valde: "I've always strived to become a world champion; I don't care if people think it's overambitious"
Valdemar "valde" Bjørn Vangså opens up on his six years long career, highlight moments, unfulfilled goals, and missed opportunities.
HLTV.org sat down with valde earlier this month for an in-depth interview, in which the 26-year-old Dane went back through time to talk about his early days playing for the core originating in CPH Wolves who later became Team X and Heroic, and his transition to North, the team he has played for the longest to date.
In the nearly 40-minute talk, the current OG member recalled memories from those times and the experiences he has had in his career so far, discussing some key moments such as when he had to take up in-game leadership for a six-month period at the end of his stint in North and regrets over missing out on big opportunities like playing with Finn "karrigan" Andersen under that banner.
The conversation later turned to more recent times, valde's time with the OG squad and the big changes the team went through in the past year. He also addressed a late-2021 report of him being linked with the new Evil Geniuses team and offers he didn't get to pursue over the past two off-seasons this winter and last summer, revealing that he received two offers from "ambitious" projects in that time that ended up falling through.
The Dane went on to discuss why he ended up staying with OG, as well as the addition of Nemanja "nexa" Isaković, the new in-game leader's qualities and differences between him and Aleksi "Aleksib" Virolainen, and how his arrival changed the way the European team approaches the game.
Read the full interview below:
Starting with a look back at your career and your legacy, you've been playing at the top for about six years now and have been on a few big teams. What do you think have been the highlight moments and what goals do you still have that you haven't fulfilled?
In terms of highlight moments, I think it's been an achievement for me in itself playing on all the strong Danish teams except for Astralis and with a lot of the strong players we've had on our Danish scene throughout time. Just getting to play for different organizations, getting to meet different people, that has been a highlight in itself. I think, when I look back on my career once I get older, it's something you can be really proud of, having played with all these great names.
I think what's to come, people can call it whatever they want, but I've always strived to become a world champion. I think that's the reason why everybody's playing. I don't really care if people think it's overambitious, if they don't see it as realistic. My goal is to win a Major, playing on the No. 1 team in the world, and that has been the goal ever since I started playing. Being a super-competitive person, winning for me is what stands above everything, and I'll basically do whatever it takes to get there.
Being 26 now, is there any sense of time running out, or do you think you still have enough time to fulfill those goals?
I definitely still think I have enough time to fulfill those goals, but there is a grain of truth to what you're saying. Obviously, you start — I wouldn't say worrying, but thinking about the time in the sense that every move counts, and I have the mindset that I go into every team with my full commitment as if it was my last. And that's not meant in a bad sense. But obviously, through a career, it's hard to find and maneuver through the perfect way. You'll always have some… regrets won't get you anywhere, but there's a lot of timing in the roster moves. You could have played for this team or you could have played for that team, but at the end of the day, it's the present that matters. As you said, I'm super-aware that where I am right now is where I also need to start winning trophies and start accomplishing the stuff that I set out to do.
I imagine you have some of these missed opportunities in the back of your mind. Are there any particular moves that you've missed out on that stand out?
Yeah. I don't wanna comment on specifics, but there were some big offers that I got in the past that just for different reasons didn't end up happening. Obviously, that's super-unfortunate for me, but as I said before, regrets won't get you anywhere. I'm just focused on what I can do now to improve as a player, still, and to make my team improve. I feel like that's the mentality you gotta have. You can't sit there and cry over spilled milk.
I wanted to go back to the three biggest teams you've played for up until this point. The first one is the Copenhagen Wolves/Team X/Heroic core, which started out with you, Snappi, and gla1ve. That was the first time we began to learn about who you are. Can you tell me about how it went in your first experience on the pro scene and how it set you up for the future?
The Heroic time was a super-interesting time when I look back. I remember those years as some of my best years, both in terms of not only performance but also the team culture, being so new to the scene. I remember when the first day I was practicing with Copenhagen Wolves, which I think was me, gla1ve, Snappi, smF, and mertz. I had never pracced against a top team before, and I join the server, I press TAB on the scoreboard, and I see NEO and TAZ, major icons, on the scoreboard. You just get super starstruck, you get really nervous even though you just sit in your room by yourself. That was a really big moment for me.
