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The story of Sprout: Tier 2 to Top 20 to Tapped Out

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In November 2022 Sprout were riding high. After years of being the kings of the German scene, the organization had made a gamble to back a young, Danish-majority lineup – and it paid off. They went 3-1 in the EU RMR and found themselves, due to the manner of seeding, as Legends for the IEM Rio 2022 Major. There, though they would exit in 12th-14th place, they secured a win over a floundering Ninjas in Pyjamas and entered the HLTV top 20.

Just over a year later, the organization is defunct. Only coach BERRY remained from the team that went to Rio, with three of the players being sold to other organizations, and the remaining two were moved to the bench. Nine days prior, the organization had announced a trio of signings, claiming “our garden has never looked better”, and that they were “ready for a blossoming season”. But that would not come to pass as the organization suddenly announced it was closing its doors near the end of March.

Let’s take a look at the history of Sprout and the ups, the downs; from a German lineup to international and back again, as well as the roots that they have planted across the tier 1 scene.

From a Seed comes a Sprout

The team starts to find success

Sprout’s first team was basically their first step into esports as a whole. They signed the ex-PENTA lineup, competing as Seed. In doing so, they signed the core that had competed at PGL Major Krakow 2017, finishing in 12th-14th place, while also reuniting kRYSTAL with two of his former PENTA team-mates – denis and Spiidi, with whom he achieved back-to-back Major quarter-finals at Dreamhack Winter 2014 and ESL One Katowice 2015.

The core of the team left following another 12th-14th place finish, this time in the new Qualifier stage for the ELEAGUE Atlanta Major. zehN left to join HAVU, innocent went to Tempo Storm, and kRYSTAL exited for international combine The Imperial. denis and Spiidi, the two players who had been standing in for Seed, were now, ironically, the core of Sprout – and would stick around for the longest tenures in the organization.

This lineup did begin one trend for Sprout, and that was domestic success. After a Major quarter-final, playing the second division of domestic competition ESL Meisterschaft must have been a slight step down for the players. Yet they certainly didn’t show it and finished top of the league in their debut season. That gained the organisation a spot in Division 1 for Summer 2018 and, even though they had lost their German core, they competed that season with stand-ins.

Of their now Danish core – yes, Sprout had a Danish core before their Major run – only NaToSaphiX played, with in-game leader percy benched for German-Czech dual national syncD. In the grand final, future MOUZ coach sycrone played as well but with Spiidi unavailable, Sprout turned to Mathieu “Maniac” Quiquerez to make up the numbers. The team took it in stride and defeated Euronics Gaming to win their first ESL Meisterschaft title.

The Danish-majority lineup struggled outside that, however. They qualified for the Bucharest Gaming Week Invitational but lost to Vega Squadron in the opening round. Then, they made the European Minor for the FACEIT London Major, but despite a strong 2-0 start in the group stage, defeats by ENCE and Ninjas in Pyjamas condemned them to a 4th place finish, meaning no Major and no prize money for Sprout this time.

Sprout decided to take a new direction, and they started with the star player from the Euronics Gaming lineup they’d just beaten: Josef “faveN” Baumann.

Full German, Part 1

For the first time, anyway

faveN was Sprout’s star player from his arrival in late 2018 until his departure at the end of 2021. As Sprout switched from international (with NaToSaphiX and Percy still on the lineup until the end of 2018) to full German, back to international, and then back to full German over the years, the one constant was faveN’s fragging. He ranks 7th in Sprout’s all-time player list for HLTV average rating, with a 1.13 over a staggering 1003 maps; he is narrowly behind Pawel “dycha” Dycha but with a much larger sample size, and those two players are only beaten by AWPers.

His arrival also meant he played a big part in Sprout’s impressive domestic run: from Winter 2019 to Summer 2022 Sprout won six consecutive ESL Meisterschaft titles. That meant beating no lesser opposition than BIG Clan, twice, in the same year (2020) that the biggest organization in the German scene had risen to become the #1 team in the world with dominant performances in the COVID-ravaged online era.

