daps: "mindset over talent"
We caught up with daps and mixwell from OpTic in order to catch up with the team's goings-on ahead of this weekend's CEVO Gfinity Season 9 finals, where the team will be playing for the lion's share of the $125,000 pool.
OpTic were the first North American team to qualify for this event and have been placed in Group A where they will face Virtus.pro, HellRaisers, and Splyce. Their first match will be a best-of-three played tomorrow at 19:00 against HellRaisers from the Gfinity Arena in London.
So lets start off with your last CEVO run in which you made it to the semifinals during CEVO Season 8. Conquest got a bit of recognition there as you guys finished in the top 4 losing to mousesports after three maps. What were the feelings in the team then?
Daps: Obviously we felt really good after that LAN, because we beat Liquid and we beat dignitas. We played a close game with Virtus.pro and we played close with mousesports as well. That was one of our first LANs as a team, too, so we were obviously very excited. We placed top 4 which is better than we have done historically, so it was a big event for us.
Our team then kind of failed to be consistent, and you can really see that over the course of the past four months. Not so much with OpTic, but particularly with Conquest and even before then. Consistency was always a part of the problem. We didn’t play a lot. We didn’t practice properly back then and I think that’s a big reason we weren’t being consistent.
Not to say our performance at CEVO was a fluke, but dignitas played better CS than we did. We just hit our shots, though, and were giving them no respect. We rushed them constantly and got into upper hand situations by outskilling them instead of outplaying them, and that’s a style that just doesn’t guarantee consistency.
You guys then went to iBUYPOWER and EEPL, neither of which went too well, and you released PauLy as a coach. Do you guys think you guys got a little bit complacent after CEVO and just kept going with that more puggy style of CS?
daps: I was calling on-the-fly a lot. I mean we had a default, but it wasn’t a solid default. We’d get map control in a rough way and sometimes we’d have miscued flashes, so it was sloppy play. We had some strats at CEVO, but nothing we dry ran a lot. We managed to pull off some impressive wins at that LAN without being that clean.
Then around iBUYPOWER we didn’t have much time since we were travelling a decent amount, or it felt that way at least, so we didn’t really get that much time to prepare compared to CEVO. I really watched a lot of demos before that event, but we had nothing for iBUYPOWER, so that’s one of the reasons we did so bad there. Stan and I just didn’t put in the time we did watching other teams the same way we did for CEVO, which was part of our success: being able to counter teams’ tendencies rather than having an own solid structure.
The reason we bombed out at iBP was because we couldn’t play the style we were playing at the time, which was based on countering other teams. So it was just me calling on-the-fly without knowing what the other teams’ tendencies were.
After that you guys won the ELEAGUE qualifiers, then you left Conquest. What happened there?
daps: It was a mutual agreement to end the relationship. There were some organizational conflicts I don’t even know about, but it just ended.
So you guys then got picked up by OpTic and beat CSGL to secure a spot at ELEAGUE. It looked like things were going well. You guys were around the 15th place in our rankings at the beginning of the year, but then have steadily dropped off to a bit below 20th. There has been a lack of…
Yeah, consistency. Why do you think it has been lacking?
daps: I guess we can talk about inconsistency at the Minor qualifier and the Last Chance qualifier, where we lost to Winterfox. I think part of it is… it’s hard to say, honestly. Part of it is just practicing properly and getting enough practice, which is pretty difficult in North America.
One excuse North American teams always make is that you can only scrim late at night and no one wants to scrim during the day and I see so many teams saying this but nobody actually looking for scrims during the day. There’s an easy solution to wanting to play more, and that’s starting to play more. That’s one thing Óscar [mixwell] had a weird feeling about. NA teams play so late. There are so many times during the day I’ll see players from every team in pugs and these players have no other job than playing CS full time… CS is their job, at least for 99% of these players, so there’s no excuse as to why you can’t start playing earlier in the day, then have matches, and then end earlier as well. I think that’s one of the problems we had.
It wasn’t just not playing enough; it was also just playing a really puggy style. Some days we can go against anybody if we’re hitting shots and it can go really well and other days if we’re not feeling that great we crumble.
