On their two year anniversary since winning Flashpoint Season 1, MAD Lions announced the dissolution of their Counter-Strike: Global Offensive division. Marking an end to the Spanish organization’s stint in the title for the first time since entering in 2017.
As a result, Thomas "TMB" Bundsbæk, Justinas "jL" Lekavicius, Johannes "b0RUP" Borup, Michał "MICHU" Müller and Viktor “somedieyoung” Orudzhev, as well as Jakub ”kuben” Gurczyński and Jonathan "MusambaN1" Torrent, have all been benched while the organization searches for their new respective homes. The news comes as a huge shock for the community; especially considering that this roster was initially marketed as a long-term investment into the scene with the ambition of scouting and developing up-and-coming players.
So what happened? MAD Lions have had quite a few promising rosters under their banner over the years, how has it all come to this?
Started off on the wrong paw
MAD Lions, then known as MAD Lions Esports Club, already had quite a bumpy start when entering CS:GO. They picked up a Spanish roster at the start of September 2017, but ultimately let the team go just three weeks later due to their involvement in a cheating scandal.
This shaky start didn’t seem to throw off the Spanish club, however, as they returned a month later with a roster headlined by Miquel "Blastinho" Llombart and Raúl "DeathZz" Jordán Nieto. The new squad had a promising end to the year; placing second at Liga de Videojuegos Profesional 2017, but ultimately failed to really leave a mark on the Iberian scene in the years to come.
Blastinho had quickly established himself as the team’s star on the AWP. Yet a difference in vision between himself and the team’s new coach, Víctor Domingo “Monsalve" Monsalve, ultimately saw him departing the roster in May 2018. In the sniper’s absence, DeathZz stepped up to the plate massively, putting up incredible numbers on the rifle. However, MAD Lions continued to fall short in domestic events, such as LVP and ESL Masters España, while also failing to make a dent in international events.
By April 2019, DeathZz was called up to join Movistar Riders in place of departing Christian "loWel" Garcia Antoran — a move that ultimately marked the beginning of the end for MAD Lions’ Spanish rosters. A month later, the Madrid-based organization was acquired by OverActive Media Group; the holding company that owned Splyce. The team managed to place 3-4th in a few domestic events, but by the end of the year, there was seemingly no end in sight to the string of mediocre results. In December, a new direction would be taken, with MAD Lions and Splyce announcing their merger. The organization, keeping the name of MAD Lions, subsequently released their Spanish lineup and made a big move by going international — acquiring Tricked Esport’s promising Danish team.
The new lions in the North
The new lineup, composed of Nicolai "HUNDEN" Petersen, Frederik "acoR" Gyldstrand, Rasmus "sjuush" Beck, Lucas "Bubzkji" Andersen, Fredrik "roeJ" Jørgensen and Luis "peacemaker" Tadeu, hit the ground running — especially in comparison to previous rosters. The squad topped their group at their first event, DreamHack Masters Sevilla 2019, in a fairly dominant fashion; only losing 1-2 to eventual tournament-winners North in the semifinals.
MAD Lions continued their strong showing going into the New Year, topping their group once again at DreamHack Open Leipzig 2020. All while getting their revenge on North and outshining fellow countrymen Heroic in the process. It was clear that this roster was onto something special and considered by many to be the ones to topple the thus-far uncontested Danish hierarchy. In a surprising turn of events, however, the team lost their semifinal match versus Renegades, finishing the event 3-4th once again.
Next on the agenda was ICE Challenge 2020, where the Danes would initially fall short versus mousesports. Despite this slight stumble, MAD would best Heroic once again to make it out of groups, comfortably dispatch of OG in the quarterfinals, but fail to enact revenge against mouz. This was the roster’s third consecutive quarterfinal finish. While these results must certainly have been bittersweet for the team, they certainly weren’t bad by any metric. MAD Lions simply needed to refocus and concentrate on their biggest challenge yet, IEM Katowice 2020.
The Danes had a shaky start in Poland, losing their first series 1-2 to Evil Geniuses; ranked fifth in the world at the time. They would go on to beat Virtus.pro 2-1 in their group’s lower bracket, but ultimately lost to mousesports 0-2 once again, going out of the tournament in 9-12th place.
Something was seemingly going on in the MAD camp, and after the event, it was announced that the team’s in-game leader, HUNDEN, had been benched due to “internal issues”.
Brief flash of brilliance
Going into Flashpoint Season 1, which MAD Lions was a founding member of, the team would sign Asger "AcilioN" Larsen as their new captain. The move would certainly give the squad a slight increase in firepower, with HUNDEN averaging a 0.79 rating during his stint with the team, but there was no denying that the Danish veteran had played an instrumental role in building up this roster. The question was, would the increase in firepower be substantial enough to compensate for the loss in experience? While it’s hard to tell, even in retrospect, it seems like MAD Lions made the right decision, as the Danes would top their groups in both of Flashpoint’s group stage phases.
While the level of competition at Flashpoint was certainly lower than that of Katowice, this was still an impressive feat, and MAD Lions were quickly establishing themselves as the favorites to win the whole event. In the playoffs, they would best the North Americans of FunPlus Phoenix and Cloud9 before being sent to the lower bracket at the hands of the other top seed, MIBR, in the upper bracket final.
Despite that slight hiccup, MAD made quick work of HAVU Gaming, enacting their revenge versus the Brazilians to earn the organization its first ever trophy. Bubzkji and sjuush had incredible stand-out performances throughout the event, and MAD were really establishing themselves as a team to be careful of. They weren’t considered tier 1 quite yet, but were on the cusp of being a genuinely threatening team — the type that may actually contest for titles in a few months’ time. That is, if everything had stayed on LAN.
