nexa: "[F1KU and NEOFRAG] are the best we could have gotten for the price we could afford"
OG had their debut with newcomers Maciej "F1KU" Miklas and Adam "NEOFRAG" Zouhar at Global Esport Tour Dubai, where they finished in 3-4th place with a victory over Complexity and a loss to Ninjas in Pyjamas, who went on to lift the trophy. Unfortunately, Mateusz "mantuu" Wilczewski caught Covid-19 during his time in the Emirates and was unable to travel to Lisbon with the team, where former Spirit AWPer Abdul "degster" Gasanov will take his place.
Ahead of OG's BLAST Premier Spring Final opening series against Natus Vincere on Wednesday at 17:00 , who will also be fielding a stand-in in Viktor "sdy" Orudzhev, in-game leader Nemanja "nexa" Isaković took some time to sit down during the media day to chat about the recent developments in OG and what to look forward to.
Among the topics discussed were the new additions, NEOFRAG and F1KU, how their adaptation to the team is going, as well as the departure of Valdemar "valde" Bjørn Vangså and OG's direction in terms of market moves and setting up an academy team. The 25-year-old also talked about taking inspiration from teams with young players around a veteran, such as Spirit, in the new OG lineup, underlining the importance of the newcomers' willingness to grind instead of just playing practicing with minimal participation in tournaments and events.
You got a couple of new players in NEOFRAG and F1KU, and had your first event with them at GET Dubai. How was that experience?
The players themselves, I think they're the best we could have gotten off the market for the price we could afford and from the people that were interested in joining the team. There may have been some better names, but they were either not affordable or not interested in joining the team, so I'd say we got the two best options that we could have gotten. They fit pretty well into the team, role-wise they were exactly what we needed. We practiced with a couple of other players as well, but ultimately decided that these two are the best fit for us.
So far I think they've been integrated into the system pretty well, they know their roles and it's comfortable for them to know that they're playing pretty much the same roles now, in OG, than they were playing in their previous team. So they have the freedom and ability to perform as they did in their previous teams, which is one of the reasons why we picked them up.
What were your first impressions of them as players?
The main thing I noticed is the individual level of these younger players. It's always... on another level, right? I don't even know how to explain it, but I've spent a lot of time playing with younger players, even in my earlier days with EspiranTo, etc., and all of them, when I watch them, they have a different style of aiming. It's instant headshot, instant headshots.
The first thing I noticed is that they speak headshots. That's really good to have and it really helps me and my system work because maybe on paper the system I have and the way I want to play is not the greatest, most tactical, but if people shoot headshots then the system works.
So what's your job now?
I kind of see my job as teaching them the proper way to play CS. They came from tier two, so far we spent a couple of weeks together and you can see that they aren't really experienced and don't really know a lot about CS, they know how to kill people, so my job is to get them to make better decisions in the game. They have the potential to be some of the best, to be star players, so it's up to me to take that potential and turn it into something great. Hopefully I can manage to do it.
You lost one veteran in valde, who took with him a wealth of experience. How has that affected the team?
I don't think it really hurts the team that much, in general we've been seeing a trend of more and more teams with super young players getting deep runs in tournaments or performing exceptionally well. We felt like it was the right direction to go because you could see Spirit's run at the Major, all young players around one more experienced in-game leader, believing in him and trusting everything he says. That's the vibe we're going for to see if we can get me as the more experienced guy who went through a lot in the past couple of years and a bunch of kids that just want to play the game, grind, prove themselves and be the best. My job is basically to guide them, earn their trust and show them the way.
When valde left it seemed like he and the org didn't align in their vision, from chasing a championship team to becoming more of a feeder team. How do you see that?
Yeah, OG also created the academy team, so it's going in the direction where it's more about cultivating talent and trying to get younger players developing into stars rather than spending a bunch of money and gambling on a roster. It's more about finding proper chemistry and players fitting together personality-wise.
You can go both ways, but if you spend a shit ton of money and don't get the results you wanted it really hurts, right? Whereas like this you always have a chance to get a new player, see who fits better, and the coaching staff is following both the main roster and the academy roster to see if we can swap out players in the long run and actually find the new talents like b1t and m0NESY. We're pretty much trying to go in the same direction as that.
You're without mantuu here, one of the key pieces in the team. What do you expect to achieve at the event?
Since we got NEOFRAG and F1KU we were preparing just for this tournament and unfortunately mantuu got Covid while we were in Dubai, so he couldn't travel with us. We got degster, who isn't a downgrade by any means, he's an amazing AWPer, but their playstyles are completely different. Overall, I don't think our expectations are that high.
Personally, I'm going to give degster a lot of room, a lot of space to play and make him feel as comfortable as possible, Even with the maps we play and whatever, to try and get him in that Major form that he had because I know the guy and I know that if a guy like that is in his comfort zone dropping 30 kills, that could be our win factor. The other guys, as well, even if the structure isn't there, they all play pugs —flameZ especially—, they know how to handle themselves in a puggy style. As I said, they speak headshots. So even if they don't know what's going on, as long as they kill, we can win.
NAVI has been having their own turmoil, losing Boombl4 and coming in with sdy now. What do you make of it in your opening match, both teams playing with stand-ins?
It's going to be a weird match-up, I have no clue what the maps could possibly be, so it could go any direction. Obviously, we can't underestimate them, they're still one of the best teams and we can't even prepare properly or anti-strat for them, but it also goes both ways. We're just going to make a little plan, go in there and try to enable the individuals to enjoy themselves and play the game.
It's going to be the first time for some of the guys playing in a tier one event, so it'll be interesting to see how they handle themselves, how they can perform, and if by some miracle we make it to the arena then I'll be really glad. I want them to experience that crowd and start gaining some experience because I think we'll play more tier one events and more circuits than with previous lineups.
That actually fits right into my follow-up question, which is how do you see this lineup comparing to the original OG lineup, who were built to contend for championship, and to the one you then joined?
I think the original project had a lot of potential, I wasn't there so I don't know why it didn't really work out. Maybe if things kept going on LAN without Covid-19, the lineup with ISSAA could have worked because I do think he was really good, but when he had to play from home I know it was really difficult for him and the roster. They made some changes, for better or worse, I don't know, but they just couldn't really find the perfect fit. They didn't have five players in their comfort roles, it always seemed like there were one or two players not feeling comfortable in the team.
It was the same when I joined, there weren't really set roles for each player, it was kind of like... on some maps anchor roles, then rotator roles, and swapping around as lurkers, entry-fraggers, it was all over the place. It was a bit dysfunctional right before I joined. The main difference with the roster I joined in and the one I'm in now is the grind mentality because when I joined we were basically playing one tournament per month, maximum. People didn't really want to play online cups, it was just practice and once a month or once every two months you play one event that you prepared everything you have for that event.
In my opinion it was not really the greatest approach because you need experience in officials, it doesn't matter if you're playing a Roobet Cup or Pinnacle Cup or whatever, you still need that experience to see if the stuff you work on in practice also works in official games. Shifting away from that mentality they had before and getting NEOFRAG and F1KU, grinders who play online and want to play all of the tournaments... it doesn't matter if we have to start from tier two, tier three, play all of the online tournaments, all of the open qualifiers. If we have to grind it out I want a team that is willing to grind and actually get there instead of just practicing and playing one tournament per month or every two months and hoping we do well.
Having this younger, more ready to grind team, do you see yourself making it back to the elite circles?
Yeah, that's definitely the goal. To get there and start playing all of the tier one events. Then obviously the main goal is to actually make it to the Major. They say third time's the charm for OG, so hopefully we actually get to do it with this lineup.