vorborg says Flames players will "look at individual offers"
Before the Copenhagen Flames faced off against Brazilian powerhouse Imperial, Dust2.us' Ryan Friend spent some time with Daniel "Vorborg" Vorborg, co-owner and head coach of the team. The two talked about the pressure of facing the Brazilian legends, the development of his organization, and the worrying status of his players with several receiving individual offers throughout the last several months.
Congratulations on getting to 2-0, but you're now 2-2 unfortunately; you're facing the elimination game today. A lot of people have said that the Spirit vs CPHF match was probably the decider. How do you feel about that, especially considering where you are now?
I think definitely, like we also had it in the back of our minds that that is a good opportunity, not that we disrespected the Spirit team, but obviously just looking at their achievements they have shown less than a lot of the other teams. For example, we had to play FaZe — number one in the world — after that. Now we're facing Imperial, which is also, of course, a team that hasn't, before this Major, shown as much, so I think this is just as good as an opportunity but it is also hard to play against a lot of these teams. I think historically we probably play better when we are facing good teams, not that I'm calling the others bad, but just teams that have shown less. Also, Spirit play more aggressively I would say, and I think we play the best against very structured teams. Against Imperial, right after this interview, I'm going through all the anti-strats so then I'll then know if I think we have a good match-up or not. We looked at the veto and overall I think it's a good opportunity, but it's very important that we don't underestimate them because they have a ton of momentum coming into this game.
Yeah, especially after last night's game, they really are riding this kind of emotional high. They're a very emotional team. How do you handle that with a team that has such intangibles like that? How can you account for that?
I don't think we're going to spend too much time or energy on that. We obviously know that they're very seasoned players as well; we know they have momentum and we know they're probably not going to be intimidated by the meaning of the game or the impact this game will have. We're much more focused on ourselves, sometimes we do analyze whether teams get more aggressive, when they're pressured, or more aggressive when they have lost a couple of rounds in a row. But we haven't looked that hard into their tells, and how they approach the game yet. For us, it's just going to be focused on the game and what we need to do and how they play and we'll take it from there.
You've obviously had an interesting role with CPHF being a co-owner, right? You had a coach recently, but you've now stepped into the role of the head coach. How has the team either benefited or how do you feel that the team might have had a disadvantage from not having someone that is a dedicated coach in the sense?
I think the reason why it might not be that big of a disadvantage to us is that all the players are very used to having me as their coach. For the past three years we've been going, I think I've actually been the head coach for 80% of the time, even though it never was the intention. But this time around, when we lost pita, we decided that with the rest of the back office in Flames that I'm basically only doing this. I'm only doing like 10% of what I used to in Flames. But obviously, I still have a less experience in Counter-Strike than a guy like pita who has been around the scene forever and has competed in Majors since I think 2014 or something like that. I didn't even really watch Counter-Strike until 2018, so I guess I'm a bit behind on points. We just try and make do; there are some things that I can't bring to the team, but there are other things that I spend more energy on, like the mental state of the players and how we prepare, and how we spend our time and how we set ourselves up for for the games. Obviously, it's a bit less of me telling the guys what to do than maybe other coaches do and more of me opening up the discussions. I think we end up with the process being longer, but we end up having a more coherent vision than maybe some other teams, but it takes a lot more work out of the guys to get there.
Whenever we bring our A-game, that is also the biggest strength of the team, we have five players that are all on the same page about how we want to play and approach the game and how we want to work outside of the server too. It has some advantages, but definitely on days like these when you get your opponent past midnight and we could have potentially played at noon today, then maybe it would be preferable to have someone that could just watch the game and be like "ok, we're doing this tomorrow". We're pretty happy that we got the late game today so that we have a bit more time for our process.
You guys have obviously had a lot of outside pressure; I think a lot of the general public themselves are rooting behind Imperial. How do you protect yourself and the team from seeing that and trying to just focus on your own game here?
I think for our team, specifically, I don't think it's that big of an issue. I think we have a team that doesn't take the public pressure too seriously, we joke a lot about if we lost a lot of online games that we probably shouldn't have lost, so we would get a lot of flack for that. But the team kind of deals with it in the way that you know, we even like read these messages out loud to each other and kind of laugh about it then you're like, "oh, there's actually a good one over here, this guy actually got creative". We do also have a lot of support coming our way but at the same time, we understand why people want these guys to win. It's not just a huge Brazilian community of course that wants them to win, but just everyone else has just brought into the storyline which I think for our sake we're kind of also able to like zoom out and look at it and be like "yeah, that's a great story". But obviously, when we prepare and we play, we don't really care about their story, right? We're just going to do everything we can to stop it but honestly, I don't think mentally it impacts our team that much — all the things happening outside of the game.
