Thorin 'Grilled' - 2 hour interview

Av Duncan 'Thorin' Shields 18 July 2013, 23:41 · 11 kommentarer
To celebrate the 60th episode of my Grilled interview series I handed over the reigns to MonteCristo (commentator for OGN), who put me in the Grilled hot seat.

Some of the topics we discussed:
- My early writing career.
- Becoming an expert in Counter-Strike.
- Moving into CS commentary.
- Techniques I use for researching and conducting my interviews.
- The goals behind the Grilled series.
- Hemingway's 'iceberg theory'.
- Sports journalism, related to esports journalism.
- Advice for aspiring esports journalists.

Top 35 trios by prize money won

Av Duncan 'Thorin' Shields 25 February 2013, 14:57 · 23 kommentarer
With the last world championship level tournament (the IEM VI World Championship) long gone, and even the medium-sized tournaments having died out, now feels like the appropriate time to take stock of the great teams in CS history. In this series I will count down the best five man, four man, three man, two man teams and single players in CS history in terms of prize money won.

In the third edition I'm presenting the top 35 trios (three man units) in CS history, by prize money won.

Note: where trios could have been included that had identical, or less, prize money to another trio (i.e. a trio of the Poles with LUq instead of loord) I excluded them from the list. Any trios which overlap had some placings which were different from each other.

The top 10

1. $674,088 - fnatic 2006-2010 ( f0rest, cArn and dsn)

When it comes to prize money this trio is far and away the most successful of all time. Not only did their span of time competing together cover the years with the most international tournaments (2006-2010) but their famously strong teamplay-orientated approach to the game, and to some degree recruitment of new players, ensured fnatic very rarely bombed out of tournament. If they didn't win a tournament they would so often still place somewhere on the podium or in the money. That approach to CS didn't yield as many major titles as the likes of the Poles or Na`Vi, but it was without a doubt the best approach to racking up prize money.

2. $592,592 - Pentagram/FX/AGAiN/ESC ( NEO, TaZ and loord)

As the trio which has spent the most time together by a long stretch, about six and three quarters years competing together in 1.6, it should come as no surprise that the Poles are very high on this list. Their place at the top of the leader board for major titles also ensures they would be high up, especially since some of their earlier titles came with astronomically high single event prizes, $60,000 for first place at WCG 2006 coming to mind immediately.

Where fnatic grinded their way to the top of this list, taking prize money from seemingly every event they attended during their time together, this trio instead won money in big bunches, taking down huge prize purses and then battling their way through slumps to climb to the top, for however briefly, again.

3. $379,936 - Na`Vi ( markeloff, Edward and starix)

The Ukrainians impressively topped the five man prize money list, but in the world of the trios the drop off from the top two units down to them is pretty steep. That is largely attributable to the disparity in time spent playing together though, with fnatic's trio being together for 5 years and the Poles ~6.75. Considering that Na`Vi got to almost $380k in less than three years their success is very impressive within that context.

There's also the factor of them only joining forces around the beginning of 2010, so the death of 1.6 stopped their run in its tracks. The Poles were also stopped by the death of 1.6, but Na`Vi was consistently grinding out prize money even after 2010. After famously winning most tournaments in 2010 the Ukrainians finished third at most tournaments in 2011 and second at msot in 2010. If they'd had the 2.5-3.75 years needed to match the trios above them the team of 2010 would have had a legitimate shot at equalling those incredible marks set by the Swedes and Poles.

4. $362,096 - NoA/mTw 2007-2010 ( Zonic, ave and Sunde)

Of all the trios on this list this might be the one we could feel most sorry for. Their total amount is impressive, and especially for having played together for about 3.5 years together, but after their stellar 2008 this team suffered from taking a lot of second and third places. The big problem with second and third places, especially in the latter years of CS, is that the dropoff in prize money was quite steep, since tournaments wanted to keep first place looking comparable to previous years, but without maintaining the overall size of the prize purse. In the world of CS finishing third three times sometimes doesn't amount to finishing first once and winning nothing at two other tournaments.

Add in that in 2010 the lack of tournament seeding ensured mTw sometimes finished outside of the top three, despite being the third best team of the year overall, and that was more potential prize money lost.

The success of this trio starts with ave's leadership. Along with gob b, ave is the IGL who seemed capable of taking almost any composition of players and making them into a working unit which could place in the top five of tournaments. Zonic played the role of consistent clutch player under pressure, which ensures your team will always be in close games and able to claw your way back into games you trail. Finally, it was the utilisation of Sunde as the pick-off AWPer in 2008, once whiMp had shored up other aspects of their game, which propelled them into the champion's circle.

5. $317,703 - NoA/mTw 2006-2009 ( Zonic, ave and MJE)

As if to prove my above point about how much more the Sunde era mTw might have won, it is worth comparing the numbers of the trio that existed a little prior to his arrival and overlapped into the pre-trace era. This trio was active from only a year or so before Sunde's arrival and finished up with MJE's departure in late 2009, yet they are less than $50,000 behind the trio which in our memories would be marked down as much more successful.

This trio went from continually placing outside of the top two at events to reaching the heights of second place, after Sunde's arrival, and then moving up onto the top of the podium with whiMp's addition. MJE crucially played the role of small site player very efficiently, allowing Zonic to rotate over to the bigger site, based on the calls of his team-mate, and give mTw the luxury of overloading a site for an oncoming attack. When his small site was attacked his approach meant he either took out enough of the enemies to make it possible to retake, or he delayed the enemy attack long enough for the other CTs to rotate.

6. $299,431 - NiP/SK.swe 2001-2004 ( HeatoN, Potti and ahl)

The second appearance of Swedish players on this list is of course made up of members of the legendary SK.swe lineup of 2003, which had such a stellar run of dominance across the board, under the leadership of elemeNt. This particular trio also can count the $50,000 NiP took for first place at CPL Winter 2001 under their umbrella, helping advance their total.

This trio first formed with the aforementioned victory, then in the beginning of 2003 reformed, with ahl coming in from 2easy/team9 with team-mate fisker and the combination of HeatoN and Potti already having played for SK for three quarters of a year or so. Early on they dominated their domestic rivals but had problems with eoL and being upset at ESWC, ensuring they lost the first two big international events of the year.

When elemeNt, who had been a member of eoL, was fully integrated into their lineup, and SpawN brought in as a super-ringer, there was nothing that could stop the trio on their rampage across the European scene. From the beginning of CPL Summer 2003 through to the end of CPL Winter 2003 the team lost only a single map on LAN, going 47-1. In 2004 the lineup suffered from the departure of elemeNt and more upsets.

A brief look down this list, though, will show how far ahead of their time they were in terms of monetary success, as the only lineup from pre-2005, or having the majority of their success pre-2005. While first place prizes were often higher during this trio's era, there were less tournaments overall and those high first place prizes meant the pressure to finish at the top was very high.

7. $283,828 - coL/EG/x6 2004-2006+2009+2012 ( fRoD, Storm and warden)

The only North American trio to make it into the top 10, this trio is most famous for their time anchoring the coL lineups of 2005 and 2006. That era of coL owes much of their success to the consistent teamplay they developed, and an understanding of how to fit players around the devasating AWP of fRoD. What held other North American teams back was their over reliance on raw aiming skill, trying to stuff lineups full of aimers over and over, at the expense of role-players and a more teamplay-orientated style.

Those coL teams also made the smart decision, minus a brief spell of replacing sunman with exodus, of keeping the same lineup through thick and thin. NA teams were famous for removing the perceived weakest player for a player in better form, instead coL stuck together and were rewarded for that persistence in the face of minor adversities. Later on they made up the first edition of the American EG teams, with warden eventually being removed for dboorN.

8. $272,921 - mouz 2007-2010 ( gob b, Kapio and TIXO)

This trio from the German scene didn't win many international events, but they did manage to collect a commendable number of prize money placings over a span of about three years. When they did win it was always memorable, and aside from that they were always one of the teams capable of playing the world's best to a close game. Barring a couple of slumps this trio was almost amongst the elite in international CS.

One of the big factors stopping this trio's eventual total from being higher was the death of cyx in 2010.

9. $271,758 - SK.swe 2007-2009 ( walle, RobbaN and allen)

The SK trio sits in the usual position of never having been the world's best team during their time playing together. Nevertheless this team won prize money by virtue of being present for practically every imaginable event, and always being consistently in or around the top five teams in the world. At times they could peak as high as the second best in the world, at other times they might be on the outskirts of the top five, but SK was always collecting prize money to add to their total.

Fairly underwhelming in the major tournaments, but this trio was very solid when it came to accruing prize money and top four placings.

10. $212,080 - NiP/SK 2006+2008-2009 ( zet, RobbaN and walle)

This lineup overlaps with the above lineup at times, but the crucial difference is NiP's big year in 2006 when they were at times the world's best team. Sadly for them, and in line with the careers of members walle and RobbaN, this team would most often win the medium events and not come through in the majors. zet's departure to CGS in 2007, and his eventual downfall as an elite player, obviously handicapped this trio from additional success, so fans can only imagine what could have been if he'd remained at his 2006 level for more years.

The entire top 35

1. $674,088 - fnatic 2006-2010 ( f0rest, cArn and dsn)
2. $592,592 - Pentagram/FX/AGAiN/ESC ( NEO, TaZ and loord)
3. $379,936 - Na`Vi ( markeloff, Edward and starix)
4. $362,096 - NoA/mTw 2007-2010 ( Zonic, ave and Sunde)
5. $317,703 - NoA/mTw 2006-2009 ( Zonic, ave and MJE)
6. $299,431 - NiP/SK.swe 2001-2004 ( HeatoN, Potti and ahl)
7. $283,828 - coL/EG/x6 2004-2006+2009+2012 ( fRoD, Storm and warden)
8. $272,921 - mouz 2007-2010 ( gob b, Kapio and TIXO)
9. $271,758 - SK.swe 2007-2009 ( walle, RobbaN and allen)
10. $212,080 - NiP/SK 2006+2008-2009 ( zet, RobbaN and walle)
11. $202,968 - project_kr/eSTRO 2006-2009 ( solo, termi and bail)
12. $172,420 - mousesports 2003-2005 ( Blizzard, gore and Roman R.)
13. $166,051 - wNv.gm 2005-2007 ( Jungle, tK and alex)
14. $143,971 - mTw 2010-2011 ( ave, zonic and trace)
15. $138,982 - EG 2009-2011 ( fRoD, n0thing and Storm)
16. $134,952 - NiP 2005-2006 ( zet, ins and walle)
17. $134,825 - 3D 2005-2006 ( Rambo, Volcano and method)
18. $126,581 - Virtus.Pro 2004-2007+2010+2011 ( LeX, F_1N and Snoop)
19. $124,755 - MiBR 2006-2008 ( cogu, fnx and nak)
20. $122,720 - aTTaX 2006 ( mooN, Kapio and CHEF-KOCH)
21. $122,625 - SK.swe 2011+2012 ( f0rest, GeT_RiGhT and face)
22. $117,298 - aTTaX 2007-2008 ( mooN, paN and approx)
23. $116,200 - X3/3D 2001-2003 ( Rambo, Ksharp and Bullseye)
24. $115,079 - hoorai/69n-28e/roccat/GamePlay/PwR ( ruuit, naSu and contE)
25. $102,500 - NoA 2003-2004 ( shaGuar, method and Naikon)
26. $92,631 - eoL/NoA 2003-2005 ( elemeNt, XeqtR and Naikon)
27. $91,518 - NoA 2004-2005 (elemeNt, Naikon and method)
28. $89,155 - SK.swe 2007-2008 ( SpawN, RobbaN and allen)
29. $88,411 - The-Titans/SK.dk 2004 ( eGene, whimp and Drally)
30. $85,861 - 9.esu 2003 ( vesslan, Luchesse and quick)
31. $82,647 - emuLate 2007-2009 ( mSx, R!Go- and MaT)
32. $74,384 - H2k/Lions/WinFakt.se 2009-2012 ( kHRYSTAL, FYRR73 and niko)
33. $73,881 - e9/NiP 2000-2001 ( Potti, Hyb and MedioN)
34. $72,650 - M19 2002-2004 ( kALbI4, r1d3r and Nook)
35. $68,435 - Virtus.pro 2007-2008 ( LeX, Edward and Zeus)

I'll return with the top duos and individual players, by prize money won, in the future.

cArn 'Grilled': 1hr37m career interview

Av Duncan 'Thorin' Shields 27 January 2013, 17:29 · 4 kommentarer
Patrik "cArn" Sättermon is the star of the 30th episode of my 'Grilled' interview series. He not only led some of the most successful lineups of all time, but is also the second highest earning player in CS history, in terms of prize money won.

In this 1hr37m video interview cArn answers questions spanning from 2003 to 2012, the length of his professional career.

Why was losing the 2009 WCG final to AGAiN the best thing that ever happened to him? Does he think ceh9/Na`Vi looked at stage big screens on other occasions than just the Beat It in Kiev? When does he consider f0rest's prime? Did he knew fnatic could never be a consistent world #1 after f0rest left to SK? Who was the hardest IGL for him to play against? How close did NEO and REAL come to joining fnatic?

Topics discussed:

00:05 intro

00:26 cArn's time in Gamers.nu (2004)

03:57 The gradual route of becoming better in moving up the tiers of players/teams.

08:20 dsn's story of IsKall being considered as the in-game leader of fnatic 2006 prior to cArn.

10:44 What changed in fnatic in 2006, going from being a top 3 placing team at the majors to winning the final major (CPL Winter)?

13:42 What allowed the fnatic core to integrate new players into their lineup without being as up and down as other teams?

16:37 What is the best kind of balance of skill and teamplay to have an all-time great team?

19:44 Was trying to recruit the new hot fragger each time a flaw in SK's recruitment policy over the years?

22:19 People in the team voting to get rid of someone.

24:29 When does he think of as f0rest's prime and how did he use f0rest in his lineups?

26:19 Since a player like f0rest is irreplacable did cArn acknowledge that fnatic would never be a consistent #1 team again after f0rest left to SK?

29:18 How difficult was it losing to SK every time in 2011?

31:41 The golden fives having the opposite careers to fnatic: amazing at the majors but not as consistent otherwise.

38:02 How much of a regret is it for him that he didn't win many majors in his career?

40:24 Did fnatic feel unbeatable during the 2009 run?

44:42 Discussing famous losses: WCG 2009 final vs. AGAiN, IEM IV European Championship final vs. mouz and the IEM IV World Championship final vs. Na`Vi.

52:45 ceh9 looking at the screen in the Cyberarena in Kiev. Does cArn think it happened at other times in CS history?

