Jun 23 2016 - 6:38 pm
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A Paper Crown: The Top Seven North American Rosters

Ranking the seven best North American team based on their on paper strength.
CS:GO Analyst
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Since the last substantial North American roster shuffle, the top trio of national teams in Cloud9, Team Liquid, and Counter Logic Gaming have shown a stunning inconsistency in results that has blurred the line between the top and the have-nots, with OpTic Gaming emerging as the new number one North American team. What has been particularly stunning is the widening discrepancy between the perceived talent of a roster and their actual results with lineups, like Team Liquid massively underperforming while often having talent on-par with or surpassing their competitors abroad. As North American teams have had very few truly impressive results since the previous major, this article will rank the top seven North American teams based on their pure on paper strength.

#1. Team Liquid
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  • Nick "nitr0" Cannella
  • Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski
  • Jacob "Pimp" Winneche (S1mple for ECS Finals and Major)
  • Josh "jdm64" Marzano 
  • Spencer "Hiko" Martin 

Liquid’s lineup with both S1mple and Koosta going into DreamHack Malmö might have been the most talented lineup North America has ever fielded. They were sent home after consecutive losses to mousesports and TyLoo in the group stage.

After this disappointment, they swapped out S1mple for AdreN and dropped their coach GBJames while their touted future star in Koosta never lived up to his purported potential. Nevertheless, these changes only perpetuated their lukewarm or just plain poor results at DreamHack Austin, the ESL Pro League Finals, and week one of ELEAGUE. While their difficulties may continue to persist without a strong coach or in-game leader, the newest iteration of Team Liquid with Jdm64 and Pimp again looks like it can top the tables in NA purely based on talent.

Despite their waning results, Liquid’s aggressive rifle duo of Nitr0 and EliGE could still be called the most skilled in North America. After Hiko joined the team in the final quarter of 2015, the reformation of roles bolstered the play of both members of the new pair. With FugLy moved off of entries, Nitr0 started to look like the absolute best player in North America, capable of putting up big numbers versus some of the very best European teams. Likewise, EliGE looked like an average, complementary player previously but once he was given more aggressive positions alongside Nitr0, he significantly improved statistically, putting up career high numbers. However, since their post-major slump, both seem to have been negatively affected by the poor overall play of their team.

On the other hand, Hiko has been a consistent, effective lurker throughout his time on Team Liquid, still showing his proficiency in solo-site holds and late-round situations even though he may never return to the superstar level of form he briefly hit during his later days with Cloud9. As for their new AWPer, JDM64 does not seem to have the skill-level S1mple was capable of with the AWP and is a significantly weaker rifler, but he has been a team-leading performer on CLG over the past year and has been able to play at a much higher level play than Koosta internationally. Although JDM was not in top form towards the end of his run with CLG, on a top team, JDM may again show up as a star-level AWPer that can top the tables of North America.

As for their fifth, before becoming the primary AWPer for Dignitas in 2015, Pimp was capable of playing at an elite or star level within the context of Europe as a rifler despite being on a weaker team. While his play as an AWPer left a lot to be desired and led to his departure from Team Dignitas, Pimp’s resurgence in form on SK has re-demonstrated his capacity for high-level play at an international level. While we will have to wait until after the major to see this full roster in action, at present no other roster in North American could reasonably compare to Liquid in terms of pure talent. 

#2. Cloud9
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  • Jake "Stewie2k" Yip
  • Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert
  • Mike "shroud" Grzesiek
  • Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham
  • Alec "Slemmy" White 

For many, the addition of Stewie2k onto Cloud9 signaled the end of C9’s perineal position at the top of North America. While C9’s slide may have been inevitable due to the departure of Sgares, C9’s results have been more inconsistent than strictly poor recently. C9 did fail to qualify for the next Major, ESL One Cologne, last week, but their performance in ELEAGUE was otherwise exceptional as they were able to play Luminosity, the current number one ranked team in the world, to an overtime game three finish in the finals of week one.

As you would expect given his reputation, Stewie2k was initially a fairly flawed player during his opening LANs with Cloud9, but he has since shown more explosiveness and less variability in his play as we moved into the summer. At both ELEAGUE and the major qualifier, Stewie2k has proven himself to be Cloud9’s best current performer and an elite or even star level player within the context of NA. N0thing was also able to put up a star level performance at ELEAGUE, but he dropped back down to earth at the major qualifiers where he failed to stand out statically. Historically, N0thing has appeared to have a skill ceiling above and beyond the vast majority of pro players, but his inability to consistently perform at that elevated level throughout his extended CS career makes that potential seem less like a possibility and more like a red-herring.

