North are a good team, who would’ve thought? At Dreamhack Stockholm, they continually defied expectations, beating the best teams in the world, in series, and in consecutive fashion to claim the trophy. There’s no ambiguity in the on-paper victory of North. They are, in the afterglow of Stockholm, looking like a top five team in the world.
In their timeline as a team, it is surprising to think that niko and mertz swapping places would be the catalyst for such a resurgence in form. Niko himself hasn’t been a lights-out performer, instead taking a back-seat role on both sides of the map, affording space to his teammates. With such a high availability of players that could do what Niko does in North, I think their success is far more down to the absence of Mertz, rather than addition of Niko. Or more specifically, how the roles and resources of North have had to shift as a result.
Mertz’s departure has seen MSL take-up AWPing duties and Valde given more supportive components around the map. Instead of playing around Mertz, valde has MSL or the ever willing Niko to play around him. Instead of playing around Mertz’s rotating AWP inner on Train, or B on Mirage he has MSL being an aggressive bait and being able to play multi-kill positions around site. He has more flexibility at A on Inferno as well, with Aizy being put into a rotator role and Niko and himself being allowed to play pit. This has seen North’s CT-side on the map flourish, with Valde and Niko destroying even the tight hits of Astralis with cross-fires and tight bait set-ups.
Up until the finals, Kjaerbye was largely a force lifted by the tide of his teammates. He wasn’t necessarily the one-tapping superstar that his time on Astralis in early-2017 has led us to believe. Instead, with MSL being pushed further back in hits with the AWP, Kjaerbye is a harder entry-fragger and is seen baiting for the likes of Aizy or Valde to take the big frags. This was, when he made the move to North, not how things were expected to go. Kjaerbye was seen as the star that would bolster the North skill-ceiling, and over-shadow the under-performing aizy. Kjaerbye had always hinted at a well-rounded game, and with the make of North, he could easily have been thought to be the primary fragger.
Again, though, the strange shift that’s resulted in the departure of mertz has seen Kjaerbye made more supportive, valde into the coldzera-mould of superstar, aizy as secondary star and MSL with the AWP. When we look back over the roster transitions North has made, this was never the role assignments or mix of styles/resource allocation we’d expect. I mean, who would’ve guessed we’d see a well-rounded, textbook MVP performance from MSL? On the AWP. While being the IGL.
The underlying calling structure hasn’t changed on the part of MSL though. North still look more towards fast-paced T-sides that break rather than pick apart. This has worked excellently against the likes of Astralis in both series, forcing them to play a scrappier, more hand-to-hand combat style of Counter-Strike; one which North are comfortable and Astralis are not. Funnily enough, it was against Mouz we saw a closer series than against Astralis due to Mouz being no strangers to the looser style of play. But in these instances, it was the triumph of North’s aforementioned strong CT-side that saw them come out on top (albeit, not in the 16:0 of Dust II).
This new North showed a depth on both sides of the map, and in a way that seemingly only exists with their current mix of roles. Part of this depth was also in that other teams hadn’t faced North’s new-look and struggled to dampen their play with counters or at least an expectation of pace and style.
Big upsets like North’s attract eyes and curious analysts. Whether or not they’ll be able to transition their form into the FACEIT Major, and potentially through some structured counters from teams around them remains to be seen. I’d anticipate a strong continuation of individual form, but the novelty of having new players in new roles might wear off on similar opposition in London. When many of North’s games were closely contested to begin with, make sure to take off the rosy-coloured glasses of recency bias when evaluating those Pick ‘Em’s.