North's Talent Development Strategy

Sep 07 2020 4 min read
Credit: North

North unveils its talent development strategy by signing and loaning Kristou back to AGF.

North has been a massive name in Counter-Strike since its inception in early 2017 when it signed the ex-Dignitas roster. Ranked fifth in the world at that time, North has subsequently won many large events over the years. That said, there's been a steady decline in North's performance since late 2019. While the team is still floating around the top 30, a goal that many only wish they could achieve, an organization of North's caliber is expected to be found higher in the rankings.

North Win DreamHack Open Sevilla 2019

Burnouts in the North

2020 has been rather busy for North, beginning with a rebrand and the signing of Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen in January. In May, star rifler Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye went on medical leave, and the team signed Kristoffer "Kristou" Aamand on loan from AGF Esport. The young Dane played five events with North, notably DreamHack Master Spring 2020, ESL Pro League Season 12, and cs_summit 6. Kristou only averaged a 0.85 rating during his time as a stand-in. Following Kjaerbye's departure for FaZe Clan, North opted to sign Jonas "Lekr0" Olofsson, a player with more experience at the top level.

The opposition that Kristou was facing in AGF was obviously of a far lower level than that in North, but expectations were still high for the youngster. That said, Kristou's potential still stood out to North, as the organization bought him out and loaned him back to AGF Esport. This move is part of North's new talent development strategy. It is particularly interesting because it's not something that has been done very often, if at all, in the Counter-Strike community.

Kristou will attend practice sessions with North and stand-in when needed, but he isn't considered to be a sixth player on the roster. North wants to avoid having any of its players leave due to burnout in the future, so having Kristou on hand will be fantastic for the team's longevity, but he won't be sitting on the bench waiting for his turn. Kristou will be allowed to continue his development as a player on AGF's active roster, while simultaneously having access to all the resources North has on hand. Kristou and AGF's head coach, Rasmus Møller "FaagaN" Thomsen, will maintain good communication with Jimmy "Jumpy" Berndtsson to ensure the youngster's steady development. 

Academies are so 2018

Like many other organizations in the past, North once housed an academy lineup, adequately named North Academy. In the past, both Nicklas "gade" Gade and Daniel "mertz" Mertz were promoted to the main lineup, so the team wasn't just for show as it actually served a purpose. Since then, however, academy teams have mostly fallen out of fashion, primarily due to tournament organizers only allow organizations to field one roster per event. If you combine that with the high costs of maintaining a Counter-Strike team, you begin to see why orgs started drifting away from those projects. Despite this, a few organizations, such as BIG, Natus Vincere, and AGO, still have academy teams today, ensuring the development of future generations of players. 

mertz North Academy DreamHack Open Winter 2017

With academy teams mostly not being profitable nowadays, signing and loaning out players, such as North has done with Kristou, is an exciting idea. It's a business model that isn't necessarily accessible to everyone, as most esports organizations don't have the funds North does. Still, it allows teams to scout and sign potential prospects, develop them on an active roster, and the costs and resources required are relatively low. 

Not the sixth man

This move by North comes in a time where teams are beginning to play with the idea of having rosters with six or seven players. Astralis expanded its roster with the signings of Patrick "es3tag" Hansen and Lucas "Bubzkji" Andersen in July. Aurimas "Bymas" Pipiras was signed by mousesports as a "developmental player" before moving to the active lineup less than a month later. ENCE played with a six-man roster following the signing of Elias "Jamppi" Olkkonen, though Sami "xseveN" Laasanen was later transferred to HAVU Gaming. While all of those roster moves are motivated by different reasons, it's interesting to see the development of rosters that go beyond the usual five players and a coach. North's approach differs considerably because Kristou won't be playing with North in official games unless one of the other active members is taking a break. 

With North's budget, anything is possible

It'll be interesting to see if North signs any more players moving forward, especially as Denmark has a lot of talents currently playing for smaller organizations. There are plenty of future stars in the making between members from Copenhagen Flames, Tricked Esports, Team Singularity, Lyngby Vikings, AGF Esport, and Sørby Flames. Perhaps that's what awaits the recently benched Magnus "Toft" Toft.

Regardless, this talent development model currently being utilized by North is undoubtedly an interesting workaround to developing and securing future talents. It'll be interesting to see if any other large organizations follow in North's footsteps as time goes on. Effectively outsourcing the development of future players while also guaranteeing their services could prove to be more beneficial than having an academy team or keeping players on the bench. 


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