Similarly, their more static rifler, Shroud, has often been described as one of the most capable players in the world, given showings online and on stream. He has occasionally shown that level on LAN, such as his run of form last summer, but more often than not, he has failed to capitalize on his raw skill and played at an elite but not star or superstar level throughout his career. The story seems to repeat again for C9’s AWPer, Skadoodle, who has been called the best North American AWPer for a good portion of his career in Global Offensive, but he slumped significantly over the past year with players like JDM and now Mixwell outperforming with the AWP. Still, Skadoodle continues to look like a good AWPer with high base skill level despite his recent inability to radically impact the game.

The obvious weak link in the roster in terms of fire power is, of course, their in-game leader, Slemmy. While Sgares was also never a particularly competent fragger on LAN, Slemmy’s performances have been equally, if not more, poor. As an individual player, Slemmy has shown none of the flare or raw skill present in the remainder of his teammates, and may be a continued detriment to his team moving forward.
Overall, C9 have four players with an insanely high skill celling, but of the four only Stewie2k has been able to perform at a high level for any strech of time recently. For now, it seems like much more of C9’s abundant talent has to be actualized in order for them to return to their previous peeks. 

#3. OpTic Gaming
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  • Keith "NAF-FLY" Markovic
  • Will "RUSH"Wierzba
  • Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas
  • Damian "daps" Steele 
  • Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz

As Conquest, this roster started to make waves after they overachieved at the CEVO Professional Season 8 Finals and won the ELEAGUE Road to Vegas tournament. After moving over to OpTic, however, results soured as they were eliminated in the semifinals of the first Americas Minor and failed to qualify for DreamHack Masters Malmö and IEM Katowice 2016 via their repective North America closed qualifiers. In response to these results and internal strife within the team, OpTic brought in Mixwell to replace ShahZam as their AWPer. After not impressing as a team after their first LAN, CEVO Gfinity Professional Season 9 Finals, OpTic have since shown a series of impressive results, winning the second Americas Minor over Tempo Strom/Immortals, coming in third in their group at week two of ELEAGUE where they upset NIP in one game, and qualifying for the next Major by advancing through the closed qualifier.

In terms of talent, alongside Stewie2k, Rush may be the best performing entry fragger currently competing in North America.  While his success on entries from map to map does seem to be more dependent on the quality of his opponents, his consistent ability to put on numbers both sides of the map has made him one of his team’s main contributors. But what is odd about this team is that their AWPer, Mixwell, is such an aggressive player that he will often forgo grabbing the AWP on the T side in order to entry alongside Rush. As an AWPer, Mixwell seems committed to an aggressive pick style of play where he can be very effective, putting up the best numbers currently of any AWPer in a North America team. As a rifler, he seems slightly less effective, but is still nearly as effective on entry as Rush. In terms of pure skill, Mixwell may not be on the level of Liquid’s stand-in superstar, S1mple, but because of how OpTic facilitates his play, he can be nearly as effective.

OpTic’s other stand-out player is NAF-FLY, who is their best rifler and secondary AWPer. Because of Mixwell’s proclivity to use the rifle more than most AWPers, NAF-FLY has been tasked to use the AWP more and more since the departure of ShahZam. With both weapons, NAF is less aggressive than Mixwell, being more of a mid-round player that wins duels more through skill than surprise.

Their two weaker riflers are Daps and Stanislaw. Daps, as the in-game leader, is a more supportive player whose aim and statistical output is not on par with his rest of his team. While his level of performance may be similar to Sgares or Gob b, he has never shown their same level of tactical prowess, which makes his paltry contribution look less forgivable. The other struggling player is Stanislaw, who had actually been known as a skilled player within the context of NA on his past teams. Since the addition of Mixwell, Stanislaw has consistently underperformed in close LAN matches and lookes like an exploitable weakness within the team moving forwards, though he has been a bit better than Daps.

For the moment, OpTic may be the best performing team in North America, but there doesn’t seem to be enough skill or tactical strength on the team to hold onto that postion in perpetuity. What could put them over the top is an acquisition of Tarik and/or Cutler from CLG, who seem to be falling apart at the moment.

#4. Team SoloMid
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  • Pujan "FNS" Mehta
  • Hunter "SicK" Mims 
  • Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken
  • Kory "Semphis" Friesen
  • Timothy "autimatic" Ta

TSM’s initial inception may have been the worst received roster reveal for a professional level team thus far in CS:GO. Their veteran players in Semphis and FNS were underwhelming and their “young talent” in Autimatic, SicK, and Vice were hardly the most attractive or reliable trio. Yet as TSM dropped Vice for Twistzz, they were gradually able to work their way up the North American pecking order online.

Their reputation as one of the better NA teams seemed to be cemented in May as they took third at the second Americas Minor and qualified for the ECS Finals after defeating OpTic and CLG in the playoffs. In June, despite not having Twistzz available, TSM were also able to play a bit above expectations by accumulating a good number of round wins in their losses at ELEAGUE, while also taking a game off of Fnatic with a returning Olofmeister.

