steel: "It's satisfying to lead a second group of players into the top 30; it's a different type of reward"
Joshua "steel" Nissan's Chaos roster shocked in the group stage of ESL One Cologne when they scored massive upset victories over FURIA, currently ranked sixth in the world, and 100 Thieves, ranked 18th, to top Group A, earning themselves a direct ticket to the playoffs.
It was evident that the entirety of the roster had been putting in time and drilling to improve their overall level as they stayed in stride against their Brazilian and Australian opposition, dropping just one map between the two series with strong performances from Nathan "leaf" Orf, steel, and Jonathan "Jonji" Carey leading the way.
While Chaos took some time to recuperate following their group stage victories, we caught up with steel to discuss the team's meteoric rise, with the Canadian captain sharing details on why his players' initiative to improve is a key component in their development, the ongoing harassment towards Chaos players on social media, as well as his thoughts on the recent changes to platforms like Rank S and FPL.
You recently tweeted, 'If I can't play Majors at least I can be there to see new players break the top 30 and play them for me.' Given Chaos' progress, how satisfied are you with the way the team has been growing?
It's definitely satisfying being able to lead a second group of players into the top 30 within two years. I think it's rewarding in itself even if I can't play at the Majors or win huge titles or anything like that. It's a different type of reward. So it's good to see that not only was I there to see it happen, but also that I had the opportunity to do it.
More recently, you've qualified for Funspark ULTI, and in ESL One Cologne, you've already beaten FURIA and 100 Thieves. What do you feel like the future holds for your team in general, with the young group of players that you have?
The players are situated really well, the only thing that's really going to hold them back is me and my status with being banned from Valve-sponsored events. Right now, with our trajectory and where we're situated with rank 22 on HLTV, for example, I think we're in a pretty good spot, I think that we're going to be able to maintain this level of success long-term. All things considered, we've done a pretty good job with this roster in the short period of time that we've been together, I think it's been maybe three or four months at this point.
With that Valve ban situation, how far do you think the team can go as it is right now?
I mean, the team can go as far as it can go within the limitations. Like we could theoretically win big titles, we just can't participate at those events unless they want to use a stand-in for me. So I think the question that you're asking would be if is there is going to be a point where they're going to be like, 'Alright, steel, we want to play at these other events because we think we're good enough to place and perform really well at them, we're going to have to move on,' then I think yes, that's probably something that's going to happen down the line at some point — it's just a matter of when. But for now, it's kind of one step at a time.
Right now, we're in the semi-finals of ESL Cologne, let's get to the finals first, let's win an event first, and then see from there what the trajectory is because I think right now they're fine not playing in those events. I think right now, going one step at a time is completely fine because this is the highest level that leaf and Xeppaa for sure have played at. Jonji had some level of success on Riot Squad but he's been playing for many years, so he's probably happy to see some form of long-term or stable success, and vanity also had some peaks with eUnited but probably has never seen anything lasting either. So for all of them and myself as well, I haven't seen this type of long-standing success since Ghost, if you want to consider that a success, and before that in 2014 with iBUYPOWER, so any sort of lasting success is something that they're happy for.
With this group of players, did you expect to be able to post this kind of results so quickly? Why do you think your trajectory has shot up like this?
I think the players that are on this team are mechanically really strong, probably some of the strongest that I've ever played with. But beyond that, everyone has a perspective and an opinion and they're not afraid to speak their mind if they don't agree with something. If something goes wrong, if someone does something not good in the game, they're not afraid to call each other out, open a discussion, share their opinion, share their perspective, push back on something. They're not just sitting there, nodding their head to everything I say. They're individuals and they have their own individuality, and I think that's super important.
They're also relatively mature, especially for being younger players, and are able to have these discussions and talk about things that a team needs to talk about to get us to the next step. Those are the qualities, the maturity and the mechanical ability, or prowess, I think those two in tandem are the reasons why we're able to do so well.
Talking a bit more about their maturity, when I did that feature on Xeppaa and leaf, leaf talked a bit about how he is recovering from all the cheating allegations. What is your perspective on the way that Xeppaa and leaf have been playing since that whole incident, and how they've dealt with the criticism?
Yeah, initially after the first week or two, I think that they were able to rebound from everything. Obviously, like daily, for every match we play if you check the comment thread to any of our tweets about a match that's coming up, or results of a match, or Chaos' tweets about a match, you might have to click the "show more" but you can just scroll through and you'll find people still messaging about us, about being cheaters, about this, about that. Instagram messages, emails, direct messages on Twitter to the other guys. I have mine blocked off so I never received them.
It's just crazy, and you need to learn how to just shrug it off, and I think they've started to do so. Initially, when it first started happening and it's really new and you're getting bombarded, you don't really know how to deal with it. But after a certain point of time, you see these people, you see how kind of delusional they are. Even in my stream last night, I was streaming and some guy just comes in and he's just spamming stuff in my chat for like 10 minutes, and I didn't ban him because I thought it was hilarious. This guy has nothing better to do in his life than to go out of his way to start trying to talk shit to people because he thinks someone is cheating at a video game because they beat his favorite team. It's sad.
I've been in Xeppaa's streams occasionally and I've seen those same sort of comments popping up for a while, so I definitely know what you mean. So then, to expand on that a little bit more outside of the fan response, how is your team's relationship with MIBR? Obviously, there's been a lot of stuff on Twitter that's come up even recently, so I want to get your perspective on that as well.
