malta: "It feels like it was all wasted effort, like everything this team worked for was for nothing"
Liam "malta" Schembri spoke about Renegades strong start to the year and the frustration that followed as the Australian squad lost all opportunities to compete internationally due to the global pandemic.
Renegades were ranked #23 in the world at the start of March when the coronavirus pandemic started wrecking plans of CS:GO players, teams and tournament organizers. Cancellations, postponements, and conversions of LAN events to online ones happened just as the Australian squad was getting ready to depart their home region, where they returned after IEM Katowice to qualify for the Asia Minor.
ESL Pro League Season 11 was Renegades' first chance to compete with overseas teams across a longer span of time, in a regular season, but the opportunity to verse the likes of Astralis, Natus Vincere, and FaZe was taken away. The league shifted to regionalized, online play to avoid health concerns, leaving malta without a trip to the same-named island-country, where ESL Pro League was supposed to take place.
Since March, the team that was on the brink of truly joining the international circuit has been relegated to domestic competition - which Renegades have reigned over supremely. But winning the Oceanic divisions of ESL One: Road to Rio and DreamHack Masters Spring comes as little satisfaction to the squad who set significantly more ambitious goals for this year: reaching Big event playoffs.
In our interview with malta, the 24-year-old spoke about the loss of motivation that came as a result of the global situation, how Renegades are trying to adapt their practice, and which new goals they set for 2020 - as they are not optimistic about playing international events this year, despite being on the ESL Pro League Season 12 team list.
Can you tell us about the atmosphere in the team before you were supposed to attend ESL Pro League, before the coronavirus outbreak went global? Was there a feeling in the squad that Renegades were becoming a part of the CS:GO top tier, that you were there to stay?
After Leipzig we felt super confident in our lineup, it felt like practice going into that event was clean and we were learning a lot during our bootcamp. We definitely felt like we'd solidified ourselves as a tier 2 roster.
After that, Katowice was a little disappointing, not being able to take a map at an event is always a letdown. Against the tier 1 teams sometimes that's just the way it goes.
You decided to pull out of Pro League and stay home when the coronavirus hit in March. Was there an expectation that you'd be back and competing internationally sooner? What were the first couple of weeks of the pandemic like for you and the team?
We kind of predicted the pandemic was going to affect the scene a lot and decided that even though it would be pretty detrimental to our progress as a squad, we had to play it safe and stay in Australia. Obviously we've got fingers crossed it'll be possible to come back to Europe and compete ASAP, but it's looking like we'll be playing locally for at least the rest of the year, which is a bummer, but it's a reality we've accepted.
Watching all the Pro League matches together on the couch was a little depressing, but it being online made the blow a bit softer. At this point, we're all just craving a tier 1 LAN again.
Since going back to Oceania and competing there, Renegades have won almost everything, only finishing second in the ESL ANZ Championship to ORDER. What has the experience been like, competing against domestic teams again, in terms of competition and practice?
The practice has been really hard for us, we've had to relearn how to get the most out of it without playing teams who tactically challenge us. The few teams who are good to practice are also our main opposition in these events so it's just not ideal to practice them too often. The diversity here is super slim as well, it feels like all teams play a similar style. The most difficult factor for myself is definitely motivation, I've been super slack personally since coming back, it's difficult to reset your mentality after a great year of travel and competing like 2019, even the start of this year, and then go into a six-month travel hiatus. Guess I didn't realize what I had until it was gone.
Previously, you talked about trying to use events to bootcamp and practice in Europe, while taking it easy back home. Did you have to change that approach now? Or are you using this time to recharge and get ready for when the CS:GO circuit is back in full force?
Since all the events have ESL points or RMR points we have to compete to make sure that when events do come back we'll be participating in them, so we're adapting and going hard in these domestic tournaments. We need to earn those bootcamps again!
You have recently announced the signing of mithR. Your team has struggled to find a coach who works for you in the past - what made the former North tactician a good fit? How does he work with the team, what did he bring to the table?
Socially he fits in well, unfortunately, we haven't been able to hang out in person but we've said our hellos at past events and after a few beers with us, he'll be one of the boys. The thing for us is we weren't looking for a coach to come in and completely revamp our style and try to tactically take control, he's just worked super well with dexter to develop our established game and also provide effective criticism to the rest of us where needed.
Ahead of Katowice, dexter said he thought you could "make a few Big event playoffs this year". However, with a limited number of Big events happening, did you find a new goal for yourselves, something to strive for in 2020? Or will it essentially be a wasted year?
My goal for 2020 is to just develop myself as a person, try and fix a few issues I have with my attitude. I think that's all we can do, unfortunately. The rest of 2020 might be a write off for my team competitively speaking but we will still develop ourselves so 2021 can be another breakout year for us.
What's the outlook like now, when do you personally expect to be back competing internationally? Has the whole situation been demotivating, seeing your rank drop from #20 to #52, knowing that events like ESL Pro League and the Major itself are still under question?
Hmm, I think it's realistic to expect our next overseas LAN will be in 2021. It's demotivating for sure but not because of the ranking, that's just a side effect out of our control and I've accepted that. It's just hard to get hyped and motivated for domestic events and practice. Maybe it sounds a little stuck up but coming into this after over a year only competing against the top teams - it feels like it was all wasted effort, like everything this team worked for to pave ourselves a way into the top tier of CS was for nothing now. Just hoping when the world is back to normal we can pick up where we left off.
It seemed like the team was content with living in Australia while bootcamping and competing abroad, but is a move to North America or Europe something you are reconsidering now?
Aw man, I love 99% of the places we visit in our travels but nothing compares to home, Australia really is a perfect place to live, the lifestyle here is something none of us were willing to give up on just yet. Maybe this year is enough motivation to make the move eventually, who knows. I think there are a few European countries I could live in for a while...
While your team was obviously handed one of the worst deals during the coronavirus pandemic, are there positives to look at moving forward? This lineup has shown promise in what you managed to play, will Renegades be a top20 team again when the pandemic is behind us?
(Laughs) I mean AU FPL is popping off during the player break so that's a positive, getting to play with some of the younger talent in the scene has been a nice change (shoutout to SaVage), usually when I'm home it's not playing the game so I don't have this opportunity.
I believe we'll bounce back to where we were, we definitely need a bootcamp to check in on the meta and see what all the Euro teams are up to. We know how to practice while we're over there and how to get the most out of it, so I'm confident we've just pressed the pause button for this year and we'll play from where we left off in 2021.