Ahead of the first round of the final stage of the FACEIT London Major, our own Steven Cropley had the chance to sit down with Jason “moses” O’Toole. The former professional player who now splits his time between being an analyst on the desk and a commentator in the booth speaks of North America vs. Europe, Cloud9, compLexity, and taking responsibility away from players. North America currently has two teams in the top eight of the Major in London with compLexity stunning most by making it this far with a 6-1 record through the New Challenger and New Legend stages.
VPesports: First, let’s talk about North America’s apparent rise. Now we’ve done this before, we’ve talked about “NA’s coming,” “NA’s here,” but I don’t know that it’s ever been this many teams. You have Liquid, NRG, and Cloud9, although they’ve fallen off, but you have teams like Rogue and Ghost seeing some form of success even if it is at tier 2 events. What are your thoughts on that? Is right now a weak point for Europe or a strong point for North America or both?
moses: I think there’s some diminished strength in the European scene, I think you could make a real argument that we kind of hold Denmark as like the strongest country for Counter-Strike, and at the moment, I know North America isn’t a country, but you could make a strong argument that at the moment North America is one of the strongest regions for Counter-Strike. Because as you mentioned all those different teams are showing up in a big way. I think part of it is the culmination is a very long process of a shift or a change in attitude from the scene in North America. This is a scene that has been really immature in the early stages of Counter-Strike, didn’t really know how to practice, had a lot of talent, everyone thought they were better than they were, everyone thought you could just put talent on a team and compete and I think with the Brazilian team moving up there years ago and being so good for so many years and then Cloud9 in their steady improvement into a title in Brazil and then a Major title. Now you have Liquid as well. I think the top tiers of North America Counter-Strike has really paved the way for the next progression of players to be very good. I think it helps as well that we’ve had some of those experienced teams and players blow up in the past because even though they weren’t able to achieve anything they were able to bring their experience to a lower level. You have your guys like semphis who was in Spylce, steel who is super experienced in Ghost, Hiko in Rogue, CadiaN in Rogue. You have all these experienced guys who can pass on what they’ve learned to younger players who are super hungry and they’ve found the ones that want to learn. It’s just been years of waiting for this kind of point to hit. We’ve always had the talent, it’s just been learning how to play as a team, learning how to play the game properly, learning how to be a teammate that everyone was missing and now that we’re getting that you can see the results. Our teams are much more dangerous from top to bottom.
VPesports: Going off of the idea of teams blowing up and sending veterans to younger and less experienced teams, do you think it would be better for the current Cloud9 to do something similar and grab the young guys or should they continue to try and pick up some stars from other regions?
moses: I think the problem that a lot of teams are going to have, and Cloud9 included, in picking up stars from other teams is that we’ve gotten into this contract hell nightmare that’s never been fully figured out or resolved to where we just have these insane buyouts. Then the question becomes not really is this player worth it, but is this player worth it for $300,000 or $400,000. So for me, I see a lot of young players that we glimpse in lower tier teams that you can get for relatively cheap or for free and I see so much talent in them that it’s like why not take the extra three months to build this player up. For Cloud9 specifically, that’s tough, because I think they have some internal issues to figure out. Do we think Golden is the leader we want and need, is STYKO the kind of player to play the role that we need? Once you have that figured out you move to the next set of questions. Can autimatic and RUSH be stars? What players do we want around them? Do we want them in the same roles as the Major-winning lineup or to step it up and be at the forefront. Then you have the Skadoodle question, which is always going to be a question which is unfortunate because he’s historically one of my favorite players. Is he going to be motivated, are we going to get the Skadoodle from the Boston Major? It’s always going to be the theme, it’s unfortunate but he’s a relatively quiet guy and that’s the way the conversation works. We know the issues he has with communication and motivation and it’s always going to be back and forth. Cloud9 just needs some internal soul searching it feels. There’s a whole host of issues and it feels like there are no right or wrong answers. For me, looking at that team I’d like to see them pick up a different AWPer than Skadoodle. I like Golden as an in-game leader. I’m fine with STYKO if they think RUSH and autimatic can step up and become the star players, if not pick someone else. I think there’s a lot of potential AWPers, looking at the NA scene there’s Wardell and cerq, although he’d be hard to get from NRG. These are just questions they have to answers for themselves.
VPesports: On to compLexity, do you think their performance is here to stay or do you think this is a miracle run? They’ve picked up two veterans and added them to some younger blood with yay and ANDROID.
moses: There’s was no indication this was coming was there? It just kind of happened which has been really fun to watch. I think they’re having success that can be replicated although its impossible to know if it will be. They have Warden behind them in a managerial role, obviously, a legend and championship winning players – a former teammate and opponent of mine. I know he’s very good in terms of the mentality of the game and they have Rambo as the coach. Same thing, former opponent of mine and multiple championship winning player. He’s always been one of the most solid players we’ve ever had in North American Counter-strike. And Jason Lake has been a part of putting together a championship roster from nothing in the past – these are guys who understand the process and understand its not going to be an overnight thing. That it’s going to be this week they fix one thing and a month later they’ll fix another thing. They’re not impatient and they can help these guys grow and improve and that’s exactly what they’ve done. They also had roster changes in bringing in stanislaw who can play and call an effective game of Counter-Strike and ShahZam who has the experience and is playing really good Counter-Strike at the moment. Then you add in those young guys, and as long as they continue to perform and improve this is going to be a consistent thing. That’s really cool to watch, it’s been a learning process for them and this is just the results of all that hard work. It’d be such a cool story to hear everything that came out of that boot camp in Berlin. They did like 2 weeks in Berlin ahead of this with 5-6 scrims a day and it’d be cool to see what they worked on and improved on. This is a team that was battling to secure a place in the Pro League playoffs and now top eight at a major and that’s wild.
VPesports: Almost any organization says things like “we have the best infrastructure” and you have “esports 3.0” with Jason Lake and compLexity. Do you think that they really are getting the best in terms of practice regimens, support systems, etc. How important is it to take that power out of the players’ hands and make it more of a job?
moses: Absolutely. I think the gold standard for that is Astralis. Those guys have gotten it down to a point where they know how to work and how to do it and that’s how it should be. I’m of the mind that more responsibility should be taken out of the players’ hands. I don’t think players can manage schedules like that. You should have to practice four hours a day, you should have to practice four of five days a week depending on your tournament schedule. I think across every aspect of esports, we need more people from outside of esports with experience to come in and help with those things. When you see all these teams getting picked by professional sports organizations, they bring it outsiders who are great at what they do. Astralis isn’t backed by an organization but they have a Danish handball champion, like the best of all time who is teaching them and working with the players and how to prepare appropriately and how to mentally be ready and what you’re going to look at to counter. Sports psychologists is a buzzword, Astralis and NiP have one and some North American teams now. People coming from traditional sports with decades of experience of proven competitive habits and structures to improve how competitive you can be and how prepared you are. I think teams need that, especially these ones that have the backings of major organizations. You don’t have to go piece by piece, you don’t have to get a sports psychologist and then a nutritionist and then a physical trainer. It’s all right there with the Dallas Cowboys. I think the big difference between younger and older players, and I know this because many younger players have reached out to me personally, they are willing to seek this information and ask what will make me a better player while the older players seem to have it figured out in some ways but still need to find some way to adapt and become more fluid as time goes on.
(Cover photo courtesy of Turner Sports/ELEAGUE)