Published on SK Gaming on the 11th of October 2009.

NoA may be more famous in latter days as the Danish team who became but fans who have been around a little longer will remember them as the first truly international CS side. Combining a core of Norwegian players with the West coast rifling style of method and the high-flying Canadian AWP antics of shaGuar few knew whether the team would implode before they reached their first event with such a clash of styles and nationalities.

As fate would have it their destiny was a runnersup spot at CPL Winter 2003 where they took down a lot of big name sides on their way to a loss to the CS’ most dominant team right in the peak of its dominance. Jonas “bsl” Alsaker Vikan takes us through the ups and downs of that NoA era and inside a lineup which has ignited the imaginations of fans ever since its mad scientist-esque creation.

NoA 2003 lineup:

Jonas “bsl” Alsaker Vikan
Mikey “method” So
Griffin “shaGuar” Benger
Hallvar “knoxville” Dehli
Lars “Naikon” Olaisen

In September of 2003 you had become the new captain of the Danish side SoA so how did it come about that in late October you announced you were jetting off for California to play in a new GX team? How did that opportunity arise, what was the sequence of events and what was your frame of mind at the time?

It started at ESWC that year. I was in France with MIBR and back in 2003 I was the first CS player to go abroad to play for another side. My accolades were limited at that time, having only played one CPL that mattered (and placing 9th impressing noone) with Spacebar that previous summer. MIBR wanted me there to try and structure the tremendous individual skill of the Brazilians into something that could achieve results on an international level and during ESWC people saw that it was within reach – we had some good matches there. A man from the GX management approached me on the last day asking if I would be interested in going to California. I said it sounded intriguing if I was not in MIBR and we left it there.

Some months later I had gone back to Norway after turning down a new six month to one year contract with MIBR. I intended to keep playing and was contacted by SoA to try and bring them back to the greatness of years passed. A decision that made me extremely unpopular in Denmark: I released two of the players on the team that I was convinced couldn’t cut it at an international level. The same GX guy called me up to tell me the offer from that summer still stood – and asked if I wanted to do it. It was an enticing offer and a huge challenge for me so I accepted – and left the SoA team a huge mess, unfortunately.

That first NoA lineup still remains one of the most controversial in CS history by melding players from different continents within the same team. What was the order people came on board with NoA and did you have reservations at allnabout that drastic mix of players meshing?

Method was the first one. He was GX to the bone and lived in the area. Some weeks later Naikon and Knoxville flew over. The last piece of the puzzle was shaGuar. Method really wanted him as they had played together in TSG prior to NoA. He took some convincing though, as he was still young and in school in Canada.

I think there weren’t really any reservations at first. We did not realize how good we could be – the focus was always on Adrenaline – with us being the scrubs, the second GX team. So we really didn’t think about our own shortcomings – we just played.

How did NoA get its name and what was the name supposed to stand for? If nothing then who came up with it and why did it stick?

shaGuar made a list of 30 or so really, really stupid names. The least stupid was NoA – and it stuck because we simply could not bear to listen to more of his retarded suggestions.

When the team went to brazil to practice with MiBR, very early on, how quickly did things come together? Did you have an inkling of the potential the team eventually showed or was that too early a point in time?

No. The days of practice in Brazil were terrible for us result-wise. As anyone who has ever bootcamped with MIBR in Brazil will tell you: you will get spanked. They completely destroyed us most of the games but if we did not have quality at least it served us with quantity. We played a lot. The results also contributed to keeping us very level-headed. Our expectations at this point were not very high.

It seemed like when NoA formed you kind of ran a little under the radar, despite your lineup, because it came in the wake of Adrenaline joining GX and also moving to the USA, so you were kind of the ‘other GX team’ in some people’s minds. Plus Naikon and knoxville had had a disastrous time in mTw.HLO at a spanish CPL qualifier. What did you think of that and were you viewing it as an experiment to try out for a few events?

First of all, when was anything in esports ever an experiment where you try a couple events before moving on if it doesn’t work out? Hehe. But we did fly under the radar, something I attribute a lot to the high profile of Adrenaline, who were the second best team in the world (they won ESWC and lost summer CPL to SK) at that point. Secondly we did nothing to raise expectations for ourselves. Our practice results were mediocre, our sponsorship situation was terrible and nonexistent and, as you point out in your next question, we didn’t do well at the regional CXG qualifier in LA.

The first event for NoA was the CXG qualifier which saw you losing to zR (zero Respect), who were basically what would become the highly successful rival team of 2004 but at the time were just considered a pug of friends, 14-16 on train before the whole event was cancelled. That seemed to be a big part of why NoA hadn’t really caught the public imagination going into the CPL. What do you remember of that period and was it a case of growing pains or just poor play on the day?

