sycrone: "There was a lot of interest for xertioN from a lot of top teams"
Just ahead of the tournament break, MOUZ recorded their best result at a big event in over two years by making it to the playoffs of IEM Cologne. Although they suffered a 5-6th place exit there following a loss to Astralis, the team seemed to be on an upward trajectory, and made no changes during the off-season.
When tournament play resumed and the RMR open qualifiers got underway, MOUZ qualified on their first attempt — the same of which can't be said for a number of other notable names including the very Danes that MOUZ had lost to in Cologne, as well as Movistar Riders, who ultimately failed to advance to the RMR after losing Alvaro "SunPayus" Garcia to ENCE.
It came as a surprise then when MOUZ announced on Friday that they would promote xertioN from MOUZ NXT to replace Bymas, a move that even caught the young Lithuanian off-guard as he referred to it as "unexpected" on Twitter and said he was told of the change upon entering TeamSpeak for practice.
Why then, did MOUZ pull the trigger on the change after starting to improve on their results and after the off-season ended? What does xertioN bring to the team that Bymas didn't, and how do they plan to utilize him in their new lineup? These were all questions we put the way of MOUZ head coach Dennis "sycrone" Nielsen, who explained what went down in the MOUZ camp and gave some insight into positional shifts that the roster change will enable, such as David "frozen" Čerňanský transitioning into more of a hybrid lurk-support player.
You've swapped Bymas for xertioN. The move came a little of out nowhere it seems, even Bymas didn't expect it, so what prompted the change?
Every time you make a change, there's many factors to account for. I'll first maybe touch on why it seems so sudden. Over the player break, where most teams make transfers, there's a lot of talking behind the scenes about who's available, a lot of rumors, all these things, and that's really where most teams do their work. Since we had a late finish to Cologne and dexter wanted to go back home to Australia for the first time in one-and-a-half years, we ended up having a vacation that ended just three days before the first qualifier.
We agreed that it would be too risky to make changes before the RMR qualifiers, it's the most important event right, so we would not be making any changes just before then. Also over the break there was a lot of interest for xertioN from a lot of top teams, a lot of other teams within the top 15, and it didn't help that he played a lot of FPL in the period where he didn't practice as much with NXT, he just grinded FPL. He saw a lot of interest and we had to consider whether we saw him in our project. Also his contract was running out at some point, and we had to consider whether we want to keep him here on the main team, or if we want to let him go. Another factor was that the qualifier was so early after the break so we couldn't risk anything. I know for Bymas it sucks that in this way, he's locked to our roster because of the way Valve's rules are, but in a way he's also contracted and it's his work, right?
Bymas has been here for maybe two years, longer than I have, he's been working with the team and staff in the organization for longer than I've been here. I think just at this point we wanted to take it in a different direction. xertioN is not at all a one-to-one for Bymas, they're completely different players I would say. Bymas is way more calm, collected, calculated and a good clutch player, and xertioN is way more aggressive, very much a playmaker, which will allow us to swap around some roles within the team. That also prompted the change that, for example, frozen wanted to maybe become more of a lurk-support player, and with a guy like xertioN that was a possibility. A lot of factors, but also it wasn't easy.
Talking a little more on the timing of the change then, obviously it comes after you had a pretty good placement at Cologne, your best result with this roster to date with a 5-6th finish. It seemed like you were finally on an upward trajectory, so why now?
Yeah it's true if you look at it, Cologne was our best result so far, before then we had a lot of really lackluster results, and a lot of lost deciding best-of-three games. I think really why it happened now is that we realized a lot of things we're working on are the right things, and that progress has not just come randomly. A lot of the fundamentals we have down, a lot of the work we're doing with our sports psychologist, a lot of the way we're approaching games, the development of all of our players is really good, the group we have, and all of these things are adding up.
There's two things here. One thing is that over the player break, you don't have time to practice because you're all gone for vacation, and now since we qualified in the first RMR qualifier, we have four weeks before our first event. After EPL there will also be another week, maybe EPL playoffs, and then there will be the RMR. It actually gives you time to practice, and normally if there is ever a four-week gap in your CS schedule and calendar, it's because it's over the break. From that perspective the timing couldn't be more ideal because this is the only time you ever could make a swap and still have time to practice, unless you want to play through the whole player break, in which case you would also be playing against worse opponents.
I agree that Cologne is our best result so far with this team and it did seem like we're on an upwards trajectory, and we are, but we also believe that all the things we've worked on within the team, the fundamentals, the way we approach games, the way all of our players have developed just all around mentally, practically how we call, all of these things are at really strong positions, and we don't feel like we would be jeopardizing that too much.
We came to realize over the last six months that swapping around some roles would make sense, and in the big games we need more coordination and more playmaking ability, and we believe this is what is going to take us even further. Making a player change now, in a way it might be risky because you're swapping around positions, you're working with a new dynamic and stuff, but we believe ourselves to be stable enough right now that I wouldn't use it as an excuse for bad results coming up.
