ShahZaM: "There were so many times when I could have just given up"
Back in September, a few days after Complexity secured Legends status at the FACEIT London Major, we sat down with seasoned North American AWPer Shahzeb "ShahZaM" Khan to revisit the many ups and downs he has had in his career.
As one of the teams that went 3-0 in the Swiss system, Complexity had a couple of days off before they were to play on the Wembley SSE Arena stage during the FACEIT Major. On one of those days, we managed to meet up with ShahZaM, but not to hear about the underdog story of his team—which was the main talking point at the time—, but about his career, one filled with many rough patches and quite a few "dramas", as the community likes to call them.
ShahZaM's competitive starting point was in Source, he reached ESEA Invite as a youngster, but took a step back when college came around, only coming back to Counter-Strike after the release of Global Offensive at the end of 2012. In his first notable matches, he was playing alongside the likes of Mohamad "mOE" Assad and Ryan "freakazoid" Abadir on a team called Frost Gaming, and managed to find some success early on, reaching the ESEA Invite S14 Finals. It didn't take him long to really break out, though, ShahZaM remembers: "I joined a team called LunatiK that then became Denial, which was the daps - FugLy - NAF roster. We had our breakout at the ESEA S17 LAN Finals, where we beat Cloud9. That is when we got our hype, Cloud9 was falling apart and we took advantage of it". And just like that, he rose to the top of the North American scene: "The weekend following that LAN was when Cloud9 offered me a spot on their team."
Back then, salaries were "close to minimum wage, not a lot", but the decision to leave college, where he was studying to become a computer engineer, and commit to Cloud9 was already made in ShahZaM's mind: "I had to commit to it, there was so much travelling involved, but I still called my parents to tell them that this is something that I wanted to do." It was a tough conversation for any 20-year-old to have. "I was worried, they are very strict parents, coming from my background too, they are normally strict. And surprisingly, they were like: 'Go for it.' That actually caught me off-guard, I didn't expect it at all, but they said that school will always be there and there are other ways in life to make money, so I should just take this chance now and have fun with it. That is when I felt confident in my decision to just make the jump in."
And just like that, ShahZaM became the AWPer of the biggest North American team, the first one in the region to be considered professional. "Things were on a completely different scale, we were taking everything way more seriously". Soon afterwards, he would be attending his first big tournament, MLG X-Games, and flying out to Europe for a bootcamp.
In Europe, the team quickly realized that they needed to change their style of play—as theirs wasn't working against international squads—, all while ShahZaM was in the process of evolving from a good individual player into someone who could work within a real team. It was a lot to deal with in a short span of time, but ShahZaM dismissed the idea that in-game factors were the issue: "I don't think that was my downfall in Cloud9, though", he said, before expanding on the issue of pressure coming from the outside. "I think it was largely the attention we got and how I started to hate it. It killed my confidence, all the hate, it just made me... I was miserable. Before I got dropped from Cloud9, before my last ESEA LAN (ESEA Invite S18 LAN Finals), I had already decided that I was going to quit CS."
With ShahZaM's time in Cloud9 dating back to 2015, it is easy to forget how much vitriol the rookie got from the community for his below-average rated performances in the sky-blue shirt at tournaments such as MLG X-Games Aspen and ESL One Katowice 2015 before the inevitable removal.
"I went from playing in a hotel ballroom, playing just one LAN, to playing internationally, going to the Major, bootcamping I don't know where, and getting all of this attention on me that I wasn't used to. I think that just... all the hate, the DaZeD video, they really started a train of hate against me, and it made me hate everything I was doing. I thought: 'Man, I'm finally living the dream, this is what I wanted to do, to travel, play video games professionally, full time'. I thought I was supposed to be living the dream and I hated every second of it at the end.
"So that ESEA LAN, I had already decided I was going to quit, I knew if I didn't quit there they were going to drop me anyway. Surprise, surprise, I got dropped after the ESEA LAN. And actually, this sounds really corny, but at that time fnatic was the best team in the world, by far, they won that event, and olofmeister was the best player in the world. And I didn't even think he knew who I was or anything, he probably did, but to me, I was like a nobody to him. And I remember that he came up to me during like a post-event dinner, it was Brazilian barbecue, it's a tradition.
