Leading and failing from the front: the catastrophe of MSL

Trapped in a unique class of exceptional under-performances

APR 17, 2018

Since donning the North jersey at the start of 2017, MSL has won two ‘significant’ series on LAN. There was a convincing 2:1 over SK in the DreamHack Masters Malmo 2017 groups. And another relatively impressive 2:1 against an in-form and dangerous Team Liquid at EPICENTER 2017.

That’s it.

Over about 16 months of competition, with some of the best pieces the Danish scene has to offer and an absurd level of organisational support, MSL has achieved almost nothing. A victory at DreamHack Montreal and second places at the EPL Finals and DreamHack Malmo were earned by virtue of a favourable draw, beating teams below or at their level. North, with the power of their individuals alone, has always been a team expected to contest for the top six but float around eighth-tenth. At worst, they should be a gatekeeper that is dangerous for taking series off the top five teams in the world.

The most dangerous MSL has looked in the last 12 months was when he started tweeting more.

His recent performances in leading North to fail to qualify for Marseille, losing to Team Imperial at Copenhagen Games and Hellraisers in two consecutive Bo3’s at has accurately punctuated a near year and a half run of failure. His team has become a tiresome scalp for teams on the rise to take. North are constructed from the top ten but defined and bested by the bottom of the top fifteen.

With at least a month break till their next big LAN, understandably, North and their captain will fall off the radar.

Once again, MSL has two promising stars on his team in the lead-up to a string of big LANs, and once again MSL will fail to leverage this into meaningful placings. While the narrative is tired, in the current state of affairs, the situation might be worse than you think. After Masters, MSL is in a class of his own as one of, if not the worst players individually in the world and is leading North into exceptionally troubling waters.

Going over the trenches without a gun

When looking at the rosters North has deployed, for most, it might not be immediately apparent that MSL is actually one of the entries. Historically, he’d pair with k0nfig to try and open sites, often being the bait and supporting from the front. With k0nfig departing to OpTic, MSL has been forced to become a more apparent T-side force, needing to earn at least a chunk of the frags k0nfig might have. This has been catastrophic.

Since joining North, at big events, MSL has an attempted entry percentage on-par with fer. His success rate is below that of seized and Karrigan. MSL is consistently one of the players who attempts the most entry duels but also one of the players with the least success in actually winning them. He is statistically the least valuable player in the world.

Entry-fraggers have one of, if not the most mechanically intensive role in the game and require players with fast reactions and a high-skill ceiling. This is why we see most entry players boast high headshot percentages but maybe not as impressive ratings. Their job is to find that opening kill as reliably and quickly as possible, setting up favourable trades as best as they can after that. On LAN over the past six months, players like byali, apEX, kjaerbye and rain all boast headshot percentages of ~54%. Comparatively, MSL’s headshot percentage is ~41%, roughly equal to that of Zeus.

MSL is in a role that directly plays into his own acute weaknesses as a player. While Zeus shares a similarly poor headshot percentage and reputation as an IGL, he is positioned within Na`Vi in a self-conscious way that facilitates his strength. While Zeus might be a fraction of any other player individually in the top eight, at least there’s a recognition and adaptation of this into Na`Vi’s gameplan. While he has the lowest rating, he also has the most flashbangs thrown/landed on enemies and will often drop weapons for s1mple. The chasm between him and his team is more defined by altruistic selflessness than the actual difference in skill.

A strong 1-2 knock-out punch behind a weak chin

His teammates, valde and kjaerbye have blossomed. What makes MSL even more profoundly bad is the contrast to his teammates. Even though North might feel off the radar in-part due to MSL, that doesn’t mean the whole team is a write-off. It’s worth looking at just how good the top end of North is even in-spite of their more result-defining bottom fraggers.

