This article was originally published on GameSpot’s sister site onGamers.com, which was dedicated to esports coverage.
Norway has always been a troubled country in its context within the competitive Counter-Strike world. On its surface it has enough factors in common with Sweden and Denmark that it feels as if Norwegian CS should be at a similar level as those two top dogs of the Nordic region. Instead, Norway occupies a long position, along with Finland.
The key problem that has always beset Norwergian CS has been not that they didn’t have the talent, but that the organisational environment meant there were very few moments in history where an elite level all-Norwegian team could attend international tournaments. Instead, the great players of Norway’s scene had typically left their borders and gone to play in teams elsewhere, earning incredible accolades but unable to bring those back and in any way use them to elevate the Norwegian scene.
What could have been one of the greatest CS nations of all time, instead lies far off in the shadow of Swedish CS, once all is accounted for. Here are the 10 greatest Counter-Strike players in the history of Norwegian Counter-Strike. All factors are taken into account when deciding these rankings, a mixture of the player’s individual ability, impact on the team and career accomplishments.
10. Preben ‘prb’ Gammelsaeter
prb will forever be remembered for his role as the right-hand man of REAL in their best teams. Where REAL went that is where prb would both find the most success. In team9 they were two of the players helping push that line-up to the rapid rise it embarked on, winning CPL UK and placing third at WEG S3. Their problem then was that the team had to break up, with sponsorship issues, and the players were spread apart. One of the great ‘what if’ scenarios is if REAL had joined NoA with prb or the latter had joined the former in Catch-Gamer. Instead they were separated until reuniting in MYM later that year, able to finish second at CPL Winter at the end of 2006.
prb wasn’t particularly flashy, he was an all-around player who could be plugged into a few different roles. In that sense I can understand how he found spots in all of the teams in his career and was considered an in-demand team-mate by a number of the people he played alongside in his time. Ultimately, he lacks the raw skill level or accomplishments to make it further up this list, but breaking the top 10 is respectable and appropriate for his career.
9. Karl William ‘kalle’ Haraldsen
A perfect example of the dysfunctional nature of the Norwegian scene is exemplified by the career of kalle. Had he surfaced and peaked in skill two years prior, he could have joined the likes of REAL and prb and potentially made an elite Norwegian team. Instead, kalle’s skills came to fruition during the period of Norwegian CS that was at its darkest point, with barely any opportunity to accomplish international success with only Norwegian team-mates, most of the good players have retired and there being next to no organisational support.
kalle was one of the rising stars of the last few years of CS, but his own problems in finding top teams and remaining motivated to play would hinder from ever truly breaking out as a star player, on that level that the gods like f0rest, NEO, markeloff, trace and GeT_RiGhT occupied. Instead, kalle shined brightly in lesser teams, particularly when he helped pronax’s Rage and ESC teams to perhaps better placings than they should have been capable of, finishing 4th at Dreamhack Summer 2011 and 2nd at GameGune the same year.
In terms of skill, it’s undoubtable that the man possessed talent, but without the opportunity to join a big Swedish team, something denied most Norwegians beyond the first half of the decade, we could never be sure just how talented he was. If he played an average game and his team lost, then that was expected against the bigger named teams. As a result, fans often overrated or overvalued his contribution in that they only paid attention to all the home runs he hit, putting up big game performances against better teams, only to ignore every time he was struck out.
8. Jonas Alsaker ‘bsl’ Vikan
bsl often reminded me of a Swedish vesslan, because while he didn’t match up to the greatness of that Swede’s tactical mind, he was one of the core components of the Norwegian scene, and abroad, in playing the leadership role of putting teams together, managing egos and finding a role to play within the team that could be meaningful. His skills were good but never at an elite level, but the core of his game was built around knowing that and still finding a way to play and be successful.
NoA’s 2nd at CPL Winter 2003 is the true witness to the success of bsl’s approach, as many assumed NoA would instantly become better once he was removed after that event, but instead they went downhill for most of the year at the big tournaments. Part of that is because bsl was playing a facilitator role for others in the team, and also had a keen sense of what they needed to be good. Two key wins for that team in that tournament came on nuke, where he played a mean ramp CT game, something often overlooked.