"He came up to me and he had no obligation to say it, but he said, excuse my language: 'F*ck DaZeD, f*ck steel, that video he made was pathetic, he doesn't understand the context of the situations or the communications at all. So it is not fair of him to make judgments like that. Just keep doing your thing, you are doing great'. Or something like that, I'm summarizing the words, I can't remember the exact thing. And I won't lie, that gave me that motivation to just keep trying. Because he had no reason to go out of his way and say that to me, so if he did, maybe there was some chance that I could just keep doing this?
"And that gave me the motivation to call my parents and say: 'Yeah, I don't know how my future is going to be with this team, but I think I'm still going to try to do this and not go back to school'."
Rising through the ranks so quickly, ShahZaM never had time to get used to the public pressure, and he cracked under it. But when asked what actually caused so much hate to come his way, and specifically, what motivated DaZeD to make the infamous "How ShahZaM Lost Overpass / Inferno for Cloud9" videos, he admitted that it was something which came as a reaction to his actions in the past: "It definitely happened because of my relationship with drama and stuff before I joined Cloud9". And he doesn't try to shy away of his part of the responsibility: "I built this negative reputation, mostly deserved. Probably deserved, yes. And I think that because of that, people were just waiting for me to fail before they could jump on the hate train and really put me down."
"I mean, I did fail, I feel like we were playing poorly, confidence was low, and CS is a really big confidence thing. I don't know what else to say. It was a lot, very quickly too, and it wasn't like I wasn't trying, I wanted to do everything I could to prove people wrong, but it so tough. I was so new to it all, all the attention.
"It didn't work out, but after Cloud9, I still kept trying."
Being marked as "damaged goods" is a detriment to any player's career, and ShahZaM was aware of it. "I think that failing hurt my career a lot, because why would anyone give this player a second chance if he already failed at the top?," he said. So he decided to get back on the horse as soon as possible, even if it was with a lower-tier team.
"After my stint with Cloud9, CLG at the time wanted to pick me up, but they signed steel as a coach, someone who got banned as a result of... you know, the IBUYPOWER stuff, and, obviously, he was not a fan of mine anymore.
"I said to myself that I was not going to sit around and wait for another decent team to come around, because if it did not happen, what would happen if I did not play for three months? I would kind of fall into irrelevance. So I said I was going to join the first team that I could that was in a top league to try to show my worth and work my way up."
ShahZaM ended up joining Tempo Storm, where he played alongside Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz for the first time before both moved to Conquest, where the 25-year-old reunited with Damian "daps" Steele and Keith "NAF" Markovic. He started building his confidence back in a team which had no expectations, surrounded by familiar faces. "We had a surprising run with Conquest at CEVO LAN, TSM wanted to sign us after that, actually. Unfortunately, that didn't go through, but, eventually, we became OpTic. That is where, I think, my second chance started. I fell in love with CS again, I was super motivated and things were going really well".
It didn't take long for ShahZaM to hit another bump in the road, though, as things turned sour in OpTic after failing to make it through the Minor. "We were favourites to win that Minor, we were favourites to qualify for the Major and we were on a hot streak - and we failed at that Minor and I think that left a really bad taste for everyone. We weren't practising for about a month because it was just too awkward, the team was very dysfunctional". ShahZaM then once again parted ways with a promising team, and, even though he owns up to being "pretty one-dimensional" at the time, it was once again not an in-game issue that led to him leaving OpTic.
"I think it was the fact that me and Peter (stanislaw), my current teammate, actually got into conflicts back then. Without going into too much detail about that, I guess, I'll jump to the point where I rejoined [the NA-Danish] OpTic and we both accepted that we could've done things differently and that we had both made mistakes back then. But that conflict kind of led to my separation from the team.
