they achieved a top-two finish. The placement set SoaR up against fellow North American upcomers Rise Nation in the offline MDL grand finals, where Snakes was the difference-maker in an upset victory as the team qualified for ESL Pro League Season 7 - a fantastic achievement for two players who were playing their first-ever season of MDL.
“For me, it was insane that I made the Pro League in my first MDL season, and it inspired me to improve even more, and work even harder,” Grim said, before going on to praise mCe’s guidance throughout the season. “We definitely could not have done it without mCe’s experience and leadership, something that we didn't have as we were all starting out - it helped a lot during tense, pressured situations. He taught me so much in terms of the tactical side of things and more importantly the mental game, and pushed me to reach new heights every day.” mCe agreed that his experience was critical in helping the young players develop, but also contended that he definitely didn’t give the players an easy time of things.
“I’m a bit of a rager,” he joked. “I want things to be done fundamentally correct. I feel like you should always be able to do basic things flawlessly, and I definitely yelled a bit more than I should have at all those guys [laughs]. But it was always constructive and they understood I was just trying to fix things when I would get frustrated. I didn’t like to tolerate anything other than people’s best, day in and day out, so we worked really hard and when we had issues we would try to fix them immediately instead of letting them drag on and on.
“It definitely led to disagreements on stuff but I feel like it helped people learn tremendously as well, and there was pressure from me and themselves to always improve," mCe recalled. “You’ve always got to want to be better and I feel like that can’t be taught. We always joked when we played Rise on LAN and they were screaming at us, that I yelled more at them when we were in practice than Rise ever could, so they were prepared to deal with that mental aspect at LAN. We came back so many times on that team that as long as I sounded confident they would make anything work and you can only gain that attitude from going down and coming back successfully.”
Alas, tragedy would strike after the team earned promotion as Snakes was ineligible to play in ESL Pro League the following season due to not meeting the age requirement of 16, leaving them down one of their most crucial players as they made the move to Dignitas. To add insult to injury for the young upcomer, ESEA also implemented the same age requirement for MDL, forcing Snakes and other notable players on the rise at the time, such as Jason "neptune" Tran, Owen "oBo" Schlatter, and David "frozen" Čerňanský, to play in the lower leagues.
“I definitely think the downfall of our team was Snakes not being able to play with us in EPL because of the age rule,” Grim shared. “He was such an impactful player and with losing him, we had to make up for a bunch of things that he brought in his skillset, like consistently winning clutches and always getting at least two kills while being a site anchor. I believe that because of the age rule restriction and because he had to miss out on his first season of Pro League after grinding for it for months, Snakes lost a ton of motivation that he used to have back on Broken Alliance, and it was hard for him to get that back.”
Voltage concurred: “Qualifying for EPL and not being able to play with Snakes was a huge hit to our team. At the time, I would say performance-wise Snakes was actually better than Grim, although Grim always had a higher mechanical peak. Overall, this was a really rough time for the team trying to transition away from having a player that could just completely change the entire course of a round.”
Indeed, the loss of Snakes would play a pivotal part in that ESL Pro League season as the roster was plagued with issues due to a lack of cohesion, chemistry, and mechanical ability, leading to multiple changes that left Grim as the only member standing from the original lineup by the end of the season. A last-place finish resulted in Dignitas being relegated to MDL, offering the lowest of lows to Grim as a counter to the high of reaching Pro League in his inaugural MDL season.
Grim continued to play under the Dignitas banner for a handful of months, where he was joined by the likes of Peter "ptr" Gurney, Gage "Infinite" Green, and Mitch "mitch" Semago before ultimately taking his leave. He would later reunite with Snakes while playing for AZIO and Spacestation, with the team’s only notable placement seeing them qualify for ECS Season 8.Grim’s numbers had dropped by then, but mCe argues that this period was crucial for the youngster's development. “Grim was a lot more loose after having played with DAVEY, and I think anytime you play for different styles of IGLs it can only benefit you as a player. He learned a lot and was starting to become more independent in the things he did.”
