flush_entity's first reality - the shaGuar story

The career story of shaGuar, all-time great Canadian Counter-Strike professional player.

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This article was originally published on GameSpot's sister site onGamers.com, which was dedicated to esports coverage.

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"I've failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed."

-Michael Jordan, six time NBA champion.

Griffin Benger is best known to the world as 'flush_entity', winner of millions of dollars in prize money playing in online multi-table poker tournaments and champion of EPT Berlin last year, but once upon a time the Toronto native went by the alias 'shaGuar' and was an idol of Counter-Strike fan around the world, as one of North America's greatest ever professional players.

Along with winning a CPL and a WEG championship, shaGuar was able to record top three finishes at all the biggest tournaments of his era (CPL, WCG, ESWC, WSVG and WEG), helping his teams amass more than $284,000 in prize money won. Known as one of the most flashy and irrepressibly confident players in the game, shaGuar was a driving force behind the zEx team which challenged the North American hegemony of Team3D.

Later, shaGuar would become one of the weapons in the arsenal of the experimental NoA team which blended North American and European players to successfully record back-to-back top two finishes at CPL Winter events, winning the second from the lower bracket, a feat never before accomplished. The star sniper would round out the high profile portion of his CS career playing with Team3D, reviving the aging NA franchise's fortunes for one last run through the majors. His contribution to the field of Counter-Strike frag movies was more subtle than his explosive playing style, but he was one of the pioneers in that field.

shaGuar was one of North America's greatest ever players, accomplished incredible feats and played with a reckless and irresistably exciting style. Yet he was not without flaws, some of which would hinder him on his journey towards becoming a world champion and beyond. His teams were notoriously streaky, matching up with his own battle to commit to a developing a consistent work ethic which could bleed over into the realm of results. There have been more talents in CS than one could number, yet only a select few have been able to put together great resumes by the end of their playing careers.

It took shaGuar five CPL campaigns before he could crack a top two finish. Four times consecutively he unsuccessfully attempted to qualify to represent Canada at the World Cyber Games. Almost four years of competitive play were required before he won a major CS title, finishing second twice before then. shaGuar's career is one littered with disappointments and setbacks, yet in the end his trophy cabinet includes not only WEG and CPL titles, but a WCG bronze medal and a prize money total that places him in the top 50 players of all time, by prize money won.

This is the story of shaGuar's battle against the mentality of the North American Counter-Strike community, his own work ethic and the expectations of what a Canadian CS player could expect to accomplish in the Counter-Strike world.

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"I think it will always be America's curse to rely so heavily on raw individual skill rather than combining that with other aspects of the game that are as important such as teamplay and strats."

-shaGuar on NA teams (ESEA, 2004)

How far will a falling star take me? How far can I go can I go?

Griffin Benger was born the son of Canadian actress Nicky Guadagni, perhaps best known as an actor in the cult sci-fi classic 'Cube'. A devoted fan of Toronto's Maple Leaves ice hockey and Blue Jays baseball franchises, the young Benger was also a fan of comic books, hinting at a side as in line with collecting figurines as sharpening his skates before practice.

Benger's introduction to Counter-Strike came during the beta phase of the game, in its first year of development. Playing at a LAN cafe in his home city of Toronto, Benger initially used the name 'Gr!ff!n" in game, only to later adopt the alias 'shaGuar', referencing the car from the Austin Powers movies, as he made his way into the competitive realm of the game. He would capitalise the G in reference to his original alias.

"I started playing Counter-Strike under the alias “Gr!ff!n” approximately 5 years ago at a local LAN center in downtown Toronto, and moved to “shaGuar” about 1 year into my pubbing/OGL days after I got a rise out of Austin Power’s lame pun of a license plate. I felt it represented a lot of my style of humour, and I was able to throw in a big G in there to never forget my Gr!ff!n roots, and frankly, I don’t wanna sound like a queer or nothin’, but I think jaguars are kickass."

-shaGuar speaks on his alias' origins (2005, Team3D)

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shaGuar's early days as a competitive player are not merely the material of memories, they were documented in a, now infamous, film piece entitled 'first person shooter'. shaGuar's father, Robert Benger, was a veteran TV producer and decided that his son's pastime of playing Counter-Strike amounted to an addiction which threatened both his academic career and relationships with his family. The documentary infamously featured a sequence in which the older Benger recorded shaGuar playing from a LAN cafe, unbeknownst to the younger Benger, over which he narrated lines about his son being a kind of digital junkie, the game acting as "a digital hook in this opium den of the 21st century".

Conclusions manifest, your first impression's got to be your very best.

That documentary would not air on Canadian television until 2002 though, and thus must take a back seat for this portion of the story of shaGuar's career. In late 2001 shaGuar's (i)nfamous team competed at the Canadian World Cyber Games (WCG) qualifier. Losing out in close fashion to Legends never Die (LnD), shaGuar would have to remain on North American soil while the victors flew to South Korea and went on to win the gold medal at the inaugural WCG. The battle to represent Canada in that tournament, often considered the Olympics of gaming, was to be a repeating theme in shaGuar's career, a goal he was ever striving for and yearning to accomplish.

"I was really impressed at LnD's performance at the WCG in 2001, but at the same time extremely disapointed that (i)nfamous didn't have the same opportunity they did. Many people aren't aware that at the Canadian WCG qualifier (i)nfamous had to beat LnD twice in the finals and we beat them once on train like 13-5, and then lost 13-11 on nuke. So the fact that they went to Korea and won the whole thing was really an eye-opener for us. Not to mention the fact Revenge hadn't yet joined the (i)nfamous team at the time of the qualifier."

-shaGuar on LnD's WCG gold medal campaign in 2001 (ESEA, 2004)

shaGuar's first significant tournament, that others may be aware of, was competing at the CPL Winter event for 2001, which took place at the exact same time as the Global Finals of the WCG. The CPL Winter event was, at the time, the largest Counter-Strike tournament ever held, with the most money in the prize pool. With $50,000 going to the winners, the tournament drew elite teams from around the world to compete for the top spot.

shaGuar's (i)famous team were nobodies, so even reaching the top 16 and then losing was a respectable debut into the top tier of the competitive scene. The team's only losses had come to European competition, being beaten by the primarily Swedish SK team and Denmark's SoA, who had finished runners-up at the previous European CPL.

"Well, unlike most people I didn't have the "privilege" of starting from the bottom and working my way up (although I've drastically improved as a player and in accomplishments since my days in 1stwave). I didn't start in the open or even main division of CAL, I was discovered by the leader of ex CAL-i clan (i)nfamous at a LAN center, and played my first CAL match in the Invite division. After a mediocre 13-16th CPL placing, and lack of dedication from the other (i)nfamous members, myself, SpaceGhost, and Revenge decided to start fresh with a new team we created named '1st wave'.

[...]

I guess it was around that post CPL Winter 2001 time, when I realized how close we were skill wise not only to the top American teams, but also to the Europeans"

-shaGuar (ESEA, 2004)

A fairy tale I purchased on my own.

shaGuar moved on from (i)famous, along with team-mate and fellow Canadian revenge, to create first Wave (1st~). The team made an immediate impact in their debut CAL Invite Season, the highest level of online competition in North American CS, defeating the mighty X3, who had finished runners-up at the CPL Winter event and dominated the North American scene for an entire year. 1st~, led by all-star level sniping with the AWP from shaGuar, handed X3 the largest loss of their CAL careers, taking them down 21:3 on aztec. X3 would crumble apart and fracture off into other teams within the following weeks, but the result had helped make a mark for shaGuar, who had released the POV (Point of View) demo for fans to view.

"We felt relatively confident against X3 especially starting on the stronger side of such a lopsided map like de_aztec. The key moment was definitely the 5th or 6th round where we had just lost our 1st round the round before and I asked the entire team whether or not I should buy an AWP. They said I should and after that it was smooth sailing as soon as I realized my AWP was on, picking 2-3 of them off across the bridge every round."

-shaGuar on 1st~'s win over X3 (ESEA, 2004)

shaGuar's own team would not last much longer in its current incarnation, as he assessed it to be lacking and left to find a team capable of becoming elite in North America. That departure took him to join up with DarkSide (D|S), who were scooping up skilled players and would also beat X3 that season. The team even acquired X3 star Ksharp for a time, but itself fell apart and saw its players spread to the many corners of the North American scene.

"DarkSide was a futile effort to bring together pretty much the top 7 players in the Eastern/Central US community at the time (excluding Rambo and Bullseye). Names like Ksharp, br0nx, da_bears, Jaden, shaGuar, Revenge, grasle... it was a pretty huge roster filled with a lot of talent. But when you have 7 players like that competing for starting spots, it becomes a popularity contest rather than a clan, and it was best it fell through."

-shaGuar on his time in DarkSide (ESEA, 2004)

The water is much deeper than I thought.

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After the failure of DarkSide, shaGuar took a 1st~ line-up to the CPL Summer event in June of 2002. Again he would leave Dallas with a top 16 placing but no more. One of his losses had again come at the hands of top Swedish players, being knocked out of the upper bracket by vesslan's esports united (esu) team, who went on to finish third overall, but the killing blow was delivered by gatekeepers of the NA top tier Texas Area Untouchables (TAU), a now decaying but once top team.

