Obviously Liquid got some bad luck in their group draw at EPICENTER, getting placed in probably one of the toughest groups that’s happened this year. Do you change your approach to the game when you face such a challenge immediately?
I mean, we have to face the challenge head-on. There’s nothing that we can do about it. There’s nothing we do different for preparation. The group is what it is. We knew beforehand — even before the wild card qualifier — what group we would be in, so we had enough time to study our opponents. We came prepared, but when you reach this high level of competition, it comes down to very simple details. In both of our matches that we lost, it came down to clutches, which I don’t think we won any. If we won any, they were too few and too spread apart. So that put us out of the competition, because people just kept breaking our economy.
Is that something specific to EPICENTER though, knowing your group that far in advance?
No, not really. Most tournaments will give us a heads up at least a week before. Sometimes less. But it’s standard to have at least three or four days to plan for your specific opponents, so you can understand the map pool you’ll be playing on, plan out what you’ll be facing, so you can figure out if there will be any curveballs, their way or anything.
You’re coming up one your one-year anniversary of joining the team. What lessons have you learned from coaching them and how has your style changed over the year? Do you find yourself being more hands-on, are you focused more on mindset over strategies, etc.?
So, the number one lesson I’ve learned on Liquid is how fundamental chemistry is within the team. The tactical aspect, I’d say I’m more hands-on than I was with SK before, maybe even more now, now that I’m the leader of the team, per se. As for what I do differently… In Team Liquid, I felt like I had to take on a broader approach to coaching. Before, it was just focusing on the tactical side because the chemistry was already there, and I didn’t have to work as much in that area. I’ve been learning a lot about how to deal with human behavior and the chemistry side of things.
We even have a spectacular person with us, Jared Tendler, who is our sports psychologist. He’s phenomenal at what he does. He actually revolutionized the poker game, so he works a lot in mental sports, which is amazing. I’ve learned a lot from him and it’s really cool, because it’s 5% of what the team relationship is, but if you don’t have that initial 5%, everything else crumbles. You need to have a foundation on the chemistry side and that’s not always as easy, especially as I come from a different culture.
How does that work with the team psychologist? Do you all hang out in a room, does he watch you play, how does it all work?
So, we have quite a few different ways to work with Jared. One way is for him to show up to events or alternatively, he can also boot camp with us. We’ll have sessions with him, he’ll watch us play, and he’ll just develop that more personal side of things. And he has a gift to explain things in such a basic way that just makes you feel like a dumbass at the end of the day, just “Oh, how didn’t I think of that?”
And the players have been receptive to it?
Yes. It’s not something that’s very common in esports yet. It’s starting to become a bit more common, but it’s not quite there yet.
Given that Twistzz is so young, how do you approach coaching someone who has so much talent, but lacks the big stage experience? Do you handle him any different than a veteran, or do you change how you work with him specifically?
I think that this isn’t only for Russell; each player needs to be handled in their own way. Some players, you’ll have to speak more softly to, some you’ll have to be more direct. Some need more tactical approach, some need more help on the personal chemistry side. Each player is different. In Russ’s case, the experience factor was there in the beginning, but I think he’s overcome it. He’s still developing of course — and it’s never going to be easy — but even the most experienced players will have nerves, they’ll have issues going on. It’s more about you being able to identify it than anything else.
If you can identify it, you can work on it. If you don’t know what the problem is, it’s really hard to solve it right? So, not just because Russ is here; he’s the most dedicated player on our team. I feel on the mechanical side of things, there’s not much I can do, he’s just naturally gifted. On the experience side, myself and everyone else tries to help as much as possible, but it’s just that — it’s experience. With finals, and deep runs in tournaments, it just gets easier and easier.
What’s the plan for the team going forward? All of the pieces seem to be there, but they just can’t get in the perfect order on a single weekend. Is it a matter of strategic refinement, is it working on an individual team, is it changing up the mentality on match day?
So it’s always a combination of those things: The mentality on match day, focus, tactical. Everyone will always be working. We try to focus on the fundamentals. It’s basically about trying to have the most solid team-play aspect down, and everything working out. After we have everything set, come match day, there are two teams there. It’s the one who makes the least mistakes. You have to show up on a good day and you have to win those crucial situations. And then there’s a bit of luck, there’s a lot of on-day factors which can affect someone. And then the outcome of one round can impact the rest of a match, be it mentally or strategically. It’s a really unpredictable game. If we show up and have a better day, we will eventually get there.
Our formula for success is a constant. It’s not something that we’re randomizing and trying to steal results. We are always facing the best teams and so… we have a foundation and it’s a constant result and a constant way of playing our game. We set our style, we don’t try to change too much. We adapt a bit to each team, but at the end of the day, we need to be playing our game. It’s our game that will make us win.