We examine the turbulent career of Danish misfit Asger "AcilioN" Larsen, who is looking to finally settle and build his legacy on MAD Lions.
"People have always been very quickly convicted in Counter-Strike".
Those who haven't followed the competitive scene from the start of CS:GO might not understand what Michael "Friis" Jørgensen is referring to when he is asked about the bad reputation that is attached to his former teammate AcilioN. The 23-year-old is currently enjoying success in MAD Lions, who are ranked 12th in the world and recently bagged $500,000 following their Flashpoint 1 victory. The only negative comments AcilioN has got in the last months were indirect — caused by the fact he replaced fan-favorite in-game leader Nicolai "HUNDEN" Petersen. But that wasn't always the case, which takes us back to his beginnings as a player.
What did AcilioN go through before landing a spot on MAD Lions?
(Photo courtesy of Flashpoint)
AcilioN was on the fringes of the Danish scene for a couple of years before he finally dove into it fully in 2014, citing Western Wolves' second-place finish at Copenhagen Games as an inspiration to start playing on a team. His issues started soon, as later that year "internal disagreements" were noted as the reason for his departure from NO SIR!. The label of a "difficult player" has stuck with him from that day.
"The difference between Asger and pretty much every other young player at that time was that he didn't care about the mood in TeamSpeak, he just wanted to win". That is how HUNDEN describes the then 17-year-old star AcilioN, whom he added to myXMG, a team that would go on to participate at DreamHack Winter 2014 a month later — AcilioN's only Major to date. HUNDEN describes his compatriot as "a god damn good teammate", but understands why some people have had problems working with him: "The main issue for Asger back in the day was that he was not afraid of saying his own opinion. People in this scene don't like it if you are honest about some kinds of situations and that might be the reason why Asger has been removed from his teams so many times".
The difference between Asger and pretty much every other young player at that time was that he didn't care about the mood in TeamSpeak, he just wanted to win
Nicolai "HUNDEN" Petersen
At the start of his journey as a player, though, that part of his personality didn't end up being a massive hindrance. Luckily for the youngster, in myXMG (which went on to become CPH Wolves and then SK), he found like-minded individuals; together with Friis, a one-time Top20 player from CS 1.6, and HUNDEN, he formed what the latter described as "a special core".
"We had Friis with strong opinions, we had Asger with strong opinions, and myself with my own opinions," HUNDEN says. "To be honest, I think we matched each other pretty well. We had our disagreements but we also had a big amount of respect for each other."
HUNDEN, Friis, and Acilion at DreamHack Winter 2014
The significant age gap between AcilioN and his teammates was easily bridged thanks to the trio sharing the same mindset. Remembering his first impression of AcilioN, Friis said it was easy to see he was a raw talent, but it was his approach to the game that really made him stand out: "I come from a time in Counter-Strike when money was not the reason to play, it was pure passion for the game itself and the competition in it. As a person, Asger is very similar to me, just younger. It's not a secret that Asger and I are similar in many aspects, even when it comes to the 'less good' ones. I think that because we are both super passionate, we have sometimes had difficulties when it comes to managing our frustrations, which has created problems. However, we were always good at solving them very quickly."
AcilioN acknowledges that the partnership with HUNDEN and Friis shaped not only the way that he played the game but also how he conducted himself. "Playing with them has been like having two older brothers who know more than you — so you want to show them that you also have what it takes," he says.
Playing with HUNDEN and Friis has been like having two older brothers who know more than you — so you want to show them that you also have what it takes
Asger "AcilioN" Larsen
The team made changes to the lineup but still went on for about a year and a half, with their biggest success coming when they peaked at No.15 in the world as SK after HUNDEN had left the squad. However, even then, they were still lagging behind their Danish counterparts in Astralis (#4) and Dignitas (#7) significantly.
Around that time was when AcilioN transformed himself as a player, becoming the in-game leader of SK. Such a young player taking over the reins of a team was a rarity at the time, with the fact they already had two veterans in the squad seemingly more suited to the job — Andreas "MODDII" Fridh and Friis — making it even more surprising to the public.
Remembering that decision, AcilioN explains that he thought it was unrealistic for him to join the better teams in Denmark and that there weren't any good in-game leaders left in the country: "We were supposed to get gla1ve, but he didn’t want to play at that time because he wanted to focus on real-life stuff. I thought I had a pretty good view of the game and I had learned a lot from how HUNDEN was calling. I have always, throughout my entire life, really enjoyed teamplay. Whether it was football or CS, I have always enjoyed it. So making the transition to IGL wasn't that hard because it was already something I had a lot of focus on".