Over their time in Counter-Strike, Sprout gained a reputation for signing and developing young talents, and their 2019 all-German lineup is a good starting point. To replace NaToSaphiX, they signed syrsoN, and later in the year, they would add k1to to the roster to replace mirbit. K1to, syrsoN, and faveN would all end up on BIG, with k1to and syrsoN part of their 2020 roster (about which I’ve said plenty already) and faveN joining as the trio took home the 2022 Roobet Cup and a runner-up finish at Elisa Masters Espoo 2022. While faveN’s tenure with BIG was notable for health issues that saw academy players rotated into the team, he shows signs of rebuilding his tier 1 career with BLEED, while k1to is currently the in-game leader for OG and syrsoN has just returned to BIG, with two HLTV MVP awards and a top 10 finish in the end-of-year player awards to his name (albeit all for online events).

Sprout had some strong results in 2019, but another Major appearance proved elusive. They were runners-up at Charleroi Esports and Copenhagen Games that year, but at the Starladder Berlin Europe Minor, they were eliminated in groups by fellow German organization Mousesports. Denis’ return from a four-month stint on BIG Clan brought two more runners-up appearances at Games Clash Masters 2019 and Dreamhack Open Atlanta 2019, but they were unable to get that title, and worse, their stars had caught the attention of BIG Clan. Both k1to and syrsoN left for their rivals –  not the last time that move would be pulled – creating the dominant 2020 lineup alongside tabseN, tiziaN, and XANTARES. In the meantime, Sprout realized they would have to go international again to compete.

COVID and the online era

So close yet so far

They signed two players at the beginning of 2020; one a star from the past, the other a star yet to come. Tomas “oskar” Šťastný, a title winner with MOUZ, was the headline signing; but it is Pawel “Dycha” Dycha whose name resonates today, having blossomed into a world-class anchor under ENCE. More on how he got there later, but in the meantime, Sprout turned into a real force in tier 2 Counter-Strike. oskar helped them to win ESEA Premier Season 33 before his swift departure (which he would attribute to in-game differences); with fellow Pole snatchie joining on the sniper rifle, Sprout won Season 34 as well. They also made a strong run in domestic events that year, with wins in both ESL Meisterschaft finals – taking down BIG both times, for added pride – and a win in UNITED Pro Series Winter 2020.


That said, there were a few chastening defeats as well. Their only LAN appearance of the year was a last-place exit on home soil at Dreamhack Open Leipzig. The COVID-19 pandemic did not help matters; that forced what would have been the ESEA Global Challenge for Season 33 online, where Sprout lost to AGO and with it missed out on a spot at ESL Pro League. History would repeat itself at the end of the year when they played Endpoint in the Season 35 grand final. Despite taking both the British organization’s map picks, they lost 2-3 in the best-of-five affair. Quarter-final appearances at the online IEM Cologne and Dreamhack Open Fall 2020 (an RMR tournament) suggested potential, but Sprout could not take that next step.

So they pinched an idea from BIG – taking two players from their domestic rivals. slaxz- and kressy joined from Alternate Attax, who had proven themselves in the Home Sweet Home cup alongside other tier 2 tournaments that had boomed in prominence during COVID. Dycha and snatchie were benched, with this portrayed by the organization as a way to return to communicating in their long-serving core’s native tongue Spiidi, denis, and faveN.

If that were the goal, it did not show; while Sprout remained victorious in Meisterschaft, they only won one tournament – European Development Championship Season 2 – and suffered a loss to BIG Clan at the first EU RMR tournament, Flashpoint Season 3. They even faced the indignity of ESEA Premier Season 37 Relegation, and even though they survived, further changes were inevitable.

An EU Sprout

Featuring Danish influence

Sprout’s return to a full German lineup had proved disappointing, especially as Dycha was beginning to find success with the rebuilt ENCE. First, the long-serving Denis was benched in July, and then Kressy joined him on the sidelines in October. They also ditched their coach, enkay J, who would move – where else? – but to BIG.

Sprout finished 2021 with a German core and Polish youngster KEi on trial, aided by the first of two Danes who would be integral to their late history. BERRY was Sprout’s first non-German coach, in his first coaching job to boot. He had a long career as an in-game leader and, much like fellow Danish IGLs birdfromsky and HooXi, his talents were somewhat embellished by his fans who called him “GOD BERRY”. (His actual career was mostly spent in the lower tiers, though he had some success with SK Gaming, winning ESEA Premier Season 19 in 2015.) Despite his novice status, BERRY developed a strong reputation for fostering young talent and was the only member of Sprout to remain from his appointment in 2021 until the org went defunct – even making a brief return to playing in 2023 while they tried to find a suitable IGL.