"Honestly, even after that, when they got mixwell and started having some success when they got tarik, I was never salty about it. I was actually pretty happy for them because those were guys that I had played with for a while and I always knew they were good, we were kind of on the cusp of making something happen."
The downtime was short after OpTic, as the North American CS:GO scene was brimming with investment at the time, and Splyce and Echo Fox came knocking. He decided to join the latter because it was led by his former IGL Sean "seang@res" Gares, who was ready to get stuck into competitive CS again after departing Cloud9 and having some time off. "It seemed like he realized that he is a competitive person and he could not just take this casually," ShahZaM recalled. "That convinced me, because he was still a friend of mine too, and I joined Echo Fox".
The squad came together with a lot of fanfare, a lot of hype. "We had some popular personalities," ShahZaM explained. "Sean, freakazoid, myself, roca was a popular up-and-coming player at the time, and ryx was somewhere up there too." But once again, the good feeling wouldn't last long, as the team struggled to break out of mediocrity. To this day, they are most known for their two ELEAGUE flops: in Season 1 they were on the receiving end of Georgi "WorldEdit" Yaskin's record-breaking LAN rating game, and in Season 2 they finished the group stage with just six rounds won from three maps played.
"I felt like that team was a waste of my year, to be completely honest. A complete waste of that whole year. Because Echo Fox was not a team that really focused on the game or worked hard, as much as I and Sean tried to make it work, the other guys didn't seem as committed to the game or were taking things far more casually than we were. I don't know if I regret joining Echo Fox but it was definitely an embarrassing year, it felt like a year wasted in my career, in terms of performances.
"There were a lot of points where I and Sean wanted to change players and stuff, but management wanted to maintain the popularity status. And there is the conflict, management just wanted us to be a popular team, while Sean and I wanted to be a top team, we wanted to work hard. As you know, we had almost no accomplishments."
Alongside seang@res, ShahZaM moved to TSM, where he would only stay for a month as the organization and the players found themselves in turmoil following the announcement of the Professional Esports Association (PEA) and an exclusive league. "I know it's funny, people always say I follow drama or drama follows me, but I feel like that was just one of the most unlucky, stressful situations," he recalled. "I mean, I didn't really do anything, it was just the whole PEA conflict drama that caused all of it. It was really unfortunate, but, luckily, Andy from TSM, Reginald, worked with us and sold us off to Misfits".
Misfits started as a fully North American team, but, after the departures of Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken and Skyler "Relyks" Weaver at the start of 2017, they decided to roll the dice on two French players, François "AMANEK" Delaunay and David "devoduvek" Dobrosavljevic, with Hunter "SicK" Mims, who was also quite inexperienced, already on the roster.
"We were looking at all of our options, we first queried about getting jks and AZR from Renegades, they instantly said no, I remember. We were exploring all of our options and one of the employees of the Misfits organization, on the Overwatch side of things, is actually kennyS' brother. So he was the one that recommended these two French players, AmaNEk and devoduvek.
"It was definitely a project because we had three new players, SicK, devoduvek and AmaNEk. But that was when things were getting taken very seriously again. We went to a bootcamp before Tours, we went to a bootcamp before Valencia and then a bootcamp before the Pro League Finals. That was the first time since Cloud9 that I had a bootcamp with a team where we were taking things so seriously.
"Going through all these teams, even the Echo Fox team, I still didn't give up, I was trying, trying, despite all of this, and then Misfits was where, finally, I got a chance again to play international tournaments—because we were qualifying for them—, and show what I was capable of."
The pattern of a good start and then a rough patch repeated with this team. Misfits impressed in Tours - at one of the most stacked DreamHack Open events of the year -, but due to seang@res's wedding overlapping with the upcoming Americas Minor, they would have to play the tournament without their IGL, which triggered a number of issues. "We went through this whole peacemaker rough patch during the summer", ShahZaM says, referring to his benching before the tournament, while carefully navigating the topic: "I don't know how much I want to go in detail about that…".
