device on es3tag addition: "We had to look outside of Sweden to find exactly what we needed"
We caught up with Nicolai "device" Reedtz as he and his team are in full preparations for BLAST Premier Fall Finals, one of the last big events of 2021. Following a mediocre 5-8th finish at the PGL Major Stockholm, NIP decided to make a roster change and bring in 25-year-old es3tag in place of academy player Linus "LNZ" Holtäng, giving us plenty to talk about.
device also spoke about NIP's Major run, which was cut short by an in-form G2, why they decided to look outside of Sweden for their new player, and what the language situation will be like with the new roster. Additionally, the Danish AWPer commented on the roster change in his former organization Astralis, and the rumored addition of the Danish trio to Vitality.
Let's start with the Major. The dust settled, it was such a big event, the first arena event we had in such a long time. There was a lot of hype for NIP going into the event and you finished top 8. Does the result feel underwhelming?
Yeah. I think it does. We expected more, but having the reflections and the talks afterward, it was still a good experience for us. For me, I felt like we had much more to give, it wasn't like we gave our everything and lost because we were not good enough. We never really got into the gear where we could show how good we were. That is what felt a bit underwhelming for me especially. I think the struggles that we had there come from a little bit of inexperience and also just all of the pressure of it being in Stockholm as well.
There is also this notion that most players in NIP aren't playing to their maximum potential. Do you think that is also a part of it?
Yeah, I've said it before, I think the win conditions that we have are me, REZ, and hampus playing really well, as we did in IEM Fall, and at least for me, and also for REZ, we felt like we could've given more at the Major.
The team cohesion and how you play is a lot about communication, and communication is affected by pressure and experience and being in uncomfortable situations, right? Individually, there is definitely stuff to work on, but we are also still quite a young team. Experience-wise, looking at what the players have done in their careers, I think it was the first time for hampus, LNZ, and plopski that they were playing in an arena almost. Plopski maybe tried it once before this.
That leads us to the roster change. Even before this event people were thinking "OK, academy player, it is just a matter of time, after the Major there is going to be a change." Can you tell me about it? es3tag coming in, what are the expectations, and why him?
First of all he fits into the role that we need really well. We need a guy that is a little bit older, takes a little bit more initiative, has had a few more years playing. I think es3tag and LNZ are kind of the same in playstyle but I really believe that es3tag will shine in the role because it is what he specializes in, the support role. It was quite natural to at least consider him.
There is obviously a little bit of a language barrier there which we are still trying to figure out how big of an issue it is. He is quite smart so he is working out the language on his own as well, and I am trying to help him since I speak both languages. I think it was quite a natural choice, if you look at Swedish players, there are not so many that play into that role who are still actively playing so to say. I felt like we had to look outside of the country to find exactly what we needed.
The way you described him feels similar to the role that he played in Astralis when he came in for that short period. A small-site caller, someone that is going to add some initiative to the duo he is playing in. Is that the role you see him in?
Definitely. I would say es3tag in Astralis is a pretty good comparison because he also slotted into all of the spots pretty easily. That is one of the things I've noticed with him, you saw it in Cloud9 and also a little bit in Complexity, right? If you give him the right roles, he really does well, but he also needs to play those roles. It is not like he can't play other ones, but in NIP now he just fits perfectly for all the spots we need, especially with the calmness, the communication, as you said being a secondary caller a little bit. I wouldn't say really calling, but giving options for hampus which is something we lacked a lot on the T side at the Major. Our T sides were horrible, we were averaging a lot of rounds on the CT side, and looking at the game as a whole we knew we had to change some stuff up to be better on the T side.
The plan is for the communication to be in Swedish, but if it doesn't work you can go to English, is that the thinking?
Definitely Swedish, it is just a process. Even for me, as a guy that lived some years in Sweden before I joined NIP, there is this "CS language barrier" in some way, it just takes some time to learn the spots and learn the different terms that we use in the rounds. He switches a little bit into English when he is talking at the moment but it is all in Swedish at the moment. And I don't think it will take that long, I really don't.
This team at the moment, people are still talking about NIP bringing in device, "like signing Cristiano Ronaldo" as they say...