Besides Stewie2k, Sick and Twistzz may have the most hype around them of any other young pro in North America. Since joining TSM in March, Twistzz has been TSM’s standout player online, often sweeping bombsites in the wake of SicK and FNS’s entries. While Twistzz did show some uncharacteristic sloppiness in his games versus Tempo Storm at the minor, he was still able to perform at a fairly good level at his first ever LAN event.

His fellow youngster, SicK, is noticeably less consistent, but he, along with Autimatic, have stepped up for TSM in their last two LAN appearances. While strong performances from Twistzz or Autimatic may certainly help, the quality of SicK’s individual performance may be the single greatest factor in a TSM map victory. The last “young gun,” Autimatic, has been competing at the top end of the North American scene since early 2015, becoming a fairly known quantity over that time. On TSM, he continues to be a solid lurker and respectable secondary AWPer with a level of consistency that contrasts nicely with the widely variable play of his teammates, but right now he does not seem to have the same ability to take over a map that his younger teammates seem to have.

Among the veterans, FNS looks like the apparent weak link of the roster, but Semphis has not fully shown up as the AWPer for TSM in either of their two LANs. Following his tenure in Cloud9, Semphis has actually been the best performing player or one of the best performing players in his subsequent runs with Nihilum and compLexity, so his recent weakness individually seem a bit out of character. Although he does also function as the team’s in-game leader, Semphis’s level of play with the AWP may be what prevents TSM from seriously competing at an international level moving forwards. As for FNS, after consistently underperforming as an in-game leader in CLG, FNS was able to be more effective as a lurker, but was not able to improve his play enough to warrant his continued inclusion on the team. On TSM, FNS has moved over to an entry role where he has been surprisingly adequate. Perhaps, he could still be replaced with a better entry player, but his level of performance has not been as detrimental to the team as you would expect given his past reputation.

#5. Echo Fox
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  • Ryan "fREAKAZOiD" Abadir 
  • Ronnie "ryx" BylickiRoca
  • Daniel "roca" Gustaferri
  • Shahzeeb "ShahZam" Khan
  • Sean "sgares" Gares 

When Echo Fox initially entered into CS:GO, they might have had one of the least talented rosters for a supposedly professional team ever assembled. That initial lineup struggled to find any traction in online matches, and presently, Echo Fox has still been unable to qualify for any international tournaments through their own merits. Regardless, they have recently made some significant upgrades to their roster that may give their team a fair shot at moving up the ranks in NA.

For starters, Echo Fox have a solid but not spectacular entry duo in Freakazoid and Ryx. While both players have a high individual skill celling, Freakazoid has been known to heavily struggle as an individual performer at several international LANs. Ryx, on the other hand, has been Echo Fox’s best performing player online over the course of the year, but is known for frequently making mental errors and erratic plays.  

For a brief period at the end of the last year, Roca was one lucky few deemed to be a future star by Reddit due to several of his clips reaching the front page during that period. Competitively, Roca was the best performing player along with Semphis in compLexity during the second half of 2015, but following a series of backwards roster moves, Roca and the rest of compLexity were not able to seriously compete in North America in 2016, attending zero LANs due to their lack of online results. On Echo Fox, Roca may again turn out to be the team’s best performing player, but it’s still unclear whether or not he can truly stand out as one of the best North American players.

Their AWPer, ShahZam, has been a journeyman player in North America, playing on Cloud9, Tempo Strom, OpTic, and now Echo Fox over the past year and a half. He was perhaps still too raw when he first played with Sgares on Cloud9, but he has developed into one of the better North American AWPers since then. He still does not have the pedigree of a JDM or a Skadoodle, but he may be the best AWPer Echo Fox are capable of getting. Their final player and best known member is Sgares, who has been the undisputed best North American IGL since the fall of IBUYPOWER. While his strength as an in-game leader is certainly a boon to the team overall, his individual play as a rifler and secondary awper has been noticeably subpar. Their talent level and performance thus far in ELEAGUE suggest that they could be a contender in North America, but for now it’s still too early to tell.

#6. Counter Logic Gaming
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Tarik "tarik" Celik 
James "hazed" Cobb 
Kenneth "koosta" Suen
Steve "reltuC" Cutler
Faruk "Pita" Pita (Coach, stand-in)

CLG have long held onto their top position in North America thanks in no small part to their best performing players in Tarik and JDM, with Cutler also showing up as solid, consistent performer. While CLG had a good show of form earlier in the year, making it out of groups at the major and placing fourth at the Global eSports Cup, a series of disappointing performances at DreamHack Malmö and DreamHack Austin led the team to resort to roster changes. At the beginning of May, CLG dropped FugLy without having an immediate replacement lined up, and would announce the swap of Koosta for JDM64 along with Liquid in June.

