moses: "I don't think Liquid and EG are the last two teams NA will see at the top; [that experience] will spread out" (Part 2)
In the second part of our interview with Jason "moses" O'Toole, the commentator discusses the state of the grassroots, semi-pro, and top-tier scenes in North America.
moses gave us his opinion on what the issues with the grassroots and the semi-pro scenes in North America are, as well as what has helped the region produce two teams capable of competing for the No.1 spot in the world in Liquid and Evil Geniuses.
He also talked about the state of the in-game economy as well as the second-round SG-553 buy becoming the meta as a result of the changes, and touched on his experience commentating the group stage of ESL One New York from a remote broadcast in Cologne alongside Anders "Anders" Blume.
If you missed the first part of the interview, head over here to find out moses' thoughts on things like the recent push for exclusivity and how it could affect Counter-Strike talent and their influence over the quality of the broadcasts.
Transitioning more into the state of the grassroots scene close to your heart in North America. For a long time, the region has had this one direct path from ESEA Open to MDL to Pro League, which has existed almost since the start of CS:GO, but other than that there's not much of a way for teams to advance through the ranks. What do you think can be done to improve that?
There are a couple of issues with that. Players these days, especially young players, aren't willing to put their own money at risk like in the good old days, as I like to call them. They aren't willing to pay their own way to get there, everyone is looking for that sponsor, for that money to get there, someone to represent, which is understandable to a degree, but I think you're not going to get the big opportunities if you don't have some kind of a risk involved. It's much more difficult in the States, it's so much more expensive to travel to a Fragadelphia, if you're in California and you want to go to a Fragadelphia on the east coast, that's an expensive weekend, that's a long flight, that's hotels, so we need to help there. I think there's some cool stuff going on, it's mostly in Europe, but BLAST having some of those local events that actually feed into the BLAST system, into a qualifier, DreamHack is starting to do things like that where the Open stops can feed towards the Masters. That's kind of the charm of what the ESL Pro Tour is looking to provide, that whole comprehensive system that can help feed the process.
Is that going to help in NA, though? So far, it looks like there are a lot of European competitions that are going to feed into it but not much across the Atlantic.
It does feel like the biggest thing North America struggles with is that it's got to be a cultural thing in my mind — maybe Counter-Strike just isn't as big to the younger generation here —, in NA they're more interested in being a streamer, more interested in playing the Fortnites and the big hot game that is coming up, more interested in going that route of an influencer and going down the marketing route than putting in the time and hours. I think that's going to be scary if the bottom falls out of the North American Counter-Strike talent scene. I don't think we're at risk of that happening necessarily any time soon, but there do not seem to be those lower levels of competition, which kind of sucks. ESEA does their MDL and their all-star weekends where they try and have people out to Vegas and do a tournament where they have captains like Skadoodle and Sean and everything like that.
I don't know the solution because I'm not involved on that level, so I don't know exactly what obstacles they face, but it would be great. We used to have that really cool scene in North America where there was almost a regional scene centralized around Texas, there was like a Midwest scene, an east coast scene and a west coast scene, and that fed a lot of different players into the top teams and just into the competitive mindset. That's another issue we need to solve, not necessarily all the way down to the grassroots, but having an actual semi-pro scene that allows teams to flourish. It's always a cool story when you have a player coming out of FPL or Rank S and being found there, but those systems don't actually teach you how to be a proper teammate. It's very important to have an established route to get to semi-pro, to use that to get to the professional division, learn how to be a team player along the way so that, when you do eventually make it into the pro scene, it's a step up in skill and everything but it's a much easier, much smoother transition, rather than just the jarring difference in team experience. Just the semi-pro scene, in general, is a big step for us to focus on in the future.
The top-tier scene in North America has obviously improved a lot, especially in the last year or two. Liquid became the best team in the world for an extended period of time, EG are now coming up to vie for that No.1 spot, and it hasn't necessarily happened through new talent. What do you think has pushed the top-tier to have two teams vying for the number one spot in the world, something we wouldn't have imagined even two years ago?
Yeah, it's pretty wild, isn't it? In the case of Liquid especially, remember, a lot of that core has been together for a while. They've never been afraid of roster changes, but they haven't done them just for the sake of whatever reason. nitr0 and EliGE have been on that team almost since it began, since 2015, and they've made those changes, but again, it's about playing together. It's just what I said about the semi-pro division, it's learning how to play together. They've gone through a lot of issues, that team has had a lot of personality clashes over the years and they've stuck through it and they've come together. You look at Liquid and Astralis, we've made a lot of comparisons between them, Astralis probably could have made roster changes for a million times. It's not an easy thing to do to keep a core together through so many failures, but when you come out on the other side, look at how much better everyone is in terms of communicating, in terms of working together. I don't think that's a coincidence, those teams learn from those failures together. That's important to go through that process.
This EG and NRG lineup, as well, they've been together for well over a year now, I remember seeing them last year at Pro League in Denmark and thinking "holy hell, these guys actually have an incredible amount of talent on this team and they can become something really cool." It's not going to happen overnight. I said this a few years ago, as soon as NA starts getting a team that has success and is able to compete at the top of the world, it's going to be like a snowball moment, we're going to see more and more NA teams. We've never lacked skill, we've lacked teams in NA that can show how to utilize that skill properly and how to refine that skill into an actual team, an actual unit. We're starting to see those teams come together. Duncan made a really good point with his tweet recently, the theory between the seang@res style of play and the DaZeD style of play, where DaZeD is like a fragging in-game leader with a lot of skill around him, while Sean was more about the Astralis way of putting a team together and all these parts. It seems like in North America, at least, because we have so many talented and raw players, you can go that DaZeD style and you can make it work very, very effectively.