... so the thinking is that the team should be number 1, or at least contending to be number 1 in the world. Do you think that with this roster you can do that?
I don't think there are any excuses, at all. For me, as always, coming into the team and trying to elevate the level — we have done that as a team throughout the time I've been here. Obviously not well enough and having consistently good results, but I still feel like we are capable of doing some of the stuff we want to do. Now for the last part of the year, I guess it is just building into 2022. Of course, we want good results [now] as well, but you got to put time into it, and also respect that it will take time for everything to click.
But I understand why people are having a little bit of fun with all of the quotes, that is just how the CS community is and you got to respect that.
Going into BLAST, you already talked about arena events, playing on a stage, and how much of a difference that makes for a lot of these young players. What are your thoughts on this event, going into it?
I'm thinking a lot about CS stuff in general, I don't think too much about the overall environment before the tournament is closer. I'm just excited, playing at the Major and just being a part of the crowd for the semi-finals and the grand finals was something I missed so much. I'm just happy that we are kind of returning to LAN events, I don't want to jinx anything, but it is just an amazing feeling because it has been a long 1.5 - 2 years, especially for me with a lot of things going on.
Going back into this routine, sharing the passion with the fans, and having all of these emotions is a good thing. I'm trying to always tell the guys to enjoy it, have fun with it, tap into it. Don't become fragile because there are people watching, it is actually one of, if not the biggest reason why we want to do this. We want to compete in front of people that share the same passion for the game as we do. Just incredibly excited to be in the arena, to be honest.
Looking at the team list, there are a couple of very strong teams, we have NAVI there, Heroic, at the same time there are a couple of teams here that are... kind of "dead teams". We have Vitality there, Liquid, FaZe that we expect to make some changes. You just made a change, do you feel like you have an edge over the rest? Is being top 4 the bottom line for you?
We didn't talk about expectations within the team yet, as we just started with es3tag, but as you said there are definitely some teams there that are "dead" as you can say. (laughs) You probably know more than me, but everyone knows that a lot of things are going to change for most teams, which is a good thing I believe. Things started to stagnate for a lot of teams in my opinion.
Does it give us an upper hand? I guess so, but also, with some of these dead teams what happens is that there is no pressure, they go out, have fun, take many risks and these games, if you just hit the right timings, you can easily win a game by just playing on individual skill. But looking at the team list, for me NAVI are definitely the favorites, G2 are coming as well, right? (pauses) Oh, they didn't qualify, so forget about that, but G2 are also a really strong team at the moment. Then definitely NAVI are the favorites and it will be cool to have Heroic there to play in the Royal Arena, them being celebrated, and also Denmark is a very CS-loving country so it is going to be special for them.
I would say top 4 at least for us, but most teams are capable of having a run where they can go to the final, and then it is up to whichever team that plays the final to beat NAVI, in my opinion.
I have to ask you about your former teammates, considering the rumors which are more or less confirmed — the Vitality move of getting the Astralis trio. A big shock for a lot of people to see ZywOo, apEX, and then the Danish core come together. Do you see that team working, are you as skeptical as many other people are?
Am I skeptical? No, but it is definitely a shocker. For me, language is the first thing that I'm worried about, but it is only because I know how good ZywOo, misutaaa, and everyone is at English. I think apEX is good, but other than that, it is a pretty interesting cultural mix-up. Not something we see so much with Danes, I would say, mixing two cultures only. I'm excited to see how it goes — if it happens right —, but it wasn't the move I expected, at least.
Lastly, Astralis also made a lot of changes, zonic, dupreeh, Magisk are out. Essentially, from your time in the team, we have gla1ve and Xyp9x and the rest of the team is completely new. Is the rivalry between device and Astralis now dead? Are they just another team?
For sure, for me it is not the same at all. I love the guys in the team but now it is split, so ... (laughs) I don't really see it as a rivalry, and we only really had one game which was so incredibly one-sided. It is pretty weird that we had half a year where we only faced each other once. For me, it is just another team. Obviously, the organization has history for me, for the fans in the arena it might be the same as well, but at least for me going into the game, it is just going to be one of the teams we have to beat if we want to get far and go to the end of the tournament.