Three months later, at the end of September, shaGuar embarked on a second WCG qualifier campaign. This time LnD would not be standing in his way, as their gold medal finish in Korea had earned them an autoberth to the next Global Final, so the way seemed open for shaGuar to finally earn a spot himself. Playing with long time team-mate Revenge and some players from Canadian team 2c, he lost to the unknown nerve in the final, again being denied the lone Canadian spot for the Global Finals.

nerve would, that November, repeat the feat of LnD the year earlier, reaching the final of WCG, but fell there and returned home with the silver medal. Not only was shaGuar being frustrated at the qualifiers, he was being eclipsed in career accomplishments by fellow Canadians. bl00dsh0t, who had emerged as the star player for nerve at that WCG, would go to play a role later on in shaGuar's career story.

"I've always considered it a missed opportunity, and it seems that the decisions I made regarding a new team to send to the next WCG qualifier have failed miserably."

-shaGuar on not qualifying for WCG (ESEA, 2004)

Back in online competition, shaGuar and revenge joined up with zEx, a team of rising talent who had narrowly lost to America's top team (TSO) at the CPL and made a surprising run in the previous season's CAL Invite online competition to lose in overtime to the new elite team in the region, Team3D. Adding in shaGuar and revenge immediately put zEx into the realm of becoming one of the new elite teams in North America.

In Season six of CAL Invite zEx consistently beat out all who faced them, losing only in the semi-finals, to boms' W.E.W. side. Due to the nature of their results, even beating Team3D on nuke, the team were labeled onliners, the implication being that they cheated with configuration settings or outright used illegal third-party software. Overcoming this reputation, and Team3D, would be one of the first challenges shaGuar would face in his career. Team3D was a line-up stacked with star players, including steel, fellow Canadian and winner of the 2001 WCG gold medal.

I got my head done, when I was young. It's not my problem.

Even worse than the stigma of possibly being cheaters, shaGuar had suffered some humiliation with the airing of his father's documentary a few months prior, as the Counter-Strike community got a chance to view a younger Griffin's troubled relationship with his perhaps misguided father. It's an episode shaGuar long sought to put behind him, but which would be referenced repeatedly over the years in interviews and on forums.

"I'm not going to openly bash my father's work, nor am I going to justify my/his actions to hundreds of readers. The fact of the matter was that he wanted to better understand a world he could never even comprehend, but in doing so he was already so bias towards one side of the argument that no matter what he discovered it was going to make me look like the bad guy.

In reality, my proclaimed "obsession" with Counter-Strike was simply my ambition to become the gamer I am slowly hoping to eventually become 5, maybe 10 years from now. If all that time, money, and effort I've invested into professional gaming becomes pointless, then so be it, but otherwise, that phase in my life was a necessary step to get where I am today and where I plan to be in the future."

-shaGuar addressing the topic of the 'first person shooter' documentary (ESEA, 2004)

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You have a chance to really shine now

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Going into the CPL Winter event, in December of 2002, zEx were not a name many expected much from, both due to their reputation as online only stars and the packed field of top European teams attending. Matters were made considerably worse when the bracket draw showed zEx in the stacked bottom half of the bracket, containing a wealth of Scandinavian teams, and facing a potential second round match-up against eoLithic (eoL), considered the best team in Europe and, by proxy, the world.

The tournament began shakily for shaGuar and the gang, only narrowly escaping a first round overtime game against utopian, who featured fellow Canadian player styka. Winning that game had put zEx into the next round and, as expected, they now faced XeqtR's eoL team. eoLithic had won the MindTrekLAN CPL qualifier in Europe, and some of their members had won the previous European CPL. Most were tipping them as favourites to win the entire event outright, so beating down zEx was not expected to be much of a feat for the Norwegian side.

As the game unfolded that proved to be more than just inaccurate as analysis though, as zEx were testing the Norwegians in the train game. The team made up of five players who had all won a European CPL title in their careers, were shocked to find the game at 12:11 for the North American side, one round left to be played. The final round boiled down to a one-versus-one between eoL's Damien and zEx's sunman. sunman was the very player to whom most of the criticism of being an online superstar had gone, now he was tasked with defeating this skilled European player or seeing the game go to overtime.

Damien had been one-versus-two with the bomb, playing on the terrorist side. After he planted it at the outer bombsite, he moved around to the backalley area and killed revenge. sunman, who would go on to establish himself as one of the all-time great clutch players throughout his career, was 1v1 and moved to begin defusing, a common ploy to try and draw out the terrorist, for fear of the bomb being defused. Damien did not take the bait, instead waiting at the backalley area, behind the wall. sunman had little time left, came off the bomb and shot an AWP bullet through two walls, amazingly hitting and killing Damien, then defused the bomb. zEx had beaten the tournament's favourites 13:11 and knocked them to the lower bracket.

"At CPL Winter 2002 with zEx, there was only one team that I feared playing: eoLithic. All of us agreed that was the only team at the event we actually 'feared'. However, ironically enough, we ended up playing eoL very early in the winner’s bracket, and came out on top 13-11 in arguably one of the most exciting and random matches in Counter-Strike history. "

-shaGuar (ESEA, 2005)

In the next round shaGuar got a chance to exact some revenge for the previous CPL, convincingly beating vesslan's esu team on aztec. That saw zEx breaking into the final six teams remaining in the tournament, reaching the rarified air of the upper bracket semi-finals. The stacked route only continued to present top tier opposition though, and the superstar Nordic Game onLine (GoL) side presented a truly formidable challenge.

I, like a rock, sink. Sinking 'til I hit the bottom.

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Containing players with elite tier experience and talent to match, GoL was powered by young Norwegian star elemeNt. zEx were not only beaten, in an admittedly close 10:13 match, but shaGuar suffered the humiliation of dying at his own hands not once, but twice, during the match. The first instance had shaGuar taking out a flashbang while moving up a ladder, a scenario known to occasionally cause a bug where the player would become stuck and unable to move. This caused shaGuar to crash out of the game, leaving his team 4v5. His team had been up 3:0 on their CT side at the time, the half would end with them only at 6:6, on a heavily CT-sided map.

Later in the game zEx again led, 3:2 in the second half, for 9:8 overall, and shaGuar was in a 1v1 with element, holding an AWP, the most expensive weapon used in the metagame at the time. shaGuar inexplicably cratered (died due to falling and suffering too much fall damage), losing the round for his team. In a game which would end with such a close scoreline, shaGuar's deaths showed a little inexperience on his part, perhaps overeager and too impatient.

zEx dropped down to the lower bracket, where another Scandinavian side awaited them. Losing to SpawN and ahl's team9, zEx had finished top six but would not crack the top four. They lost 11:13 to boms and method's W.E.W. in the fifth place decider, bringing what had been a thrilling and unexpected run to a close with three straight losses. His domestic rivalry and mission to prove himself the best Canadian player seemed a subplot due to be written out of his story, as steel won that CPL event, making himself the first CS player to win both a WCG and CPL title. shaGuar was far from being able to compare himself to the absolute besy, even domestically.

It's like no matter what I do, I can't convince you, to just believe this is real.

The next season of CAL Invite had zEx again running through the competition, only to see the season end the same way, losing to boms' W.E.W. side in the semi-final, in March of 2003. At the end of the month shaGuar released his first Counter-Strike highlight movie, entitled 'final reality'. Mixing humour with high level footage, this was one of the earliest highlight movies centered around a professional player that could actually be considered good, both in terms of the footage used and the editing effects. It would be the first collaboration between shaGuar and movie-maker Sebastien 'seb' Poirier.

shaGuar was one of the first players to figure out that by releasing POV demos of good individual performances, a player could transform himself into a star at a much faster rate than simply through results and excellent play. There were many players with skill back then, but most top players actively sought to avoid releasing their demos, either not wanting to feed into more obsessive side of fandom or being worried that opponents would watch them and pick up tips on how to play them in official games. shaGuar not only released good demos, ensuring fans saw his talent as immense, but by releasing a movie of top notch quality, established himself worldwide as a fan favourite.

In early April zEx attended the LanTactics event, taking along shaGuar's friend and long time multi-gaming star destrukt, as Volcano could not attend. The team went undefeated, beating top NA sides GX and TEC on their way to the title. It had not been close to a major event, lacking reigning CPL champions 3D and any European competition, but it had been a chance for zEx and shaGuar to prove themselves offline against other top North American competition.

And I know I may end up failing too. But I know you were just like me with someone disappointed in you.

In late April zEx brought in the services of boms, former leader of W.E.W. and fifth place finisher at the previous CPL event. boms brought leadership to a team still looking for a way to break into the pack of contenders for a major event. It was also a problem that the CPL had implemented a rule change which saw an age restriction placed on their next CPL event, scheduled for that Summer. This would mean that Volcano, who had played with the team at the Winter event, would be unable to compete. In light of this the team's acquisition of boms would allow them to still play, so they removed Volcano from the active line-up and began practicing with boms for the Summer's circuit of events.