I think there are also a lot of outside pressures as well that happen in Counter-Strike. How do you make sure that when you do get these kinds of messages you're really not letting it affect you? Because many of your players have very online personalities; roeJ has his tweets, which I don't know if he does those as a meme or not?
We definitely have talked about it, but by now we've been a team for a year, obviously the pressure does grow and we are more and more in the public eye. I still think we're way under the radar compared to like es3tag or someone like that, because even if people do have some expectations for us now, just the fact that we're called Copenhagen Flames just takes the brunt of it. I feel we're kind of an eternal underdog just because everyone knows we're a smaller club and the players have smaller salaries compared to all the other guys and things like this. We still do get messages and we still do get death threats and all these things but on our team, I think the guys actually put higher pressure on themselves than all this outside pressure. I also think that is why we sometimes crumble a little bit in the most crucial moments; I don't think it's the outside pressure, but the guys really want to perform and they feel like they should be able to win these games and it just means so much for them personally to at first getting their own stickers was like a huge thing.
Now we haven't ever played in an arena, so that's a huge thing now and whenever we get close, that's what's on their mind. I don't think they're thinking about "ok, people are going to tell me I threw" or people are going to tell me "I'm bad"; for them, it's about the opportunities and they also feel that they're at a point in their careers right now, where it might not be in Copenhagen Flames forever, and they're obviously looking at maybe as a team, maybe as individuals. They also really want to prove themselves so they can be in tier one forever or at least for the next amount of time. Because there are some uncertainties with our team, what happens if two guys get picked up by a bigger club? Then suddenly three guys are left and would they be able to get as good as a team? So there's all this pressure that's more coming from within and their future, and I think that just takes up so much space that they don't end up spending too much time looking at like the outside pressure.
So I want to dive into that for a little second here, we should talk about the failed transfer that happened last year — Copenhagen Flames and Complexity. From my understanding of the situation. the deal had been basically met, and contracts were pretty much agreed in principle; things kind of happened at the end, I think with a few of the individual players not coming to terms or agreements, or there might have been some changes at the last minute which caused the deal to collapse. Going forward as a team, you're talking about the internal pressures of players moving forward, right? The deal was obviously a sizable amount of money, how does that help CPHF as an esports entity, because you are smaller as you said, but also how does it affect the players in the organization moving forward?
Even when it became like public, that Complexity was interested we had already been discussing things I think for like 2 months or so. We've kind of been in limbo for the past maybe 7-8 months where we've been unsure if we have a team in two weeks or if we don't have a team. There's been a ton of organizations, Complexity is not the only team that's been interested. We've had a lot of potential buyers and buyers we've been spending a lot of time talking to as well, and gotten pretty far in negotiations, and also other buyers that the players have been involved with and negotiating with. On top of that, there's also a ton of just individual interests and just singular players, because they've been overperforming the past year. There's been constant insecurity both from like the organization's perspective, but also the players once in a while they're heard that this club is interested in this player, "ok, what are we gonna do then?".
With the budget of the club, it's hard to replace these players; it's hard to get a player that can play in the top 15 in the world when we have the budget that we have. So, they're also worried about that and it's something that at times is causing frustration and doubts, and the players need to spend energy thinking about their future too. We've been very open and honest about everything with each other, both the club but also the players. The main goal has always been to try and find them a spot they could go together, but as time has passed we have agreed, also the players within that, that they're also going to start to look at individual offers just because they want to be in Pro League, they want to be in BLAST, they want to also get more salary. Not that it is the primary objective but it is nice.
We look at sports careers, and they're incredibly short for what they are. When you start at 18, and you saw someone like Skadoodle who retired at 24, people were already like "he's on his way out". Even the rarity is that you're 27 years old and you're still kind of at the top here, you really see players flame out. I can't blame players for trying to get as much money as they can at this time.
Not at all, but from knowing what offers they've had in the door and what they've they've could have done, money is definitely not the primary motivation. There's been some really large salary offers for some of the players that have been declined by the players. We've been pretty open and everyone has been allowed to talk to them, and I also think maybe when this saga is over, I'll release the very, very, very low amount of money we've asked for the team. There have been numbers reported, but we've even been way below those numbers and people have still declined to pick up the team, which completely boggles my mind, it is what it is. But of course a guy like roeJ, he's 28 so he would like to buy a house, he would like to maybe at some point have a kid or something like that, and obviously, that requires money. So of course it does play in, but even he has said no to some ridiculous amounts of money because he also wants the right project and he wants a project where he sees himself fitting in well.
So you were talking about maybe two players or three-player core leaving; I think that the names are kind of obvious just looking at HLTV and how long players have been on here. Jabbi and nicoodoz have been out here for about a year and six to nine months. Then the rest have joined at the same time, and they've all been there together for a year. So, I'm assuming that those two have their contracts probably ending at the two-year period?
