We sat down with Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas to talk about his past, present, and future, as the Spanish player is on a short hiatus after having left OpTic, the organization that catapulted him into the upper echelons of CS.
Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas came seemingly out of nowhere at the ESL Expo in Barcelona to show the world he was a capable player. Not long after, OpTic, who were struggling for consistency in North America, decided to give him a shot and bring him on. After almost two years with the organization, mixwell left the team to explore new horizons as OpTic picked up a Danish/North American roster for the coming season.
Sitting on a terrace in the Gràcia neighbourhood in Barcelona, mixwell reminisced about his time in OpTic, from landing in North America and being one of the hands shaping a team chock-full of potential to the downward spiral of being stuck alone in a house in the Chicago suburbs amidst the growing frustrations of a losing team.
As the tolling of the square's belltower grew longer later in the afternoon, the conversation moved from past to present. Having talked about the struggles of a European lineup in which personalities and playstyles didn't mesh and no identity was established, ultimately dooming the team, mixwell revealed that he is now focused on trying to give the Spanish community wings as Wololos prepare to travel to China.
As far as the future goes, with English and Spanish in tow, and getting his French up to par, mixwell says that, after a long burnout, the current break he is on is giving him the motivation and hunger to get back in the server and show he can be at the top with a winning side once again.
Let's start when you landed in the United States after travelling from Spain.
It was something very unexpected. The only achievement I had at the time was playing well against fnatic and dignitas during the ESL Expo in Barcelona. I had also been playing well with Epsilon, but that was just locally. I didn't know any of the OpTic players at the time, I had never seen them play before, so when they contacted me I stayed up at night during their match days to watch them. I was immediately impressed because I could see how talented they were.
I could see they needed a little something extra, I didn't know what it was at the time because I wasn't with them, but I knew that, with just a little nudge, a really good team could be created. There was no doubt in my mind that I had to take a chance and go to North America. I got a pay raise and, on top of that, I got to join a team with huge potential, it was a no-brainer.
That's something that not as many people as one could expect actually do, go and take the chance. You can see time and time again players not wanting to leave their comfort zone. Why do you think in CS, as opposed to, say, traditional sports, a lot of people aren't willing to take risks like that?
I think a big difference between CS and sports is that you play from home, so you're close to your family and you don't have to exert physical effort, but the most noticeable difference is that it is treated by many as a hobby instead of as work. A lot of people don't have the ambition to become the best, and are happy just making some money playing the game they want to play.
A lot of people also get lost along the way. For instance, witmer made an incredible twitlonger not long ago explaining how hard it is to become a professional, and how much he tried to practice, but in the end he thinks he doesn't have what it takes. You have to be strong and disciplined, and have all these characteristics as a person, and, just like in sports, a lot of people get left behind and end up being happy playing at lower tiers rather than giving it all to try and make it all the way to the top. It really depends on one’s ambition.
Did you have any doubts about joining OpTic?
Honestly, the second they asked me to join I said, "I'm dropping everything. I'm leaving my friends and my family, I don't care." I knew being by myself in a new country was going to be hard, but, above everything, absolutely everything, I want to become the best. I have had times in my life in which I couldn't play, so I'd go to the library to watch frag movies and featured matches on HLTV. I couldn't watch them at home, so I'd go there and watch these videos and matches all day because I wanted to be like those players and I wanted to play with them. I'd try to learn everything they were doing just by watching, and then I'd play against bots on an old laptop with 15 fps [in 1.6] when I didn't have internet.
I used to go to LANs without playing online, taking 18-hour-long bus rides to go all the way to the other side of the country. I always did everything I could to be able to play, and I think something that has always been ingrained in me is thinking that, without making sacrifices, one cannot make it anywhere, so it wasn't hard for me to make the decision. I've always been pretty independent, and I've always known what I want.
So, when you got there you saw a team with a lot of talent, but perhaps they hadn't sacrificed enough?
Without a doubt. When I got there the main problem was a lack of attitude and ambition, so we got into a few arguments. For instance, NAF—a player I think is one of the five best in North America, and could become one of the three best, or even the best—and I had a problem right after the first tournament as I believed he had some attitude problems. I told him that if he kept down that path I wouldn't be able to play with him because I had left my home to play CS and wasn’t there to mess around. In a sense, I had to make them see that I was making a lot of sacrifices to get to the end goal and that they should make them as well because they are incredibly talented as they all had showed and are still showing.
The most important thing for me, and what I focused most on, was changing the team's mindset because the talent wasn't the problem—that wasn't what needed work. It was more about creating the right atmosphere, to instill some discipline and the belief that we could win. That we weren't just a low tiered North American team, that we weren't just a Top 20 team, but that we had players good enough to go out and win tournaments. The combination of instilling this mindset while at the same time getting good results was what made us see that, indeed, we could win.
