FaNg: "I'm trying to be one of the best players in the world, and there's no half-assing that at all"
We spoke to the Extra Salt rifler after his team qualified for ESL Pro League Season 15 via the Conference.
Justin "FaNg" Coakley is about mark his one year anniversary with Extra Salt, the first team where he was offered the chance to compete internationally, and his first playing at a level outside of just ESEA Premier in North America. The 19-year-old made an early impression at the start of the year as, in his second-ever European tournament appearance, he earned the MVP medal for the FunSpark ULTI Europe Final, averaging a 1.19 rating over 12 maps.
Although the team struggled in their other European tournament bids, they were tearing things up domestically in North America for the first six months of the year, and were widely regarded as the best team in the region outside of Liquid, Evil Geniuses, and FURIA, who were all competing primarily in Europe. However, in recent months, results have taken a slight turn for the worse as the team missed out on PGL Major Stockholm after an early exit from IEM Fall, and also failed to directly qualify for ESL Pro League via Premier, prompting changes to the roster as Ricky "floppy" Kemery replaced Aran "Sonic" Groesbeek.
In their final European trip to round out the year and with their new roster at the ready, Extra Salt showcased renewed vigor, going undefeated in ESL Pro League Season 15 Conference with wins over Sprout, Renegades, and MAD Lions to qualify for the main league, which kicks off in March 2022. After the players returned home, HLTV spoke to FaNg to get his thoughts on how the year has gone for Extra Salt, as well as for some insight into his mentality, growing from being an inexperienced player to taking part in European events. He also shared his mindset regarding Josh "oSee" Ohm's reported departure to Liquid, and what it has been like playing alongside the superstar.
You just qualified for ESL Pro League. It's been a relatively long road, you missed out on it twice already this year, so talk to me about going to Europe for this event and finally making it through, flawlessly at that.
Making it through the Conference, especially in first place not losing a single series, definitely was really big for our team. We've had a rocky start, we've been trying to make Pro League for a while now. We've been considered favorites every single time and we just fell short.
Coming into the Conference, especially having to play against the European competition and all that, made our road a little bit harder, but I'm really happy we made it this way and I think we all learned from it and had our takeaways, and when it mattered the most we all performed.
This qualification has been a bit of a bounce back from you all. You started the year pretty strong winning everything domestically, and then you went to Europe and played decently there, you even won the MVP at FunSpark even though you lost the event. Can you talk me through that first portion of the year?
The first half of the year I think was way more of a learning experience for our team, especially me. Coming into Europe, I think we were kind of going through growing pains in a way, or more so just figuring out how everyone liked to play, the style we liked to play, and seeing how that transitioned into playing against European teams.
During FunSpark and some of those European events, we started coming into our own, especially me. I just started getting that experience down, being more confident, the team was more confident in general. That honestly just rollercoastered and allowed us to start just running through different events and taking wins. Once that started to slow down, teams started to slowly catch on to our playstyle, how we like to play. I think antistratting was a big thing, especially toward the end portion of Europe and also coming back to NA.
For you especially, this was your first real experience on big team, and your first experience in Europe. What has that jump up been like for you?
The jump up was definitely really high. At first I was mainly just picking up from my teammates and stuff when I joined. I would always be asking questions, following through with different things I want to test or work on after or before practice to get the best feel for myself in game and be the most comfortable, and get myself up to a normal standard with the rest of my teammates. I would always work super hard on that.
Coming to Europe, I knew that I would have to test the waters and then just constantly be grinding still. We would scrim six times a day on normal practice days, and I would try and soak in and learn as much as I could so I could play FPL right after, and just make sure my individual level was really good and get it up to par with the Europeans, and make sure my confidence is there too obviously since I haven't played there. I think that was just a recipe for success because it allowed me to have my confidence and truly believe in me and the rest of my team, that I could perform, that my team could perform in whatever situation may be.
floppy and JT both touched on you having a pretty good work ethic in terms of watching demos on your own and trying to improve your mechanics. What motivates you to put that effort in? It's not necessarily something you see from a lot of NA players coming up.
I think it's just the type of person I am. When I told myself I want to go pro in Counter-Strike, it's something where... I'm not trying to go pro just to make a living, or win maybe a tournament or so, I'm trying to win everything. I'm trying to be one of the best players in the world, I'm trying to be in the best team in the world, and there's no half-assing that area at all. If I'm going to put in the work for it, I'm going to put everything I can.