He then switched the focus towards his own perspective and the bad taste left by missing out on the Minors and Majors many times before, which made missing this event much more hurtful than it normally would. He detailed the reasons why he had missed every Minor since 2015 before going back to recent times. "This one sucked because originally I had booked the trip to Sean's wedding and I couldn't refund the hotel, but I said, 'whatever, I'll take the hit for it'. It was a destination wedding, so it was pretty expensive, but I thought the Minor was more important. And then I got benched right before the Minor. And I couldn't go to the wedding, and I couldn't go to the Minor either."
"That was pretty depressing", he concludes with a cynical laugh.
The public's reaction to ShahZaM's benching was split: some supported him as he was in good form, or perhaps simply because they disliked coach Luis "peacemaker" Tadeu, but others blamed it on the AWPer on account of his reputation.
"People were trying to speculate, as Reddit does, 'oh, he must be toxic', but that wasn't the case at all. It was just that peacemaker intended to play instead of seang@res, that was what he wanted to do, and I said that it was ridiculous and that I was not going to agree to it —because it made no sense to me. And I was not going to play with zqkS either, so I didn't want to bootcamp in the house. peacemaker had full control, so he just benched me, that is literally how the story went down.
"I got benched and I said 'ok'. I knew they were going to fail at the Minor with zqkS and Relyks, they knew it too, the guys knew it. So literally the same minute that they lost their match to one of the Brazilian teams and got eliminated, a team we should've never lost to… paiN, yeah, the minute they got eliminated by them, the owner texted me asking me to come back."
peacemaker was released after that, and the team started anew with seang@res returning to the helm. After a good online season of Pro League, Misfits qualified for the Major, finishing second to Liquid at the Minor. The team was exposed to rumours that Misfits were going to drop out of CS:GO as they were bootcamping for the Pro League Finals, but it didn't affect their performance at the event as they finished top four, being a massive surprise. The result would not change the fact that they would, mid-Major, become orgless. Their contracts ran out, and no renegotiations were even attempted.
"We decided to still roll with Misfits through the Major since we had qualified as Misfits, but once we got eliminated, we all kind of didn't know where we were. We decided that we should explore individual options because the French guys, after spending a year with us, were extremely homesick, we figured that the whole time their dream was to play with a French team back home. We couldn't blame them, I could witness it, them living in the house with me, they clearly missed home, so we were going to explore our own individual paths since Misfits didn't want to re-sign us. I mean, I can't blame Misfits either, they invested so much money in Overwatch and they wanted to put attention to their League of Legends team and Overwatch teams, but it kind of sucked to learn so last-minute because I liked playing with those guys and I enjoyed the team and I thought we could've done more.
"Sean at the time also didn't know what he wanted to do. He was more leaning towards leaving, retiring from professional play and focusing on doing on doing other things like desk work and stuff. That is kind of the point where he retired, I mean, he hasn't done anything since, he's been working as an analyst."
The cooperation between ShahZaM and seang@res came to an end then, at the start of 2018, after almost two-and-a-half years of playing together in Cloud9, Echo Fox and Misfits. So it's no surprise that he holds the in-game leader in high regard:
"[Back in 2015], Sean was THE American IGL. He was the best IGL, the only North American IGL at the time who really had international success. So, obviously, going into Cloud9 I had a ton of respect for him. And he is also just a very cool human being, on a personal level, I still consider him a really close friend of mine. Even through Misfits, our team house was next to his house, intentionally, so we developed a pretty close friendship. I still say, to this day, that he was probably my favorite teammate, the best teammate I have had. So I have high praise for him no matter what, he just worked very hard, he understood the game and he is very good at being a leader. He had every quality for it. It sucks that he doesn't play anymore because I feel that he still could've competed at a high level and led a top team, honestly, if he was given the tools again. But if he doesn't want to, that's down to him, but he could've found another team to play with."
