ALEX: "I don't think we are playing as badly as what is being said, but we aspire to play much better"
The British in-game leader talks about Cloud9's early elimination from Flashpoint and the team's mindset heading into BLAST Showdown.
We sat down with Alex "ALEX" McMeekin to hear his thoughts on his new team, the internal and external pressure on the Cloud9 lineup, and how scrims have been going since their last official, ten days ago.
The team that came together amid much fanfare and after a lot of spending didn't have a great time in Flashpoint 2, getting eliminated as the last-placed team in their group following 2-0 losses to Virtus.pro and OG.
ALEX says that the key problems right now are the 2vX situations and the in-game chemistry between the players, admitting that the latter will take some time to develop. Although Cloud9 "want to be performing as fast as possible on a high level", the British caller believes that the team will need a lot more official matches to get things ironed out.
The team was announced, it was big news, you played your first tournament and it didn't go that well. The main talking point around the team is the pressure that has been put on the players and how that is preventing you from performing. Did the players feel that pressure and are you feeling it now?
I wouldn't say we feel the pressure from the organization. I mean, obviously, it is there because of the amount that the team cost and all the hype that has been put around the team, but I don't necessarily think we feel it from the organization itself. When we lose and we open social media and every time we die, people said, '2.1 million for this?', and stuff... that was always going to happen, we are kind of prepared for it, but it is still an... interesting feeling.
It felt like we didn't play terribly at Flashpoint — we didn't play well obviously —, but we played number 15 and number 6 in the world and we made it competitive on at least two maps. Inferno against Virtus.pro we definitely didn't play well, it was our first game together, we definitely felt a bit of pressure there, but we lost 17 2vX situations in that game, we lost 7 1v1s to Jame... if we had won more 1v1s maybe at least Overpass would've gone in our favor. And against OG we should've won Nuke, we were up 15-12, we just didn't manage to cross over the line. So I don't think we are playing as badly as what is being said, but obviously, we aspire to play much better.
One point of criticism that came mainly your way was that force buy at 15-13 against OG on Nuke, I think even HenryG in the mid-match interview mentioned something like that being a mistake. What happened there, do you think it was the wrong call?
I don't remember the round specifically, but I remember at 15-12 we did the lobby crunch against them, and then 15-13 we had no money so we bought and saved... oh, no, that is what happened: I wanted two chances at winning the game because we weren't going to have a good buy at 15-14 anyway, so instead of putting all our eggs into one basket I thought it would be best to have two similar buys in a row. I don't think it was a mistake as such, it is a choice that I made, and because we had won three or four pistol rounds in the game already, the chances were that we could win it from what we had seen in the game before.
How is the team developing? Obviously, it is not the same when you have a team that has been playing together for quite some time and what you have right now, which is five players and a coach who have never been together, trying to build chemistry and communication. How are those two things, chemistry, and communication, developing in Cloud9 right now?
I think that is obviously going to take the longest amount of time. Especially the chemistry side of things, in-game chemistry I mean. Outside of it we have all been having fun and getting along very well, so that's fine, but in-game, as you said, it is a lot different. Even Gen.G, for example, had three players and two new ones coming in, they had the chemistry between the three, while we are literally starting from zero, discovering how everyone likes to play, how they react to situations.
It is going to take a while, I remember after Flashpoint, all the criticism, 'they are terrible' — it took Complexity two months to get even half-decent results and they were playing officials nearly every day — we played two officials (laughs). It is obviously going to take a lot more time if we are not playing officials. As I said, I don't think we played that badly, and as Henry said, time isn't an excuse and we want to be performing as fast as possible on a high level, but it is always going to take a necessary amount of time to get to know each other and perform. In practice, everything is going well, we are developing nicely from a game point of view, it is just the chemistry and the 2vX situations that we have been losing. If we had won those in Flashpoint we would have won maps at least.
What has been the focus for the team going into BLAST? Bootcamps are not really a possibility for you right now so how are you practicing and preparing for the Showdown?
We've been doing very long days of practice, talking about theory, talking about the day's practice during the break and after the day is finished, just trying to talk as much as possible and learn as much as possible. The focus had been... coming into Flashpoint we decided to come in with a six-map map pool, and maybe not be as strong on every map as we could but at least have a wider map pool so we wouldn't get punished picked. Obviously, it happened anyway, but that wasn't supposed to happen. But being able to play all the maps and being able to play them well, adding more and more to our game, learning more and more, but without officials, it is hard to actually learn anything because you don't know how things are going to go until you actually play officials.
What about your personal perspective on playing with all of these players? How has it been, getting to know them, and how they want to play, how you can use them? What is the challenge like?
It's definitely been a different challenge. The same thing happened when I was in-game leading in LDLC and we brought in AmaNEk and devoduvek and had a whole shift there, but it is much different now in the sense that we are playing on a higher level, we don't have the luxury of playing tier 4 tournaments and no one noticing. Every game we play everyone is watching and expecting us to do well.
And for the players, it has been a very different experience from what I expected, I had a vision of how things were looking like, but when you get to talk to people, maybe they don't share that vision and then you need to adapt it to what they want. And when we all agree on something, maybe it is not working so you have to keep constantly adapting things, and that is the thing that will take a bit more time, making sure everyone is comfortable. Winning games will come, I'm sure, but we need to get to a point where we are comfortable as fast as possible, and then that will start happening.
With every announcement of a player, it was revealed how they were expected to be utilised by the team. Which players have since changed roles?
I wouldn't necessarily say anyone has changed roles, but more positions that they are playing. For example, we started out with me playing all the positions I had in Vitality, like Nuke outside, Inferno B... and I was playing a lot with Patrick (es3tag) and we decided we best separate so we have equal communication on either side of the map, that kind of stuff. We didn't really change roles, more the positions we are playing and I think it has been beneficial. We have me and mezii most of the time and then floppy and es3tag, most of the time, sharing bombsites. We are all used to playing with that specific person now and we can just translate that into different maps and bombsites. It has made life easier in that sense and hopefully, chemistry will develop faster as we are constantly playing with the same people.
You mentioned before that you played again No.6 and No.15 in the world in Flashpoint, and in BLAST it is a single-elimination bracket and your first opponent is NiP, definitely not an easy one, and Complexity later in the bracket potentially. What are your expectations going into BLAST Showdown? Are they lower than when you went into Flashpoint?
I don't think they are lower, in the sense that we want to win. Well, I guess you can't call that expectations, that is more what we want. Expectations - as long as we have shown improvement and we are playing well, we can't ask for much more. Obviously, single-elimination against NiP is always going to be tough, they have been a really good team all year. I definitely think we can beat them, I don't think anyone expects us to do so, but I think we know we can, and as long as we are playing well, if we lose against a good team and we've both played well, then that is how it is. As long as we are showing progress.
As I mentioned, this is a pretty cut-throat bracket, a qualifier with only two teams advancing. If you don't make it to the main event, what is next for Cloud9?
That is a good question. We've been so focused on Flashpoint and BLAST that we haven't really thought beyond that, what tournaments are out there. I knew there would be the BLAST Finals if we made it, but apart from that, I'm not sure what there is for us. As I said, I think we need officials, maybe we'll do a Complexity and play ten Home Sweet Home cups in three weeks. I think that is the most important for us, to play officials, to get used to playing officials together, start winning some games. I think we will slowly climb up the rankings and hopefully, more invites will come our way, maybe not at the end of this year, but next year and we can keep grinding and make it to where we want to be.