1:00:36 What was cArn's speciality/strength as an in-game leader?

1:03:22 Leadership in terms of leading people and motivating them. Wasn't this one of cArn's big strengths?

1:08:01 Examples of when everything went right for cArn as the leader, controlling the game and making the right calls.

1:14:14 If it were not for the WCG requirements could top teams have had players from other nationalities throughout CS history, contrary to the general consensus?

1:18:13 Could NEO have been as successful in a non-Polish team?

1:20:33 What reason could there be to want to remove GeT_RiGhT from fnatic in late 2010?

1:23:06 Was GeT_RiGhT the kind of player always checking stats after games that he was referring to before?

1:25:39 If someone makes a top 30 players of all time list, should dsn and cArn be included?

1:27:54 What was cArn's path to becoming the 2nd highest earning player in CS history?

1:29:21 How were fnatic 2012 able to dominate the end of CS?

1:34:14 Final message/outro

da bears 'Grilled'

Av Duncan 'Thorin' Shields 10 December 2012, 16:45 · 2 kommentarer
In the 19th episode of my 'Grilled' in-depth video interview series I spoke to Erik "da bears" Stromberg, about his CS career playing for teams like 3D, TEC, u5 and JMC.

Topics discussed:

00:05 Intro

00:18 The eU days, how good was he?

01:45 Joining Team3D, did he and Jaden get a raw deal from fans over 3D's failure?

03:39 3D being the proof that the old method of just having the best players, playing FFA style, no longer worked.

05:18 da bears' style of play.

07:21 AWPing online but not that much offline, individually and NA players in general.

09:30 The revenge aspect of being in TEC and beating 3D.

10:41 The really bad CPL for TEC, an anecdote about losing an AWP behind the inferno fence in CT spawn.

12:53 His bond with Jaden in and out of the game.

14:54 A "What if" story of a team he could have joined, but didn't.

15:59 How professional were CPLs and competition in the early 2000s.

17:45 sunman

19:22 JaX Money Crew being the team to break the "da bears curse"

22:24 The experience of coming third at that CPL.

23:45 zid's play at CPL Winter 2005.

25:42 Was zid's performance up there with those of guys like Ksharp etc.?

26:38 Stevenson (a.k.a. bl00dsh0t)

28:09 What could Stevenson's career have been if he'd joined a big team?

29:33 The most underrated player he played with in his career.

31:09 Where is he at as a gamer, is shootmania his future? Will CS:GO be big?

34:11 Does he think back fondly on his time in CS?

36:28 Final message/outro

Top 50 quartets by prize money won

Av Duncan 'Thorin' Shields 17 November 2012, 18:38 · 14 kommentarer
With the last world championship level tournament (the IEM VI World Championship) long gone, and even the medium-sized tournaments having died out, now feels like the appropriate time to take stock of the great teams in CS history. In this series I will count down the best five man, four man, three man, two man teams and single players in CS history in terms of prize money won.

In the second edition I'm presenting the top 50 quartets (four man units) in CS history, by prize money won.

The top 10:

1. $588,528 - Pentagram/FX/AGAiN/ESC ( NEO, kuben, TaZ and loord)

This one really shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, Na`Vi may have pipped them to the top of the five man line-up list but these four Poles have played together longer and won more than anyone else at the highest level of CS, and it's not close. This four man unit has been the core of both of the golden five line-ups, with LUq and pasha, winning multiple majors with each.

While other line-ups have adapted to suit the tempo of the time, bringing in skilled players or team-players as needed, this four man set-up has been the same, minus a small handful of events, for over six years. That they've managed to stay relevant and return to the top each time is a testament to the special chemistry this group has shown throughout their whole careers.

2. $383,111 - fnatic 2006-2008 ( f0rest, cArn, dsn and Archi)

This line-up is the one which made the fnatic name famous in CS history, grinding out a ridiculous amount of top three finishes across three whole years of play. They struggled to become champions in their first year, and then had to deal with a drop-off while adapting to the change of ins in place of Tentpole, but once they hit their best shape this foursome showed that consistently good teamplay and execution delivers a higher standard of results than simply ramming a line-up with stars and hoping for them to win games individually.

Not the best tactical team in CS history, or even close, and far from the most skilled, the speciality of this team was their excellent team-play, operating as one unit seemingly at all times.

3. $379,936 - Na`Vi 2010-2012 ( markeloff, Edward, starix and Zeus)

These Ukrainians are the only line-up in the top 10 of this list which could actually have kept climbing, cut short by the end of competitive 1.6. Had they been able to continue for another year it seems certain they would have made it to second place, though first place would be quite a stretch. Obviously I could have picked any of the four of them, so it is no slight against ceh9 that I didn't include his name above.

What made this four man unit so good was how well they fit together, as though the line-up were designed by some mastermind of the game. Nobody could have known how well the different pieces would come together, but put them in their respective spots and the Na`Vi magic appeared. Even in the years when event wins weren't coming frequently this team have continued to play to a certain elite standard, never dropping out of the world's top five teams, and win incredible matches.

When one considers how frequently roster changes were made throughout the history of the CIS scene it is a credit to their understanding of the magic they possess that this team has never pulled the trigger on any potential changes. They haven't always won, since 2010, but they've always been an amazing CS team.

4. $290,977 - fnatic 2009-2010 ( f0rest, cArn, dsn and GeT_RiGhT)

The key component this unit had was the ability to move people around in the roles they occupied in the team, and still find success as a result of it. With Gux in 2009 they put GeT_RiGhT and f0rest alongside the youngster to power them to monster wins, with cArn and dsn taking more support-based roles. Then, with Gux departed and THREAT acquired, we saw dsn make something of a return to being a second-star calibre player, behind f0rest and GeT_RiGhT. That was still good enough to get them into some finals and even win one over Na`Vi.

Bringing back Gux in late 2010 didn't work out as well as they'd hoped, but I get the feeling this is a unit that could have been placing top three at events for many years after, if they'd figured out how to stay together.

5. $283,294 - NoA/mTw 2007-2009 ( Sunde, ave, zonic and MJE)

This is another line-up which survived a drastic change to their team, except this time it made them even better. With hpx as their AWPer the NoA team of 2007 were good enough to become championship level contenders, but would always lose the big match that mattered the most. When whiMp came in, the Danish team-play dynamo, it allowed them to shift Sunde into an aggressive pick-heavy AWPing position, and thus the 2008 era mTw unit was born.

What made this unit so great is that they had no central star, but almost every player in the line-up could have been the second or third best player on another top team in CS. With potential stars willing to sacrifice and play roles this Danish team was very versatile and dynamic, which allowed ave to display the full spectrum of tactics he had in his brilliant mind. Coupled with ave's anti-strats this unit became the most devastating tactical weapon CS had ever seen.

6. $260,369 - mouz 2007-2010 ( cyx, gob b, Kapio and TIXO)

Here's another line-up, along with Na`Vi, that was cut short of its potential. With cyx's tragic death we'll never know how far up the list they could have gone, but as high as fourth seems pretty reasonable. It's also fitting that they come after the mTw core, since I think their strengths reside in similar areas. Again this is a core with players who could have been off playing in other teams as the stars of those line-ups, but instead they found roles which fit together to produce something much more impressive than the sum of their parts.

They weren't used tactically the same as mTw, rather flowing with gob b's spur-of-the-moment calls and reads, but the result was quite similar. The gore era line-up accomplished more than the roman one, but then again they didn't have as much time in the latter case. There was also that brief dalliance with cash in 2009.

7. $244,971 - coL 2004-2006 ( fRoD, Storm, warden and tr1p)

Once this core got together they knew well enough to leave alone from meddling, though they did get their hands burned with a switch of exodus in for sunman in late 2005. This group knew how to win, something rare for a North American team, in as much as they did it as team, not a disparate group of individuals all out for themselves.

When their game was on this team could compete with any in the world, when their game was off they fell quite a way for a top team, but didn't waver and make drastic changes. fRoD may have been the star, but it was a lot more than just fRoD's efforts which made this the greatest NA CS team of all time, they had their personnel in just the right positions.

8. $212,290 - FX/AGAiN/ESC 2010-2012 ( NEO, kuben, loord and pasha)

This permutation of the second golden five first got their outing at WEM 2009, where TaZ was staying home, and would go on to have a legacy impressive in their own right, outside of the one built with LUq.

9. $204,431 - SK.swe 2003-2004 ( HeatoN, Potti, ahl and fisker)

This line-up seemingly made sense to everyone when it was put together. After SK's CPL Summer success in 2002 they'd ditched the two Norwegians, XeqtR and DarK, which proved to be a big mistake. Reeling to find a line-up which worked in the server they brought in fisker and ahl from 2easy/team9. Reuniting ahl with Potti and HeatoN was a no-brainer, here was a stable player who didn't need the spotlight and would compliment their star power games.

Early on in 2003 they had struggled to win events, not due to the talent but match-ups deep in tournaments. When they got elemeNt that all changed, the legendary 2003 began and the team was unstoppable. People perhaps forget how dominant this core was, going entire tournaments without a single map loss. The CS world was less developed in terms of how to put together a team, but this unit was ahead of the curve and in some ways the blueprint for how later teams would be assembled.

10. $152,079 - SK.swe 2007-2009 ( walle, RobbaN, allen and Tentpole)

When Tentpole and walle came over to joined former NiP team-mate RobbaN in SK it seemed like the logical fit, with SK just on their way back from the wilderness outside of the top two in Sweden. NiP had waned and it was time to bring the boys back together in the blue and white colours. That they got to use players like SpawN and zet, also former NiP players, throughout their time helps explain the success the line-up managed. This was a familiar mix of players who played well together and would have their breakout moments to win a tournament or place top two.

The big problem this unit had was existing in the time of other giants in CS, meaning they always had to play second or third fiddle to someone else. Even if they won a medium-sized event the majors always eluded them. In terms of skill this line-up was stacked for its time, they just never had the right chemistry or tactical approach to allow them to compete with the all-time great line-ups they were going against.

The entire top 50:

1. $588,528 - Pentagram/FX/AGAiN/ESC ( NEO, kuben, TaZ and loord)

2. $383,111 - fnatic 2006-2008 ( f0rest, cArn, dsn and Archi)

3. $379,936 - Na`Vi 2010-2012 (markeloff, Edward, starix and Zeus)

4. $290,977 - fnatic 2009-2010 ( f0rest, cArn, dsn and GeT_RiGhT)

5. $283,294 - NoA/mTw 2007-2009 ( Sunde, ave, zonic and MJE)

6. $260,369 - mouz 2007-2010 ( cyx, gob b, Kapio and TIXO)

7. $244,971 - coL 2004-2006 ( fRoD, Storm, warden and tr1p)

8. $212,290 - FX/AGAiN/ESC 2010-2012 ( NEO, kuben, loord and pasha)

9. $204,431 - SK.swe 2003-2004 ( HeatoN, Potti, ahl and fisker)

10. $152,079 - SK.swe 2007-2009 ( walle, RobbaN, allen and Tentpole)

11. $151,897 - wNv.gm 2005-2006 ( Jungle, Sakula, tK and alex)

12. $139,471 - mTw 2010-2011 ( ave, zonic, minet and trace)

13. $138,436 - mousesports 2003-2005 ( Blizzard, neo, gore and Roman R.)

14. $129,924 - project_kr/eSTRO 2006-2009 ( solo, termi, bail and hee)

15. $122,625 - SK.swe 2011+2012 ( f0rest, GeT_RiGhT, RobbaN and face)

16. $119,644 - SK.swe 2009 ( walle, RobbaN, allen and face)

17. $117,525 - 3D 2005-2006 ( Rambo, shaGuar, Volcano and method)

18. $109,232 - EG 2009-2010 ( lurppis, fRoD, n0thing and Storm)

19. $108,500 - NiP 2006 ( zet, ins, RobbaN and walle)

20. $104,801 - NoA 2006-2007 ( ave, Zonic, MJE and hpx)

21. $103,019 - hoorai/69n-28e/roccat/GamePlay ( lurppis, ruuit, naSu and contE)

22. $99,275 - 3D 2005-2006 ( Rambo, Volcano, Dominator and method)

23. $91,500 - NoA 2004-2005 ( elemeNt, Naikon, shaGuar and method)

24. $85,861 - 9.esu 2003 ( vesslan, quick, Luchesse and luciano)

25. $84,750 - aTTaX 2007-2008 ( mooN, roman, paN and approx)

26. $82,518 - NoA 2004-2005 ( elemeNt, Naikon, XeqtR and method)

27. $82,255 - MiBR 2006-2007 ( cogu, fnx, nak and bruno)

28. $79,000 - 3D 2002-2003 ( Rambo, Ksharp, Bullseye and moto)

29. $77,607 - emuLate 2007-2009 ( mSx, R!Go-, MaT and HaRts)

30. $77,044 - WeMade FOX 2009-2010 ( solo, termi, glow and bail)

31. $71,155 - MiBR 2006-2008 ( cogu, fnx, nak and bit)

32. $68,881 - NiP 2001 ( HeatoN, Potti, Hyb and MedioN)

33. $68,435 - Virtus.pro (LeX, ROMJkE, Edward and Zeus)

34. $65,048 - aTTaX 2007-2008 ( mooN, Roman R., paN and approx)

35. $62,922 - Virtus.pro 2004-2007+2011 ( LeX, F_1N, Snoop and Sally)

36. $59,952 - NiP 2005-2006 ( zet, ins, HeatoN and walle)

37. $59,780 - The-Titans 2004 ( eGene, Eraz, KK and Drally)

38. $57,907 - TyLoo 2009-2010 ( alex, GoodRifle, xf and KarL)

39. $55,250 - M19 2002 ( kALbI4, MadFan, Nook and Rider)

40. $55,022 - MYM.ru/M5 2010-2012 ( Dosia, Fox, ed1k and ROMJkE)

41. $53,300 - Begrip.se 2005 ( f0rest, Tentpole, RobbaN and IsKall)

42. $51,436 - Lions/WinFakt.se 2010-2012 ( THREAT, kHRYSTAL, FYRR73 and niko)

43. $50,201 - roccat/GamePlay 2008 +PwR 2009 ( ruuit, naSu, plastE and contE)

44. $50,000 - aTTaX 2006 ( mooN, roman, Kapio and CHEF-KOCH)

45. $49,649 - SK.swe 2007 ( SpawN, fisker, RobbaN and allen)

46. $47,755 - MiBR 2007-2011 ( bruno, fnx, nak and bit)

47. $47,398 - EYE 2004 ( vilden, Hyper, archie and GudeN)

48. $43,378 - lunatic-hai 2005 ( cliper, bebe, maL and enemy)

49. $43,500 - MiBR 2008 ( fnx, nak, bit and btt)

50. $40,000 - LnD 2001 ( steel, reek, Boromir and Simonak)

I will return with the top trios, in terms of prize money won, soon.

mSx's magical 13 month march

Av Duncan 'Thorin' Shields 12 November 2012, 22:25 · 10 kommentarer
Mickael " mSx " Cassisi is inarguably France's greatest ever Counter-Strike player, and one of the very best individual players in the history of the game. Yet this towering French titan, skilled with every weapon in CS, raneks all the way down at 121st all time in prize money won. That his skill in the server wasn't able to translate into success as far as dollars earned goes is a cloud over his career, and yet there was a 13 month time span in the Frenchman's career when he lifted his team to the level of being legitimate contenders for international tournaments.

