NAF: "We want to pull off some big victories so that when we look back we can say we achieved something this year"
The Liquid star talks about the situation in North America, travelling to Europe for the first time during the online era, and the team's hopes going into BLAST Showdown.
HLTV.org caught up with Keith "NAF" Markovic, who is currently at the Alienware Training Facility in Utrecht with the rest of Liquid, to chat about the team's return to Europe after a bumpy few months in the slumping North American scene.
The Canadian rifler, who believes Liquid are now an underdog when compared to the European teams they are facing following their upset loss at the hands of Triumph in IEM Beijing-Haidian, also talked about the trip to Europe as a catalyst for the team's motivation and their hopes of getting some big wins under their belt before the end of the year.
NAF says it is hard to measure Liquid's current state by their performances against the more puggy North American squads, and hopes that his side will be able to get in the groove quickly in their BLAST Showdown opener against MAD Lions to build much-needed momentum.
You just came over to Europe for the first time in the online era. What it is like to be back?
It has been a while since we were here, the last time was in Katowice, which was at the start of the year. It has been so long that we're just excited to be back and play against some European teams, since it's where most of the best competition is and I think we're a lot more motivated to play over here. We got here on Tuesday and we're just waiting to start playing some matches.
You haven't had much time to bootcamp. Has any particular preparation gone into this tournament?
No, we just got here, so preparation so far has been mostly reviewing demos and playing individually by ourselves. We weren't able to practice on our first day here, we're just dealing with a few things first, but then we'll hopefully be able to play and prepare. We only have a short amount of time, so we're going to have to wing it, try our best and make sure we bring our A-game because of the lack of preparation we've had so far.
North America is in a bit of a slump with players switching games, organizations dropping teams and so on. How has that affected you?
It's kind of hard to achieve or accomplish something new right now in North America. There's just a lack of teams and the playstyle feels very puggy at the moment, it's like playing a bunch of FPL games. We're on a team, but it still feels like playing an FPL game, so it creates bad habits, bad tendencies, and stuff like that. I think the way we play will work a lot better against European teams than it does against North American teams, I'm a lot more optimistic against European teams because in NA there's just a lot of running around, wide peeking and people trying to abuse the internet, pretty much.
Do you think your recent upset loss against Triumph in the IEM Beijing-Haidian semi-finals is a result of that?
Teams are switching players, organizations are dropping teams, so it's like, a lot of these teams have nothing to lose right now and it shows in the way they play, rushing around and doing a bunch of nonsense. In my opinion, it's not really productive to play against that. I wouldn't want to change my style to perform better against these teams because then I'll have to play against more prestigious teams after that and it won't work against them.
You've been playing pretty well, individually, even if it has been against some lesser teams at times. How are you feeling? Has Grim's arrival affected you at all?
I can't really judge myself right now. Once we're done with this European tour, then I can look back and see how I've done. I just need to wait and see how it goes, because although in NA you play against a lot of good individuals, aim stars, it's not really something you can go off of because in Europe you also have people with really good aim, but there's also the strategic side to it, people playing mind games and so on.
Bringing Grim on has been a really big building phase for us, so we're trying to work well together as a team to find his comfort zone, what he needs to know, the things he needs to learn and all of that, so we're doing our best to make sure we're prepared so that he's ready for this European trip.
How has the team evolved over the past few months in that regard and can you even set any expectations as to how you'll do against the teams you'll be playing here?
Everything in North America right now is very up and down, so you don't really know. The way our results have been going just doesn't really make sense to me. But yeah, coming to Europe we'll just try to find the best way we can play and see if we can come out on top, really. It's just very hard to know right now.
What's your schedule like? You have the BLAST Showdown and you're staying here through DreamHack Masters Winter. Have you talked about your plans for your time here?
I'm not entirely sure, right now we have a couple of tournaments we have to play and we also know that we need to practice. We know that we may be a bit behind, so we'll need to put in a lot of hours of just playing and practicing. We're here to win, but we're also here to learn as much as we can as well.
Do you think you can also use this time to try and regain some of the motivation you may have lost playing in North America?
