XTQZZZ: "I've never seen NiKo looking to call the shots, nor have I seen him contradict the vision of his IGL"
The 2022 season hasn't been kind to G2. Following the arrivals of Aleksi "Aleksib" Virolainen, Ilya "m0NESY" Osipov, and XTQZZZ, the team entered the year with high hopes of ending a two-year-long title drought with their new in-game leader and AWPer, but in six months of existence the new squad was unable to live up to its ambitions.
G2's only real chance at grabbing silverware came early on, when they made it to the grand final of IEM Katowice. They have been far from a title contender since then, even finishing outside of the playoffs at PGL Major Antwerp and IEM Cologne, the other two staple events of the first season of the year.
Following the string of disappointing results G2 decided it was time to pull the plug and rebuild again. They removed the new in-game leader, Aleksib, and Audric "JACKZ" Jug to make space for the signings of former 100 Thieves star Justin "jks" Savage and Copenhagen Flames leader Rasmus "HooXi" Nielsen — bringing in more firepower in the Australian and a new authority in the Dane.
The 33-year-old Frenchman spoke out about the issues the team has faced since the beginning of the year and why these were the changes they decided to make following the unsatisfying first season. He addressed question marks around Aleksib's vision and whether that clashed with other members of the team, delving into the common community perception that Nikola "NiKo" Kovač has too big of a voice to work with another big authority on the lineup.
XTQZZZ also explained how jks and HooXi will fit into the system and shared what he meant when he said that the lurker role wasn't the best position for Nemanja "huNter-" Kovač in response to a conversation about potential role clashes cropping up in the new G2 squad.
Scroll below to read the coach's thoughts on everything to do with the recently announced shakeup in G2:
Can you first tell me about the first half of the year and what issues you identified in the team in that time?
We were missing consistency in all aspects. Our main challenge was to find our own identity, but we failed to build a process and put a consistent system in place. We weren't sharing the same vision and approach of the game, so we tried to adapt to each other, but at the highest level, it is difficult to be successful by going for such compromises.
How did these findings lead you to remove Aleksib and JACKZ?
Aleksi has his own ideas and his own way of approaching the game, and I believe this can fit a certain number of teams but not ours. The type of players we have requires that we develop a playstyle based on individual plays and some sort of freedom. Aleksi has a more structured approach, whereas I prefer to leave more room for players to express themselves.
When it comes to JACKZ, we faced the challenge of positioning him in a way that he could express his full qualities. We were using him in roles and positions that weren't fitting the player he is, and in the meantime, we were limited in terms of what we could do around the attributes that we have on this team.
It was rumored that there was a clash of visions between you and Aleksib on the team. Was there truth to these claims? Was not seeing eye to eye the key reason for his removal?
Yes and no. For the first 6 months I tried to adapt and give Aleksi the space an IGL needs. I also tried to understand him and make him comfortable. We were both willing to find a common ground, but when the visions are too different, that willingness is not enough. However, we never had a "clash" as such, it's just that we both felt that we were not sharing the same convictions about the game. I wanted a more consistent approach based on the players we have, and also more in line with the current meta.
What do you see in HooXi and jks that makes you believe their additions will improve the team?
HooXi is more in line with what our team needs. We had a long talk before confirming this choice and his way of thinking, of working, or even the gamestyle he has in mind should help us understand each other quickly in game.
For jks, it's quite simple, we were missing a strong anchor and he is one of them. I have always been interested in this player, and his composure will help us closing the rounds. Of course, he hasn't been on a team for a while, but he is a hard worker and has proven to be open-minded. That's what I was looking for, as well, more open-mindedness.
This is a big jump for HooXi in terms of players he has to work with, also now being in a big organization under a lot of pressure to perform after coming from a Copenhagen Flames team that was generally viewed as an underdog. Do you believe he's ready for the challenge? Coming from a much less experienced background, will he have the authority to lead an experienced and star-studded team like this?
