Chris "chrisJ" De Jong is the designated AWPer for mousesports and is currently the team's longest standing member. He took time out of his preparations for MLG Major Championship: Columbus to talk to theScore esports about how Nikola "NiKo" Kovač has grown into the in-game leader role and his ambition to be on the big stage at the Major.
The team’s most recent LAN outing was IEM Katowice, where you were placed in the same group as Natus Vincere, Fnatic and Luminosity. You guys fell short and were eliminated, can you talk a bit about what happened there and maybe what you learned?
The performance was disappointing. We came close to getting through the groups, but towards the end it felt like NiKo was playing alone against Fnatic in the deciding match. We didn’t manage to come through, obviously against a team like Fnatic you cannot have one player playing alone because they simply have too many strong players.
I was underperforming myself, the other guys were playing OK, but they’re also not NiKo. We were missing a certain amount of skill or maybe just level-headedness when it became rough.
Overall team performance though, if you think about it we played against the two finalists. Against Fnatic we took it to overtime, against LG it was 16-14; we can be kinda happy but we cannot be satisfied. We need to be stronger than this, we know we can be.
In that way, Katowice was disappointing but it also gave us some hope that we can do more.
NiKo has been your in-game leader for a few months now. How has he progressed in the role?
I think NiKo learned a lot about how to bring himself and some of his teammates into position so they can shine, but NiKo is maybe not the most tactical in-game leader. He came up with some new strategies we could play, but I’m pretty sure there’s, and NiKo can attest to this as well, other in-game leaders who are more natural in-game leaders.
NiKo has a feeling about how to play the game and he can help us improve in that way, but he’s not an in-game leader at heart; I doubt he wants to continue doing it. Actually, one of the coaches, Kapio [Navid "Kapio" Javadi], is starting to go a bit in the in-game leader role now.
NiKo is giving him, at least in practice, room to try out the strategies that Kapio wants to try out and let him feel out what works for the team and how players like to play. Even though NiKo is still doing a great job being an in-game leader, his individual skill was not affected by it somehow. Still, he’s not happy with it.
He’s frustrated earlier when things don’t work out. His English is quite good, but not as good as a natural English speaker, so sometimes he’s saying something and people misunderstand it and stuff like this can get frustrating. On top of that, you’re trying to bring your best game.
How does he compare to Fatih [Fatih "gob b" Dayik]?
In a way, they became more similar than most people think. I think most people overrated how much Fatih was setting the rules for us. People thought that Fatih was a strict in-game leader, that he said exactly what people needed to do and then we did that and that without him we had no clue how to play.
Fatih more like prepared how we thought the game should be played and then he gave an idea of the round, but he still gave people freedom. NiKo isn’t that different, but NiKo calls a strategy that brings himself into a good position and then he can really decide the round. It’s a thing that we want, we want NiKo to be in a position where he can have the most impact and NiKo knows how to do that.
In a way, NiKo can be more strict than Fatih, because if somebody doesn’t exactly listen to NiKo, he’s more likely to say, “I said you had to do this." While Fatih tried to give people an idea that they are doing their own thing, but in his way.
You guys have so much riding on NiKo as the primary fragger and in-game leader, what if maps or rounds don't work out as planned?
It can be extra hard when he’s not on point. In some recent matches NiKo is maybe not playing the top level we saw of him in Katowice and then it can be hard for the rest of the team to adapt. We’re expecting NiKo to play well, but when he doesn’t do that it brings another burden to the team.
Regarding the coaches, the original plan for Kapio was to have him brought in for in-game calling during high pressure situations, but now Kapio is being brought it to fully in-game lead in place of NiKo?
Fully is still too big of a word, in practice we’re trying that, but in an official game, it’s exactly like you say, he’s gonna try to have a good influence when there’s a high pressure situation. Maybe when NiKo doesn’t know what to call, such as during overtime after 30 rounds have passed.
Kapio can keep his head cool, make a good decision, based on what your opponent has been playing and help us in that regard. And Niclas [Niclas "enkay J" Krumhorn] is more of the guy who prepares us, he watches the demos of the opponents and gives Kapio and us as much information as possible about them.
Now that you've played a number of games with this two coach setup, what are your first impressions?