Since their first major LAN appearance at MLG X Games in Aspen, Tarik has been hyped as a possible star level player in North American due to his ostensive skill level. As CLG attended more LANs throughout 2015 however, Tarik often struggled to perform at his skill level, and it was only recently during CLG’s run at the start of the year that he was able to start living up to his supposed potential. Right now, Tarik is by far and away their best player.

Even when in-game leading, Cutler has been a solid, consistent player for CLG from their initial foray into international competition until quite recently. Over the past three LANs, Cutler has shown individual play below his usual standard, which has matched CLG’s own wilting results. Still, due to the lack of raw talent on this current lineup, he may still be their second best rifler and one of their better performers.

By the time Enemy won the first Americas Minor back in January, Koosta’s reputation as a future superstar had already been firmly cemented to his dominating, highlight-heavy individual play. However, after moving into a far more talented Team Liquid squad, Koosta has floundered. At DreamHack Malmo, DreamHack Austin, and the ESL Pro League finals, Koosta was decent, if not unimpressive, with the AWP, but had unusually poor performance at ELEAGUEweek one. Koosta’s dormant talent may be able to reemerge, but his most recent performances have made him look like an unworthy successor to JDM.

Hazed has been a consistently below-average player for CLG over the course of his tenure there, but he has made himself useful as a support player, which may merit his continued inclusion within the team. What is more pressing is the continued use of Pita as a stand-in over the course of the past month and a half. While Pita may have his merits as a tactician and coach, his apparent inability to perform as a player significantly hinders CLG's overall ability to perform.  While CLG did perform surprisingly well at ELEAGUE, as it stands currently, CLG may not have the raw talent necessary to compete at an international level and in all likelihood will need a strong fifth if they want to regain their position as a top ten team worldwide or even a top three North American team.

#7. NRG Esports
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  • Jacob "FugLy" Medina
  • Johannes "tabseN" Wodarz 
  • Peter "ptr" Gurney
  • Fatih "gob b" Dayik
  • Nikola "LEGIJA" Ninic

While NRG are one of the very few teams competing in North America with a highly touted in-game leader in Gob b, NRG’s lack of individual talent has been an equally defining feature of their team. Initially with Just9n and SileNt3m, NRG did not stand out online and were only able to attend the Counter Pit finals in March due to the shallow pool of teams participating in the online qualifying league. At Counter Pit, Ptr had to be replaced by TabseN because of the infamous turbulence incident, but NRG were able to miraculously upset Team EnVyUs, hinting at their potential as a team. Nevertheless, NRG were not able to replicate that success at DreamHack Austin and at the second Americas Minor as they were eliminated in the group stage of both tournaments. Following these results, TabseN and FugLy were brought to booster their lineup talent-wise.

TabseN has been the more aggressive rifler replacing Just9n on entry duty. Despite never being an especially noteworthy player in any of his pervious German teams, even when played with Gob b in Mousesports, TabseN was able to put up spectacular numbers at ELEAGUE week three mirroring his form at Counter Pit. It is still early, but, at present, TabseN seems capable of being the elite or even star level player that NRG has needed since their initial formation. FugLy, while not performing at the level of TabeN, was also able to have a solid showing in his first outing with the team, breaking the 20 kill mark in five out his eight games with NRG at ELEAGUE. FugLy has been both an entry player and a lurker in the past, finding more success with the former rather than the latter, but functioned as the lurker during his first LAN appearance in NRG replacing Legija.

Their AWPer, Ptr, has been fairly inconsistent as a player since he first made a name for himself at MLG X Games Aspen, perhaps due to his highly aggressive style of play. On NRG’s original roster, however, Ptr was far more reliable and impactful with Gob b often molding their T sides around Ptr’s ability to make picks. If not for his poor performance at ELEAGUE, Ptr could certainly be called one of the better AWPers in NA on the level of ShahZam or the slumping Skadoodle.

In 1.6, Gob b was known as one of the very few players who could manage to be both an exceptional individual player and high-level in-game leader. Nevertheless, in CS:GO, Gob has never shown the same level of individual play despite retaining his reputation as one of the better in-game leaders worldwide. Like Sgares, Gob b’s presence on the team will probably be more beneficial than not, but his fragging power will always leave something to be desired.

The bigger problem, however, may be the continued presence of Legija on the team at Gob b’s presumed insistence. Legija has shown some noticeable improvement in terms of performance over the past couple of months, but his lack of pure mechanical ability still seems to be limiting his efficacy as a player. Overall, there does seems to be some upside to NRG with FugLy and TabseN, and they may be able to compete with NA’s middling teams, but the burden of both Legija and Gob b’s individual play will probably prevent NRG from ever being the best North American team. 

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