Under BERRY, Sprout won another ESEA Premier title – Season 39 – in faveN’s last hurrah. That autumn also saw raalz join as their new in-game leader – an experienced player but novice caller, supported by the veteran coach. Even though they were defeated at IEM EU Fall 2021, the final EU RMR tournament, Sprout achieved back-to-back domestic victories in UNITED Pro Series Summer 2021 and ESL Meisterschaft Autumn 2021 and it seemed like maybe the old Sprout was back. Unfortunately, it was then that BIG made their move for faveN.

In came the other Dane who would play a big part in late-game Sprout: Staehr. This youngster made his debut at ESL Pro League Season 15 and even though Sprout struggled he caught the eye as their only player to go positive at the event. He was headhunted by Astralis, who were prepared to wait out his contract to sign him, and his performances there – particularly so far in 2024 – have shown why. It was Staehr who would have to fill faveN’s shoes now that he was gone.

With only two German players (plus Luxembourger Marix to maintain a domestic core), Sprout entered 2022 with a fresh new look and an EU flag on HLTV for the first time. That lineup, unfortunately, did not hit the ground running: they were a last-minute invite for IEM Katowice and duly finished in last place; then the same happened at Pro League. Despite Staehr’s heroics, there were no great tier 2 victories to tide fans over either. Their one notable achievement was taking the Spring 2022 Meisterschaft title – which, unbeknownst at the time, would be Sprout’s last. (They beat kRYSTAL and Kressy’s Cowana Gaming in the grand final.)

But the seeds had still been sewn – no pun intended – and Staehr and BERRY would be rewarded soon.

Sprout fly high

They find their footing, finally

In July of that year, the longest tenure on Sprout came to its end. Spiidi was benched in July following a 0-3 exit at the PGL Antwerp RMR, the veteran instead joining Alternate AttaX for his final year as a competitor – he would retire at the end of 2023. Though Sprout would find a way to continue competing in Meisterschaft, using red and P4TRICK as substitutes, the only full-time German player left was slaxz. Marix had left earlier in the season, replaced by Romanian youngster lauNX. They also needed a new IGL, with raalz joining CPH Flames.

That said Sprout found excellent replacements – two players forged in tier 1, yet still with enough ceiling to improve further. Those would be Zyphon – fresh from his Major quarter-final run with Copenhagen Flames – and ex-Heroic support and Liquid destroyer refrezh. Much like when raalz had joined the team, refrezh would take on in-game leading duties despite being a novice, guided by BERRY. Along with Staehr that meant Sprout would use a Danish flag on HLTV for the first time since their early days in 2018.

Anyway, this is where we came in. A dominant performance in the Major open qualifier – where they beat MOUZ, Falcons, and ECSTATIC – put them in the RMR With Staehr topping the scoreboard, Sprout qualified for the second Major of 2022 in Rio de Janeiro and peaked at #18 in the HLTV rankings. Though they weren’t able to maintain that form at the event, achieving only a single win over a floundering NiP, things were looking up. At the end of 2022, they benched slaxz in favor of Romanian AWPer XELLOW, who had been farming the lower tiers for some time with domestic side Nexus. It was commonly seen as a solid move, replacing the last remnant of their tier 2 days with a hungry player who had played with lauNX before. It was supposed to turn them into a powerhouse. Instead, it marked the beginning of the end for Sprout on the esports stage.


“It’s insane to make it to the Major in such a short time.” – refrezh


“I do believe [XELLOW] will fill in gaps we had last year and play a major role to our roster reaching the next level.” – BERRY


“I’d say we have more firepower than a lot of tier 1 teams… it’s just a matter of time before things click for us.” – lauNX



The year they would rather forget

The beginning of the end

Between the start of 2023 and their dissolution just over a year later, Sprout had 24 different players represent them on the server. The biggest problem was finding one in particular: the right in-game leader.

refrezh had led them to success before, but he stood down from calling after a lacklustre IEM Katowice, saying that he was no longer comfortable in the role. They benched Zyphon to make way for a new in-game leader, but gave up on young Dane Maze (formerly of Fnatic Rising) after just two official series. Then Sprout brought back Zyphon in favour of refrezh, and played CCT Central Europe Finals 1 with BERRY. They tried to qualify for a Major with former Renegades in-game leader AZR – a move that was mocked once AZR revealed how far behind the meta he had fallen – and failed, going 1-3 at the RMR.

