es3tag: "I am not here not to play, but I will do my best to be valuable on and off the server"
We spoke to Patrick "es3tag" Hansen on his first official day as a member of Astralis to discuss his dramatic exit from Heroic and find out what the dynamic of the extended seven-man roster will be like and how his role in it will look.
On March 22, Astralis officially came out with the news that they would be creating a six-man roster with the addition of es3tag starting July 1. The move shocked the scene and unexpectedly sparked a discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of an extended lineup, but over the course of the first few days that conversation was overshadowed by the move's dramatic implications on the 24-year-old's former team.
Just before he committed his future to the Danish giants, Heroic had agreed the sale of their entire roster, which es3tag was a part of, to Flashpoint partner FunPlus Phoenix. Everything looked set in stone as the team turned up in Los Angeles ahead of the start of their campaign in the newly-formed franchised league and even played their first match, but a few days later it was clear that something had gone wrong.
The deal between the two organizations fell through as a result of Astralis swooping in to sign es3tag at the last minute, leaving the Flashpoint partner without a lineup in the middle of the competition and Heroic with a damaged squad on the west coast of the United States of America during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When asked about the chaotic situation, es3tag did not share much about his role in it, but he maintained that there is no animosity between him and his now-former teammates despite all the problems his decision caused. "I have a great relationship with my old teammates and they all understand my choice," he said. "They have supported me all the way and I am very grateful for that."
It would certainly be difficult to blame any player for saying "yes" to a team that has achieved so much, one that many have touted as the best of all time, in particular when that player had tried to reach the elite level himself with the same organization for three years without ever being able to cross that threshold despite occasional successes.
"Needless to say, Astralis is a step up and I don’t think many players would turn an offer down from this organization," he said.
But this is also far from the typical player signing. Being a part of an extended roster is bound to bring its personal challenges when you're the outsider coming into a five-man system that has been shown to work time and time again and you have to prove yourself as worthy of Astralis' grandeur. And not only is es3tag under pressure to get on the same level as the original five, now he has another teammate to compete with for a spot on the roster in Jakob "JUGi" Hansen on top of that, after the former North AWPer was brought on to eventually form a seven-man team when Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander and Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth decided to take time off almost simultaneously.
In the eyes of es3tag, being in a team with more than five players serves as a source of motivation. "We are all teammates and competitors. It's a huge motivation; otherwise, you shouldn't be on a team with a bigger roster," he explained. "If we're six or ten players makes no difference to me. I want to win with Astralis, and I want to contribute the best I can. Preferably on the server, but I know the conditions to be a part of this organization and I am so hyped I am here."
It's clear es3tag understands what he is getting into and that he won't always be in a playing position, but the prospect of sitting on the sidelines will be a tough pill to swallow nonetheless. "It will probably be difficult when you're not playing, at least initially, but it also gives the player a chance to analyse the game and to contribute to the playbook," he said. "I am not here not to play, but I will do my best to be a valuable part of the team on and off the server. If I can be a part of getting Astralis back to a dominant position, it will be something most players can only dream of."
And then there is the question of how having seven players will work in practice and how it will affect important team qualities such as chemistry and teamwork. The idea of an extended roster is a largely untested concept, after all, and it seems Astralis don't have all the answers themselves and will have to figure things out by trial and error. "Being in a bigger roster is certainly new and I don't know how it's going to work out," es3tag admitted. "But I have seen how the team and players have evolved every time these guys made a change, so I have a firm belief it will be a positive change. We have had a lot of talks and I also pitch in with ideas, but I am sure we will not do everything right from day one. It's certainly different, but I will give my all to make it a success!"
With ESL One Cologne being next on the horizon in late August, Astralis' newest member's official debut is at least a month and a half away. However, it's not certain es3tag will even get to play there, so all he can do is hope for the best and make sure he's ready when the time comes: "I focused a lot on my game, studied a massive amount of Astralis games, and grinded my butt off [during my time off]," he said. "I am going to play with some of the best players in the world and a team with a really deep playbook, so I have a lot to learn."