To close out the Asia Minor, we talked to two of the winners, Justin "jks" Savage and Noah "Nifty" Francis, and asked them about their shaky start and the rest of their run to the title and one of the spots in the New Challengers Stage.
Earlier on Friday, Renegades topped the Asia Minor after what was an up-and-down tournament for them, as they had issues with SCARZ Absolute in the group stage and had to make a run through the lower bracket in the playoffs after losing to TYLOO in the upper bracket semi-final.
However, "the boys" recovered, taking down the Japanese team in the first round of the lower bracket before beating Tainted Minds for the second spot in the New Challengers Stage, as the same two teams made it yet again, for the fifth time in a row. In the grand final, Renegades took their revenge on the Chinese-Indonesian squad with a straightforward victory and clinched the title.
Your run at the Minor was a bit shaky towards the start, losing to the Japanese team, SCARZ - what happened there?
Nifty: We came into the event pretty confident, we know that we had rehearsed all of the things that we've gone over the three weeks prior a lot. So, again, we were very confident. I think we were just surprised a little bit by SCARZ, we took the first match okay, we were happy with it, and we really wanted to make it easy on ourselves just by beating the next one in the best-of-one so we can just move on to the playoffs.
We lost and we knew we were going to have to make the lower bracket run and it was going to be a little bit more difficult, more of a chance of getting an upset. I don't know, we just lost (laughs), there's nothing crazy that happened, we still did what we practiced.
Nothing style-wise that caught you off-guard or anything like that?
Nifty: We pretty much knew how they were going to play, we're aware of how the Asian teams function, but even though we knew what was coming we still got beat by it. Sometimes it just happens that way. I think also, on that day, not everyone was hitting that many shots, so that's also a problem. Even if you know what's coming, if you're not sharp they can still win.
Going into the playoffs, you lost to TyLoo off the bat and again you had to go through the lower bracket, how did your first encounter with TyLoo go and what did you learn from that for later on?
jks: The first time we played TyLoo - we knew what they do, we play them all the time, but I'm not sure why they kind of caught us off-guard this time. Sometimes they run through smokes, they catch us off-guard, there are some rounds where they jump through smokes and they headshot us jumping and sh*t like that (laughs), some unlucky stuff happened to us, but also the way they play is that they do a lot of fakes and I think if we're not in our zone and comfortable, it catches us off-guard quite a lot.
For example, on the inner bombsite, I got caught off-guard twice on Train when they just threw smokes on the outside and I'm the only one inside alone, and three of them ran out higher. It was things like that and they did it in important rounds where we got reset, so we lost a lot of rounds on the back of that. Then we won Inferno, we're pretty comfortable on Inferno, and then on Cache we had a good T side, but on the CT side, I think we still have some stuff to work out on the bombsites and I think they were just abusing that. Simple as that, they played well on the first day.
In the rematch against SCARZ, you still lost on one map, Mirage, even though you won the series. Did they do anything specific that you just didn't expect? What was it that you had a problem with?
jks: On Mirage we've seen everything they do. We were just trying to counter-strat them, we knew what they were doing and then we just played it like little b*tches.
Nifty: I feel like that's the worst... (laughs)
jks: We played scared.
Nifty: They literally played the exact same way they had played VG.Flash on Mirage. They go five B apps 11 out of 15 rounds and we knew that they did that, and we still lost!
jks: They still did it, yeah.
Nifty: And then they came A a couple of times, lost, went back to B... I messed up in mid a couple of times, but I don't know. Knowing how they played just made it weird.
jks: Knowing how they played we kind of just outsmarted ourselves. We just didn't play like ourselves and then we just lost the map.
Nifty: I think it might just be because of the changeup, making the pre-game adjustment, not during the game. It just changes things for some of our players, we're not used to it, one player that is not normally in B is not used to being in B from the start of the round and just expecting five players to come out B apps.
I guess there's a lesson to be learned, right, not to anti-strat so much?
jks: We prepared versus those guys by watching their stuff and then we figured that we were going to play a different way. But then we play someone like Tainted Minds, for example, and we just play our own game and it works out better.
We don't have a set system for that kind of stuff yet, preparing for the matches - we are obviously watching their demos and stuff like that, we'll figure out where they play, but we just need to get a routine going and then we'll be better. Sometimes, if we play an underdog, we'll figure out how they play and we change our style of play and we start losing, the pressure of it gets to us a little bit.