Yeah, when we are the underdog or we feel like we have something to prove that's when we get motivated and when we play our best, that's when you see the best Liquid. I think that's the way it has been in the past, we were always the team that came from behind trying to strike forward, strike upwards, to beat these teams that felt like they should be the ones beating us. We feel like that and we'll try our best now coming from that Triumph loss back home.
So you feel like an underdog now?
I would say we're not the Liquid that we were before, so we're going to have to find ourselves again. We definitely feel like the underdogs against a lot of the teams here. If you look at Liquid it should be a team that's winning in North America, or at least making it to the finals, but half of the time we don't even make it there, so now it's time to work hard and overcome our issues.
How do you feel specifically about your opening BLAST Showdown match against MAD Lions? It's a team you haven't played before and they've also had issues of their own. Do you see yourselves as underdogs against them?
MAD Lions is a good team, they have some good players. I think refrezh is pretty good, and acoR is a rising star in the European scene. They did well in some of the Flashpoint matches that I watched them play lately and I think they have some good wild card players. They're definitely a team that shouldn't be underestimated and I feel like we're the underdog in just about any match-up against a European team right now.
Are you preparing against MAD Lions in any particular way or are you more focused on yourselves? What do you think about the tournament being single-elimination?
We'll do a little bit of both, which is what we usually do against every team. We'll study them a bit, but I do think that right now it's just more about us, we need to focus on ourselves and make sure we're playing at 100 per cent because we haven't been anywhere near close to that and we're going to need to play at 100 per cent when we're facing teams here in Europe.
Single-elimination is going to be hard, we're a team that starts off slowly sometimes, so we're going to need to have a strong start because you can't afford to start slow in a single-elimination tournament. We can't just give up a map, a new Liquid kind of needs to come out here in Europe and turn some heads.
You said you won't prepare any different than you usually do for this match. Can you run me through what that's like now that you have Hepa as an analyst and moses coaching?
Hepa helps us with scouting out individual plays, special types of plays across the map on both sides, stuff like that. He helps with some of that small but important stuff. Then we have the classic thing where Stewie2k and moses will get together to try and figure out our opponents, what they do, and what we have to do as a team. Even myself, individually, I like to skim through and look at what players that I'm working against will do. Like if I'm in Mirage playing default, I'll look at what the A-site and connector players do and just figure out what positions they like and typical stuff like that.
How confident are you in your progression through the BLAST Showdown bracket?
It all depends on how we start off, I think if we come out swinging against MAD Lions we'll be able to progress comfortably through the tournament, building up some confidence. If we get through MAD Lions we'll play MIBR and I think that's a good match-up for us to play, then the toughest one would be FURIA or Virtus.pro.
We struggled against Virtus.pro when they were AVANGAR, they have an interesting style. It's hard to define, it's just the way they play. Jame seems like this passive AWPer but he'll always get some important kills and he'll do the classic save the AWP thing and then be very important in the following round. Then they have qikert and buster, they can literally rely on anyone to put up big numbers. It's hard to grasp exactly what it is, but they have an interesting style. And then we also struggle against FURIA's playstyle, although it looks like they've dropped down a little bit, like they're struggling, so maybe we could come out on top if we were to meet them in the final.
There's a month of play left before the end of the year, just a couple of events are left as the season starts to wind down. Have you had any discussions about this last stretch?
We haven't really been able to achieve anything great throughout the entire year. We just won ESL Pro League Season 11, which was only in North America, so even that was just a small achievement for us. It has been a long year of just playing Counter-Strike in North America, especially considering the drought going on in the region, so it has been very tough. We're just very motivated to be in Europe and we really just want to win and pull off some big victories so when we look back we can say we achieved something this year.
Do you wish you had arrived in Europe earlier?
Of course, I wish we could've gotten some extra time before going into our matches, but with obligations with other leagues we sadly had to arrive here almost last second, so right now we'll just have to make due with the time that we have and do our typical individual warm up as best as we can and make sure moses and Stewie can find time to prepare with the limited amount of time we have. Going into our match against MAD Lions we need to make sure we're individually on point and I think our teamwork and chemistry will start to flow throughout the game.