Elsewhere in his career bsl has mixed success with other line-ups. Two of the most intriguing were his trips to Brazil and the UK. In Brazil he introduced the early MiBR line-ups, prior to the arrival of cogu into their ranks, to the European approach to CS, integrating it with their own style. Those MiBR teams were famous for attending international events and failing to gain any ground, where bsl’s introduction immediately lifted their results a little and beyond that, after his departure, they would even begin to break into the top eight of the majors.
In the UK bsl was less successful, attempting to take the TAG line-up past 4kings as the best team in the UK. As that goal itself was not accomplished, the team seeing any kind of international success would end up a pipedream, in many regards. It shows his willingness to try experimental approaches though, understanding that winning CS was a formula which could be translated into different gaming cultures, once it could be integrated with the native style.
In the latter days, with Catch-Gamer, he experienced a revival in relevance, helping different line-ups to a second at WEG S2 and 4th at WEG Masters, most notably. One of the best leaders in Norwegian CS history, bsl’s acclaim should stem from more than what he did with a rifle.
7. Geir-Stian ‘juve9le’ Svendsen
juven9le suffered from never being able to truly prove to an international crowd the level of skill that his team-mates would often speak so highly of. He was often a good but not exceptional player, despite clearly possessing skills and the ability to produce highlights. The biggest thing holding him back is sheer career achievements, though he was able to score some in Catch-Gamer and show, for a while, that he was one of the best Norwegian players at the time.
With the right team at the right time and with the right role, perhaps he could have been a top player, moving further up this list, but his career stood as another ‘what if’ of happenstance that left him merely good, with hints at something more in potential.
6. Preben ‘oops’ Josdal
The true missing link of Norway’s lost generation, who should have been able to ascend the ranks to join the likes of XeqtR and elemeNt, but were largely held back by lack of opportunity, is oops (shown on the right of the image). Many reading this article will not know of him even as well as the names below him on this list, yet his potential meant he might, with the right circumstances, have placed in the top five of this list.
Where REAL had prb by his side for much of his career, it was the loss of oops from their trio that held them back from becoming an elite trio. oops was capable of playing the GeT_RiGhT to REAL’s f0rest or the TaZ to his NEO. That’s the level of talent and potential we’re discussing when we talk about this player, yet he realistically only had about a year and a half of solid international competition before fading away. In that short span of time, he accomplished the same results as mentioned in prb’s section with team9 and MYM, but as he also spent time in Catch Gamer with REAL, he shares in that great player’s success throughout his career.
5. Ruben ‘DarK’ Bielenberg
DarK was one of the all-time great Quake 2 team deathmatch players when he moved over to competitive Counter-Strike. Immediately helping Massive Attack to a surprising 4th place finish at the first great CPL, CPL Winter 2001, he would follow that up with becoming one of the world’s most sought after free agents in the next year. In 2002 his move to Nordic Division initially saw them winning an European CPL, before he joined fellow Norwegian XeqtR in SK.sca and they helped that team to a CPL Summer title. During this time period ND leader vesslan even called DarK the best player in the world.
As 2002 closed out DarK moved with XeqtR over to eoL, where Norway legitimately had a team capable of winning any of the majors. Instead that team infamously flopped at CPL Winter, finishing only 8th and even with the introduction of element the next year, they still would never truly hit the peak of what was possible. Finishing 2nd at Clikarena was a big result, since it came with a slaying of SK, but losing out under admittedly hard circumstances, meant DarK would never again taste the victory of holding a big tournament trophy.
In latter years DarK continued his career, helping 4kings to a 5th at CPL Summer 2003 and playing with XeqtR again in a latter era NoA line-up, but as time went on his level dropped appropriate to how much less seriously he took being a professional in CS. Many of his latter teams were either bursts of activity, practicing a few months for a specific run of tournaments, or simply going abroad for the experience and the trip, such as his stand-in role for GamerCo at WEG S2 and CPL Summer 2005.
