MSL: "No one has an excuse [at the major]"
I spoke to Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen following a run that saw Dignitas win EPICENTER: Moscow and the decision to leave the Dignitas organization to join up with North, a project funded by F.C. København and Nordisk Film, to talk about his career so far, coaching, map pool, the Danish scene, the upcoming $1,000,000 ELEAGUE Major and much more.
Not everyone remembers this, but you were one of the first movers to CS:GO in 2012, competing with the Anexis team, which later on became Western Wolves, together with players such as gla1ve and Pimp. I understand gla1ve was then the in-game leader, but did you play any part in leadership or calling?
MSL: ”Yes, I was basically the second caller. We had a really good partnership, he was really good at being a leader, reading the game and getting people to respect him, whereas I would be on the sideline, helping with inputs sometimes in the start of the round and mid-round.
"I was then the lurker, so I was always on the different side of the map, and I gave him information about what the opponents were doing or what I thought they would do. He was really good at using my qualities and listened a lot to me.”
Did you become a pure in-game leader because it was something you wanted to do, or because there was a need for one in the Danish scene and you thought you could fill the role? When exactly would you say that transformation took place in your career?
MSL: ”I have always wanted to control stuff, so being the in-game leader or a secondary caller was a natural thing for me. I think i have always had a read on what people are doing and what my team can do about it. I called in a lot of my CS:S teams, but we weren't as good back then as we are now. I also called in Reason in CS:GO, but on a top level I had never called before. For a long time after Western Wolves, I played on less good teams and my motivation was totally down. So when dignitas asked me, it was a really easy decision, though I needed to call professionally for the first time.
”It was a rough start, because I wasn't 100% sure about everything and I needed to learn a lot. On top of that, I joined four players that had already played together for a long time and Pimp that was "the captain”, so I wouldn't say the transformation took place at that time. After that team, I learned a lot about my mistakes and what I wanted to do next, so once aizy left for FaZe we kicked Pimp.
"I wanted k0nfig and RUBINO and at this point the transformation happened, I would say. I created my own way of doing things, I told everyone how we are going to play and I did a lot of work and could finally see all the stuff paying off. With that being said, it also cost a lot when it comes to my individual level compared to with the old teams, but I was happy, because we were playing as a team and being a team chemistry-wise. That was the transformation for sure.”
Current North roster features none of the players, besides you, from the first dignitas team you put together in early 2015. What is your take on player changes? How many of the key changes were done because you believed they were necessary, versus due to things you could not control? Any change that in hindsight was a mistake at the time?
MSL: ”My take on player changes is that you shouldn´t make player changes unless a player is really toxic, working against everyone else or not doing his role well enough for a long period of time. I believe sticking together is the right thing to do, and I'm a huge fan of Virtus.pro just because of their mindset.
"Most players and teams have bad periods, you just have to work together as a team and find a way out and help each other. Changing players will always give a boost for a short period of time, but then you get back to the normal world and there are new problems, so rather than just getting a quick fix, I believe fixing the problems and mistakes together is the only right thing to do.
”Regarding player changes on my teams, I would say kicking Nico was the only mistake, but at that time I didn't have much control and it was hard to protect it, since he didn´t play outside of team practise and wasn´t performing well. I think kicking schneider, Pimp and tenzki were necessities for different reasons.”
You played with Nico in his golden days of AWPing. Given the kind of high peak he showcased in 2012-2013, how do you think he would compare to today’s great snipers if he kept playing without breaks? What was his downfall, ultimately?
MSL: ”I think it would be hard for him to get back to the golden days. He has always had a hard time playing a lot outside of practice because of his social life. At the time when he got kicked, I think people just had gotten so much better and he didn´t play enough to develop himself. That being said, he was the best player I have ever played with in Western Wolves and I really like him as a person, as well as his mindset as a teammate. I think his downfall was the fact that he didn´t play enough. If he had played enough, I'm sure he would be one of the best, if not the best AWPer in the world.”
I have given you plenty of credit for leadership, but also criticized you for individual play. What is your take on the necessary skill level of in-game leaders today, amidst the talk about how Counter-Strike is, at least supposedly moving towards a more skill-heavy meta?
