Shahzeb "ShahZaM" Khan is the AWPer for Misfits and a veteran of the North American Counter-Strike scene. Between games at the Americas Minor Championship - Boston 2018, ShahZaM took the time to sit down with theScore esports to talk about the challenges of playing without a dedicated coach or analyst, his take on the NA CS:GO scene right now and how mid-round communication issues are holding Misfits back.
Editor's note: This interview was conducted during group stage of the Americas Minor Championship, on Friday, Nov. 3.
Let's start with the Miami Heat. Did you ever think that playing Counter-Strike, that you'd ever be associated with an NBA team, or anything like that?
No, honestly. I'm personally, I think, the biggest NBA fan out of the team, if not the only NBA fan. So it's actually really awesome. I loved the whole experience we had in Miami, hopefully we get to do that more.
How embedded have you been with the Heat so far, have you been able to meet any of the players or anyone from that organization?
Before our trip to Miami, not really much at all. I know they wanted us to come out earlier, but there were conflicting dates. But now that this season has started, we actually got to meet the two biggest gamers on the Heat, mostly Hassan Whiteside, everybody knows him. And then J. Richardson.
That was a cool experience. They're actually really extremely chill to come out right before their games against the Timberwolves. We just talked about different games with them and it was an awesome experience. We actually swapped our jerseys with them, I'm sure that'll be up somewhere soon.
Little aside, I want to talk about your shoe game. Let's start from the beginning, who got you into that?
Well, my friends from back home were always into nice shoes and my buddy got UltraBoosts a long time ago. He was like, "these are so comfortable," so I got them. Then I think slowly we started influencing each other.
Nobody is a straight up hypebeast on the team, but we like nice apparel.
I've talked about adidas or Nike possibly coming into the scene and I know North is adidas sponsored, but we haven't seen a really big dip. I'm waiting for the esports collab, basically.
Yeah, no, that would be awesome, but I can see why athletic, non-endemic sponsors would be little hesitant. Because, you know, we're kinda sitting down, we're not really promoting the athletic wear, but that would be awesome.
No, yeah! Maybe even with the Miami Heat, I would be down for some shoes, pants, jerseys, I would wear the whole uniform. I just think it would look really cool.
That's the 50/50, half is playing and half is looking good.
You gotta look good to frag good.
Let's talk about comms, I noticed you guys have been going without a coach for a little while now. Is that an intentional thing, or...
Not at all. We had an iffy experience with our previous coach, but that hasn't deterred us from wanting a coach. We've been actively looking.
They're really hard to find, not just someone that's qualified, but the right fit, you know? You need someone that everyone respects and it's hard to find someone that's willing to take up the coaching role.
It's still a relatively new concept and there's just not a lot of people that want to do it, but I think a coach would make a really big difference for us, in terms of fixing some of the basic mistakes we make. But, I also don't think we should put that on a coach. Us as players need to be able to fix that ourselves.
As far as other support staff, do you guys have a mental coach, analyst or anything like that?
No, actually. Sean [Gares] does a lot of research and the hard analyzing work, because he kind of enjoys it, honestly. The vetoes are, for the most part, going the way that we want and that's largely due to Sean's work, but I think that we do want to invest into a coaching staff.
I think an analyst would help, just to take a load off of Sean and a coach in general would be good, but for now it's just us five.
Best case scenario you guys get past the Minor, is support staff something that you'd look to push harder for ahead of the offline qualifier?
Yeah! I know we talked about this a while ago, but if we did make it to the offline qualifier, that we should honestly just try someone. It wouldn't hurt to just bring someone in and just try them for the Major qualifier, because I think that anything would help.
Are you guys limited by region?
We're not limited by region at all, I mean, we have two French players imported. So we're looking at some French possibilities, or anyone, honestly. We had a Brazilian coach previously, so it's not really a region limitation, it's just there's not a lot of options.
Every team is looking for a good coach.
Talking about the lineup actually, bringing in two French players. How's communication overall? I've listened a bit and their English seemed really good.
Yeah, their English has improved a ton, from since they first came, but there are still some limitations. It's kind of a struggle getting into specifics and the minor details of communication are very noticeably absent, but we're trying to work around it.
I was just talking to Pujan "FNS" Mehta actually, and he talked a bit about how when you guys brought in the French players you guys changed up quite a bit. Was that influenced by the French players themselves or was that simply a side effect of you guys just bringing in new players in general?
So, we weren't having the results we wanted. Then Russ [Twistzz], who was a really valuable player for us, got an offer from Liquid and we can't hold him back, it was a really good offer. He also wanted to go and wasn't happy with the way the team was going.
