junior: "Right now we are the best NA team, us and Liquid are 50/50"
It has been a tumultuous year for junior, who first rose to notoriety in 2020 with Triumph. At the time, he was considered one of North America's most exciting prospects alongside Michael "Grim" Wince and Josh "oSee" Ohm, and was given the opportunity to prove himself against international competition when he was called up to join FURIA at the start of 2021.
However, the switch from speaking Portuguese to English, as well as a distinct difference in playstyles between junior and FURIA's former AWPer, Henrique "HEN1" Teles, led to a downturn in results for the team in the first half of the year as their best efforts to adjust to the changes proved unsuccessful. junior's individual performance suffered, and come August, he was moved to the bench, with FURIA returning to an all-Brazilian lineup as junior joined Bad News Bears on loan, looking to redeem himself back on a North American lineup.
Playing alongside Alan "Shakezullah" Hardeman once again and freed from the communication and culture barriers of playing on FURIA, junior's form began to pick up once again, and when oSee got the call up to join Liquid at the end of 2021, there was only one name that Johnny "JT" Theodosiou could realistically look to in order to fill the gap.
As the player break drew on, a new lineup emerged, bringing together three Extra Salt members, junior, and Grim, who had just ended a 17-month stint on Liquid and was in a similar position to junior, looking to prove that he wasn't utilized properly on his previous team as he linked up with a new core. With the backing of Complexity behind them, this new North American squad emerged, but results have yet to follow suit as the team struggled in their first big tournament of the year, BLAST Premier Spring Groups. Just when things were looking up for the squad following a solid practice period ahead of the IEM Katowice Play-In, tragedy struck as multiple members of the team tested positive for COVID, forcing them to skip out on the tournament and a chance to play in one of the biggest events of the year.
Now, ahead of their first LAN together in one of the toughest groups of ESL Pro League Season 15, HLTV.org caught up junior, who shared some insight into the new team as well as spoke to his tenure with FURIA, which he described as "probably the worst time of [his] life" despite loving his teammates outside of the game. The Complexity AWPer also addressed some of the recent criticism he has faced, and shared what the team's hopes are heading into EPL and the PGL Major Antwerp Americas RMR event.
Your career started in North America, then you had this big blockbuster signing to FURIA, and now you're on Complexity, one of North America's legacy organizations. Can you walk me through your path, from a fledgling NA player to jumping to the top tier?
As an NA player right now, it's super hard to get anywhere. The odds that any NA player can make it out of the NA scene are really tough, so when I got the message from FURIA, I just had to take the offer. There's just no way you can decline that team and those players to instead just sit here in NA, even though it was a risky, risky move because you're with 5-6 other people who aren't speaking your native language, isn't your personality, you don't really bond super hard with them because it's super hard to communicate. So I knew that was an issue going in, and I thought like, 'what could be so bad, right? I'm an AWPer, there's like two or three ways to use the AWP.'
Then when I went into FURIA, it was not what I expected, it was honestly super challenging. I had to... as a young player, it's not a place to be to start your career. It's for a more experienced AWPer like HEN1, how he did super well there. As a young AWPer, I just don't think going to FURIA made any sense, but obviously I'm from NA so I had to take it. My time in FURIA was probably the worst time of my life. Those guys are awesome, like out of the game, they're like brothers to me even though things didn't work out, but we just didn't mesh in the game and it took a severe toll on me and I asked guerri to just... I just needed to not be there anymore, and that's when that came through.
It was good on them to let me play with Bad News Bears for a couple of months to show everybody that just because I had an abysmal performance in FURIA, the talent and shit isn't gone. That was really sweet for them to do that.
You said that it was a hard team to jump up to and it wasn't something that you as a young AWPer could really do, can you expand a little on what some of the difficulties were for you specifically?
As a super young AWPer, I played with Shakezullah, who taught me basically like, 'pick your style of AWPing and stick with it if you want to go really far in this game, don't change your style of AWPing because then you'll start finding inconsistencies in things that just don't work. Find what works for you.' So I was playing with Alan [Shakezullah] for a year, year and a half, and I was finding the way I wanted to play along with him helping me.