From GameGune, in July 2007, through to the ESWC Grand Final, in August of 2008, mSx powered his emuLate side to a major title victory, top three finishes at two other international tournaments, another two top eight international finishes outside of those already cited and ~$74,030 in prize money won (over 87% of his total team career prize winnings). Four consecutive top three finishes at international tournaments was unheard of for a French team, but with one of the world's elite players in their midst it became a reality.

This is the story of the 13 months in which France had an international contender and mSx carved his name into history as one of the all time great individual stars of CS.

The darkness before the dawn

mSx's time in emuLate had only begun when he joined up with the team in September of 2006, seeing the line-up set in place which would eventually yield success for the team. The move sent no ripples across the esports pond though, the team were largely irrelevant even in their domestic scene in France. Prior to the 13 month span this article will address in-depth, the emuLate squad had seemed far from ever developing into a top international team.

At SEC in March of 2007 they'd only crept into the top eight at 7th-8th, being completely smashed by Pentagram along the way. Back in France they looked ineffective at Gamers Assembly as a two maps to none loss to aAa, who themselves went on to finish only fourth, saw them out in 5th-8th. Then at ESWC, the one major events in CS contested on French soil, the team couldn't make it into the top eight.

The ESWC result in particular was embarrassing, as emuLate had managed to upset NoA, eventual runners-up of the event, 16:14 on inferno in the second group stage, and thus looked set to go through to the playoffs. Facing Dignitas they were up 12:3 after the first half of train and then thoroughly shit the bed to lose 2:13 and give up the game and their chances of a playoff run, as the loss meant a three-way tie for second which NiP had the advantage in. This was an emuLate side which looked anything but a potential major title contender.

The run begins in neighbouring Spain

A few weeks after the disappointment of failing to make the playoffs of ESWC mSx and his men travelled to Bilbao, Spain, for GameGune. That year's event was one of the most stacked in history, and would become famous for being the point at which fnatic began to take the top spot in CS from the Poles of Pentagram.

In the upper quarter-final the French team got revenge for their SEC loss to the Finns of 69N-28E, beating them 16:12 on dust2. 69N-28E had been the best team in the world, briefly, earlier in the year, but this loss helped contribute to their decision to remove natu and bring in plastE. The first significant upset had been struck by emuLate.

In the semi-finals they ran straight into ESWC third place finishers fnatic, with f0rest in prime form, on nuke, a traditionally strong map for top Swedish teams. At this point in time mSx was not a name known internationally. At home he had been considered a rising young star for the last year or so, but on the world scene he wasn't yet a name in the mouths of fans on forums. This match would mark the beginning of that trend.

emuLate managed a very respectable eight rounds on the terrorist side and then, fueled by a 13:3 mSx performance, closed out the best Swedish team with a clean 8:0 CT side. Thanks in part to the release of the POV demo, fans got a chance to see the incredible stray spraying silenced colt style of mSx, which seemed to yield headshots out of nowhere, and allow the Frenchman to push aggressively around the hut and door area, flanking fnatic players and winning rounds single-handidly.

In the upper bracket final their opponents were MiBR, who were fresh off their own upset having downed Pentagram in a curb-stomping in the other semi. The Brazilians had only managed fourth at ESWC, narrowly losing to NoA, but they were still one of the elite teams in CS. Facing off against cogu's men mSx's team managed to stay in the inferno game but eventually relented, giving it up 12:16 and dropping into the lower bracket.

Awaiting them in the consolidation final was a vengeful fnatic, who were now fully in form and had been stomping their way through the lower bracket. From cogu to f0rest, mSx had his hands full with trying to match up to the opposing team's big gun. emuLate looked to have the perfect start, going up 5:0 as terrorists on train in the first half, giving the potential upset plenty of room to breathe. In this match, though, f0rest would deliver a few key rounds that would make us all say "Wow!" back in those days.

fnatic fought back and the half ended only 8:7 to the Swedes. f0rest single-handidly won the pistol round for his team and the best the French could do was claw back a round here and there, fnatic eventually winning 16:12 to eliminate mSx from GameGune in third place, with 3,000 Euros prize money as a consolation.

Going for gold in Seattle

Three months later emuLate made their next appearance into international waters, attending WCG 2007 as France's representative. In the group stage they managed to again get the better of the Danes in NoA, beating them 16:14 on dust2, but then fell in a surprise upset to k23 14:16 on train. Still, the NoA win had been enough to earn a playoff spot. In the first round mSx clashed with the "Germany" mix-team of Kapio, mooN, paN, roman and TIXO, eliminating them comfortably in two maps.

Their opponent in the quarter-finals was eSTRO, not the MYM.no team they had shadily progressed past. After spanking the Koreans on train and making it out of a close game on dust2 emuLate had reached the semi-finals, all without a single map loss in the playoffs so far. Their opponent there was even more of a surprise than the previous round: Ukraine's Amazing-gaming. With the Finns of roccat having eliminated IEM and ESWC champions Pentagram in the first round, and fnatic out of the tournament in the group stage, many were looking to them as potential gold medalists. Instead they had been narrowly bested in three maps by A-gaming.

For the first time in Counter-Strike history a Ukrainian team had reached the semi-final of a major interantional tournament. Call it a run of form, call it a fluke or call it confidence built on the results so far, but the Ukrainians weren't finished just yet. emuLate took dust2 16:14 and lost inferno 14:16 to be pushed to a decisive third map. If the Ukrainians had had their opportunities to win the series in two then in the third they were bang out of luck, being viciously raped 16:4 by mSx and company on nuke.

emuLate had reached the gold medal game of the World Cyber Games, making them the first French CS team in history to reach a major international final. The French heroes of the past had been the aAa team who finished second at CPL Cologne in 2002, the GoodGame line-up who reached the semi-finals of ESWC 2003 and the aAa squad who'd made it into the top four of CPL Winter 2006. Even a loss here would ensure mSx and his team-mates were remembered forever for producing France's greatest ever result.

The team on the other side of the stage was Denmark's NoA side, who had ridden the acquistion of Sunde to their second straight major final. At ESWC they'd dethroned the defending champions, MiBR, in the semi-finals, but then fell to NEO's Pentagram in the final. Here they were clear-cut favourites to take the title and the big bucks. With fnatic, Pentagram and roccat all eliminated the Danes must hardly have been able to believe how favourable the final appeared for them. History had other ideas though.

This final still stands as one of the all time great upsets, and especially at such a major stage of a tournaments. emuLate won inferno 16:11 to go up a map and next would be dust2, the map they had beaten NoA on in the group stage. The French could seemingly taste the cold hard taste of those gold medals, rampaging to a 16:4 win on dust2. mSx's AK was unstoppable and he seemed to move around the map taking down Danish players with ease. A star had arrived and was delivering a performance worthy of the title.

emuLate were WCG gold medalists and would head home with $55,000 in their pockets. Four months earlier they'd been struggling to break into the top eight of international competitions, now they'd won one of the biggest and most prestigious in the world. Through the entire tournament they'd only lost two maps, and only one in the playoffs. Many called it a fluke, or a run of hot form which would never be replicated, but even the most ardent of critics had to tip their hat to the Frenchmen.

More surprises in store on Swedish soil

The next month, November, had emuLate flying to Sweden for Dreamhack Winter. In the upper bracket quarter-final they faced SK Gaming, who had finished runners-up at IEM II Los Angeles a month earlier. With walle and Tentpole now on board SK had all the makings of an elite level team, as their performance in LA had shown. emuLate put doubts in mind about that as they rolled over the Swedes 16:5 on inferno.

In the upper semi-final a rematch with NoA was in order, albeit an NoA using whiMp as a stand-in for ave. mSx and the gang once more bested Denmark's finest, winning a 22:18 overtime game on train to break top three at the event. In the upper bracket final it was MiBR who awaited them, having just beaten fnatic, who were considered the world's best team at that time. For the second straight upper bracket final the French would have to overcome the Brazilians to reach the final, and for the second straight time in a double elimination tournament they failed to do so, losing 8:16 on nuke.

That result wasn't the only repetition from GameGune, as mSx found himself rematching the team he had knocked from the upper bracket, this time SK, in the consolidation final, and once more being eliminated by them. Even more bizarrely it was again by the same score as his team had lost the upper bracket final, with SK winning 16:8 on dust2. emuLate were out in third, again winning a similar figure (this time ~$3,530).

Three consecutive international top three finishes, with one of them being a first place at a major, was a pretty loud statement to send in the latter half of 2007 though. emuLate had arrived as international contenders, with their WCG victory looking less and less like a fluke.

Trouble at home

2008 began with emuLate struggling at home in France. This was no surprise, and wouldn't prove to be in the future, as the French team somehow always had difficulties at French LANs, frequently being upset by teams who were much worse against international competition. Somehow mSx and his men could be the best French team internationally and yet not domestically.

In late February emuLate finished second at Atomic Re-So, losing twice to eventual champions dimension4. In the first days of March they finished an appalling 5th-6th at Miage LAN, losing to eventual champions n!faculty 16:19 in overtime on dust2 and then being thoroughly upset by dRu 16:13 on inferno in the lower bracket. For the international community it was easy to imagine emuLate had fallen off big time, perhaps the success of late 2007 had gone to their heads and their practice and drive had suffered?

The return and the fourth international finish

emuLate were one of the teams attending CEBiT 2008 who had the unfortunately unique status of being there only for SEC 2008, not the IEM II finals also. With the first place of IEM a staggering $50,000, the 12,500 Euros (~$15,892) for first at SEC suddenly seemed small. In the upper bracket quarter-final mSx's men met roccat for the first time offline since their acquisition of plastE. It didn't seem to matter as mSx and the gang pushed through resistance to win 16:12 on nuke. In the next round they ran into the Poles of MYM.pl, losing on train 11:16 to drop down into the lower bracket.

In the lower TeG were quickly slapped upside the head 16:3 and ALTERNATE could barely put up more of a fight, being downed 5:16 on train. emuLate were in their third straight consolidation final at an international double-elimination tournament. Their opponents there would be MYM.pl, this time the French team would need to beat them team who had knocked them out of the upper bracket to reach the final.

The one theme that carried over from the previous two international double-elim tournies was that the Frenchmen bizarrely went out by the exact same score in their second loss as their first, losing 11:16 on inferno this time. Third place set 5,000 Euros (~$6,250) aside for them, but they had been denied another finals spot. Still, four consecutive international top three finishes was far and away the biggest accomplishment in the history of French CS, and emuLate had continued their trend of only losing to the world's elite teams. Truly this was the golden era for French CS.

Ground gained at home, at last

The same month as their SEC top three emuLate reclaimed some dignity back in France, winning EPS France IV. Taking out aAa in the final they took home a healthy 4,000 Euros (~$5,000) and could call themselves the best French team in a domestic sense for the first time. Perhaps 2008 was set to be an even better year than 2007?

ESWC at home and sparse action in Korea

Over three months later emuLate would have a chance to put their bad memories from ESWC 2007 to rest, as ESWC came to France for another event, albeit it this time the Masters event and not the Grand Final. The ESWC Masters Paris would be the first international event for emuLate in France since their ill-fated ESWC run a year prior. In the group stage they emerged in second place, beating excello and x6tence and losing only to SK Gaming. That setup a first round playoff date with roccat.

The format of this event was peculiar, harkening back to the days of the first three ESWC events, as it was single elimination on one map in each playoff round. The map was nuke, the same as emuLate had won 16:12 over the Finns on at SEC, but this time it was ruuit and his boys who would take the victory. They did so emphatically, ramming 16 rounds down emuLate's throats in only 19 rounds played. Just like that emuLate were out and their streak of four consecutive international top three finishes had come to an end. roccat themselves only went on to finish fourth, meaning the French had also broken their streak of losing only to the elite contending teams in the world.

Later in July the French team flew to South Korea to compete in e-Stars Seoul, which for this edition didn't feature a normal tournament. The Western team won the deathmatch aspect of the tournament without needing to field emuLate, so that left their only outing in the threesome. Losing to Lunatic-Hai 6:17 was the only CS action the French team saw in Seoul, another reminder that they were no longer only losing to the very best teams.

The fight for ESWC redemption

The next month it was off to San Jose for the first ever ESWC Grand Final ever held outside of France. In the first group stage emuLate beat n0thing's EG.usa narrowly on train, then lost 13:16 to roccat on dust2. Still, they had made the second group stage. There they lost to ALTERNATE, beat Edward and LeX's Virtus.Pro and beat Dignitas. The latter was a triumphant 16:3 roughing up that avenged the previous year's loss and put the French team into the playoffs.

The draw was not kind to mSx and company, they would face defending ESWC champions MYM.pl. The Poles had not attended ESWC Masters Paris, but their results elsewhere had been very solid, finishing second at SEC and winning Dreamhack Summer. What's more, this was a major tournament and that's where NEO and his men shined. The opening map of the series would prove to be incredibly shocking for fans of the golden five. With mSx going 19:6 on the scoreboard his team won the terrorist side of dust2 12:3, then in the second half emuLate closed out the defending champions in five rounds, winning by a monster 16:4 overall.

The second map was train, always a tricky map for emuLate against top competition, and this one would be far closer than the first. emuLate were leading as terrorists 5:4 when one of their players paused the game attacking lower inner, having just killed TaZ. The game was then unpaused, they killed kuben also at inner and the round was won by the French team. The admins conferred and decided that at the end of the map two rounds would be deducted from emuLate's total score, meaning they needed to win before the Poles reached 13 rounds to take the series in two maps and move on to the semi-finals.

