koi on ECL hopes: "Full balls to the wall, we're going for it"
For Dust2.us' final interview of Fragadelphia 17: Chicago, Jeffrey "Mnmzzz" Moore snagged Davenport University head coach Colin "koi" Thor to ask a few questions. The two talked about Davenport University's signing of several international players, the coach's thoughts on the promising William "spek" Smith, and Davenport University's approach to ESEA Advanced this season.
Let's get your initial reaction following the end of the tournament. How do you feel about the team's results at Fragadelphia?
So, I was really really happy with how we played this event. Going into this, we weren't the favorites by any means, and looking at where this program was four months ago even, I don't even necessarily think we would've beaten Northern Forces on LAN, let alone Bad News Bears. To be able to do that... it would've been nice to get the big dub but to really come here and still put on a show and make ourselves, make our name relevant, was a massive accomplishment in and of itself.
One of the big standout players of this event was spek, one of the less experienced pieces of your team and one of the newer additions to the Davenport program. He had an incredible match on Vertigo against Axolotls. Describe to me his mechanical skill; do you think he's an incredibly mechanically skilled player?
I think that at a certain point, yeah, he is just an absolutely insanely talented individual mechanically. But, the thing that makes him special, makes him stand out and makes him that consistent star performer, is the fact that's just how he thinks about the game. A lot of these kills that he goes for, he makes them as easy as possible, he's rotating around the map really effectively, and he really does a good job of making the most out of every situation he's in. That was one of the big things I noticed when I scouted him originally. That was something I can only see getting better over time.
With the semi-recent additions of spek and corn, the team made the decision to pivot to a more international program. Can you discuss the thought process that went into taking Davenport in that direction?
The idea is by going to an international approach, it helps provides additional perspectives to Counter-Strike as a game and as a culture. You can find and develop really talented homegrown North Americans, but a lot of those top performers that we have now have in some capacity been around Europeans a lot, interacted with Europeans a lot, and so by having them here in this part of the program I think that's a big plus because you're able to take a lot of those cultural elements that they have and mold them into your own little melting pot so that you can get the best results possible.
With that, there was the recent slam dunk announcement of the signing of Sonic to the Davenport program. It's a very obvious move from the perspective that he's more of an NA player than a South African player at this point. Can you tell us the process of how that came to be? How did we go from Sonic to being pseudo-retired to ending up on Davenport?
Sonic was looking to... I don't want to say move on from the professional circuit, but he was looking for a way to basically just make sure that no matter what happened in life he had a backup plan or something like that. Going to school is something that a lot of pro players should obviously consider, and so he looked around for offers as to what he could get out of the experience that he has, and we are one of the schools that obviously offers scholarships in Counter-Strike. I know that he was in talks with other universities for VALORANT. Obviously, he preferred playing Counter-Strike for us, and so that was ultimately the school that he decided to go to. I think culturally we're a lot different than a lot of other programs, he really enjoyed that part.
I definitely don't want people to interpret this as a "He's here on retirement" or "He's just cashing in his checks" or something like that before he retires from Counter-Strike completely, because the goal is still to develop this team into a true title-contending roster just like Extra Salt was, just like the old Cloud9 was. I'm not necessarily expecting us to be a tier one org by any means, but I definitely expect us to be competing at the top of ECL years down the road.
Like I said earlier, Sonic is just kind of a slam dunk, an obvious move, an incredibly experienced AWPer and rifler, can play a number of roles, and one of a few free agents that Davenport can get out the gate with pro experience. The more recent addition of swicher, that's something that kinda took a lot of people by surprise. What tools do you use to scout players when it's a region you're less familiar with?
When it comes to scouting internationally, this is a question I get asked a lot even by other college programs so I'll go a bit in-depth on this, it comes down to a lot of different things. First of all, you have to realize that these players are here for years, you can't just necessarily cut a player after a couple of months like you could with a standard Premier team or something like that if it's not working.
Basically, the process for swicher was, obviously, he was interested in us, he did reach out to us initially, but he was on this tracker I had regarding general prospects in Europe, and I know that he was on the radar of some potential organizations as well. Then we went through this very comprehensive process where we're not looking at stats as well as his individual demos, but also we vetted him with his teammates and his former coaches and all that sorts of stuff, talked with him extensively, several calls, making sure he was fluent in English, making sure that the personality fit into what we were looking to do because once he's here in North America as a student, we want to make sure that not only are we the best fit for him, but he's the best fit for us long-term. With every international player that we have, it is a risk for that reason. I can't have him trial with the players immediately, and so I have to make sure that I'm confident in building him into the player that we want him to be and he wants to be. So long as we're on the same track about that I think it shouldn't be a problem.
One thing that obviously set your team apart, if we look beyond CS:GO, is the fact that it is a collegiate team so there is this expectation about the educational side, an important facet of the program. There are these pervasive thoughts, mostly true, about North American colleges being very expensive compared to European schools. Why would a player like swicher choose to come to an American school; what are the upsides for him to be a part of this program from an educational standpoint?