MSL: ”I think the skill level of an in-game leader is expected to be much higher today than before. It depends if the in-game leader is setting up himself, or the team. If he is setting himself up, he needs to frag just like the others, because then somebody on the team will have a worse role and frag less than he would if the in-game leader was not doing so. If he is not setting himself up, he will always be the worst on the team stats-wise, because he is doing the shitty work and keeping overview and composure on the team.
”But in general an in-game leader needs to frag more than before, everyone has to be good and I for sure need to step up and play better. With that being said, I don't think I will ever have good stats because of the way I have set myself and the team up, but I need to get the kills I should get, which I have not been doing for a long time.”
What do you think about Valve’s rule on coaching, including the four timeouts per team? Would you keep it, or tweak it? If the latter, how? Obviously you should be biased towards no coaching allowed, but what do you think about it in broader terms?
MSL: ”I of course think it's a good rule. I would still tweak it a bit and say one timeout per half for one minute, so you can't just take momentum away from the team every time. I think having so many pauses ruins the game. In general I think it's nice to have a coach that can help prepare for opponents, have a second look on things, finding new stuff, fixing mistakes and to just have a helping hand. But I think it's wrong to play the game with a guy standing behind, doing all the calling and I think the game would transform into a very random and awful game having a coach calling behind. I don't think we need more randomness added to this game.”
With all due respect, don't you think your answer is entirely based on your subjective view? Surely, as seen with NiP and Na`Vi, having a proper in-game leader will make the game more structured and less random, not the other way around. How can you possibly expect coaching to make the game more random?
MSL: "Take Na`Vi and NiP and start thinking about how well they have played with their structure, compared to how sick players they got in their lineups. When you get together five very skilled players, you lose a lot of the small things normally, which will make it hard to be the best team if you are playing with structure. If you think for the future that the coaching rule wouldn't have changed, I'm 100 % sure they would change to a more random playstyle because you have to play around the players you have. I'm also pretty sure every other team would, because it would be the meta to have five very skilled players, with maybe not so much tactics or brains on the team, so I think it's very important for the game that the coaching rule changed."
Right before Valve’s rule change on coaching, you were supposed to let ruggah take over the in-game leading duties. What led to the decision? Would you not have felt that you could have ultimately been pushed out as unnecessary, in some sense? Should the coaching rule be reserved, would you again consider that option?
MSL: ”At that time I was really unmotivated and didn´t do my job properly, so the team didn´t believe in me and I could feel it and it made me not trust myself and my calls. I also wanted to try playing the role I like, being a lurker, since I had played bad individually and felt that maybe if ruggah was calling and I could help him, while having the role I like, it would translate to more frags, and maybe it would be better for the team. Maybe it would have led to kicking me if I didn´t kill enough opponents, but I felt like I wanted to try, because I was really good at that role in Western Wolves.
”If the coaching rule would be reserved again, I don't think i would consider it. We tried it and I played better than before, but as a team I don't think we played better."
How involved is ruggah in dignitas’s game plan currently? How much does he contribute in terms of preparation, tactics, or ideas during timeouts?
MSL: ”He is very involved in our game. He helps a lot in practice with new ideas and fixing mistakes. Other than that he prepares for every opponent together with me and we figure out what we want to do. During timeouts he of course comes up with input and ideas, because if we take a timeout, it's mostly because we are not in the game and don't know what to do. So unless I have a plan, he will come with an idea of what to do. He also helps with our mentality which I think is a very underestimated subject, it's very important.”
Under your leadership, Kjaerbye became one of the hottest names in the game, but he had not had similar impact in Astralis under karrigan. Previously, schneider also looked more impressive in dignitas than he does in GODSENT. Finally, Magiskb0Y has unlocked a new level of play in your team. Beyond giving them structure, what do you think it is that seemingly allows players to flourish in your teams?
MSL: ”In general I think I come up with some structure that makes people feel comfortable and they know what to do and when to do it. I also think that I focus a lot on communication which makes it a lot easier for everyone within the team to perform, and last but not least, I believe trust is very important and I always try to show everyone that I trust them and try to make the whole team trust in each other, even though that can be hard sometimes. Team spirit is also something I try to work a lot with, i think it's one of the keys to success.”
As a follow-up to the previous question, what do you think Kjaerbye and schneider should be doing differently in Astralis and GODSENT to be more effective?