The scoreboard at the end of the first half read 8:7 to emuLate, a scoreline which would usually put a team in the driving seat going into CT side of train, but due to the pause incident it was officially only 6:7. The French team needed ten rounds as CT to dethrone the Poles. Seemingly unfazed by the first round controversy emuLate won the CT pistol round and the next two rounds, making it 9:7 overall. The next two went to MYM to tie the scoreline back up.

After a mini-run from the Poles emuLate came back to make it 12:11, they needed four of the next five rounds else it would be overtime or a third map. Failed deagle saves and rampaging terrorist Poles with AKs were too much and the second map of the series went to MYM.pl. As if to provide a twisted symmetry to the series the Poles obliged by making the deciding third map, nuke, a dominating affair to booked the close middle map and pair with the hefty victory of the French team in the first. On nuke MYM took over completely and ran to a 16:1 score to move on to the semi-finals.

emuLate's dream of reaching the semi-finals of another major were done, only the memory of their pause incident left in their minds for them to wonder "what if" about, sensing that the second map of the series might have been theirs, closing it out right there. Instead they were sent packing and the golden age of French CS came to a close.

End of the golden era

From there on out emuLate never shined again, mSx would no longer be put in a position for his talent to shine deep in tournaments. Their run had been significant, winning the WCG gold and placing top three at four consecutive tournaments, but it was over. In those 13 months mSx had helped his team win $74,030, but the tragedy of his career would be that that amount would end up being over 85% of his career team winnings.

A French star had shown the world that France could produce a truly great individual player, his team had shown themselves to be on the verge of winning events time and time again, but in the end their WCG medals would be the only gold of their careers.

mSx had flashes and tournaments where he produced sparkling form once more, highlight rounds which wowed the crowds, but the impact could never be the same without the environment and the team success to elevate him to being able to decide the outcome of games.

mSx's fragmovie:

(Photographs all courtesy of their respective owners)

Top 60 five man line-ups by prize money won

Av Duncan 'Thorin' Shields 9 November 2012, 14:01 · 31 kommentarer
With the last world championship level tournament (the IEM VI World Championship) long gone, and even the medium-sized tournaments having died out, now feels like the appropriate time to take stock of the great teams in CS history. In this series I will count down the best five man, four man, three man, two man teams and single players in CS history in terms of prize money won.

In this first edition I'm presenting the top 60 five man line-ups in CS history, by prize money won. I have gone to great lengths to calculate every dollar won, even from domestic tournaments, to ensure the list is as accurate as possible. I have also been strict in my definitions, so fnatic's WEM 2009 victory with THREAT does not count to the total of the other 2009 line-up, for example. I've also not counted CS:CZ, CS:O or CS:Source tournament wins, only retail CS 1.0-1.6.

The top 10:

1. $379,936 - Na`Vi ( markeloff, Edward, starix, Zeus and ceh9)

No Ukrainian team had ever won a major title in Counter-Strike 1.6, and the only instance of one reaching the semi-finals of a major tournament was considered a fluke by most people. In a game dominated by Swedish teams historically Na`Vi came together in a flash, with the help of Arbalet's bankrolling of the team, to become the most successful Counter-Strike team ever, in terms of prize money won.

In their first year together they won all three majors (IEM, ESWC and WCG) and broke the record for prize money earned in a single year, taking down $207,749 in 2010 alone. Since then the team has become more well known for their incredible consistency, finishing third at the majority of tournaments in 2011 and second in 2012. This consistency saw them finally overtake the Poles to reach #1 on this list.

This line-up really defined the blueprint for making a great CS team: two stars (markeloff and Edward), a half-star who on occasion can cover for one of the stars (starix), a great in-game-leader (Zeus) and a unique fifth man (ceh9).

2. $375,472 - The Golden Five ( NEO, TaZ, kuben, loord and LUq)

If Na`Vi's arrival on the scene, hailing from Ukraine, was a shock then this Polish team's appearance practically gave the CS world a heart attack. Not only had Poland never been competitive at the top tier of CS before their arrival, the country hadn't even produced a team anyone would have put into the top 10. The promise of the earlier Pentagram lineups, known for success at SEC/ECG events, suddenly flourished as the line-up, which would become known as 'The Golden Five', won two events in their first few months together (WSVG UK and WCG 2006).

As one of the few line-ups to remain in place for a long period of time, almost three a half years with only a brief change-up, the Poles were famously inconsistent when it came to maintaining a spot as CS' best team, yet when the major tournaments rolled around they time and time again found a way to win. If you are looking for a line-up to win a major title, regardless of recent form, this is the line-up to pick.

Powered by the mighty NEO, perhaps the best CS player ever, the Poles displayed some of the most incredible intuitive team-play ever witnessed, seemingly knowing where their team-mate would be in any 2vX situation, and how to play off them.

3. $227,231 - fnatic 2007-2008 ( f0rest, dsn, cArn, Archi and ins)

It will surprise few to see a fnatic line-up in the top three, yet I imagine the exact line-up that topped the others may. This fnatic line-up won none of the majors during their two years together, and yet their grinding consistency in placing top three at event after event accounts for their high placing here. It's also worth throwing in that they won a hefty amount of medium-sized tournaments during their time.

Known as one of the great team-play line-ups, this fnatic team showed that even without a multitude of stars a team could compete and become the best in the world. Of course it didn't hurt that their line-up had f0rest in career peak form.

4. $225,364 - coL 2005-2006 ( fRoD, Storm, sunman, warden and tr1p)

After Team3D went down the drain, descending to the dolldrums of finishing outside of the top five at CPL events, it seemed as though North America's chances at producing a top tier team to compete with the Europeans were shot. After all, 3D had a monopoly on the stars of the day, even gutting teams like zEx and tsg of stars. It took United5 deciding to form a LAN team, who would live out of one house, to put in motion the wheels which helped form this great coL line-up.

With fRoD and tr1p left out of the U5 merger, due to not wanting to move to Chicago or not being considered for it, those players would, not at the same time, eventually connect with the throwaways of another of North America's top teams: Forsaken. warden and storm came from Forsaken, fRoD and tr1p from U5 and the four man unit was initially bolstered by 3D veteran Bullseye. That saw their initial performance spike, but then Bullseye retired for good and in came former zEx star sunman to take the fifth spot.

With, what would become, one of the all-time great line-ups in place the coL team wasted little time, finishing runners-up at CPL Barcelona and then taking down the ESWC title for 2005, at the first event where the French organisation legitimately had the best tournament in the CS world. From there on out the team had a lot of up and downs, but somehow always managed to win tournaments and take down prize money.

fRoD's AWPing and level of play was the motor which powered their team, but the rest of their line-up also had their own positions in which they flourished. Storm showed the CS world how effective a good lurking rifler could be, sunman continued to add to his legendary scrapbook of clutch round wins, tr1p established the solid tactical base he'd learned under U5's Hare and warden proved to be an unselfish and surprisingly clutch jack-of-all-trades.

5. $218,877 - fnatic 2009+2010 ( f0rest, GeT_RiGhT, Gux, dsn and cArn)

The fnatic line-up many will have been expecting to make the top five of this list actually comes in at the end of the top five. 2008 had seen teams like mTw, mouz and eSTRO out-perform fnatic, so they went back to the drawing board and came up with this drastic change. Out went the previous formula and in came the young stars, with veterans cArn and dsn moving to more team-play orientated support roles. As it happened this proved to be the magic pill to overcome mTw and dominate 2009.

This monsterous line-up feasted off their holy trinity of f0rest, GeT_RiGhT and Gux, who might have been three of the top five players in the world that year, to rampage to five titles and runner-up finishes at two more. Then disaster struck internally and out went Gux, in favour of THREAT. When Na`Vi's rise set aside any dreams that the THREAT-era line-up could be #1 they tried to go back to the 2009 formula, with mixed results. Some event wins early turned into a disappointing finish to the year and eventual disbanding of the line-up entirely.

Likely the most fire-power heavy of all the great modern day teams, this fnatic line-up were absolute monsters during their peak, winning events without the results being even close.

6. $213,056 - The Golden Five II ( NEO, TaZ, kuben, loord and pasha)

The original Golden Five had been consistent only in the sense that they had stayed together so many years and averaged at least a major a year. In terms of actual months strung together they had never been truly consistent though, at least in terms of an elite level team. When they removed LUq and brought in pasha many wondered if that would be it for the Poles as an elite team, breaking up the seemingly magical formula of their old five man unit.

2010 seemed to suggest that might be the case, as the best they managed in the first seven months was a fourth place at ESWC. Beyond that though the team gradually climbed up and up until they began 2011 as one of the favourites for every title once more. That year would be their shining achievement, winning two majors, the most prize money of the year and overall accomplishing the feat of being the very best team of the year, for the first time in their careers.

7. $210,765 - mTw 2008-2009 ( whiMp, Sunde, ave, zonic and MJE)

This Danish line-up had rightfully earned a reputation as one of the most impressive CS teams of all time. From the 2007 line-up which was competing for major titles, but always fell in the final, few could have guessed the team was one move away from being the best in the world. When Danish master team-player whiMp came in the roles of the team switched around a little, and suddenly the machine was set in place.

A mixture of innovative use of the incredibly hot AWPer Sunde, ave's brilliant use of anti-strats and the teams remarkable ability to play off each other in every site, soon vaulted them up the rankings to the top spot, winning two tournaments fairly soon off the bat. Before disbanding, when fnatic exposed their style of play in 2009, the team had won five significant tournaments and racked up a lot of prize money.

A front-runner for best tactical team of all time, best team-play unit of all time and most evenly balanced great team, skill-wise, this mTw team have earned their reputations.

8. $158,027 - mouz 2007-2009 ( gore, cyx, gob b, Kapio and TIXO)

Mouz had been a team who could never hit the world championship level in CS, despite being on top of the German scene so often in their early years. When they brought in new faces gob b and cyx in the latter half of 2007 it didn't seem to have changed much, they were still second best to ALTERNATE at home. The next year everything changed though, the team gelled entirely and every player had career years, to that point in time.

Winning a major (IEM II), a medium-sized tournament (IEM III Dubai) and finishing runner-up at another (WEM) set mouz up as the second best team of 2008.

9. $155,880 - fnatic 2006 ( f0rest, dsn, cArn, Archi and Tentpole)

The original line-up to put fnatic on the map racked up a lot of prize money considering they were only together for a year. Fortunately for them their year together came during 2006, one of the years which had the most tournaments around the world for CS. The majority of the year was spent bested by other teams in the majors, and living in the shadow of NiP domestically, but at the final event of the year, CPL Winter, they came through to win the title. Then had to replace Tentpole, who was sick of the constant travel.

10. $149,542 - wNv.gm 2005-2006 ( Jungle, Sakula, Mikk, tK and alex)

Few would have expected a Chinese team to make it into this top 10, and rightfully so: almost half of their total prize money came from winning the most top-heavy CS tournament in history, $70,000 for first at WEG Masters in 2006. With that said, the Chinese team were great in Asia, beating up Europeans to everyone's surprise and establishing Jungle as a star player. They couldn't deliver the same kind of performances abroad, though, and eventually this line-up was changed.

That international feeling

One thing that is interesting to note is that after a solid 11+ years of CS competition the world has been represented well, in comparison to the Swedish domination of the early years.

Line-ups in the top 10 by country
Sweden: 3
Poland: 2
Denmark: 1
USA: 1
Germany: 1
Ukraine: 1
China: 1

The entire top 60:

1. $379,936 - Na`Vi ( markeloff, Edward, starix, Zeus and ceh9)

2. $375,472 - The golden five ( NEO, TaZ, kuben, loord and LUq)

3. $227,231 - fnatic 2007-2008 ( f0rest, dsn, cArn, Archi and ins)

4. $225,364 - coL 2005-2006 ( fRoD, Storm, sunman, warden and tr1p)

5. $218,877 - fnatic 2009+2010 ( f0rest, GeT_RiGhT, Gux, dsn and cArn)

6. $213,056 - The golden five II ( NEO, TaZ, kuben, loord and pasha)

7. $210,765 - mTw 2008-2009 ( whiMp, Sunde, ave, zonic and MJE)

8. $158,027 - mouz 2007-2009 ( gore, cyx, gob b, Kapio and TIXO)

9. $155,880 - fnatic 2006 ( f0rest, dsn, cArn, Archi and Tentpole)

10. $149,542 - wNv.gm 2005-2006 ( Jungle, Sakula, Mikk, tK and alex)

11. $113,643 - SK.swe 2003 ( HeatoN, Potti, elemeNt, ahl and fisker)

12. $103,580 - SK.swe 2008-2009 ( walle, RobbaN, allen, zet and Tentpole)

13. $109,924 - eSTRO 2008-2009 ( solo, termi, bail, hee and ari)

14. $104,246 - SK.swe 2003 ( Potti, HeatoN, fisker, ahl and SpawN)

15. $94,685 - SK.swe 2011+2012 ( f0rest, GeT_RiGhT, Delpan, RobbaN and face)

16. $81,664 - mousesports 2005 ( Blizzard, neo, gore, PapsT and Roman R.)