When you guys signed to OpTic, what were the expectations for the team, and are there plans of moving into a gaming house? Would that be a solution to the inconsistency, having everyone together under one roof?
daps: So as far as the gaming house goes it got delayed a bit and we still have to get some VISAs to live in the United States, so it’s a process that’s in the works. I think we’re planning on moving pretty soon, but you never know how long this is all going to take. I do know it’s happening, though. I think it would really help. It’s good for content and all that stuff, but I think it would make us better. If we’re all living together we have no excuses. We can wake up at a normal time, like people do to go to work, and we would work together and play a lot more.
For instance, TSM are moving into their gaming house. I just saw SEMPHIS tweeting about that recently, and as more teams start to do this there is no excuse as to why teams can’t start playing earlier in the day, which I think will help everybody. It will help the scene tremendously.
Moving into the Mixwell for ShahZaM change. First of all, where did the issues with ShahZaM stem? When did you start to think it might be time to change things up?
daps: There were two things that affected the change: attitude and gameplay. As simple as that. To be fair to him, the attitude issues [within the team] weren’t just his, but when the team started to get concerned about his in-game performance that’s when we made the decision to start looking for somebody else.
About two months ago somebody brought up the way the AWP impacted the team and it was something I had noticed too but never paid as much attention to until one of my teammates brought it up. Some analysts and other people noticed it as well and that is that all of us played very passively with ShahZ. He’s a passive AWPer. He doesn’t run around like a s1mple or a FalleN or all these other AWPers. He’s very static. Then you have stan, who is a very slow player, and so is NAF. I’m pretty in-between as well. So the only initiator on our team was RUSH and it really held our team back as far as opening rounds up on both T and CT side, especially since the AWP is such an investment and it has so much impact in a game as you can see by all these top AWPers that always do really well.
So we felt we needed to change up the AWP role. ShahZ is good in the role he plays, but he’s been playing the same style his whole career. I kept telling him he needed to be more aggressive and go for more picks, and he tried, but you could tell he wasn’t comfortable doing it. If he can get comfortable doing it that’s great, and he’ll be a great AWPer, but we needed an immediate change. We needed someone really aggressive and mixwell is the perfect answer to that. Someone who has a completely different mindset and a completely different style of play. That has really helped our team out so far.
Actually, before we delve deeper into mixwell, the team was informally known as “ShahZaM’s team” and he played the role of figurehead of the team. Was that just a popularity thing? Do you think that undermined the rest of the team? Because you can see something similar happened to maikelele in FaZe a.k.a “maikelele’s team,” but then he ended up getting the boot. Do you think one of the players taking that media star role can cause problems in a team?
daps: I don’t think there’s a problem with it, but I think it should be balanced out to a certain extent. A lot of people had mixed feelings when we replaced ShahZaM saying things like “oh, how can you cut your best player?” while not even ShahZ himself thought he was the best player. He always said NAF was the best player. So yeah, it is a media thing, and ShahZ was really good at that—he was the one that did all the team’s stuff.
We didn’t plan to have him as the centerpiece, it just kind of happened. For instance, when we announced the team we were all supposed to fly out to Chicago for the teaser in one of the OpTic episodes. If I remember correctly, though, it was right before the Minor and since ShahZ was in the States it was just easier for him to fly in since he was closer than all of us and we decided that it would be better if just one guy goes instead of the whole team so that we can rest before the event and hopefully prepare a bit better. ShahZ played from there a couple days, I believe, which was something not all of us could have done because there weren’t enough PCs so it was just easier for him to do that.
But yeah, it just sort of happened that way. He became the team captain and the centerpiece for the media, which was something the rest of us sort of failed at. We’re trying to improve in that aspect. Sure, we’ll have some players be more popular than others, that’s just bound to happen, but we’ll try to balance it out a bit more so it’s not just one person doing everything.
So back to Óscar... you were given a list of interesting players to look at, but how did you decide to go with a player that never played outside of Spain? We’re seeing he is very talented and already garnering much praise, but how did you decide to take the leap on an unproven player?
daps: So there are a few reasons we picked him. Obviously his stats are good and all that, but that’s not the reason I picked him over other players we were potentially looking at. I got sold when I watched him play compared to other players. I did a lot of scouting and watched a majority of the games he played in his career and also watched some of his past broadcasts to see him play on stream and try to see his attitude and try to get a feel for him. Because it’s obviously a risk. We’re not going to really know how he is without him playing in the team.
