YNk: "I want this team to have an attitude, a certain culture"
When the new tournament season kicks off, on August 24, with the ZOTAC Cup Masters, in Hong Kong, YNk will find himself in unfamiliar territory. The Serbian is accustomed to being in the spotlight, but this time around he will be standing far from the analyst desk - his natural habitat for years - and will drop his trademark well-cut suits and breast-pocket handkerchiefs for more casual apparel as he begins a new chapter in his career as the coach of MIBR.
For the last three years, YNk has been regarded as one of the most thorough analysts in Counter-Strike, his "weatherman" segments from DreamHack Masters Malmö 2016 still remembered by fans all across the globe. It was precisely his understanding of the game and its tactical nuances that caught the eye of Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo, who admitted that the Serbian "has always had my admiration".
After ending 2017 as the best team in the world, the Brazilians have struggled for form since the start of the year, to the point that, eight months into 2018, they have yet to reach the final at a big event. The decision to bring in YNk, the team’s first coach since Wilton "zews" Prado left in mid-2016, to steer the ship back on course is the latest of a series of significant changes for the two-time Major champions since January. Yet it is one that the team had been contemplating for quite some time.
"I was initially approached by their manager, Ricardo, in early June," YNk told HLTV.org. "He told me that they had discussed it within the team and that everyone agreed that I could be a good fit. [Immortals CEO] Noah Whinston also reached out during that time to answer any questions I might have about the organisation, which later played a good part in my decision since I liked the way they approached the team.
"I actually declined them at that point since a big issue for me was moving to Los Angeles, but I also wanted to finish out the year as an analyst, see how some things unfold behind the scenes, and then potentially make the jump into coaching in 2019."
This was far from being the first time that YNk had been offered a coaching position. He had been approached by Kinguin in 2015, and Nikola "NiKo" Kovač had also come knocking when he was still plying his trade for mousesports. "I declined at the time since I really wanted to break through as an analyst and accomplish everything I set out to do," he explained. "In my mind, coaching is more stressful than being an analyst. I just was not ready to make that leap."
But after three years on the job, the excitement began to fade. "I started thinking about where I was in my career and realised I had accomplished pretty much everything I wanted to when it came to being an analyst in Counter-Strike," he said. "I have worked with every organiser out there, I have done Majors, I have been on live TV in the United States... I realised that a change of pace would be something that I would enjoy."
As the tournament season was about to come to a close, YNk was suddenly in hot demand, courted by none other than MIBR and FaZe, two sleeping giants facing something of an existential crisis. "[Immortals General Manager] Tomi also reached out to me, since they were thinking about replacing boltz with NiKo, but he had no intention of leaving FaZe," YNk said, "He actually suggested that I should join FaZe as a coach, since RobbaN was mentioning stepping down if he could find a suitable replacement to spend more time with his family, and this was appealing to me since I could keep living in Serbia.
"Eventually I decided to have a talk with both teams in Atlanta and make my decision. It was an easy one after I talked to the MIBR guys in the practice room after they had got knocked out. I really liked their attitude about the future and they have shown commitment to working hard in order to get back to winning titles."
For now, YNk has committed himself to MIBR for a two-month period, until the end of September. He will be with the team at all times, not only at the events that are coming up - ZOTAC Cup Masters, DreamHack Masters Stockholm, the FACEIT Major and BLAST Pro Series Istanbul - but also during their bootcamps in Europe. After this period, the two parties will sit down to discuss the future. "It is a perfect way for me to see how things go - not results, just the job in general - without having to relocate full time to North America or get locked into a long contract," he said.
While YNk has yet to begin working with the players, he seems to be well aware of the issues that the team have faced in the last few months. In his opinion, "the main problem was not really CS related" but the result of boltz knowing that he was living on borrowed time since the team had tried to replace him and TACO with Na`Vi duo Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev and Egor "flamie" Vasilyev.
"It seemed to me like he did not really try to change their mind and improve, he was just waiting for the change to happen," he said. "And I believe under those circumstances it is impossible to function as a team.
"You add the loss of confidence, which then had them make those ridiculous changes to the in-game leader, and the fact their map pool was a mess... All of that played a role in their issues more than anything directly related to what they were doing in the server."
The additions of Jake "Stewie2K" Yip and Tarik "tarik" Celik have drawn criticism from all quarters, with fans and pundits alike fearing that the North American pair are shackled by the team's passive tactical approach - quite different from the aggressive style that they used to enjoy in Cloud9. Liquid star Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken echoed those sentiments by saying that the duo's playing style had changed "in a pretty negative way", prompting FalleN to stress that the team's newest recruits "have had the freedom to be the type of players they want to be."
Questioned about whether he will pick a system that suits his players or try to mould them into his vision of the game, YNk said: “My plan is to focus more on the system, to make some adjustments to fit tarik and Stewie a bit better while also adding a bit of flavour with some things that I think they are missing in their game. I believe it’s important to be able to run multiple styles, since different things work for different opponents. My goal is to give the team identity but without making it one dimensional.
“I also think people underestimate the versatility of some of these players, they have a great understanding of the game and have had to play multiple roles before. I have full confidence we can make things work with them.
"I really want this team to have an attitude, a certain culture. I think things have been moving extremely fast in esports and the players' approach has not really kept up. I think because of their roster issues the Brazilian core has lost some of its hard-working culture that got them to the top in 2016."
The decision to put broadcasting gigs on hold for the time being has seemed sudden to many, so I ask him whether the current state of the game is driving talent away. "I think CS is as good as ever," he noted. "I will say this, though: people underestimate how difficult it is to be a top talent in CS right now. There are so many tournaments, plus the online leagues, meaning a lot of travel - I have had 50+ flights so far this year - and long hours at events. Sometimes you lack proper food, sometimes the equipment is faulty and these are things you do not see on the broadcast because the talent pushes through, no matter what.
"My body just broke down in June after StarSeries for like a week. Don’t get me wrong, it still beats working, but just because it is a cool job it doesn’t mean it is easy."