How dexter overcame adversity to win Flashpoint 3 with mousesports
As an inexperienced leader at the highest level, the Australian had his work cut out for him when he agreed to join mousesports and replace a legendary caller. After a rough start, he is finally starting to prove his doubters wrong.
mousesports found themselves in a rebuilding period at the start of 2021. The team's then in-game leader, Finn "karrigan" Andersen, decided against renewing his contract with the team and returned to FaZe, while Chris "chrisJ" de Jong was — once again — benched to make room for an up-and-coming AWPer, Frederik "acoR" Gyldstrand, signed from MAD Lions.
To pull together an out-of-sorts team, mousesports signed Christopher "dexter" Nong, an exciting, yet risky shotcaller hailing from Australia. While his teams had shown promise internationally, upsetting the likes of SK in 2018 and Liquid and Evil Geniuses in 2019, the addition was a speculative one, especially considering that the pandemic had isolated him from top-tier competition for a year.
dexter was thrown straight in at the deep end following his arrival in Europe, in February. Despite common sense, as well as dexter himself implying that it would take time for the team to gel, last-place finishes at the highly-competitive IEM Katowice and ESL Pro League S13 — during which the new IGL averaged a 0.92 rating —, were enough for him to be under fire as an unworthy replacement for karrigan, one of the most revered in-game leaders in the game.
If the difficulties with the team and on the server weren't enough, dexter was also facing an adaptation period outside of Counter-Strike. He left Australia, a country fairly unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic, to live on his own in Germany, where the outbreak was far from under control.
"Honestly, I did feel quite a lot of homesickness, I definitely underestimated the impact that traveling from a relaxed country such as Australia to a COVID hotspot would be like," dexter tells HLTV.org. "The three months of negative feedback and homesickness, all while being alone during this period, were easily one of the hardest parts of my life mentally.
"I wasn't depressed, but I always felt there was a huge weight on my shoulders that I couldn't quite shake — and it was only up to me to shake. So it took a long time for me to be even close to adapting and I'm not even sure how I am now. Better at the very least."
"Criticism happens a lot, but I think it was mostly my own self-criticism that took a toll on me," dexter adds, explaining how he quickly got into a negative spiral. "I wanted to try harder, therefore I had less rest, and was close to being burnt out so early into my tenure over in Europe." With a massive workload ahead of him, having to not only get the team back in form but also individually adapt to playing new spots on all maps, he stuck to it. "No matter what, I tried to improve my new positions and learning at the very least."
As an in-game leader with limited experience at the top level, having only briefly been inside the top 20 with Grayhound in 2019, dexter admits that he questioned whether his approach was suited for mousesports — a team featuring one of the world's best players in Robin "ropz" Kool that aims to challenge for titles. "I think I doubted myself [at the start], but I have also learned a lot along the way."
"The boys had a culture of having an amazing IGL in karrigan who knew what to do immediately: regardless if it was the right or wrong decision, it was a decision made," he explains. "Meanwhile, my playstyle and leadership skills rely on trusting a lot in my teammates' abilities and reading of their positions — what the CTs are doing and how they are placed —, and having an appropriate reaction. It is far more relaxed. So at the start, I definitely doubted myself because I didn't know if it was right to be calling like this."
Evidence that mousesports were on the right track came in Snow Sweet Snow 3 at the start of April, when the team claimed the title after beating fnatic and ex-Winstrike (now Entropiq), but the defining period of the team came at the end of that month. Because of the overlapping schedule of three tournaments (IEM Summer closed qualifier, Flashpoint 3 closed qualifier, DreamHack Masters Spring), they had to play 14 series over just five days, recording as many as four BO3s in a single day.
Under massive pressure and stretched to their limits, mousesports thrived.
"The atmosphere was good, everyone wanted to win but also understood how bullshit of a situation it was," dexter remembers. "You can only prepare so much for back-to-back series, mentally, physically, and in-game. We did our best all the time, but it wasn't easy to perform the best, especially as an IGL by your fourth BO3 of the day."
Looking at the results on their own, qualifying for Flashpoint while failing to make it to IEM Summer and finishing 9-12th in DreamHack doesn't seem like much, but the fact that their eliminating losses came against top contenders such as G2 and Natus Vincere puts mousesports in a much better light. Additionally, dexter stepped up individually, ending his streak of five events "in the red" to post 1.06 ratings in both closed qualifiers.