I don't think those are the last two teams that NA will see being competitive at the top of the scene. Eventually, the next thing that happens is what we just saw with daps, the experience he gains from bringing two teams up to a tier-one level. Yeah, he can't get them over the hump, but now he goes to a new team in Cloud9 and he's going to train those guys up. Then you start seeing some of these teams, maybe they make changes, maybe someone from Liquid or EG eventually departs the team, they go somewhere else, and they can teach other teams. Then it spreads out, which is something NA didn't have at the beginning of CS:GO because of all of our 1.6 players retiring, there was no one to pass on that knowledge. And now we finally have those players who can pass on that knowledge. It's just going to get a little bit more widespread and we'll see more players and more teams pop up.
Also, it didn't help that two of the biggest in-game leaders of the scene got themselves out of the picture...
Yeah, that one hurt too (laughs), that one was a kick in the balls. It sucks because steel — and even DaZed, although it's obvious that he's lost all the passion to be a competitive player — is one of the hardest-working guys I know. Every time I talk to him, it's the first thing you can see, every conversation you have with him is "I want to be competing, I want to be back." I can't even imagine how heartbreaking it's got to be because he has probably had so many opportunities that have just been taken from him because he can't play at Majors. And he has probably had so many opportunities to be a coach and he's not ready to be a coach, he still wants to compete because he has put so much into the game, he wants to be able to get onto these big stages. I still dream that Valve is going to wake up eventually and say "this guy has paid his dues." I don't think it'll happen, but I have a little bit of hope, still.
Moving on to the game itself, even though it has been a long time since we have had those economy updates, it is still a big point of discussion, especially now that the second-round Krieg buy has become meta. What is your verdict on these changes, does the economy still need adjustments or are you happy with the current state?
I don't necessarily like the air that the changes have caused. I think the comeback mechanic is still extremely strong, I think it's very obvious that the Krieg second-round buy is a pretty silly thing to be able to do and I'm hoping someone at Valve is looking into that and ways of tweaking it so that it stops. But I struggle to get as upset about the changes that Valve makes in the game these days because, as we've seen, players adapt, teams adapt, it doesn't actually have this massive impact on the scene overall. It's not like we have the best team dropping down to like the eighth place because of an economic change, it's not impacting the game to that level, which makes me happy even if I don't like this "new economy."
It's just a bit scary because the smallest change to the economy can have big implications. Once you start tweaking the economy and really try to mess with it, it's really hard to start reverting things, especially with the way Valve likes to make a change and give it plenty of time to breathe, which I also appreciate by the way, that they don't just snap back at community backlash. It is what it is, we're going to adapt, Counter-Strike is going to survive, it's been that way for CS:GO, we've been able to make this work with these changes. I've come to appreciate the Valve devs a little bit more as time goes on, I actually think they've done a good job at balancing this game over time despite some of the complaints in the moment.
You recently did commentary for the group stage of New York from a remote broadcast in Cologne, something we don't see very often. What do you think about the way ESL approached that?
I thought it was fine. They've been doing this for New York for like three years, although it was usually not with us, so that was kind of unique. I will say straight off the bat, it obviously sucks, especially that it was in New York, in my home country, because I wanted to be in that arena. I'm obviously also thankful that I didn't have to put up with the travel from leaving New York at 9 PM and coming straight into a broadcast in Malmö, so a little bit of a blessing in disguise there (laughs). It was a weird disconnect, I kind of enjoyed it and hated it in some ways because it's hard to muster up the excitement and the intensity because you feel so disconnected, you are on the other side of the world and you don't feel like you're part of the event in the same way, especially considering we weren't on camera at all in Cologne, which was kind of cool because I got to be in sweatpants and be comfortable, that's always fun.
At the same time, I went into it with Anders and I was like "the only way that we can do this that's going to make sense for us, let's treat this like one of the old 2014 online broadcasts, let's just have a lot of fun with it." I hope the viewers could tell that we tried to do that because you can try to be as intense as you want, but when you're so far away and you don't see the players and you're not part of the event, it is a bummer and you don't feel that intensity of teams getting eliminated because you're nowhere close to it. We just kind of said to have a good time, make the silly jokes, talk about the crazy things, laugh a lot, make sure we're having fun, and if we're not able to match the intensity, let's at least be able to let the viewers feel like they're having fun along with us. I hope that came through. It was kind of cool, those are broadcasts that I'd like to get back to a little bit more here and there. Obviously not every time, I like the intensity, I like the professional style of casting, but it is fun being able to loosen up and do things like that. I think Anders was comparing a match to a greasy cheeseburger at one point, so those kinds of things are fun and it's just a bit silly, we had fun with the dualies and everything like that. Those are things you don't get to do when you're inside the arena, those are things that just come off very weird when you're casting in front of 10,000 people on a stage. I like those casts, those are fun, and we got to do a couple of those, we were at the OMEN Challenge recently, which was more of a fun style. It's a nice break.
Anything else you would like to say, a message to the community?
I would just say: keep an open mind about more things. I'm involved in a lot of conversations behind the scenes and every time I have a conversation I realize how little I know about what's going on in terms of the business side of things. Have an open mind when you see these news reports, have an open mind when you're reading these interviews with players. Listen, I f**k up too, I just f**ked up really badly with the ENCE change, I put out that f**king Tweet that really went in on Aerial and ENCE for the change, and I felt really bad about that. We all have overreactions and we all read too much into things at times, but just take a moment. By the way, the number of times I read a Reddit comment saying that someone knows something for sure, it's so completely wrong, it happens every day. Do not just blindly believe some random comment in a forum, a Reddit post, or whatever it might be, even in HLTV comments or forums, just have an open mind. Don't just buy into a headline, look at all the different angles of it and do some research. Read a book.