Like I said, we struggled at practice throughout the pre-CPL period. This included our games in Brazil as well as the online games in the US. We, for some reason, had big problems with the Rival (zR) crew, even though they were not a good team. It was run and gun and we didn’t cope well enough – but then again, we didn’t play very well against anyone.

How much did NoA practice with adren[gx] and how did that practice go?

I wouldn’t say we practiced a lot with them. We had some games but both teams tried to get matches against other teams. When we did face each other they would almost always win – but only by a couple of rounds.

At CPL Winter 2003 your team started out seeded 27th and with maybe one of the toughest bracket routes ever in terms of getting deep. Your opponent in the 2nd round of the upper bracket was e7, who had placed 6th at CPL Summer 2003 and now featured destrukt, on train which resulted in a close 13-10 game. That was followed up with an even closer game which saw you taken to overtime on mill by Forsaken. What do you remember of those games and what was the feeling within the team as you went on? This was the start of the NoA run so how was it to run into such close games early on?

I remember being pissed off against e7. I played well that half despite not being the best player on the attacking side of matches – and we dropped stupid rounds to them saving. Luckily for us they played even dumber in a couple of key situations which allowed us to edge out the win. From our Forsaken match (zR / Rival again) I remember really wanting to beat them as they were all always talking like they were the better team. In the final overtime they hit the smaller site (on cpl_mill) with all five players through the door – they knew I was guarding the site as Torrez had tried to talk smack about it prior to the game. I was happy to take down two with headshots and the rest of the team cleaned up so we could win the match.

In the quarter-finals of the upper bracket on cbble you beat Team64, previously known as gamepoint/EYE, who had been considered perhaps the #2 team in the world thanks to their play against SK.swe at CPL Copenhagen. How tough were expecting them to be and did you have any apprehensions about having to play cbble bearing in mind what a new team you were and the nature of that map? The actual score was 13-5 so how easy did that come?

Obviously we expected them to be on SK’s level – as they had been able to play really well against them prior to CPL. But everyone who has ever played cbble knows that if you win the coin-toss and do good on the CT side you have a fighting chance against anyone. At that CPL we really excelled as a defensive team and were pretty much able to lock the map down. The match was won on our innovative T pistol round that we got from old school American player “exile”.

It was a risky thing to do, but it paid off. After that they could not really do much.

The winners bracket semi-finals saw you facing adren[gx] and rolling over them 13-2 on nuke. That was obviously a huge match for your team so how did it come about and being as you smashed mouz 13-2 on the same match in the 3rd place playoff what made that NoA team so good on nuke? Had you known that it was your strongest map or had it just come together at the right time?

To be honest there were a lot of random factors working for us at that tournament. nuke was another one. I don’t know why we were so good on that particular map. In fact, nobody knew how good we were because we never got to play a T half. Our CT play just blew the other teams away. During CPL some stellar play in the ramp room broke off every team’s attempt at gaining rounds. Me and Knoxville never really liked each other but we could play well together at that particular position. Naikon and method were also a force to be reckoned with in the upper site and with shaGuar just running around it was very difficult to face us.

The two matches against SK had a different feel to each, the inferno game was close scorewise with them winning 13-10 but with them being up 10-2 after the first half it was still a fairly commanding win for them. Then the dust2 game they went up 8-4 first half as T and then closed you out 5-0 on CT. That SK team is still remembered as one of the all time greats so how was it to compete against them in their prime and was it disappointing to have that gap between your teams at the most important time or was there kind of a feeling like since you were such a new team it wasn’t as devastating to lose?

We were seed 27. And suddenly we were playing in the grand finals of the CPL – needless to say we were happy about doing that good but we hated losing to SK still. There was a feeling in the team that we would be able to topple them with some more time but with the CXG tournament being cancelled two weeks later it’s merely speculation.

We had a good T half on inferno against them but on dust2 they got money control early and we seemed to have run out of steam. They were simply the better team.

One area which really stood out for NoA was pistol rounds, as you won 12 and lost 4 across the tournament. What do you attribute that to and how key a factor do you think it was?

method, Naikon and shaGuar were all among the very best players in the world with pistols. I think me and Knoxville were pretty decent as well. But as any top player will tell you the pistol rounds can be decided by two early headshots, lucky strats and other things outside of our control. The fact that we won so many was probably also something that could be attributed to outside factors as well as the inherent pistol skill that was in our lineup.

The CXG event was billed as a really big deal since it came so soon after the CPL that many teams were practicing for both, especially with $100k listed for 1st place. In terms of the atmosphere in NoA do you ever feel like if the team had placed highly at CXG you might not have been cut as you were later on?

Honestly – I don’t know. I think there always was a feeling that Knoxville wanted to have me replaced – even though we did really well as a team – but it would have been difficult to do so prior to CXG as he was always a coward that did not dare to talk to people away from the recluse of MSN / IRC. We were still in LA after CPL and remained there until CXG, a tournament where we had an easy bracket and nuke as the final map.

