nexa: "We worked really hard to get back into the shape we were in before the player break"
G2's in-game leader talked about the team's struggles early on in the season and what they have done to find their previous form.
BLAST Premier Fall Groups kicked off with Vitality and Astralis making it through Group A and qualifying for the LAN final in Copenhagen, Denmark, while Liquid and Evil Geniuses were sent down to the last-chance Showdown qualifier. The tournament now continues with Group B, where G2, NIP, BIG and MIBR will clash in hopes of making it to the Royal Arena in November, where they will once again get to play in front of a crowd.
To usher in the second group of the three-group tournament, we spoke to G2's in-game leader Nemanja "nexa" Isaković, who ran us through the team's disastrous results at ESL Pro League, where French-Balkan squad ended up with a dismal 0-5 record, and what they have worked on since to revert the situation.
The 24-year-old also gave us his thoughts on G2's Group B rivals, playing without a star AWPer — unlike many of the other top teams in the world —, and the morale boost that the Major being confirmed to take place as an arena event in Stockholm next month gives.
You’ve played five matches since the break and weren’t able to win a single one. What happened at ESL Pro League, was it just a lack of preparation?
We came into ESL Pro League after the break and we weren't ready to play at all, we were still in vacation mode and you could see it on the server. We had our minds and goals set on things beyond Pro League and we just expected to do well based on the results we had before the player break. We didn't expect to come out of the break being so rusty, individually, and our communication was all over the place. Everyone was still sleeping and that was the result of not having a proper bootcamp, we were just totally unprepared for the event.
We expected to do well, nobody really expected that our performance and our level, both individually and our communication, would drop off so significantly after the break. It really felt like we were grinding the game hard all of the time up to the break and once we entered the break everything just stopped. Then everybody relaxed and exited this super competitive hard grind mode and just went into relaxation mode. So when the player break stops it's not like you can just flip a switch and go from one day just chilling at the beach with your girlfriend to being super competitive. What we learned from this is that we 100% need to have a bootcamp after the break to speed up the process of getting back into shape, to see the guys around you and bring up the communication levels.
It seemed like the struggles were particularly noticeable on the terrorist sides. Why was that?
When you're on the CT side you can have good individual rounds and do individual individual plays without having to really communicate or relay information. On our T-sides we were just really sloppy. We couldn't execute a proper default, we couldn't communicate, we were really slow in doing everything and we had to rely on set strategies and specifics which is not really how you beat top tier teams these days. There were holes leaking everywhere and we were trying to put duct tape over them to try and fix everything in the short term during the event, but unfortunately it didn't work out.
You have to have really nice comms and be ready to make these split-second decisions and reactions while doing your defaults or playing on T-sides, even just to relay communication and listen and give feedback. If I call something, I need people to say things like 'yes, I can' or 'no, I can't' and these things weren't present at all. So it was just very difficult because we were sloppy and uncoordinated, and in turn our T-sides looked like crap.
What have you done between ESL Pro League and now to get things in order again?
The first thing we did after Pro League was go bootcamp. We grinded and worked really hard to get back into the shape we were in before the player break and to become even better than we were then. It's been going really well and we can definitely see the difference in each individual and how we play and communicate as a team. We can see a huge difference and the gap that we had at Pro League is not there right now anymore.
We feel way better, we're practicing everyday and we're back into this competitive mindset and the mood where you have to have this killer mentality every time you play and you have to be ready for war every single day, basically. The switch has been flipped and turned on again, so hopefully the results are much better than they were at Pro League and we can maybe replicate some of the results that we had before the player break.
Did you make any big changes during this bootcamp?
We definitely didn't make any big changes from before and after the break, everything stayed pretty much the same in terms of roles and positions. There have been a few changes, but if you've watched G2 long enough you know that every couple of months there are some changes coming into the team, but that's for me to know and for you guys to find out on the server.
You’re opening against MIBR, a vastly inferior rival playing with two stand-ins. Do you feel any jitters about going into a tricky match like that as favorites?
We're definitely the favorites, which is exactly how we feel going into the match against them. But we definitely can't underestimate them because they're not the only factor going into the match-up, we're also a big factor seeing as we believe that we'll be playing better than we did at Pro League. But there's still a question mark when you actually get into the server and start playing official matches again.
Our main focus is to make sure we'll deliver and perform no matter who our opponent is. We really need to get into this rhythm of playing official games day after day and having this killer mentality no matter who the opponent is. You have to be ready for everyone because nowadays even if it's MIBR with one or two stand-ins they can still win a match. I've seen it happen and in this online era everything is possible.
The rest of the group is NIP and BIG. You would have been the clear favorites before ESL Pro League, but where do you feel like you stand now?
I'm more cautious about BIG than I am NIP, we played NIP quite a few times and we recognize their play style and we know how to play against it. On the other side we have BIG, who are a very tactical team and they anti-strat very heavily. When they know who their opponent will be beforehand they're very good at preparing the game and all of the players do their homework and make sure they're 100% ready for the veto, for every map we'll play, so they're a tough opponent, especially in these group stage matches. I'm most cautious when it comes to them, but I think we have the edge and if we step up and play the game we can easily win this.
The AWP seems to be a pretty important piece of the puzzle in the current state of the game. How long do you think you can keep going without a pure AWPer?
As you know from before, our track record with the AWP has not been the greatest. Once we got AmaNEk, he understands the role, but he plays it more as a support player, which I think is of his own choice because he doesn't yet feel comfortable being a star AWPer making all of the crazy plays and doing what you see s1mple or ZywOo do. He's not there yet, but I know he's working hard and I've seen glimpses of what he's capable of doing and we're trying to go in a direction in which we give him space to shine more and have more responsibility.
The way our team is structured and any team is structured is that you have two players that you play around and the other guys are the side characters, just supporting and doing their job. For us, it's very difficult to play around the AWPer since we already have the two Kovač guys and we try to play around them and give them the most space.
As we progress, I'd personally like to give AmaNEk more space and have him be our star AWPer if he's up to the task, but it's something we'll see with time. Then again, it's also not only my choice, me and maLeK have to make these decisions together and see what the best course of action for the team and the future is. But all of the other teams around us [in the ranking] have a top-tier AWPer who is really carrying games by himself a lot of the times, which is something we've been missing for quite some time. If AmaNEk can grind it out and find this inner crazy player in himself and become one of these superstars, I think we'll all be for giving him every resource he needs to actually shine and carry the team.
On our CT side he really fits well as a rotation/support player and he's really key for us right now. He's always communicating and he makes plays while he rotates, which is something that really helps the team on the CT sides because instead of just having NiKo as the main rotator running around and trying to do everything by himself we also have AmaNEk trying to step up in this position, as well. The two of them seem to be working really well on these key positions, which I think is the main reason we had success prior to the break. Our CT sides were very strong and it's all down to NiKo and AmaNEk really communicating well and making things easy for the rest of us.
To end on a bit of a high note, the Major was recently confirmed as an arena event for next month. Has that been a big morale booster?
It's great news to hear, we all wanted the Major and it's been a long time coming. For sure it'll be amazing, and it'll be my second Major... if I make it [laughs]. Hopefully this time we can make it to the playoffs because I would really love to play a Major in front of a crowd in a big arena. That has always been a dream of mine. I think everyone is really happy that it didn't get delayed further and they actually realized the plans they had so that we'll be able to get a Major. No more RMRs, no more extra tournaments in the schedule, and life can slowly but surely start to go back to how it was.