17. $80,000 - NoA 2004-2005 ( elemeNt, XeqtR, Naikon, shaGuar and method)

18. $78,802 - mTw 2009-2010 ( ave, Zonic, Sunde, minet and trace)

19. $77,000 - 9.esu 2003 ( vesslan, quick, Luchesse, XeqtR, luciano)

20. $76,028 - emuLate 2007-2009 ( mSx, R!Go, MaT, HaRts and ioRek)

21. $75,000 - NiP 2006 ( SpawN, RobbaN, zet, ins and walle)

22. $72,100 - fnatic 2010 ( f0rest, GeT_RiGhT, dsn, cArn and THREAT)

23. $71,875 - 3D 2006 ( Rambo, shaGuar, Volcano, method and Dominator)

24. $70,392 - NoA 2007-2008 ( Sunde, ave, Zonic, MJE and hpx)

25. $69,840 - aTTaX 2006 ( mooN, Silver, Kapio, TIXO and CHEF-KOCH)

26. $67,875 - EG.usa 2009-2010 ( lurppis, fRoD, n0thing, Storm and gfn)

27. $59,000 - 3D 2002-2003 ( Rambo, Ksharp, Bullseye, moto and steel)

28.$57,907 - TyLoo 2009-2010 ( alex, GoodRifle, xf, tb and KarL)

29. $56,090 - mouz 2010 ( cyx, gob b, roman, Kapio and TIXO)

30. $55,250 - aTTaX 2007 ( mooN, roman, paN, CHEF-KOCH and approx)

31. $55,250 - M19 2002 ( kALbI4, MadFan, Nook, Rado and Rider)

32. $53,772 - mouz 2003-2004 ( Johnny_R, Roman R., neo, Blizzard and gore)

33. $53,600 - MiBR 2006 ( cogu, fnx, nak, KIKOOO and bruno)

34. $53,546 - mTw 2009-2011 ( ave, Zonic, ArcadioN, minet and trace)

35. $53,300 - Begrip.se 2005 ( f0rest, Tentpole, RobbaN, IsKall and Calippo)

36. $52,885 - MYM.ru/M5 2010-2012 ( Dosia, Fox, ed1k, xek and ROMJkE)

37. $52,500 - SK.swe 2009 ( walle, RobbaN, allen, face and kHRYSTAL)

38. $50,000 - NiP 2001 ( HeatoN, Potti, Hyb, MedioN and ahl)

39. $50,000 - aTTaX 2006 ( mooN, roman, Kapio, chucky and CHEF-KOCH)

40. $49,780 - The-Titans 2004 ( eGene, Eraz, whiMp, KK and Drally)

41. $47,650 - Virtus.Pro 2007-2008 ( LeX, Sally, ROMJkE, Edward and Zeus)

42. $45,300 - Virtus.Pro 2004-2005 ( LeX, groove, F_1N, Snoop and Sally)

43. $43,941 - WeMade FOX 2009-2010 ( solo, termi, glow, bail and GARSIA)

44. $43,500 - MiBR 2008 ( cogu, fnx, nak, bit and btt)

45. $42,184 - 69N-28E 2007 ( ruuit, naSu, contE, lurppis and natu)

46. $41,000 - SK.swe 2010 ( walle, RobbaN, allen, face and Gux)

47. $40,000 - LnD 2001 ( steel, reek, Boromir, Poutine and Simonak)

48. $37,831 - 9.esu 2003 ( vesslan, luke, quick, luchesse and luciano)

49. $37,450 - 3D 2006 ( Rambo, shaGuar, Volcano, method and moto)

50. $35,000 - SK.swe 2005-2006 ( sNajdan, SpawN, vilden, fisker and ahl)

51. $34,642 - H2K/Gravitas 2007-2008 ( KK, whiMp, XciteD, MoRf4r and zone)

52. $34,542 - SK.swe 2003 ( HeatoN, Potti, brunk, ahl and fisker)

53. $34,409 - NoA 2006-2007 ( Paddy, ave, Zonic, MJE and hpx)

54. $33,103 - WeMade FOX 2010 ( solo, termi, glow, bail and peri)

55. $31,500 - Catch-Gamer 2005 ( bsl, Juzam, zevy, juven9le and DaY)

56. $30,878 - lunatic-hai 2005 ( cliper, rishnarchk, bebe, maL and enemy)

57. $30,411 - mouz 2002 ( Johnny_R, Roman R., Chris P., Sebastian S. and Nils K.)

58. $30,194 - 69N-28E 2006-2007 ( ruuit, naSu, contE, lurppis and toNppa)

59. $30,000 - EYE 2004 ( vilden, Hyper, archie, GudeN and IsKall)

60. $29,581 - Lions 2011-2012 ( zneel, THREAT, kHRYSTAL, FYRR73 and niko)

I will return with the top four man units, in terms of prize money won, soon.

eSTRO 2008 - the year that could have been

Av Duncan 'Thorin' Shields 5 November 2012, 09:45 · 4 kommentarer
Ask followers of esports about Korean pro-gamers who had a chance to be world champion and they'll likely start listing off famous StarCraft2 of Brood War players. Even if they expand the scope of their answer they'll likely next go to Moon in WarCraft III. For the first half of the 2000s South Korea had not been a factor in CS, only making ground with a surprise bronze medal at the 2004 WCG and then with lunatic-hai and project_kr's results at CPL and WEG, respectively, in the latter part of 2005.

Yet in 2008 a South Korean team, eSTRO, repeatedly vied for the biggest tournament titles in the world and put together a run which could have seen them crowned the first and only world champions from their country in Counter-Strike. As it was they fell short of that lofty goal, but nevertheless their year bears re-examining, as event wins that year by mTw, mouz, SK.swe, MYM.pl and fnatic have ensured eSTRO's impressive run has gone largely forgotten.

eSTRO, led by the magnificent solo, reached at least the semi-finals of all three majors in 2008, making the finals of two of them. The $99,924 they racked up ended up as the fourth most prize money won that year by a single five man lineup, and the 12th most won by one five man lineup in the history of CS. The Koreans beat fnatic in two best-of-threes, pushed the Poles of MYM.pl in the limit in the ESWC final and had seemed all but certain to take the IEM II final title.

This is the story of the best CS lineup South Korea ever produced and that one golden year where it almost came together for them to become world champions.

eSTRO 2008
Kang "solo" Keun Chul
Lee "bail" Sung Jae
Park "hee" Jin-Hee
Chung "ari" Su-Young
Pyun "termi" Sun-Ho

Setting the scene: the inconspicuous lead-in to 2008

Going into 2008 nobody had any reason to imagine eSTRO were capable of even reaching the semi-final stage of a major tournament, never mind actually contending for the title. The years had not been kind for the team formerly known as project_kr. Only two members, solo and termi, remained from the lineup which had first burst into the spotlight with their runners-up finish at WEG Season 3, and the four members of the third place finishing WEG Masters lineup of 2006 had never come close to replicating that form over the rest of that year.

Closing out 2006 they had taken in miffy for ryu and their results had continued to be lackluster. At ESWC they had been humiliatingly eliminated in the very first group stage, losing convincingly to the bad miniw-era NiP lineup and Turmoil. A month later they'd made fools themselves on home soil, finishing dead last at the first e-Stars Seoul event, an invitational made up of only four teams, even losing to an MiBR team using bsl as an emergency stand-in.

When the team became the South Korean CGS franchise, Seoul Jinwha, and moved over to CS:Source one could be forgiven for thinking they might never return, or at least in the form of yesteryear. If their stock was its lowest point then their performance at the WCG for 2007 would lower it to absolute rock bottom, as the lineup now called eSTRO became internationally infamous as the villains who had abused the ludicrous anti-crouch-running rules to have MYM.no eliminated in the Ro16, all while having crouch-run themselves during the same tournament.

2007 ended on a marginally better note, as they secured fifth at IEM II Los Angeles, beating ESWC champions MYM.pl and playing eventual champions fnatic to a narrow loss at 14:16. In the CGS their franchise had finished outside of the top eight, meaning they only earned $10,000 total, as a lineup, from the experience. Who could have predicted this line-up would stun the world with deep runs in 2008?

A blazing hot run of inferno upsets

With the miffy experiment having run its course eSTRO brought in ari to replace him and the first time the new lineup appeared on Westerner's radar in 2008 was at March's IEM II finals in Hannover, Germany. In a group featuring ALTERNATE, excello, SK and Virtus.Pro no-one had any reason to predict they had a chance of progressing, in fact they would have been most's pick to finish bottom of the group. Instead the Koreans managed to reach a tie-breaker, having beaten excello, tied Virtus.Pro and narrowly lost to SK on cbble, the latter seeing them losing a game up 11:4 after the half.

In the tie-breaker eSTRO met lurppis' roccat team, who were fresh off a second place finish at the NGL-ONE season four finals that had seen them push eventual champions fnatic to the limit. The map would be inferno and the Finns would be the first team to realise that inferno was this Korean team's best map, and a map on which they would establish themselves as one of the very best in the world. In years gone by the Koreans had been considered one-map wonders on dust2, hence teams had no reason to fear their inferno at this time. After a 16:5 thrashing the roccat players knew better.

In the upper bracket semi-finals SK.swe awaited and once more eSTRO managed to get the game on inferno, the result was very much the same story as they ran the Swedes out of the upper bracket 16:7. Thanks to ALTERNATE having dealt with mouz in the other semi-final the upper final was an all-underdog affair. MooN's men faced off against eSTRO on inferno, the third straight for the Koreans, and they found themselves victims much like all the rest before them, eSTRO winning 16:5 to reach the final of the tournament.

The Koreans had emerged from a shaky start in the group stage to knock off three of Europe's top 10 teams, going 48:17 over their three playoff maps, to guarantee themselves a top two finish at the first major tournament of 2008. Being as this was a double-elimination format event they would need only a single map win, to their opponent's two, to secure the title. Rather than rematch with ALTERNATE they found the opponent for the title mousesports.

This mouz lineup had their own back-story which had meant few would have predicted they'd have reached the final either. Since adding cyx and gob b to their lineup mouz had continued to live under the thumb of ALTERNATE domestically, losing the EPS Season XI final to them, and had just finished in last place at the aforementioned NGL-ONE Season four final. This was a mouz lineup people would have picked outside of the top five teams in the world, still yet to show any of their potential.

With inferno nowhere to be seen, the Germans no doubt having picked up the fairly large hint that eSTRO were monsters on it, the first map of the final was dust2, formerly the Korean's best map, and mouz took it 16:8 to ensure the title would be decided one way or the other in the second map. When the second map turned out to be cbble one could sense that the Koreans were in trouble. One of their biggest problems had always been that CS' lack of popularity in their home country, and players not playing on steam, meant their practice was limited. Unsurprisingly they weren't going to find many practices on a map like cbble, which elsehwere in the world of CS tournaments had long been eliminated from the map pool.

Despite their early success in the close loss to SK in the group stage eSTRO could not hang with mouz on cbble and another 16:8 scoreline for the Germans ensured they were the ones crowned IEM champions and leaping around in celebration. eSTRO had successfully shocked the world with their cinderella story run to the title, but the one map nature of their run, and the fact their carraige had turned back into a pumpkin at the midnight striking of the final, meant few considered the performance much more than that: a great one-time run.

ESWC and the tuscan heartbreak

Around four months later, in July, eSTRO ventured outside of Asia again to compete at the ESWC Masters Paris event, not to be confused with the ESWC Grand Final which this event would seed teams into. After beating EG.usa 20:10 on dust2 and tying KODE5 champions mTw on inferno their run was halted by the appearance of a familiar enemy. In the quarter-final eSTRO found themselves faced with another match with mouz, this time on train, and were eliminated 7:16 in 5th-8th place. The bright note had been that this result was enough to earn them a spot into the ESWC Grand Final the next month.

For the first time the ESWC Grand Final would be held outside of France, the host city for this edition being San Jose, California in the USA. The tournament began without much fan-fare for the Koreans, losing to x3o on train in the first group stage. In the second group stage things turned around as they beat roccat and SK on nuke to reach the playoffs.

In the quarter-finals they met ALTERNATE and won 2:1 in maps to hit the semi-final. Despite losing the first map against the Germans, dust2, eSTRO had smashed them on the second, nuke, with a 16:1 scoreline and then comfortably taken the third, train, 16:9. Win or lose eSTRO had a second deep run at a major on their hands at only the second played that year. Still, when the semi-final opponent turned out to be fnatic it was only reasonable to expect an exit for the Koreans at this point.

fnatic had a case for being the second best team in the world coming into the match, they'd won NGL-ONE S4 and SEC as well as finishing runners-up to mTw at KODE5 and ESWC Masters Paris. fnatic took the opener on train 16:10 and the Koreans countered on inferno, winning 16:10 themselves. The decider was nuke it proved to be another instance of controversy starring the Koreans and a Scandinavian team.

The first half ended 12:3 in eSTRO's favour and soon they were leading 13:5, seemingly headed for a comfortable victory. At 15:7 the Koreans had eight match points to finish the series and book their spot in the ESWC final. Inspired play from fnatic brought the game all the way back to a tie and overtime. The first overtime was a tie and in the second eSTRO won, only for it to be discovered that solo had been in an illegal position. Bizarrely the admin decision was to remove three rounds from eSTRO, but not play out the rest of the overtime. So eSTRO won 19:18 to reach the ESWC final.

Facing the Koreans in the final was MYM.pl, reigning ESWC champions. The Poles had been having a less-than-stellar year by their standards. On the upside they had finished second at SEC and won Dreamhack Summer. Elsewhere though they'd not qualified for the IEM II finals, finished outside of the money at KODE5 in fourth and disastrously been eliminated in 9th-12th at ESWC Masters Paris. Only their having won 2007's WCG had earned them a spot at the Grand Finals, yet here they were in their second consecutive ESWC final.

dust2 was the first map of the final and MYM took it by a sliver, winning 16:14. The second was nuke and eSTRO struck back with a 16:13 win to send the final to a deciding map. When that map proved to be tuscan the Koreans were in all kinds of trouble. While the Poles will tell you they didn't know the map very well either it was an entirely different problem for the Koreans.

As previously mentioned any non-standard map pool choice was a big problem for a team who couldn't get regular practice against good teams. The situation was so extreme that the Koreans had to ask ALTERNATE's MooN for help with how to play the map and positions etc. eSTRO would play for an ESWC title on a map they had never competed on internationally.

MYM.pl were dominant in the first half, taking it 10:5. Switching over the Koreans looked lost early in the second half and suddenly the Poles were at match point as early as 15:6, with nine match points to finish matters if necessary. At this point one could be forgiven for having assumed it would be smooth sailing across the finish line of the final round win and the Poles had repeated as champions in anti-climactic fashion. Instead either MYM.pl faltered with the finish line in sight or the Koreans summoned a fighting spirit from somewhere.

Round after round kept going the way of eSTRO and they were clawing their way out of a convincing loss into the territory of making their performance look respectable in the decider. Except it didn't stop there, they kept taking round after round and from 6:15 to 9:15 to 12:15 they were somehow coming back. Were the Poles going to fold under pressure and give away a sure-fire win by letting the map reach overtime?

When the Koreans reached 13:15 surely everyone on HLTV was willing an overtime to decide the title, in what had already been in incredibly close finals. Instead MYM finally got that 16th round to close out the map, the series and a second straight ESWC title. eSTRO had taken the reigning champions all the way down to the line in one of the closest best of three series ever played, but once more they left a major final with heartache instead of the trophy.

Another showdown with Germany's finest, this time in Asia.

While CS went on in the rest of the world the Koreans sat at home until October, when the World e-Sports Masters (WEM) would bring them back into the spotlight of international play. Placed in another group of death, this one featuring SK and mTw, they once more beat the odds to reach the playoffs. Tying SK on inferno, they also tied mTw on dust2 and beat wNv.cn on nuke 16:5. With the format of this tournament that meant a spot in the semi-finals.

The opponent to reach their side of the bracket from the other group was mousesports, the team who had tortured them at IEM II and ESWC Masters Paris already. The Bo3 began with dust2 and again the Germans proved too much, winning 16:7. The second map was train and after going up 11:4 as CT in the first half hope could be held out that eSTR could force a third map, their beloved inferno. Instead mouz mounted a considerable comeback to win 16:13 and move on to the final.

