DreamHack Montreal is not a big event by any stretch of the imagination. There are some top 10 teams attending yet besides North, Immortals and Cloud9, the rest of the field isn’t impressive. What does hold my interest is North’s placing and its significance for the organization’s future. For North, anything worse than first place in Montreal can only be construed as a failure. Much like a tennis match, North must protect its serve.
All the relevant elements are converging in North’s favor. The team is coming off a great second place result at DreamHack Malmö, with Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke solidifying his place as one of the best players in the world. The competition at Montreal is paltry in comparison to Malmö. Only Cloud9 and Immortals threaten to be obstacles in North’s path. Burdened with the demands of a new roster and little time to practice, I doubt C9 has found a workable identity or adjusted a new in-game leader. Meanwhile, North comfortably defeated Immortals a week ago.
Normally I wouldn’t place so much emphases on one tournament, except North has never found a snug niche within the scene. All year long, North has been an underwhelming failures when measured against the team’s supposed promise. What should have been another Danish powerhouse to match Astralis fizzled out in the months following its formation. At IEM Katowice, North lost to Immortals in the semifinals; at StarLadder Kiev, it lost to HellRaisers in the quarterfinals; at IEM Sydney, North was knocked out of groups with a loss to Chiefs; at the PGL Kraków Major, the team lost in the quarterfinals to an incredibly vulnerable Virtus.Pro. North’s only exceptional result this year was the ELEAGUE Major — with the previous roster, mind you — and ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals, where North benefitted from a fortunate draw. Every other event has been an underperformance.
When I designated this period of Counter-Strike the era of super teams, I generously included North in that group. At the time I had full confidence North would justify my trust. The team had two incredible stars in k0nfig and Emil “Magisk” Reif. Rene “cajunb” Borg was a stable player and Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen has proven himself to be one of the best tactical minds in CS:GO. Philip “aizy” Aistrup was once a star player under MSL’s leadership, and MSL believed aizy could thrive again under him.
North’s initial plan was to move k0nfig into the wings, but unlike Ruben “RUBINO” Villarroel, his job wasn’t to hold map control passively. It was to engage and break open the map solo. Aizy in turn took over k0nfig’s old roles; MSL baits for him as the entry fragger so he can trade frag and break open the sites.
As it turned out, the grand ambitions never came to fruition. K0nfig remained amazing, but aizy could not match k0nfig’s explosive aim in the same role. The few times when they had aizy lurking and k0nfig going in second after MSL were worse. The initial explosion into the bomb site was stronger, but aizy’s lurking proved ineffectual. Either he failed to pressure the map or he died. On top of that, Magisk’s form slowly degraded once RUBINO left.
North’s CT-side took the brunt of the punishment, as North’s formerly stable balance of aggressive and defensive play was now skewed toward the former. The only naturally defensive player who remained on North was cajunb. Everyone else wanted to take duels and fight, which often led to scenarios where North was punished for their aggression and the CT defense collapsed. They tried to fix this with an emphasis on double AWP setups and occasionally switching roles and spots, but it never worked. Once RUBINO left the squad, North never recovered its former equilibrium.
The confusion resulting from individual discrepancies in play style seeped into North’s T-sides as well. North became looser as time went on, with the sequencing of rounds becoming less strict. MSL gradually reverted more to defaults and 4-1s instead of the intricate tactical rounds that had been his modus operandi. It’s hard to say why North did that without inside knowledge, but the likely explanation is MSL hoped he could increase the collective firepower of k0nfig, aizy and Magisk via granting them more freedom. It worked for k0nfig, but aizy and Magisk were still sinking ships.
After the Kraków Major, North’s patience had worn thin, and the team took big steps to overhaul the roster. North replaced Magisk with Valdemar “valde” Bjorn, the most promising member of Heroic. This was a critical switch as valde was also a good fragger, but he also had the mentality to be a good team player. Coupled with his ability to play passive, North’s balance of aggressive and defensive nature on CT side was partially restored. On top of that, valde’s knowledge and time on Heroic made him a great Train player, allowing the team to widen its map pool further (though North’s Train record post-roster change has been mediocre).
With the introduction of a strong team player, MSL and coach Casper “ruggah” Due decided to return to a more structured style for the team. So far, it seems to be working. K0nfig has improved, aizy had one good game at Malmö so there is hopefully something there, and everyone else seems to be playing their roles well despite playing alongside a new fifth. But now it’s time for North to confirm its placement at DreamHack Malmö was not a fluke. The previous squad was susceptible to upsets from lesser teams at every turn, so Montreal will be an important test to see if North can win when it’s supposed to win. If this was the previous iteration, I’d bet against North. But perhaps this North can make me believe once again.
Cover photo by Jennika Ojala/DreamHack