Acilion took over the in-game leader role in SK
Just when things were looking good and his team was on the rise, disaster struck as SK decided to cut ties with the Danish lineup and sign the best team in the world at the time - Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo's Luminosity. The move ended up costing both teams their spots in ELEAGUE Season 1 and eventually led to a complete overhaul of the Danish roster. In the process, AcilioN was cut and he made a radical decision: move to North America to join Splyce.
"It was a mix of a lot of things, but our contracts were not extended with SK, we had to find a new place and I was contacted by many organizations," Friis explains, "After long deliberation, we chose to create team X (Heroic), while Pimp chose to go to Liquid. So we talked to gla1ve and valde. Then the decision was made for Asger to go out to make room for the two. Magisk then chose to play for Dignitas, so we offered Asger a place in the team again. But at this point, he preferred to try his luck in Splyce. I understood his choices because he had been dropped once already. I also think he really learned a great deal in time in the US alone. It has definitely helped him and might be one of the reasons why he stands so strong today."
Moving to North America to play for Splyce showed just how few options AcilioN had in Europe at a time when international lineups still weren't a common occurrence. David "DAVEY" Stafford remembers the addition of AcilioN being made at the last minute after the team found out he was an option: "arya and I watched his demos and decided that he could seriously help develop CRUC1AL as a player, and it would help them to have another European in the house.
The ambitious Splyce project never got off of the ground, however, with a plethora of issues plaguing them from the start and the signing of Enkhtaivan "Machinegun" Lkhagva backfiring horribly. "Although now it may have seemed like a stupid move, at the time everyone needs to remember that this was the equivalent of Gen.G bringing in BnTeT", DAVEY explains, before noting that, despite the organization's best intentions, logistical problems such as poor PCs and a lack of proper support really hindered them: "Not having a coach or management with us at the house caused a lot of problems. We were left entirely on our own to deal with all the problems in the team, even stupid things like the Europeans not wanting to clean up their dishes. We were 18-20-year-old kids living in a house with a 26-year-old Mongolian man who barely spoke English".
Not having a coach or management with us at the house caused a lot of problems; We were 18-20-year-old kids living in a house with a 26-year-old Mongolian man who barely spoke English
David "DAVEY" Stafford about the failed Splyce project
Half a year after relocating to Los Angeles to play with Splyce, AcilioN decided it was time to call it quits and return to Europe, saying that he "missed Denmark a lot" and that "Tinder was not enough". Adapting to life in the United States hadn't worked out, and DAVEY admits that, in hindsight, he could've done more to help the Europeans with the adaptation. "I think this was something that my 20-year-old non-empathetic brain never picked up on at the time; I was much more of a just put my head down and do my work kind of person".
With just five maps won from 26 played, it was easy to call Splyce a total waste of time for AcilioN, but he doesn't regret the decision to head overseas. "Even though it was a pretty horrible experience regarding performance, I think I learned a lot about myself as a person, but also as a player," he says. "I definitely learned that my best role on a team is being the in-game leader."
During his stay in Los Angeles, in the Splyce gaming house, AcilioN met Neil "NeiL_M" Murphy, who would become his coach a year later. But before that, AcilioN returned to the domestic scene to play with his former teammates in Tricked. The squad quickly picked up pace and made it to the 24th spot in the world ranking, with AcilioN showing his fragging power during that time. "He was a goddamn monster," HUNDEN said about AcilioN's 1.14 average rating with the Danish team. "And if all the disagreements had not become too much, I think we could have been together for so long that we could have done some serious damage to the tier-two scene in Europe."
Internal disagreements, Tricked losing funding, and AcilioN wanting to pursue in-game leading meant that he was off to a new project after just five months with the team. As 2017 was coming to an end and international lineups were starting to rise in popularity, he took the reins for Dignitas. The team was promising on paper, but less than two months into his tenure he was given the marching orders as the squad failed to make it past the open qualifiers for the Minor.
In an interview, AcilioN described this as a hopeless situation: "Because of all the complications within our team, the organization chose to kick me. All I could think was 'What the hell am I supposed to do now?'. I felt no one wanted to play with me anymore, and that there was nothing I could do from this point. I had to start from scratch before I could build myself up again. I had to start all over if I should ever stand the chance to reach the goals I had set for myself."
All I could think was 'What the hell am I supposed to do now?'. I felt no one wanted to play with me anymore, and that there was nothing I could do from this point. I had to start from scratch
Asger "AcilioN" Larsen about his removal from Dignitas
And that is exactly what he did with MANS NOT HOT, the team that later became Imperial. He assembled the squad with Nemanja "nexa" Isaković and Rokas "EspiranTo" Milasauskas, at the time unproven players, and results came fast — perhaps too fast, says NeiL_M, who joined as coach. A second place at the Geeks Gone Wild 23 LAN was followed by a couple of online cup wins and then a miraculous run at Copenhagen Games 2018 — all the way from the BYOC qualifier to lifting the title.
