seb was one of the primary core members in the later days of the team
In ESEA’s Premier (formerly MDL) division, roster rules differ from many other tournaments in the CS:GO circuit. In particular, to hold a spot from one season to the next, a team must retain at least two players from the previous lineup, regardless of backing organization, rather than the traditional three.
A recent example can be seen with Incognito, now Big Chillin. During Season 34, they finished with a lineup consisting of Jonah "JonahP" Pulice, Trevor "FrostayK" Bandle, Sterling "sterling" Allard, Colton "BASE" Musella, and Alex "Mauisnake" Ellenberg. Between seasons, the team made significant changes resulting in a lineup consisting of FrostayK, sterling, Danny "cxzi" Strzelczyk, Wesley "viz" Harris, and Jack "micro" Ryan. Later on when sterling was no longer able to play, Mauisnake was forced to stand-in to fulfill the 2/5 roster requirement as only FrostayK had played with them the previous season.
Through this mechanism, the team now in question, New Identity, did not stay the same "team" during its whole lifetime, but the slot continued to be retained by a running set of at least two players between each season.
Most of the teams currently in Premier in North America have only been in the league for a few seasons at most. Of the currently active Premier slots, only five have been held for over five seasons, and only three for more than seven. Below you can see some of the longest held slots that were active in the past year:
|VAULT -> New Identity||S21||S32 / EPL S10||12|
|Rush -> Swole Identity||S22||S33||12|
|LFAO -> Eclipse||S26||Current||10|
|Bushido Boyz -> ex-Chaos||S26||Current||9|
|ex-Synthetik -> Bad News Bears||S25||S33||9|
|AZIO -> Peeker's Advantage||S27||S32||6|
|Final Feature -> Big Chillin||S30||Current||6|
The last column in this table refers to the number of ESEA seasons spent in Premier or higher, excluding teams currently in EPL. This accounts for the fact that Swole Identity's slot spent four ESEA seasons playing in multiple ESL Pro League seasons. The team has historically been quite popular, and many of their trials and tribulations are known. The team I find more interesting, personally, is New Identity, as their slot was first acquired a season prior to Swole's and only ever made EPL at the very end under Singularity.
Last year has also seen a large migration of players to VALORANT, which takes plenty of influence from CS:GO, along with games like Overwatch and Riot's own League of Legends. Many players, old and young, at the top of the scene or barely known, have made the decision to commit to the new game, largely due to the plethora of organizations offering salaries to teams. This includes many players who will be heavily featured within this article and who played in this ESEA slot.
Many of these players, have had important and lasting impacts within the North American CS:GO scene. Whether that be filling a consistent role in many tier 2 teams, being a veteran figure for young up and comers, or simply giving life to the MDL division, they deserve to have their stories told.
The GRAMPZ era
The journey began in January 2016, when VAULT topped Season 20’s Main division, featuring a lineup of Mitch "mitch" Semago, Ray "Rarkar" Xu, Ryan "GRAMPZ" Baber, Connor "CONNOR93" Glover, and Joel "jcrueL" Cruel. Before the start of Premier Season 21, CONNOR93 and jcrueL left while Loic "effys" Sauvageau and Paul "Nerdy" Gill, the latter of whom would later be VAC banned, joined. This roster persisted for most of the season, but after ten games, mitch found his way out the door. For one game, now EG player Ethan "Ethan" Arnold stood in, but then jcrueL returned as the fifth for the rest of the season.
The team ended the season with a fantastic 12-4 record, qualifying for the online playoffs. There, VAULT was set to face Echo Fox, but due to the disbanding of Sean "seangares" Gares’ side, they received a forfeit win and advanced to the LAN Finals, where they played against the Brazilian Tempo Storm, but fell in two maps, meaning they would remain in Premier for Season 22.
