AZR: "Very happy with our resilience to come back and get to the playoffs"
We sat down with Aaron "AZR" Ward for an interview after 100 Thieves got eliminated in the quarter-finals of IEM Katowice to reflect on the team's resilient display in Poland and to have him explain the organization's decision to partner up with ESL for the future.
The 27-year-old shed more light on a long talk the team's coach, Aleksandar "kassad" Trifunović, referenced in an earlier interview and reflected on the run to the playoffs, where 100 Thieves were ultimately stopped by fnatic after two overtime losses.
100 Thieves were announced as one of the 13 organization who became partners with ESL for the upcoming ESL Pro League and ESL Pro Tour as a whole, so we also asked the captain about what the choice between that and FLASHPOINT came down to.
First of all, tell me what the mood is like in the team after the entire run. Is it more disappointment that prevails after the close loss to fnatic or happiness with the recovery from the slow start to the year at BLAST?
I guess it's a bit of both, to be honest. We are obviously very disappointed with how the year started and with how this tournament started, but we are also very happy with our resilience to come back and get to the playoffs and beat EG and mousesports. But when you lose two OT games, it's very hard with the mistakes you made, you look back at the game and you see the tiny mistakes that can make a huge difference, so it's definitely a bit of both.
kassad referenced a long talk that you had after the opening blowout against G2. What made that so productive?
I think we had a confidence issue in general in the first week here and at BLAST. We obviously spoke about confidence, what we could do to fix it, and one of the things was just to make sure that the chemistry between us is good so people can have their say, have their voice, and make sure that they're being heard and nothing is being ignored. That was definitely one of the things.
Before even heading into that talk, after BLAST we had to fix a lot of things in-game. Like I said before, we weren't playing with a lot of confidence and our discipline in-game wasn't the greatest, either, so we had to work on discipline, individual confidence, and on me micro-managing people more. We weren't making our moves and making the confident in-game plays that we usually would in practice, so that was another thing, and, just in general, we made sure we were more open to each other, it seemed like tension was building up in the team.
Your map picks were all over the place throughout these first two events, which I guess speaks to one of two things: either the strength of your map pool or insecurity around it. Which one was it?
We had a three-week bootcamp before BLAST and we had another five-day bootcamp before Katowice, so we were really working on other maps that we thought were weaker after the break. Heading into these map picks against these teams and losing Inferno, it was definitely quite disappointing, to be honest. Heading into this tournament, our Inferno was looking pretty good. Maybe after the second loss on Inferno, maybe we should have picked something else (laughs), but the guys were confident, and kassad and I were confident in our gameplan, too, so no regrets at all.
You were on the receiving end of a G2 onslaught. What did you think made them so strong here? [Editor's Note: The interview took place on the semi-finals day.]
Yeah, they're definitely on a hot streak right now. Just in general, when we played against them here in Katowice, all aspects of their game were on point, whether it be in terms of firepower, teamplay, reading the game. Everything they're doing right now is really good and I think they're really starting to gel as a team and you can see the confidence flowing through every single one of them. When you have confidence in your game as a team, everything just works, right, so they're playing some great CS right now for sure.
ESL Pro League is coming up next for you, which ties into your decision to partner with ESL not only for the league but for their circuit as a whole. Can you tell me about the decision and what led you to side with ESL?
When we heard about the two leagues being pinned against each other and stuff like that, we obviously had a lot of talks with our VP, Jacob ["Maelk" Toft-Andersen]. We were just making sure that our communication was very open either way, whatever we heard or Jacob heard, we were talking to each other. In terms of our pick, I think we were both on the same page that we wanted ESL. ESL have always been a great TO and they've always done really well by the players and their tournaments are huge, like Katowice, Cologne, you want to be there all the time, so I think it was quite an easy pick for us.