I just think the way we improved with that team was an amazing experience. We went from being a complete outsider team that nobody cared about to actually qualifying for meaningful tournaments, we actually started beating the other Danish top teams to the point that they started picking up our players. gla1ve went to Astralis, and then I guess the rest is history (laughs). But yeah, I think that's something we were really proud of, we basically forced Astralis to do the roster changes and we forced a lot of teams to recognize our presence, so that's a journey that I'm super proud of and I think all the players that I played with back then are people I still call friends. And yeah, we'll share those moments forever together.
Your time with the team ended with FeTiSh as the coach saying he was benching you, and I'm curious about why it didn't work out in the end and how it led to you joining North.
Back then, obviously I was younger and maybe had more temperament. As I remember it, I was just super unhappy with the way we performed at the bigger tournaments we played. It felt like we always made it to the quarter-finals, or the semi-finals of the DreamHack Opens, and we felt like now is the time for us to win a trophy and take the next step, but for different reasons it just never happened. And I just felt this frustration inside me that we couldn't take the next step, and then when I had that first thought in my mind that something isn't working, then it was really hard for me to let it go. At the end of the day, we came to the agreement that I should get benched, and I had the feeling that I'm pretty confident in my own abilities, so I probably knew that hopefully a better offer would come around and North ended up contacting me in that player summer break of 2017.
What did you think of MSL at this point?
I had never spoken to MSL before in my life, I had never played with him in PUGs and such, either. I think he just got to know me through what other players told him. He messaged me on Facebook I remember one day when I was on vacation, and that was also a really big moment for me personally because I knew this could be the next step for me personally, and I knew that I could contribute with a lot to that North team. But obviously I also had big shoes to fill, since I was replacing Magisk. We started out really strong and MSL specifically as a player was someone I had a lot of respect for. I could see what he did with k0nfig, Magisk, other players, so back then North was a team you really wanted to play for. It was kind of a no-brainer for me to say yes to that offer.
You ended up staying there for two and half years, and that first version of North was reasonably successful, you won some smaller titles and of course the famous run in DreamHack Masters Stockholm. How did you feel about how things were going then, were you happy with the progression or did you think you needed to do more before it started to go downhill towards the end?
The whole North story, even for the different iterations of the lineup, it's so many ups and downs. Even the first lineup we had, which I think was a really strong lineup, where it was me, aizy, k0nfig, MSL, and cajunb, we just had some unfortunate circumstances happen and we had different players with different problems, and we made the roster changes and we got Kjaerbye into the team. Then we had a period where I felt like we really could do more, but then again some unfortunate stuff happened, and again it just felt like we weren't able to take that next step. I think a lot of us would have done things differently knowing what we know now, but you always make the decision in the moment that feels right. It's really easy in hindsight to say we should have done this or we should have done that, but it's hard to say I regret anything because we just made the decisions that we felt were the right ones at the given time.
Towards the end you transitioned into the in-game leadership role once MSL was out for about six months. How do you look back at that experience?
The thing I'm most proud of being the in-game leader for North was qualifying for the Major. With the pieces we had at the time, that was actually a really good achievement. But being the in-game leader was never something that was on my mind or meant to be. The true story is that I tried to get karrigan and woxic into our team back then and we had a good chance of making that happen, but at the end of the day the decision was out of my hands, and that's something I'm really sad about to this day. I would have really liked to play with karrigan.
After that, the situation was that I had the opportunity to become the IGL, and I just felt like I had to go with it because we basically had no other option. So it's not something I regret, but it was never meant to be. I felt like it wasn't the right time for me to transition into that role full-time, so I went back into my old role, and I'm really glad I ended up making that decision because I wasn't suited to be an IGL at that time.
