innocent: "It's refreshing to win something and unleash a part of the potential we all know this roster has"
HLTV.org caught up with Paweł "innocent" Mocek to find out more about his first year with Illuminar, his thoughts on Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski's leadership, and the current state of the Polish scene.
innocent has been through a turbulent twelve months with Illuminar, enjoying a small period of success in the early stages of the team before encountering internal conflicts after a series of uninspiring results, which ultimately prompted a roster overhaul.
Impressive wins at Games Clash Masters 2019 and ESL Polish Championship Autumn — the former of which saw the 26-year-old post a 1.40 grand final rating — soon became a distant memory for Illuminar as results took a dive. Early exits at DreamHack Atlanta and Sevilla 2019 and an unfortunate IEM Katowice 2020 qualification loss to MAD Lions in the closed qualifier took their toll on the team, with innocent now the sole survivor of the original lineup after several roster changes.
In our interview with innocent, the Polish rifler spoke about the changes he has experienced and seen the team go through, how the current roster compares to the previous lineup, Paweł "reatz" Jańczak taking a step back from the team, the recent victory in Eden Arena Malta Vibes Cup 3, and his thoughts on the state of the Polish scene.
You are the last member left from the ex-xkom lineup that signed for Illuminar in July 2019, now surrounded by an entirely different team. Do you think you can exceed the achievements of winning Games Clash Masters and ESL Polish Championship Autumn 2019 and peaking at no.23 in the rankings? What is the limit for this team?
I think the only mindset I have is that we have to exceed these achievements and the main reason for the changes to the previous lineup was the fact that we felt it was not possible with the team we had. I'm not quite sure what our limits with the current roster are, but from what I can see in practice, we have a much stronger leadership; we understand each other better; we play more and are more focused while working, and I guess we have stronger individuals. The peak of this team will be for sure higher, I hope we will continue to progress so we all can see what that peak will look like.
What led to so many changes to the original Illuminar lineup? Why did the team not work out?
The main reason was that we had a different perspective on how we should play and how much we should play. Some people were too stubborn for the team to be able to progress more. For example, a few people wanted to have bootcamp every two weeks because they were always productive and we played well in them, but others would rather not go to a bootcamp.
I would say the previous Illuminar lineup was good, we had really close fights with good teams; we played really well offline, but we kept losing our heads when we were close to achieving something. I think that the breaking point was when we lost in the Minor qualifiers to unknown teams again. We had our chances to break through and, to be honest, if we had kept it cool we should have got to the playoffs at DreamHack Atlanta and Sevilla. The same happened in the IEM Katowice qualifiers, I remember how well we played against Mad Lions, we should have closed that game 99 out of 100 times. We just didn’t use our chances to go further and people got tired of it.
What are the key differences between this roster and the previous one?
The biggest difference would be the fact that we have a really good IGL, I honestly didn't think it would make that big of a difference. I’ve played with some IGLs, kRYSTAL for example, and he was really smart and he was thinking a lot, creating good tactics, but he wasn't a leader as a person. In Snax, you have all these things combined into one person and he is very confident in himself, he never chokes individually. Thanks to that we don't really choke as a team, because we always know what to do. Then I would say that this team has more flexibility and experience. In this team I believe that if I will call that this round I will do something much different because I just feel like it, it doesn't matter who will fill my spot, he will do it right. It gives us much more freedom to play a bit more loose and creative and before it was limited.
The team made headlines with the addition of Snax. How has it been to incorporate such a high-profile player into the team? Do you think he’ll eventually be able to replicate his old level of form?
I have known Snax for a very long time. To me, it was clear that it was not like he had stopped progressing and had just gone downhill. It was not only his fault; there were many things that had an influence on Snax and most likely wrong people around him. In Virtus.pro, he was an in-game leader, he was creating strats and systems and he had to deal with constant roster changes he wasn’t really in charge of, and so on. I can only imagine how demotivating that is for a person who has the burden of leading the team and needs to start over again and again, because they picked another player, and then they needed to swap roles, positions again and stuff. I am pretty sure that if we keep up and practice a lot, he will get back to doing what he used to do on a daily basis. You can clearly see he is playing much better day by day and he feels good around the players we have right now.
reatz stepped down from the lineup after 12 months with the organisation - what was the atmosphere like in the team leading up to his departure from the active roster? Was it a decision the team knew would happen or was it a surprising occurrence?