What happened next will sound familiar. "He was clashing with a few players in the squad - despite our success, I think that we, as a team, approached it wrongly in the end", NeiL_M explains, before expanding on why he thinks AcilioN was struggling to hold down a spot on a team for long: "He couldn't really accept help from the outside, from teammates or a coach, and at times then when he tried to do so, he couldn’t find something in the middle - which cost him. He was either too soft or too hard on the team". He ended up on the bench just six months after the team's creation.
AcilioN with nexa and EspiranTo, who went on to join CR4ZY
An opening on Heroic saw AcilioN return to the Danish scene mid-2018, soon becoming a full-time member and the in-game leader of the squad. The organization was a part of RFRSH Entertainment at the time, using the same offices as Astralis, and with AcilioN at the helm, the team stayed on course as a stable top-20 side and won two smaller events: Games Clash Masters and Toyota Master Bangkok. However, sweeping changes were afoot as RFRSH finalized the sale of Heroic in November to fall in line with WESA and Valve rules against multi-team ownership. What didn't seem like a big change on the surface affected AcilioN significantly, as he lost the support of the RFRSH performance team and went back to his old ways, clashing with teammates. In March 2019, he was benched.
"My frustrations were definitely a big part," he says of his benching by Imperial and Heroic. " I think my way of talking to people is too much. I get into a space where I just want to win and I don't care how I say things. And even if people know that it’s just not good enough, you need to be a good teammate and talk properly to each other and give constructive criticism.
"I actually think I was doing really well in all of this when I played with Heroic, when we were still a part of RFRSH and their performance team. The way [Sports Director] Kasper Hvidt and [Sports Psychologist & Performance Coach] Lars Robl helped the team really made a huge difference for me as a player. The team atmosphere we had was really good and I felt like people were being honest with each other — which is something I rate very highly. When we were sold to another company we were left to ourselves and I felt like that was pretty hard for me. I tried to bring the same tools that we had before, but it was pretty different and I wasn’t able to adapt, which ultimately got me benched in the team."
Despite good performances, AcilioN couldn't keep his spot on Heroic
At this point, many would say that his chances to really make it in Counter-Strike were gone, even though he was just 22 years old. Having played with nearly everyone in the Danish scene and struggled to stick around in international projects, the direction of his career seemed clear as he signed for a lower-tier domestic team in Copenhagen Flames.
I actually think I was doing really well in all of this when I played with Heroic, when we were still a part of RFRSH and their performance team. The way Kasper Hvidt and Lars Robl helped the team really made a huge difference for me as a player
Asger "AcilioN" Larsen
In August 2019, upon joining the team, then ranked 71st in the world, AcilioN set an ambitious, if not a borderline delusional goal of becoming a top-30 team by the end of the year. But the progress was consistent, and before 2019 ended, they were just two ranking points away from their target, with a top-30 place finally secured in February 2020 after they clinched a spot in the Europe Minor Closed Qualifier. This was usually the point when AcilioN's teams go downhill, but instead of a kick, he was offered a way back to the top as the best Danish squad behind Astralis came knocking. "I felt like we did something great in Copenhagen Flames and I was 'rewarded' for the hard work with an offer from MAD Lions," he says.
HUNDEN stepping down and AcilioN taking his spot was, in a way, a poetic "the student has become the master" moment. The 28-year-old in-game leader, who has since become the coach of Heroic, recommended AcilioN as his replacement, leaving him frustrated with the community reaction that followed. Those critics were quickly silenced, though, as the team went on to win Flashpoint 1, with AcilioN leading his team by example in the grand final against MIBR with a 1.45 rating on the last map, Train.
Once again a part of an organization with significant backing, AcilioN feels like he is set up for success. "I really enjoy playing on this team. I have the same feeling that I had on Heroic when we were in RFRSH and also Copenhagen Flames for that matter," he says. "We have a really good team atmosphere. People are honest and we talk about our problems in a really good way."
Getting older has helped me a lot in this regard and I can easily see that I have been way too much to handle on some of my teams
Asger "AcilioN" Larsen
AcilioN is enjoying life on MAD Lions, who look on course to be the first team that he will guide to the top 10 in the world rankings. "I think this will for sure be the best team I have been on," he says. "I think we have so much individual talent as well as tactical depth, which I hope we can show in our upcoming matches".
Whether or not MAD Lions will blossom under AcilioN's leadership will hinge on the 23-year-old's further development, not only as an individual player or in-game leader, but also as a person and a teammate. "Getting older has helped me a lot in this regard and I can easily see that I was way too much to handle on some of my teams," he acknowledges. The work he has done with the team's sports psychologist has given him the tools to avoid falling back into his old habits, but he realistically admits: "Changing something in your personality can be a very hard thing".