kassad: "We worked really, really hard and this is the result of it"
As the ninth seed going into the tournament and a team that most saw as part of the middle-of-the-pack, Renegades surprised with an undefeated run in the New Challengers Stage, where they beat AVANGAR and NiP on single maps and ENCE in a series.
After they qualified for the next stage of the IEM Katowice Major, we caught up with the coach, kassad, to discuss the team's improved form from the Asia Minor. The Serbian also explained how the team approached preparation, improved their map pool with the addition of Nuke, and touched on how they are dealing with spending well over a month in Poland in total.
Going 3-0 was not something people saw coming from you as one of the middle-of-the-pack teams in terms of seeding, so where did this form come from after the Minor performance that was a little shaky from you at times?
After the winter break, we had a mini-bootcamp in Warsaw here in Poland. We prepared there for the Minor, which wasn't an easy thing to win, especially because we are facing other Asian teams which are not so easy to beat, and the rust was kicking in a little bit. We managed to do it and after that, we got like a three-week bootcamp here in Katowice. We worked really hard and this is the result of it, nothing else is important except the fact that we just worked really, really hard and results showed and paid off.
How important was it to get those three weeks here, not having to go back and forth after the Minor? Was it key to getting great preparation in?
Yeah, most definitely. We had good practice here, a good setup, and I would like to thank ESL for providing us with that. We had the perfect setup here, playing against European teams in Europe so we don't have to fly back and forth, deal with jetlag and all that stuff really helped so that we could only concentrate on our practice during those three weeks and the stuff we needed to fix from the Minor. We were pretty clear on the stuff that we needed to do and we did that and, again, it showed in the games right here.
Could you expand on that in more detail in terms of what you needed to fix and focus on?
Mainly, our problem was mid-round. We had good openings, good early round, but after that, it looked like we didn't really communicate properly in those mid-rounds, we didn't really have good rotations, transitions, spacing was awful after the break. We couldn't really do anything, so we focused on those things outside of the game, mainly on communication between us. Me and Aaron, AZR, work really well together, we understand the game in the same way and we get along pretty well outside of the game, as well, that helped a lot. But inside the game, it was mostly transition, rotations, mid-rounds, mid-round calls, 5v4s, 4v5s, 4v4s, on every map that we played. Also, we increased our map pool, people today could see that we are also playing Nuke right now and I can say that we are pretty good at it and I like it. All these things together helped us to be here right now.
Speaking of the map pool, like you say, Nuke is something we haven't seen from you guys before - how were you able to get this into your map pool so quickly and be able to be competitive against a team like ENCE, who were confident enough to pick it into you?
The truth is, we have been preparing it for the last three weeks secretly. We actually played ENCE a few times on Nuke, I think they won a couple of times and pretty hard, but we were still in the early stage of actually playing Nuke and realizing what kind of a playstyle works for us on that map. I think they thought that was their opening there because they played really well against us on scrims. We kept Nuke as a surprise even for the Minor, so we kind of kept hiding it, kept hiding it, and today, in the first best-of-three, obviously we expected ENCE to pick it 100%. We were ready for every single scenario, so it worked for us.
Talk me through the ending of Mirage, as well, how were you able to come back and close that out after the late back-and-forth?
In the first half, we got surprised by their pistol, so we managed to get seven rounds, which was pretty decent considering the situations we were in and those rounds. On the second half, we had a pretty good read on the pistol, but they just headshotted us, so we lost that pistol and it put pressure on us. At that moment, we stopped communicating properly, people were getting flanked from positions that they weren't supposed to be open to because of the lack of communication. After the timeout, we reminded ourselves of that and that's where all the practice from the previous three weeks kicked in, about the comms, about midrounds, rotations, we fixed that right away, we got some good clutches, good early-round picks and it all came together as a victory in the end.
Pistol rounds have actually been something you were very successful at up until this Mirage, did you focus on that as well? With the changes that came in a few months ago regarding economy, do you feel like they're still as important as they used to be?
Pistols have definitely been something I put special attention to at this event because it's a best-of-one, it's super important to get those pistols. We practiced similar pistols for maps over and over until we got it perfect, for example the pistol against NiP on Mirage and maybe against AVANGAR on Train was executed perfectly because we practiced it so many times, we calculated every scenario that can happen in those pistols, every push was covered, everything was covered. It worked super well for us.
As far as the economy goes, I still feel like people are underestimating the forcebuys in the second round after you lose the CT or T pistol, maybe more as a CT. Early on, even before this economy patch, it was pretty hard to win against CZs, Five-Sevens, Deagles, Scouts... And now, the only thing that was kind of missing in those rounds for the CTs was a couple of grenades. Now that you have that money, it could be just an easy, free round if you correctly communicate and you setup that round perfectly - not perfectly, but well enough. I think teams on the T side make mistakes a lot in those rounds and they're missing timings, they have problems with spacing in those rounds and we just use that against them and punish them with those pistols plus the grenades that we have along with those pistols and kevlars.
Going into the next stage, you have a bit less than a week to get ready for it. How do you think you will stack up against this new set of teams?
Obviously, in the next stage it will be a new tier of teams, like Astralis, Liquid, all those dangerous teams, FaZe, MIBR, NRG who is here is pretty strong as well. We need to take a little bit of a different approach to those teams in terms of gameplan. For example, if you play Astralis, you cannot really do simple stuff and usual stuff, you need to have something prepared for them, something unusual that they haven't seen before because once we face them on scrims, they seem to be ready for everything that's usual. Everything normal, they seem to be super great there, everywhere they're flanking you, they're in front of you, they're covering, they always have utility, super hard. When you play teams like that, you need to throw in something special, something unusual. That goes for Astralis, Liquid is another story, and MIBR is a whole other story, so we need to go over some games of this event and see what can be better, what can be improved. Of course, it's best-of-one again in those first two rounds so it's not going to be easy. I think we're going to take like a day or two to just rest a little bit, see what needs to be done, and we're going to start preparing for whoever comes next.
This whole tournament is even more of a marathon for you than most, you already mentioned the preparation and how you have been here the week before the Minor. Is this anything that you see as a worry as this tournament progresses, in terms of exhaustion?
Yeah. The first thing that comes to mind is that when you're in a hotel with a teammate, it doesn't matter, it can be with your own family in a hotel for three weeks, you're going to get annoyed by each other, by the little things because you spend all that time together. So, what we tried to do is that everyone gets their own room in a hotel so everyone has their own space after practice, we have certain rituals during the practice days that we need to honor, like what time is food, what time is practice, when is the break, what we are doing, and after that everyone has free time to do whatever they want. Somebody plays PUBG, somebody does something else, somebody goes out, maybe gets a coffee, drink, or whatever. Everyone has a little bit of time off each other so that we don't get annoyed by each other, from people spending so much time together, because that happens, especially when you have a mix of cultures and nationalities, with a different mentality. That can be a problem in this scenario when you are spending that much time together. But I think we managed to find a balance and the perfect practice regime and a schedule that's really good for us, and we're going to keep using it until we... win the Major or whatever happens.