messioso's mission: Putting Complexity and NA back on the map

Dust2.us did a deep dive with messioso to understand the importance of the General Manager role.

Continuing Dust2.us' series of interviews at the Americas RMR, Dust2.us' Dafydd Gywnn had an in-depth conversation with Graham "messioso" Pitt, the General Manager of Complexity. The two discussed the responsibilities of the position, the expectations for the new Complexity squad, and the value of experience.

Just straight away, what does it take to be a General Manager?

The role is sort of what you want it to be. Obviously, my task given to me by Complexity is to manage pretty much every single aspect of the Counter-Strike team that they have. So, day-to-day I make sure that everything from the schedule, to logistics, to making sure that we've met all our obligations to all the tournament partners and partners we have, so working internally with the rest of the Complexity organization, social media, and partnerships and stuff like that, and externally with PGL, ESL, BLAST, and every tournament we attend. From there, it's managing every single aspect of the team, aside from directly coaching the team. Ensuring we have a coach, ensuring we have an analyst, ensuring we have sports psychologists, nutritionists, and healthcare, whatever else we need around the team. I have the direction to manage the team as I see fit, so if I feel like we need to work more intensely with a sports psychologist then I make sure we schedule those sessions, make sure we get those in. So everything from performance to operations, logistics, to just being with the team and supporting them on a day-to-day basis, that's my general duty.

Would you say it takes a certain skill set to be a General Manager?

I wouldn't say it takes a certain skill set, I think you have to have experience in the field. You have to know the basics of the industry you're working in because you have to be proactive and you have to know where to look for the things you need to find. Honestly, it's a bit of a general knowledge kind of thing. You don't have to be hyper-skilled in one certain field of expertise, you just really need to have a smart brain in your head to understand the basic logistics of life in a way. It's almost problem-solving more than anything.

You are Complexity's General Manager, so obviously an NA team. In the recent past, we've seen some mistakes get made by NA General Managers. Coming into your role, did that add some extra pressure?

I don't know which specific teams you're hinting at here, but I have an idea. I think mistakes is a very harsh word. We're still very young in this industry, and saying something is a mistake isn't necessarily fair to some of these people. Especially when you look back in the last two years. A lot of teams made mistakes in late 2019 and early 2020, but no one could have predicted the coming of COVID. What looks like a mistake now may have been a well-thought-out decision prior to that, so there's a lot of context that's needed.

Everyone has their different goals and ambitions, and typically those aren't shared directly to the public, so you don't necessarily understand the context behind certain decisions and certain ideas that have formulated. Everything is within its own sort of sphere, and everyone has their own idea of what they want to create and how they want to create it. I don't want to say that some people may have been over-optimistic, but it's hard to say from the outside without all the information whether someone has done something wrong or someone has gotten lucky. I think that's something the public is very quick to jump on and vilify.

As a General Manager, you say the public doesn't have the full image, but what is something you would perceive as an objective mistake that sometimes does happen that you know not to make now?

I wouldn't say it's a mistake, but I think as a part of where we are in the industry, in terms of player-scouting, when you're building a team as a General Manager or you're trying to find the last missing piece of your puzzle, I think we put a lot of emphasis on the performance in the server, performance on the statistical side of things. I think the one thing we're really lacking right now is the network around when you find a player, how are they as a player, how are they outside of the game, how do they work as a person? I think quite a lot of... I don't wanna say weird decisions, but as a good example — and this isn't to bash on what they did — but Cloud9 with kassad, they brought him in with ALEX and HenryG, and they said "this is our coaching trio", and did they not lose kassad quite quickly? Wasn't there some kind of issue between the IGL and their coach and they couldn't agree on a playstyle? I think if that's how you build a team, where the first three parts, the General Manager, the coach, and the IGL, and then your coach and IGL disagree on their playstyle, then something went wrong in the scouting process. Surely they should have had a vision of how they were going to do it before they started.

That may be part of the issue, and that's a very off-the-top-of-my-head example, but I'm sure there's many others. You can look back at mousesports when they bought Snax back in 2018. Snax said in an interview after the whole saga finished, "they expected me to play like STYKO, play his support roles, be super vocal, communicative, but I'm not that player, I never was that player, and I was never gonna be that player", and you have to think where was the scouting process in that to determine that this was the right player versus let's get Snax he's really cool and he's really good. Everyone knows Snax is a great player but he's not gonna fit into the certain roles that STYKO plays and I think from the outside that's kind of obvious. They had a lot of success in some ways, they won ESL One New York, and that's fantastic winning a tier-one event, but long-term was it ever gonna work? I think from the outside it's kind of a no-brainer that it was probably gonna struggle unless they made a lot of other changes to support that move. That's the kind of thing where you have to wonder what was the thought process behind the scouting in terms of everything.