American universities, even though they are overpriced in a lot of instances, are still globally well received. They're the highest paying jobs, you get the best professors, you get the best resources, all those kinds of things because the American college scene is so competitive amongst each other, with all the different academic divisions and everything like that, the American degree, I'm not gonna say it means more, but it is almost more substantial than a standard European one in a lot of instances, just because it's more exclusive. That exclusivity adds a lot on the plate; that's why we have so many international students in every school in the US from around the world because, in addition to the cultural difference of living in America, the academic difference is there too.
One other thing with the collegiate experience that you sort of touched on earlier is the fact that, unlike your standard NA team, there's really no ability to cut players if they perform badly in a season of ECL or Advanced. How big of an advantage is it to be able to work with someone like swicher for upwards of four years?
I think that alone is potentially one of the biggest advantages to this program, is the fact that I do have their focus and their commitment for that long duration of time. Now, it is important to say that they are not bound to us for four years. If they receive a professional offer or something like that, they can pursue it within those four years of attending Davenport. We don't put buyouts on the players, and we do make sure they finish the semester of university, but I'm not going to hold people back from professional offers. Now, with that said, the idea of having four years of security, a lot of these younger players, they're grinding, but their success is going to vary based off of who they're playing with, what their circumstances are. Being able to give them the security to blossom into their Counter-Strike career is a really important thing. In addition to that, we have a couple of other coaches joining me, so we will have the resources available to make sure that they're not only successful in the short term but successful scaled out over years because that's an important element to this program.
It goes without saying that you've built a very ambitious and heterodox CS:GO collegiate program compared to I think every other school in the nation; I don't think there's anything really analogous to this with the whole acquisition of European talent, building of multiple rosters, treating it more than just something to play CSL and FACEIT Collegiate. With that, what was the process of getting the school itself on board, and were they intrigued by your ideas about how to revolutionize collegiate CS:GO?
Yeah, absolutely. I owe a lot to my director and his willingness to actually accept the ideas that I brought, specifically with like... when I came in, I had offers from other organizations and stuff like that to stay in Counter-Strike as an assistant coach or head coach, but when I pitched the idea of it being this ambitious project, they were very receptive of it. The revenue model for a university is so different than that of an organization or something. I have way different performance metrics, how many players you're bringing in, what is the funding like, all these different ideas about how to generate revenue and basically make the school happy as well as your players happy. I think that different revenue model is why they were willing to be so ambitious with this.
Going back to the CS:GO side of things, this is the second time Davenport has been in the Advanced playoffs. How important is it for you guys to make ECL this season? Is it something that's a very strong goal for you?
At the beginning of this season, we knew roughly what was happening. Everyone as a team understood roughly what the program was gonna look like in the future. We had already talked about potentially going international with some players. At the beginning, I'm not gonna say it was a training season, but I did want people to take care of responsibilities outside of the game. It wasn't something that we were gonna focus on super heavy, granted we still practice 20 hours a week and stuff like that, but we weren't doing a shit ton of demos and stuff like that as individuals. When playoffs came, we realized, we're in fourth place. At the end of the day, we have these big heavy-hitter Europeans, Sonic, we have players who will be coming into the D1 team in the fall that should definitely get Premier no problem. But when it rolled around to Advanced playoffs and we realized we're in fourth place we sat down as a team and we were like, we knew what our stance was earlier, that this was just a training season, getting used to each other and building up some ideas so that we'd be ready for the fall. We sat down and realized, wait, we can just do this NOW. So now it's full balls to the wall, we're going for it. We want to make ECL as this roster, and I think that's a very reasonable potential thing, I think we could do it. But at the same time, I've made sure the pressure is off. We don't need to make ECL, we don't need to win anything. It's really nice if we do, but so long as the players are getting better I'm happy.
You have been recently announced as an addition to the FACEIT Gucci program. There's been a lot more discussion about what it means for Europe, but can you discuss how the program is going to function in its first year for North America and what its goals are?
The entire Gucci program is basically built around finding those prodigal talents in North America and helping them with the resources that a tier one organization would have, to turn into the stars that we know they can be. So very similar to how ropz, Bymas, flameZ, Spinx, all came out of their respective scenes and blossomed into these international superstars, the idea is to basically make that process easier through the resources that FACEIT and Gucci provide.
You're an ambitious person, and you have a lot of plans for what Davenport can do moving forward. What does the roadmap for 2022 look like? Are there any plans you have, maybe things you want to do with Davenport before the end of the year that you're excited to share with us right now?
The roadmap is pretty simple honestly. It comes down to making sure the players are still doing well, that all the announcements go well, all the partnerships go well, and I am really excited. I can't share it yet, but we have a partnership in process that will help not only our Davenport students but the greater North American Counter-Strike scene as a whole, and I'm really happy that we've partnered with them to allow us to help everyone equally.
Davenport University have so far secured two wins in their run in ESEA Advanced playoffs, taking down Mad Kings and Philadelphia Liberty. The collegiate squad will be looking to continue the streak in their matchup against Luxe, set to take place on June 27th at 09:30PM.