Daps: Rio, YEKINDAR, and TL’s major improvements
A Major in Rio in front of some of the best CS:GO fans that the world has to offer, it is a moment that I have (and pretty much every CS fan has) been looking forward to for over two years and now it has finally come. Seeing Liquid in the Legends stage will be particularly surreal. It feels like yesterday they were in the final in São Paulo, but a Major is something different and so much has changed since Team Liquid were last in Brazil.
For starters, there is a new star from Latvia who has graced NA’s shores, a new AWPer who wields the big green like he was born to be Skadoodle’s successor and a brand new coach determined to kill Liquid’s reputation as chokers. One thing never changed in Team Liquid and that is the org’s commitment to North American Counter-Strike - a commitment they’ve honored with a Grand Slam, a number one ranking, and just about everything short of a Major trophy.
Maybe it is time for Team Liquid to get that trophy.
With preparation for the Major underway, it seemed like the perfect time to check in with the man who will stand behind Team Liquid in the face of thousands of screaming fans. In a chat with Daps he gave insight into the rapid improvement of the team, any fears that YEKINDAR would not re-sign and what he is most looking forward to about Rio.
You've been on the team for just over three months, finding improvement quite rapidly in that time. What would you say is the biggest area of growth you've seen in the team and how happy are you with that?
I'd say it's hard to pinpoint it to one area of growth, I think the thing I'm happiest about would be everyone's mental fortitude because I think the public perception, or at least before I joined, was that team Liquid was always known as the choking team, for whatever reasons. So far, at least since YEKINDAR and I have been [here], we have run into some pretty tough situations, where we've been down in a lot of games [...] and came back. I've been happy with the team's growth mentally, we still have times when it gets tough and we could handle it better but overall I've been really happy with how everyone's been handling mental pressure, and being open about issues in the team. I think it's helped the development and helped things improve fast.
You mentioned a lot of people have seen Liquid as the choke team in the past, as a coach how do you train mental fortitude? Is that a thing you can train and what can you do to overcome that barrier?
That's a good question. You can definitely train and improve mental fortitude, I think it kind of depends on what the issue is. But so far one of the things that I have been focusing on is that we are talking more openly as a group, and making sure that issues don't build up or manifest over time because in my experience that is what ends up killing teams. I think just making sure we are having that open dialogue consistently, even if it's an issue that may seem small at the onset, it's important that it's addressed right away so that it doesn't build into something bigger.
You've been in the NA scene for a long time. Would you say that the openness you describe is present in the NA scene or is that something that needs to be improved on?
I'd say there is a lot of ego in the NA scene, and I definitely think that is something that has happened in some of my old teams where the players aren't open about talking about things or willing to address them as a group or maybe they aren't comfortable talking in front of people. Some players prefer to avoid conflict. I think it's something that, not just in NA but I think in teams in general, needs to improve. Just having good open dialogue that's logical and try[ing] to remove the emotional responses as much as possible.
In the three months you have coached Liquid, would you say that you have now been able to fully implement the system you had in mind?
I'd say we've implemented a good base and foundation that has helped us get to a pretty good level pretty fast, but there is still a lot more I want to do with my vision for the team long term. Some of those things require Liquid to sign off on them, things like that. I have a lot of ideas, I haven't been able to do everything yet but some things are short-term, some things are long-term.
Would you say you are building a project for the long term with these five guys you have now?
Yeah for sure. I can't really speak on a lot of it but I do have a lot of plans for the team itself. [...] I'd say, to put it simply, that I am trying to be malleable to the situation and adapt where needed for some of the things I want to do.
In terms of implementing that system, a relationship that isn't always talked about, but is very important, is the dynamic between IGL and the coach. How has that dynamic been on Liquid?
I'd say the dynamic's been very good, a lot of the big ideas and time spent after practice is between Mareks (YEKINDAR) Nick (Nitr0) and I, that's sort of the hierarchy I'd say but anyone that wants to add something can and we are trying to improve that system everyday to get everyone's voices heard. At the start of the team, at Cologne, we only had a week of practice with a whole new infrastructure with me and Mareks coming in and now we are finally getting more and more time to practice. We sort of know what the best practice regiment is for our team now and it's slowly improving. Understanding how many scrims is actually good for our teams versus how much theory we need. It's just a process that is getting more refined every day, and each month it just improves.
You mentioned YEKINDAR, the newest member of the team and you mentioned how integral he is to the team already. How has it been integrating him into the squad?