We hear all the time 'experience' being a buzzword thrown around when it comes to picking players for a team. With Imperial right now just qualifying, a big word everyone uses there is experience. How does that actually translate down to when you are picking someone? What does experience actually mean?

I think there's two ways to look at it. As an example, you gave the Imperial roster. I think what you know you're gonna get from a team like that is that when they get in those close third maps, like they had against Party Astronauts a few days ago, and Party Astronauts are a great contrast to that Imperial team, you've got three two-time Major winners on that team, they've been there, they've done it. Are they getting phased by being in these scenarios where they're four rounds away from qualification? I think that's kind of the point where they can fall back onto their experience, and they can calm themselves and get those nerves out, whereas the example of Party Astronauts, again I don't know them personally and haven't spoken to them, I can imagine that when they're up against that wall they may not be able to break through it and keep themselves focused. I think experience is definitely valuable, but on the same page, it's also invaluable to be inexperienced, because that means you have potential to learn and potential to grow.

Certainly, where we are with our team right now, we saw five individuals, with varying levels of experience. Obviously, we have a player like Grim who has been with Liquid for a year and a half so he's got that taste of it but you know still very inexperienced compared to some of the opposition we're playing. Then we've got guys like FaNg and junior who played their first non-Fragadelphia style LAN event in Pro League two weeks ago. We have a very vast disparity in experience, both internally but also versus our opponents, but we saw with this team was that certainly they were overperforming for where they were at the time, and we wanted to be able to give them the support and structure to develop and nurture that inexperience into experience. The idea and the goal behind it is obviously that we will have a team in one or two years that maybe could be the best in North America but also challenging at the very top international level. We're not saying that we don't want to achieve that quicker, but we're certainly not expecting to be heavy-hitting day one.

There is definitely a journey we're going on with this team. It's not that we want to achieve everything day one, and I've been very vocal about that with the players, that we are currently almost on the anniversary of three months signed with the team, or maybe four months now, so we're still very early days. Like I said, some of them have just got their very first taste of international LAN travel and setting up on a computer with no internet before and sitting under studio lights, this is their first experience of that. For now, right now we're seeing very positive signs in the sense that they're handling the pressure and we're getting that experience and hopefully, we'll take that on and we want to perform as best we can every event. We don't come here to lose, and we are disappointed by our EPL results because we know we could've played better and we could've done better, but we're also looking back at it and saying, you know actually this was our first LAN event, now we've got those learnings from that and take this into the RMR and make sure we qualify for that and then let's take the learnings we get from that into the Major. It's a building process, and we're all on the same path together, and we all have the same goals and ambitions, so as long as we keep working towards that and seeing progress I think we're all gonna be very happy.

You're speaking about inexperience, and how you're trying to nurture it into something good. An important part of that process is a coach; what do you look for in a coach and what do you currently have in your coach?

So right now we have T.c. He's older than the rest of the team, he's my age. The team is all around 20 to 22, and me and T.c are 29 and 30, so we're a bit older in life, and that's definitely something that I personally see as quite valuable for us. I don't wanna say we're the co-parents of the team, but we are definitely more mature and more experienced in life. T.c, as has come out in a few interviews recently, is super smart. He's a doctor, he's a surgeon in his real life, and obviously, he's a full-time Counter-Strike coach now but he's trained as a doctor so he's incredibly smart and he's been playing Counter-Strike pretty much all his life as well. So it's not like he's coming in with no experience at all, he's a very smart tactical coach.

I think the biggest thing I like about him is that he doesn't pull punches. If we come after a game and we played like shit, he goes "alright guys, we played like shit, what can we do to fix it, how did you guys feel playing the game?", because he wants people to contribute. He doesn't want to tell people how to do this and how to do that, he wants people to come up with their own solutions and contribute in discussions so we can foster a healthy vibe where it doesn't feel like we're picking on people; it's more about coming together and finding a solution to our problems rather than being told this is how we fix things. He really wants people to work and to contribute in team discussions, but also on an individual level. I think we've got a pretty good dynamic going, and good to note that we also have an analyst working with us on tactical elements as well. He focuses a lot on the anti-strat and what goes through to the players how our opponents are thinking and playing, and then we incorporate that into our preparation, into how we want to play to make sure we play our own game. We never want to tailor our game to focus on countering an opponent, that's not our game plan at least. But, we do want to make sure we are aware of the signs and the tells so that we can play our own game and play our own style against that.

