North bombed out of the ESL Pro League Season 8 Finals after an opening loss to NRG followed up by a best-of-three loss to heavy underdogs, Sharks. We sat down with Valdemar "valde" Bjørn Vangså to hear about the state of the team as the season begins to die down for the Danes.
North came to the ESL Pro League Season 8 Finals off of a quarter-final run at the ECS Season 6 Finals, but were unable to replicate the results on home soil as they lost to NRG and Sharks in the group stage. After a disappointing week, the Danes will be looking forward to ending the season on a high note as they get ready for the IEM Katowice Europe Minor Closed Qualifier.
In the interview, valde goes over what happened in Odense, how the team feels late into the season, some of the criticism received regarding the roster changes, the atmosphere in the team, and what they have to work on to become consistently better.
Rough event, what happened? It was quite unexpected, how did it hit you guys?
We had a long team talk after we went out of the event and we came to the conclusion that it's because of a combination of a multitude of things. First of all, we've had a very busy couple of months. We made some roster changes that led us to go to a lot of events less prepared than we would have liked to be. Also, being in the US twice in a 30-day span took a toll on the team in terms of jetlag and fatigue. I think this tournament saw a combination of a lot of bad things because we actually felt really prepared for this event in particular.
At ECS we had a top 4 finish, which was pretty decent for us, and I think this just came out of nowhere, it came as a shock to us and was really, really unexpected and not something we predicted whatsoever. You can never be certain of anything, of course, but we were pretty sure that we would make the playoffs, you know? But unfortunately, we didn't...
Do you think that the top 4 finish in Texas made you a bit overconfident?
Not whatsoever, we had a rough event at IEM Chicago before going to ECS, so we knew going into it that we had to fix things in our game that would allow us to compete with some of the best teams, and I think we showed that we are able to do that by getting the top 4 in ECS. That was like building up for the Pro League Finals, which is why we expected a playoff finish here. But yeah, with the level of Counter-Strike we showed, I'm not even sure it's the pressure from being on home soil.
For all I know, the tournament could have been in France or Ukraine and we would have done just as poorly, which makes it worse because it's on home soil and we have family and friends and fans that expected to come and see us. This makes it even more disappointing for me as a person and to the team, I know there are a lot of people we disappointed along the way and that's one of the things that hurts the most, if I can say so. But yeah, it really came out of nowhere and I don't even know what to say.
Tell me a bit about that Sharks match. Did you underestimate them? Did you not prepare enough? What happened?
We didn't underestimate them because I had already practiced against them with the old lineup a few months ago when they were in Europe, and I actually thought they were really good. We even got beaten by them in one of the practice maps, and I know it's just practice and can't make any conclusions, but we didn't underestimate them. We prepared for them, but there was just something about that day... it happens every now and then to us, it has happened before, where we just have a total collapse. Everybody has an off day.
It's something we're going to try and fix for the upcoming year because you can't be a top 10 team in the world, in my opinion, and have such a low bottom level. That's something we really need to work on because we know, and we've seen it from our results, that we can beat mousesports, MIBR, Astralis..., not easily, but we can beat them if we hit our top level. But our bottom level is just too low at the moment.
You could see it at the Major Qualifier, where we lost to Spirit and Vega Squadron, which are teams we shouldn't lose to. I'm not saying those teams are bad, it's just that in our perception, in our minds, we should be able to beat those teams on a consistent basis, and I can say in all honesty that we weren't able to do that when we needed to, so that's really disappointing and something we'll have to work with the sports psychologist. We hired a new sports psychologist in 2018 and we'll keep working with him in 2019. Our bottom level is what I want us to improve on the most because I believe that's what makes a good team. You see Astralis and they never lose to worse teams than themselves, at least not to teams outside of the top 10.
You've had a rollercoaster season after some roster changes. Looking back, what do you make of them? Where's the team now compared to where it was before?
I feel like all of the changes have been necessary for reasons that I can't get into, but we don't make roster changes that aren't necessary. We've received a lot of criticism for some of those roster changes and as a player on the team, it's hard to sit back and watch it all unfold because I think a lot of it has been unjustified. Sometimes you just have to take it in and accept that's how it is, and I think we've all come to live with that, but I think that we're actually in a really good place at the moment because we finally have a team in which everyone is on the same level socially.
We all like each other and that's really important because if we would have had a loss like this one on some of my previous teams, we would have probably already been discussing roster changes and what to do, making instant drastic changes, and that's not the case this time. That's really a first, and I can say that in all honesty. We're not going to make any roster changes, we're going to stick to this lineup, and we're going to try and improve in 2019.
Talking about 2019, have you started to talk about future goals and what you'll start to work towards and how?
I think we're not going to do that until we make it past the Minor because that will mark how we start out our 2019. The first thing that comes up in the new year is the Minor and then the Major after that, so it's something that's still to come. Right now we want to finish the year... we can't do it on a good note after not making playoffs here, but if we make it through the online qualifier and into the Minor, it's going to be a small step in the right direction.