Well, about enkay J, to be honest, before he was brought in I didn’t have such a high notion of him. I thought that he was not gonna do his job that good, but I was extremely impressed when we played with him the first time at Acer Predator Masters Season 2.
He had so much information about every opponent at the event, it was really crazy how much work he put in just for this tournament, since he wasn’t getting paid by mouz yet, but he was working his ass off.
That’s something that helps the team a lot and it cannot be denied that it helped NiKo a lot in his calling. It’s way easier to call when you know what your opponent is likely to play. enkay gave NiKo and the rest of the team exactly the information that they needed and you are so much more confident in your calls and your plays when you know what your opponent can do.
Let's talk about the Major now. What kind of preparations are you guys making?
We’re focusing a lot on improving our calling and deciding as CT what rounds we play to counter the enemy's strategies. We’re leaving a lot to Kapio in that respect now. In online matches NiKo still calls, but we’re trying to give Kapio the chance, the problem is that the Major is so soon already. We only have so many days to practice, so we cannot say that at the Major now Kapio is going to be the main caller.
NiKo, Kapio and the team are going to discuss, we’re going to make a game plan before hand on specific maps and talk about what rounds we’re likely going to play and hopefully everyone is in agreement. Then there should be no discussion about what we play, we talked enough before the game. It should be, the opponent does this and this, so next round we’ll do this because everyone knows this is the solution.
We hope to get that much preparation in so that in-game calling isn’t that important, the rounds are set already; everybody knows what to do.
And of course, other than that, we’re just playing an insane amount of CS right now. We’re hyped as hell for this tournament, it’s the biggest tournament ever. We just need to play and be in form; if everyone in the team is on point, we’re going to do good.
Yeah, now the prize pool is four times what it was before.
Yeah, it’s awesome. Of course the money is good, but players already get so much money from the stickers and signatures, which is not really on the radar for the public. But it’s so awesome to play for so much money, it motivates everybody more, everyone likes to play more now, it’s going to be a lot more prestige as well. It’s really awesome for the scene and for the teams.
How about the group? How do you feel about facing off against Ninjas in Pyjamas, FlipSid3 Tactics and Luminosity Gaming?
Well at first we thought the group was pretty easy compared to some other groups. At Katowice we beat NiP, FlipSid3 people don’t rate as a really strong team. And there’s of course LG, but we also played close against them at Katowice. We beat LG in the past, even though it was their other lineup, we feel good against them.
We thought the group was OK, but it changed a bit now because NiP suddenly seems to be on fire. They destroyed some teams in Pro League. FlipSid3 is also stepping up again, they also played some really nice matches in Pro League, so suddenly it seems like you cannot underestimate anyone in the group.
We lost against FlipSid3 online, we have no reason to underestimate them now, but in a way, I’m happy that happened because I could see it happening at the Major. We’d think, “OK, it’s FlipSid3, it’s going to be an easy match up.” But it’s never going to be easy against a team like them when they are focused and want to win.
We know we cannot underestimate anyone in this group, but we also realize that it’s not the hardest group we could get. We know that if we play our game, we don’t underestimate them and we’re on point, then we can win. But it’s going to be hard either way.
Beyond the groups, what do you hope for in the Major overall?
I hope to finally be in the big arena, I missed that in Cologne, I missed that in Katowice. Of course I go in there as a spectator and taste the atmosphere and see how the fans are cheering and how everybody’s going crazy. It’s going to be awesome to be there, but it’s going to be really sad if we don’t make it there again. I just hope we can be there in front of the crowd playing.
What about beyond the Major? What are your and the team's plans for the future.
Well, for sure we’re going to DreamHack Malmö, which is also quite a big tournament, two-hundred and fifty thousand. After that, I actually don’t know.
We’re going to keep fighting in the Pro League, it’s going to be hard for us to even stay in, we’re kind of at the bottom now. We threw some games at the start and now we lost some games 2-0. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to give everything to stay in the Top 8.
We have to reach Top 8 at the Major and Top 8 in Pro League, that’s the goal right now.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Dennis "Tarmanydyn" Gonzales is a news editor for theScore eSports who enjoys whiskey, Dungeon & Dragons and first-picking
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