In CAL Invite zEx reached the semi-final of the online competition yet again, but this time shaGuar progressed to his first CAL-i final, defeating 3D in a tight 13:11 train game. Before he could play the final he competed with zEx at the offline Eastern USA qualifier for the Esports World Cup (ESWC), a major event to be held in France in the latter part of July. With 3D declining to attempt qualification, due to being burned at another French event earlier in the year, zEx won the qualifier and secured a spot for the finals in France.

Along the way they had even had to beat Volcano, who had been playing for RDW, since he could technically play in the French event, if he qualified, even if he couldn't compete in the CPL after. That would prove significant later in the story. Back online zEx faced method's Gamers-X (GX) team in the final of CAL Invite. The team gathered together in a LAN center to attempt to win their first CAL title, but found themselves packeted and facing ping problems. This resulted in a 0:12 CT first half. Even with a rally in the second half, they fell 6:13 and saw the title slip past them.

A different motive in your eyes and now I’m out.

More frustrating than the internet problems alone had been the circumstances of their opponents refusing to allow a rematch the game, despite a similar situation occuring between the two teams at LanTactics a few months prior. In that LAN final GX had experienced computer crashes, but zEx had allowed them to start the game over on a strange pistol round at 12:9 for zEx, despite knowing that if the other team won the round then, due to the nature of the money system, they would be almost certain to win the two following rounds and tie the game. zEx ended up winning anyway and it was all forgotten, until GX now decided not to return the favour in the CAL final.

Everything is better. A chance for me to open up and grow.

Before shaGuar and zEx could fly out to France for ESWC, they were struck with news of revenge having visa issues, preventing him from joining them overseas. As a result they decided to call Volcano back into the starting line-up and flew out to France with him. At the event the team initially seemed uncomfortable, barely beating Turkey's unknown AllStrike team in the first group stage, despite the format being Mr15 (Maxrounds 15) as opposed to Mr12, which should have heavily favoured the better team. Those nerves seemed to settle as the team beat GX and the bsl-led MiBR in the second group stage, also tying with France's intensity.

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The quarter-final match against 4kings presented a first significant test, as the UK team were considered one of the best teams outside of Scandinavia and had finished 6th at the CPL the previous Summer, narrowly losing to champions SK.sca on the way. This match was light work for zEx, pushing aside 4kings and moving into the semi-final. Their opponent there was SK.swe, considered by many to be potentially the best team in the world.

SK had already been a top team, led by HeatoN and Potti, the two greatest winners in the game's history at that point in time, but they had recently added Norwegian star elemeNt, who had finished runner-up at two American CPLs already. This final piece was expected to propel SK into a dominant position in the CS world. They had finished third at Clikarena a few months earlier, but that had been as a result of elemeNt's eoLithic team denying them a finals spot against 9.esu, vesslan's side who they seemingly always beat. Now zEx would need to drop another world contender, similar to their task against eoL in December, if they hoped to advance on in the competition.

Back off I’ll take you on. Headstrong to take on anyone.

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The map was to be train, which meant elemeNt would sit out and SK would use AWPer brunk, since they had not practiced enough on train with the Norwegian yet. The first half began with zEx on the CT side, which on train amounts to one of the most dominant sides in the game, and getting a very solid 10 rounds. Swapping over SK won the pistol round, opening the door for them to run up their own score of CT rounds. Back then, with a different money system and no light rifles (galils), losing the pistol almost certainly assured the opponent the following two rounds, as your team saved for better weapons to use on the fourth round.

On the second round zEx gambled, buying desert eagles and rushed inside, with sunman pulling off some heroic actions, killing rifle-carrying SK players. zEx took the round and would feed off the energy and momentum shift, the Swedish players still in disbelief, to take the game 16:7. Their win over eoLithic had been narrow and followed with a disappointing finish, now shaGuar and his team-mates had taken down the tournament favourites and were headed to the final of a major CS tournament!

Was this over before, before it ever began?

The opponent in the final was vesslan's team9 side, winners of Clikarena a few months prior. This Swedish side was quite different from the one he had taken to CPL Winter and lost to shaGuar with, he had hand-picked rising talent to suit the different roles he had in mind for his strategical machine. vesslan was one of the first truly great in-game leaders, understanding the basic principles of how to execute tactics and build a team like few others. Crucially, for this match, he was one of the first to entirely understand the subtleties of the money system in Counter-Strike.

Some peculiarities of the way it worked meant that the Terrorist side could save out rounds, hiding and not being killed, so as to starve the CT side, which were winning the rounds, of money. This meant that on any round the terrorists were not certain they could win, they would save out and wait for a better opportunity. A mixture of this approach, more competitive experience and simply being a superior team allowed team9 to strangle the life out of zEx throughout the final. The Swedish side won 16:7 and shaGuar was forced to taste defeat in his first major final.

Still, his team had exceeded expectations and slain another top European side. They returned home to North America to much fanfare and applause from their fans. shaGuar was no longer merely battling to prove himself one of North America's best, now he was a real player on the international stage.

"I think the moment I believed I was one of the best players in the world was when zEx scrimmed against the CS titans of 2003, SK, in the tournament area of ESWC right before our quarter finals match vs 4Kings, and I dropped something like 25 frags against them T side. That was a huge personal boost for me, especially going into the match against them on de_train, where the entire team played an excellent game, but most notably Justin (sunman)."

-shaGuar (Team3D, 2005)

Everyone in this town is seeing somebody else. Everybody's tired of someone.

zEx went to the CPL Summer event considered a dark horse to potentially win it, certainly one of North America's best hopes. Seeded 5th, they should have been assured a deep run in the tournament, but that was not to be. The opening game against Ownij was an overtime grindfest, as zEx were clearly the better team but rookie rising star Ph33R refused to let the other team lose, repeatedly playing to a high level.

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After pulling through, a big win over French team GoodGame put shaGuar and company into the upper bracket quarter-final. There they faced a-Losers, starring Johnny_R, Blizzard and neo, three Germans who would all figure as stars for mousesports during their careers. a-Losers handled zEx 13:3 and sent them to the lower bracket.

For the second straight CPL, shaGuar had to suffer elimination in his first lower bracket game, losing an overtime game to Funk's Forsaken team on cbble, a huge upset by all accounts. zEx had finished 9th-12th, far outside of their expected landing point. Where before the tournament shaGuar had expressed that there were only three other NA teams worth practicing (GX, TEC and 3D), the top eight of the event saw Forsaken, RDW and e7 joining 3D as North American teams in the final eight teams remaining.

Since it had already been announced that boms would substitute in for Team3D at the 2003 USA qualifier for the WCG, being as they still had Canadian steel in their line-up, and zEx had finished outside of the top eight, while 3D had finished third, it was expected that boms would join the top NA team outright, assuming he passed his trial. This roster instability, coupled with the failure at the CPL, saw that zEx line-up disband before the month had come to an end.

"I think for the majority of the members of zEx, that team was really a "breakout clan" for most of the individuals within the team. It was the first team for almost every player that was ever really considered an actual "contender" for 3D's title of being the best North American clan. However what I learned most from zEx was how to win and keep winning, and bring that mentality and desire into matches against teams that would normally often be considered the better team (eoLithic, 3D, 4K, SK etc...)"

[...]

zEx simply fell victim to high individual expectations. It's very difficult to go into an event with a clear head when you are fully aware that one of your members (boms) intends to leave the team regardless of placement. It is especially difficult considering boms was the self-proclaimed leader and strat caller of the team. We had no real drive as a team for that event, and hadn't put in any practice since our success at ESWC. That was one event where I knew we wouldn't break the top 5, regardless of the level of skill each of us had individually."

-shaGuar on zEx (ESEA, 2004)

Where will I be? I guess I'm on the run and time is catching up behind me.

A couple of weeks after leaving zEx, shaGuar joined up with Team Stomping Grounds (TSG), in early September. Joining him in the team were not only former zEx team-mates Volcano and sunman, but also ex-W.E.W. and GX star method, a player famed for his incredible aim and skill. Just over a week later, shaGuar began his third WCG qualification campaign. For this year's qualifier he seemed certain to finally accomplish his goal of reaching the WCG Global Finals.

Rather than join up with another Canadian team, as he had done in the previous year, shaGuar had been able to assemble an all-star cast of Canadian FPS players. Since LnD had only reunited for the previous year's WCG due to having a free autoberth sending them to Korea again, Team3D's steel was a free agent, having been in the American team for over a year now. shaGuar hoped to convince steel to join up with the core he had gotten together of himself, revenge and w!$eGUy. The latter had competed at a high level in more than one FPS title, winning QuakeCon in Return to Castle Wolfenstein and having played on the RDW CS team which had played the legendary champions NiP closely at CPL Winter 2001.

The snag was that steel wanted to bring in reek, former team-mate from LnD, while shaGuar had been considering styka for the final spot. With steel as the greatest Canadian CS player in history, to that point in time, and having finished top three at the last two CPLs, shaGuar agreed to his terms and thus the 'Canadian Dream Team' (CDT) was born. The name was initially intended in good humour, but it seemed apt enough that people ran with it as a serious title.

I'm spinning out of control. Out of control.

At a pre-qualifier for WCG Canada, in mid September, shaGuar played with a mix-team of CDT players and DeadZone players, going under the tag CDZ. styka had publicly complained that he should have been featured in CDT, but this result seemed to show otherwise. In the final they defeated styka's Team 2D. The debate was to be brought back to life soon enough though.

