VP general manager on the importance of the Chinese tournament, the effects of the EPICENTER's grand-finals and what allowed NEO to regain his form.
– The CS:GO roster made it to two grand-finals in one week. What does that mean for the team?
– The guys always knew they can beat any team in the world. They could see it in practice in EPICENTER – not only in the finals, but in the matches against FaZe, Gambit, and G2. Surely, our advance to the Saint Petersburg's final was a very important moment from the mindset perspective.
– Did the team approach the Shanghai tournament with the peak mindset?
– Our CS:GO roster has certain demands to the tournaments they participate in. First and foremost – the prize pool and organizers' credibility.
We didn't plan on going to China initially. The decision was taken due to several reasons. First of all, we maintain good relations with the tournament organizers – Starladder and ImbaTV. They're always friendly to us, so their invite holds much more value for us than some no-name tournament's. Secondly, China is a very important market for Virtus.pro, our presence on Chinese streaming platforms and events is essential to us. Thirdly, the tournament was an immediate follow-up to EPICENTER: just like the Dota line-up instantly proceeding to Split after Hamburg, the CS:GO roster also immediately went on to Shanghai after Petersburg.
Regarding the team's morale – the guys knew the participants of the Chinese tournament aren't as imposing as the EPICENTER's. So the goal was simply to perform as excellent as possible.
– Did you have any clues to presume such a success on EPICENTER?
– I have said many times that this line-up has everything to outplay any team in the world. Nothing globally changed since the Atlanta Major, since Las Vegas' DreamHack. The guys still have some obvious problems with in-game communication, but on a good day, we can take on any opponent. That's why I always know that we can reach the very top in every tournament, but the stars must align in order for us to do that, unfortunately. This is our main problem at the moment, and Wiktor, I and the guys are trying to overcome it.
– The stars were not aligning that much in the last six months. Are there any signs that it's not just a brief moment of clarity, but a beginning of the return to the elite?
– It's not a big secret that online games aren't the first priority for our team. Primarily, we use them as a way to polish some things. After all, practice is practice, but being able to actually work on some tactics in a competitive setting is paramount to us. The guys regaining their confidence is the main outcome. This particularly refers to TaZ, NEO and pasha. And for Snax and byali – the youngest players on the team – it's another reminder that not just their skill alone is the backbone of our team's success.
– NEO showed a level of CS that we didn't see for about a year in St. Petersburg. What happened to him?
– Filip himself said that readjusting from the in-game leader's position to a simple player was difficult to him. It changes your view on the game. Also, it's known that the main reason of Filip's abandonment of the in-game leader's role after the Kiev's Starladder was the high level of emotional burn-out. He understood his inability to cope with that level quite well. Right now everything points to that Filip managed to pull himself together and is returning to his former level, including mentally.
– Did you close out the in-game leader question for an upcoming couple of months?
– Shortly – yes. We understand that in a long-term perspective, another change of the in-game leader is entirely possible. It's interconnected with our philosophy of changing the in-game logic where the other teams would change the players. It shakes the things up for our guys, allowing them to cast a fresh eye on the strengths of the individual players.
– You lost two maps in overtime in the finals of EPICENTER – and in both games, you were in the lead. Is that just a coincidence, exhaustion, or something with mentality?
– It's certainly not exhaustion – the guys are extremely motivated and know how to play such maps. Before the game, we asked the organizers to provide a longer break after the third map so the guys can get a snack. The guys were so motivated that they refused, though, so they just refueled with chocolate bars and shared them with Dasha, the admin, as we saw on the stream.
First and foremost, I think it's a compliment to our opponents. We've all seen what Fallen and his guys did. We all saw that these rounds weren't lost just because of nerves or silly mistakes – but because of the highest class of our opponents.
– Who is the most important opponent: SK or Astralis?
– With all due respect to our Danish friends... Surely, matches against them are crucial, but the question of proving ourselves was closed out back in Las Vegas for us.
The guys really do love matches against SK Gaming – for several reasons. Firstly, they really get along well – we all saw the post-award ceremony footage – the way they warmly celebrated together. The difference between SK and Astralis is that SK is a veteran of the top scene – no matter who plays for them, no matter how they're called – Luminosity or something else. The rivalry against them goes much deeper.
We talked to Gabriel at the tournament's afterparty, and he said: "Consider this the revenge for Las Vegas." I think now it's our turn.