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Photo: By Adela Sznajder for DreamHack

On Feb. 4th, 2019 Mouz benched Chris “chrisJ’ de Jong. Later on March 14th, 2019, he came back to the active roster. In a way the cyclic rotation of chrisJ to the bench and back again represents what ChrisJ is for the Mouz team. He has been their longest standing player, someone who has played for the team since Oct. 21st 2013. In a period lasting over four years, ChrisJ has become the pillar of Mouz. Someone who has constantly evolved and morphed in accordance to each distinct era of Mouz. While never the face of the franchise, he has been the beating heart of the team, one of the pillars that the team stands upon.

The Gob b Period

In the first year and a half, Mouz didn’t have any international success early in their run. They were one org among many who was slowly climbing their way up the ranks in the early epochs of CS:GO. The first Mouz lineup to see international acclaim was the 2015 lineup with: Fatih “gob b” Dayik, chrisJ, Johaness “nex” Maget, Timo “Spiidi” Richter, Denis “denis” Howell, and Nikola “NiKo” Kovac. NiKo had been signed two months before from iNation. He was subsequently benched after Mouz acquired nex, Spiidi, and denis from PENTA esports. They along with gob b and chrisj were the active lineup.

They surprised the world with their performance at Gfinity Masters Summer where they beat Virtus.Pro twice in two bo3 games to make it out of the group. At the time the team was centered around gob b’s tactics and structure and nex’s impact as a star player. While the initial kick off of the team was good, the ensuing results never matched reached the same heights. They eventually realized they needed more firepower and benched Spiidi for NiKo.

On paper, the move looked to be the correct one. The reality didn’t match up. The team continued to struggle as gob b lost his motivation as a leader and nex started to lose form. By the end of 2015, Mouz was forced to move in a different direction as they removed gob b and put Spiidi back into the lineup. NiKo took over as the in-game leader.

The NiKosports Era

The next two years was to be an exercise in frustration for the mouz squad. They realized that they had hit the lottery ticket with NiKo. NiKo turned out to be a superstar level talent, someone who could be the best in the entire world. However mouz didn’t have the resources to build a team around him. At the time, CS:GO lineups were primarily built along national lines and so the best player of each region often stuck to their own domestic lineups.

Even with those limitations, the Mouz squad looked to have some potential. NiKo was a superstar and nex had shown himself to be a star player online and through his stint under gob b in 2015. With two star players, the community thought that the team could still go places.

That never happened as nex broke down. Through all of 2016 nex never reached the same levels he did back in 2015. While he did fine online, when it came to LAN games he failed to perform. Thus Mouz became a sisyphean task for NiKo as he was forced to carry them through tournaments kicking and screaming. The only help NiKo ever had was ChrisJ.

ChrisJ’s reputation at the time was a streaky and inconsistent wildcard AWPer. He was also someone who had some level of nerves when it came to LAN matches as the community nicknamed him ‘onlineJ’. In 2016 though, the nickname died as ChrisJ became the only player that NiKo could rely on when it came to big LANs. The best example of this was at ELeague Season 1 where ChrisJ went off against G2, FaZe, and Astralis to help secure Mouz their biggest international result in 2016. (It is worth noting that Aleksandar “kassad” Trifunovic was the coach for Mouz and had noticeable impact for the team during this period of Mouz)

While ChrisJ was the only player that could help NiKo, the essential problem with ChrisJ was his style of play at the time. He was an inconsistent AWPer along the lines of Henrique “HEN1” Teles or William “draken” Sundin. While he was good at his job, the style of play he utilized meant that he could wasn’t a reliable second option.

So when Mouz recruited Tomas “oskar” Stastny on August 22nd, 2016, it was ChrisJ that had to sacrifice his role for oskar. Oskar was a phenomenal AWPer during his period in HellRaisers and so ChrisJ had to take a seat back to enable oskar to be the best player he could be. While oskar didn’t play in the team for long as he was quickly benched soon after, chrisJ’s willingness to sacrifice for the betterment of the team was something that characterized his career in Mouz.

To the Bench and Back Again

The end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 saw multiple changes for Mouz. The team let go of kassad and hired Sergey “lmbt” Bezhanov as coach. Later on, they picked up Christian “loWel” Antoran as the fifth player to fill out oskar’s spot. The team then continued on with middling results until the Eleague Atlanta Major where they dropped out in 12-14th. Soon after that tournament, Mouz announced that oskar was coming back into the lineup and chrisJ was being benched. At the same time Spiidi was to become the in-game leader with NiKo and lmbt supervising.

