Why mousesports decided to jump on the academy train
The German organisation is the latest big name in Europe to assemble an academy roster. Can this team stand out from the rest?
For mousesports, the process of building an academy squad began not with reaching out to talented prospects, but with finding the right person to lead the team from the sidelines.
The German organisation put its trust on Dennis "sycrone" Nielsen to coach the team, called MOUZ NXT (an intentional misspelling of the word "next") — a fitting name for a project aimed at unearthing the champions of tomorrow. The 25-year-old Dane took on his first coaching gig after playing for — and leading — teams like Singularity, North Academy, Sprout and Tricked between 2015 and 2021. Beyond his in-game achievements, his experience teaching Danish teenagers the skills necessary to become successful players helped convince mousesports' management to hand him the keys to the academy program.
Photo by mousesports/Tobias Augustin
sycrone has been a part-time teacher at the Danish gymnasium Campus Vejle for the past two years. He took the job after Torbjørn "mithR" Nyborg, who is now the head coach of MOUZ’ main team, left to pursue a coaching role on North in 2019. Like many other gymnasiums in Denmark, Campus Vejle, located two hours away from Copenhagen, has an esports program with dedicated classes to help young players to develop their skills, in-game knowledge, communication, and other intangibles that can lead to an esports career. Campus Vejle, which has in Nicolai "device" Reedtz one of its most famous alumni, recently had a team, Vejle Instinct, competing in POWER Ligaen, Denmark’s top Counter-Strike league.
It is no coincidence that the coaches of MOUZ and MOUZ NXT have similar backgrounds. It was mithR himself who recommended sycrone to mouz’s management after the 25-year-old had left an impression on him in 2016 during a local LAN event. "I had this notebook with a lot of different strats," sycrone tells HLTV.org. "I had anti-stratted every team that we played against, and he thought: 'Damn, that guy. I like him, he tries hard and prepares for his opponents. He’s a smart guy'. A few months ago, he came to me and asked: 'Are you still the same guy? There's this job opportunity that I'd like you to pursue if you want to'".
Jan Dominicus, Chief Business Development Officer (CBDO) at mousesports, says that several candidates were interviewed for the position but that it quickly became clear that sycrone was the right person for the job. "He has the same nationality as the head coach of our main team and we want them to work very closely together," he explains. "He has experience as a player, a background in education and a very intense drive to do this project. He brought up a lot of his own ideas for how he wanted to do it."
An academy project had long been a dream of mousesports', but for a while the conditions were challenging. With tournament organisers and Valve taking a tough stance on multi-team ownership, there wasn’t enough of an incentive for organisations to nurture a secondary squad. But that paradigm has shifted in the last two years, especially since the start of this online era caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen the proliferation of smaller international tournaments that can be a valuable source of experience for young teams. At the same time, several organisations have become more sensible with their spending and see the value in developing young talent to avoid having to open their chequebook every time that a player needs to be replaced.
Organisations like NAVI, Astralis, NIP and Virtus.pro have all built solid academy projects. The current Gambit squad was assembled in April 2019 as something of an afterthought, but quickly became the organisation's main focus and has since grown into a modern powerhouse. The timing felt right for mousesports to hop on the bandwagon.
As sycrone and mousesports CEO Stefan Wendt set out to build the team, they asked around about up-and-coming talent from multiple regions. "From there, I’d watch four of five demos of each player to try to have an idea of how they played the game, the types of roles they played, and whether I could envision a roster with them," sycrone says. "I did a lot of player interviews and in the end, we got the five players that we wanted. I'm really happy with how it turned out."
MOUZ NXT have in Ádám "torzsi" Torzsás their main source of creativity. The Hungarian AWPer tore up the tier-two scene during his year on Budapest Five (1.20 rating and 1.24 impact), and his hopes of making it to the top will have been boosted by Valve’s decision to allow players who have been VAC-banned for at least five years to participate in its sanctioned tournaments. "We had the perfect timing," sycrone says of the signing of torzsi, whose VAC ban expires in November. "To me, he seems to be the Hungarian ZywOo. He's extremely humble and a nice guy. What you see in ZywOo, a good and humble team player, it's the same with him."
Jon "JDC" de Castro brings with him vital experience from his time competing in the upper echelons of the German scene with PANTHERS, expert and Unicorns of Love. "He’s like a secondary caller," sycrone says. "He brings a lot of calmness, some mid-round adjustments, and he's a good role model for the other players." Hubert "szejn" Światły and Kamil "siuhy" Szkaradek were both key parts of the Izako Boars squad that was briefly ranked first in Poland in February and that won ESEA Advanced 36, two months later. "siuhy is really smart and bright, and he is the type of leader who doesn't mind going in front," sycrone says. "Szejn is the anchor of the team and has some of the most insane mechanical skill that I've ever seen. A role player like that is something you need in every team and that is very hard to find."
And then there’s Dorian "xertioN" Berman, "the biggest gamble on the team" in sycrone’s words. The 16-year-old, the latest in a line of Israeli prospects, has relatively little experience, but what he lacks in that department he makes up for with pure talent and eagerness to improve. "Considering how little experience he has, he's just incredible," the Danish coach says. "I think it's good for any team to have someone who's extremely hungry and in whom you can see growth from week to week. It's a huge motivating factor for everyone. He’s improving so fast. Skill-wise, he’ll be in a totally different place in a year."
mousesports are thrilled with the way the academy squad is looking. They view it as a natural extension of the main team, which has a fine track record for developing raw talent — just look at Nikola "NiKo" Kovač, Robin "ropz" Kool and, more recently, David "frozen" Čerňanský and Aurimas "Bymas" Pipiras. "There was not a player that we wanted and did not work out," says Dominicus, the mousesports CBDO. "I think that speaks to the image that mousesports has built with talented players because they see that we have always taken chances and that it has worked out for a lot of them. People were interested in being a part of our academy team."
Photo by mousesports/Tobias Augustin
The German organisation seems to be fully invested in making MOUZ NXT a successful team in its own right — so much so that it didn’t hesitate to spend money when necessary to buy the right players. "It’s not like there were buyouts with large money transactions," Dominicus says of the process of signing torzsi, szejn and siuhy. "It was more like a gesture towards Izako Boars and Budapest Five, who were very reasonable in the discussions and allowed the players to take this opportunity." The main goal, he adds, is to develop these young players so that, one day, they can break into the main team effortlessly. "With the investment in the academy, even if just one player makes it to our main roster, it will probably be much more effective than buying someone from a different team."
mousesports hope to build a strong connection between the main team and the academy roster through regular scrims and a constant exchange of ideas between the two coaches. In these COVID times, having academy players who are familiar with the system and can fill in at a moment’s notice when a problem arises can be invaluable. But the plan is not to swap players back and forth, "like other teams have tried a lot", sycrone says, in an obvious jab at NIP, though he quickly points out that he finds the Swedish team’s recent success with academy players "very impressive".
If early results are anything to go by, MOUZ NXT seem to be on the right track. A 16-8 rout of GamerLegion and a 2-0 victory over Spirit Academy — thanks to a performance of devastating quality by torzsi (1.65 rating, +33 K-D and 107 ADR) — are encouraging signs. sycrone views the CIS squad, headlined by Robert "Patsi" Isyanov, as one of his side's biggest challengers for the title of best academy team, along with Young Ninjas and NAVI Junior. Such rivalries will soon be put to the test, if rumours about an upcoming academy league are to be believed. Until then, it's all about making steady progress and going from strength to strength, but that does not prevent sycrone from aiming big: "Approaching the top 30 would be a big milestone for these players."