A week later, at the finals for WCG Canada, the full CDT line-up again defeated Team 2D, crushing them in the upper bracket. Losing to the Evil Geniuses team led by Stevenson (the renamed bl00dsh0t), CDT fell to the other bracket and were there eliminated in a close 10:13 loss to 2D. The team's name was cited in derision by fans who both reveled in a team with that name failing to win the qualifier, or even place top two, and that they had ultimately been eliminated by styka's team.

"Sometimes you get the lucky breaks, sometimes you don't. It's Counter-Strike, it's as simple as that. We had a great team filled with skill, experience, and maturity, no different than NoA. The reason styka was so adament about not being involved was because he was originally supposed to be on a WCG team with myself and Revenge, but in order for steel to come on board reek was extra baggage. And as far as I'm concerned if you essentially get mauled one game 13-4 and then barely squeak by the same team on a different map 13-10, doesn't mean you're the better team because you beat them later on in the tournament :).

I think if we had played the opponents that we had played on different maps, and had practiced at all 2 weeks prior to the event (with the release of CS 1.6 we didn't want to get too used to that version of the game, and it ended up being our downfall because we'd messed up our practice schedule) cdt could have been as successful or more so than NoA. But with that said, there is no point in making excuses, it was clear that at the time EG was the best team in Canada, and they remain to be to this day, with EG a close second."

-shaGuar on CDT (ESEA, 2004)

For accomplished player steel, the experience had been a highly negative one, later citing shaGuar's poor work ethic in practicing for the event, suggesting the former zEx star had imagined his all-star team would win it easily, as one of the primary factors behind their failure to qualify.

"I've not much to say about that [WCG qualifier], it was obvious EG was more deserving of attendance that year and I'll think twice (probably not even consider it at all) before I embark on another babysitting adventure, without naming anyone. CDT was basically 4 people willing to work together and one baby not really doing anything useful."

-steel on CDT (ESEA, 2004)

In early October shaGuar's second movie was release, this time a team movie revolving around zEx's ESWC runner-up campaign from that Summer. Another collaboration with seb, the movie again helped build shaGuar's image as a top player and contributor to the community.

You want the one that made the worlds collide.

After weeks of speculation, it was announced on November 26th that shaGuar was part of a new experimental line-up called NoA. The team blended the North American talents of shaGuar and method, who departed from TSG, with the Norwegian trio of bsl, knoxville and Naikon. Team's name came at the suggestion of shaGuar, who had made up a list of 30 or so names, with that being the least objectionable for his team-mates. A suggestion on the list had been "The Alchemists Unleashed".

The three Norwegians had played together earlier in their careers, notably finishing 9th-12th at the CPL Summer event of 2002. Then knoxville and Naikon had been members of the eoLithic teams which had been elite contenders in Europe, while bsl went off to play with MiBR in Brazil, teaching the Brazilians the European approach to CS.

Prior to the official announcement, the team's players had relocated to California for practice at the Gamers-X LAN center, sometimes practicing there alongside vesslan's Adrenaline[GX] team, who had moved out to the USA to practice for the upcoming CPL Winter event and CXG tournaments.

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"Method was the first one [to join]. 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."

-bsl on NoA's origins (SK Gaming, 2009)

The team had also flown out to Brazil to bootcamp with MiBR, but that early practice proved far from fruitful in terms of building their confidence as a top team or convincing them that they would be able to do serious damage on the Winter's tournament circuit.

"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. "

-bsl (SK Gaming, 2009)

shaGuar released a POV demo of himself playing in a public server, going 58-9 on the scoreboard and displaying dazzling AWPing, so the public were understandably hyped at the potential of this unique combination of players.

Breaking me down to the ground sweet baby. Breaking me down to the ground.

Before the team could attend the CPL Winter event, they first attempted to qualify for the Cyber X Games (CXG), an event promising $100,000 for first place, to be held in January of the next year. At a West coast qualifier for the event NoA made their first public outing, only to be shockingly upset 14:16 on train by local mixteam zero Respect (zR), which were made up of Forsaken players who would later go on to put a similar line-up in place for Rival and record back-to-back CPL third places the following year. At the time though, they were just a mix-team of friends competing at West coast LANs.

The qualifier itself was never completed, being cancelled after a dispute led to one participants pulling out a gun. Not only was the event infamous for that incident, but NoA had no chance to potentially redeem themselves, most assumed they were set for a terrible placing at the CPL two weeks later. As hyped as fans had been about the experimental line-up, it appeared the experiment was set to be a failure,

Too much is made of what's in me. Not enough about how I strive.

"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."

-bsl on NoA's CPL Winter team (SK Gaming, 2009)

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Seeded 27th, NoA had to face destrukt's e7 team in only the second round of the upper bracket. shaGuar was able upset his good friend's team, winning a close 13:10 game on train. The Forsaken line-up they faced next was considerably different from the one which had eliminated shaG's zEx from the previous CPL. Future coL players Storm and warden were joined by some of the players who had made up the zR team which had upset NoA at the CXG qualifier. NoA exacted sweet revenge by returning the favour, winning an overtime 16:14 game on mill.

The Swedish team (Team64) who were next in line in the bracket were one of the scariest going into the event, led by star player Hyper and vilden, the team had finished runners-up at the recent European CPL and been the first team to ever defeat the dominant SK.swe in an offline game since the start of the previous CPL. Winning that game at the Swedish CXG qualifier and playing SK closely at the CPL, this team, formerly known as Gamepoint[EYE], were expected to be fighting for first place at the event. Nevertheless, NoA continued to impress, crushing the Swedes 13:5 on cbble.

"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."

-bsl on shaGuar (SK Gaming, 2009)

There must be something more. Bring me to life.

In the upper bracket semi-final, shaGuar's second ever appearance at that phase of a CPL, the opponent was to be Adrenaline[gx], the team considered the A team of the organisation NoA were a part of. Going into the event Adrenaline were considered the second best team in the world, having won ESWC and lost to SK in the final of the CPL that Summer. This was the team which had beaten shaG's zEx comprehensively in the ESWC final, albeit with a few changes to the line-up. Based on practice alone, NoA was expected to lose. The game was to be played on nuke, a map Swedish teams and those more tactically-orientated have always specialised in.

The match was a one-sided affair, but with NoA the team doing all the damage. A monster CT side spurred them on to a 13:2 rout over vesslan and company. This CPL had begun with little expectations of serious success, but now shaGuar was admist a Cinderella run beyond even the marvels of his previous CPL and ESWC upsets. He was now assured a top three finish, finally cracking the top five for the first time in his career.

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In the upper bracket final NoA faced SK.swe, the team who had won three significant events undefeated (CPL Summer, WCG and CPL Copenhagen). elemeNt's men were now the dominant force their line-up had promised to become going into the ESWC where shaGuar and his fellow North Americans had managed to upset them. NoA's magic would not work against this near-mythical opponent. Despite the final scoreline seeming close, at 10:13, shaG and the gang had lose the first half 2:10 and fought simply to get back in the game.

In the lower bracket final another strong European side awaited, in the form of mousesports (mouz). This line-up was considered a dream team of players from the German scene, featuring the talents of Blizzard, Johnny_R and neo, who had all impressed with a fourth place finish at CPL Summer, with the mouz main-stays of gore and Roman R. The ex-a-Losers trio had beaten shaG at the aforementioned CPL, so defeating them in another 13:2 wonder match on nuke allowed him yet more revenge on past foes. Somehow NoA would be battling SK in the final. shaGuar would be playing his second major final of his career, both coming within a six month time span.

The final was a repeat affair of the ESWC final for shaGuar, losing heavily on dust2 and being manhandled by a superior European team. A magical CPL run, collecting more top teams's scalps, but the ending had seen shaGuar denied a major title. The run had been truly miraculous in its nature, seeing NoA dominating CT sides and winning an incredible 12/16 pistol rounds (75%). The experiment had been a success and fans looked to NoA as a team with the potential to one day be the best team, certainly a legitimate contender to the dominance of SK.swe.

"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."

-bsl (SK Gaming, 2009)

The CPL had fans excited to see what would happen as all of the teams competed again at CXG in January, but the event proved to be an organisational failure and the tournament was canceled on location, with all of the teams present in Vegas.

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All this time I can't believe I couldn't see. Kept in the dark but you were there in front of me.

At the close of 2003 shaGuar had furnished the community with an article outlining the problems with the money system, having seen vesslan's team9 and elemeNt's SK.swe abuse it to perfection to win all four of the majors, between them. This would eventually lead Valve to pursue changes to the system, making it more profitable to plant the bomb, amongst other things. The article was well received, opening many people's eyes to the problems that had existed in the economical side of the game.

The downside of the cross-continental nature of NoA's line-up was that after major events they would return to their respective continents, meaning they could not practice or compete online in the meantime. During the downtime of early 2004 the team decided to remove bsl, a move made official on the 28th of March. Speculation followed in the coming weeks that the team were to add elemeNt, lynch-pin of the SK.swe dynasty, to the team, the Norwegian having become close friends with method at the previous CPL. In late April this was officially announced as happening, a move which looked to both weaken SK and make NoA potential world beaters.