So we decided that, if we were gonna go ahead with one change, we may as well make two and Skyler [Skyler "Relyks" Weaver] wasn't really working for us.
So, Misfits' Overwatch manager and coach, is actually KennyS' brother.
That's so random.
Yeah, so he recommended that maybe we should try these two French players. They've played for Team EnVyUs Academy, devoduvek played for EnVyUs for a little bit. We talked to them, got to know them a bit and we decided to just try it.
We've had on and off results; the inconsistency has really hurt our team.
Since you've identified that inconsistency, what have you guys done to shore that up?
We've developed a pretty good structure for the team, so I don't think it's a problem of structure or the strats necessarily, it's the little things.
I think we always set ourselves up to win the round at the beginning of rounds and the way we play it out, but it just falls apart mid round and that's all in communication and situational awareness and playing off your teammates.
That's where we're really lapsing right now.
Talking about this mid-round calls, is it usually Sean that does the calls, or is it someone else?
It's not really about what our plan is mid-round. We go into the round with an idea that we want to do, then people can play depending on how the rotations play out. But it's more about how the round breaks down, each individual's decisions to play off of each other and support each other.
I think a lot of it comes down to communication right now. It's a very basic mistake, but I think if we stop that and clear up the comms a bit, we would be more consistent.
I wanted to ask you about your year. I know a lot of it is contingent on whether or not you make the offline qualifier, but before this, how do you feel about it? Coming into Misfits and stuff like that.
After spending a year playing with Echo Fox and the team not really seeing eye-to-eye I guess or just not working out, I was excited to join Misfits. I think Hunter [Hunter "SicK" Mims] is just an amazing player, he's a star, I really enjoy playing with him. And of course I enjoy playing with Sean, that's why we came over; he's still a great in-game leader. It's also cool to play with two French players, we get a different perspective.
This Minor does mean a lot to me because for the last Minor I was actually benched by our coach and I missed out on that, even though we qualified. And then the Minor before that I actually qualified with Echo Fox, but then me and Sean joined TSM and due to the roster rules we couldn't play for TSM.
So, I missed out on the last couple Minors, and it was out of my hands. So I hope to make the Major qualifier this time around.
Do you look back at those missed opportunities and do they drive you forward?
Yeah, I don't want to look back on the beginning of the year and just see myself in the same spot on this team. If we're not progressing, it would be a depressing feeling.
So, I'm hoping we can just pick it up towards the end of the year because we've got this Minor, iBUYPOWER Masters after that and then potentially EPL, depending on how our last couple of matches go. So we do have a string of opportunities.
I want to take a step back and talk about the NA scene. We've seen Europeans come into the region here and there, NRG, Faruk "Pita" Pita on CLG, you guys have the French players. But now we finally have a full EU team in OpTic competing in the NA region.
What are your thoughts overall on that, being someone who built yourself up in the NA scene?
I know some people have controversial opinions about that, like they shouldn't be playing in the American league. Honestly, personally, I don't care because they are really good practice partners and we could use extra practice.
At this point it's kind of depressing to say that it's so hard to find some quality practice, when you play against some of the teams in NA right now. So, I don't mind. Yeah, maybe they could play in the European league, but personally I'm going to take advantage of the situation. They're honestly a really good team. It's the same thing with the Brazilians, LG, I think are insanely good.
This only helps the rest of the teams in the scene. People say, "Oh, they should play their own leagues and they're taking up a spot," but they force the teams to pick up their game or fix their shit or make changes.
Yeah, even outside of that EU roster, NA in general has kind of stepped up. If you look at the Minor last time, I think it was both C9 and IMT there. Now they're not here, but it's still a slog, it's still super tough. Do you see the NA scene growing even more?
Yeah, Liquid's in a really good position. I don't know the inner workings of that team, but from the outside I would give a lot of credit to zews [Wilton "zews" Prado]. I think he's a very valuable coach to them and I would love to have a coach like that for our team.
C9's new roster is figuring stuff out, they're a little iffy at first, but they've got a star roster. NRG's in a bit of a shuffle, they've been trying out different things, I know daps [Damian "daps" Steele] is their coach, but I think they've got some really really good players.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Dennis "Tarmanydyn" Gonzales is a news editor for theScore esports who enjoys whiskey, D&D and first-picking
a silenced Cavity 9mm Ryu Bounty Hunter Dual Berettas a Tractor Cannon. You can follow him on Twitter.