I figured out my way of playing with Alan, and then FURIA came along, and it was just like a whole switch where... because they weren't speaking their native language, it was super hard, and Counter-Strike is really heavy on communication, so I had to fill in the blanks a lot of the time and read the game super fast without having any communication from the team, and that just isn't how I like to to play. I like to know what's happening all across the map so I can go there, help them if they need it, opening kills, see what they're doing on a different bombsite that I can get a kill from, and that just wasn't there.
That was the biggest aspect for me, because it didn't allow me to play my game, honestly. My game is like, I think on T side, supporting riflers getting map control, holding angles for them, flashing for them, but FURIA it was just like... arT goes here and we go here, or arT goes here and we go with him, and it wasn't really what I wanted to do. I tried talking to guerri and arT and giving my opinion on some things, but in the end it just didn't work out.
When we first tried to do this interview before Katowice, one of the lines you had was that you and arT had different ideas of how the AWP should be played — what did you mean by that, can you expand on it a little bit?
The difference in our mindset about the AWP is that arT wants it to be the first guy getting the first kill every single round, doing crazy stuff, running super fast into an aggressive angle and seeing if you can get the first kill. The way I think the AWP should be played is like what I said, where you support the riflers getting into angles and you throw nades for them, and then you play the 2vs2, 3vs3, 1vs1, the mid-round or end-round. arT wanted it to be the start of the round and that was basically all, and it was really hard for me.
I tried everything to adapt to the way they wanted me to play, but it really mentally took a toll on me and I didn't want to do it anymore, I wanted to be able to play comfortable in my style so that my ability can shine, and the team that we're on will be the best team that is possible with my abilities. I didn't feel like the way FURIA wanted me to play would be the best FURIA or the best version of myself.
After FURIA, you were basically pug stomping in NA with Bad News Bears, beating players with less experience the majority of the time which I'm sure helped you get your confidence back as well. That performance helped you get on to Complexity, how did that whole roster come about?
There's only really two top NA AWPers right now I believe, and it's me and oSee. I was just praying and praying that Josh [oSee] went to Liquid, because that would mean that I'd get my shot on the next best NA team, and in the end that happened. Johnny [JT], Tiaan [T.c], and Ricky [floppy] messaged me and asked if I was interested, and in the blink of an eye I just had to say yes because these players are the best NA has to offer. Then we learned that Mike [Grim] got benched on Liquid, and Johnny has been wanting to play with Ricky and Mike for years cause they're the two next best NA riflers next to NAF and EliGE — and Brehze I'd say but Brehze is like.. who knows how he's doing nowadays — but they were the next best duo that could make their name in the NA scene, so it was a no-brainer, we had to try to get Grim.
I think it was Johnny that messaged Complexity and asked what they were doing, and then messioso [Complexity's CS:GO General Manager] had meetings with all of us and said they want to go with an NA roster because they want us in their facilities, and Complexity is an NA organization so it just wouldn't make sense for them to continue supporting EU, and just like that the rest was history.
Expanding on that a tiny bit, Complexity is obviously a really big name in North America, and there were also rumors of them picking up Copenhagen Flames, who'd just had a really solid performance at PGL Major Stockholm. For you as a new lineup getting put together, what sort of pressure did you feel with those two things in the back of your minds, and now with your results so far?
At the start I'd say there was some pressure, but once you start talking to everyone at Complexity, especially messioso our GM who is actually really smart about the game, not like a lot of other GMs who are just there and have no idea what they are doing with their team. Once we had chats with him after we won games and we lost games, he told us not to worry about it. When we were in EU and we'd just started playing he told us, 'your performances don't matter, right now all we want is for you to be together and to improve.' That was super important, after that I didn't feel any more pressure, and I got a lot more comfortable within the team and started learning my role and stuff like that.
You have been a little bit lucky comparative to other NA players in that you've been salaried most of this time, first on Triumph, then on FURIA and on loan with Bad News Bears, and now with Complexity obviously. Still, you played with players who were unsalaried recently, and there is a lot of instability in North America in general with where the scene is at. What's your perspective on that?
I think the work ethic in NA is abysmal. I can understand where they come from, like they don't get paid so why do they need to grind super hard, but the way I view it is that if you're not getting paid and you really want to go pro, you should put in everything you can until you get there.