"Sadly, I think I've really given up on the North American CS community. It's no coincidence I sacrificed so much to get the opportunity to play alongside top European CS players, and I'm more than grateful for being offered that opportunity and taking the risk, if we had placed top 3 or even not even break the top 15 at CPL. I've learned alot from the Norwegians, especially knoxville, and it's not a 1 paragraph lesson, I can guarantee that :)."

-shaGuar (2004)

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On the 29th of April shaGuar was again involved in a movie release, 'The Fellowship of NoA' centered around the play of his team at the CXG qualifier and CPL Winter. Despite working with only a few demos, the movie again established a level of quality and consistency not often seen in highlight movies of the day. NoA were firm fan favourites, especially amongst those hoping to see someone knock off the dominant SK side.

Due to the ESWC USA qualifier rules requiring a team to have three players from the region in the line-up, NoA took in Rival talent destructo to attend the event in June. They destroyed all opponents en route to the final, including Volcano and sunman's TSG in the upper bracket. A final rematch against TSG, with the underdog needing to win two maps to NoA's, they lost the opener in an overtime train game, but won a 13:10 second map to clinch top spot at the qualifier. The first event for the elemeNt era line-up had been a successful for shaGuar's side, even if it was only a domestic qualifier.

Without a soul my spirit's sleeping somewhere cold.

In early July, a month after the qualifier, shaGuar headed out to France for ESWC. The first group stage this time proved a simple affair, trampling over the opponents there. The second group stage became a nightmare immediately though. Losing to TSG, the then unknown Russians of Virtus.Pro and only managing to beat the Norwegian Clan-IT, NoA were unable to progress to the bracket stage. shaGuar's team had established themselves as potential world champions at the CPL, now they had been expected to make good on that potential, especially with 2003 player of the year elemeNt in their ranks. Instead, they had failed to even finish top eight at their first major tournament.

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Less than a week later, the team attended EverLAN, in Colorado. Rampaging through the group stage they ran right into a quarter-final against TEC which was unexpectedly tricky. The American underdogs, powered by star elude, had only narrowly lost the first map 11:13 to shaG's international contender. The second map, nuke, should have been the closer for NoA, being their best map and TEC's worst. Rather, it proved bizarrely unwinnable for the CPL runners-up, going into quintruple overtime before being snatched away by TEC. In the third map NoA overcame their struggles to smash the opposition 13:2 and reach the semi-finals.

The semi-final opponent was united5 and many looked at this match as the 'true' final, with the teams on the other side of the bracket considered weaker. That seemed an accurate analysis as the series opened with NoA losing train 11:13. Winning inferno by a reasonably comfortable margin set the stage for a decider on nuke, the map NoA had previously prided themselves on but had lost in this tournament to TEC.

The decider was won by NoA 13:5, but not without the controversy of a flashbug round being disputed back and forth. NoA's players maintained the flashbug, which occured when a flashbang was thrown under a box in the ramp room by the terrorists, triggering a bug which blinded everyone in there, had been accidentally triggered. Somehow they had won out in their battle with the admins, perhaps star power playing an influencing role, and shaGuar's men had followed up a strong terrorist half by closing the map and the series out.

The final, against Stevenson's Evil Geniuses, was no contest at all, NoA winning 13:2 and 13:3 to clinch the LAN title. It had only been another domestic event, no European teams in attendance, but at least NoA could feel better going into the CPL Summer event than they would have coming solely off their ESWC disappointment.

"After ESWC we were all really down [...] this is really what we needed, going into CPL, knowing that we can still play against the best, compete against the best and beat the best"

-shaGuar on EverLAN (iTG, 2004)

We're not the same. We're not the same. We're not the same.

Seeded second for the CPL Summer event in late July, NoA still had fans hoping their ESWC mishaps had been merely early teething problems. Their performance at EverLAN gave reason to believe that this could be shaGuar's first ever major event victory, going in as a true favourite. Such hopes were immediately shattered by shaGuar finding himself on the wrong end of one of the all-time CPL upsets, losing in the opening game to TAU 11:13 on inferno.

That TAU team were a mix line-up of players, none of whom had accomplished anything of note at international players and most of whom were still looking for a break into the top tier of the game. When the first game of the lower bracket, against the equally unimpressive GameWyze, had shaGuar and his friends scraping through 13:11 on mill, having to claw back from a 2:10 first half, NoA found themselves leaking blood into the water, clearly wounded and far from the intimidating presence they should have been.

Beating bsl's TAG team led into an overtime battle against 4Kings, winning after two overtime sessions, NoA were into the final 12 teams in the tournament, but they had struggled to even reach this point. Meeting the Rival line-up which contained four of the five players who had beaten them back as zero Respect, in late 2003, shaGuar found himself eliminated in another 9th-12th finish at a CPL Summer event, still yet to crack the top eight at a Summer edition of CPL. The Rival game had been another overtime match, this time shaGuar's team the losers after two extended sessions.

NoA had struggled in all but one of their matches, the dream of being world beaters seemed all but over. Consecutive failures to reach top eight in major tournaments had the world wondering what the future was for a team that came with a pricey laundry list of expenses, needing to be flown half way across the globe to practice together and attend events. Perhaps the previous line-up had possessed some unique chemistry. Perhaps their CPL Winter run had been a fluke, a one-off never to be repeated. Perhaps they simply weren't that good. Nobody knew what was wrong with that NoA line-up, but everyone could sense that something was.

Can't give what you want from me baby. Hell... just let it go.

A month and a half after that tragic CPL Summer run, shaGuar was to attend his fourth WCG Canada qualifier. Playing with the Canadian team utopiaN, shaGuar's team proved to be one of the best in attendance, reaching an expect match against Stevenson's Evil Geniuses in the upper bracket final. Winning in overtime there, shaGuar could be forgiven for imagining he was going to finally overcome Stevenson and reach the Global Finals, that year to be held in San Francisco, after back-to-back failed attempts against that opponent, and three straight years of disappointment in total.

Instead, EG came back to win two maps from the lower bracket and seize the spot. Denied so many times and with so many different line-ups, it's easy to understand why shaGuar felt frustrated at his results in his native country. Internationally he had proven himself as one of the world's best players and reached major finals, but back in Canada he was constantly denied his dream of attending gaming's equivalent to the Olympics.

"In regards to EG's performance at last year's WCG Finals, they know as I do that they didn't deserve to be there. Not only didn't they practice at all for the qualifier, they barely practiced for the event itself. They SHOULDN'T have won (de_cbble in the finals, real classy WCG Canada, real classy), so their piss poor result didn't surprise me."

-shaGuar (2005)

Time won't heal this damage anymore. Don't turn your back on me. I won't be ignored.

During September, the same month of the WCG Canada qualifier, shaGuar was indirectly involved in another movie release. Ruination, by reflex, was to become considered one of the best CS movies of all time, and, as few know, it was shaGuar who had helped reflex out in getting a number of the POV demos featured in the movie, including contributing a stunning train clip of his own. The two would later collaborate on a sequel to shaGuar's final reality, so the seeds of that venture were seemingly sown here.

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In early October NoA had attended OsloLAN, in the native Norway of three of their players. Playing without shaGuar or Naikon, they took ahl, SK player and friend of elemeNt, along with XeqtR, legendary Norwegian player and champion of both CPL and ESWC, as stand-ins. In the final they were beaten by walle and Bullen's spiXel team. After this result it was decided that knoxville would stand down and go inactive, handing over leadership to XeqtR. shaGuar and Naikon rejoined the team and they attended Nollelva, in Sweden, at the very end of October.

Losing to the newly Hyper-captained SK.swe in the upper bracket, the team progressed through the lower bracket to battle spiXel, only to lose a close 13:16 game and finish fourth overall. It was decided to make XeqtR a permanent addition to the team, giving him full control over how they would practice for the upcoming CPL.

Over the previous months, shaGuar had been making up for the lack of online competition for NoA by playing with his friends in 2D, competing in the CAL Premier (CAL-p) league, the secondary division of online play in North American CS. With him away in Norway, competing at Nollelva, 2D had lost in the upper bracket, but came back to the final and now needed to win twice against Green Berets (GB) to win the league.

shaGuar was back in North America to play in that final, late in November, and had been playing his CAL games under the alias "Mad Martigan", referencing the character player by Val Kilmer in the classic 80s fantasy film 'Willow'. 2D won the opening game, on inferno, in triple overtime, but lost the deciding dust2 12:16. Thinking that an opponent had been cheating, 2D decided to dispute him, filing an official complaint.

In retaliation, GB filed a complaint against shaGuar, citing his overtime AWPing through smoke on inferno as having been too good to have been done legitimately. shaGuar released the demo and the world could see it had been skill rather than anything extracirricular that had yielded those kills.

I've done everything as you say. I've followed your rules without question.

"I knew the team had great potential when it came down to individual abiliites, I mean you have shaGuar the most unpredictable player ever, but also the guy who can come up with the craziest clutch moments, and method who can just kill four people without really giving it much thought. Then you had the three norwegians, keeping our positions and our crossfires and killing people in the back. It was really a perfect combination of players.

I remember bootcamping prior to the CPL, I think I havent yelled 'CROSSFIRE!' more in my whole life than I did those 2 weeks with method and shaGuar. We were drilling in European style of CS to two guys who had played the American random ass CS style their whole lives and had to do it all in 2 weeks. Pretty crazy, but it worked."