In the third place decider match eSTRO found themselves facing fnatic in another Bo3. As if to prove that their ESWC semi-final victory had been no fluke the Koreans started out with a 16:9 win on inferno and then closed the series 2:0 after winning 16:13 on train. Another top three finish another five figure cheque awaited them. eSTRO could reasonably be considered one of the world's three or four best teams.

Back in Europe for another run

Weeks after WEM was the World Cyber Games (WCG) for 2008. Getting a little revenge on MYM.pl with a 19:11 win on dust2, and beating MiBR 18:12 on inferno, the Koreans advanced from their group stage. The bracket looked good as eSTRO pushed past Tek-9 and k23 2:0 each to hit the semi-finals. There awaited SK and a chance at making three out of the three major finals for the year.

The series opened on train and the Koreans took the lead after a 16:12 win. On dust2 SK came back with a 16:11 win to send it to a third map. The third would be nuke, a map eSTRO had impressed on all year long, and SK made it out 16:12 to reach the gold medal game. After losing their second straight international semi-final eSTRO headed into yet another third place decider, albeit for actual medals this time around.

Their opponents were the Norwegian team which had almost shocked mTw in the other semi-final. For all their theatrics in making it this far elemeNt and REAL's team couldn't summon the same kind of play against the Koreans and eSTRO secured bronze medals 2:0 to earn their fourth five figure payday of the year. That would be the last of the big international events of the year for eSTRO, though there was still some CS to be played back at home.

Securing home soil and one last win for the road

The same month eSTRO had domestic business to take care of, as an IEM event was held in Seoul, South Korea, for Korean teams. Beating domestic rivals Lunatic-Hai twice, in the upper final and final, eSTRO ensured there was no doubt who was the best Korean team internationally and at home. There had been no international teams present but they added $5,000 to their total for the year all the same.

The last event of 2008 was once more in Korea, as the International e-Sports Festival (IEF) featured Asian teams and an appearance by fnatic. cArn's men perhaps hoped to snag and easy ~$17,000 against what was an easy field, comparative to international tournaments. To do so they'd need to beat an eSTRO team who had held sway over there every time that year.

"I'm sure we can harm eSTRO. I would put Estro as top 3 in the world along with ourselves and mTw. There is no doubt that the Koreans have stepped up a lot and for the Counter-strike scene this is awesome news. We have lost the two last bo3 matches against solo and his brave soldiers as I said this tournament belongs to us."
-cArn prior to the final of IEF
The format for the tournament was single elimination best-of-one and as expected it was fnatic and eSTRO who made it into the final. The map was nuke and there would be no heroics from dsn and company to make for a thriller like the decider of their ESWC series, this time eSTRO handled the Swedes 16:7 to take the title and the most money.

As 2008 ended eSTRO had reached the semi-finals of all three of CS' majors, made the finals of two of them, earned almost $100,000, won at least $10,000 on five separate occasions, shown the world they were one of the very best inferno teams, beaten fnatic on three separate occasions and placed in the top three at all but one of the events they'd attended. solo's men had finally delivered more than just a hot run here or there, consistently putting up high placings and crucially doing it outside of Asia, overcoming the stigma of fans saying they were "only good in Asia".

The stumbling blocks

There had been three key factors which had been stumbling blocks for the Koreans all year long in their quest for a title. The first, most obviously, was the Germans of mousesports. mouz were one of the few teams good enough on other maps to avoid inferno every time they faced the Koreans, and to top it off were pretty much assured to win on the dust2 both teams were willing to play. This made mouz a nightmare match-up for eSTRO, so the fact they had to face them in the IEM II final and the semi-final of WEM ensured their runs in those tournaments stopped there.

The second problem eSTRO faced all year long was losing to opponents they had previously beaten or beating opponents they had previously lost to, but always at the wrong time. After losing narrowly to MYM.pl in the final of ESWC they went on to beat them in the group stage of the WCG. Going into the semi-final of the WCG the Koreans had two wins, a draw and a 14:16 loss as their record against SK for 2008, so a loss to them at such a deep stage of a major event really stung. Especially since the finals opponent would have been mTw, who despite being the team of the year had tied both games they had played against eSTRO.

The third issue holding eSTRO back was their match-ups on all the maps. When they had to play cbble in the deciding map of IEM II that was a really bad draw for them, being as that wasn't even a standard map in 2008. Then at ESWC they had to play tuscan, since nuke and inferno had been eliminated. So again it was a case of match-up both with the opponent and the maps they were good on, some of the other teams would have instead played them on inferno or train.

eSTRO couldn't get enough consistency on dust2 or train across the year, if either had been a sure win then they'd have won some more series, but they lost at the wrong times to make it deeper. What makes that unfortunate is that in past years they had been considered a one map wonder on dust2, making it as deadly to pick against them as inferno was in 2008. Whether the difference in 2008 came from adding ari it's difficult to tell, but having both maps in strong form would have ensured them a good chance at more wins, since a number of teams they played kept dust2 in the map pool.

It's also worth noting that on train they were always destined to have issues due to star player solo having a very specific type of colour blindness which made train the map he found most difficult to see on, something which was only revealed to the world at large in 2011.

The fnatic statements

One of eSTRO most impressive accomplishments during the year has to be their three victories over fnatic, winning five maps and losing only one. While 2008 wasn't fnatic's year they still hovered in the top five teams in the world, to varying degrees, throughout. The ESWC semi-final in particular stands out as a moment where fans everywhere would have placed their money on fnatic reaching the final to face the Poles, instead eSTRO playing their part in ensuring fnatic remained without an ESWC Grand Finals final appearance.

The golden moment and the missed opportunity

Considering eSTRO came into the year on nobody's radar as a top five team, and that they would make roster changes in the first part of 2009, one has to consider their 2008 run the moment when everything came together for their team. They had the right lineup, anchored by the star power of solo and with solid players like ari and hee ensuring enough firepower for a team who had been without a distinct identity for the past year and a half.

2008 was also a missed opportunity for the team though. MYM.pl reached the top three of only one of the majors, but since they won that event it ensured they at least had their moment in the sun. Since eSTRO consistently reached semi-finals and had chances in finals their losses really burned them as players, putting doubt in their minds that they would ever win an international title. When three of their lineup would win WEM, in miraculous fashion, in late 2010 it felt like a kind of vindication but it still couldn't compare to taking down an event like IEM, ESWC or WCG, all of which they had their chances at in 2008.

I'm reminded of a story I was told in 2011 that termi would re-watch the demos of his team's WEM 2010 win, because to finally win meant so much to him. Bearing in mind their difficult home circumstances of living in Korea, with nobody to really practice with, it's impressive enough that this lineup, when viewed top to bottom, could even contend for major titles.

For a player like solo though it is heart-breaking to have seen him denied a world championship, aside from all the others solo, in his prime, was a truly transcendent player on the level of the likes of cogu, zet and REAL. For players like those only world titles can match their accomplishments to their ability level, and solo never really got there.

So our story has come to an end, the tale of eSTRO 2008 has been told. They weren't the best team of 2008, they didn't win the most money that year and they didn't take a single international title. And yet they did accomplish something impressive, both in terms of actual match wins and consistency, in overcoming the odds to make 2008 the best year of their careers.


History of the World e-Sports Masters (WEM)

Av Duncan 'Thorin' Shields 24 October 2012, 23:25 · 1 kommentarer
This is just a quick note to let people know I've published an article entitled "History of the World e-Sports Masters" over at Team Acer. The idea behind the article was to bring all the SC2/LoL fans up to speed on the history of WEM/WEG, since this is the first year their games have been featured in it.

With that said, being as every previous year featured Counter-Strike 1.6, as well as WarCraft III, I thought I'd let you know about it so you can take a look if you fancy a trip down memory lane.

From NoA's title at the first event to f0rest's first big international splash, winning the second season with Begrip, right through to the 2009 event which probably got fnatic and the 2010 event where walle and company somehow let WeMade FOX take the title from them.

From the section on wNv.gm's victory in the third season:
wNv.gm lost only one map over the course of the entire tournament, in the final to project_kr, and defeated the likes of NoA, Asylum, team9, JMC and project_kr. Their run saw them take four non-Asian scalps, numbers unheard of for an Asian team, as they stormed to the $50,000 first place prize. The legend of wNv.gm and Jungle, their star player, had been established.
You can read the entire thing here.

Overlooked and underrated - the Rival/GamerCo 2004 story

Av Duncan 'Thorin' Shields 9 October 2012, 03:56 · 8 kommentarer
Ask anyone who was around, or has done their research, who the best North American team was in 2003 and they'll promptly answer that it was Team3D. Ask them who the best North American team was in 2005 and they'll likely respond even quicker that it was compLexity. Ask them who the best North American team was in 2004, though, and you're going to get either a number of different answers back or a slightly confused look. Yet there was a team who, on the whole, stood out from the North American pack that year: Rival/GamerCo.

They had, essentially, no sponsors, no salaries, didn't play in a single tournament outside of their continent over their best year, didn't win a single significant tournament during that year, lost their best player before they ever tasted their first success and when they later travelled internationally and acquired sponsors the results were disasterous, tearing the team apart. So what was so special about Rival/GamerCo?

At the two major CPLs of 2004 they finished third, both times narrowly missing out on a spot in the finals, making them only the second North American team to reach back-to-back top three placings in the history of the CPL's Summer/Winter events, and the first to do it in a single calender year. At one of those CPL events they handled a bevy of the top European teams, and at the other they took care of all domestic threats. When 2004 was done and dusted the only team to have achieved any kind of consistency at the premier event in Counter-Strike, the CPL, was Rival.

In contrast, during the same time span, Team3D, packed with star power names, flushed with salary wealth/sponsors and heavily favoured by fans and peers alike, repeatedly failed to perform, winning only the WCG Grand Finals, which were played in CS: Condition Zero, as opposed to 1.6. coL was still just a mad idea in the brain of Jason Lake, more laughing stock than rising stock, and the rest of the North American scene was an ever-changing mess of constant roster moves, with teams frequently going from boom to bust in the space of two consecutive events.

Yet Rival/GamerCo were not only never hailed as North America's finest that year, they even struggled to gain respect from their domestic peers and the fans. Written off as a fluke after their first CPL result, the teams they had outplaced, and the fans who were still heavily bandwagoning the 3Ds and TSGs of the world, played the waiting game, assuming the other shoe would fall eventually. You see the players who made up Rival didn't come into the team with any tradition of tangible success, their lineup didn't jump off the page and their roster moves were largely forced by circumstance, rather than the result of strategic planning or calculation.

So just how did they do it? How did they become the best team in North America? And why did it all fall apart when they had finally gotten the results to back themselves up? This is the story of the Rival team of 2004, their rise, their success and their fall. Overlooked when it mattered and underrated when it counted.

The history of Rival CPL failure

To truly understand the context of the surprise Rival's success in mid-2004 caused one has to travel back in time to 2002, and witness the birth and tradition of previous Rival lineups. In doing so one can appreciate why the team had become little more than a joke, considered a cursed venture rather than a legitimate contender in offline events. That the very same name would ever place in the top three of a major CPL seemed not just unlikely, but downright impossible.

In mid-2002 Rival was a name nobody knew within the top tier of North American CS, their team didn't even play in CAL-invite, the top division of online NA CS, and their only notable LAN appearance had been a 2:13 stomping at the hands of the same da_bears and Jaden era initial Team3D lineup which itself went on to a woeful finish outside of the top 16 at CPL Summer. Promoted to CAL-invite for Season VI a pre-season game on fire saw them made famous as the punching bags against whom tso's moto racked up a, then, record number of kills in a CAL-i game.

Rival had the last laugh though, as they would go on to not only defeat America's dream team, Team3D, in the semi-finals of the very same season of CAL-i, but take down W.E.W. in the final, winning the title. Their lineup of cripple, X_raid3d, exodus, insane_g and dengar boased no star names, none of them had any kind of notable backstory of elite level play and they had never been considered a legitimate threat to take the online crown until late in the playoffs.

Riding the wave of their CAL-i victory into CPL Winter, only a month later, the team was seeded 14th and quickly became the very definition of online superstars in the North American scene, busting out in 17th-24th place. Their first round match was an overtime win over a lineup not worth mentioning, then they were crushed by an eSu who were set for their own personal worst CPL and, finally, they were put out of their misery in the second round of the lower bracket by Singapore's TitaNs, who at the time were considered practically a default win for any half-decent North American/European team. The dream was dead and the jokes began.

In 2003 attempts were made to continue on, as Medrano, exodus and masternook all came into the lineup for CPL Summer, where another 17th-24th placing was racked up. The team had won a grand total of two matches over two major CPL events. With masternook gone in late 2003, and riot squad vetern icesalmon replacing him, Rival hoped they were finally in a place to break their CPL curse, having just finished runnerup to Team3D at the national WCG qualifier. In fact their worst ever placing was coming across the horizon, ending up 25th-40th at CPL Winter 2003.

Not only had the team become a laughing stock, but their players were worse than tainted, no top tier team would touch them. In North American Counter-Strike there was no bigger crime than to fail at a major CPL, and there were few players who ever recovered from doing so, both in terms of actual performance or the hit their reputations took. Amazingly though, two of the players from the 2003 CPL Summer lineup would be core members of the team's success in the future.

The backstory to the 2004 ascension of Rival

It's not just that the Rival name had been linked with offline failure, but the members of the 2004 lineup also lacked tangible success at big tournaments. The lineup which placed third back-to-back at CPL in 2004 was Ph33R, Hanes, medias, masternook and exodus. The latter two having been members of the 17th-24th placing Rival team at CPL Summer 2003. Before we get to the successes of 2004 let's take a look at the histories of those five players, and how that very lineup came to be forged through happenstance right before their first successful CPL.


The first of our heros to make a name for himself amongst the top division of North American CS was Ph33R, who had emerged out of nowhere as seemingly the sole white guy on the Asian-American-dominated j1N team of late 2002. With the help of POV demos and a little playoff run Ph33r soon attracted attention to his individual play. At CPL Winter 2002 his team were a non-factor but he put up an epic individual performance to drag zEx, eventual sixth place finishers and one of the elite NA teams, to overtime on dust2 early on in the tournament, eventually losing out to shaGuar and Volcano's team.


medias had been a member of the W.E.W. lineup which lost to Rival in the CAL-i Season VI final, but very much a junior member. At that Winter's CPL he was not in the starting lineup, and would never play a major tournament for the team. In May of 2003 he joined up with the j1N team Ph33R was a part of, but by the Summer rolled around he had moved to Gamers-X (GX), where method and some of his ex-W.E.W. team-mates played.