"I felt a sense of growth with everyone after that, something just changed for the better; we understood each other a little bit more," the in-game leader explains, admitting that the improvement wasn't indicative of the success that would follow. "It was a mini online bootcamp in some ways. But I never would have expected the results we had in Flashpoint 3."
The relationship between an in-game leader's individual performance and his calling in a match is a topic often speculated about during broadcasts of the biggest tournaments. In dexter's case, there is a strong correlation between his fragging output and his tactical impact.
"Being able to play well as an IGL is important in my opinion, you get more involved with the game and the way you want the team to work," he explains. "You don't feel like you're some sh*t outsider who goes 0-7 every game and instead of thinking about the game, you are thinking about why you can't frag and contribute on basic levels of CS. Just that confidence was so huge for me personally."
Flipping the switch and going from a bottom fragger to someone who posted a 1.23 rating against NIP in the grand final of a top-tier event came after a decision that dexter admits was weird — changing his peripherals.
"Being smarter with my gear choice helped a lot," he says. "I had some pain in both hands and I didn't know why. It affected my DM sessions and my confidence in my aim. It made me lazy, to say the least, regarding in-game performance. To find a solution, I talked to mousesports and decided to test some different Razer products that they provided me with to try to find the best ones, and the gigantic shift in shape and feel really helped my hand. After that, I was able to trust myself again."
mousesports had 11 days without officials after the "mini bootcamp" to prepare for the start of Flashpoint 3, the first Regional Major Ranking tournament in 2021. "Flashpoint was important because it had all the major EU teams. Being able to perform here would justify that our work hadn't been a waste of time and had actually been productive for our future as a team. A morale booster, to say the least."
With mousesports entering the tournament as the No.8 seed in the 16-team competition, not many predicted a deep run for them. But inside the team, expectations were high.
"We set our goals with our sports psychologist - everyone said different ones, but the most basic being that we wanted at least top 5," dexter says. "I do remember that Bymas and I said that the goal was to win (laughs). But realistically, top 5 would be satisfying in a way."
Fast forward three weeks, and mousesports managed a shocking run, dropping just one map on their way to the title. ropz and David "frozen" Čerňanský were both stellar, with the latter picking up his first MVP award, while dexter averaged an impressive 1.18 rating across 11 maps played — reminding everyone of the high-fragging in-game leader he was in previous teams.
"Astralis was a huge win for me personally, a lot of my understanding and experience in how CS should be played stems from watching them and gla1ve," dexter says. "So being able to beat them as a person who only watched their demos for two years really made me happy and proud of the team and myself.
"G2 was another titan to overcome. They had been beating us by small and large margins for weeks, so being able to lift that curse and beat them in a convincing manner was so important for us.
"NIP was a game of pressure on ourselves I believe, we had two players who were very sick on the day, so it was a final test of teamwork, in the light that we support and bring each other up as much as possible. Therefore I'm just glad we were able to finish the run by coming first, in such a big test of ourselves."
Just minutes after mousesports secured the title, dexter started his post-match interview by saying that "there is still so much to do, so much to learn", displaying his unquenchable thirst for development. While the team didn't go straight back to practice, instead taking some well-deserved time off, which the Australian spent in the mountains of Bavaria, he doubles down on his need to expand his knowledge.
"No matter what, I need to learn more and adapt to how other teams will adapt," he says, aware of the pace at which teams find new tendencies and exploit gaps at the top level of Counter-Strike. "I need to learn more about myself as an IGL and how to improve in different aspects, all while maintaining my own identity as a player."
Having failed to qualify for IEM Summer, mousesports are now shifting their attention towards IEM Cologne, which could be their last tournament of the season. Their focus ahead of the event is on mastering Ancient and sticking to a seven-map pool — one of the priorities for the team.
During an era of uncertainty and frequent changes, dexter's team rose to sixth place in the world, mousesports' highest ranking in almost a year. However, the Australian stresses that they have more to prove before they can be accurately ranked.
"I wouldn't know where to rate us myself, I think we need to play more of the other regional teams from CIS and NA, and play Heroic to see how we stack up officially," he says. The team's long-term goals are simple, though — becoming a top 5 team by PGL Stockholm Major in November. "I want to be top 5 consistently at least, of course any better is awesome. But getting to this level requires consistency in ourselves, and that will be the major test for us."