-XeqtR (2010)

Before the CPL Winter event, NoA would attend the traditional Pre-CPL LethalGamers bootcamp, a LAN held a week prior where teams attending the event, typically the North American ones, could both scrimmage on LAN and compete in a small tournament. During round robin play NoA were beaten by fRoD's compLexity and cogu's MiBR, but defeated the other teams they played. In the playoff bracket they lost to GamerCo (the new name for the Rival team who had beaten NoA at CPL Summer). Climbing through the lower bracket, beating coL along the way, and defeating GamerCo in the rematch, they reached the final against MiBR.

MiBR were at this time centered around the AWPing skill of star cogu. shaGuar's NoA were to prove the better team in that final, winning the two maps needed to take the title, but the Brazilian's AWPing particularly impressed shaGuar, himself a very confident player who thought highly of his own skill. shaGuar could see that the Brazilian star was a better AWPer, possessed a style based around consistency and precision, where shaG's sniping was more around hitting wild and difficult shots.

I see you’re full of shit, and that’s alright. That’s how you play, I guess you’ll get through every night.

Winning at the LethalGamers bootcamp had NoA in positive spirits heading into the CPL. shaGuar had even managed to excite fans by releasing a POV demo of him destroying local team mugNmouse on nuke, displaying his signature style of hitting wild no-scope AWP shots, even through walls. Despite spending a year in one of the most high profile teams in the world, this would be another 'do or die' CPL for shaGuar's men, knowing that line-up changes and perhaps even disbandment entirely could be a consequence of failure at a straight third major event in 2004.

"I remember EYE coming into the CPL with huge expectations, we had heard rumours from Europe about how they had been crushing everyone in scrims etc. while we were struggling to beat American pug teams in our practises. So before the event I remember driving with Laurent, a great guy who ran the local netcafe tournament that was always held prior to CPL, and told him that I would be happy if we didn't go out in the first round. But I think the best thing that happened for us was getting knocked down into the lower bracket."

-XeqtR (2010)

Early on in NoA's CPL run shaGuar had the chance to face-off against cogu's AWP again, edging MiBR 19:17 in an overtime game on mill. In the upper bracket quarter-final NoA met EYEballers (EYE), the European team considered the best in attendance. EYE had won the Summer CPL, only to lose their star player and in-game leader (Hyper) to rivals SK. Now they had rebuilt with spiXel stars walle and Bullen, who had beaten NoA at OsloLAN and Nollelva in their previous team.

The game was on nuke and despite leading early, NoA fell victim to a flashbug violation, this time being punished in the scenario they'd gotten away with at EverLAN. The rule stated that if a flashbug happened then the team who had triggered it would lose all the remaining rounds of the half, so the score for the first was put at 10:5 for EYE, despite the fact NoA had been winning prior to it. This allowed EYE to close the game out reasonably easily, knocking NoA down to the lower bracket.

The 21st century killing machine. I'm on the inside of a five-headed team.

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After the injustice of being eliminated from the upper bracket so unceremoniously, without a real chance to decide who was better against EYE, NoA went on a legendary run. They would dispatch four straight opponents (g3x, D!E, coL and Begrip.swe) on the back of monster first half scores, all between 11 and 12 rounds. None of those opponents could put 10 rounds on the board against this rightously motivated NoA side. In the game against coL, where AWPer fRoD had been having a true breakout event as an elite sniper, shaGuar matched the American head-on, going 23-11 on the scoreboard.

In the lower final NoA met the GamerCo team they had gone 1:2 in maps with at LethalGamers, and lost to at CPL Summer. Another close match ensued, but shaGuar reached the third major final of his career after a 16:13 win on mill. The opponent blocking his path to his first title would be the same EYE who had won that contentious nuke game earlier in the tournament, with the help of the rulebook.

Now look who's comin', yeah look who's back.

"Going into that finals they couldn't really say to each other 'look, we've beaten these guys once, we can easily do it one more time before they beat us twice', because I don't think that they feel that they won that [upper bracket] match legitimately"

-shaGuar (Gotfrag, 2004)

At the previous year's CPL Winter event, NoA had come into the final from the lower bracket, knowing they'd lost outright to their finals opponent and were facing a monster battle to win two maps in a row. This time around they felt as if they hadn't been legitimately beaten earlier in the tournament, they were the better team going into the final.

Despite inspired play from EYE's Bullen, NoA took the first map (inferno) 16:14, in a game which was not as close as the score might suggest. On the second map, inferno again, NoA were dominating on the opening terrorist side, having overcome a pistol round loss to immediately win on a deagle save and begin racking up T side rounds. Leading 8:3 going into the 12th round, EYE had managed to get the round down to a 3v1 against shaGuar. Hidden under the wooden balcony in the A site, shaGuar pulled off an incredible quick three-kill sequence, winning the round and pushing his team's lead even further. The half would end 11:4 to NoA.

"That round was really big, in the 1v3, and I may have even gotten a little lucky, I actually accidentally jumped and then when I landed I got two in a row".

-shaGuar on his 1v3 (Gotfrag, 2004)

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As if their dominating first half lead were not enough to suggest NoA were headed towards victory in this final, a true omen to show their unstoppable form that day came in the second round of the following half. Having lost the pistol round, elemeNt had meant to riskily buy a deagle, only to press the wrong key and end up with a p228. When he killed vilden with that, typically unused, weapon, it seemed NoA were blessed by the fates. They won all the remaining rounds and the CPL title was theirs. For the first time in history a CS team had won the CPL from the lower bracket. NoA were a team of history on that day.

After four years of competitive play and on his fifth CPL campaign, shaGuar was the CPL champion. Three times he had suffered heartbreak in a major final, now he was a member of the last team standing on the final day. shaGuar was so overjoyed that he even let vilden off a lucky charm bet they had made before the event, with the loser having to give over his talisman (vilden his lucky pink headband and shaGuar his toy black jaguar).

"It's amazing, man! It's such a good feeling to finally win a CPL. This is the seventh CPL I've been too and every time I've come in to a CPL knowing our team could have done well, but I've never felt fully confident we could win until now and it's paid off"

-shaGuar on winning CPL Winter 2004 (Gotfrag, 2004)

So why am I waiting? This life that I'm wasting, if that's what you mean.

In an interview earlier in 2004 shaGuar had stated that he didn't consider himself in the elevated group of elite names like HeatoN and XeqtR, being as they had won major titles and thus were expected to win every major event they entered. He explained that if, down the line, he was in a team consistently putting up top three finishes then he would consider himself as having become an elite player. Winning CPL Winter 2004 put him in position to make that a reality. The boy whose father had thought him a troubled soul, lost in a video game and detatched from the realities of life, had made good and become a world champion.

"Before I left for WEG Season 1 [my father] told me that I proved him wrong, and that he was proud of me, but it’s hard to take that seriously with that documentary still floating around. I’d like to think my relationship with my father is all better now, but it takes a very long time to fix something like that... but I can say that I am grateful he’s at least recognizing that my stubbornness to compete in Counter-Strike has finally started to really pay off."

-shaGuar on the effects of his father's documentary (2005)

I am what you never wanted to say, but I've never had a doubt.

In early 2005 NoA accepted an invitation to play in the first World Esports Games (WEG), a tournament held in South Korea. The event was stretched out, due to the games being televised, to the extent that the final would be played more than two and a half months after the group stage began. The teams would stay in a player village, living and practicing together for matches which would be held every few days.

NoA felt unbeatable after their CPL success and the other teams attending all had key weaknesses, as they had been unable to bring their best line-ups due to the amount of time the tournament took. What's more, no Nordic team were in attendance, so the way seemed wide open and clear for NoA to charge to the $50,000 first place prize. In the group stage an 11:13 loss to 4kings did not fluster shaG and company, as they crushed practically every other game in that phase.

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In the semi-final they faced mousesports, who were lacking two of their players, including star gore, and were even using an American (Hare) as a stand-in, meaning he had to quickly learn some of the German names for the positions/spots on the map. The opening map was a 13:11 win on train, but NoA closed out the Bo3 series with a comfortable 13:8 win on nuke. There would be a month between the semi-final and final, so some of the players even went back home to other continents in the mean time.

There would be more good fortune in terms of the opponent's line-up for the final, as 4kings lost core member Harriman and had to draft in skilled Swedish player Goodfella to stand-in. On the 20th of March the final got under way, with NoA losing the opening map 9:13 on dust2. The next two, on nuke and train, were easy wins and just like that shaGuar had another big title under his belt, not to mention the $50,000 in prize money, by far the largest payout of his career to that point in time. NoA looked to be in the process of creating their own CS dynasty. In fact they would never another match with that exact line-up.

"What happened at WEG season 1 was that we basically won the event from our CPL preparations. We had our mentality that we were unbeatable and we really played extraordinarily well as a team. We knew exactly where we had each other and where our strengths and weaknesses lay. But outside the game again thing went sour, this time it was really not my fault... first time! element kinda drifted away from the rest of the team, just being with the Americans, and was clearly unhappy about something. I was jaded/complacent as usual so I was just there playing DotA and waiting to collect the title, and the rest of the guys were kinda stuck there also. The team morale was at an absolute low point but we were professionals so we kept on going throughout the season.

