allu: "I'm really proud of my guys - we stepped over the line, kept at it and didn't give up"
Following ENCE's progression to the semi-finals of the CS:GO Asia Championship, we discussed with Aleksi "allu" Jalli his team's preparation going into the event, community negativity and the significance of making the playoffs in Shanghai.
ENCE ended their playoffs dry spell in Shanghai after securing victories against ViCi and mousesports in Group B and are now enjoying two days off, after which they will face either MIBR or AVANGAR for a spot in the grand final.
In this interview, allu discusses the preparation going into the event, the impact of the community's criticism on the roster and the team's current state of progress, almost three months after Miikka "suNny" Kemppi was brought in from mousesports.
In previous interviews it was expressed that a recurring issue in ENCE was the lack of practice. How much effective practice did the team get going into CAC?
After we changed Aleksib to suNny we had a difficult period in regards to tournaments, as we had three events straight away. We didn't actually want to go to all of them, as we had changed our lineup, and would have preferred to practice, but we had obligations, so we just had to go with it. Our results at those tournaments hurt our confidence a bit, even though they shouldn't have, as everybody should have had the state of mind that we are a new team, we need time, we need practice and everything is not going to happen instantly.
After that, we had a three-week period before Beijing and practice actually went really well, we played really well. I've been around for quite some time, so I know the difference between when you just smack people in practice with no point and when you actually play well - it felt like we played really well, we had really good comms, everybody was making good moves. Then we went to IEM Beijing, and when we started our first game against 100 Thieves, everything just went 'boom'. Nobody was talking, nobody did anything and we just weren't there, so to speak. They obviously played well, and they're a really good team, but we weren't there at all. Against ViCi we were on the brink of elimination, but thanks to sergej, who clutched two or three really important rounds, we came back on Train, then went on to Mirage and won that pretty easily.
After the first game, I was thinking, 'Ok, this is going to be hard, really hard', as we kind of had a monkey on our back and we were under a lot of pressure as we were getting a lot of shit regarding the roster change from the community and community figures. We had really high expectations to meet and had to prove people wrong in that we had made the correct call. I think that hit us pretty hard in Beijing.
After Beijing we had one week before we came here; we had two days off, then we practiced and mainly focused on how to keep up the communication and the same feeling and mindset that we have in practice; the same relaxation in that we don't have to win - we just need to play our game and whether we win or lose, it doesn't really matter as long as we are there. So far in this tournament, we have been doing a good job in keeping the mood up. We are talking a lot and it feels like we really want to be here and want to play and compete. In Beijing, it felt like we gave up, but that has not happened here.
You mentioned negativity from the community and community figures in regards to the roster change, which has been on-going effectively ever since Aleksib departed. Did the team take any specific action to abstract from social media during this period?
I spoke to the guys about it before and told them that we should spend less time reading what other people think when somebody has a bad game or something. The only thing that should matter to us is what we think about each other inside the team. Everything else should just be a blur. I think finally, now, as my teammates and I have received a lot of hate, we have realised the effect it has. Even though you think that it doesn't matter if you read something, it does. It's kind of funny, in that if someone on the street says something stupid to you, you will most likely ignore it and just walk away, but when you read it, you kind of get stuck in it. Yeah, we kind of just disconnected a bit and focused on playing, just as we should have.
Outside of trying to translate the mindset you have in practice to LAN events and official matches, what other progress has been made since the addition of suNny to the team?
When suNny first joined we had two days of practice coming into BLAST Pro Series Moscow, and a week until New York, then from New York we went straight to Malmö. It's hard to evaluate that period because we just plugged in and played, and we also had a really long Major with two weeks in Berlin beforehand. We were not at 100 percent in terms of energy and willingness to play. The difference now is that everything is a lot clearer, we have integrated suNny into our system and have added something that he wants as well, so there's a good balance, but we are still finding the perfect balance, because suNny was used to playing a bit differently in his previous team, mousesports, for example. They had a different style compared to ours, and we're still figuring that out.
So far it has been going good, as long as we show our real face. Other than that, when we added suNny every single one of us instantly had such high hopes and thought: 'Ok, everything will just click', but that's not the case, and it's really rare that it happens like that. You have to put in the work, and we were too rough on each other and ourselves. When we lost a stupid round people would get tilted or go emo, and we've been talking about that as well, whereby we just have to let it slide and focus on the next round.
"Plug and play" was used to describe suNny's initial stretch on ENCE, where he assumed the roles Aleksib had beforehand. Has that changed to a more tailored approach now that some time has passed?
He still mostly plays Aleksib's previous roles, because that's the guy that we need. It's more that he has learned to better adapt to his teammates. For example, say he takes map control with sergej, they know they have set things to do, he knows how sergej likes to react and vice versa. This is something we have been working on. The same applies to other maps, so if Aerial and suNny are taking map control, they have a better understanding of each other now than they had before. Even though suNny and Aleksib can fulfill the same roles, they are still very different players in terms of the gambles they take and so on.
It's been a case of us adapting to him and him adapting to us, and it's still in progress, of course. We have not reached routine, so to speak, and routine for us as a team is really important, so that's also a factor behind why I think our results have been a bit shaky. We should take this into account, and it might sound stupid but we haven't really "played" yet, if that makes sense. How we normally play, and how we played at these tournaments, or, let's say, in Beijing, as the three first tournaments were practice-ish, was completely different, and everybody acted a lot differently. Here, we have kind of reached the point where we really play. Now that we have fixed our mental side a bit more, it's easier to focus on the game side of things. We haven't really reached a point yet where we can even fix anything as we only have a small sample size and our losses are mostly because we haven't been there.
Speaking of current affairs, here at CAC you have a guaranteed semi-final placement after defeating ViCi and mousesports in the groups. This must have given the team a colossal sense of elation considering how long it's been since a similar result has been achieved, as well as the mounting negativity. Describe the team's internal state with all of this in mind.
Yeah, for sure it is a big thing for us. We had a long discussion in Beijing on how we plan to fix our mental state, how we should individually take a look in the mirror, take a deep look at ourselves and try to answer questions like: 'Why did I let my team down? Why did I let myself down?'. When we came here I had a good feeling, but I still thought: 'I don't know, we need to show it'. Even though we talked about it, we still have to show it here and so far we have done it perfectly, in my opinion. I'm really proud of my guys - we stepped over the line, kept at it and did not give up.
Regarding the matches, the mousesports game was really tough, mentally as well. It was a long match; the whole series took like four hours, I think. When we came out on top, it was a huge relief for us, and I think we just needed that little something, that one victory that gets us going, and I hope we can continue from there and keep going forward.