AZR: "We're going to keep elevating from where we are right now"
100 Thieves flew to China full of confidence after a deep run at StarSeries i-League Season 8, where they finished fourth in the 16-team field, and won a clean series in their IEM Beijing opening match against ENCE with a dominating performance on Inferno and a comeback on the attacking side of train following a 4-11 deficit at the half.
AZR picked up where Aleksandar "kassad" Trifunović and Sean "Gratisfaction" Kaiwai left off in their StarSeries interviews, further expanding on the team's big talk after IEM Chicago and the changes that have started to give 100 Thieves positive results. Touching on more present topics, the Australian in-game leader also shared his evolution as a tactician and having to learn how to keep his squad's playbook up to date, something crucial to not get "put out of groups".
Let's start off with the big news, signing for 100 Thieves. How did it all happen?
We got approached by a couple of organizations after the Major. They went to Renegades and made offers, the whole process was pretty quick and easy. I think the negotiations happened in the space of two or three weeks. I'm pretty happy with the way it's going and I'm happy to be playing for 100 Thieves.
What are the first things you've noticed under the new organization?
The fanbase is huge, that's something we didn't really have in Renegades. I don't want to talk down on Renegades, but 100 Thieves is just a lot bigger. The atmosphere with the management is a lot better, so everything in general is nicer. I think, for us, we just needed a change, and it was a big thing to make the move to 100 Thieves.
Going back to a couple of the interviews you guys gave at StarSeries i-League Season 8, Gratisfaction and kassad shared a bit about that big team talk you had before the break. Is there anything you can tell us about what that talk entailed and how it transformed you when you came back?
So we had that pretty bad period in the June/July. I remember after IEM Chicago when we got knocked out in last place we went straight to the practice room and talked for like four hours about how we can fix our shit. The main points were about being more open with each other, since tensions started to build in the team because we were losing a lot, and we had to fix that. The other thing was the ability to reinvent our stuff because we hadn't been up in the top 5-10 and didn't have teams watching us before.
After Katowice we talked about our strats and were like, "we have a pretty good strat book, we don't have to change anything," but obviously that wasn't the case [laughs]. After DreamHack Masters Dallas we watched our demos and could see teams were reading and countering us, so we had to completely change it up. We did it for the Major, and since then we've been constantly revamping to not fall into the same path that we did.
When you say that you had to become more open with each other because tension was building, can you give an example of how you've managed to do it?
One of the things is criticism, not everyone can take it well and we just have to be open with each other in that regard. Everyone on the team can be more open to it. Also just being more open in general. For example, at the bootcamp for the Major, we were having dinners every second night and breakfast every day to make sure that our chemistry was getting higher day by day.
Gratisfaction went big with the AWP at StarSeries and was an important factor in your good results. The same can be said of Liazz back at the Major. How has the team molded after going through so many ups and downs?
I think we fit very well together as a team. The atmosphere is very fun, very chill, we can have a laugh, but in regards to those two guys, I think they both have really good mentalities and are always willing to learn. When they first joined it was such a fresh air having two young guns coming into the team because they just wanted to learn, and they still want to learn, which is awesome to see.
In the situation that we're in, or were in, it's good to see we can have the downs and come back up. Having that bad period definitely pulled our confidence down and all we had to do was get over that. It's good to see that we can, especially with Gratisfaction picking up the big green and absolutely fisting everyone [laughs].
Consistency has been an issue, which we touched a little bit upon when talking about you having to reinvent yourself with teams countering you and so on. Do you think you can take the next step and become a team that doesn't just get the one-off semi-final runs but do it tournament to tournament?
Yeah, I definitely think so. At the moment our goal is to become a consistent top 5 team and eventually bring in the trophies. With the way we're communicating in and out of the game now, and with the way we're putting in the hard work that we do, grinding, we're going to keep elevating from where we are right now.
You were saying there's a lot of work going into keeping fresh to not get countered. As an in-game leader, how has this process gone? How have you evolved as the caller?
Like I said before, I didn't realize that we had to keep changing our stuff. That was something I had to learn, personally. As an in-game leader I need to keep refreshing stuff because it gets old, but then you can use very old stuff and bring it back. I just have to keep revamping to not get stale, that's the main thing, because once you're stale you get put out of groups [laughs], so yeah, that's the main thing.
Is it becoming easier for you as time goes to know what to change or move around?
Yeah, we could see it in StarSeries, which teams were countering us, and it was easier for me to adapt to stuff in-game. It was harder when I first started, but as time has gone on I'd say I've adapted to the role pretty well.
Inferno was pretty straightforward for you guys against ENCE, but the first half of Train was pretty dire. They looked good on the attacking side, which tends to be the harder one. What was the half-time talk like?
It was rough after the first half, I'm not going to lie. In freeze time we were just trying to make people laugh so we could get back into the zone and get back in the game. The main thing was just to win the pistol, if we won the pistols we could bring it back. Then it was the anti-ecos, the first gun round, and then we just built on the momentum and kept going from there. It was pretty scrappy for both teams on the CT side.
You guys were calling timeouts even after winning rounds and taking the lead late in the map, what were you discussing?
The timeouts were mostly kassad and me talking about what we thought they could do. We'd been using inner pops at the beginning of the round pretty fast and using T-main and ladder a lot, so it was more about thinking how they could counter us and adapting to that if it happened.