And you did start to win...
I think it all started when we qualified for Cologne 2016, as some of the team's biggest mental block had come from dropping out of a Minor. When I joined, we beat the North American TSM lineup with Twistzz & co., and Tempo Storm's Brazilian lineup, which had the now-Não Tem Como core, won the Minor, and then made it through the Main Qualifier, 3-1, after beating HellRaisers. A huge weight was lifted and all of these mental issues and all of these barriers were suddenly gone. It was not only about believing we could make it but actually doing it, because you can believe in something all you want but if you never actually feel it you end up throwing the towel. That moment was incredibly important for the future of the team. On the other side of the same coin is what happened to the European OpTic, which is that not qualifying for the Major destroyed us.
As teammates, how was the atmosphere on that team?
First, I’ll talk about daps. He was very responsible and had very strong ideas about how everyone had to play, but he lacked a bit of raw talent. He was a very hard worker, but was just missing the X-factor the rest of the team had. When stanislaw became IGL and tarik joined the team, things changed because tarik was very sure of himself. He's a great teammate, a hard worker, and what he did was give us confidence, because the rest of us were all much more introverted. Having an extrovert like tarik, someone who always gives good vibes but is also demanding, really helped the team to reach the next level, and his skill helped just as much in that sense.
I think stanislaw didn't work out in Liquid because we knew and could understand what he wanted to do and we never went against him. We would take his ideas, and we would help to improve them, if possible. It was very important for him to feel like he had 100% trust from all of his teammates, because if that is not the case, he doesn’t play or lead as well as he normally would. He needs full confidence, and I don't think they gave him that in Liquid. In fact, when he left OpTic I thought that it would be very hard for things to go as well for him there as they had gone with us because we had adapted a lot to him.
Stan's exit was a bit controversial, as you had made Top 5 in the world ranking and were becoming a solid contender. How did it go down?
For me, it was an incredibly hard blow. It hurt all of us, really all of us. We had worked so hard, and he was such an important piece... in fact, you could have changed any one of us—and bouncing back would have been hard—, but he was the most important one. He had created our identity, how we played, and he was the one making decisions in-game. He had focused a lot on his task and we didn't have to worry, but when he left and that figure was missing—which we noticed early on when we brought in tarik for stanislaw before daps stepped down—we could never play as well. He had something that just made everyone else around him play better.
It felt like we had worked so hard and got so far, just to lose everything out of nowhere overnight. It destroyed me. Going to the US and giving up everything to be there and him leaving like that, making us start all over again from square one...
Well, that's exactly it. It didn't make much sense that he left at a point when you were reaping the rewards of the work put in and with a team that was doing quite well at the time.
I had some issues with my visa before the ELEAGUE Major in Atlanta, and we went to it without even being able to practice. I had to go to Italy for my visa—where the application process was quicker than in Spain—, from where I flew to the United States; otherwise, I would have missed the Major. I think getting eliminated there was a turning point for him.
He also didn’t like some of the infrastructure, how things were run. OpTic didn't have the investment money yet, and it wasn't really being managed by a team. We won ELEAGUE and Northern Arena and were ranked #2 in the world without a coach or an analyst or anything. We were one of the only teams without that kind of support. I think he wanted a more professional atmosphere instead of such a homely one. There was also some friction between him and some of the players on the team, and without knowing this with certainty, I imagine those were the reasons for him to leave. From my point of view, though, it was a mistake.
You were living by yourself at the gaming house when that happened, which was kind of in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of Chicago. How was that experience?
I think the worst part of that experience was that when the team contacted me I was told everyone would move into the house, but when I got to the US none of them joined me. I spent months in a house in the middle of the forest by myself. Hector came every once in a while, and was sort of a father figure, helping me get my paperwork done, going through bureaucratic processes with me, and so on. We shot some interviews at times, he took me out to lunch, got me out of the house and out of my routine here and there, but most of the time I was just there, alone. Luckily, I think I stuck it out pretty well, and in that sense I think I'm pretty strong mentally, because during the bad times, when there's no one around or anything to do, and the only thing you have is a computer, a pool, and loneliness, it’s easy to fall into despair. It's like a test, you know? It's like... if you let that get to you, you’ll play worse. On top of that, you're in another country, and they could even kick you out of the team...
And that happened during the post-stanislaw era, which was pretty dark in itself as you were constantly changing players and underperforming, right?
At some point, RUSH came to the house with me for a pretty long time, and that really helped. The team was doing so poorly and I was so alone that I was doubting if staying in OpTic was even worth it at that point. When he realized that, he came to keep me company, but the tension of not being able to play like we used to was becoming too much to handle. We had tasted victory but were now unable to keep evolving because we were missing an integral part of the team. What added to our frustrations was also that we couldn’t sign anyone because the organization couldn't pay the buyouts we wanted, there was a lack of in-game leaders in North America, Europeans didn’t want to come to North America, etc.