All of these moves didn’t last long as a little over a week later, FaZe had agreed to buyout NiKo from the team. As a result, ChrisJ rejoined the team.

The Rise of ChrisJ and Building the Foundation of Mouz

What was most remarkable about chrisJ during this period was the complete lack of outward change. We’ve seen plenty of teams have turmoil over roster and role issues. In the case of ChrisJ, he lost his role as AWP and was then kicked out of the team before either Spiidi or denis despite being a better rifler player than either. Plenty of other players have used that as a reason to lose motivation, to quit on the team, or as an excuse to play badly.

Throughout this entire period, ChrisJ was a consummate professional. He had endured through the trials and for his efforts, he was forced to change his role once again. When he came back onto the team, he became the entry-fragger and in-game leader.

The move itself was shocking as many players have a dip in form when they take on the in-game leader role or change their roles in-game. However chrisJ proved to be more than up to the task. He understood that for Mouz to get anywhere, it was going to have to ride off the back of oskar’s AWP. As that was the case, he took on the roles and became the foundation of Mouz.

ChrisJ didn’t do it alone as lmbt helped him transition into the role. Lmbt described the transition process in this interview as,

“Chris had a lot of troubles in the beginning. He had hard times, but the team was helping him a lot at this time. We built a structure where he knew what to do if a, b, c, or d was happening. I was also calling in a lot of online matches and he was learning from it….Most things that I taught him is about the macro game. He doesn’t need to see all of the map from above always, but he is improving in this aspect a lot as well. He has also grown as a person and became a much more calm guy who can make his calls calm way without outside things like the crowd or the score affecting him.”

Soon after ChrisJ took on the in-game leader role, Robin “ropz” Kool joined the lineup as a young star as he replaced Spiidi on the team. During this period, there was a meme going around that Mouz had become a stronger team because NiKo had left the squad. This was a gross mischaracterization as multiple factors that changed within the team. First, the Mouz team was systematically removing all of the old pieces that didn’t work: players like nex, spiidi, and denis. They then replaced them with better players like oskar, loWel, and ropz. Finally, chrisJ and lmbt were able to create a consistent tactical structure that didn’t exist during NiKo’s time.

All of this setup Mouz to build a strong foundation going forward. The final pieces they needed to change came in August of 2017 when they signed Miikka “suNny” Kemppi and Martin “STYKO” Styk.

Mouz’s Best CS:GO Lineup thus far

The inclusion of suNny and STYKO added two things that Mouz needed. SuNny was a star rifle player that could go head-to-head with the best in the world. STYKO was a great systems player. Someone who could help the team play better team Counter-strike through his own self-sacrifice and comms. He was to be the glue of the team.

The lineup going forward was: ChrisJ, suNny, oskar, ropz, and STYKO. It was a balanced lineup as each player had a specified role within the system that they specialized in. Oskar was the star AWPer and along with ChrisJ, they created one of the best double AWP setups in the world. SuNny and ropz were young star riflers. Each had their specific specialties. SuNny was great as either a lurker or a second entry in. Ropz was a passive player who was good in the mid-late round and specialized on playing Train. STYKO was among the best support players in the game as he synergized perfectly with oskar to make him comfortable.

This team slowly built up through the last quarter of 2017. They had a good start by beating Liquid at ESG Tour Mykonos in an epic bo5. While that initial showing was strong, it was predicated on insane puggy plays, the most memorable being oskar running in first as the entry-fragger on Train with an AWP.

LMBT wasn’t able to fully implement his structure and tactics into the team. When he and ChrisJ managed to put that together, Mouz reached two finals at the end of 2017: DreamHack Winter 2017 and ECS Season 4. They lost both finals to Na`Vi and FaZe respectively, but by the end of 2017 they were one of the hottest teams on the rise.

The first quarter of 2018 was to be the peak of this Mouz lineup. They made the playoffs of ELeague Boston 2018, but lost to FaZe. Soon after they had a revenge match against Na`Vi at StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 4 where they beat Na`Vi 2-1 in the finals. They followed it up with a victory at V4 Future Sports Festival. At that moment, it was possible to say that Mouz were a top 3-4 team in the world. However other teams started to rise in 2018. Na`Vi figured out their roles. Liquid became the best NA team in CS:GO history. The Age of Astralis had begun.

Mouz were pushed aside as these new world powers came to the fore. While Mouz continued to be a top 4-5 team in the world, they didn’t have any answers when it came to advancing any further.