This question would apply to any IGL wanting to join G2, wouldn't it? If you don't try, how can you ever know? He has a strong character and knows what he wants. If you always recruit someone based on his proven ability to deal with pressure, your shortlist is going to be really short.
This is a challenge, we cannot be 100% sure about being ready or not. It's down to us, G2 as an organization, and the coaching staff to make this possible. Our players were happy with the decision to bring in HooXi, so we are starting on the right foot. And then, he is not alone in managing our "stars."
You've previously said that you don't think huNter-'s lurker roles were his best positions when there were discussions around potential role clashes in the new G2. Can you elaborate on that, explain how roles will work now and how they will change from the previous iteration? Do you see any issues arising with positions overlapping between players on either side?
I'm not going to say specifically what we're working on, but I see absolutely no concerns for us in that regard. There are always one or two sacrifices to be made for a player in the map pool. You cannot have every single position you like to play or have experience with, but other than maybe one map, I don't see any challenges.
A lot of people were assuming that JACKZ was always the entry. He was [the entry] in specific calls, in the rest he wasn't. Of course, the fact that HooXi is more of an entry and huNter- isn't the last lurker on every map is going to change things for us, but in no way it ends up being a challenge to me.
There's a fairly widespread perception in the community that NiKo is difficult to work with for an in-game leader, that he has too big of a voice, and that he is at least in part to blame for these changes. What is your response to that? How do you view NiKo and his impact on the team's chemistry after working with him for the better part of a year now?
Yes, I've read all of that, and I can't speak for the mistakes Nikola may have made in the past. But since I joined G2, everything that is said is groundless and far from the way we operate. Nikola did not decide on the changes of the previous team, and the same applies to this one. The staff has made these decisions. He is a star player and it comes with a strong character, ambition and willingness to lift trophies. Is he easy to coach? Not always, but like 95% of the players I have managed.
I've never seen Nikola looking to call the shots, nor have I seen him contradict the vision of his IGL. When I hear that he should be told to shut his mouth. Why should he do this? Why should he be told not to make suggestions when we are lacking solutions? Should he be told to shut up because he wants the best for his team? I've seen a guy in the last six months who has been jumping in first and sacrificing himself for his teammates. I do not allow him to do that anymore because a player like him should never do that.
We are only judging a player because he shows frustration on camera, mostly towards himself. Maybe he is the only player in the world who does this? And then, the games we "throw" do not date from his arrival at G2, it was already occurring before. The recent focus on Nikola is probably related to his past and because FaZe is currently winning and it was not the case before.
Every team is unique and you cannot just assume that one player is the problem. How else can you explain that after he left FaZe, they didn't get any results for more than a year, while in the meantime NiKo made it to the final of the Stockholm Major. It's all about cohesion, the process, the dynamics, the way of working. Like everyone else, he is human and there are still areas he needs to improve, but from my experience I have seen much worse.
At the start of the year we spoke in an interview in Katowice, where you said that you decided to keep JACKZ largely due to his impact outside of the game on the team's mood and atmosphere. How do you think his departure will affect G2 in that aspect?
That's the biggest question for me. Some of us will have to step up and everyone will have to contribute to the atmosphere and mood of the team. It used to be easy, JACKZ was carrying us by himself, that's what he does. Now it's everyone's responsibility to bring something here.
Can you tell me about m0NESY's evolution since he was brought on G2? What do you think he has improved at and what does he still need to work on?
I am proud of Ilya. He is young, geopolitics led him to stay far from his family since he joined us and G2 is his first tier 1 team. The expectations around him are massive and he assumes them. He can be proud of himself and how much he has grown as a human being.
He has already understood a lot about teamplay, now we are going to look for his AWP to get more impact, especially outside of clutches. We want to see him be more proactive and take more responsibility, that's how he can gain consistency as a sniper. I feel that so far we have held him back too much, it's time to release him.