During this time, a number of Grim’s former Broken Alliance teammates had linked up on an ESEA Advanced roster called The Quest for Season 30, attaining promotion to MDL for the following season. Not long after MDL Season 31 got underway, Spacestation chose to part ways with their roster and pull out of CS:GO, offering Snakes and Grim the opportunity to reunite with their former teammates — an opening mCe, Voltage, and Jack "xCeeD" Holiman had been hoping for, with mCe once again transitioning to a coaching role with the addition of Gabe "Spongey" Greiner to the roster.
“We made The Quest with the intention of getting Grim back on the team and trying to make a run again,” mCe explained. “We were really good friends and wanted to play together again and give it another shot after learning from our mistakes on Dignitas.” Grim echoed similar sentiments. “When we first made the team on Broken Alliance, we all meshed really well together personality-wise and were all really great friends,” he stated. “Making EPL amplified this further. I think throughout the years we realized that things just weren’t the same when we were on different teams in terms of friendships and chemistry and what not, so we all wanted to get back together on the same team and grind together to try to make EPL again.”
Although the team didn’t immediately make good on their plans in MDL Season 31, they managed to qualify once again for Season 8 of ECS thanks to a revitalized showing from the young rifler. Grim’s strong form continued into MDL Season 32, in which he helped The Quest secure a spot in the playoffs by averaging a 1.26 rating over 14 maps. Additionally, victories over Riot Squad and Complexity in the closed qualifier for DreamHack Open Atlanta 2019 earned the roster a spot in the main event, with their promising results being enough to draw the attention of Triumph, who approached the team with an offer to sign.
The newly-christened Triumph roster impressed in the MDL playoffs as they made up for an opening round loss, fighting through the lower bracket to finish their run in third place and attain a spot at ESEA MDL Global Challenge Season 32. However, the team’s lack of experience against international opposition would come back to bite them at both Global Challenge and DreamHack Open Atlanta, where they were eliminated in last place following losses to the likes of Heroic, Sprout, and HAVU. Still, they could take solace in the fact that they were one step closer to reaching their goal of making ESL Pro League once again, having obtained a spot in EPL Relegation.
Or so they thought. In a controversial change, ESL announced that they would be condensing the total number of teams competing in ESL Pro League from 48 to 24, with the goal of having all the teams play in a long-form league setting in a single location. As a result of the change, not only were the number of North American teams in EPL reduced, but Triumph's and Bad News Bears’ opportunity to play in Relegation was left by the wayside with no prior communication to the players. With their future up in the air, Triumph once again faced issues as Snakes’ motivation waned as a result of another opportunity to play at the top level being ripped away and xCeeD needing to change his schedule for work. “I think a few people on the team considered quitting after hearing the news about EPL,” Voltage shared.
“xCeeD’s work was hindering our practice times too much,” Grim recalled regarding the tough period. “For me, [playing CS] was just something I always wanted to do and I was still in school at the time so I would have no obligations and just come home and play non-stop.” The lack of proper practice and possibility of spending another season in MDL led Grim to make the decision to jump ship, with a plan to join Riot Squad after Pujan "FNS" Mehta had stepped down from the roster. “I liked the players on the team a lot and played with some of them previously on Dignitas. They were better than us at the time and had a sick run at the previous Global Challenge, getting second place and competing well against EU teams. Over on Triumph we were in the middle of making a lot of roster changes due to the core disbanding, so I decided to join them to see what I could do. As soon as I joined, Riot Squad dropped the team and then about a month later the hunt for organizations was looking rough, and Triumph were about to have a roster lock for the season and were still trying out players.”
This was, however, an entirely different Triumph lineup than the one Grim had parted ways with as only Spongey and Voltage were left standing, a result of Snakes stepping down and mCe making the move to Chaos as a coach. “Snakes had personal issues combined with a lack of motivation, so he stepped down to take a break,” Grim explained. “I do think that if xCeeD hadn’t started working, and if Snakes had kept his motivation, they would easily be top players in the NA scene today.”
