Photo: By Daniel Ranki
When the lineup of Mouz first came together back in August of 2017, it was a team filled with misfits, underdogs, and outsiders. The lineup consisted of: Chris “chrisJ” de Jong, Tomas “oskar” Stastny, Robin “ropz” Kool, Miikka “suNny” Kemppi, and Martin “STYKO” Styk. From late 2017 to early 2018, these misfits proved themselves as they became one of the best teams in the world. Now over one year later, the team has hit the sophomore slump. They were pushed out of the highest strata of CS:GO competition by the likes of Na`Vi, Liquid, and Astralis as 2018 progressed forward. Mouz were then eliminated from the EU Minor for the IEM Katowice Major and that could be the tipping point for Mouz.
From Underdog to Title Contender
The genesis of the current Mouz lineup had its start in the Nikola “NiKo” Kovac lineup of 2015-2017, the versions that were aptly nicknamed NiKosports. At the beginning of 2017, he was FaZe brought NiKo out and this prompted multiple changes in the team. First, Oskar came off the bench and became the star AWPer of the team. ChrisJ switched roles as he went from primary AWPer to secondary AWPer, entry fragger, and in-game leader of the squad. This was only possible with the assistance of their coach, Sergey “lmbt” Bezhanov. The team started to rebuild as they slowly got rid of the bad pieces in the team and replaced them. They first got ropz in April 2017 as one of their star players. They then rounded out the roster with suNny and STYKO in August 2017.
Mouz polarized the team around their three star players: oskar, suNny, and ropz. Oskar was the AWPer who could play both the stable style of AWPing and the wildcard aggressive style. SuNny was a versatile star player whose primary strength was lurking, but could also be an aggressive opening rifle player or second entry in. Ropz was the passive wing player who had good game sense for someone so inexperienced. ChrisJ became the aggressive space creator on the team and secondary AWPer on the CT-side. STYKO filled out the squad by doing the dirty work and becoming the glue guy in the team. His ability to communicate and be a secondary caller for the team helped facilitate the star players on the roster, particularly oskar.
With this lineup, the team rose up through the end of 2017 as they won ESG Tour Mykonos against Liquid. That was their breakout performance, but they didn’t start becoming consistently good until the end of the year when ChrisJ and lmbt’s structure was fully integrated into the team. Once that came online the team became one of the best in the world. The first glimpse we saw of that was at the ECS Season 4 Finals where they lost to FaZe 1-2 in a close manner.
The early parts of 2018 was the best period of this Mouz lineup. Mouz got to the playoffs of ELeague Major Boston where they lost to FaZe 0-2. In the subsequent months though, they’d start to build up their resume as a potential candidate for best team in the world. They went on to win StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 4 where teams like Na`Vi, Liquid, and FaZe were all in attendance. Then followed it up with a victory at V4 Sports Festival in Budapest. However their time in the sun was limited as Astralis then came into full force at DreamHack Marseille. While no longer a championship contender, Mouz were a consistent top four team as they got good placings at various tournaments: top four at IEM Sydney, top four at StarSeries i-League Season 5, and 2nd at ESL Belo Horizonte.
The -STYKO +Snax, -Snax +STYKO Period
Mouz were no longer satisfied with being among the best teams in the world and decided to try to make a move that could push them into the top three teams in the world. In a bold gambit, they decided to replace STYKO with Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski. The initial plan seemed to be to have Snax take on STYKO’s roles, but due to his superior skill and clutch ability, he’d be able to bring more impact into the role. The plan failed as it failed to increase the firepower and simultaneously made their teamplay worse without STYKO’s contribution to the teamplay aspects of the game.
The team became inconsistent. Ropz fell off massively compared to where he was earlier in the year. Oskar also fell off as STYKO was his primary support player and without him, he had lost one of his best teammates. The only star player who remained consistent during this period was suNny, who continued to be one of the best players in the world. The results reflected this as while Mouz were still making top fours at events like DreamHack Stockholm and ELeague Premier 2018, but were bombing out of tournaments like ESL One Cologne and the FACEIT Major. The extreme end of this was two events back-to-back. At ESL One New York, Mouz won in amazing fashion against Liquid to win the title. They then went to StarLadder i-League Season 6 where they got knocked out in the group stages by ENCE, OpTic, and BIG.
This inconsistency made the Mouz players realize what they had with STYKO and so the team reversed course. They removed Snax and brought STYKO back onto the team. By the end of 2018, they had closed out the year where they started, as a top four team. Their overall results at IEM Chicago, ECS Season 6, and ESL Proleague Season 8 finals reflected this. While they got 5-6th at both Chicago and ECS S6, their losses came from the eventual finalists in both tournaments. At IEM Chicago, they lost to Liquid and Astralis in bo3s. At ECS S6 they were in a group with both Astralis and MIBR, both teams that went on to be in the finals of the tournament.
While losing always hurts, Mouz could have written off their losses to a certain extent. Their losses at Chicago, ECS S6, and EPL S8 all came from the hands of the best teams in the world. Losing in the EU Minor though was a catastrophe. In that tournament, Mouz were in Group A where they played against Valiance twice. While Valiance are a team filled with skilled players and did a lot of anti-stratting for Mouz, it was still a result that was likely unacceptable for the team to lose.