MSL: ”I think it's hard to know since I'm not in the teams, but my guess is that they both have less space in their teams because they are playing with better players. I also think Kjaerbye had a hard time in the start [under karrigan] because their game wasn´t as structured as in our team and I think he also needed to find room in the team - it's hard to join four guys and instantly play well for a long period of time. With that said, I think he has played insane recently [under gla1ve].”
Whereas Dignitas have perhaps been the winners of the cajunb-for-Kjaerbye trade, I understand it was initiated by Astralis. What do you believe you gained and lost in the trade? In an alternate universe where Astralis beats Na`Vi at MLG Columbus and the trade does not happen, how does dignitas look like and is doing right now?
MSL: ”I think we both gained something in a sense, because both teams are better now than they were before. I think our old team had reached its high and that we needed a player like cajunb to reach a new one. We were stuck doing the same things over and over and only had my vision on things, because I didn't have a second caller that could help me with input and new ideas.
”With that said, we also lost an insanely skilled player that was a good teamplayer and a good teammate. It was clear after we lost Kjaerbye that we were missing frags, that's why I think it all worked out in the end, because with Magisk we got the frags we missed and we also had cajunb with a lot of frags and as a second caller that would make our team better. If we still had Markus I think we would have stayed on the level we were, so in the end, it was a good trade for both teams when we did one more roster move each.”
You have now had a reasonable amount of success, including the big win at EPICENTER, but so far lack results at the majors. With five group stage exits under your belt, is it something you ever think about? Does it add any pressure going to the next major, knowing you have struggled there historically? If not, do you simply shrug it off as not being as good back then?
MSL: ”Of course I think about it, making the playoffs at a Major is something I want badly and I think the Majors put a lot more pressure on every player. For many of the majors I have played on teams that weren´t good enough to qualify for the playoffs, we were basically just happy that we qualified for the event. This time it's something different. I believe we have a top-five team and I believe a lot in North, so if we prepare well and have the right mindset, this is the time to make it.”
Thorin made the comparison of k0nfig and Magisk to f0rest and GeT_RiGhT. While obviously it remains too early, how applicable do you think that is? Magisk seems like the kind of consistent lurker GeT_RiGhT is at his best, and k0nfig’s aggression opens up the map similarly to f0rest. How good is your duo compared to any other team’s top two stars?
MSL: ”I think Thorin is right in some aspects. K0nfig is much like f0rest, just a tiny bit more "yolo" in my opinion and with considerably less experience. Magiskb0Y isn´t really a lurker, he is just a defensive player that comes in third and kills a lot of people with his sick aim, whereas I think GeT_RiGhT is more of a player that is lurking and simply outsmarting his opponents. I'm happy to have them both in North and I think that they are the best duo in the game if they are on point, we just need to make it even more consistent so we can be deadly all the time.”
Your name is often thrown around with that of FalleN’s when considering the best in-game leaders. Where do you see yourself on that list? How would you rank leaders from the outside?
MSL: ”I think its hard to rate in-game leaders from the outside of the teams, since you really don't know who within the team is doing what and saying what. I would say that I consider myself top-three in-game leader in the world together with FalleN and gla1ve. I don't really want to make a list though, since it's impossible to exactly know who is the best. I think FalleN is great at using himself and making the team perform, whereas gla1ve is a good leader that reads the game very well. I also admire Zeus for what he has been doing on Gambit.”
Individual skillsets aside, which of the top teams are the easiest and hardest for you to play against based on their playing styles, tactics, and ability to adjust? Which leaders or coaches do you like and dislike playing against?
MSL: ”I think FalleN is the hardest to play against. He is really good at making a solid gameplan and adjusting. We played them couple of times in December and they won the first time, then we adjusted and won the second time, but they again won in a best-of-three. It's exciting to play games against them and I think it will be even more fun to play in the future when we know each other even better.
”For teams in general because of their playing style and tactics, I have always felt that NiP has been really hard to play against because of their experience and playing style both before the structure and now with the structure they added in 2016. I don't really have a problem playing everyone else, it's always hard to play against everyone, but I don't feel that it's so much because of playing style, tactics or ability to adjust, but more about if we are on point individually or not.”