Moving into Season 22, a large roster overhaul occurred, with only GRAMPZ and jcrueL remaining with the team. To fill in the other spots, Kyle "C0NVICT" Battell, who will appear a couple more times, Jacob "Jacob" Flores, and Ananias "jd-" Dixon were added. They played seven games with this lineup, winning four of them, but decided to make another roster move as jd- found his way out, and the team picked up Dylan "RIKO" Sabin-Arnce. Out of the eight games they played with RIKO, they only managed to win one, ending the season with a mediocre 6-10 record, and would have been relegated if the league didn’t expand to 24 teams for the next season.
Another reformulation was due, with GRAMPZ and jcrueL choosing another set of three players for Season 23. Back came CONNOR93, and with him Michael "MAiNLiNE" Jaber and Jaccob "yay" Whiteaker. In a rare occurrence for a Premier/MDL team, the same five players stuck together for the whole season. In early November, the team was signed by eUnited and finished off the season extremely strong, with a 12-4 record, qualifying for the playoffs. In the first round they faced an L4Salary team featuring Collin "wrath" McSweegan and Ricky "floppy" Kemery and took the win in a close three map series. Afterward, they faced TSM and the Brazilian Luminosity, going out in 4th place and missing out on EPL Relegation once again.
An eUnited interlude
The off-season saw the departure of GRAMPZ, the only member who had stayed on consistently since the start, along with yay. In their stead came the return of mitch and MLG Columbus 2016 Major participant Abraham "abE" Fazli.
This lineup would not last either, as before Season 24 began, CONNOR93 was replaced by David "DAVEY" Stafford. eUnited only lost a single map to Enigma6 with this lineup before replacing abE with Canadian youngster Jonathan "Jonji" Carey, after which they dropped one other map to Bee’s Money Crew. With a 14-2 record, they secured the #1 seed going into the playoffs, but lost to Bee’s Money Crew in a close three map series to former team member CONNOR93.
Mask Off days
Shortly after the end of the season, the team was dropped by eUnited with jcrueL and MAiNLiNE sticking together. They formed the first iteration of Mask Off, which saw the return of GRAMPZ and C0NVICT as well as the addition of Ryan "ryann" Welsh. About halfway through the season, the team was signed by Otter, but this lasted under two weeks. They had a very strong regular season, going 13-3, and secured the second seed going into the playoffs.
Right before Fragadelphia 11 and the MDL playoffs, the team was signed by Down To Frag. However, on the day of the playoffs, C0NVICT experienced an internet outage and was unable to play. The team were forced to use jd- as a stand-in, and ended up losing to an Eanix side featuring Sam "s0m" Oh and Tyson "TenZ" Ngo in the first round.
Going into Season 26, the team reverted to Mask Off, and replaced jcrueL with Thomas "tconnors" Connors. Shortly after matches began, the team was signed by Beacon, and had an above average season. Just before playoffs, MAiNLiNE was replaced by Marian "tyfoon" Lesnic, but the team once again went out in the first round, this time losing to the eventual season champions, SoaR.
As it goes, the team was dropped by their organization between seasons, returning to the tag Mask Off again. And after two seasons with the same core, another large revamp was in order. Only GRAMPZ and tyfoon remained, while Cameron "cam" Kern (hydrex at the time), Tyler "tweiss" Weiss, and Anthony "vanity" Malaspina joined. Halfway through the season, vanity announced he would be stepping back from competitive CS, though he would return the next season with Gorilla Gang. To fill in, Mask Off found a replacement in repeat team member jcrueL. With the new roster formation, they didn’t have a particularly successful season, going a middling 8-8.
The CONNOR93 era
Heading into Season 28, cam left to form the first iteration of Gorilla Gang, tyfoon and jcrueL departed, while CONNOR93 returned, and former Ghost Academy duo Chad "Oderus" Miller and Bryan "MAKKA" Drouillard joined. Furthermore, the team renamed to The Pioneers, starting a tradition of regularly changing team names. After playing the required eight games, tweiss departed the team along with MAKKA. MAiNLiNE returned once again, and wrath joined up as well. GRAMPZ was announced to have left the team, but continued to play as a stand-in. Near the end of the season, the lineup was signed by BlackOut, and shortly after that Sebastian "seb" Bucki joined as the team’s fifth. They had a fairly strong season overall, going 10-6, but due to the tiebreaker system, were left out of the playoffs.