When you were removed in late march of 2004 what was your initial reaction? Was it especially painful that you’d be involved with bringing in the Norwegians and now you’d been removed, especially in light of your previous dealings with meredia/spacebar?

ImageIn my mind we should have kept what was working and continued to practice with what we had – I think our results and potential warranted that. It was something that I expected though, after CXG being cancelled. Esports is a shady business and there are a number of shady individuals, as well as weak kids that sort of follow the flow.

As to the second part of the question – yes of course that was painful. I gave people a chance and the thanks I got was a big knife in my back. The fact that that had happened before was a further testament to the character of those involved – unfortunately.

What do you think it was about NoA that made it tick? What was it about that mix of players which made you capable of turning a few weeks of practice into a 2nd place at a hotly contested CPL?

To me it was a mixture of five great players that all had their day in the sun during one particular tournament. I also think it was partly because our back was against the wall:

Most people don’t know this but while Adrenaline received salaries and lived in an apartment together, everything that was promised NoA fell through. We had no salaries, no support and no apartment.

The Adrenaline manager let us play at Gamers X out of the goodness of his heart, as well as supporting us with some other things, while Paul Estevez (our manager) sort of eased off into the shadows when he could not deliver. Me, Naikon and Knoxville lived in his basement for the duration of our stay in LA. I think that the setbacks and broken promises made us realise that it was “now or never” at CPL.

Playing with method, who was always hyped within the American community for having mad skills and shaG, who had one of the most flashy styles of AWPing, what can you tell fans or European players who only got to see them in tournament matches about how good those players were?

method was a great fragger with outstanding skills. shaGuar was unorthodox but also a very, very strong player. They could take down three or four with pistols, with deagles, with rifles or the AWP – but also take down teammates with their nades and flashbangs – neither player was very solid. They were both prone to making outrageous tactical mistakes at any given point in a match. During our initial time at bootcamp I can’t count the save rounds we lost due to those two – and it was frustrating for the three Norwegians, as we came from another school of thought.

Then again, they won us a lot of rounds too – by doing their weird, crazy shit. At CPL we were able to minimize the fumbles and they really stood out as world class players that went on to have fantastic careers.

Provide some analysis for each member of the lineup:

Naikon: Would win every 1on1, every 1on2 and along with me helped act as bait so Knoxville could get frags. Also a very strong USP player.

Knoxville: Very, very good with the deagle. Also had good m4a1 skills. Strong 1on1 player. Decent at strat calling, terrible at leading and motivating team mates.

method: Extremely talented player. Like he said himself at one point: “I just dome heads”. He certainly did. After months with Knoxville he also got better tactically, and made smarter choices in-game.

bsl: Strong defensive player. Acted as bait a lot for other players as T. Good at communication and morale-wise.

shaGuar: When he was on, and happy – nothing could stop him. After the key win against Team64 on cbble he was very, very sad because he did not have the frags. He had to learn that it was a team game and that team effort was the only thing that mattered though. Contributed with creative suggestions for CT setups and T strats as well as with fantastic rifling and AWPing.

When you saw the poor ESWC and CPL showings NoA put up after recruiting element what did you put those down to? I imagine you’d consider element a superior player to yourself but do you feel like they had the wrong mix or attitude in the team? Without any sour grapes do you feel like the bsl-noa was superior to that NoA or did they simply underperform?

I could not argue with element’s credentials which were way better than mine. And I did not really have anything against him after he replaced me. I did however feel a sense of vindication when they crashed out, not once but twice, during the two biggest and most prestigious tournaments following the switch.

You can say whatever you want and make excuses etc but fact of the matter is that edition of NoA was superior on paper, but the first was superior in-game – results speak volumes.

As for their failure I attribute it to the mood in the team. Knoxville was already difficult and element was never known to be easy-going either. Coupled with the extreme pressure to perform it’s enough to take the edge off anyone. Or they could have just been THAT unlucky.

How did the NoA experience shape you as a cs player and/or as a person? How do you think it effected your career from then on and in comparison to where it was prior to NoA?

It forced me to grow as a person. Having to deal with no money and broken promises a million miles away from home is not something I would want for anyone. At the same time I was part of, and contributed to, something that was historic in the sense that we did perform from extremely difficult circumstances.

The disappointment of being cut almost led me to leave gaming but at the same time I loved the game so much and felt that I was wronged. That led me to try again, and it really felt good when I was able to do so with Catch Gamer – particularly at WEG Season 2 where three of my old teammates from NoA were eliminated in the first group phase.

I always had to go on a different path than most because of several conditions in the established Norwegian community. Prior to NoA I had to pick myself up after the disappointments in Spacebar, and could do so with MIBR and then NoA. When I could do that and even one more time in the wake of NoA it gave me a very strong sense of self-confidence and self-reliance and that’s something that has helped me in my real life ever since.