By Taras Bortnik
Special to VPEsports
This is part one of a three part interview with Duncan “Thorin” Shields
VPEsports caught up with Duncan “Thorin” Shields for an extensive interview during the StarLadder Major in Berlin.
In the first section of the three part interview, the CS:GO analyst and esports historian talked about the Major holistically, the player break effect, the French scene, and AVANGAR’s miracle run.
VPEsports: What are your thoughts on the Major overall as we near the end?
Thorin: The elephant in the room is, if you look at the form of the teams that came into the tournament and whose actually gone the furthest, you have to say the player break unfortunately brought the average level down. And listen, that’s not to blame for everything, that just made everyone start at a bad level who’d been blazing in the summer before.
I think since then, the key thing is, the teams that did really well, NRG, AVANGAR, Renegades, Astralis – they’re the teams that when everyone went down, they started to go up. That’s why they’ve separated themselves from the pack. The sad thing about that is the big matches we all wanted to see, Liquids vs. Astralis, etc. at their peaks – not when they’re out of form. I wanted the big championship fight as it were.
So at the moment I don’t feel we got that, same as in the semifinal today. NRG looked so great but then Astralis’ experience almost made them look like noobs at times. Any time it was in a post plant situation it was a bit easy.
On the one hand the story lines are cool. You got all these teams you don’t expect going far, but I don’t know if it will be remembered as one of the greatest Majors for the matches themselves. In the playoffs we’ve had a lot of 2-0’s.
VPEsports: If it’s not just the player break, do you have any extra ideas as to what happened to Liquid?
Thorin: I think you also have to add in that the fact that there’s a player break angle makes it even tougher to gauge it. Another factor is all the tournaments they were wrecking everybody in weren’t the Major. If people don’t know this, the only tournaments this year that Team Liquid didn’t make the final of, were the two Majors.
I’ve always described it as this; competition is like a ladder and the first step of the ladder is you play online, then you go offline to a small tournament, then you go offline to a decent sized tournament, then a big tournament, then at a big tournament you still have to go to a stage match, and then obviously at the end you go to the Major and then the playoffs of the Major is the top rung.
The problem for the Team Liquid guys is they haven’t won a Major, they haven’t gotten to the top rung. You can be amazing every other day of the year, but if you aren’t amazing on that particular day you won’t be remembered as the greatest player or greatest team of all time. That’s something that they’ve yet to get over because they already messed that up before they went on this big run so I can’t just give them a pass entirely for the player break.
I also think it’s a bit wack to imply they only lost because of the player break. That was a factor but if you flash your teammates, if you play badly on your map picks, a lot of that is on you as well as your opponent.
VPEsports: Does their bad play in the playoffs cancel their whole run in recent months?
Thorin: I’ll say this – you can definitely start to make that argument. I think I would still side on the idea that they’re one of the only teams to not win a Major and still have an era. If you just look at their dominance, the stats, I mean they’ve broken records. How many best-of-x series in a row they’ve won, amount of tournaments they’ve won, etc.
They were literally breaking records that were held by the NiP team that went 87-0. People said these things would never happen again. In that context I guess, unfortunately – I’ll give you a sports analogy that Americans might know. What looked at one point in time like it was going to be the greatest American football team was this New England Patriots team in 2007. They had the best offense, the best defense, and they won every single game right up until the final where they were the huge favorites. They lost to a big under dog. Even though they actually lost, when people make those teams of top 10 teams of all time, you’d think they’d just put the top 10 teams that won the Super Bowl, but no they actually get on to the list even though they didn’t win.
It’s kind of the way you don’t want to be remembered as a great time – “they were the greatest team to never win a Major.” So the key thing is Astralis didn’t win anything in the lead up, Vitality won a couple and didn’t do well here, ENCE obviously didn’t do much. No one can take the top spot with one result like this. Astralis doesn’t become number one, but now as Team Liquid if you want to make this an era you probably have to win all the tournaments after this.
The worst thing for them is, we’re not in the days in 2015 when you had like three Majors per year. It’s like over 200 days until the next Major. Off the top of my head, I don’t think any team ever stayed number one for lets say 300 days. Team Liquid will now have to break even more records if they ever want to get that Major. If you’ve never won a Major, you’re going to have a hard time calling yourself greater than Astralis.