At his peak DarK was a fearsome 1vX clutch player, composed and adept at figuring out intuitively the correct play to make. His raw skills were not of a sheer fragger, but he did have the ability to put his stamp on the game, as was most notably seen in elevating 4kings to being near to a top three finish at CPL Summer 2003. If he had stayed with SK or eoLithic had been able to get real organisational support, DarK could likely have given us more in his prime, instead he had a prime of a couple of years, leading into a more casual close to his career.
4. Lars ‘Naikon’ Olaisen
Naikon is the most underrated player in Norwegian CS history, in as much as his skills did not always show up on the scoreboard. Every team-mate he had during his prime, of 2002-2005, will tell you what an outstandingly solid player he was to have on a team. Naikon was the player you put in a specific bombsite and then stopped worrying about that site being overwhelmed, knowing he could seemingly kill two Ts every time or do significant damage to them and hold position long enough for team-mates to rotate.
The signature position for him in this sense was the lower part of the inner site on nuke, a notoriously tricky position, since it requires expert timing of how the enemy will attack and being able to juggle positioning oneself to take enemies from multiple directions, sometimes in rapid succession.
Naikon is not the kind of player who will ever be the subject of frag movies, but he is the kind you could build an elite calibre side on. Look back through Norwegian CS history from 2001-2006 and you’ll find him in almost every top team, the only really notable exceptions being team9 and MYM. A consistent player in the server, his career was similarly consistent in his position within top teams.
3. Sondre ‘REAL’ Svanevik
If this list were purely about skill, then REAL would top it by a country mile. This is the greatest Norwegian individual player to ever play Counter-Strike, speaking purely of the skill component. One of the beautiful factors in the history of CS is that, given enough time, a number of countries were able to produce their own geniuses, those players who can absolutely shape the course of a game single-handidly, either in individual skill or teamplay or tactically. REAL should have been Norway’s f0rest or it’s NEO. The skill and ability was there, but his resume pales in comparison to those titans of the game.
As a 15 year old REAL elevated a ragtag unknown team9 side to winners of CPL UK and a solid WEG placing. In 2006 he helped Catch-Gamer near a top three finish at the stacked WEG Masters, toppling then world champions SK.swe 16:0 along that journey. Later in the year he moved to MYM and that team made a run to the final of CPL Winter. Latter years saw REAL struggling, as key team-mates retired and went inactive. Without the talent surrounding him, he also seemed to lack for motivation and the drive to win.
There were two last chances for REAL. One was in the team he had with GeT_RiGhT and face a part of it, two players who speak highly of his skills, but did not work out ultimately, due to GeT_RiGhT being under contract to SK still and the organisation dropping them. The latter is an opportunity that never ultimately manfiested: when fnatic were looking for players to replace ins and Archi, at the end of 2008, REAL was one of the players they considered.
For fnatic there is no reason to look back with any regret, picking up Gux and GeT_RiGht allowed them to create a dynasty and set the baseline for a new era of revived success, but for REAL he could always wonder what he might have done playing alongside f0rest’s talent and the teamplay skills of dsn and cArn. That never manifest opportunity serves as something of a metaphor for REAL’s career, the skill and the ability there and able to be displayed, but always something holding him back: a team-mate missing at the wrong time, organisations being unable to support him adequately or his own motivation being sapped.
One can look to his brief resurgance at WCG 2008, attending with a mixteam of top Norwegian players, and bringing his team within reach of knocking out mTw, the best team in the world, and reaching the final. That result should have been impossible, certainly elemeNt was no longer the elemeNt of old in that line-up, but REAL was a monster on his day.
2. Jørgen ‘XeqtR’ Johannessen
XeqtR was the first great Norwegian player, to the extent that most of his early accomplishments came in Swedish teams. Before 1.5 flattened the skill cap out, in some senses, XeqtR was one of the handful of players who could dominate an entire game by himself. His role in the early NiP and SK.sca teams shows his impact on the game. This player won six CPL titles across his career, two American and four European. He placed top four at four other CPLs. He won the first ESWC and finished second at Clikarena.