It's something similar to Kobe, or some of the NBA players I look up to, when they're playing, they don't want to finish their careers and have regret looking back on it, so I just want to do everything I can and be one of the best players I can be.
With being one of the best players obviously comes playing in top tier international LANs, and that isn't something you've really done, even playing at more local LANs with decent teams.
Yeah, I've only played at two Toronto LANs, but nothing like a Fragadelphia or anything.
Going forward with LANs coming back now, what is your outlook like as you prepare to go into some of those tournaments against good teams?
I'm super excited to play, honestly. If I have any chance to play at a tier one LAN, it's going to be really exciting not only for me, but also my team. Personally I think if I'm playing on LAN, it's just going to elevate my gameplay and my team around me too because I'm someone who, when I'm comfortable with my team, believing in them, I get really hype, especially in a LAN environment, and it'll just be really exciting to play with a crowd.
You've been on Extra Salt for the whole year, so you've seen all the roster changes, initially with motm going out with some role overlaps with you, MarKE coming in, and more recently with floppy coming back in place of Sonic. How did those changes play out on the team from your side?
The move with motm I wasn't involved too much with. Obviously the rest of the team had played with Ian a lot longer than me, and I think they kind of know his strengths, his weaknesses, and they know the style that I bring and the kind of player I am. They definitely saw I could easily play those kind of roles, and going into the change it's something where I can't necessarily talk about or comment, I also don't know the full, full story. Once Ian was removed from the team they basically told me that I could step into all those roles essentially, which are the roles I'm comfortable with.
Then the Sonic change, that was honestly something where we needed someone to be a little bit more vocal toward our bombsites and more vocal on the map in general. Someone like MarKE or Sonic, they're a little bit more quiet or more reserved when they're playing, so having that kind of voice and someone that can have more direction that's needed toward their bombsites and stuff like that really helps with the cohesion of the rest of the team as a unit. Our reactions are fast and people are quick to do something while communicating with the rest of the boys.
Expanding on that a little more, what has floppy brought to the team along with some of the factors you just touched on, in terms of his immediate impact coming back into the game?
Playing with Ricky has been really good. I knew him before, I've never played on a team with him, but coming into the team he has a good attitude, he's a hard worker as well, that's always really good. He meshes with the team really well, he's someone who can be vocal when he needs to be, he's also someone who's not afraid to make his own decisions, make his own plays, but just be vocal doing it, so there's a good balance between that. He's really flexible with what he likes to do, it's just really good to have on a team.
You also have oSee on your team, who's obviously regarded as North America's best AWPer right now, one of our biggest prospects. He's rumored to be heading to Liquid for 2022, but I'm curious on the impact he's had on you this past year, having that stable presence to play off of, and what the potential of losing him does for next year?
Josh is definitely one of the best teammates I've ever had in terms of when I first joined the team, he was just there guiding me a bit. He kind of has no ego in a way, he can help me, and he's a really good friend and teammate. We'd always make setups together, and it was really easy to play with him because the way we communicate is free-flowing, talking to each other like we're just friends and stuff, so it made it really easy to play with him. And obviously he's super individually skilled, so it made it ten times easier to play with a player like that.
In terms of the Liquid stuff, I don't really think about that. I kind of relate to sports, where you just do your job, try and do the best you can, and some people might get offers, this and that might happen, but you don't know what's going to happen until it happens. If it does happen, I wish Josh good luck and everything because he's one of the boys and I'll always be really close with him, but at the same time you know, I'm just here, like I said I'm here to win, and I'm just trying to be the best player I can be.
You had a few opportunities earlier this year with tournaments like DreamHack Spring to play some top teams, but you're now guaranteed to have a chance later in 2022 at EPL. There'll be a lot of the top teams there, so looking forward, how are you feeling leading up to that?
I'm excited. It's going to be really fun playing against any of the top teams, and slowly getting that experience under our belts. Especially if it's in any form on LAN, it's going to help ten times more. Just having the opportunity to play against those teams and players that you in a way have looked up to for a while, or players that you've even met or scrimmed, it's just going to be nice getting on that kind of level. I'm hoping to have a good showing so that we can actually keep that run of form and start getting on the same level as those guys.
Are there any teams or players specifically that you look up to, or draw inspiration from?
There's definitely a few, mainly some of the NA guys like Stewie, NAF, and Twistzz. NiKo is also definitely someone I've admired in his own right, and then some of the legends, some of the guys who've played for a while. Some of the guys from Vitality like apEX, FaZe too, karrigan, rain, all the Astralis guys, it would just be really crazy to actually play some of them at a tier one event.