As the Majors are the most important event of the year, losing badly in one of these often creates roster changes. So the question for Mouz is what will they do now?
Mouz are in a strange situation when it comes to their roster. When we look at the team’s overall form during the last few months, there are a few things that happened after STYKO came back. First oskar’s form as a star AWP player returned to form. Second, ropz has been unable to find the level he had in early 2018. Neither has suNny. As for ChrisJ, he continues to be individually a high impact player, especially for an in-game leader.
Next, we have to look at what is causing suNny and Ropz’s decline. Their overall raw mechanics in the game hasn’t changed, but both players have hit a ceiling. Teams and players have figured out what they like to do and what their tendencies are. This is fairly typical of rookies in any team esport or competition. After making it to the spotlight, teams and players will start dissecting, analyzing, and finding ways to counter these young players. While both players likely have a future ahead of them as star players, for now they’ve hit a sophomore slump and will have to find a way out of it.
If this was earlier on in the team’s lifespan, maybe 6 or 9 months in, then the team should probably stick together and ride it through. However this particular team has been together for a period of about 15 months, so we already know that this team has hit it’s potential ceiling as a roster. As that’s the case, a roster change is likely the next move, but there are no easy changes to make.
Oskar is their best player so it doesn’t make sense to cut him. On the other hand, oskar is 27 years old and players rarely continue being a star player after that age. When compared to suNny or ropz, it’s clear that those two players have a far longer future ahead of them. The problem though is that they likely won’t develop any further under the Mouz team. In CS:GO, young players need two things to develop: a rival and a mentor. While Mouz have plenty of rivals to play against, there is no clear mentor for either of the two young stars in suNny and ropz. Both ChrisJ and lmbt have likely taught them as much as they can and at this point, it’s likely that both players need to go to a new team or find a new set of circumstances to continue development.
For Mouz, I believe they have two potential moves they can make. They can either bring in a player that can forcibly change the direction of the squad or they can upgrade the core of players they currently have.
Karrigan the Golden Ticket?
In the world right now, there is a single in-game leader that may have the answer to what ails Mouz. Finn “karrigan” Andersen has spent his entire career doing exactly what Mouz needs. He is a leader who has consistently taken good players who seemed to have hit their ceiling and make them better. He did it with the Danish guys back in TSM/Astralis. He then later did it again with a bunch of international players in FaZe.
The FaZe example is more relevant, so I’ll dig into that a bit. When Karrigan first joined FaZe, the team was in turmoil. They hadn’t been able to get out of a group stage for nearly 10 months until he arrived. He was able to reinvent multiple players on that roster or find ways to utilize them including players like: Fabien “kioShiMa” Fiey, Aleski “allu” Jalli and Havard “Rain” Nygaard. He even did the same thing with the all-star iteration of FaZe with Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovacs and Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer. GuardiaN was having a hard time on Na`Vi, but reinvigorated his career after he joined Karrigan. Olofmeister was an okay star player on Fnatic, but under Karrigan he flourished as he started to play new roles.
Karrigan could be the answer and he this move also has the side benefit in that Mouz won’t need to kick out one of the other players immediately. Karrigan could come into the squad and figure out which of the player Mouz need to keep and let go of. After all he did the same back with FaZe when he first joined as he removed Joakim “jkaem” Myrbostad from the starting lineup for kioShiMa.
Upgrading the Core
The other move that Mouz can do is upgrade the core of the team. When I look at this team, I think the three players that form the core style of the squad are: oskar, ChrisJ, and STYKO. Oskar and ChrisJ form the double AWP setup which has been integral on many of their best maps. On the T-side, ChrisJ is a critical impact and space maker for the team. As for STYKO, he is the glue guy and someone that is likely needed to make the teamplay work. This feels especially important on a team filled with international players from different Counter-Strike backgrounds.
I’d say this is the core of the squad, at which point the team should decide whether they want to make one or two changes, depending on who they can get in free agency. Without that information though, I’d probably side with suNny over ropz as suNny seems to have a bigger upside and potential to his game.
Another way they can go is to build around the young stars in suNny and ropz. While I think it’s more dangerous in the short term, there is a clear advantage in terms of overall years the players can play for the org as both are younger than oskar. The problem with that idea though is that CS:GO players rarely stay that long in the same franchise, so thinking along those lines could easily backfire for the org.
August 2017 to the end of 2018 has been the best year of CS:GO in the Mouz organization. However all good things eventually come to an end. No lineup is immortal in CS:GO. In Mouz’s case right now, they have hit the tipping point at the EU Minor. While they can still play together and get good results, it’s seems likely that it will be diminishing returns. For Mouz this is a critical time as they move forward. While they have been eliminated from the Major, they can still lay the groundwork that is needed to build their campaign for 2019 and continue to be one of the best teams going into 2019. How they decide to move forward in the next couple of roster moves could be critical to their competitive success.