My team's relationship, like the organization's, or the players?
The players, mostly.
Yeah, I'm not sure if I'm supposed to comment on that. Personally, I think they're all idiots. You can put that in, I don't care. But I don't know, I can't speak for the rest of my team, or my organization.
So just in that sense, when you have a team like MIBR that used to be very well-regarded publicly calling you out, how is that something that you individually respond to?
I mean, I'm 30 years old and I have gone, not nearly to this extent, but I have gone through this [before], kind of. I've had other threats, of people threatening to like, break my wrists or hands or something at a LAN in America, for example, or at a local LAN, I had all this when I was younger when I was coming into the scene when I was 18, when I was 20, things like that. So, for me to see these comments, initially I was just like, 'Let's look at these clips and see what they're talking about'.
And then I watched them and I'm like, 'What?' Like, you see this guy, you see a flash come through heaven and he turns away from it, and then he looks back because that's where the person flashed from. What do you want him to look at, the ground? And the other clip, yeah, he's clearing this box in site and the guy happens to be through the wall. Have you guys never watched a game with X-ray before? So after I watched that, I realized just how stupid the entire situation was and I'm just like, 'Holy, these people are actually just vehemently attacking them based off of what?' It's just hard to process in your mind, and you just realize that everyone's just so dumb and there's nothing else you can really do about it except poke fun at them every now and then.
Diving away from that a little bit, recently you tweeted about some of the structuring issues with FPL and Rank S and the way they're pouring money out, and there's also the article I wrote about the same issue a few months ago. Now both organizers have come out with changes, ESEA have their 5vs5 Cups and FPL just announced their overhaul. Do you feel like that's a step in the right direction, could that help the NA scene? And who do you think would make for a good FPL Mentor in North America? Do you think you would be a good candidate for that?
I think I could be a good FPL Mentor candidate. I was actually already speaking with them, I had conversations with them around a month ago about the idea of bringing that on and it's still a possibility, I just don't know if it's something that I would want to do.
I think that the transformation of FPL and Rank S into their current forms with their bi-weekly cups, I think that's a really good step for the tier two scene because it allows for a little bit more financial stability. It's not really stable, it's not something you can depend on, but it's something for teams as opposed to players to be able to go, grind, get better at as a team, and get a little bit of a reward at the end of it versus doing these individualistic PUG-style things that don't promote team play at all. It's really super good for the tier two scene to be able to get more reps in as a team, maybe win some smaller events.
This will help the tier two scene build a bigger playerbase, a stronger playerbase, and it's going to be something that helps the overall competition level. It's going to give more practice to the tier one teams, and it's going to be a positive feedback loop where there's more and more tier two teams who are able to start competing with the tier one teams because the tier two teams are now at a point where they're good enough to be practice partners for the tier one teams. And then that practice cycle is going to help everyone get better at the end. So I think those moves are definitely in the right direction.
You've already helped develop a pretty big chunk of young talent over the years like koosta back on Ghost, and more recently with Xeppaa and leaf for example. Can you speak to that a bit?
The word development sounds weird to me when I think about what I did, because when I was working with Ghost, for example, and koosta was on that team, koosta had everything he's displaying today on that team and he was doing it on his own. If anything, it was maybe helping with his confidence that had been lost on previous teams for numerous reasons, and having someone who's there saying, 'Alright, let's make you comfortable, let's put you in your roles, you're good, let's see what you can do.' And having him be able to just find his own confidence and work through it, I think a lot of that was on him. What he knew he needed to work on, he figured out on his own, I was just there so that we could play together and then he could do most of the work on his own and I just kind of gave him the stepladder or something like that.
It's the same thing with leaf and Xeppaa. They had the parts to get to where they are now, I was just that stepping stool. If I didn't have Chaos, if I didn't have an opportunity with salary, we didn't have inclusion in these leagues, my experience as an IGL and the rest of the pieces there, they would have eventually made it or they could have done it with other people. I was there to provide the opportunity and let them see their own potential flourish, but they did most of the work, I was just there to help them see it through, one way or another. So it's just weird, it's not like I'm sitting there mentoring them day in day out like, 'Okay, this is how you're supposed to do this,' they figured most of this out on their own.
Final question. Obviously, you've seen Grim make it into Liquid now, but a lot of players who I've talked to say that Xeppaa is on a very similar trajectory and think that he can make it big. Where do you see Xeppaa or even leaf at in a year or even two years, let's say?
Either or both of them could be really good. I think the biggest issue that they have right now is an in-game discipline thing, where they play so many PUGs with bad players, and retake servers with these awful players. I think that's training their brains to think that they can get away with loads of things, and then when we play a better team, like FURIA or 100 Thieves, an EG or Liquid or something like that, they punish those overpeeks, repeeks, those bad post-plant cross-fires or when they are not playing off someone else's contact and peek anyways and die.
I think that if they want to be at the top and consistent, they have to cut out those bad habits, which is both easy and hard to do. Easy because it's like, just play more disciplined, but hard because someone needs to be on their ass about it every time they make that mistake. Someone needs to say, 'He said he had contact and you peeked, don't peek. You have this angle, just stay alive. You don't have to peek. They have to push you and kill you and it's going to waste 10 seconds of their time.' Once that's drilled into their heads, I think that they're gonna be really super consistent and strong players and they definitely could be on the level of Liquid and EG in a year's time for sure.