The postseason saw MAiNLiNE depart, and Jonji join. Shortly after their first match of the season, the team was dropped by BlackOut and decided to continue as "cantwinalan". A couple days later, Jonji left the team and mitch made his return after completing his stint with Dignitas. They kicked off the season with a good record, only dropping three games out of their first eight, as well as taking down Bravado and Spacestation.
About halfway through the season, Oderus departed to join Spacestation, while wrath left to join Vision. In their stead came Jack "xCeeD" Holiman, formerly of Dignitas and Armada, and Zack "XotiC" Elshani, who famously played on Splyce. mitch had initially decided to step down and take a break from CS, with Kevin "4pack" Przypasniak coming in to replace him, but just four days later mitch decided he wanted to keep competing, and 4pack was out, without even playing any MDL games.
The rest of their season was still quite strong, despite dropping maps to Old Guys Club and Forty Six and 2. As a result of a 13-6 record, they slid into the playoffs as the seventh seed and went on to have one of the most impressive MDL playoff runs ever, taking down both Bravado and Vireo.pro 2-0, making the offline final. However, history repeated itself and XotiC opted to not attend the MDL Final and Global Challenge LAN, with the teenager subsequently retiring from the game until returning in Season 34. cantwinalan was forced to use veteran GRAMPZ as a stand-in for the event, where they lost to Swole Patrol, who themselves were using two stand-ins. As a result, they moved on to EPL Relegation, and faced off against Envy in the first round. They actually took Noah "Nifty" Francis’ side to three maps, but afterwards were destroyed by Rogue (also with a stand-in) to fall back to MDL once again.
seb takes the helm
Afterward, mitch left once again to join Test Takers, which would later go on to become Bad News Bears, and xCeeD departed to join up with an early iteration of The Quest. MAiNLiNE stepped in from the coaching position to play again, wrath rejoined after the dissolution of Vision, and Shawn "witmer" Taylor made his first appearance with this core of players. To top it off, they renamed to MASSIVEimpact.
CONNOR93 decided to take his leave from competitive CS to focus on a full-time job. To fill the gap right before games began the team brought on RIKO from Bad News Bears. This resulted in only 1/5 players from the last lineup from the previous season being retained. However, wrath had played at the beginning of Season 29 with cantwinalan, so MASSIVEImpact actually held a 2/5 core and were able to play without any stand-ins.
Four matches were played, three of which were losses. MAiNLiNE departed for the third time, and was replaced by tyfoon for the second time. Only two more matches in just over a week were played before yet another move saw RIKO leave the team and yay join after having left compLexity. This lineup managed to play a single match, and three days later yay departed the team as a result of personal issues.
They then turned to Fragging For Andy player Daniel "roca" Gustaferri, yet after another couple matches played, the players decided to remove witmer from the lineup due to conflicts with his role and in-game leading. As the MDL roster lock happened the day after, the team used CONNOR93 for the rest of the season. Despite the absolute chaos over the course of this season, they managed a 9-8 record and secured their place in Season 31.
The postseason saw no changes for once, with CONNOR93 even officially joining back for the start of the season. Two wins, one of which was against FURIA, and two losses in the first four games of the season passed and the roster overhauls returned. CONNOR93 once again stepped down and returned to inactivity, tyfoon was cut, and roca left, leaving just seb and wrath yet again. Two days passed and in came former eUnited duo Skyler "Relyks" Weaver and Will "dazzLe" Loafman (and MAiNLiNE as coach) along with the return of Jonji a few days after that. A new season also meant a new team name, and thus New Identity was born.
The rest of their season was pretty successful, taking a game from Singularity and ending with a respectable 11-6 record. The team entered the playoffs as the seventh seed, earning a tough first match against Singularity. This resulted in a swift 0-2 loss and their hopes of promotion dashed again.