Nifty: We destroyed them on Inferno, lost Mirage, and I was like 'Can we just play like how we did on Inferno?', that simple.
And Tainted Minds?
jks: That game, we just played our own game. Simple as that, we knew we would beat them if we just trust in our aim and just play it together as a team, we know we are more prepared than them, we have more experience than them. That's basically how it panned out.
Nifty: I feel like there were a few times where they outsmarted themselves in that series as well and kind of overthought some things. But yeah, off the back of what Justin said, we just played our own game and focused on us.
jks: Yeah, and some of the rounds on Overpass kind of reminded me of how we used to play. We used to get caught out with smokes and stuff like that, trying to set up for strats.
Nifty: Karlo peeked sands and killed three guys with smokes in their hands (laughs).
jks: Yeah, stuff like that. It used to happen to us a lot and we just learned from experience how to fix that and what we should do better on that side of the map.
So is it just experience that those guys are missing, or...? Or not even just Tainted Minds, but other Australian teams who seem to be missing something...
jks: I think we were just more comfortable playing our own game in that match and we just felt like, after yesterday's game where we actually started playing our own game, we got really confident.
Nifty: I don't think any of the Australian teams that compete at the top of Australia, none of them are bad, they're just inexperienced. Even though a few of them attend major LANs, they're just not getting the constant playtime. They can only do so much, they play against the Chinese teams and stuff like that...
Thinking out loud here - and that's probably more fit for you, Justin -, do you feel like getting used to that Asian playstyle made it harder for you to take the next step and get used to how the Western teams play? At the start, going back a few years...
jks: At the start, it's always hard to play these teams because they have such a different playstyle in Asia compared to US and EU teams, so, for us in particular, when we come back here and when we play these teams we have to readjust and get used to it.
So, I imagine for Tainted Minds and Greyhound they kind of have a little bit more experience of playing these Asian teams, maybe a little bit more than us. But I think once they get more experience they'll get a lot better, they're not bad at all, they're all really good aimers, they have pretty good teamwork, but there are obviously some things that you can fix.
When we watch their games we see some stuff that maybe they don't see and we question why they're doing that. I think they should still be proud of what they did here, top three... And playing TyLoo is always really hard, especially for us as well, so I don't blame them (smirks).
And you played TyLoo a lot...
jks: Yeah, exactly, I hate their playstyle, it's frustrating to play against because it's unpredictable, and they're really good at it so props to them. With more experience, I think Tainted Minds could beat TyLoo, maybe even us, and become a top team.
Let's close out with the period until the Major - it's about a month and a half away, so what's next, how much are you going to prepare for the Major itself?
Nifty: Starting tomorrow, everyone's going to go back home. They're going back to Australia, we'll be back in the US, jkaem is going back home, as well. We're going to have roughly for weeks of actual break time, so, obviously, we all want to be playing as much CS as we can but still have our break. As soon as we come back from the break we want to do a bootcamp in Denmark again, probably, right before the Major and then go straight into the Major and try to see what we can do.
Now that you touched on the break, how do you feel about the Major being after it rather than prior to it, as it used to be?
Nifty: I really don't think it's a good idea because I also don't think it gives people a whole lot of time to actually enjoy their break, as well, because you know the Major is coming up and you're playing in that very first stage, you'll still have to commit a lot of time to Counter-Strike in your break.
Maybe you want to go on vacation, you know? You want to have like a week or two where you just don't play any CS. So I think that kind of takes away from it for some players and it makes it feel like maybe you don't have a break. But I don't know, if the break is going to be in between the Major like that, players will just have to figure out how to balance their actual vacation time with putting time into CS.
jks: I think it's a little bit different for us, as well, because we live away from home. Everyone else goes back to Europe, or they go back to US, they could spend time with family, have some time away from the game, whereas us, we spend January all the way through to like the start of August playing overseas, and then we go home for like three weeks, then we come back and we have to play the Major if we qualify for it.
It's kind of annoying, I wish the Major was on right now, or maybe a couple of weeks before. It would be better if it went back to that, we spend like six to seven months away and then we have a three-week break, we come back for three months, and another break, it's not very even. For us, it's harder.
Nifty: And that's mostly just us, but I think even we would agree that it's not ideal to have a month-long break before the Major.
jks: I think most teams would agree that they want the Minors and then the Major before the break, I think that's what most people have echoed in the past.