No in-game leader stands out more in CS:GO today than Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen. He is a leader who has what it takes to be the best in the world, but his brilliance only magnifies the flaws that hold him back. Mentality and map pick-ban are his most prominent flaws and both only need a small adjustment to potentially take him and his team to the next level. From the outside it looks irrational, but these irrationalities have a logic and consistency all of their own. These “irrational” belief systems were developed in response to the circumstances he rose up in. They not only allowed him to survive the harsh competitive environments he was placed in, it allowed him to thrive. But now those same belief systems are holding him back from getting to the next level. This is the bounded rationality of MSL.
Bounded Rationality is a term coined by Herbert Simon in his book, Models of Man. Put simply, it is a model of how people make decisions and the preferences they have in that decision making. Tractability (level of control exerted in a situation), circumstances, and time are all factors that someone must take into account to make a decision. If the outcome is good enough that reinforces the idea that what you did to get there was the correct decision so when you run into a similar scenario again, you repeat the same decision.
Here is a concrete example. Imagine this scenario. You have a final exam tomorrow and you were too busy with other things to study properly. You then decide to cram last second and do well on your exam. In the future when you have an exam, you are more likely to now procrastinate and put off studying until the last moment because it worked the last time. Rationally speaking, if you set up a schedule to study every day you’d likely get a better grade on average than if you procrastinated, but the result is good enough for you to be satisfied with the scenario.
In MSL’s case, his situation was more extreme. MSL’s history as a leader has him firmly entrenched in the tier 2 of Danish CS:GO for the majority of his career. The best Danish squad formed has been formed around the core of Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz, Peter “dupreeh” Rtohmann, and Andreas “Xyp9x” Hojsleth dating back to the latter half of 2013 from Copenhagen Wolves to Dignitas to TSM and now Astralis.
In the early parts of CS:GO, this wasn’t the case. In 2013, MSL was on Western Wolves, a team that was on par with other Danish team at the team, Copenhagen Wolves. The Western Wolves team had shown strong results, most notably a second place at Copenhagen games. The team consisted of players like: Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander, Nicolaj “Nico” Jensen, and Jacob “Pimp” Winneche. It featured a structured team play style in contrast to the dominant NiP team of the day with it’s chief star being Nico. But the team quickly eroded by the end of 2013 due to a lack of money, professionalism, and interpersonal issues that completely broke the team apart.
The break up of that team sent MSL into exile as he was stuck outside of the top Danish teams for the rest of 2013-2014. It looked to be the end of his career as a top competitive pro. He stuck around the tier 3 of Danish CS until an opportunity presented itself. Dignitas, the second best Danish team were unsatisfied with the performance of their current leader Henrik “FeTiSh” Christensen. MSL saw a chance and decided to become a full on leader for the team and he was recruited to replace FeTiSh.
The change worked as MSL was able to elevate the team. The map pool became deeper and he was able to utilize the star players of Pimp and Philip “aizy” Aistrup. In fact MSL was too good at making star players shine bright. Aizy got farmed by G2 (which later became FaZe). Soon after MSL was able to make Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjaerbye shine under his system and Kjaerbye was in turn farmed by Astralis.
In such a situation his star players were being consistently farmed and each time it happened he had to start rebuilding with a new five man line-up. In this situation he has proved his worth as an in-game leader as he was able to scout and raise up new younger talents every time. When MSL lost aizy, he got Kjaerbye. When he lost Kjaerbye, he got Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke and eventually Emil “Magisk” Reif. Critical pieces in his team kept being taken, but he has consistently been able to find and raise new talent. On top of that he consistently built a team identity around them while building a strong map pool. This has always been his strength as a leader and he eventually became so good at this that he outpaced the cycle and he now helms a consistent top 10 team in the world, one that has gotten to finals of large international tournaments.
This incredible ability to raise young talents and make them into stars comes at a sacrifice though. MSL has never had a full-time AWPer and because of that has ruined some veteran star players on his team. He had two star veteran riflers in Pimp and Rene “cajunb” Borg. In 2015 he allowed Pimp to become the primary AWPer of the team which ruined Pimp’s career. The same story happened when cajunb joined the lineup in 2016 where he went from a potential star rifler to an average AWPer.