With seang@res out of the picture and the squad in tatters, ShahZaM was in a familiar situation. "Once again I found myself in the position where I had some potential with a team, I felt like we were doing something, and, all of sudden, it disappears. And those periods are stressful because I don't know where to go from there." It was his friendship with Hector "H3CZ" Rodriguez, the former owner of OpTic, and a recommendation from his Conquest/OpTic teammate stanislaw, that landed him a place on the Danish-North American OpTic lineup.
"It was a unique proposition because it was three Danish players, two of them have had a lot of success, k0nfig had been the 14th best player of 2017, cajunb had been on top teams, had top placings, and then gade, he was a Danish prospect. It was an interesting project and I can't lie and say that I wasn't sceptical about how it would all work out because of the cultural differences, the levels of respect going into it, but I couldn't say no. I had to give it a shot because, if it worked, it could've been a really good team.
"Role-wise it made sense, I believed it could've worked, I believed that we could've been, maybe not one of the best teams in the world, but a top team if it worked out.
"We all moved down to Texas and I felt like, 'OK, I'm in a pretty good situation with some top players I respect a lot, now maybe we can do something big'. And then things started to fall downhill very quickly".
After being upset online a couple of times, placing poorly in ECS and having internet issues in the offices they were playing from, clashes began to emerge.
"People started having personality issues," ShahZaM says. "I would say that there wasn't any arguing between any of us, if that makes sense, at least for the most part. The Danes were unhappy with the way stanislaw was calling because they were so used to MSL's super-structured calling where there is a set strat called at the start of the round, where every step is laid out for everyone, you are kind of like a robot following a script.
Personally, I don't like that style of play and I love playing under Peter's style because it gives people room to play CS. It is looser. There is still a plan, we still have strats, but when we default, it gives people a chance to play CS their own way, to adapt to the way the other team is playing, to use their nades freely, depending on the situation they encounter, instead of people being worried about saving their nades, doing the strat right.
"I prefered stanislaw's style, but the Danes definitely did not favour that way. And not just stanislaw, they didn't like the way I AWPed, they wanted me to be way more aggressive than I was… Eventually, it got to a point where, with the differences in the team, where we realized it was just not going to work."
Even though the relationships between the North American and Danish fractions of that OpTic squad weren't great, ShahZaM stressed that, contrary to popular opinion, Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke was the player he had the fewest issues with:
"You know when I did the waving tweet to OpTic, that jab, everyone instantly started talking about k0nfig and pointed the blame at k0nfig. k0nfig's issue was his punctuality, being on time, focus and that stuff, that is obviously a mistake, but people seem to instantly assume, because of his online personality, that he is a toxic player, but he was actually not toxic at all. People should know that, k0nfig was not a toxic teammate, he was actually one of the more supportive teammates of the bunch and I still respect him a lot. Through that whole situation, through adversity, he was actually very nice to me and very supportive. Just because he puts on that persona of being toxic, trash talking, it doesn't mean he wasn't a good teammate, despite the punctuality issues."
When the decision was made to split the team, an option was explored to have the North Americans stay with OpTic, but, in the end, the organization went for the Danish trio, with stanislaw and ShahZaM moving on to Complexity, replacing Pujan "FNS" Mehta and Peter "ptr" Gurney. "compLexity welcomed us with open arms, people think they got us for free, but compLexity invested in us, they paid a buyout to OpTic for us" ShahZaM points out. "They definitely wanted us, and they believed in us, so it was good."
The next topic to touch on was the relationship with the organization, which has been praised by the players in recent times, with ShahZaM even stating that he would like to retire in compLexity. The AWPer was quick to stress that, even though he has played for numerous big organizations, compLexity stand out:
"If you look at my history, all the organizations I have played with, Misfits, Echo Fox, Cloud9, OpTic, every single one, there were always ups and downs, but I've never had player treatment or care from an organization like this. It has nothing to do with finances or what we were given or anything like that, it has everything to do with the attention that we are given and the level to which we are taken care of in terms of anything in compLexity. The way they treat us like people they care about rather than property.