Dawn of a new era
Flashpoint Season 1, which had started off as a LAN event, was eventually moved online due to the growing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. While MAD Lions’ only tournament victory was, in that sense, an online one, the team had already established itself as a solid contender at their previous offline events. Sadly, these performances did not translate when moving online. MAD were by no means the only team affected by the switch, but it certainly put a stop in their tracks. The squad had decent performances at DreamHack Masters Spring 2020: Europe and BLAST Premier: Spring 2020 European Showdown, but ultimately fell short when the pressure was on. This was even more evident during the cs_summit 6 European Closed Qualifier, where the team failed to qualify for the RMR and earn any points.
In July 2020, Bubzkji would be acquired by Astralis in a move that left many in the community confused. The loss of the 22-year-old rifler came as a huge blow to MAD as he made up a significant portion of the team’s firepower. In a perhaps even more confusing turn of events, the Spanish organization would sign Polish veteran Paweł "innocent" Mocek in his place.
There were questions surrounding the longevity of the signing, considering the blatant language barrier, and roughly two months later, the Pole would step down from the active lineup. MAD would then undergo a few rosters changes, replacing innocent and AcilioN with Ismail "refrezh" Ali and Rasmus "HooXi" Nielsen. But aside from winning Elisa Invitational Fall 2020; a qualifier for BLAST Showdown, the team failed to garner any significant results. Going into Flashpoint Season 2 at the end of the year, the team looked like a shadow of their former selves. MAD Lions were unable to fend off their rivals and protect their throne. The lions had been defeated.
Raising the lion cubs
Going into 2021, things started off quite strangely for the Danish roster, with acoR leaving to join mousesports. The team then picked up a young promising player in TMB, and were set to build around the young gun moving forward; but before the rookie ever played an official match with his new teammates, changes were happening in the upper management.
MAD Lions would part ways with peacemaker and sign former mouz coach Allan "Rejin" Petersen as their senior manager. The players would subsequently all be placed on the transfer list — apart from TMB. A new direction was announced, as Polish CS legend, kuben, was brought in to coach. Moving forward, MAD Lions would focus on scouting talented prospects, building up a solid lineup from scratch by investing in long-term development.
The idea was questioned by many, but it wasn’t completely outlandish. After all, Rejin had played a key role in mouz’s rise following the signings of David "frozen" Čerňanský and Özgür "woxic" Eker, and kuben had an immense background and knowledge of the game. But despite the wealth of experience in the coaching staff, MAD Lions were subject to a lot of criticism in the months to come. Their new roster would consist of TMB, jL, Filip "tudsoN" Tudev, Volodymyr "Woro2k" Veletniuk, Pere "sausol" Solsona Saumell and Kristers "keen" Dārznieks, but this group of players was perceived as just a mix of FPL players by many in the community.
Looking at the positives, the ideology was very avant-garde; developing players with strong mechanical skills but limited team experience by using the wealth of knowledge held by the coach staff, running a six-player lineup, and having two seperate AWPers on the roster. All of which could allow for a deeper map pool. But perhaps the idea was too ahead of its time.
There were often clashes regarding who would get to AWP; keen (who was brought in as an IGL) was often left out of the starting lineup and would even be let go two weeks following his signing. MAD would go on to sign Teodor "SPELLAN" Nikolov to captain the squad, but he also was occasionally left out of the starting five, thus limiting his effectiveness as an in-game leader.
By July 2021, MAD Lions had parted ways with the brains of the operation, Rejin, and it all seemed to go downhill from there. A multitude of players came in and out of the lineup, the AWPing and IGLing roles were tossed around the roster multiple times. It just felt like the project had lost practically any cohesion. 2021 would not be the year of the lion’s glorious return.
Turning the page
Going into 2022, things were starting to look promising once more. TMB had taken over the reins as IGL, jL was on the AWP, and the roster was rounded by three solid and experienced riflers in b0RUP, MICHU and somedieyoung. Where there was once an incoherent mix of FPL players, there was now a well-balanced blend of experience and firepower. The team recently qualified for ESL Challenger League and even had close series versus the likes of BIG, Endpoint and ENCE. There were still issues, certainly, but there was noticeable improvement — especially considering the slight roster instability with sdy occasionally being unavailable due to the on-going war between Russia and Ukraine.
This brings us back to the recent news of MAD Lions’ departure from CS:GO. It’s a very bittersweet end to the lion’s tale, as they’ve always felt on the cusp of so much more. It’s a story filled with “what ifs?”.
What if MAD Lions had stuck it out with the Danish roster? After all, the majority of their former players are doing quite well for themselves on Copenhagen Flames and Heroic, especially with the gradual return to LAN. What if Rejin had stayed on with the project? Would he have been able to keep everything on track? What if they gave this latest roster more time? After all, the composition isn’t too dissimilar to that of ENCE; the main difference lies in the teams’ captains, with ENCE’s Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer being a much more tenured player than TMB, but both teams feature very strong and experienced riflers across the board.
While it’s very disappointing to see the club leave Counter-Strike, they never really gave anything enough time to grow. At the start of every year, a new direction would suddenly be chosen with seemingly little communication beforehand. From dropping the Spanish roster following the merger with Splyce, to dropping the Danish team at the start of the year and suddenly going international with inexperienced players, to now outright leaving CS:GO.
For other esports organizations, MAD Lions’ time in CS may seem like a cautionary tale as to why the title is unviable, but I’d argue that isn’t the case. MAD could have done so many things differently, but their indecision is ultimately what led to their downfall. If anything can be learnt from this story, it’s that if you want to make it in Counter-Strike, you better have a plan and stick to it.