Valde, in-part due to the newfound late-round support from Kjaerbye’s well-rounded, adaptive skillset has become a legitimate international star. The once ambiguous lurker and CT-rock is now a dynamic force who has his impact felt at all points in the game; being a crucial factor in North’s ability to pull-out rounds from the brink. Valde looks like the archetypal Danish rifling star thriving amidst a less-than-ideal, typical MSL team environment and system.

Likewise, Kjaerbye himself has proven to be far more than the headshotting second-entry to Dupreeh which sought to define him. On North, we’re seeing the full extent of what operating in Astralis’s clinical, highly structured, textbook-oriented system has done to Kjaerbye’s game. Without the burden of his more linear T-side role, Kjaerbye’s immensely developed in-game awareness and flawless decision making flourishes. Letting MSL do much of the grunt work opening rounds on T-side sees Kjaerbye’s trading and site-clearing abilities dominate the mid-round. Compared to his darker days on Astralis late last-year, North Kjaerbye is a revelation, proving his evolution into a truly diverse and deep star.

Throughout MSL’s life-span as an IGL, having two pieces like Kjaerbye and valde has been enough. The recipe of two stars with solid ‘enough’ role-players around them has earned his sides at the very least, dominance in the lower tiers of European play. It’s not enough though, in the current climate to have a deadweight to the extent of MSL individually and then a couple of standout players. Their peers are looking to evolve the tier of play MSL used to thrive in.

If you stop, you die

The decline of two star and lagging IGl formula was most prominently bested by a cutting-edge and in-form Hellraisers at Hellraisers beat North in two Bo3 series on LAN and ANGE1, their IGL who shares many functions and stylistic similarities to MSL was key in that. ANGE1 is a similar, more mid-rounding, structure-based IGL who also plays as a quasi-entry. Unlike MSL though, ANGE1, is a legitimate threat that can take over a round without sacrificing his calling abilities. What’s more, he has a more explosive, consistent star AWPer in woxic than mertz. His third-star in ISSAA also fires off more regularly, in more impressive a fashion and with a higher skill ceiling than Aizy. Hellraisers, across the board, can at least match, if not best, most of what North put on the table.

Similarly, if not exactly the same points/comparisons, can be made between North and G2, NiP, Liquid, Heroic, and on the right day, even Renegades. There’s very little that makes North special or unique this current era. It’s not enough anymore to have two stars to dominate at the level of play North have historically thrived in.

MSL’s individual play is not only not suitable for his team, but is actively making his team not suitable for this era of competition.

MSL’s numbers and play can be justified in that he seemingly has to take up the role of entrying. While we don’t know that exactly, it’s safe to assume that MSL himself doesn’t want to be in the role but is forced to out of necessity. It’s a complex situation in that MSL is also the only one who has ever had experience at the level North want to perform at as an IGL. By kicking MSL to replace him with a better aimer, you also suddenly remove the ever important structure of his leadership with no immediate replacements. Heroic is the obvious port-of-call but contracts and player politics seem like obvious blockades in the way of such a deal.

There’ are always other options though. The Mouz route could be an interesting one. North could kick MSL and replace him with a stud aimer. They would then have to look to the incredible tactical mind of their coach, ave to build strats in the same manner as lmbt. And they’d also have to make use of a willing player with no experience to call them like ChrisJ. It’s risky, but when you only have two respectable series wins to boast about, it’s time to start exploring other options and aim for long-term growth, not be content with immediate mediocrity. For stars of the level of Kjaerbye and valde, the last thing they want is for North to become both a failing bastion of past eras and a prison for containing an outbreak of immense individual form.

MSL is an artefact of the past operating in a time most defined by a blistering all-out rush to dominate the future. His place within the current landscape is being transcended by an evolution of his role. It’s not enough anymore to resign a failure to hit headshots to a supplementary ability to read CT set-ups and call tight exec’s. MSL is leading and failing from the front simultaneously; a tip of the spear that’s been blunted by the grinding advancement of the opposition around him. Such is the burden of his role and mindset.