device: "It is to be expected that some things might change"
Ahead of the BLAST Premier Spring Showdown, the Danish star spoke about Astralis' underwhelming results and how they plan to turn things around.
Three consecutive tournament finishes outside of the top four have sounded the alarm bells over in the Astralis camp. The Danish powerhouse, always expected to be in contention for the trophy, was most recently eliminated in ESL Pro League Season 13 after two one-sided defeats to Gambit and FURIA, raising big questions about Astralis' level ahead of the BLAST Premier Showdown.
To hear about what is going on inside the squad, we spoke to Nicolai "device" Reedtz, who was quick to admit that the team's individual level hasn't been up to par. "CS is a game of who kills the other guy first, so if you don't do that you will obviously get punished," the AWPer said, giving praise to the CIS teams that have risen to prominence in 2021.
device noted that qualifying for the BLAST Premier Spring Finals is important for them but that he feels no pressure heading into the tournament, "even though we are such a big brand and name". The priority for the team right now seems to be figuring out how to be back in form for Flashpoint 3, the European Regional Major Ranking (RMR) event scheduled for May.
Changes are not out of the question for the AWPer, who expects Lucas "Bubzkji" Andersen to play "a few games" in the BLAST event. While the decisions will ultimately come down to Danny "zonic" Sørensen and the organization, device seems open to adjustments: "I think that it is completely plausible that some things will happen".
Starting with ESL Pro League, you finished first in the groups and then you go into the playoffs, where you had two tough defeats. Were you surprised with the level Astralis showed in these matches, or were there signs that things weren't going that well before the playoffs?
Going into the group stage, we had a long period of practice, so obviously, there are always results that are up and down, it is kind of hard to know where your map pool is at. I think we kind of had a miracle group stage in some way, maybe overperformed in some way. Every game was close. I mean, after the first three days we could've been 0-3, but instead, we were 2-1. We knew that it was a bit shaky, I would say, and as I also discussed in the post-game interview with ESL, I think that the individual level is not there consistently for us and that is why we get bullied and lose big games.
Fundamentally, we are doing things very well. It is easy to see if you try to analyze a game like our Inferno vs. Gambit that it is just the individual level that is not on par. We knew everything that we were doing. It is hard to say if you are surprised, it is just an annoying factor. But CS is a game of who kills the other guy first, so if you are not able to do that you will obviously get punished.
What was interesting was Astralis losing by such big scorelines because you usually make the other team really work hard for a win. In these two games, we had complete blowouts on a couple of maps, the best performances ever by arT and Ax1Le against a top team, so people are making records against Astralis. Is there also a part of the mental side not being that good, you not being fully in the game, giving up?
I definitely don't think people have given up in any sense. You also mention Ax1Le and arT, two truly aggressive players, the guys that will get the first duel. So in regards to the mental aspects, it is definitely the confidence regarding the duels you are getting. When the opponents might feel that, "Okay, I can choose whatever duel, even if it is not a favorable one, and win it", then you know it is going to be a really tough and long game (laughs). Because you can play the map perfectly from a strategic point of view and gain the map control you want but if you just don't trade well enough... it's just about the individual level, I would say, for our performance in EPL. You can't really look at anything else and be too harsh because when we had the individual level in some of the games in the group stage we also won those, even though it was close and obviously we are not the dominant team we have always been, I would say that that is the biggest factor why we have been unsuccessful this year and also one of the reasons why the CIS region is so strong, They just have so many skilled players, right?
We have the individual level, the online era where everyone is playing more individually, and then the map pool, which seems like the third part of that discussion around Astralis right now. It really doesn't seem like you have one map or two maps that you feel very comfortable on, that you go towards. You picked Train against FURIA, while in the past, it was always Inferno and Nuke, but that super-strong Nuke is long gone. What is going on in that aspect? Why can't you have a stable home map?
There are always two philosophies in regards to vetos and map strengths, and it is either picking into the opponent's weaknesses or your own strengths. I think that we tried to pick into the opponents' weaknesses because we felt like our map pool was balanced, maybe not in the strongest way (laughs), but it was balanced in the sense that we could win on basically most of the maps but we could also lose on most maps. As you said, Nuke is far away, Inferno was kind of a comfort pick against a lot of teams and suddenly we couldn't get that going. We lost against EG and obviously Gambit in the play-in game. Picking into the opponents' weaknesses was the obvious choice for us because we didn't have that strong feeling on any map. I would probably say that, going into the tournament, Vertigo was one of the maps we looked the strongest on but we just had a poor showing on it, even though it was one of the maps we played fairly well on against FURIA.
