Astralis' Kasper Hvidt: "Things changed around JUGi's contractual situation and we decided to go for it"
On Monday, Astralis confirmed the addition of JUGi to their squad as a sixth player, the second roster move in the space of two months following the signing of Patrick "es3tag" Hansen, which will come into effect on July 1. The move came as a surprise after coach Danny "zonic" Sørensen had ruled out a seven-man lineup in the March 24 episode of Astralis Talks, just two days after the signing of the Heroic player had been made official.
A month and a half later, Mr. Hvidt offered an explanation when asked about what changed Astralis' minds. "At that time I would probably also have said it would not happen any time soon, but things changed around JUGi's contractual situation and we decided to go for it." He is referring to JUGi being released from his contract with North at the end of April, three months after he had been benched to make way for Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen.
Getting yet another player under their wing without having to pay a fee for him, Astralis essentially utilized the same strategy as with es3tag, who has less than two months left on his contract with Heroic before his new tenure begins. One way this could be perceived is that the biggest organization in Denmark is swooping up free talent in the country so that they can sell them later and turn a profit, but that is a notion the organization's Sports Director firmly denied as he reiterates that the aim has always been to improve the team:
"I think we have been very open with our ambitions and goals from day one," he said. "We have signed two players who we know very well and who have proven they can work in our system and culture. The fact that they were out of contract made it possible to execute the strategy faster, and naturally, the cost is something we always consider. But we do not pick up players, rebuild our facilities, arrange additional bootcamps and team-building sessions if we do not intend to integrate the new players into the team."
"Will we sell players at some point? Absolutely! We even sold JUGi for a really decent amount a couple of years ago when he was top-performing on Heroic and I can't say that won't happen again. Did we sign him or any other player with the aim to sell him? No. We do what we do to create the strongest possible Counter-Strike team now and in the many years to come."
One of the ways Astralis aim to do so is by preventing the need to skip LAN events as they did (and were often criticized for) in 2019 when they decided against competing in tournaments like IEM Sydney and both StarSeries. "Last year we decided to prioritize between tournaments to give the five players a much-needed break to fully recover from fatigue," Mr. Hvidt recalled. "Had we not done this, we would have never won the Major, which is an overall goal for us. Part of what we do now is aimed at not being forced to take full breaks with the team again."
But in what scenario other than replacing Nicolai "device" Reedtz — who sat out several tournaments in late 2017 because of health issues, which was also partly why the team didn't go to Sydney last year —, will JUGi actually play? es3tag famously switched between several roles, AWPer and in-game leader included, during his time Heroic, which makes him a possible replacement for anyone in Astralis, but the 23-year-old has been a main AWPer throughout his entire professional CS:GO career. "I actually do think you will see him playing other roles than just the AWP," Mr. Hvidt revealed. "We worked with him before and saw him in other roles, but the way we play and use each individual player is up to the coach."
Before es3tag arrives, there is also no obvious player who can take over Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander's role as the in-game leader should he take a break. Mr. Hvidt did not confirm or deny rumors suggesting Magisk has been calling the shots in recent times, but he explained that the team has this situation covered: "In Astralis every player has a deep tactical understanding and they all pitch in when it comes to tactics and the playbook. I think everybody would understand I won't be discussing specific tactics, but we have more potential co-IGLs on the team, should we need to rest Lukas at some point."
With a big question mark arising with the introduction of the Regional Major Ranking events in April, we asked Mr. Hvidt about the roster rules in place for this circuit, which will determine the teams going to the ESL One Rio Major, and the punishment for swapping players during or between tournaments (a 20% points reduction per change).
"We fully understand that there are rules to level the playing field and as long as there is only one, maybe two teams with more than five players, it is only fair to even the playing field somehow," he explained. "Still, there are glitches in the rule book that have probably not been thought through and what we saw recently with North is not ideal.
"Looking further ahead, though, I think that we all have to consider the health of the players, the risk of burning out, and how to improve the conditions in all aspects. We've seen way too many players burn out way too soon, and we've seen teams go from top 3 in the world to second-tier with the same players. I honestly believe that a bigger roster is something we should all support, and from the messages and questions I have received after our announcement, we are far from alone with this idea."