It's interesting that you say that, because there is an interview from those times with Kjaerbye where he called you a natural leader.
Maybe some people see me like that and I do think I could one day become one, if I really wanted to make that transition. But at the time and now it feels way more right for me to be a strong player, still. I feel like, if you want to make that move, you have to be all-in. You can't half-ass it, you really gotta commit to it fully as you see with apEX, for example. I don't think there's a middle ground where you can be half an in-game leader and half just a player. You gotta commit to it, and I was not willing to do that.
Do you think you are naturally inclined towards it? I'm curious about where the natural leader remark comes from, that is a pretty strong opinion.
At the end of the day, I think it's just the way you are as a person. I feel like some people are just born to be leaders, some people have more leadership capabilities or personality traits in them than others. That's not to say it's a good thing or a bad thing, it's just the way it is. But for now, I think my primary strength is being a secondary caller or at least a guy that isn't necessarily a secondary caller, but a guy who can give solid input in the rounds and who's not afraid of telling his opinion in team talks, or when you're fixing problems and so on. I feel like you always get furthest by telling the truth, so I have my own opinions, but of course I'm only voicing my opinion when I feel it's relevant.
Kjaerbye also said at the time that you're brutally honest. Are you?
(chuckles) Sometimes I can be, yeah, and I've always been like that, but I think most of my teammates who have played with me know I never mean it with bad intentions. My only goal is for the team to get better and that's always where my main focus is, that I'm a team player and I really want the team to succeed, so I'm never saying anything to anyone because I want to bash them or blame them, it's only for the purpose of getting better. I feel like sometimes you just gotta have one who can step up. If it's not me it can also be anyone else to just get the… in Danish we say the elephant out of the closet.
Do you feel like a different player after the experience with in-game leading?
It opened my eyes in terms of how hard the role is. You gotta think about a lot more stuff, you have less time to focus on your own crosshair, you always gotta look at your radar, what nades do the other players have left. The decision is always up to you, so you constantly have to be active and you don't have as much time to think about your own game — use timings, use sound, all these things that are super important if you wanna frag well. It gave me a lot more respect for all the different in-game leaders, because it is a really hard role, and if stuff goes wrong you're the first one to blame. Obviously, there's the upside as well, when stuff goes well you're also the one to get a lot of credit, but it's a really tough role, also in terms of the community perception and so on. I think it also hurt my individual level in that period. Still, I think it was a good learning experience.
How much, if at all, did that have to do with the move outside of Denmark and into OG, where there was a very set in-game leader with Aleksib? How did you go from the end of North to joining OG?
As far as I remember it, NBK- was the one who contacted me, asking if I was interested in joining OG. At the time I made it very clear that I didn't want to be an in-game leader. I remember that there was a lot of talk in the community that 'ah, they're gonna have three in-game leaders, there's gonna be too many cooks in the kitchen.' From my viewpoint, and I stand by it to this day, that was not the case at all. Aleksi was the main caller, and then Nathan was the secondary caller, giving a lot of input and so on. I was literally just a player, I was not saying anything that was above my role. That was the main takeaway for me.
The reason why I made the move was basically because I felt a little bit stuck in North towards the end. I felt like the team had no direction, no leadership, and Astralis wasn't an option at the time, so I felt like I didn't have any other option than going on an international team. It just made sense and the timing was good, so I just decided to jump right into it and try it out.
Anyone in Denmark, especially at that time, would have said yes to an Astralis offer. Was there never any chance, any space for you to join?
I think there was, but as I mentioned earlier, there were always unfortunate timings, contracts, all this stuff that is in the way in the modern day. I feel like I've been a little bit unlucky, but again I don't wanna call myself a victim or anything like that. That's the way the game is, that's the way the business is, and at the time I just had to go with the offer that made the most sense for me, and that was joining OG.
How do you look back at the beginnings when NBK- and ISSAA were still in the team? The general opinion from the outside was that there was a lack of firepower in that lineup. Do you agree with that?