"With most of my other organisations, it felt like we are the second child and partially ignored, they just had the CS team for the sake of having a CS team, other games were the main thing. With compLexity it was clear that, because they have so much history in CS, from every step of management, that everyone in the organization is really passionate about Counter-Strike and really cares about it."
Having an iconic CS figure like Jason Lake at the helm was also a plus, with the Dallas Cowboys investment into the organization allowing them to make more roster moves—if needed. "Jason was very clear that he wanted to build a winner by acquiring us," he explains. "There was no talk about any specific player to be replaced or anyone they were looking at specifically. I know that they had signed s0m on and they wanted to trial him, they mentioned that to us. He was a prospect in their eyes". But ShahZaM and stanislaw wanted to see what they could do with what they already had first.
"We thought there was a lot of potential in the young guys, yay and ANDROID, even dephh," he said. "They had just never really had a chance to showcase their skills and learn under a proper leader
"I realized that I was going to have a lot more responsibility, as well as Peter, in working with these guys, that we were going to be the ones to help them and teach them how to play proper CS.
"But we saw potential in them and, despite Jason Lake being willing to make whatever changes were needed and being willing to work with us to make whatever roster we wanted, we started to find success pretty quickly with these guys."
The success first came in the form of qualifying for DreamHack Open Austin and Summer, and ShahZaM feels like that was the first step in making this roster work. "I think compLexity attended only one or two tournaments for a year, so it was cool for these guys and they were getting motivated by us actually making it through these online qualifiers." They gained some LAN experience at those tournaments, which, combined with long practice days, resulted in the team winning the Americas Minor.
"We worked hard, we practiced a lot, even the days leading up to the Minor, we were playing for, I want to say 6-7 weeks straight without a single day off. From tournament to tournament, from practice to practice, long days, we were playing tons of qualifiers, 10 hour days of just qualifiers, tons of matches, and it was good for us, it was really good practice.
"Even when we won the Minor, I don't think that was when we really figured out our play. I think we were just playing really well and we hit our hot streak. It wasn't until this bootcamp [before the Major] that we really started to figure out how we wanted to play."
Having experienced how facing Europeans on a regular basis can help a team, both in Cloud9 and Misfits, securing a bootcamp for the team was a priority for ShahZaM, and having one before the Major paid off in spades: "When we got to Europe and got to the bootcamp, we realized that all the stuff we were getting away with—it is a familiar story from when I had been in Cloud9, but it's true—, just did not work against these teams and we needed to clean up our gameplay and start coming up with new ideas, more dynamic CT sides and really figure our stuff out". He then delved deeper into the whole process of getting destroyed and then reinventing themselves before the Major:
"We had to get beat down first, to then work hard and figure our stuff out. It was good because, yes, there was arguing and people getting frustrated and there was tilt and us getting wrecked, but it was good for us because we stuck through it and nobody gave up, we worked very hard, we worked seven scrims a day for ten days straight, on top of re-watching our scrims, talking about it, going into the server.
It was just a grind, a brutal bootcamp, and I think we were really lucky to have Warden (Matt "Warden" Dickens) and Ron (Ronald "Rambo" Kim) to lead us through that. Through, not anything in-game, but the team surviving through the bootcamp, not surviving like the team was going to die or anything, but teaching us how to handle such a tough bootcamp, how to deal with being beaten down in all of these scrims and how to deal with these arguments and disagreements, how to work together as a team. We did that, and, by the end, we felt pretty good about it, we started figuring it out and for me personally, I became largely responsible for our dynamic CT sides considering that I have the AWP and I rotate so much, while stanislaw calls the T sides for the map. "
"A handful of teams wrecked us pretty hard, funnily enough, one of them was fnatic on Inferno, they completely destroyed us in a scrim on the bootcamp, ran all over us. That is what allowed us to fix our Inferno, because before that we thought it was a relatively good map for us, we were beating NA teams on it. Then we realized: 'Wow, fnatic just destroyed us'. And this is where we started having discussions of how to fix our Inferno."