We've offered all the players to extend their contracts, some players have accepted some have not. We've said publicly that Jabbi has extended, so he has his contract for a while, but some players have short contracts left now while some have longer. There's probably going to be more news after the Major about everything, but basically, all the way through we've always told the players that if they feel there's a good opportunity for them out there, we will be accommodating. We've also multiple times required less money than their buyouts and things like that because we do pride ourselves on being a club that also treats the players right, and they've also given us so much at this point. We never figured we would be at two Majors these past 12 months, so for us, it's also about making sure they're happy and making sure they land in a good place moving forward. Obviously, we're not giving them out for free if we have them on longer contracts, but I would say we're being very accommodating when it comes to these things.
So moving on from this, I appreciate all of your candor and honesty with us. It's very enlightening to get a co-owner and head coach to be able to say all that. Let's talk about the sticker money, I think that's always been a big question. Obviously, for a club like yourselves, getting all the sticker money coming in, that's been huge. Even though you didn't get stickers at the last Major because of whatever Valve decided to do there. How much is that to the club itself? How much does that help?
It definitely helps a lot for a club of our size. At first we didn't even have sticker percentages with the players in their contracts because no one had thought that a thing could happen. So we needed to get that done after the fact that we qualified. So we had no idea how much was fair, how much sticker money do you get How much do the players get? How much does the org get? We had no idea about any of these things since we've been so far away from the Major forever. So quickly get a hold of all our contacts and figure out the like what is fair and how much money can we actually expect and so on. I think we gave the the the players a pretty good deal because we felt they were also being underpaid. But still, the money that went into the Copenhagen Flames bank account, right away we just put it into the budget to try and offer them better contracts to try and keep them so.
But obviously, we're still pretty far away from like other big organizations that have interest in the players and also just teams in general that are competing at the level that we are. It's definitely made it so we've been able to probably, I think in the past year, triple our player salary budgets. But it was also very low before so it was easy to double and triple. And we're still very far away, but now we can actually match decent full-time salaries in Denmark; we have pretty high salaries and Denmark compared to a lot of places. We don't have a minimum wage in Denmark, but there's standards and we were paying a good chunk below on average to our players, even though they were playing full-time. It's still huge and it opens up way more options moving forward if we will have to re-build or getting new players. Now you can actually play in Flames and still be able to have a house and things like that. I think on average they probably shared a two-room apartment or something.
So I also kind of just want to finish up here and because I appreciate your time and all this. How is this consistent with the mission of Copenhagen Flames being a smaller club? Obviously, you want to be one of the best in the world; who doesn't want to be the best in world? But you've developed a number of players, and even as I look through the entire roster, you've had farlig, you've had refrezh, AcilioN's been part of it, TMB who is now, I guess, free MAD Lions. TeSeS was on there also, and mertz. You've had had all of these players that have come up and and and grown. How important is that to you and the club to feel like you've been one of the leading development teams in Denmark?
It's definitely huge and as I said, of course, we do want to be the best. But with the budget that we have, we've always seen the fastest way to get there is to take cheaper players and spot talent and figure out how we can help them develop and then sell them for more money than we spent. And then we have more money for the next re-build, and so on.
You're playing football manager for CS:GO.
Basically, yeah. I mean that's how I got into esports. I was playing football manager and was like "wouldn't this be great to do for a living?". Then we kind of went with it.
(laughs) Oh man... that's great, that's great.
We wanted to try and keep players for a longer time, we've been very active with trying to sell players in the past. When we got this roster we wanted to try and keep them together, but things just went way too wild, way too fast. And obviously, then we had to accept that we won't be able to give them fair salaries moving forward, so again we ended up looking at options.
Do you think the online-era has helped that?
Yeah, probably. I think at least it has created less stability in the bigger clubs. So I think that was an advantage in the sense that we didn't have as far up to them. And when LAN came back, we were kind of there too and I think everyone else probably was also rusty and some teams did players that weren't experienced on LAN that would have been experienced on LAN when we got there. We were able to play a ton of games online and a lot of the bigger teams would accept invitations to online tournaments because that was all that there was, so they could be invited to the quarterfinal. We had one game in a Pinnacle Cup against Virtus.pro and that was like the first big team we faced and they completely wiped the floor with us. But that experience really taught us that we can't be afraid to play Counter-Strike when we face the good teams and we used that lesson and talked so much about that lesson moving into IEM Fall. I think having been able to have those experiences online against the tier one teams, which I don't think happened before COVID, I think helped us out a lot to be able to perform right away.
Copenhagen Flames have secured their place in the PGL Antwerp Major playoffs after a 2-0 victory over Imperial in their 2-2 game. The team are now set to play against ENCE in their quarterfinal matchup.