I mean we had 4 weeks break before the finals, I decided to fly to Sweden to be with my girlfriend and I have no idea what the others were doing during that time. Basically we didn't play CS together for a month almost before the final against 4kings, so we kinda used dust2 as a warmup map. We won that event but things weren't great between element and me again, I actually have no clue why, and then he decides to leave the team."

-XeqtR (2010)

So I let go, watching you, turn your back like you always do.

Three weeeks after NoA had won WEG it was announced that elemeNt was leaving the team. While this came as a shock, it was not an entirely new pattern for the Norwegian player. Blessed with an incredible sense for the game, he could afford the luxury of leaving winning teams time and time again, knowing that he could help make future teams into world contenders. For NoA this meant scrambling to find a new fifth man before the next season of WEG that Summer. They settled on fisker, member of the dominant 2003 SK line-up and someone who had been squeezed out of the stacked all-star NiP line-up that had formed earlier that year.

Despite accepting their offer, fisker backed out on a week before the event, wanting to join SK Gaming with some of his NiP team-mates instead. shaGuar and NoA decided to use quick, team-mate of XeqtR's from team9/Adrenaline, but the team had no time to practice with their new man. Heading out to South Korea as the reigning champions, they found themselves humiliatingly eliminated in the first group stage.

Losing to Begrip in the first game would prove less embarrassing over time, as that team won the event and star f0rest went on to become one of the greatest individual players of all time, but their loss against the Chinese wNv team on nuke was more than just a shock. At the time no Chinese team had ever recorded any major result of note over a Western team, and this was not the wNv line-up which would go on to become famous for WEG success later in the year.

Cause I'm not the same and we're not the same. This could never be the same.

"It was shaGuar in particular that behaved very immature at that time and kinda ruined the team spirit for the whole team with his childish behaviour and open criticism of the team's choice of picking up quick and not having element in the team anymore."

-XeqtR (2010)

A month and a half after the failure at WEG, news emerged that shaGuar and method would leave NoA and join Team3D. 3D had long been the biggest name in North American Counter-Strike, with the best salaries and sponsorship, even if their results had been lacking in the past year a half. When shaGuar joined the team's only good result had been a WCG win the previous year, their CPL finishes at been below expectations for a team of their stature and in 2005 they had been humiliated at a European CPL, finishing in last place. Bringing in shaGuar and method was an attempt to inject some new stars and turn the ship around.

Before he could start his tenure with 3D, shaGuar had two events to play with Canadian team Evil Geniuses in. On his flight home from WEG Season 2, shaGuar had agreed to played at the CPL Summer event that year with the team. Honouring his promise, shaGuar would attend that event with them, even though 3D would be playing at ESWC at the same time in France. The two events clashing in that fashion meant that practically all of the good teams had gone to France, leaving the CPL event largely between shaG's EG and the new look SK.swe line-up.

I'll turn around and pick up the pieces.

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With the field as easy as expected, Evil Geniuses and shaGuar ran through it all the way to the upper bracket final. An expected meeting against vilden's SK team there saw shaGuar and Stevenson's men come out on top, winning in overtime and reaching the final. SK would join them in the final, needing to win twice to prevent shaGuar taking a second straight CPL title. The map would be inferno and EG led after an 11:4 first half as terrorists. Despite such a promising first half, with Stevenson playing one of the great games of his career, EG were unable to close the game out, taking only two additional rounds in the next 14, seeing SK win 16:13.

The second inferno began much worse for the Canadians, winning only six rounds on the opening terrorist side. They performed better on the CT side this time, managing five rounds, but SK were too much and won 16:11. shaGuar had suffered revenge at vilden's hands, not only losing a CPL final, but with the Swede's team becoming the second in history to return from the lower bracket to win it, matching NoA's feat from CPL Winter. The result had been good for Evil Geniuses though, a team who had never collectively been close to a big win before this point in time. It was decided that they would use shaGuar for the WCG qualifiers that year.

Shorly after the CPL the pre-qualifier for WCG Canada was held, EG winning in two maps and shaGuar posting big numbers in the closeout 16:2 train win over eGe. When he returned to 3Dhe seemed to be the spark for a revival in their form, as they would win the GGL AmeriCup over rivals compLexity, who had won the ESWC title, to earn the title of best team in the world, but also changed players before the event.

One more push and I'll be there.

"I really can't wait to finally compete at a WCG event because I've heard so many great things about the event, and it's a real honour to represent your Country. At ESWC, even though I was representing the United States with zEx, I still felt great pride in having that opportunity."

-shaGuar (2004)

In the beginning of October of 2005 shaGuar and Evil Geniuses attended the WCG Canada qualifiers. For the past four years shaGuar had finished top three at the qualifiers, three times making the final, but never qualified. Now he was playing with the team who had won the past two qualifiers and a player (Stevenson) who had three in a row to his name. This proved the factor in shaGuar's favour this time around, winning with the team he had been unable to beat when it mattered previously.

Beating DeadZone in the final, shaGuar had finally earned that ticket to the WCG Global Finals. Another life-time goal had been checked off the list, as he would represent Canada in Singapore.

"I don't think I'll ever deserve that title until I've represented Canada at a WCG and placed top 3 at that event"

-shaGuar on whether he could be considered Canada's greatest ever player (2004)

Two weeks later he played at DigitalLife with 3D, helping them again defeat the sunman-less compLexity, winning 2:0 in the final. shaGuar did not play on the first map (nuke), as the team was using a six man rotation, needing five Americans for the WCG, and that was his map to sit out on.

I’ve been sleeping a thousand years it seems. Got to open my eyes to everything.

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In the latter half of November shaGuar flew to Singapore for his first ever World Cyber Games event. The only catch was that the game was Counter-Strike: Source, not 1.6. EG was able to beat out the home team TitaNs, who shaGuar had expected to be strong, and Australia's representative, reaching the semi-finals. There he had to face his real team, 3D. 3D were by far the best team at the event, with Volcano as perhaps the best Source player at the team, and shaG's American team-mates defeated his Canadian friends.

The third place decider would be against the Russians of Virtus.Pro. After winning the first map 16:12, EG were destroyed 3:16 on cbble. The decider on dust2 would determine whether or not shaGuar could return to Canada with a WCG medal or not. Winning a nail-baiting 16:14 game, shaGuar and Evil Geniuses won the bronze medal for 2005 at the WCG. Years of bitter frustration in the domestic qualifiers had led to this moment, shaGuar stood on the WCG podium having a medal placed around his neck, representing his country.

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'Cause you don't understand I do what I can but sometimes I don't make sense.

The run up to the CPL Winter event saw shaGuar and 3D lose to a compLexity team who had brought sunman back in, completing their classic line-up, in both CAL online tournament finals. At the CPL they survived an upper bracket overtime game against a fnatic line-up few would recognise now, reaching an upper quarter-final match against SK.swe. shaGuar would not get the chance to exact revenge for his CPL Summer loss to this line-up, forced to sit out the match since it was on nuke. It went to multiple overtimes and would end with a 3D loss.

Dropping down 3D immediately lost to 4kings on train to tumble out of the tournament in 9th-12th place. shaGuar had never placed below 16th at a CPL over his nine campaigns in Dallas, yet he had now failed to make the top eight on five occasions. For 3D, CPL disappointment had been a staple of their diet, making the top eight only once in their last five attempts, and even then finishing exactly in eighth place. WCG success aside, 3D were far from the powerhouse team their name and star power suggested.

In the first months of 2006 3D lost again to coL, in the AmeriCup final, but beat Danes SoA to finish 3rd at the GGL TransAtlantic Showdown. The same month, March, had seen the release of a trailer for shaGuar's second individual movie: final reality 2. shaGuar also got some light relief in the form of playing in the VSports All-Star Game, helping the All-Star team for America (himself, fRoD, cogu, KIKOOOO and method) defeat Europe (vilden, SpawN, XeqtR, elemeNt and f0rest) in the exhibition series.

Back where I belong.

"I always knew I had the potential to become one of the best, and that can often be misconstrued by the community as cockiness"

-shaGuar (Team3D, 2005)

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3D had made the key change of bringing former in-game leader moto out of retirement. During their playing careers shaGuar and moto had not been on friendly terms, with the latter disliking what he perceived to be a cocky attitude from the Canadian. Now shaGuar and moto would join forces to try and revive 3D going into the Summer season. The first event up was the WSVG LanWar domestic competition in Louisville, Kentucky.

The tournament saw 3D tested only once early on, an overtime win over check-six, but otherwise absolutely rolling teams out of the upper bracket. In the upper bracket final they lost 14:16 to Pandemic. In the lower bracket final they got a little revenge for all their recent losses to coL, defeating their rivals by 16:13 on nuke. In the final shaGuar and 3D were on fire, recording one of the most dominant days of domestic CS ever played in North America. Pandemic fell 2:16 on dust2 and 1:16 on inferno, as the final came and went in a flash, shaGuar and 3D crowned champions and in high spirits after such blistering form.