The mentality in NA is just really bad, like when people die in a match or game, they start complaining and start talking shit about the other team instead of asking, 'how did I die here that I can improve on so that I don't die the next time?' That just doesn't go through a lot of players' heads in North America. A lot of the ECL teams here, they don't know how to... like Carpe Diem for example, they've stayed together forever and they always work through issues, I feel like a lot of that just doesn't exist anymore in North America. They always think that if you lose, then it's another player's fault, and that there's a better player out there that would fix the issue, and that is almost never the answer.
When I interviewed Shakezullah before, he praised your work ethic and Mike's work ethic, and you both actually do put in the time, but I'm sure your form in FURIA and since joining Complexity hasn't been up to your own standards, and not that of a 'big name' AWPer. How do you feel about your own performance and what are some of the issues you've been going through with your integration into this team so far?
Obviously I'm not a super 'big name' AWPer right now, and that's where I intend to be. So far I think my performance on Complexity has been... I don't think I've been doing a terrible job, I just think I'm doing okay, but not how I should be doing. If you look at the matches, the only bad game we had was when we all had COVID against VP, and that just ruined a lot of the team's stats, except for myself, the other bad map I had that I can remember was against G2, and I'd say if that map didn't happen and you're looking at stats aside from the G2 game, as an AWPer I think I've been doing a really good job so far on this team honestly.
Specifically one of the critiques I've seen on broadcasts and something that's been noted is you repeeking angles a lot where other AWPers might not, is that something people are taking out of context or what's going on there?
I think that issue stemmed from being on FURIA, where arT wanted me to play a certain way on CT side. Cause the way I view it is that I'm a passive AWPer, like on CT side I run around and try for opening kills and then I turtle back into a setup with a teammate. Where I think that issue came from was the way I was playing on FURIA, I was just always pushed in an aggressive angle because that's the way they wanted to play the game, so that's how I view it when people say I'm inexperienced and not ready, and that I'm caught out or not in the right position, I just don't agree with it because whenever I'm playing under JT or Shakezullah, I think my positioning is one of the best in the team and stuff like that, so I don't agree with anyone that has anything to say about me until... any people that just don't watch the way I play and they have something to say just don't really understand.
I think the only people that truly understand my capabilities are the people from NA, instead of all of the analysts and stuff from EU that just watched me in FURIA and were like, 'wow, this guy has no idea what he's doing' when in reality, I wasn't choosing to be pushed in an aggressive angle and be griefing somewhere, I was forcing myself to do those things. It's not how I exactly viewed the game to be played, and that is also why I benched myself from FURIA.
I also want to talk more about this Complexity lineup in general and some of the pieces that are on it. You've reunited with Mike here, and you two were easily the standout members of that old Triumph team that played together for a while. Coming back and playing with him, what's that like after he's been in Liquid for the last year and a half?
Him coming back from Liquid, it took him a month, month and a half to fully find himself again, the Grim that was dominating anybody he played by just sprinting at them and killing them instantly. On Liquid you didn't see Grim being a playmaker on CT side, pushing angles and multi-killing people. It took him a couple of weeks at the start of the season to really find himself again. You can only take so much from scrims, but when we're playing now you can just tell that he is a lot more confident in like the way he used to be, where he's just running around and killing everything.
You've already touched on playing with Ricky a little bit earlier, but I wanted to talk about both him and FaNg, mainly your experience playing with the latter. If I remember right he almost ended up on the Triumph lineup with you just before he joined Extra Salt, so now that you've had the chance to play with him, what're your thoughts?
Yeah I was trying to get him back on the old Triumph but Shakezullah didn't listen to me, and now FaNg is on Complexity, so who would've thought? Playing with Justin [FaNg] so far, you can tell he is super talented, he comms super well, when he entries on T side he always lets you know what he wants from you and what he's doing, that's super important as an entry. He always lets me know what he's looking at, what's his positioning, what his planned pathing is so that I can watch another angle for him to help him get somewhere. As a 19-year-old, he doesn't have far to go to be one of the best entries in North America.
Compared to some of the other NA players you've played with, what non-tangible element does he have outside of the server that really helps elevate his game that others could learn from?