You have had just a couple of days before the BLAST Showdown. How do you rate the Showdown, how important of an event is this for you? It qualifies you for the Spring Finals but at the same time, you have DreamHack Masters and the RMR coming up... Where does this sit for you?
We've been in Copenhagen for three weeks, for me that obviously also amounts to some sort of stress because of not being home, being constantly at a hotel or in the office. Things have not been ideal for some of us that don't live in Copenhagen so right now, I have just been focusing on finding the individual level I want, and also the balance in regards to the stress levels. I would say, of course, the tournament is important, it is just a really tough tournament. Everyone knows that. Being paired with OG is just... how it is, you know. We are just going to take it one match at a time. There is no doubt that we want to do our best, but what that level is and how good we are going to be - nobody really knows.
We haven't been practicing since we got home as we haven't had time for anything. The RMRs are the most important for us, we're looking forward to seeing which direction everything goes and locking that in.
Are there going to be any changes from Astralis going into the event? Bubzkji is on the bench, there has been some talk, even from him, saying that the team is going to be using him differently. Is this that opportunity to bring him in?
Everything comes down to zonic, who is the leader of the roster. I would say that it is to be expected that some things might change. I am at least thinking that he is going to play a few games, right? You just have to test out everything going into the RMR because you see NAVI, you see Vitality, they have already kind of dumped the six-man roster, and we are in a situation where we have a game developer that doesn't support that change of direction. It is for the organization and Danny (zonic) to figure out how Astralis is going to be the strongest team against OG and then against the next team, and take it day by day. I think that it is completely plausible that some things will happen.
Last time we talked, speaking of es3tag, you said that him joining Cloud9 was "a unique opportunity, and you never know, maybe we will link up in the future again". Is es3tag's return a possibility for Astralis?
Again, I'm not in the position to really speak about transfer policy and I'm not the one making any decisions, even though I am an influential player in the team. It is in the upper echelons, the higher tier in the organization to figure out the best for the team as a whole and the direction to follow. Of course, people are disappointed, and people have been tweeting this and that, so for me to stay as passive as possible allows Astralis as an organization to figure out the best opportunity. I think Patrick (es3tag) is a great guy, I think he elevates dupreeh to be able to be a top-five player in the world. They have some great chemistry and he is a really motivating guy to play with.
Of course, I think all different sorts of possibilities have been looked at but - I don't know anything (laughs). Really, I don't. As I said before, Astralis and Danny are evaluating the best opportunities for the future.
Going back to the Showdown, you are playing OG first, which is kind of a punishment for them for submitting their lineup late, but also a punishment for your team. How do you see that first game, playing against OG with a new player?
They are a great team, they have been struggling to find their rhythm and their players. They are obviously going to be really motivated, they are at a bootcamp, they haven't had a tournament in a long time, at least one of the big ones like this is. It is a tough team to face, and in all honesty, the rules are as they are, and it is just unlucky for us to be facing the consequences of that. I don't have any negative comments towards that, it is just how it is. We are still in a young era of Counter-Strike as an esport and creating the right rules and structures hasn't happened yet in all places. But I think it will happen in the future and I'm happy to be where I am.
Back to OG, it is just going to be a tough game, as I said it has been tough with practice, the media day, going home from Copenhagen, and all this. I feel like there is no pressure on us and we have to treat it that way. Even though we are such a big brand and name we have to play without pressure and just - I think I've mentioned it a few times now - take it one match at a time. If we go through, we are probably facing G2 in the second game, and they are also a crazy good team. It is going to be a tough tournament and it is important to take it one day at a time, try to get on the best individual and team level you can.
There has been a bit of criticism towards Astralis now with a couple of, not necessarily poor results, but not great results either, not being able to compete for titles. With the negative comments around the team and some drama going around, is there anything you want to address or say to the fans that have been following Astralis during these couple of underwhelming months in 2021?
Yeah, I completely understand the expectations and the criticism, no doubt about that. It is hard to be a professional in this current era, sometimes when I try to explain it to some friends that don't follow it closely I describe Counter-Strike as this neverending train that goes in circles. If you step off the train and you don't practice individually and heavily as a team, if you don't constantly try to improve, it is hard to get back on that train again.
I think it is important for us to realize the era in which we are. Are we in a rebuilding era or are we in a situation where we just have to work a little bit harder and things will work out? It is hard to know, but we are trying our best. I understand the frustrations and I just want people to know that we are not giving up.