Thomas on Envy: "LEGIJA and kuben were holding the team together"
Thomas "Thomas" Utting has reunited with his former teammates in Endpoint for the time being, filling in for the recently departed Shahar "flameZ" Shushan, who was acquired by OG in April to round out the European team’s roster. The British free agent links back up with Max "MiGHTYMAX" Heath, Kia "Surreal" Man, Robin "robiin" Sjögren and Joey "CRUC1AL" Steusel in the UK-based side after previously leaving the team when he made the switch to Envy in September 2020.
The 23-year-old has already competed with Endpoint in the ongoing European Development Championship 3, where the team progressed through the group stage with a 2-0 record and await a return to action at the end of April for the subsequent playoffs. For now, Thomas and co. have their sights firmly set on BLAST Premier Spring Showdown, where they will square off with G2 in the opening round on Tuesday at 15:30 .
In our interview with him, the British player reflected on his stint with Envy and his experiences in the team throughout his tenure, the differences between playing in a British team and internationally, his thoughts on the progress of Endpoint since his absence, and expectations ahead of their BLAST Premier Spring Showdown campaign.
First of all, let’s reflect on your time with Envy. You joined them in September 2020 from Endpoint, but despite being there for several months you only competed in Flashpoint 2, in which Envy finished in 7th-8th place. Do you feel the lack of tournament experience was the downfall of the roster or was it something else?
I personally felt when playing Flashpoint we had plenty of opportunities to beat every team we faced, but we lacked in-game experience together which hindered us from getting a top 4 placement. This ultimately cost us potential wins against BIG and MIBR, which could have changed the outcome for the lineup. When I first joined Envy we encountered several issues with practice from the get-go, this was due to Nifty being based in Dallas, Texas, where Envy HQ is, which meant we would have to practice late times at night with a player on 100 ping plus - it was inconvenient but manageable. Ultimately, this prevented us from entering tournaments for the first month of being together because Envy was trying to suitably accommodate Nifty in the UK while the coronavirus was forcing lockdowns around Europe. In my opinion, this harmed us for official in-game experience together which was one of the many issues that contributed towards the outcome of the team.
How would you contrast the start of your time with Envy and how it ended? Was there a specific point in time when you feared for the team’s future?
I personally think that when I first joined the team with kuben it refreshed the team’s environment and remotivated everyone to begin a newish campaign to do well at Flashpoint, but this was short-lived as we ran into several problems revolving around Nifty’s location, team leadership and the lack of official games we would be able to play prior to Flashpoint. When first joining the Envy lineup, I instantly noticed the strat book of the team was very small and lacked structure in comparison to the Endpoint lineup I just departed from. This gave me quite a few concerns because, in comparison to when I played in NoChance, I was welcomed by a very large strat book and a very well-constructed in-game system which was easier to integrate myself into and created a better opportunity to create a consistent level of performance in a shorter time frame.
A very large issue we faced as a team was with the tactical side of the game, we had many conflicting styles of how to play the game which caused internal issues surrounding the leadership of the team, this meant that the IGL role was passed from Nifty to LEGIJA around one month in since I joined the lineup. Throughout the rest of the time period the lineup was active, LEGIJA was the in-game leader and I personally liked his style he brought with the experience from BIG and felt it was refreshingly needed for the team but found that it conflicted with other players' in-game styles.
I think around this time that the future of the team was slim. In my personal opinion, heading towards Flashpoint, I felt that LEGIJA and kuben were holding the team together, it felt pretty dire because the lack of official games we played meant we lacked experience and synergy together, which prevented us from fixing key issues that were raised during Flashpoint with our tactics.
What are your overall thoughts on playing in Envy regarding the setup and support? Do you feel more can have been done to accommodate the team?
Envy was supportive of the team but lacked knowledge on the in and outs of the team's internal ongoings, they worked as fast as possible to accommodate Nifty in the UK while COVID was shutting down a lot of countries throughout Europe, which was very difficult for them. Regarding the support for the team, they provided a sports psychologist for the players and coach to problem solve and improve our mental fortitude to prepare for Flashpoint and helped all of the players to make sure we were all comfortable.
Envy was stuck in a hard place heading towards Flashpoint, we were an active team which weren’t playing any officials at the time prior to Flashpoint, which contributed to a lot of controversy that was happening on social media with the relentless calls for Envy to pick an active team up that was super active on HLTV, such as ex-Chaos. I think this gave a lot of strain to the organisation and contributed towards the ending of the project.
You have now played on two international teams in NoChance and Envy, what have you learnt from these experiences and how have they improved your game? What are the primary differences between international and UK teams?
I think the specific parts I’ve learnt from playing internationally are the different perspectives on which strategy teams are focusing on in comparison to UK teams. I think when I played on Endpoint we played primarily to our strengths and built a solid strat book around that. In comparison, international teams have a broader vision to their strat books to counter specific styles from a wide variety of other teams but would take more time to define their strat book to make each tactic work to their personal vision.
I feel like I’ve personally become a more well-rounded player which has helped my ability to read the game from different perspectives from my experience with NoChance and Envy, but I still attribute some of that knowledge to UK teams.
You have already stood in for Endpoint multiple times this year to help the team out, do you think these appearances have made it easier to transition back into the main roster? Are you slotting into flameZ’s role or being utilised in a different way? How has the team’s practice been going in general?
I personally feel when standing in for Endpoint that it is very natural for myself and the players to be able to play to a high level. I think it is because we have spent so much time together as a team prior and we know how each other’s playstyles work, which is a massive factor. Recently I have just been filling flameZ’s roles and catching up on their strat book to make sure we are ready for BLAST. I think that there’s a lot of expectations on me to slot in for flameZ which will be an obstacle since he’s such an explosive and phenomenal player, but I feel confident that MiGHTYMAX and RossR will facilitate me correctly for BLAST and we will put on a good showing.
As to transitioning back into the roster, I think that this is still a very grey area for me. The team will still need time to fully take everything into consideration until they decide on a 5th player, I think it gives me the opportunity to show what I’m capable of again in these next officials and practices, and I think that the few practices we have had for preparation have gone well so far.
Having the unique perspective of watching from the outside and also playing as a stand-in for Endpoint, what do you make of the team’s progression in recent times, from competing in MDL to challenging for a playoff spot in EPL?
The Endpoint guys have done an insanely good job. Before I left we were floating around 31st - 35th in the world consistently and were unable to get enough traction to make the leap into the top 30 on HLTV. The main progression I have noticed since my departure was the development of the tactics they had in place, they dedicated a lot of time to perfecting the tactics we had prior to me leaving and also added plenty of new tactics to add to their playbook, I think this hard work shows that they are dedicated to developing their playbook and I think it primarily shows in their recent performances with flameZ.
What are your initial thoughts on the team’s seeding for BLAST and your opening match versus G2? What are your expectations for the event?
I think that the team’s performance during ESL Pro League was surprising to a lot of people, but I expected them to play to that level. I think that the lack of opportunities of playing in these tournaments for the team means that they were put into a very big underdog position where spectators and casters underestimated them massively.
My thoughts on the BLAST seedings are very mixed because if they had flameZ on the roster I feel that they are very justified, but due to me standing in I feel that it’s a very sticky situation for BLAST. The first match against G2 will be a good opponent for us to play against, I think that we have a lot of opportunities to cause an upset against them, and if we play our cards right, I feel we can do it, but further in the groups, I think it will be very tough to progress against the likes of Astralis.