The -STYKO +Snax -Snax +STYKO Period

Mouz were desperate to find an answer and settled on bringing in Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski in place of STYKO. The logic of the move was that Snax was a better individual player and was more likely to win big clutches than STYKO. The move backfired as their best results were largely the same (top four at ELeague Premier 2018 and DreamHack Stockholm), their floor had dropped as they were eliminated in 9-12th at ESL One Cologne and FACEIT Major.

The final tournament the Snax roster attended was ESL One New York. In that tournament, Mouz was in rare form. The team made it to the finals where they played against Liquid in the finals of the tournament. Among all of the different tournaments that Mouz have played across the years, this was the one where ChrisJ had an immense impact.

On paper, the Liquid vs Mouz finals was heavily in Liquid’s favor. By that time, Liquid had solidified themselves as either the second or third best team in the world. While Liquid had lost in finals before, they were only to Astralis. That finals was Liquid’s for the taking, especially as Liquid were up 2-1 and on were up 13-4 on Dust2. However ChrisJ and the Mouz players refused to give up.

They rallied back as they took round after round as they walked the comeback trail. By the end of the map they had forced overtime. In that first round of overtime, ChrisJ called and executed one of the boldest moves I have ever seen. After taking map control, ChrisJ had the team do the smokes for cat and A ramp. He then dropped down with his AWP from cat and make the opening pick with it.

That decisiveness both as a caller and as an entry-fragger has defined chrisJ’s career in this iteration of Mouz. He was someone who played better under the pressure and consistently made large impact plays in many of Mouz’s biggest games. That play along with his ace on Mirage pushed Mouz over the line as they secured the second big international victory of 2018.

Soon after, Mouz realized that the Snax move wasn’t working. This was confirmed with them bombing out of Starseries i-League Season 6, a tier two LAN. They benched him and brought STYKO back into the lineup.

The Fall

While the move was the correct one, the reality of the situation was that the Mouz team was slowly coming apart. While ChrisJ and lmbt had setup a strong structure for the team, the engine of the team was based around the trio of star fraggers: oskar, suNny, and ropz. Oskar was still a strong AWPer, but suNny and ropz had drops in form. SuNny had an amazing middle half of 2018, but hit a slump towards the end of it. Ropz was a good player, but hit his sophomore slump as other top players and teams had figured out his play style.

This resulted in diminishing results. They were eliminated in 5-6th at IEM Chicago and ECS Season 6. The only bright spot was a top four at ESL Proleague Season 8 Finals. In both their 5-6th eliminations, they were taken out by the two finalists of the tournament. At Chicago it was Liquid and Astralis. At ECS it was Astralis and MIBR. Perhaps that gave them some hope that things could still improve.

Whatever hope they had was snuffed out at the EU Minors. In that tournament, Mouz crashed out of the group stages as they were eliminated by Valiance. Valiance had used antistratting and had good individual form on the day, but the results were unforgivable. In the aftermath of that loss, it was clear that Mouz had run its course.  On Feb. 4, Mouz decided to bench both ChrisJ and STYKO.

The Return

Soon after the Mouz team started to rebuild the roster. They recruited Finn “karrigan” Andersen and have built the lineup around him, ropz, Ozgur “woxic” Eker, and David “frozen” Cernansky. This roster has a lot of potential. Karrigan is one of the all time great in-game leaders and has proven throughout his career that he can work well with any player in the CS:GO world. This particular roster though has a lot of young talent and in order to balance that, they needed an additional veteran presence to balance the team.

Thus one month later, ChrisJ returned to the active lineup and looks to once again prove himself as a critical player within the team. From Oct. 21st to now, ChrisJ has been a soldier for Mouz. He started as a star AWPer, eventually became an entry-fragger and leader, and will likely have to morph his roles again in this new Karrigan lineup. Through each phase of time, ChrisJ has consistently filled the role that Mouz needed of him. When NiKo was in desperate need of a second star, ChrisJ stepped up as best as he could. When oskar came in to take the AWP, ChrisJ stepped back without complaint. When NiKo left the team, ChrisJ became the in-game leader and entry-fragger. When Karrigan came into the lineup, Mouz have brought ChrisJ back from the bench.

For me, ChrisJ has become the heart of the Mouz team. While the lineups and identity of the team has changed in each year, ChrisJ has continued to be one of the cornerstones of the team. While never the polarizing star, he has become the rock that the rest of the Mouz players can rely on. He is the pillar of Mouz and his story with them hasn’t ended yet.

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