The other thing that sold me on him was just talking to him. We talked to him before we gave him the offer and his mindset toward the game and his will to win is greater than any North American’s and that will really elevate the rest of the team to want to win even more. I think that fresh mindset was one of the selling points, even more than just his raw skill. I rank his mindset above his individual skill.
So what would you say the impact of one player can be on a team?
daps: One player can change everything. You can have one player on one side of the fence that could be bringing people down, and making other people worse. Or you could have one player come in with a better mindset who makes everyone play better and then on top of that he’s insane. So one player can change a team completely. It’s night and day.
I know you, mixwell, had the offer to join the team in London for CEVO but you pushed for moving in with daps beforehand so you would have some time to practice and get to know the team. How has that preparation gone?
mixwell: We have practiced the basics of team play. Nothing special, nothing flashy, just setting roles and practicing basic things in order to have a deep enough map pool to play best-of-threes.
What has shocked you the most about North America?
mixwell: The most shocking thing is, as daps said, the practice regimen. People here really practice less, like half of the time European teams put in. Another thing I was shocked to see was the mindset, people feel like they don’t have to practice too much because nobody else is doing it. And here everyone has big salaries, which is different to what I’m used to, because I know that in Europe there are a lot of teams that are not getting paid and they are practicing more than any NA team.
So daps was saying when the team went into CEVO last year he had put a lot of time into researching the teams they were going to face. Are you guys going to play to your opponent’s weaknesses or to your own strengths?
mixwell: That’s up to daps, but I’m more comfortable playing to our strengths because that’s what I’m more used to. We aren’t going in with that much preparation, so I think playing to the other team’s weakness is pretty smart, but sometimes when you’re not prepared you should just play your own game instead of trying to anti-strat the other team. That’s what I think, but we can do both.
daps: Of course it’s good to be able to play both ways. So for CEVO for instance we haven’t had time to prepare at all because we’ve been preparing for all of these online matches to qualify for Pro League, etc. We haven’t had enough time to fully prepare the event so we have to play to our strengths. I’d say our map pool is pretty good considering the changes we’ve made. We probably have five or even six maps we like a lot so I’d say we’re in a pretty good spot. I’d say looking to the future we have to start playing more to our strengths rather than preying on the weaknesses of other teams, particularly top teams. If we have time to prepare for events in the future and have time to sit down for four or five days to go over what other teams do, I think it’s good to have both. There’s no reason not to prepare for other teams while still playing to your strengths.
What is the goal for CEVO? What would be a good result? What do you hope for and what would you be happy with?
daps: Getting out of groups is the first goal, but obviously winning the event is our goal. There’s no question about it, every team wants to win the event. But being realistic, which I shouldn’t do, and considering the time we’ve had I say we should at least get out of groups. Winning the event is going to be a struggle, and the competition there isn’t just pushovers. There are a lot of good teams there that have had a solid lineup for a lot of time now. I’d say we’re in a good spot, somewhere in the middle of the pack.
mixwell: We should at least get top 4.
Are there any teams you guys particularly want to play against?
mixwell (barely letting me finish the sentence): I want to play dignitas (laughs).
Because of ESL Barcelona?
mixwell: Yeah, that was the match we choked in and lost 16-14.
So at least Óscar wants some revenge…
daps: I wouldn’t mind playing Virtus.pro, although they’re a really good LAN team. I’d like to play them again just because I like to play teams that are in the top 10 or top 5. It’s always fun playing the top of the top, and I wouldn’t mind playing dignitas again. The last time we played at CEVO we had three close maps and I feel like it was a really good series.
I’ve never played HellRaisers before, but I do want to beat Splyce since they beat us at the Minor. Yeah, Splyce is a team I want to play and beat just to remove that Minor loss off the record.
Anything you guys would like to add?
daps: I would, but I have to go pay my taxes quickly. We leave early in the morning and we have a bunch of stuff to do before our last matches tonight. Then we leave to the airport a couple hours after the last match.
Just a shoutout to OpTic GreenWall, fans, sponsors, and thanks for moving the interview time a bit earlier, we wanted to get in early to prepare for tonight’s matches.
Mixwell: NA early…
(we all laugh)
daps: Yeah, EU early would have been five hours ago.
Óscar, anything you want to add?
mixwell: No, not really. I don’t want to say anything before I play the LAN.
How’s living together, by the way, any fights yet?
daps: No, no fights, but he eats all my food! (laughs)