Two weeks later shaGuar was off to France for his third ESWC. An early loss to the French WebOne spelled danger, but 3D came back strong in the second group stage. Tying NiP, considered the best European team at the time, they won all of their other games, securing a spot in the playoffs. The quarter-finals were against Korea's lunatic-hai, highly touted for their runners-up finish at the previous CPL. 3D dispatched them back to Seoul with an emphatic 16:2 win on nuke.

In the semi-final the opponent would be Sweden's fnatic, now composed of classic players like cArn, dsn and f0rest. At the time, though, it is important to appreciate that fnatic were playing for the first time deep in a major tournament, never having won anything of significance as a team. The map was train and 3D won 12:3 on their CT side to open the match. At 14:11 they were seemingly in reach of the final, only to lose out all the reamining rounds and the map. A huge loss to the Germans of Alternate aTTaX in the third place decider left shaGuar in fourth place, his second top four finish at ESWC events.

Try to focus but everything's twisted.

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Days later shaGuar and 3D were in Dallas for the WSVG ISC, the event which had formerly been called CPL Summer in years gone past. If 3D and shaGuar hoped to revive their CPL fortunes following that ESWC success, they were misguided. The team were almost eliminated in the opening game, barely beating the 64th seed 16:14 on dust2, down heavily at times, to reach the double elimination portion of the event. In double elim it didn't take them long to fall to the lower bracket, losing to g3X in the upper bracket round two. Wins over lesser names meant little as the team again lost to fnatic, this time on nuke, and were eliminated in 9th-12th place for a second straight event in Dallas.

Shortly after losing the online CEVO-P S3 final to JMC, 3D attended the Championship Gaming Invitational, a four man tournament hosted on television by DirecTV. In the opening match they defeated Sweden's NiP, featuring the now famous clip of shaGuar yelling to the NiP players "What up now Swedes? Wooo!", ever the showman. 3D would lose the final to rivals coL.

shaGuar was able to secure a second straight WCG qualification, winning the qualifier with EG for a second year in a row. Then it was off to the DigitalLife event the next month, where he would also play with EG, as both of his teams were preparing for the WCG finals. That event was a disappointment, not breaking top four. WCG was less than two weeks later, this time in Europe, in Monza, Italy.

Headstrong, we’re headstrong.

After a flawless group stage, Evil Geniuses and shaGuar were unlucky enough to draw NiP in the round of 16. The Swede's were considered the world's best team, having won four events that year and two of those in the last three months. Hope for an upset seemed justified as shaGuar and his countrymen squeeked the opener 16:14 on nuke. On the second map, train, they were down only a single round at 14:15 and facing a NiP team who did not have the economy to buy rifles. In what should have been a simple round to close out and reach overtime off, EG found themselves aced, as NiP player ins killed all five of them with only a desert eagle pistol.

In the third map EG seemed on their way to the series upset, leading 8:0 as terrorists on inferno. Then one of their computers crashed, causing them to lose the ninth round. Despite the score being reset to 8:0, the downtime gave NiP the time to recover from their downward spiral, returning in force to win the map 16:12. EG had been presented with chances over and over to score the win, but shaGuar and his team had been unable to seize the moment.

Less than a week later EG attended the WCG Pan-Am tournament, seeing a 3D team using fRoD as a stand-in deny shaGuar a chance to reignite his rivalry with AWPer cogu in the final. Online 3D lost yet another online final, beaten by Pandemic in two maps in the CEVO-P final. As even 3D had finally failed to perform at a WCG, the team seemed to be in a slump and in need of drastic change. moto stepped back from the line-up. There were two big events left for 2006, both in the month of December. The WSVG finals, held in New York, had a first place prize of $50,000, as well as five rolex watches, while the CPL Winter event was to be the typical year-end CPL.

I see your fantasy, you want to make it a reality paved in gold.

"I think the one leg up we have on the Europeans is that we are more individually skilled. It's difficult to take note of that since our placings as a continent continue to decline, and I'm a firm believer of the "hit and miss" inconsistent North American style, but when we do hit, I think it's alot more damaging than the Europeans :)."

-shaGuar (ESEA, 2004)

In New York 3D was able to score some revenge, both recent and stretching further back, defeating Pandemic and 3D in convincing fashion early on. In their game against aTTax they met a different German team than the one they had lost to in France. Roster moves had left them using stand-ins, including their manager, who had been a player many years before. Most expected they had no chance for the event, but carrying play from their star players roman and Kapio meant otherwise. The German side took down shaGuar's 3D 16:10 on nuke.

Beating fnatic on train 16:12, yet more delicious revenge from ESWC, earned a finals showdown with aTTaX on inferno. The game went to overtime, with aTTax winning some truly incredible and unexpected rounds, including deagle save heroics, to edge out shaGuar and 3D from the title. They still took home $25,000, but it had been another big tournament finals loss for shaGuar, his winning days all the way back in early 2005 with NoA. 2006 game to an end with another tied ninth place finish at a CPL, the eventual elimination coming at the hands of Chinese side Hacker Gaming, losing to two close maps.

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"I had a great time playing under Craig and with superstars such as Rambo and Volcano, and once the team came to me about how they wanted to approach 2007, I started to realize that the time to move on was now. I feel like the team had a great deal of success outside of Dallas (3 CPLs all with lackluster performances), but not enough championships (runner up although often an achievement never sits well; CEVO seasons, CGI, ESWC, WSVG etc), and that was the main reason why all the changes began happening in the first place."

-shaGuar (Gotfrag, 2007)

shaGuar's time with 3D had come to an end, forced out and prompted to join EG in early 2007. Despite some resurgent online performances with EG in CEVO-P Season 5, shaGuar's career in 1.6 came to an end when he switched to CS:Source to compete in the Championship Gaming Series (CGS) televised league. Border problems, denied entry to the USA, would prevent him from playing during the regular season with his franchise (Chicago Chimera), but he was able to attend the World Championship final, helping his franchise, featuring players from other games all competing in a joint effort of overall points to secure wins over other franchises, to win the grand final.

If I was in World War Two they'd call me spitfire.

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shaGuar's sequel to final reality was never officially finished or released, but a partially completed version was leaked. It showed off breath-taking action, impressive editing and a vision of excellence in its aims, yet it would never be finished and officially see release. In some ways that movie can stand as a metaphor for the enigmatic, frustrating and yet exciting career of Griffin 'shaGuar' Benger.

From there on the story of shaGuar the professional gamer fades to black, not drafted for the second season of CGS and only occasionally doing some commentary for CEVO Source games in 2008. As shaGuar had been fading out, from his last year in 3D onwards, a new online identity had been forming for Griffin Benger, playing under the screenname 'flush_entity', shaGuar would improve as an online poker player over the next few years until he had become a professional player, winning millions of dollars from online tournaments.

The crowning moment for shaGuar came on April 27th, his 28th birthday, as Benger won the EPT Berlin €10,000 High Roller tournament, netting a first prize of €429,000. The CPL and WEG champion had become a champion in poker.

"Once I got into poker I became really obsessed with it. It’s really one of those games where there’s always room to get better, and that was one of the problems with Counter-Strike, I got to a point where I couldn’t really get much better.

In poker you don’t have to be the best of the best to make money, whereas in Counter-Strike to win the money you had to beat all the best players in the world and be number one. And there was always someone training harder than you so it was very difficult."

-Griffin Benger (Pokerlistings, 2012)

See inside, inside of our heads.

"shaGuar is probably one of the least modest players I've encountered, his ego soaring to ever-higher levels at each event he attends. This cockiness helped shag perform at some very high-level tournaments but when things don't go his way, he can become extremely erratic and unpredictable, even to his own team. This extreme confidence plays the role of a double edged sword and could be beneficial as well as detrimental to his whole team depending on the situation. In his earlier career, his over-dependence on the AWP also made him a less rounded player overall and not one that could always be used to their full potential. It seems he's worked on this aspect as of late, at the time of this writing."

-steel (TAO-CS, 2008)

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shaGuar the player was explosive and yet streaky. shaGuar the team-mate could be inspired and energetic, then he could he unmotivated and absent. Even team-mates who speak highly of their time playing with shaGuar will readily admit that he was not a player who gave it all outside of tournaments, often being late for practice or missing it entirely.

In some way success was a hard road for shaGuar, battling from being merely a Canadian CS player to numerous starting spots on some of the best teams in the world. Yet at the same time it sometimes came too easily, as his biggest results were often followed up with poor next events, a pattern which repeated across all of his teams, regardless of the team-mates he was surrounded with.

In an era when few North American players were able to achieve any kind of sustained success, shaGuar returned from slumps with his teams to reach top placings again and again. Historically he stands alone as Canada's greatest ever player and amongst North American players in total he is one of the handful of all-time great stars worth mentioning alongside the top European names. Much like his AWP, he didn't always hit, but when he was on and he was hitting, he could light up a server and a stage anywhere in the world.

"One of the best team-mates I’ve played with in a match. He always played with a level of intensity and eagerness that I always matched; we always fed off each others’ energy level. He was always late to practice though. He is a very versatile player. He had no weakness except his practice ethic."

-Rambo (TAO-CS, 2008)

Photo credits: GotFrag, Team3D, fragbite, Christian Zetzsche

[Note: the headings are all lyrics taken from songs shaGuar liked and/or used in his frag movies.]

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