ShahZaM continued to heap praise on the supporting staff, both Complexity legends in their own right. Rambo has been coaching the team since even before stanislaw and ShahZaM joined, while Warden took up a coaching position after retiring from CS in 2015 before transitioning to a managerial role at the beginning of this year.
"Ron does help us a lot with in-game stuff, but he is very... what is it called... he is a very particular person, that is the word I was looking for. Everything has to be perfect, everything has to be clearly laid out for him and that is good for us. Because CS players can be lazy, CS players can be sloppy or whatever, when it comes to in-game stuff. 'Oh, you missed that smoke in the scrim' -'Yeah yeah, I'll figure it out later on my own time'. People say that all the time and then they don't, and missing that smoke could lose you a round. If you do that, Ron will get on your case until you get in a server and fix everything he's written down in that one round from a scrim. He makes sure that everyone knows every single step Sometimes, people might get annoyed by it, because it is so tedious at times, but it is great for us. I think it is really good for us.
"Matt (Warden), more so, is our, not just hype man, he does deliver in-game input as well, because he knows CS too, but also, helps us with how to handle just team relationship. At the bootcamp he would tell us, 'dude, if my old coL team went through this, we would've split up, I'm so proud of you guys'. He's like, 'trust me, you guys will fight through this, you are going to do great things'. He definitely believes in every single one of us and it's not even just to the extent of CS that he helps us, but he's there for everyone on a personal level.
"That goes a long way. I think he is a large reason why we all say compLexity is such a great organisation. I think the role of a manager is undervalued from the outside, I have been in organisations where the manager did not do anything, he booked scrims but didn't do anything else. Warden goes out of his way to make sure his players are happy."
At the Major, Complexity had a confident run through the two Swiss stages, losing only one map, the opening one to Astralis, and had to play MIBR in the quarter-final two days after the interview was conducted. Looking back at what they had done, ShahZaM was modest. "I think we definitely surpassed everyone's expectations for us, probably even our own expectations." Despite the fact that his team were the surprise package of the Major, he kept his feet on the ground. "I think it mostly comes down to the way we are communicating right now and the fact that everyone has high energy levels and confidence," he explains. "Even if you are not the most prepared team or the most experienced team, sometimes you can just roll with it, with good communication, and play with confidence. I think that is what has been going on with us for now."
It has been a big personal achievement for ShahZaM as well, as, after all of the ups and downs, he managed to make it to a Major again and get into the playoffs, securing Legends status. This time around, he wasn't a young star with all the pressure on his back, like on Cloud9, but one of the veterans of the team, a pillar helping to elevate the rest of the team.
"I'm happy to be playing with four other guys that are so fully committed and hardworking as I feel I am too. I mean, we all moved our lives to Frisco, Texas, to just play CS, to just focus on CS. And compLexity makes sure we just focus on CS.
"It feels pretty good, obviously, I feel like I'm in a place where I'm not just respected but also appreciated. You know, the guys really value me as a teammate and I'm glad I can be more of an experienced figure for them now. And yeah, I look back and I think that there were so many times when I could've just given up because of all of the hurdles I faced. Maybe some were deserved, some not, but I just stuck through it, I'm glad I did, to just make it here."
You could feel the happiness—due to making Legend status and due to where he is in his career—, in ShahZaM's words, but at the same time, the modesty with which he described their achievement left the impression that he was aware of a new set of challenges waiting ahead, perhaps even tougher than the ones they were facing in London. Complexity would lose the Major quarter-final series to MIBR 2-0 (16-4, 16-12), and then went straight back to the busy schedule of competitive CS:GO, clocking in about two months of non-stop action as they approached StarSeries i-League S6 in Kiev. The 0-3 run in the Swiss stage in Kiev was underwhelming, as was, to a degree, the second place at the MSI MGA Finals.
While a rough patch can be tolerated and is somewhat expected after a team like Complexity begins to be taken more seriously, better form, both from the team and ShahZaM individually, will be needed this week, as they approach cs_summit 3. Otherwise, the vicious cycle of constant change that has haunted ShahZaM throughout his career, might repeat itself once again.