NAF: "I think it was for sure an Astralis year, but this was an amazing year for North America"
The Canadian star had a lot to say on the topic of Astralis and Liquid's many matches against them, focusing on their latest loss to the Danish powerhouse at ESL Pro League Season 10 Finals and their upcoming encounter in the opening round of BLAST Pro Series Global Finals on Thursday.
NAF also spoke about the rivalry as a whole as he looked back at the entire 2019, admitting that their long-time nemesis' two Major triumphs put the Danes at the top for the year, with the North American side following as a close second on the back of a historic year for their region according to him.
Let's start with the campaign at ESL Pro League and especially the one-sided quarter-final series against fnatic, can you tell me about the whole tournament and how it went?
We obviously had a tough time getting to Odense, we missed our flight because our ECS final went on too long and that turned our travel day into 24 hours. Once we got there, we lost our luggage, we got to the hotel and only had like 20 minutes to shower, do whatever we needed to do and get ready, and then we put on the same dirty clothes and went to the venue to play North.
Luckily, we started off the tournament really strong and then we went up against Astralis, we started off really strong and we won the first map 16-14. We went into Nuke and I'm not entirely sure what happened. We know that they're very dominant there, we studied their Nuke a lot and we tried to find ways to play, but our playstyle on Nuke doesn't really work very well versus them. Astralis in general to us is kind of like how we are versus Na`Vi, especially last year, where it's almost like kryptonite in playstyles. Even us versus mouz, it tends to be close, but we beat them all the time. It's just like us versus Astralis, we can't really do too much versus them. It's just the way we play the game. But overall, the game was really tough on Nuke and I remember we had a chance on Dust2. I feel like we definitely should have won that BO3 on Dust2, I think we all knew we should have, we kind of just lost to ourselves. We started to feel a little bit of the pressure towards the end because we had always struggled to beat Astralis, everyone was like 'oh man, it's coming close, we can do it, we're right there' and we fell at the last hurdle. It was really tough.
Going into the bracket stage, we had fnatic. We beat them at ECS, but the games were really close. I think going into the quarter-final fnatic just had a better preparation. When we played them, it didn't feel like we were playing the previous team we had played at ECS, they came in with a different gameplan. We knew the maps would be the same, Overpass, Inferno, Mirage, which they were, in the exact same order. We went into it thinking we were the better team, so we thought if we would just prep and play our game, it would work, but, unfortunately, that's not how it worked at all, and fnatic played really well. I know Golden and those guys are really smart, like flusha, and even Brollan, he was playing amazingly at that tournament. I think he's going to be a superstar next year for sure.
Do you think it hurt the confidence that nitr0 was talking about back at ECS, or do you look at it as a result of the travel issues?
I don't want to come up with excuses, I don't want to say it's travel, jet lag, and all that. I'm not going to say that's an excuse or anything. Our goal when we came back from the player break, we just had such high expectations of ourselves, that we just need to win everything, but I think over time it just went down, where it got to a point where we just need to set a small goal, like making playoffs, and then the next goal would be making finals. Everyone wants to win, we're all thinking about winning, raising the trophy, but I think we just need to start from scratch again. Before our big tournament run, we always took it step by step: make playoffs, make finals, work on it each time. Each time it was always different for us in finals, we kept learning new things, how to keep our team environment strong and all that. Coming back now, I think we realized that we aren't really No.1 anymore and we just need to accept that and work harder. If you want to be No.1, you need to work harder than anyone else and that's what we've been trying to do and that's what we're going to do in 2020.
Going back to the track record against Astralis, it has been one-sided again in this second part of the season, and it's reminiscent of your 2018 rivalry in the amount that you play them, too, as you've met them at every single event you could since the Major. You've touched on the mentality against them, the pressure, but does it feel like the 2018 rivalry or is it better because it's closer now?
Sure, it's better for the fans, for the show, for people to watch, because before in 2018 it was just like 'they're just going to get blown out,' everyone knew what to expect. But we have been playing really close and that motivates us more, that we're getting a better understanding of how they play. But it comes back to the kryptonite. In playstyles, we're just a team that relies more on our aim, although we do have teamwork. I see people say 'there's the team that has really good aim but not too many tactics,' but we obviously do, we go into a lot of details, in-depth into a lot of things, and we try our best to come up with different ways. But we also have a foundation of what we like to do. And, honestly, maybe that's not good enough. Maybe we need to get out of our comfort zone and start trying new things because what we're doing against Astralis doesn't really work too well. We are getting a little closer, but I think it's just due to us changing things up bit by bit. I think next year it'll be different, for sure, especially versus Astralis. We're tired of losing to them. (laughs)
You're going to play them here again and you have played some veto mind games with them, picking Vertigo back at ECS, then Inferno at EPL. How do you look at the upcoming match, having played them so many times?
Playing them so many times, honestly, it's been really fun. Even though we lose a lot, it's really fun. We always see each other, sometimes in finals, we always meet them somewhere, we always say hello, so we have that unique friendship bond going on a little bit. Although we lose, it's always fun to play them because you always know it's going to be hard Counter-Strike and it's going to be a challenge. That's honestly the fun thing about playing Counter-Strike, just being a challenge, how competitive it is, and how good others are, how much they want to be the best, and they just want to be better than you. I always have a fun time playing them.
Here in Bahrain we play them first and I think it'll be another interesting matchup, and obviously our goal is to win. I would love to just end the year with a win versus Astralis, finally, to get that feeling that I finally got one best-of-three win on them or something (laughs). Hopefully, we can get a rematch for the final and we can say who's going to be the best at the end of the year.
As we're coming up to the end of the year, it's time to think back and look at who the best team of the year was. You had your stretch, while Astralis had two Majors even if not as many wins, do you think this event is important to that storyline? If you win here, could you call yourselves the team of the year?
It's tough to say, but I honestly think, at the end of it, this was yet again another Astralis year. They played great, two Majors, that's huge. Even when they were in a dip of form and they knew the Major was coming up, they just played their A-game, they played so well. It's a spectacular thing to see that they can dip and just know that (claps) 'it's game time, this is the big one, we need to do it, we need to win,' and they do it. Whatever they do, they're doing something right. gla1ve is leading them really well with zonic, props to them for being such a consistent powerhouse for two years, just straight consistency.
I think it was for sure an Astralis year, but for us in North America, this was an amazing year for North America. No team has had a consistent string of events where they won so much, we had multiple top placings, as well, it's something NA hadn't really seen. But no matter what, at the end of the year I'd still probably say Astralis, but I'd like to say we were a close second.