For him, he has an incredible work ethic that just isn't in NA anymore. If he gets moved around to a different spot, he'll grind demos, watch other people and how they play that spot, and then he incorporates his own way into it, and you just don't see that from young NA players. As an NA team, if you move a really good rifler somewhere to a different spot that they're not comfortable with or that they've never played before, they'll just start complaining or start egoing their teammates because he is obviously the best.
With Justin, if Johnny can move him around like a chess piece, he'll always try his best to incorporate his own way to play a spot instead of complaining. If he gets moved off his favorite spot, it's always for the best of the team, and he always does it no questions asked and always improves.
Switching gears a bit, when we originally set this interview up, you were supposed to play in Katowice, but you missed it because a couple of members of the team ended up getting COVID. What did it mean for you personally, losing out on the chance to compete there?
Yeah it sucked. It would've been my biggest event so far, and going into it we were owning in practice, literally owning everybody, NAVI, everybody, all these top teams, but it's practice so you can only take so much from it. We were super prepared to go to Katowice, but the day of the VP match we just all got hit like a Train with COVID, and we were like... we just can't go to Katowice. We just needed to rest up and it sucked.
You played in the BLAST Spring Groups as one of your first events of the year, where you went out in last place. There were some really close matches there though, what was that like as one of your first tournaments together?
We just weren't ready as a team yet. You could tell from the way we are now to the way we were when this first tournament happened, the BLAST tournament, we weren't anywhere near ready for these tournaments yet. We also had Johnny on 150 ping because he couldn't travel to Europe with us.
Eventually we started getting more and more practice, we worked super super hard, and I think right now we are the best NA team, us and Liquid are 50/50. Obviously as the Complexity player I'll say that we're the best NA team, but with us and Liquid it's really close, either of us can beat the other on any given day.
Speaking of Liquid, you actually did beat them in the grand final of the first Americas RMR open qualifier, although it was only a seeding match. For any team playing in those open qualifiers for a big event there's always a small worry that you can get knocked out early, so what did making it through mean to you?
That whole open qualifier, we were all super focused. We were there to get stickers. We're an NA team, this is our chance to cement our legacy in the game, so there was no trolling. We wanted to beat every team 16-0 until we made the RMR. When we played ATK to qualify, you could tell there were a little nerves there, we weren't who we usually are. There were too many nerves there, and our skill pulled us through that series because we were just too much in our heads about, 'wow, this is what qualifies us to Romania,' so once we got past that series we just took a deep breath and glided through the rest of the games.
You have a pretty intense few weeks coming up, both with the Americas RMR but even close than that, your EPL group, which is pretty stacked especially compared to Group C. How's the team feeling going into EPL right now with some of the teams you'll have to face?
Going into it, we believe that we're going to win the group, but we have a lot of really good EU teams that are questionable right now. We haven't seen NAVI and Heroic play in a really long time, Astralis just made a change, we haven't seen EG play in Europe for a long time, so I think right now it's a big question mark for that group honestly. There's us, Heroic, Astralis, and NAVI who I believe could flip-flop in the top four. I wouldn't say there is a favorite in the group at all, I think it's the hardest in EPL and if we really think we're good, we're going to have to show up this event.
You told me that you're travelling tomorrow, which is Sunday, three days before you group starts. Have you just been practicing in NA then, or is there a little less practice under your belts heading into this event?
We've been practicing every day so far leading up to EPL. This is a big event for us, it's what I would say is our first official big tournament as a team, despite the BLAST group. This has NAVI, Heroic, Astralis in it, these are really big Counter-Strike names and we need to perform, so we've been practicing ever since we got back to Europe.
Do you think practicing in NA and not getting that better European practice is going to make it more difficult?
Yeah, I think it could hinder us considering we've been playing NA teams for the past three weeks to a month. If we were practicing EU teams for three weeks to a month, obviously we'd be more prepared, so going after playing NA teams for so long I think it could be a hinderance because maybe we got too used to the way NA teams play, and we're going into this event with no EU practice.
Outside of the RMR open qualifiers, is there a reason you didn't travel there earlier to get some practice in?
I think because in the Louvre Agreement as an NA partner team, we have to scrim a certain amount of NA teams a month or something like that in order to hold up our end of the agreement, so I think that's why we stayed here longer. I'm not sure though. That's all Tiaan and messioso's thing.