Between seasons, MAiNLiNE left. Again. Also, Jonji departed while Michael "dapr" Gulino joined from Riot Squad. Due to ESL failing to replace disbanded teams Ghost and ex-Luminosity in a timely manner, both ATK and New Identity were invited to ESL Pro League without needing to play through the relegation system. Furthermore, the team was signed by Singularity after their former team disbanded, with the remnants reforming into Ben’s Anime Team. The organization also brought on UK veteran Immi as coach, although he would not be able to attend EPL with the team.
The promised land
To kick off their Pro League debut, Singularity were placed into Group C with Liquid, Renegades, and their former MDL brethren ATK. During the group stage, they had the potential to beat Liquid 2-0, winning the first map and going to overtime on the second, but eventually fell 1-2. They also played a very close series against ATK, but also lost, and ended up placing last in the group. Afterward, wrath departed the team and they initially used former Cloud9 member Jordan "Zellsis" Montemurro as a stand-in during online matches.
Normally, the team’s low placing would have put them in Relegation to fight against the other last place EPL teams and top MDL teams to retain their spot in the league, but an opportunity arose when Complexity announced they were dropping out of Pro League Stage 2 due to their inability to use newly-signed players. Initially, Cloud9 was invited to replace them, but declined the invite. Thus, it fell to Singularity to come in on short notice to play in Stage 2.
As Zellsis was not eligible to play for the team, Singularity brought over Swede and UK scene regular Robin "robiin" Sjögren as a stand-in. Their new group featured ATK once again, alongside Envy and DETONA. Their run began with a scare, narrowly beating DETONA in a close series, and followed it up with a rough loss to ATK. However, they finished off their EPL run with a close victory over Envy, a result probably more important to Envy than Singularity.
According to the league structure of EPL at the time, while Singularity did not qualify for the global finals, they should have still secured a spot in Season 11. After months of no information or communication, ESL finally announced that they were restructuring the league with permanent partner teams, and that organizations or teams that were not invited would miss out on Season 11. This meant that Singularity no longer held a spot in ESL Pro League, and instead was handed an invite back to Season 33 of MDL. Subsequently, Singularity dropped the lineup, and core member seb and in-game leader Relyks departed to join up with Swole Patrol to create Swole Identity. However, an MDL spot was still available to the remaining players, dazzLe and dapr, had they decided to create a team.
This is where the story unfortunately ends. A roster was unable to be formed, despite a lineup featuring Shahzeb "ShahZaM" Khan, Maxim "wippie" Shepelev, and Rahul "curry" Nemani playing in a couple qualifiers under the name "New Patrol". dapr found his way to Bad News Bears after the departure of Pujan "FNS" Mehta, curry played in a quite successful Under 21 and got called up to Triumph after Logan "Voltage" Long and Peter "Asuna" Mazuryk made their way out. wippie returned to inactivity, while dazzLe followed in dapr’s footsteps and joined Bad News Bears, filling the shoes of Austin "crashies" Roberts who left CS for VALORANT, something ShahZaM did as well.
Out of the final five North American players who played with this team, only wrath remains active in CS:GO. He was most recently part of Secret Club, which was created from the ashes of Morning Light after RIKO was ESEA banned and Ian "tex" Botsch and Oderus switched to VALORANT. dapr and Relyks find themselves on the VALORANT divisions for Sentinels and Cloud9, respectively. dazzLe initially teamed with Zellsis in VALORANT and is now part of Ghost, while seb has joined up with Andbox in Riot’s game.
This ESEA slot has certainly had a varied history, many different players and many of the same, success and failures, and even the chance to play in Pro League. At four years, it is one of the longest held league spots we may ever see. However, nothing can last forever, and many of the players who came through this lineup have gone on to have more success: ryann played for Envy and Triumph, four members of the final Bad News Bears roster played in this spot at one point or another, and vanity recently played with Chaos.
The structure of the CS scene is vastly different now than it was just six months ago, and many players face tough decisions regarding their future in the space. North American CS finds itself in a transition period, but over the coming months it’ll create a new identity.
Below I've listed many of the mentioned players from this article and their current status within esports:
|cam||Active||New Haven Chargers|
|xCeeD||Active||Pittsburgh Knights (VALORANT)|