I've heard a rumor that when you guys got qualified, you owed the team a round of steak dinner. How important is it for you to keep that good relationship as a General Manager with your players?

Yeah, I promised the guys steak if we qualified. I mean, I say "if", but it was a "when", when we qualify then we can go to the steakhouse. I didn't want people getting too ahead of themselves and treating themselves to things that they hadn't earned yet. I actually had a conversation with two of our players recently, I think it was brought up on broadcast actually, but I brought it up back at Pro League, how they had Complexity stickers on their guns. I said, you've gotta scrape them off, you haven't earned those stickers, you don't have the right to use those stickers, you didn't qualify, you didn't earn them.

I got the idea from Jürgen Klopp, I'm a Liverpool fan, and he said a rule inside Anfield, there's a very famous sign when the players walk down the tunnel onto the football pitch, it says "this is Anfield". He said it's quite an iconic thing for players to touch it as they go down the tunnel, and he said you cannot touch that sign until you have won a trophy here. You do not have the right to be part of that legacy, and I think that was something that I thought, playing and being part of Complexity is a legacy, and I wanted the players to understand that they're not here to ride on the coattails of the previous teams and players, but they're here to forge their own path and legacy, and to do that they have to earn the stickers, and now they have. I'm pretty sure when we get to the Major there's gonna be lots of Complexity stickers all over their guns, and they're gonna sort of feel like "I earned this and I've got here myself, and now I get to reap the rewards of that."

Obviously, you're a Brit living in Denmark working for an American team. Do you ever feel out of your comfort zone working in a different place? How has the NA scene taken you in?

I think the NA scene has taken us in really well. I mean, I think there's a lot of positivity around, certainly in the North American scene, about Complexity returning to North America and getting this team, and I think there's a lot of positivity around this team in general. So I think a lot of people are extremely excited by the prospect of having a third North American team because Liquid and EG have been kind of holding the fort down for a while now. What I hope to bring to North America myself personally is a lot of openness about what we're doing and what we're trying to achieve. I like to communicate to the fans and especially, I'm in the Discord channel talking to the fans during games, after games, and I want to interact with them and let them know how we're doing and how we're feeling. I want the fans to feel like they're a part of this journey too because they are. We are nothing without the fans, and I think that's quite a big disconnect that happens in esports sometimes, is that we kind of exist on this plane where it's just about winning competition and obviously I want the players to feel like they have something to play for, someone to play for outside of themselves.

There's obviously internal motivations, but there also needs to be external motivations for a lot of players. When I interviewed some of these guys before we picked them up, and some of them said "I want to be a superstar", "I want to be up there with...", and I won't name the players they spoke about, but they say "I want to be like these guys, I want people to think of me like this." That takes a lot of hard work and effort to get to that point. I said if you want to be like that, when I say "Hey you've got to do an interview", you're gonna do the interview. You can't be "I wanna be like this guy, I wanna have all these fans, I wanna be a superstar" and then say "Oh no I don't wanna do an interview." We have a really good situation in this team right now where if I say we're doing content, we're doing social media, nobody says no. If you're doing it, you're doing it. I wanna make sure that we put ourselves, our face out there every single time, win, lose or draw, we'll put someone in front of the camera and someone will say, "Hey guys, good day, bad day, we weren't feeling it, we're gonna make this change", It's a core aspect of sport, if you're going to be here to win, you have to be here to lose as well. No one gets to the top without losing a few times. Losing is fine I think, it's just about making sure you're losing the right way and you learn from your losses. Dealing with the fans is a part of that. Not to say that there's also a subset of fans that are intolerable and disgraceful, and some of the messages I see that our players get, and sometimes I get tagged in them as well is abhorrent and unacceptable. But, there's also a very large subset of fans who are completely fine and we're here for them and not for the other ones.

Although Complexity will be glad to have reached the Major, they won't have much time for rest. The team will be back in action next week on April 22nd, competing in the IEM Dallas North America Closed Qualifier, vying for one of two available spots at the main event.

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