It created an anxious atmosphere in the team. Everyone got riled up very quickly because we felt impotent, not being able to play the way we did before. Many problems that never existed in the past started to pop up, and small issues turned into big problems just out of frustration. We felt like we were wasting our time, we weren’t competing to win. When you win, there aren’t any problems, but now we didn't have a fifth player and months were passing one after the other... [sighs] I was feeling depressed. No wonder my in-game level decreased, I didn't have the same motivation I had come with.
I was also forcing myself to stay in OpTic because they were the ones to give me my first opportunity. I never wanted to leave. I had offers coming my way every other week from different teams while we were struggling, but I always refused them because I wanted OpTic to go back to its former glory, so I could pay back all the love the organization had given me. I think, sadly, that was a mistake on my part.
Not having left before?
Yes. I'm sure it was a mistake, but hindsight is always 20/20.
Well, things could have also worked out differently...
Yeah, we could have found a fifth player and stayed the course, but we didn't. I tried to keep on going, but after all we had been struggling part of the team left. The moment the team was at its worst was at the PGL Krakow Major Qualifier in Bucharest. The team was completely dead then, and after we were eliminated I told them that I wanted to go home, that I didn't want to stay in North America. At that time, I didn't even want to play for any other North American team. I was so burnt out, and I had given up so much of my time, that I just wanted to be home and play in Europe.
I was still in contact with several European and North American teams, though. I was actually really close to signing for mousesports, which would have allowed me to move back and play from home, but I finally decided that I would remain loyal to OpTic and I felt we had a common project that I would rather stick with. When I got back the North America, though, RUSH and tarik went to Cloud9, so I found myself in the United States without a team and with a week to put something together if I wanted to play that season.
Walk me through that week, and putting the team together.
I talked to a lot of people, I’d say 15 or 20. Ultimately, what we decided to do, the organization and I, was to take the players that had experience and were, at least on paper, going to fill out the roles we needed. An AWPer in allu, we couldn't find an IGL but friberg said he would do it, Magisk to be a star player, me as second AWP or whatever was needed to fill the gaps—anything to adapt quickly and win—, and HS, who was a young talent. We didn't have many more options.
Online, we qualified for everything. There weren’t any problems, although traveling was a bit tedious, going back-and-forth between Europe and North America. In the end, not everyone was used to leaving home for so long, not everyone was willing to make the same sacrifices for the team. Some were more willing than others, but at least we had the talent to qualify for everything, make it out of groups, and so on. We didn’t have a team to win tournaments, though, I realized that quickly, because we had a lot of identity issues. Some players wanted to play one way, while others wanted to play another way... there wasn't much fellowship at all.
That's what I would jump straight at, it really seemed like the team was lacking chemistry. It seemed as if the team ended up being exactly what one could expect when five players that don't make much sense together are picked up last minute and thrown into a team.
There was no chemistry, and I think the problems that arose weren't dealt with properly, they weren't tackled as a team. People were made to be scapegoats, or problems were made where there weren't any problems. Conflicts eventually reached a point in which several groups were formed inside the team; one group here, another there, one person alone... that's not an atmosphere in which a team can grow.
It sounds like perhaps players were trying to make different projects, scheming to stay in the organization and create something else instead of focusing on what was there. Is that possible?
I'm not in other people's heads, so I can't know for sure, but that was the feeling, that people either wanted to make a different team in OpTic, or create problems just to see where that would lead, you know? There was no, "let's become better together" attitude, and it didn’t help that I was quite burnt out from the year before and didn’t have the strength I had when I got to North America. The strength to change the team’s mindset, to tackle problems head-on all the time, to spend a lot of energy thinking about how to make the team better. At that point I just became one more player, one who does his job, and that's it. It wasn't enough, and I should have done more, but that's also something the whole team has to want to do.
During your time in OpTic, both with the North American as well as with the European roster, you had a special relationship with AWPing. Tell me a bit about that.
The difference between the North American and the European teams is simple. On the American one, we had a style, while on the European one at times we had no clue what we were doing. Every match was different. It's really hard to play, when you're AWPing or when you're free to roam and make your own decisions, on a team if you don't know how your teammates are thinking, that's lacking leadership, on which people do what they want because they need to take initiative... Basically, it was chaotic, and we were constantly put in situations in which it all came down to winning duels, which will never make for a consistent team.
So when you were given the AWP in OpTic, in the European lineup, how did it sit?