Do you think the previous iteration of the roster had peaked?
No I don't, we could still have gone further with that roster. Top five or six at Cologne does not necessarily mean you are a top five team in the world. We have to be honest here, some of the other teams probably already had changes planned and thus were not performing to their full potential. Heroic had just made a player swap. It was a bit of a weird event in my opinion in that way. You also see now that Movistar Riders didn't qualify for the RMR, Astralis really struggled to make it happen and they even made it further than us [at Cologne].
I don't think we peaked and mostly that's because there's so many young players on the team, so much talent. frozen is still only 20, JDC, torzsi, and Bymas are also young and relatively new to the scene, so there's a lot of improvements still. I also wouldn't say Cologne was a lucky result, but it also wasn't like we thought okay, now we're a top five team in the world, we need to make playoffs every time. There's still a lot to work on, and we truthfully thought that there was something we could do with the player roles within the team, something to do with communication, more playmaking ability, someone who really has that killer instinct and drive when it comes to the bigger matches.
You talked about his roles a bit already, but why xertioN then? What is he bringing to the lineup?
He knows the way we work. He's been in NXT, he knows the way I work, he's good around torzsi, he's good around Jon. His skillset will speak for itself when you see it. Also, to really understand his skillset you have to be on the TeamSpeak with him, to know what he brings, it's a lot of energy, a lot of hype — he's a hype beast — and a lot of playmaking ability.
This is the third such promotion from the NXT roster, which you were originally the coach of. You're one of the only teams using their academy project in such an effective way and promoting players, along with NAVI, so how has it been having that project to draw new talent from?
Swapping the players has been easier than if you had to go out and look for a player. You already know what they bring to the table, negotiating is easier, obviously they are on a MOUZ NXT contract, and we still have to come to an agreement for a main team contract. They also have to accept that offer, written on paper. Clauses in the contracts help with this, but does not guarantee it will happen.
They know the culture, the way we work and the way we like to play and stuff. I wouldn't say that consistently pulling up players is something that we're aiming for either, it just happened to be that we created one of the best academy teams in the world and they were already at a really high level.
To talk a little about the way the change went down, it caught Bymas by surprise. He mentioned on Twitter he came into TeamSpeak for practice and was told the change was happening. How come it went down like that?
On the day we finalized the decision to bench him and move up xertioN, we were still in talks with xertioN's agency and figuring out the exact deals and terms of his contract. Obviously before a deal is made, you can't tell the other player that 'hey, you're out,' because then you only have four players, and MOUZ as an organization has obligations, they have partnerships and stuff. They have a team that they need to participate in tournaments and leagues with, and if you just bench a guy then you're down to four players, and at that moment we didn't have a replacement ready.
It actually turned out they had a morning meeting to finalize things, and on that day we were supposed to practice, the wheels keep turning, it was a normal practice day for us. We kinda knew it was going down, it was pretty much set in stone, we had already consulted everyone on the team, done a handful of different meetings, talked pros and cons of making a swap and all that goes with it. It's not like it's a dictatorship where I make the final decision. Of course, I'm fully responsible if something doesn't turn out well, as I should be.
So they had a morning meeting, and as it finished, we were supposed to practice maybe 15 minutes later. In those 15 minutes I could have probably called Bymas privately and told him on the phone, but instead I told the other guys not to join TeamSpeak, and that when Auri comes I'd tell him there's a reason why the guys are not here and how it went down, our reasoning behind it, what's next for him.
We ended up actually talking for a good half an hour, he saw a lot of the points I made. I think he took it really well, I must admit I was quite impressed with him there. He also sent a really nice chat message afterwards to all the guys, and then an hour later we all met on TeamSpeak and talked it over with the team, and brought in xertioN because by then we'd made a deal and he could play with us. That was kinda how it went down. Maybe not ideal and I could have called him, somehow we could have cancelled four days of work while they were negotiating and not practiced those days. In a perfect world, and this is not just on me, MOUZ would have had this deal made many days prior, but sometimes these things drag out and I could have told him when we had the weekend off if it went differently.
You mentioned that you'll have a month of practice before EPL. Do you think playing mostly scrims and having such a short period after your first officials and the start of the RMR could be a little dangerous, in terms of being able to make the changes needed before the RMR gets underway?
Good question. As I said earlier, we have a good group of people who grew a lot over the last eight months. The fundamentals are quite strong, we have a 12 day bootcamp planned, starting from the 31st we all travel to Hamburg together and then we're travelling together for EPL, so we'll be on the road for quite a bit, bootcamping, sitting next to each other, feeling out how that is, playing our EPL group. Then we have one week between then and the RMR to make adjustments and work on the final touches. I believe it will be alright, but we're still a young and inexperienced group overall, the time we played on stage at Cologne was the first time for all of us. Only frozen has some experience playing in front of a proper crowd.