The opportunity to re-sign with Triumph came at a crucial moment for Grim as there were few other organizations expressing interest in signing a North American CS:GO roster at the time. “I wanted longevity with VALORANT around the corner and the chance that some players would switch games due to us not getting an organization,” Grim disclosed. “I also had faith in Shakezullah’s calling, and respected him a lot as a player and I wanted to team with Voltage again.” With the recommendation of Voltage, who said that Grim “was the best player he’s ever played with”, Alan "Shakezullah" Hardeman made the decision to add the young talent to the roster.
“I think whenever I talk about Grim, people think I overhype him because he’s one of my best friends,” Voltage said. “But I truly mean all the praise I give him. I’ve quite literally never seen a player so mechanically consistent and that includes watching the likes of s1mple and NiKo in FPL while I was playing it. Ever since I started playing with him, he consistently put up insane numbers versus teams that should be absolutely stomping us, which you can see in his HLTV stats. Despite his mechanical skill, I think the most impressive thing about him was he never got an ego towards his teammates. He would have games where he would get 30+ kills in regulation and we would lose, yet he wouldn’t sound upset at us for losing, he would wonder what he could’ve done better to help us have a better chance to win. That mentality is just not something you see in young players, especially when they have the talent and promise that Grim has.”
For Shakezullah, the addition of Grim was a much-needed boon to a roster that was severely lacking in firepower. “We needed that kind of star fragger,” the Triumph captain admitted. “Once we picked him up, I could tell he was special. For me early on, it was a bit similar to what it was like with floppy. He was an extremely talented rifler who played impactful CT spots, and second entried on T sides. Their work ethic is very similar in that they non-stop are playing the game and want to improve constantly.”
Grim’s faith in the in-game leader was also well-placed as his own level rose exponentially on the roster, raising eyebrows as he averaged a 1.32 rating over 27 maps to take charge of earning his team a spot in the MDL Season 33 grand finals . “Over time, Grim molded and became a player with superstar potential,” Shakezullah said. “He still has a couple of things that he has to improve on, but his ability to multi-kill and his overall skill ceiling is through the roof.” He then went on to make a bold prediction: “I think given time, he can be on par with EliGE as the best rifler in the world.”
The additions of Rahul "curry" Nemani and Paytyn "junior" Johnson to the team’s roster in April 2020 helped to further elevate Grim’s level, with the entry fragger creating space for the star rifler and the AWPer stepping up as a second star. Additionally, Grim began to gain more confidence both inside and outside of the game, a result of losing significant amounts of weight — a lifestyle change which mCe thought really helped Grim come into his own. “He started to realize how truly good he could be, and Shakezullah helped so much by putting some structure in place for him to shine.”
Voltage also praised Grim’s commitment to losing weight, but revealed an additional fact as to why he thinks Grim’s level has finally become so consistent. “He used to have a big issue with changing settings and getting in his own head about things,” the former Triumph AWPer remarked. “After Dreamhack Atlanta, when he had a really rough performance due to changing all of his settings a couple days before the LAN, he vowed to stick to the settings he was most comfortable on and not switch them no matter what happened. Ever since then his consistency has shown, I mean for crying out loud the kid was the highest-rated player in the world in the past six months before joining Liquid.”
The other core factor both Shakezullah and Grim emphasized was the environment in Triumph. “It allowed him to feel welcomed and surrounded by a family,” Shakezullah explained. “The team chemistry is really good, and that allowed him to play to his full potential within the game as well.“ Grim agreed with that sentiment: “I really enjoyed playing in the lineup because it was like a family. We would constantly joke with each other and stay in Teamspeak the entire day, even before practice and after. It's an environment that is underrated, and most teams don't have it. Having a team as close as we were as friends results in everyone performing better due to feeling as comfortable and motivated as possible.“
That holy trinity of a great team environment, increased confidence due to his weight loss, and the in-game leadership of Shakezullah allowed Grim to blossom, putting his skills on display in Triumph’s BLAST Premier Spring campaign against the likes of Evil Geniuses, Gen.G, and 100 Thieves. However, perhaps the most stunning series from the rifler came against MIBR in the cs_summit 6 North America Regional Qualifier, where a heroic 109 ADR and 123-70 K-D performance over 110 rounds was still not enough to help Triumph take the series over the line, leaving the team out of contention for the main event as they ended their run in fourth place.