Yeah, at times it definitely felt like we needed some firepower, but I also just think it was a culture thing. It's really hard to line up playing style-wise and the way you think about the game, the way you talk about the game. It takes more effort on an international team, but I do think we made a good effort into becoming a top 10 team. We also had some good runs at a few tournaments, so I think we made the most out of it, and it's still a period of the team that I look back on with a lot of good memories. We had a lot of fun, and for me, it was a really good experience getting to know some new people and hear how other people are seeing the game, just getting to be social in a different way than I was used to on my previous Danish teams.
It's been about a year since the big change and the arrival of niko and flameZ. How would you say things have changed since then? Do you think you've been closer to being a more consistent contender after that?
It's hard to say because I think we gave it a good shot with Aleksi after we made the roster changes, but again it was a little bit of the same story. We weren't able to find that extra gear when it really mattered. I think we got into two finals that we could have won, but you know, at the end of the day we didn't win them, and, as you all know, nobody remembers the second place, so we can't really use that for anything. It's a little bit unfortunate that we didn't get to win a tournament together, but I do think we have more potential with niko and flameZ on the team, since they're younger and bring more firepower.
The veterancy was on the shoulders of you and Aleksi after NBK- left as someone who had a big voice on the team. Now that Aleksi is gone, as well, do you feel more responsibility on yourself in that sense?
Yeah, definitely. When you have a lot of young people on the team, you gotta step up to the plate and show some leadership. You gotta help the younger people succeed and try and share your experiences, and I think right now we have a really strong team where people are listening to each other and everybody is happy to play together. But yeah, I do feel like you need to step up when you're one of the more experienced players, and that's also what me and nexa are trying to do.
What does that entail exactly?
I think it's just in terms of, maybe after you've lost or won a big game, you talk them through some situations where you try and explain to them what they could have done differently. It doesn't always have to be bad stuff, but it's just talking about the game, trying to teach them some stuff here and there, and I think both mantuu and flameZ are always super-willing to listen and they really come with an open mind when the rest of us are trying to explain stuff to them. That's a really pleasant thing, that you feel like you're actually being listened to.
At the start of the year there was a lot of movement in the scene as usual and a lot of reports. There was a report linking you with the potential of joining Evil Geniuses. Can you speak to this or any other offers that might have come your way and how you approached them?
It's true that both last summer and this off-season I had a lot of good, strong offers, both economically but also competitively. They've both been really ambitious projects, but the timing again was just not right and I don't really think I can say anything else but that. It was some really promising offers, but at the end of the day I'm happy to stay with OG.
Was there a need to recalibrate and get over the fact that it didn't work out after missing out on a big move?
Obviously, it's something you think about, but immediately after you realize it's not gonna happen, you also have to be able to put it behind you. At the time, we didn't know for sure that we would have nexa in the team, so that also played a part in my thoughts that I wasn't sure which direction the team was going. But now after we got nexa I think we have a team that looks really promising and the results have been pretty good for us outside of Katowice, so we are really working towards qualifying for the Major and hopefully doing good there.
What kind of effect has nexa's addition had on the team as a different caller stylistically compared to Aleksib?
He's a completely different person and in-game leader as well, and that's not meant in any bad way towards Aleksi. People are different and they bring different strengths and weaknesses, but I think for all of us it's just been refreshing to get into a new groove. nexa is bringing a different vibe, different energy, different ideas, different approach to the game and mid-round calling, so I feel like all of us feel more free as players. I think his style of calling also suits some of our players better, so in that sense I think it's been really great so far and I have nothing but good things to say about nexa so far. That's not to sound biased because he's my teammate (laughs), I genuinely mean that. He's a really good person and actually a really smart guy in terms of thinking inside the game.
Do people have the right idea that he is very loose and will let his pieces do what they want?