When you look at his flaws through the lens of an underdog leader, they can be seen as advantages. For instance, his mentality as a player. He is a player who has been criticized for using excuses to shrug off poor performances. But excuses can be a useful tool for a weaker team as they can protect the pride of the players. If a player can blame an outside force, deflect blame, then they can protect their confidence. And confidence is of supreme importance when speaking about the day-to-day form of CS:GO players. But in young players, confidence can be brittle as they are usually more inconsistent in terms of performance from online to on LAN. MSL’s mentality and use of excuses mean that he may not seriously look at the team’s flaws and fix them, but at the same time he protects the confidence of his team and players. It wasn’t our fault that we lost, it was because of X reason. Regardless of whether or not the reason is valid, it can have a real effect on the squad. It gives a tangible way for MSL to try to control the confidence of his squads.
The biggest flaw that MSL is known for is his pick-ban philosophy. But when look at through the lens of what circumstances he was put in when he rose up through the scene, that detriment was an advantage before he reached the highest level of play. As a lower tier team that was looking to upset the better teams, his philosophy makes sense. As a leader he has a structured style where it is the teamplay and tactics that wins the games, not the individual players. This means that regardless of inexperience or roster shuffles, his teams are well drilled and know what to do in a majority of situations. But the reality is that there isn’t enough time to drill every map equally so teams have to focus on which maps they want to prioritize. Even more so in the lower tier teams where they don’t have the skill to naturally be able to play a wider range of maps to a high level with little time put in. In which case a leader must create a scenario in which the efforts of the team can be utilized. So by letting the best map of the opponent through he can ensure that will be the map picked. The maps MSL has specialized on as an in-game leader are cobblestone and Mirage, both maps that a majority of teams are willing to play on.
Before MSL’s squad became a top team, before Dignitas won that EPICENTER, MSL was in a situation where his systems of belief were constantly reinforced with positive results. There are no other top in-game leaders today in CS:GO who have escaped the tier 2 cycle of being farmed by outpacing the farming cycle through their brilliance as an in-game leader. But now that he has reached this level, his bounded rationality has shown its limits on the highest stage. His incredible tactics and mind alone are not enough to get his team championships. The excuses can no longer fly as his lineups are now so strong that they should be winning regardless of excuse. The pick-ban philosophy no longer makes sense in a world where his squad can exploit the disparity in skill in their wide map pool. Instead of picking strength against strength, they can now pick relative strength against relative weakness.
In effect, MSL’s guiding philosophy that has made him such a great leader has been about control. By controlling the T-sides he can make his team successful regardless of the inexperience of young star-players. By using excuses he can control the mentality of himself and his teams to some extent. By doing this predictable pick-ban he can force the game into a scenario he has already prepped for. But control is not enough. The three other best in-game leaders in the world are Finn “karrigan” Andersen, Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo, and Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander. All three have ceded some level of control. Karrigan has to in order to let his star player make plays. FalleN has built an entire system where his players know what he wants them to do and it frees him to focus more on an individual level. Gla1ve is the closest to MSL’s style of leadership, but he allows Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz moire room to work as the star AWPer and is much more willing to roll the dice in the map pick-ban.
Control has gotten MSL this far, but now control seems to be holding him back. Since Dignitas win EPICENTER in 2016, the system MSL has run has been unable to reach such heights again. He is stuck in a strange paradox because the control he uses is the root of both his biggest strength and biggest weakness as a leader.
On some level MSL acknowledges that something has to change. At the beginning of 2017, North tried to shift to a looser style of calling when the structured style was unable to get them far. By doing this looser style, MSL hoped that it could give more room for his star players like Magisk and k0nfig to shine further. That didn’t work and the team hit a cul-de-sac which eventually created more roster shuffles as he recruited players like aizy and Valdemar “valde” Bjorn Vangsa.
And at this point in his career, MSL has been able to raise North to such a point that he is no longer the farm team. On Feb. 2, he was able to entice Kjaerbye back into the fold. He has also recruited Daniel “mertz” Mertz from the North academy team as a full-time AWPer. Thus far in MSL’s career he has been stuck in the same logic patterns which have always found him in the top 10 teams, but has always stopped him from consistently placing highly in tournaments. This is the question for North in 2018. Will MSL evolve as a leader or will the the recent roster changes cover up some of the weaknesses of MSL as a leader? Should either of these happen we could be seeing MSL lead North to championship contender level once again.