VPEsports: What about AVANGAR makes this run possible here in Berlin?
Thorin: The interesting thing is, everyone called Astralis a boring team when they were winning, right? But they were winning at such a high level, and it was so beautiful. If you wanted to pick a boring team, I would have picked AVANGAR. The thing about them was, they were this really slow team, they would try to grind people out, Jame was saving a million rounds with the AWP, they never used to win the tournaments, they never made the playoffs.
All they would do is if it was an online qualifier they’d ruin it for someone else. They were just kind of there to upset other people and make the scene boring.
But then you look at this Major in particular and Jame, he has actually leveled his game up even further. He was winning opening duels in the game against Renegades, so he definitely wasn’t baiting.
The player for me that I think is critically underrated on AVANGAR is qikert. This is the guy for me, that when I heard that Na’Vi might kick Edward, this is the obvious person. He’s a young player, he’s an entry player, he seems like quite a confident guy. I always contrasted qikert with apEX from the French scene. He’s a very up and down player, but if apEX is on his game, they’re at their absolute best.
If you asked me to say who the worst player before the playoffs, I’d say SANJI. It wouldn’t even be close. His stats were terrible, he did nothing in the games, he looked like the others carried him. In the playoffs so far he’s performing. He’s actually winning duels against people, he’s playing at a level you haven’t expected. Part of me is worried this is like a Cinderella run and AVANGAR will never look this good again. But the fact that they got to this level is amazing, these are some of the best teams in the world they’re going head-to-head with.
VPEsports: With the stats stating that Vitality has lost 20 of the 21 games where zywOo didn’t perform above a 1.0 – is Team Vitality truly Team zywOo?
Thorin: It is in a way. Here’s the problem, it’s like Na’Vi. People think back to when they added electronic and Zeus to Na’vi and it was just s1mple carrying, electronic hadn’t come along. Or NiKo in mousesports back in the day. The problem is, it’s not as bad as that. The difference is some of those players NiKo had as teammates were rubbish players, they just weren’t good at all.
Similarly on Na’Vi, some of the players didn’t fit the roles at the time. They had to switch things up a little bit. In Vitality, the other players do their job. That’s why if you notice, the plus / minus when they did that stat had zywOo at +1000 and everyone else was 0, the thing is Zeus would have been -1000 so you have to make up for even more. I’ll say this – they do their jobs, but it is unfair one person to have to frag out every game. No top team should be relying on that. That’s why you have to look at people like apEX, like RpK, and say what are you doing in the team? Just doing your job isn’t enough, someone else has to have big performances.
Especially in these playoffs, I don’t even want to be too harsh to zywOo, it’s his first big Major playoffs. I would expect the veterans to be the guys who are going to pick up the slack if he has a bad game. But when he had a bad game, they had a bad game with him and the team looked terrible.
In fact, AVANGAR could have won all three maps.
VPEsports: What do you think about the NBK move being announced in the middle of a match?
Thorin: There’s a famous saying – you should never make any serious life decision when you’re emotional. Your emotion will sway you, you’ll get confused, but later on you’ll go maybe that wasn’t the right move.
The problem is, in the French scene, they are very famous for cutting players and having the French shuffle and obviously G2 at the same time are cutting people. I think the telling thing for me about this move though is – I once did an article where I called NBK the king maker of the French scene. At one point he had the most trophies of any French player, had won two Majors, so he used to be the guy who decided if a player joined the team or got cut. So the idea that G2 benched him and now he’s kicked from Vitality – he’s going to have to reinvent his career if he wants to make a new chapter because this kind of looks like he’s on the way out and people don’t want him anymore.
VPEsports: Do you think this sets the French scene back to like a year or two ago when it completely crashed?
Thorin: Depends how it works out. At the moment the thing that worries me is I actually said before this Major I hope both the French teams fail because Vitality is very good but not the best, G2 is good but not elite.
I actually wanted them both to do a bit badly because I wanted them to do roster moves. It just wasn’t these roster moves. I wanted them to kick Lucky or kick out RpK, these seemed like the obvious moves. I feel like if I had $10 million and I could make a super team, I think you could make an amazing French team right now that could win the Major.
Unfortunately it’s not the squads they’re making at the moment.