That list of accomplishments should show that XeqtR was a seemingly born winner, who found success following him wherever he ended up across the CS landscape. That success did not come merely from his individual talent though, which over the latter half of his career diminished in impact. As he transitioned from merely being an individual star, XeqtR was able to establish himself as an elite tactician in CS, learning from his friend vesslan during their time together.
In eoL and NoA we saw XeqtR’s leadership at its best tactically, as he would form a deadly combination with elemeNt, the latter reading the opponents and feeding information to the former, who would make the right call from the playbook. Together they seemed unstoppable, but their personal relationship meant that partnership never lasted as long as it might or should have, even with other problems taken into account.
XeqtR also had a good fundamental understanding of what kinds of players were needed for what roles in a team, he famously banned American star method from using grenades in NoA matches, since the American had a tendency to damage his own team with them too much. Likewise, he took Canadian AWP star shaGuar and positioned him in where to AWP, turning the sniper loose but within regions of the map he wanted him to lockdown. shaGuar was never as elite an AWPer as when he played within XeqtR’s system, reminding me of how ave would use Sunde in mTw’s famous 2008 run.
Maniacally driven to succeed, endlessly confident in his own abilities and possessed of a sense of self-entitlement that suggested he should always be a player in elite teams, XeqtR was for a long time the greatest player Norway ever produced, and still can be counted incredibly highly in such stakes.
1. Ola ‘elemeNt’ Moum
XeqtR may be the first truly great Norwegian CS player and REAL is the first to ever be possessed of the level of skill capable of rivaling even the greatest Swedish players, but the true chosen one of Norwegian Counter-Strike was elemeNt. In his game he did not display incredible skill, but he had enough that his uncanny ability to seemingly always be in the right place at the same time made him one of the highest impact players in history, particularly amongst players who did not take over a game merely with frags.
That ability to be in the right place, an intuitive brilliance in reading the flow of the game and his opponents, allowed elemeNt to lead the most bizarrely charmed life I have ever witnessed in a Counter-Strike player, as a brief summary of his career path will make clear. Starting out in the Norwegian team meredia, he upset a GoL team that had vesslan standing in and should have won Gamesphere 2002. Shortly after he went to GoL and immediately helped them to a runner-up finish at a major CPL. Splitting from GoL, he formed an all-Norwegian team with some of those meredia players, winning the European CPL in Oslo.
By the end of the year he was back in GoL and helped them to another runner-up finish at CPL, this time with a team that were all speaking a second language of English. Back to eoL again, he helped them deny SK.swe’s early threat in 2003, before moving to that SK team and going on one of the most dominant runs in the history of Counter-Strike, winning all but one map over a near six month span, taking down numerous titles. Rather than stay on top, he left to the team they had beaten in their last final together, NoA, and helped, in time, take that team to the level of winning a CPL and a WEG title.
Even beyong NoA, elemeNt helped briefly elevate MiBR and 4Kings teams to better than expected placings, then went off to MYM and took them to a CPL final. This was a player who was so strange in his behaviour, frequently falling out with team-mates and losing interest in playing with them, that he repeatedly left teams who were at the top of the game, only to join opposing teams they had been beating, to then elevate those sides to the top of CS. There really is noone comparable in CS with what elemeNt was able to do in that respect. His career matches his in-game ability, seemingly always in the right place and making the right move to bring success his team’s way.
As an in-game leader he is sometimes overrated for his tactical ability, better suited to simply reading the game and working with XeqtR. His solo leadership in SK.swe produced incredible success, but that was a more loose style, team and era, than we think of when we remember the great tacticians.
The craziest perspective to look at elemeNt’s career with is that he is already one of the very greatest players in CS history, yet he could likely have achieved much more in terms of sheer trophies and accolades. Where other Norwegian players had to make the most of rare opportunities or lacked for them, elemeNt could squander them and look for gold elsewhere, yet still emerge a multiple time world champion and with an incredible tournament resume.
Photo credits: fragbite
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