We are in what Thorin dubbed as the Era of Parity, which I have explained away as being a result of mainly not enough practice and too many events. Do you believe anything will change by late January, when the ELEAGUE major kicks off? Will the best have surpassed the challengers with the added practice time and focus?
MSL: ”I think everyone has had time to practice and be ready for the major. No one has an excuse anymore and I think there will be more of a difference now that everyone has been home and had plenty of time to prepare. I don't think it will be a BIG difference, because there are so many good teams nowadays. I just think we will see more beautiful CS and less mistakes from all teams.”
We had a colorful debate on maps on Twitter some time ago, agreeing that cache is not a good map. Without the 140 character limit, could you go in-depth to explaining what the main issues of the map currently are, and how you would like to see it improved?
MSL: ”There is a lot of maps that I don't like anymore, I think many of the maps have much more randomness now than before when we were using the _se or _ce versions. I liked it when it was more about teamplay, structure and making less mistakes. I feel cache is the most random map. You don't have many possibilities as counter-terrorists to do anything aggressive and as a terrorist you basically just need mid-control and then it's a split towards A or B, where it will be more or less only about aim duels. I think the map is a lot about firepower and randomness which is why I prefer a map such as nuke, where it's more about being good tactically and teamplay-wise.”
Similarly, I believe cobblestone is a poorly constructed map, because terrorists effectively spawn with map control, and there is very little the defense can do about it. Your team is very strong on the map, but what do you think about it, as objectively as possible?
MSL: ”To be honest I don't like the map either, I think it's very hard as a counter-terrorist and you don't have many possibilities, just like on cache. It's a lot about just winning your aim duels when they come to you and it's nearly impossible to retake either of the two sites. As a terrorist you have a lot of possibilities for map control, executes and fakes which is why I think my teams have been good as terrorists. I think it's easy to read and abuse the weaknesses of the defense. Again, I think many of the maps are badly made, I loved when the game was more counter-terrorist -heavy and you really had to do something special to win terrorist rounds.”
Presumably inferno will be coming in soon, and you would remove cache for it. But which maps would you actually like to see changes being made to? Is this a cat and mouse game for the sake of changing, or are there more maps with need for change?
MSL: ”As I said earlier there are many maps which I don't like, but I think it's hard to say what needs to be changed. I would like maps to be less random and more counter-terrorist-heavy, as they were in _se and _ce versions, but you can't just delete all the new maps can you? Again, one map I do like is nuke.”
On that note, what is your take on the optimal number of maps in the pool? How many maps can a tactical team like yours be elite on at a time? Alternatively, do you like the fact maps get semi-randomly taken out and replaced? If we look at 2015 for example, nuke’s removal played a big part in NiP’s weak results in the year.
MSL: ”With the schedule there is right now in CS:GO, I think we could be elite on five maps at a time. I think seven maps is optimal, if the schedule were not so tough, but as of right now I would like a five-map pool more, since it would mean less mistakes, more beautiful CS and many more cool new things. I hate the fact that a map can be just randomly removed, you can't know what to expect and maybe tomorrow your best map gets removed. I hope in the future we can have a bigger say in stuff like this and work together with Valve.”
It's early of course, but how different are things now in North compared to the past? Can you share any examples of what will lead to improvements for your team under the new organization?
MSL: "North is more professional and structured, which means we only need to focus on our game. I think the biggest improvement for us will be the fact that we have a bootcamp facility in Denmark that we can always go to and don't need to do anything other than taking the flight or train to Copenhagen. I think it's really important and we will use it a lot. Other than that, if we need medical care, sport psycholic care or anything else, we can get help from people who know what they are doing."
You are now well into your preparation for the ELEAGUE Major. Who do you see as the favorites? What is a realistic goal for your team? Any thoughts in general about the Major you would like to share?
MSL: "Right now I have no idea who would make the semis, because everyone is practicing and you can't really see what form teams are in because you can't make decisions based on practice. I would say that I expect Astralis and OpTic to be in really good shape and I think Na`Vi will be in the semis as well... And let's top it off with North! I would be happy with a semi-final, but the goal is always to win. We just need to take one match at a time and play our A-game because every team is good and ready. But if we do that, I'm sure we will win."
Photo credits here.