Integrating him has been a pleasure. It was a role that I think this team needed so it was not a challenging integration. He's the entry of the team but we've also played around with him being in some lurk spots, because I think he just has a very good all-around skill set where, in my opinion, you can probably put him in any role and he could thrive in it. That's probably based on his work ethic. His first tier-one team was Outsiders, so he came from a team that had a good system and he clearly has learned a lot from how they played as well. Everything role-wise and integrating him has been pretty easy and I think he was a really good fit for the team.
He's now been officially announced as part of the team, does that change anything? Does that help you focus more or were you confident that he was joining?
It is definitely comforting knowing that he is officially on the team now, because you never want that weighing in the back of your mind that he could potentially not join the team. Then you're sort of left scrambling looking for someone to replace him and I don't think there's too many, if any, that could replace him in the role we need. So yeah it's definitely a weight lifted off everyone's shoulders that he signed officially.
The Major is coming up fast, what does making the Legends Stage do for you as a team?
Making the Legends spot is super important, mainly because it gives a little bit of extra time to bootcamp in Europe and gives us that extra space we need to reinvent our play book, look through all our maps again and make sure we are pointing out all our issues. It just gives us more time to prepare, even for other teams too. Just that extra breathing room is the main positive of the legend spot.
It's funny you mention reworking your stratbook as EliGE mentioned in an interview with Dust2 that you guys were going to rework your entire strat book for Rio. How has that process been so far?
Well, we just got back to bootcamp so we haven't officially started the process yet* but there's definitely a few things on a few maps that we've already discussed before we came back that we're looking at as the first important points we want to touch on. We want to make sure that everything is fresh and that we are showing a new look for the Major and making sure we are keeping up with the meta whilst addressing our issues at the same time.
*[EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview was conducted on October 19th.]
The Road to Rio
Now moving on to the IEM Rio Major, they made the announcement that they are going to have crowds at the Legend Stage, how do you feel about that?
I think it's amazing, honestly. I think the best CS is played in front of a crowd, obviously you can have situations where the crowd is helping another team but I think that adds an element where you can use the crowd to your advantage. I think it just adds another element to the game, so I like it a lot. I personally don't like studio events too much, so having that crowd element I think it was every player plays for, to play in front of a crowd, so I like it.
There's a possibility that you could be playing a Brazilian team in front of a Brazilian crowd, are you looking forward to that?
It would definitely be interesting, I mean they are obviously going to be cheering for the Brazilian team but that would be an amazing experience because even if the crowd is booing at you it's still a cool experience regardless. It's just something that increases the excitement of the match, even if the crowd is against you. You can use it to your own advantage.
The Majors you've played in the past have been very far from home, whether that was Katowice or Cologne, for Rio it might not be just next door but it is a lot closer. Is a Major closer to home an experience you are looking forward to? Are you expecting to get a few cheers from the Brazilian crowd?
Yeah I think because you know John (EliGE) speaks Portuguese and I think Liquid itself has a decent Brazilian fanbase.
Steve Perino in the background: HUGE!
Huge Brazilian fanbase - I got corrected by Steve. Even though we'll probably get booed if we played an Imperial* or something, I think if we are not playing a Brazilian team we'll probably be the favorite in terms of getting cheered.
*[EDITOR’S NOTE: R.I.P.]
Is there any team you want to play in front of the crowd?
I think playing any of the Brazilian teams would be cool, regardless of if we are not the crowd favorite in that but honestly, [beyond that] not really. We want to play any team that is in front of us, personally, I've always been somebody that wants to play the better teams, and if we can win the event whilst beating the best teams in the world that's the ideal scenario. Even if it's a harder pass.
A similar but different question, is there any team you want to beat?
Definitely getting revenge on Vitality for Pro League would be probably number one, obviously getting the chance to beat NAVI or FaZe would be awesome as well but after losing that long best-of-five final versus Vitality it would be nice to get some revenge on them.
A phrase that's thrown around by coaches and IGLs is a "win condition" in a round, but broadening the scope, what would you say is the win condition for the entire event? What would it take for you to win Rio?
The win condition. Personally, it again comes down to our mental game. I'm not too concerned about in-game things because so far we've always come to a sort of agreement on how we want to play the maps, our preparation and everything. So I'm very confident in that, it just comes down to our mental fortitude and if we are able to keep it up as we have been for the majority of the time I've been here. If we are able to keep a good head space and stay focused even if we are losing badly, we can go to the final.
Do you see Liquid as a dark horse, an underdog, or a favorite for the Rio Major?
Definitely not underdogs. I wouldn't even say we are dark horses. I mean I'd say we are definitely one of the favorites to win the event.