The only reason for that happening, literally, was that the team needed initiative, and allu is a more passive AWPer. Chet [ImAPet] made the call because I’m more aggressive and he wanted to try and light a spark in the team’s play. That's all. It wasn't because I wanted to take the AWP away from allu or because I wanted to AWP at all. It was just what Chet thought was best for the team. It was quite hard for me to go back to the AWP, actually, because I had been rifling for months and the change came just days before going to a LAN.
Could you have stayed in OpTic after the team disbanded, and tried to make another project? How was your exit from the organization?
The organization wanted me to stay, but one of their requirements was to make the team in the United States and I had other things in mind. This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t play in North America, but if I go back I want it to be for a team aiming to win tournaments. I want to play with motivated people, where there can be proper cohesion towards a common goal. I wasn't ready to make another mix team with people I didn’t know, because there was the risk I could end up in a team I might not want to be in.
They tried to keep me, and just like I tried to do the best by them, they did the best by me, so it really hurt to leave. They're the organization that believed in me and thanks to them I'm on the map internationally, but I think it was necessary. I had a barrier in front of me that I just had to break because it would have been easy for me to stay and become stale. I need the chance to play on a team where I can just focus on playing, on becoming better, and where I don’t have to think about anything else.
Now you're on a semi-break, training with Wololos for WESG, which starts in a few weeks. Even though you're a mix team, you're practising every afternoon. How is it going?
WESG is the most important event in the history of Spanish Counter-Strike, because it's one of the few times we've ever gathered enough talent to show the whole Spanish-speaking community that we're capable of competing against the best. We have the power to show the people coming behind us that with hard work and effort they can go as far as they want. That's something lacking in Spain, we need to believe more in ourselves.
We've been talking a lot about making a Spanish team. We even talked about making it within the OpTic structure. I told them I wanted to make a Spanish team, but after losing so much with the European team I believed the fans deserved a team that would give them hope again, and I hadn't been able to rise to the occasion during the last few months. I also don't believe I was deserving of the power to make whichever team I wanted within the organization. I thought it was too risky for them to take us on, so when they had the option to make the international lineup I told them they should go for it because it would be better for the organization, which is something they agreed with.
I’m very excited to see what we can do in China because we've been preparing a lot. We practice every weekday, and I think we have a good chance to play well. While I think it's possible to make a Spanish team, eventually, I have to see it with my own eyes, first. I'm at a point in my career in which I can decide to keep playing internationally or to finally make the Spanish team I want, but I need proof first. I need to see how players develop, how much they really want this, how hard they'll work to get where I want to be. How much are they ready to sacrifice? What's their attitude? How do they play under pressure or in stressful situations? I want to know all of that.
And looking towards other horizons, you've started taking French classes, are you trying to widen the umbrella of teams that may be interested in you?
Yeah, having lived in the US and played in North America, I can now speak English quite well, so I could play on an international roster, but I French relatives I used to go to France with. I used to speak French as a kid, and I spoke it pretty well, but as years went by it has gotten rusty, so I started to take some intensive classes just to have the doors open to as many teams as possible. I know there are some French teams that need just a little nudge to make it to the next level, and I think I could possibly one day help them. This being said, I'm aware this could just as well not happen, but knowing languages is always a plus. I do it both to better myself as a person and to open doors for the future.
Other than French teams, or a Spanish team, what do you have your eyes set on?
I would play for English-speaking teams. I would have no issue playing in North America as long as the team is made to win and not to just make it to events or barely make it out of groups, I got a bit tired of that last year. I've had to go through everything I just explained in this interview to realize that I would rather wait for an opening in a functioning team than to start from scratch again. If I have to do that, I might as well just make the Spanish team and we can all start from square one, together.
If you were to make a Spanish team, do you think you could be that centerpiece that's needed, the way FalleN has been for the Brazilian scene? Someone to lead people from a fractured scene to create a team that has opportunities?
I would like to take some responsibility in helping put Spain on the map, because a figure like that is missing here. Someone who can earn the respect of his peers through his achievements and has experience playing internationally. I want to show a group of players that winning is possible, like the Brazilian team that came out of nowhere to become the best in the world.
A Spanish team isn’t there yet, but I think tournaments like WESG are very important because they’re a chance to show to the players within the team tangible results, that they don’t just have to rely on words. Anyone can appreciate results. As I said before, this will be the most important tournament for a Spanish team in the game’s history, and I’m ready to play my role in the team. I want to make my teammates better, to show them everything I know, so eventually they can become better than me.
Is there something we haven't touched that you'd like to address?
When I went to the US to play for the first time, I was incredibly motivated to jump into the international scene, and was able to help push my team to become a top contender. After a hard year and a half or so of bad results and turmoil, I got somewhat worn down. This break is giving me the chance to charge my batteries and get that motivation back. I feel like it’s the perfect moment to take on any project, be it joining a strong international side or taking on my personal project of putting Spain on the map. I feel at full power, in and out of the game, and I can't wait to get back in the server.