In GX he and his team surprisingly finished sixth at the inaugural ESWC, only to come back down to earth with a 9th-12th finish at CPL Summer. The ESWC experience even saw medias become the butt of jokes some jokes back home, as the tournament tried out, for the first time, heart-rate monitors, and the young medias' levels were shown to be extraordinarily high at times during a stage match.

masternook, Hanes and destructo:

In early 2003 masternook had been playing in a team called ascension (tag: a*) with destructo, Hanes and Medrano, who would all go on to be future Rival members. The team had had some online success, notably defeating Rival in the season after their CAL-i title, and destructo's demos had shown a rising star, capable of putting up 30 frags against a number of CAL-i teams.

The four players moved on, after the death of ascension, to play in vision2max (v2m), who were another CAL-i team known for their online success, and thus criticised for a lack of offline. In May of the same year they all joined up with Rival, but were only used in West Coast LAN appearances, with the exception of masternook, who made the CPL starting lineup. After the disasterous repeat of CPL failure past masternook exited the team, and would win up in Forsaken. All of which brings us to the next chapter of our story.

The Forsaken time

When masternook, destructo and Hanes had been members of ascension earlier in 2003 they had picked up veteran, but vilified, player Funk (ex-eU, rs and TEC) prior to their playoff run. Now, in the latter part of 2003, Funk came into the picture again, putting together a new lineup for his Forsaken team. With the help of warden, who was coming off his own CPL shame, Funk managed to gather a number of talented free agents into one team.

To reel off names like Storm, Ph33R, masternook and Fatal1ty now may give off the false impression that this team was always destined to be competitive, but the truth is that all of those names had their own barriers blocking their entry to the absolute top tier of NA teams. Storm had bombed out at CPL with Agent, marring his online success in CAL-m, while Ph33R and masternook had never been in a top team and Fatal1ty was only just making a real transition into CS. The team began in CAL-m and despite tearing up the easy competition, had no real hype surrounding them.

At CPL Winter 2003 ForsakeN came in seeded 22nd and put up what is probably an underrated 9th-12th placing. Along the way the had lost early 14:16 to the first NoA lineup on mill, who would go on to finish second overall, but beaten EG.ca and, in the sixth round of the lower bracket, finally been eliminated 11:13 by 4kings, who went on to place eighth. With a starting lineup of warden, storm, Ph33R, masternook and Funk the team had come close to really making a statement, such as breaking top eight would have done, but all the same they had shown they could compete with the bigger names on LAN.

A couple of weeks later they headed to the doomed CXG event and as one of the showmatches, setup to make up for the failure of the CS tournament to ever begin, were defeated by former member Fatal1ty's iFate team. That moment set the seed for the dissolution of the team and the next era of Rival to begin. You see, while ForsakeN had been powering up to their CPL run two of their members, Ph33R and masternook, had been continuing to play West Coast LANs with a mix-team of their friends. Enter zero Reality to our story.

zero Reality - the mixteam that was better than their real team

zero Reality was a mixteam of Ph33R, masternook, Hanes, destructo and medias, a lineup which must now look pretty familiar to those at all acquianted with the Rival story. At the CXG qualifier for Los Angeles the mixteam had briefly made headlines by defeating the brand new NoA experiment 16:14 on train, only for the qualifier to never be finished, due to non-game-related issues. At Gigabyte LAN, another West Coast tournament, they finished runnersup to Adrenaline[Gx], vesslan's team of Swedes staying in America for a few months leading up to CPL and CXG.

After being disappointed dually by failing to put a real stamp on the CPL, and being upset by iFate, the zR players playing in Forsaken soon came to the conclusion, as many had during his career, that Funk had to go and that their mixteam was, in fact, better than the starting lineup of their main team. Previously destructo, Hanes and medias had all been too young to play at CPLs, that had now changed. So, the obvious move became the official move: zR became the new Rival lineup, joined by long-time friend and ex-team-mate Medrano.

The falling dominos that lead to a third place CPL finish

Thanks to their minor success in zR the new look Rival lineup seemed like a legitimate up and coming team in North America as 2004 began, forming in mid-January. By March they were even looking to add some international flair, as elite Swedish player Goodfella, formerly of Adrenaline, had made a trip back to the USA to meet up with a girl he had met there during his time staying with his team in California in late 2003.

The Swede was looking for a team to play with while out there and he found his way into the Rival lineup for a number of West Coast LANs. When he eventually returned to Sweden the team hoped to figure out some way, via donations or direct sponsorship, to bring him back for the Summer's CPL, but it was not to be. If that were not bad enough, the team would lose their best player in late April.

destructo departs

Even with Goodfella's brief appearance in the lineup destructo had been far and away the team's star player, continuing on the work he had done in ascension and putting up big time performances, both online and in the small offline West Coast tournaments they attended. He seemed to be every bit as good as some of the most famous names in the continent. So one can imagine the blow caused to the team when NoA recruited the young destructo into their team, in April of 2004, to allow them to compete in the USA ESWC Qualifier.

The rules stated that three members had to be from North America, so the team, made up of three Norwegians, brought in destructo to be a third North American. He performed as expected at the qualifier, and NoA took the top spot and booked their slot into the French Grand Final. An unfortunate consequence of his NoA debut was that Rival also attended that qualifier, with former Rival member exodus filling destructo's spot, and NoA crushed them 13:4 in the opening round of the upper bracket.

Rival rallied to make an impressive lower bracket run, taking out #1 and #2 seeds 3D and u5, but fell to TSG in the crucial consolidation match which would decide who went to France, as only the top two spots made the cut. Impressive 13:7 and 13:2 wins over the two teams who had then been considered North America's best meant little in the fact of failure to reach the French event. It didn't help that they would then lose their next best player.

Mere days after the ESWC qualifier it was announced that Ph33R, who had been consistently impressing with his LAN performances since j1N, was officially announced as the new signing for compLexity. This is not the coL team many of you are likely thinking of, this is almost six months before the team's breakout CPL and months before they had acquired the likes of fRoD and Storm. Still, coL had Jason Lake's backing and that meant the money to sign a player of Ph33R's calibre.

Two days after joining coL Ph33R announced his return to Rival, doing a 180 on his ideas of joining coL and instead returning to his West Coast comrades. Still, Rival seemed to be stuck in no man's land. They had lost their star player and their wins over 3D and U5 were a big plus which were heavily countered by seeing the likes of TSG leapfrog them, with the latter going on to place fourth at ESWC. That their departing star, destructo, had been replaced by someone (exodus) only known for being a part of the every one of the Rival LAN failures from 2002-2003 seemed a far cry from the addition of the missing piece of the puzzle that would lead to back-to-back top three CPL finishes.

destructo was gone, they wouldn't be able to bring Goodfella over for the CPL, they hadn't qualified for ESWC, they had no sponsors or salary, Team3D were being paid professional-level wages and had the hearts of the fans still, they'd seemingly traded down in value on their fifth roster spot and rivals TSG had just placed top four in France. How would this Rival team ever become North America's best team for 2004, with less than six months left in the year no less.

The rise - Europe stands in the way

Going into CPL Summer 2004 with the 15th seed Rival looked to have caught a break early on in the brackets, convincing early wins saw them matched up against the TAU mix-team who had just narrowly upset the elemeNt-NoA team, meaning Rival were facing the 35th seed in the third round of the upper bracket, rather then second seed. Crushing TAU 13:3 Rival had only given up five rounds over their first three matches. Then they met Death is Eternal (D!E) in the next round, suffering an 8:16 loss on train to their fellow West Coast team.

For all the good fortune of TAU's NoA upset the match-up against D!E had been one of the worst they could have hoped for, as both teams had frequently played each other at West Coast and pre-CPL LANs, meaning they knew each other's styles inside and out. Despite D!E being the 36th seed they had the right map, train, and moment to take down their Californian rivals. In the lower bracket awaited the very same second-seeded NoA team whose earlier drop had seemingly granted Rival an easy run to a top placing.

Had Rival gone out here, to an NoA team who had finished second at the last CPL and had just brought elemeNt, former leader of 2003's dominant SK.swe team, into their lineup, few would have batted an eyelid, putting it down as an expected result. Instead this would be the starting part of Rival's real run to a top spot that CPL. If NoA's overtime victory over ForsakeN at CPL Winter 2003 had been a pivotal win to push them on to their success then Ph33R and masternook returned the favour in Rival, edging NoA in a double overtime dust2 game 19:16, eliminating NoA from the tournament in 9th-12th.

Rival had broken the top eight, for the first time in all of their careers, and every match won from here on out would boost them up the rankings, while naturally coming against the world's best teams. Back in these days, before the coL era, only the 3D players had ever made deep runs into the top three at CPLs, other North American teams could at most crack the top eight and then place somewhere from 4th-8th in the end.

Smashing the third seeded mouz 13:3 on mill Rival next found themselves squaring off against the freshly crowned ESWC champions The-Titans, and fifth seeds, who were admittedly without star player whiMp due to age restrictions. A 13:9 win over the Danes and Rival had jumped up into the top four. The team in their way was Finland's Destination-Skyline, who were having their own breakout performance to establish themselves as a top tier international side. Beating D-Sky 13:9 on dust2 earned Rival a fourth consecutive European scalp (with NoA being primarily European) and a top three finish.

If this had been a hollywood movie then surely Rival would have found a way to win their next match, reaching the final and perhaps winning the entire tournament. In the real world they found themselves loading into a game against SK.swe in the consolidation final though. Six months earlier SK.swe had been essentially unbeatable, and now the number one seeded team were looking to get into the final for a rematch with fellow Swedes EYE. Rival were not just facing one of the best teams in the world, they were facing some of the best Counter-Strike players of all time and biggest winners in history.

Still, Rival had downed top Europeans already this tournament, and only NoA had managed to win more than nine rounds against them, perhaps the run was not yet over. The game, on mill, turned into an epic, going into triple overtime before the Americans finally reliquinshed the game to the Swedes. Rival had had their chances, a memorable one being an overtime pistol round in which medias almost won
a 1v3, but was downed by a 1hp Potti.

In the end SK.swe just had too much of everything: skill, the will to win and the experience of how to edge close matches deep in a tournament. For Rival even breaking top three had taken them to uncharted territory, for SK anything but winning the tournament would be a disappointing result. And so the Rival run ended at third, as SK went off to play and lose the final to EYE.

Rival had gone 50% in overtime games against the top two seeds of the tournament, defeated a number of Europe's best teams and placed highest of the North American teams in attendance. This should have been their moment right? Their time to accept kudos and respect from their peers? Sadly that would not be the case. North American CS didn't work like that, with good reasons as to why not, and there was much still to be overcome for the Rival men.

No crown, no respect and no love lost

When Rival got home from CPL Summer they didn't find themselves inundated with congratulatory messages from their fellow teams and the stars of the established teams like Team3D and U5. Instead most of their peers considered their placing a fluke, a hot run at the right time which wouldn't, and couldn't, be repeated. The main problem was that Rival's lack of CPL pedigree, both as a team and individually, meant that it was easy for people to imagine luck was a big factor in the run. North America had seen this kind of thing before.

The dirty secret of American CPLs that nobody seemed to acknowledge back then was that since only European teams with big sponsorships, or those who had won qualifiers, could afford to attend, it meant that out of 128 or 64 team fields an overwhelming majority of the teams attending were North American, making it very likely that one or two would break the top eight spots. Allow me to introduce "the donkstrike effect" analogy to you, dear reader.

When a small plane is flying through the air a single bird hitting any part of it is unlikely to be able to down the plane, but if a flock of birds flies into one o f the engines then there is a good chance that engine will be broken, and the plane will crash. This phenomenon has even led to a number of deaths from crash landings.

In the poker world a bad player is labelled "a donk" by the professional players, a slang sortening of "donkey". In large field poker tournaments it is often the case that the tournament is not won by a top professional, and indeed none may even make the final table, as there is enough luck involved with no limit hold 'em poker that if you put enough bad players up against a small enough amount of professionals then eventually those players, making bad plays, will often manage to take out the good players. Thus the donkstrike effect.

At North American CPLs there were cases at every CPL of North American teams making runs into the top eight, only to fail to come close to repeating that feat at the next CPL. Sure, roster moves and over-confidence were also factors which played into that pattern, but in many cases the teams simply weren't as good as their initial run might have suggested.

A famous example would be echo7's (e7) fifth place finish at CPL Summer 2003, where before a number of them had been considered online-only players and at the next CPL they finished outside of the top 24. Likewise, United5's seventh place finish at CPL Winter 2003 was followed up by a 17th-24th place finish at CPL Summer 2004.

So there was a long history of teams having a nice run, coming home with their chests puffed out, talking a lot of shit to their fellow North American CAL-i teams and then failing to back-up their smack talk. That Rival were shit-talkers of the highest order didn't help matters. Nor did D!E's CPL finish.

Unfortunately for Rival their fellow West Coast players in D!E had also managed an unexpected run, placing fifth and defeating the likes of U5, TSG and The-Titans along the way. That both of the well known West Coast teams had managed solid runs, combined with upsets of bigger names, only played into the notion this was just a lucky few days for these previously unqualified players.

Fans back at this time were not unlike the kind of fans one sees in the StarCraft2 scene now, where they are quick to judge players for any action perceived to be unprofessional. Rival's West Coast location meant they were often at a ping disadvantage when facing most of the other top teams in the US in online play. Combined with their natural shit-talking swagger, which was prevalent throughout the West Coast scene, inevitable online losses led to shit-talking about past results and who was/wasn't good.

Some of the Team3D players didn't feel like the Rival CPL placing was very legit, which sparked some of the Rival players to point out that 3D, fully salaried to play CS, had failed to place inside of the top eight at two straight CPLs. With 3D stacked with star names they were very much the darlings of American Counter-Strike, brimming with fan favourites, and thus that kind of shit-talking would only harm Rival's public image, as accurate as it was. Ph33R and masternook even went as far as to suggest that Team3D's moto cheated online, as the 3D captain often performed very well in CAL-i matches.

The other key reason why Rival never gained the American crown at this time was the WCG qualifier for the USA in 2004. Team3D had won every single WCG qualifier ever held for the USA, and this time would be no different. Winning the qualifier allowed 3D to claim they were still the "American champions" and further played into the idea that Rival's CPL run had been a fluke. When 3D went on to win the WCG Grand Finals, defeating SK.swe and The-Titans en route, it hardly mattered that the game had been CS:CZ rather than 1.6. moto's 1v4 from behind the box against SK.swe also cast the shit-talking in an even more negative light. The fans' favourites were seemingly back on top, and Rival would surely be exposed for the one-tournament wonders they were at the CPL in December.