They played with alpha, a young Russian from Cloud9 Academy hotly tipped to be the next big thing, and even signed him after the player break when XELLOW’s departure necessitated a bigger rebuild. (They signed an AWPer you might have heard of called w0nderful in his place.) Not long after, alpha was also gone, because it turned out that Sprout’s new in-game leader was… raalz. Yes, the same raalz. But at least he was a proven commodity within the organisation. After a long period of roster instability, Sprout could finally turn a corner. They even announced an academy project.

…Except, after losing alpha, they still needed a fifth. So, they promoted Tauson from the academy and then settled on using Polish lurker cej0t instead, backed by some strong performances in officials. Future Major winner w0nderful was sold to NaVi, which necessitated promoting another academy member, AWPer sL1M3. After that, they lost Zyphon on loan to Heroic, which meant Tauson was back in the main lineup. This team didn’t do too badly – even finishing runners-up in CCT East Europe Series 4 – but at the same time the academy was pretty much dead before it even began, picked apart for substitutes for the main team. Then Sprout signed Anlelele from MASONIC, so Tauson was gone again. You could set their 2023 roster moves to a jaunty musical number.

This doesn’t even feature room to talk about Staehr and lauNX’s transfer dramas: the former was a long-term target of Astralis, with much back-and-forth about his buyout and whether Astralis would simply wait for his contract expiry including an infamous “No thanks” from Sprout when Astralis offered AWPer Farlig in part-exchange. The latter looked set to go to ENCE in the summer of 2022 before a dispute over his buyout, since which he has never quite reached the same heights. He finally got his move to Team Falcons in 2023, but the “superteam” they assembled underwhelmed spectacularly, and a recent loan to BLEED ended after just two months.

Squeezing in one more rebuild

The last we see of Sprout

2024 started brightly for Spiidi, at least, as he returned to the organization. No, Sprout didn’t need another player to come out of retirement as a stand-in – this time he joined them as a performance coach, working with both the main team and the new academy line-up that they were building.

On the server, it was straight into the PGL Major Open Qualifiers, but Sprout limped out of all four, only making the last 16 of the third qualifier. Zyphon, back from his loan at Heroic, was almost immediately snatched up by TSM. At the time the move seemed like a side grade, but in hindsight… perhaps the Dane knew something about what was to come.

It was back to a series of stand-ins for Sprout, who trialed Sdaim, Buzz, and Reiko for the open spot. Sdaim and Reiko would make the new line-up, along with ENCE Academy prospect Podi on loan – sl1m3 had been benched. That team was announced on March 16th, and played its first fixture a few days later, a 0-2 defeat by B8. Nine days later, the organization folded.

Sprout Academy – newly rebuilt – were on bootcamp when they heard the news. Australian youngster SaVaGe had moved to Europe to pursue his dream. Serb zecco barely contained his frustration in his tweet about the situation.

It’s a shame we will never get to see that Sprout team in full flight because the parts were all exciting. Sdaim, Reiko, and Podi were exactly the kinds of youngsters that BERRY had taken before and turned into superstars. The players will no doubt re-appear elsewhere, but it must hurt them to see this chance taken away.

Sproutlings Spread Far And Wide

The true seeds have yet to grow

Sprout’s legacy is spread across the scene. Staehr finally went to Astralis after a protracted transfer saga, and now the team looks revitalized after role clashes under former in-game leader blameF. syrsoN has returned to BIG for a full German lineup that may represent the strongest team they have had since their online dominance. Dycha continues to play at a tier 1 level with ENCE, even taking home his first trophy last year before that lineup was also torn asunder by transfer moves. And w0nderful, the Ukrainian prodigy, signed by NaVi to replace s1mple and delivering a Major at the first opportunity – no doubt buoyed by Sprout’s decision to pick him up after some shaky performances with Spirit and give him a second chance in an English-speaking team.

With the discontinuation of the ESL National Championships, I thought of Sprout’s domestic record and the extremely touching post they made when they announced they would no longer be taking part. More and more teams are going international these days, and there are fewer and fewer incentives to keep a domestic roster – even a domestic core. Sprout themselves would seem to agree, judging from their last few rosters, which featured a wide range of nationalities – even an Australian player on the academy team, albeit briefly.

Sprout were many things, but above all, they were flexible and trusted their players. Sometimes that worked to their detriment, but it also enabled them to survive as long as they did in the cut-throat world of tier 2 Counter-Strike where organizations come and go weekly. Their sudden demise is a painful reminder of the razor-thin margins on which many more organizations than we would like to admit exist every day – and how quickly they can fall apart if something goes wrong.


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