huNter-: "Having JaCkz back on the team means a lot to me; it was really tough for me when we decided to replace him"
The G2 star spoke to HLTV.org about the recent changes within the team and his first impressions of the new roster ahead of the ESL Pro League Season 13 playoffs.
In early March, G2 underwent roster changes following a series of middling results, moving Kenny "kennyS" Schrub to the bench and bringing Audric "JaCkz" Jug back into the lineup after the latter had spent some months on the sidelines.
Almost a month has passed since the switch and we got the chance to talk to Nemanja "huNter-" Kovač, who was recently featured in Red Bull's "Unfold" video series, which delves into the Bosnian's early days playing from his parents' internet café and the impact that his relationship with cousin and now teammate Nikola "NiKo" Kovač has had on his career.
In our interview with him, the 25-year-old discussed G2's lineup changes, explaining what prompted the decision to place kennyS on the bench and recall JaCkz. He also spoke about NiKo's switch to the AWP role, which quickly became a target of criticism from pundits and the community alike, and gave us his first impressions of the new setup following the French-Balkan squad's successful campaign in the ESL Pro League Season 13 group stage.
You can read the full interview below:
After a promising start with NiKo, the team seemed to fall off late in the year, and the first two months of 2021 looked difficult for G2, as well. What kind of issues have you been facing that have prevented you from putting up better results?
When NiKo joined the team, our opponents didn't know what to expect from us, we were unpredictable. Of course, you also have the hype and drive to play well together, which is always strong when you welcome a new player. Then, I think that it is not easy to stay consistent online, to keep the right focus, especially after a year playing in those conditions. Most of the teams are struggling to be consistent at the moment, even if there are also some newcomers among the top teams that are doing really great.
The addition of NiKo was the beginning of a new process for us. We first had to make a choice between AmaNek and JaCkz while going from tournament to tournament without any real preparation. It was only at the beginning of 2021 that we had the time to really work our own identity. It takes time to get things into place, we are still far from delivering our best game, but I'm happy with what we are doing right now. We'll keep working hard, and I think we will be much better in the future.
How much did the results have to do with the lineup changes you made and how much of a factor was kennyS' individual slump? Can you explain what made the team bench kennyS and bring back JaCkz?
We are playing to win and, of course, results are important, especially when you are playing for G2 Esports. You need to feel pressure if you don't get good results. But I think we didn't play that badly at the beginning of this year. We lost to Astralis in the BLAST Global Finals in a really unlucky match and then to NAVI, and those two teams played the final just a few days after. A little while later, at IEM Katowice, we lost against Gambit, who won the event.
We showed some good CS at times, but not enough for what we wanted to achieve. Kenny didn't play that badly at all, he was working a lot and wasn't the main reason for our performances, I would say. Our staff thought that our system would be more balanced with a player with a different profile, and that's why JaCkz got back into the team after Katowice. He is a really good guy, and I'm happy to have him back as much as I am sad for Kenny, but that's how competition works, the team goes first.
What are the team's expectations when it comes to the longevity of this lineup? Is JaCkz expected to stay long-term or are you weighing up the possibility of adding a different player?
It's more of a question for [coach] maLeK and [manager] NiaK, but I can say that we didn't bring JaCkz back for another test. Our goal is to give this lineup a fair shot and stay together long term to improve, play better individually and as a team. We haven't talked too much about expectations yet, we want to see how things fall into place first, focus on setting up our game, getting the positions and roles right, and when we see how far we can go, we will talk about expectations. But from my perspective, I really believe in this team and I think we can do a good job together.
In what way do you think this move will help the team improve?
JaCkz is a really great guy and a talented player. He is always positive and his energy, inside and outside of the game, is something I can't describe... Every team would like to have a guy like him. I'm personally very happy to have him back, since we did a good job together in the past, we complement each other well on the T sides. We were struggling a bit after he left, the job he is doing as an entry-fragger is really helping us. But we also lost Kenny, who is a reference in other aspects, and there is a lot of work to do to compensate for that. We will do our best, NiKo needs some time but I feel he will do a great job.
The main point of criticism people have brought up regarding this move is undoubtedly NiKo's switch to the AWPing role. Why did you think that was the best option? Were there any other possibilities in consideration when it came to how you'd approach the role moving forward, be it signing a new AWPer or having AmaNEk pick it up more instead?
NiKo is a star player, and when you look at this kind of player right now, most of them play with an AWP. If you want to be the best player in the world in the current meta, playing with the AWP is a big advantage. I really think it can be good for NiKo and for the team. Only time will tell if it's a good fit for us, but I won't regret trying this way.
nexa appeared on HLTV Confirmed last month and spoke about the dilemma you faced at the end of last year with the choice between AmaNEk and JaCkz, citing JaCkz's issues with his English as one of the reasons why the team ended up going the other way. Have you taken any steps to fix that, now that he has returned to the lineup?
Yeah, it was one of the reasons why we chose AmaNEk, but it's not the main one. We wanted the best for the team and AmaNEk was really important for our CT sides, especially with the double AWP. I know JaCkz kept on improving his English, as he was looking to find a new international team. Today it is much better and he will keep improving.
Judging from previous interviews, you and JaCkz are quite close, inside and outside the server, as you shared the same room at events and played a lot of positions in-game together, something you highlighted as a source of confidence at IEM Katowice at the beginning of 2020. Can we expect the two of you to return to the sort of dynamic you had in-game as before? What does it mean to you personally to have him back on the roster?
Honestly, having JaCkz back on the team means a lot to me. Like I've said a million times, he's my older brother. We were roommates back then, he is one of the best people I have ever met. He's ready to do anything for me, for the team and for the people he likes. It was really tough for me when we decided to replace him, I was literally crying. It was really weird to be without him on TeamSpeak, to practice and play without him, as he was always the big heart of the team. Always positive, no matter what was going on inside or outside of the game and always trying to keep the team in a good mood. More importantly, having him on the server means more space for me, we were a great T-side duo back in the days and I hope we will do even better in the future.
What are your first impressions of the new roster after the ESL Pro League group stage?
I'm really happy that we made it to the playoffs. It could have been better, honestly, especially that last match against mousesports. We could have taken first place in our group without that loss, and I think we deserved it after beating NiP, FaZe and Vitality 2:0. A bad map can change a lot of things in the group stage, which is what happened to us against ENCE. Overall, like I said, I'm very happy with the improvements we have made recently and can't wait to start the playoffs.
It has been close to five months since you teamed up with NiKo. It was a combination that the two of you looked very excited about and had high expectations for, but so far it looks like the jury is still out on how good the move was. How has it been to actually play alongside him for an extended period for the first time? Is it all that you imagined, or are there some growing pains associated with getting a player who requires a lot of space?
It is a great feeling to play with my 'brother' on the same team. I've worked hard to get to this point, to be at the same level as him and finally play on the same team. The feeling is a bit weird sometimes, I still don't realize that I've reached this level, honestly. Two or three years ago it seemed impossible, but I can now say that anything is possible if you put in a lot of effort. I can't wait to play offline events next to him, that's what I am waiting for. As for our duo in-game, just a bit more patience, as I said earlier, our game is still getting into place.