The repeat - Proving it to North America

The huge benefit of a top placing at a CPL was that if your team retained enough members then it would get a seeding relative to that placing at the next CPL event. So coming into CPL Winter 2004 Rival, now called GamerCo, found themselves sitting on the second seed, with SK.swe not attending due to contract disputes with their organisation. While the Summer's CPL had seen them run a gauntlet of top European teams the theme of this CPL would, somewhat fittingly, be of facing up against other North American teams on the way to their second third place finish.

Taking care of CAL-i team zEx in the second round 16:12 GamerCo found themselves in just the spot they'd been dying to be in for months now: facing Team3D in the upper bracket of a CPL. All their collective nightmares must have been playing out in the first half of their nuke match, as 3D took a 12:3 half into the swap-over, but the second half was their turn to inflict psychological damage on 3D. Roaring back to a 13:2 edging of their contentious rivals, to win the game 16:14, ensured the shit-talking had not been in vain and 3D had little choice but to grant them respect.

There are few things sweeter in professional CS than defeating the guy who has been talking shit to you online for months, and then getting him to shake your hand and say "good game" immediately afterwards. Is it any wonder top CS players often develop such monumental egos, when they used to frequently proving their dominance over each other in such a manner?

Next up was a coL team who were about to make their own successful CPL run, having just downed D-Skyline in the previous round, but fRoD and company would have to do the rest from the lower bracket, as GamerCo took care of them 16:10 on dust2. GamerCo had reached the upper bracket final, exceeding even the initial part of their previous CPL run, and had a top three finish locked up. What's more, they had made good on their number two seed, meeting the number one seed, EYE, in the upper final.

EYE, boasting walle and Bullen, made quick work of GamerCo, trashing them 16:6 on train to reach the final. GamerCo dropped down to the consolidation final and there met XeqtR and elemeNt's NoA. A brutal 13:16 loss on mill forced GamerCo to settle for third, as NoA marched on to become the first team to ever win a CPL from the lower bracket. For the second consecutive major event GamerCo had been only a handful of rounds from appearing in the final of a CPL, something nobody but X3 and 3D had done amongst North American teams at that point in time.

Still, GamerCo had accomplished something which had only been done once before: becoming the second team, after Team3D, to finish top three at two consecutive American CPLs, and the first to ever do it in a single calender year. If there had been debate, and there had been, prior to the event over whether or not GamerCo's previous placing had been a fluke, then they had emphatically proven themselves this time. For the second time at a major event in 2004 GamerCo had been the highest place American team, and that they had beaten 3D along the way this time only added to their street cred.

Compared to the rest

To appreciate why Rival/GamerCo was clearly North America's best team in 2004 it's worth taking a look at the context of the North American scene during that time, and the top teams contained there-in. Team3D had always garnered a lot of attention, thanks to their star-stacked roster and professional sponsorships, but 3D had been badly underperforming for some time. With the exception of their WCG qualifier and eventual WCG gold medal, 3D had finished 13th-16th, 13th-16th and eight at the last three CPLs (CPL Winter 2003 to CPL Winter 2004).

Their WCG performances had always been there to rescue some credibility, but their consistency had been long gone since the middle of 2003. That 3D had been knocked out so early from the ESWC qualifier, and thus still yet to make an appearance at the growing major, also added to the sense that 3D could no longer perform at an elite level with any regularity.

Elsewhere in the scene U5 had failed to follow up on accomplishment of being the highest placed American team at CPL Winter 2003, which had set them on a course of vying for the status of best American team, and instead found themselves devastated in 2004. With the exception of their EverLAN run, coming close to beating NoA, the Hare-led team had underperformed at both CPLs, finishing 17th-24th in the Summer. When they had merged with TSG members in the latter part of the year, even moving in together in a house in Chicago, many had hoped things would be turned around, and despite some positive results online 13th-16th was the furthest they could go in the Winter.

TSG had been the rising talent earlier in the year, finishing fourth at ESWC, but a 9th-12th finish at CPL Summer, coupled with the U5 merger, saw that team soon forgotten. Volcano left for Team3D and the leftovers from the merger formed coL, who would finish fifth at CPL Winter 2004. The latter result would eventually become the true starting point of the rise of the great coL team, but it would be the next year when they would really shine.

All of the above left Rival/GamerCo standing alone at the end of 2004 was the best North American team, and the only one capable of any kind of consistency at the major tournaments. They still didn't have the cushy salaries of Team3D, and their sponsorship from GamerCo was not close to the level of the top European teams, but they had respect, results and real reputations, no questions asked anymore. Of course the story didn't end there, just the good part. Before we get to the collapse of GamerCo/Rival let's first take a look at the individual members of the lineup which had its success in 2004.

Rival/GamerCo's 2004 back-to-back CPL third place finishing lineup

Jonny "Ph33r" Schwan

Ph33R is one of the most underrated North American players in history. Right from his days in j1N onwards he impressed me with his penchant for coming up with big games against better teams, seemingly unphased by being overmatched. Ph33R was one of the best North American LAN players for a couple of years straight, even if he was often overlooked, even in favour of players in his own teams. Playing with destructo and Hanes he was never going to be the spotlight player, fans were naturally drawn to the highlight plays of those two instead.

What Ph33R excelled at was composure in big games on LAN. He was one of the team's biggest and most prolific shit-talkers, but with good reason, as when he got to the LAN tournament he would indeed back up his talk and "kill Euros", as he put it. Known for a very spray-heavy style of silenced colt play, Ph33R was one of the very best North Americans when it came to clutch round situations, frequently winning 1vX against even very good opponents. For me Ph33R was the real star of the post-destructo Rival/GamerCo, even if Hanes was the one who won the fans' hearts.

Corey "Hanes" Hanes (a.k.a. kaM)

The strange thing about Hanes is that there was a whole year where people barely knew who he was and few cared. While destructo was wowing us with his POV demos in ascension Hanes uploaded demos also, but didn't get half the reaction. Then there was the long gap where all he did was make appearances in zR, while the others sat on the bench for Rival or started for ForsakeN. When the 2004 lineup came around Hanes began to emerge as a star, capable of using most weapons to a high level.

He is often most fondly remembered for his movement skills, making movement-only highlights by rapidly jumping around the nuke vents and off the little wall inside of B on inferno onto the boxes in a 1v1 with EG's Lari in an online match. In a team which spread the fragging load pretty evenly amongst its lineup Hanes had the star quality which attracted the attention of the fans, and the mystique he built in Rival/GamerCo followed him right through until he was cut from EG.usa in early 2009.

Mark "masternook" Torrez

masternook is one of those players who on paper should never have had a successful CS career as a pro, he was often in teams which performed well online, but then he had that terrible CPL with rival and a mediocre finish with Forsaken. Skillwise masternook was never a top player, his aim looked sloppy and he would sometimes make crucial mistakes in 1vX. With that said he reminds me of a latter period Bullseye, as he shared the quality that player had for being able to kill regardless of how pretty his aim looked. At big tournaments both were simply able to will their way to kills and help their teams win games, even if they were never going to win any aim_map tournaments.

Mike "medias" Kim

medias was the heart of Rival/GamerCo for me. The last imposing member of the lineup, medias was the one member you wouldn't see any trash talk from, and thus liked by the majority of his peers. There were times when the likes of 3D even looked into recruiting him, despite their distaste for his team-mates, but the circumstances were never aligned correctly to make such a move happen.

For the player who had always seemed like the quiet younger brother of the W.E.W. and GX teams, mocked for his racing heartbeat at ESWC 2003, medias was surprisingly composed in his later days. He was a smart player who played in a calculated fashion, and could be counted on to teamplay well and win 1vX at the right times. His skill wasn't off the charts, but it was very solid. I always considered him something of a North American ahl, a role their scene desparately lacked for a number of years.

As I will go into later, I think medias' impact on the team was really seen in the tournaments they had to play without him, as they never came close to the kind of success they'd had with him.

Derek "exodus" Heidinger

While masternook had the blight of one bad CPL performance with Rival exodus had the seemingly career-ending stain of having been a member of all of Rival's CPL failures. Still, exodus had something going for him: he was a very aimiable player. This helped him find spots in West Coast teams until the time came that Rival needed someone to fill destructo's shows, and they he was waiting for that call.

While destructo was many leagues above him as a player skill-wise exodus teamplayed well and had consistent spray. On one hand it looked like all he did was spray full-clip, and to be fair he did, but he could get kills and meshed with his team-mates well. I think being around players like Ph33R and medias helped exodus raise his level, as he had clutch performers in his team and as their confidence resounded through the server it would help bolster his own.

He ended up looking bad when he replaced sunman in coL in 2005, as the team lose domestically, but his role in Rival/GamerCo was of a get-the-job-done player.

2005 - We all fall down

The first event for GamerCo after their CPL success was the first season of the World eSports Games (WEG) in Seoul, South Korea. The format of the event meant the invited teams would move to South Korea and live there for a period of about a month, playing games televised in a studio. This was a huge break from the standard structure of Western tournaments: where a player was used to flying in for a three day tournament and playing all of his games over that span of time. The structure also meant teams had plenty of time to practice and prepare for specific opponents, as opposed to not knowing who they would fact next.

For GamerCo this structure was terrible on every level. First of all, the need for around a month of free time to attend meant that medias could not go with them to Korea, being as he valued his school time in a fairly stereotypically Asian-American manner. This meant bringing in someone else, so GamerCo looked to Medrano, who they knew well, to fill his spot. Only Medrano wasn't a top player, and definitely couldn't replace what they had lost in medias.

Then there was the practice scenario, big egos like GamerCo's were best suited to small doses of each other. Being in the same house all day, practicing every day, wasn't the best thing for team cohesion and chemistry. Plus, GamerCo's strength as a team had been their consistent approach to every opponent they faced, they didn't really gain much from being able to scout and prepare for an opponent, while other teams did.

The end result was that GamerCo finished fourth at the first WEG season, but that was far from a solid placing. The mouz team which had finished third had been using the American Hare, who spoke next-to-no German, as a stand-in, and had left a number of its best players back in Germany, also unwilling to take a month off of everything. Also, the 4kings team who finished second hadn't placed in the top eight of a major tournament in over 12 months.

GamerCo took the hint, and for the second season of WEG they brought in Norwegian CS legend DarK to fill medias' spot. DarK had been chilling in the UK playing for 4kings while studying for the past couple of years. After a few months off he got back into playing shape and off they went to Korea. The level of the field was higher at the second WEG event and GamerCo again failed to make a significant impact, this time bowing out 5th-8th. In the second group stage they lost all three games, falling to 4kings, as well as China's Abit Strike and wNv.

Upon returning home Hanes left the team, with disputes from living together in Korea being the assumed reason by most. He went off to play in U5, while GamerCo took a mix-team to CPL Summer 2005, the event which clashed with ESWC and thus had very few good teams. The lineup of DarK, method, medias, masternook and Ph33R managed to place third, losing twice to eventual champions SK.swe. That SK had reamed them 16:1 in the upper bracket on nuke seemed to only confirm that the event had been far from a top tier competition. Some people tried to force the "back-to-back-to-back CPL third place finishes" storyline, but it had no real legs.

exodus went off to join coL and DarK returned to Norway, so new players had to be found. In came ex-3D boms and ex-D!E kEEN, forming what looked like a new West Coast powerhouse lineup. With sponsorship from Pharmacutical giant Tylenol the team played the WCG USA qualifier under the name "Ouch!", but ran into eventual champions 3D in the second round, losing two maps narrowly 13:16. For the Digital Life event they used ex-D!E PaTyoJoN to replace medias, who had gone inactive for school, and finished third, losing to exodus' coL in the semi-final.

It had now been over 10 months since Rival's CPL Winter success. CPL Winter 2005 would be their last chance to prove they were still capable of being North America's best team, something which would be difficult to do in light of coL's ESWC victory earlier in the year. medias was gone, Hanes was long gone and the new look lineup had not been able to break through. After his spell with coL resulted in them reversing their decision, bringing back sunman, exodus returned home. That set the CPL lineup as boms, kEEN, Ph33R, masternook and exodus.

Rival came in with the same swagger as always, Ph33R infamously making some big statements in an interview with GotFrag (http://www.gotfrag.com/cs/story/30642/). The American predicted his team would finish "3rd, as we have gotten 3rd place back 2 back 2 back.. I'd assume there should be no change." and then followed up by saying "No, we're awful and are 35-62. Of course we're a top 3 team".

Seeded fifth for the event the first part of Ph33R's second statement would actually prove to be closer to the eventual outcome. In the second round of the upper bracket Rival were stunned with a 9:16 loss to #50.cal on inferno. #50.cal were a mix-team of then relative nobodies, who had been practicing for a total of two weeks and had scrimmed only twice during that time. That the team who slayed them then went on to be beaten 16:0 by f0rest's Begrip.swe in the next round of the upper bracket left Rival with a large amount of egg on their faces. Then again, by the time #50.cal dropped out of the tournament Rival was already out.

In the third round of the lower bracket check-six (essentially zEx) eliminated them 16:10 on dust2, putting Rival out in 25th-40th place. x6 were far from a top team, themselves only making it to a 13th-16th finish overall. Rival's lineup of West Coast stars were the embarrassment of the CPL for North America, and Rival essentially died that day. Sure, the team continued on into 2006, even bringing back Hanes to try and recapture past magic, but by April of 2006 the team was dead and its players departed.

Overlooked and underrated

Rival never really got the respect they deserved when they were playing their best CS. They only played at American CPLs, but they were easily the best North American team at those events, and legitimately contended with the top European teams. Could they have actually won one of those CPLs? Most likely not, they weren't really of the calibre to win the whole thing, but with that said, they certainly could have made one of those finals, and very nearly did.

In a somewhat cruel twist of fate, Rival/GamerCo did get the respect and reputation their third place finishes should have warrented, but only when they could no longer live up to that level. They had their problems with losing medias and the split with Hanes, but ultimately Rival/GamerCo could simply never come close to being the same team again that had made those deep CPL runs. They really had been one of those five man lineups which just worked, and when you took it apart no other combination of the players seemed to be even viable.

When you think back across North American CS and you fondly remember X3, 3D and coL, just remember: in 2004 Rival were the best North American team, 'nuff said.

(Photographs courtesy of their respective owners, including GotFrag)
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