It is true that he's way more loose than Aleksi, for example, but that's not in a bad way. He can also be strict at times, but in general he's a guy that likes to give his players freedom, and if somebody wants to go for a move he's usually allowing it and saying go for it. But he also still has a system and structure we're working towards with different steps in the game and such. I actually think people are maybe overlooking a little bit how smart he actually is. It's not something that he's only calling simple strats from spawn and that's just it, he actually has a system, and, yeah, the system is more loose, but you also gotta think about what team you have, and for some teams the looser style is the right one to go with, and I think that's why nexa fits this team really well.
Who do you think it has impacted the most in the team?
For the most part I would say it's flameZ, but also mantuu. There's less micromanaging now, but I also think that's due to the coaching staff. We also got kakafu into the team as an assistant coach, and instead of for example Aleksi having to micromanage a lot before, now Alex [kakafu] is actually working with mantuu and flameZ on how they can improve as players, so I think that has taken some of the workload off of nexa's shoulders so that he can focus more on himself and calling and trying to teach the players how they get better in their positions and stuff. That's why we got him into the team, and I think you can see it in the way they play. We also swapped some spots, we tried to get flameZ into some more action positions and we're trying to get mantuu to take that next step as an AWPer where you can become really dominant and decide games on your own.
For flameZ, it's primarily been the switching of positions, as I said before he has a lot more impact positions now, playing connector on Mirage for example, but just in general on the maps he's our entry guy, he's our spearhead, I think he's like the spearman like k0nfig calls it (laughs). So yeah, we're trying to use his energy and his raw skill to open up the rounds for us and do a lot of playmaking, and for mantuu again it's working with the coaching staff and trying to improve his own decision-making and his overall game.
Where do you come in? Has anything in particular changed for you?
I think I'm a gap-filler. I still play a lot of supportive positions on different maps, like ramp on Nuke, B Mirage, stuff like this, but I'm okay with it, I feel like I'm strong in those positions. But I do also have more freedom in terms of roaming around on the map, if I feel like I have the timing to it or the feeling that I could be useful somewhere else. I also got more freedom with nexa on the team, then in the rounds I'm trying to be his sparring partner if he needs some input here and there, so that's the thing I'm helping him with.
Do you think those are the positions for you or was there ever a want to have more of the action roles?
We made the switch on the old lineup with Aleksi that I moved into more of the supportive roles, and looking back I honestly regret that decision a little bit. Again, it wasn't solely Aleksi's decision, I was obviously on board with it, but I do feel like I should have played more action positions or star positions on the old lineup, because I do think I'm good at it. Now we've tried to balance it out so I have some good positions and so flameZ has some good positions, and I think we've found a good balance where everybody's happy.
You re-signed about a year ago until the end of 2022. Where do you want to be at the end of the year or towards the end of the year when those talks start happening whether you want to stay or move on?
To be completely straightforward, I wanna be on the team that is contending for titles. So that's our goal with OG. We wanna slowly work our way into the top 10, and now that we're in the top 10, the next step is obviously getting into the top 5 and being in the deep playoff runs, contending for trophies when we get towards the end of the year. That's always been my goal as a player, that hasn't changed, and I still wanna go to every Major there is and eventually hold the Major trophy. So that hasn't changed at all.
The Major is approaching pretty quickly. How do you feel about not playing in Pro League and having this much off time before the RMR begins?
I think it's a double-edged sword. We were super unlucky not getting into Pro League. I think we even finished top 4 in the last season. But yeah, I think we were like 1 point away from getting the last spot, so we were really close. Now that we're not there, that's our reality, that's what we've gotta work with, so I think on the other hand it gives us a lot of time to practice, review our game from the last couple of tournaments and see what we can do better, change up some of our strats so we can come fresh into the Major qualifier and looking sharp.
Is there a lot of hunger after you missed out on the last one in Stockholm?
For sure. I think all of us were crushed when we didn't make it to the last Major. It was really something we had to do and I think all of us saw it as a huge failure that we didn't qualify for the Major, I think we had every chance to do it, but we couldn't step up to the plate when it mattered the most, so at the end of the day we can only blame ourselves and try to do better this time around.