Astralis: "es3tag will be a part of the team on equal terms with everybody else"
We spoke to Astralis' coach, Danny "zonic" Sørensen, and Sports Director, Kasper Hvidt, following the signing of Patrick "es3tag" Hansen to find out more about why the organization created a six-man roster and how it will be utilized.
es3tag's signing will only come into effect at the beginning of July, but Astralis' move towards a six-man roster has been making big waves in the community since it was announced on Sunday. The recurring topic of an extended lineup has been brought to life once again after the Danish powerhouse turned the largely unexplored idea into reality, raising questions about its viability and potential upsides and downsides.
Perhaps the most commonly discussed concern is that the sixth man will essentially become a glorified stand-in who will only play when one of the starting lineup players is unavailable. zonic, who has on his shoulders the responsibility of making lineup decisions as the coach, stressed this will not be the case with their newest signing but admitted that there will be some preference in who gets to play:
"es3tag will be a part of the team on equal terms with everybody else," he told HLTV.org. "We will have six players on the team, not five and a substitute. Some will play more than others, but we focus on long-term performance and the health of the players, and I do think everybody will sit out a tournament."
But whichever lineup plays the tournament that come next, everyone will take part in all forms of preparation. "Everybody will be a part of preparation, practice and team work," the coach said. "I am sure we will change things as we go along, adopt and find new and improved ways for the individual players and for the group, but what we do will count for all players."
Astralis' main motivation behind the move is clearly the long-term improvement of the lineup's fitness. People recover from fatigue at different rates and the addition of another player, who is ready to step in at any point, gives the team the ability to properly handle recovery and deal with situations like sudden illnesses or injuries more effectively, says Astralis' Sports Director, Kasper Hvidt, a retired handball goalkeeper who played for the Danish national team.
"A really important issue in our considerations regarding the sixth player is rest and taking away a burden from the shoulders of the players," he told HLTV.org. "Nobody is able to work 24/7/365, not even CS:GO players. At the moment, the pressure on every player is huge because they know the team cannot practice or play if you get ill, cut your finger, or something similar. The main principle in regards to competitiveness is that we can use as many players as possible that are close to 100 percent mental and physical fitness. It should give all players a better chance to actually bounce back and recover when they are not at 100 percent, whereas today, they never have the chance to fully recharge."
Astralis have faced scenarios like these before and they caused the team to either decline participation at some tournaments (IEM Sydney 2019, for example) or use stand-ins at others, like when Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen was sidelined after the group stage of ESL One Cologne 2016, causing zonic to step in for the playoffs, and when Nicolai "device" Reedtz took medical leave at the end of 2017 and was replaced by Dennis "dennis" Edman and Ruben "RUBINO" Villarroel at the last two events of the year.
Another potential upside of an extended roster is to use it for tactical purposes and find ways to make the team more unpredictable in-game by swapping players mid-match or mid-tournament. While that wasn't on Astralis' minds when they made the decision, it might become an option in the future. "Our decision is strategic and not tactical," zonic explained. "It is not the idea to swap players during a game or a tournament, but I would be stupid if I told you we will not consider this an option in the long run. Everything to do with this is around performance, and the health of our players is a vital part of being able to perform tournament after tournament, season after season."
So what is it that made es3tag the right choice for this purpose? The 24-year-old's versatility, which stems from periodically switching between several roles in the last three years in Heroic, and familiarity with Astralis' culture from when the two teams were under RFRSH at the same time (up to late 2018) were two key factors.
"We looked for a versatile player who could step in and hit the ground running, so to speak," zonic said . "Our preference was for someone who knew the culture in and around the team, someone who was a team player and a player with a high base level. Patrick can take almost all roles on a team and we're fortunate to get a player who has actually been a part of the performance culture in our organization. And then he's a good guy, which also means a lot in terms of the way we want to work as a group."
But while all this sounds great in theory, there are certainly some obstacles Astralis will need to overcome to make this work to the full extent. Not all parts of the scene are prepared for a six-man setup, even though the organization has made an effort to change that. "I think it is obvious that the CS scene is built to accommodate a five-man roster, focusing very much on players rather than teams," Mr. Hvidt pointed out. "Whether it is the world rankings, tournament rules, the infrastructure around the tournaments or events, or the physical set-up in boot camp facilities, it's the same."
Some organizers like BLAST and ESL can already accommodate extra members, but, most notably, Valve's Major rules only allow five-man rosters and a coach, who can also act as a substitute, and lineups are set weeks to months prior to the event. "We have a very constructive relationship with most if not all stakeholders, and adding a sixth team member is something that we discuss with our colleagues," Astralis' Sports Director explained, before clarifying that changing the scene wasn't the organisation's main goal. "I would like to stress that this move is not about having six players in every competition and tournament, but something we have done to support the players. Do I think that ultimately everybody should be able to have six players included in the tournament rosters? Absolutely. It has not been our primary focus, though."
Perhaps the most important question is whether introducing another player to the lineup could be detrimental to the team's chemistry. zonic understands those concerns and is prepared for the additional challenges, but, on the whole, he is more than confident that this will contribute positively to his players' health and careers.
"There are always insecurities and open questions when you do something new," he admitted. "I think that a lot of fans and experts have raised some real and obvious concerns, and I am not going to tell you we have found a perfect solution to every obstacle a CS team encounters. We're not blind and this will require a lot of work from everybody and it will mean that our culture around open communication on the team will be even more important than ever. What I will say, though, is that I have absolutely zero doubt that this will contribute positively to the players' mental and physical health and it will ultimately help extend careers."