Still, Grim’s incredible consistency and skill during this period put him on the radar of Liquid, who came knocking during the player break as they looked to find a replacement for Nick "nitr0" Cannella. The decision for the Intel Grand Slam Season 2 champions to look towards Grim did not come as a surprise given his recent performances, although some questioned the idea of the organization picking up a player who lacks experience against European teams and at top tier LANs.
Grim acknowledged that he may have a rough start initially when those matches get underway, but did not think the change in opposition or setting would have a lasting effect. “I think it might take a couple of LANs, but after that I will get used to it. Playing some of the best teams instantly on LAN when it returns might be a learning curve for me in terms of learning playstyles and tendencies that are different than the ones I’m currently used to playing against daily in NA, but I don’t think pressure will be an issue and I will be able to stay in it mentally.”
When asked about his impressions after playing with Liquid for the last month, Grim explained that it was "definitely a step up" and a "change of pace" from the previous rosters he has competed on. "One of the things that is different is how quickly mistakes are acknowledged, fixed and improved on," he went on to say. "Also, in-game during tense, high-pressure situations, people are more composed. Our schedule is also a step up from my previous teams in terms of how many matches there are to play every week, so I’m still getting used to playing back to back matches and making sure I'm 100% for each match."
Regarding the leadership of Jake "Stewie2K" Yip, Grim had only good things to say. "Stewie is still fairly new to IGLing and being the team captain, but I couldn't have asked for a better leader," the young rifler stated. "He has made sure I am the most comfortable I can be in the team being the 'new guy' and helps me a lot to make sure I can perform to the best of my ability and making the transfer to a new team as easy as possible."
Having finally elevated himself on to a roster of top players, Grim also shared his thoughts on other upcoming talents he thinks could make their mark in the near future. Like many other North American professional players, he pointed towards Erick "Xeppaa" Bach as a talent to keep an eye on, but also added his former Triumph teammate junior and 17-year-old Erik "penny" Penny to the list. "Xeppaa is currently on the path to being a top NA player and is coached by someone I highly respect in mCe," Grim divulged. "penny and junior are also playing with some of my favorite IGLs and coaches I've worked with, being Shakezullah and tacitus. I think with those resources, their work ethics, and raw mechanical skill, they can become top NA players."
In his final praise for Grim, mCe spoke of the raw potential he was proud to see the young rifler finally harnessing. “There’s just certain people you play with and you can see how good they could be if they ever achieved their potential,” he said. “I got to play with Twistzz early in his career as well and you could see the same thing Mike [Grim] has that Twistzz did. He’s once again moved on to more experienced players that will only raise his ceiling higher. I think the only thing Mike’s going to have to deal with on LAN is his nerves. We scrimmed Astralis on SoaR and Mike aced them and started losing his shit mid-practice, which is something I’ll never forget. If he can keep the adrenaline, himself, and his nerves in check and trust his teammates, he’s going to have a bright future for sure. He’s too good and too stubborn not to succeed.”
Under the Liquid banner, Grim no longer needs to fear losing the talented teammates around him, nor getting relegated from playing at a top level in the near future. Instead, his attention can finally turn solely to developing even further as an individual once he begins to take on international competition at offline events. No longer surrounded by his friends and teammates who have been around him for the majority of his career, the pressure will be all on the 19-year-old to continue demonstrating the confidence he has gained in recent months, but in the words of Voltage, “Grim deserves it more than anyone else out there and I’m happy to see him showing everyone what he’s capable of. The scariest part is, he’s just getting started.”