We always had a good atmosphere in the team, we never got to the point where we had strong arguments. I don’t think you can name one reason behind reatz stepping down from the roster. Covid-19 created more stagnation, you just sit in the house and play and not every person can live like that. We had problems with the previous roster, then we had problems with creating the current one, there was a point when we really didn’t know how to move forward and were close to disbanding the team. reatz is also very emotional and often blames himself too much, I think he just went into a slump but it was stronger than usual and he needed some time to cool off and we are okay with that and we support his decision. He is a really good friend of mine and I am personally sad about the situation, but it takes courage to admit you are not at your best right now and need to step away for some time, so I respect him for that.
In reatz’s place, the team has enlisted the services of rallen as a temporary fifth player. What was the reasoning behind his selection? What does rallen bring to the team that was missing before?
Asking rallen to play with us was a no-brainer. I don’t think there is anyone in the Polish scene that could fill in for our lineup better than him at that moment, because he is used to all the spots that reatz took. He brings experience, calmness, good communication and in general a good vibe. You can trust that he will do everything that is necessary in most of scenarios. Also, we struggled a lot on CT sides with this roster, we were not really as active as we would’ve wanted, so we often were missing opportunities that opponents were creating for us. We worked really hard on improving that with reatz too and it was slowly getting better with time, but rallen just brings it in the team because he is just that type of player, so it was good for us. However, we will probably be exploring further because not everything is that perfect and the first event was a bit of placebo because we all were super on point individually, and of course we are aiming to bring reatz back when he is ready.
Your first tournament with rallen was the Eden Arena Malta Vibes Cup 3, which you won in convincing fashion without dropping a single map. Did you have any time to practice going into this event?
I think we practised one day prior to that event. All we did was discuss with rallen the positions he would feel the best in and how we coul utilise him in the best possible way. Luckily for us, he feels good in most of the positions he took from reatz, so we didn’t really have to change much. We just filled him in on how we wanted to play as CT, walked him through our stratbook and started to play. It was a bit surprising for me how fast it clicked, but not every event will look like that, so we need to put some hard work in the next days if we want to keep up the good form.
Illuminar has struggled with consistent growth in 2020, do you feel this event win will kick-start an upwards trend into the top 30 in the rankings?
It could be the turning point for sure. It is refreshing to actually win something and unleash a part of the potential we all know this roster has. I think it is really hard to be a consistent team in CS, especially when you have to break through all these lower tiers. One day we might play a super tactical Danish team, then we will play some Russian team with an aggressive style, another day just a nonsense FPL pug type of game and you need to be on point every single day and be ready for everything your opponent will try to surprise you with. It is hard but it is doable and we almost did that with my previous team, we just choked hard in the most important moments, didn't use our chances and it led to changes. I hope we can get to that point again and this time, with the people we have, we will use that chance and hop into the better quality tournaments. From then it's just hard work.
Polish Counter-Strike has been on the decline in recent times, with the last top 30 team being ex-Virtus Pro, which featured your current teammates Snax and Vegi, back in February. How would you describe the current state of the Polish scene? And what do you think needs to be done to bring it back to its former glory?
It's pretty obvious that the Polish scene is way behind the competition at this moment, but it is for sure temporary. Honestly, I think we have insane individuals and we know how to work. What led to this situation is the fact that teams usually were wrongly configured and also the fact that most of the Polish players are not that strong mentally. As I mentioned before, it also made my previous team choke in the most important moments, hence why we didn't break through when it was possible. I think most of the teams right now are working with psychologists, mental coaches and stuff and I really hope it can finally payoff for those who work hard for that.