m1cks: "The VALORANT scene felt artificial to me"
Wrapping up our coverage of Fragadelphia 17, Dust2.us' Jeffrey "Mnmzzz" Moore chatted away with former Cloud9 coach Joshua "m1cks" Micks to discuss a wide range of topics, including m1cks foray into VALORANT, his thoughts on how VALORANT franchising could impact North American Counter-Strike, and what his long-term plans are now that he has returned to Counter-Strike.
So just to start I want to go through the end of your original stint in CS:GO and talk about what happened with Nordavind. Why did the org end up completely pivoting and going towards Brazil, do you know why?
So I was with that team, I started with them as the head coach spot, so the team at the time was like mirbit, supra, mertz, that type of team. The original goal when I joined was to win Advanced that season but when I joined the team was kind of a fucking mess. Towards the end, we actually got on the same page. I remember seeing that about two weeks after I signed, the org got new owners, new investors, stuff like that. Our team wasn't super impressive. We got some good wins, we started off beating three top 30 teams and that's nice. Heading into the player break we were pretty much on the same page for once. I'd switched the roles around, we were transforming mirbit's style of play, changing HS’ roles and so we were pretty optimistic when we went into it.
Eventually, they said that they were dropping the team; the new owners weren't super impressed with the current team. Straight away he told me they were signing O PLANO and I had the opportunity to stick with them as an analyst or as the assistant coach or another coach. But when they first joined and I was like talking to cogu and working with them, I just could kind of tell that my opinion probably wasn't going to be valued that much. I just wasn't with them, you know what I mean? I'm an American I don't speak their language, right? So it's just super awkward and I just wasn't psyched to do that again, especially after the Colossus team, I hadn't really enjoyed myself. Another thing, I felt like I was just going to be isolated from everyone and so I decided not to do it. Shout out to the org though, because they actually gave me a couple months extra pay because of how things worked out, so pretty based from them.
But yeah, they just made the transition, they wanted a new team. O PLANO was super hyped at the time and I think they figured the Brazilian market was something they could tap into, whereas the Norway market and just in general, being a tier two EU team is like, no one really cares that much about you. It's like you're one of 20 other fucking tier-two EU teams. I understood why they made the decision. I don’t hold a grudge against them or anything, but obviously, the timing of it and the fact that happened a month after I signed was unfortunate.
What happened after that? You eventually did go to VALORANT, but was there any effort on your part to find a new CS:GO team and stay in the game?
There wasn't too much. I’m trying to think about specific opportunities. There was nothing that really formulated too much. Those few months between Nordavind and signing to C9 Blue was a long time for me. I was just doing my own thing, I wasn't in a great place mentally. As the new year got going I was able to afford medication again and things like that, like therapy, I got my mind back in a better place, and eventually the C9 Blue thing came along, but yes, in general, there wasn't many opportunities for me probably, especially because I wasn't interested in doing an EU thing again where I have to work a schedule from NA. It kind of limited my opportunities and, at the time it was just kind of a weird period for me.
Like you said that sort of weird period ended up with you joining C9 Blue for a bit and you eventually transition to being the assistant coach of the main Cloud9 team. Can you talk about your time there, was it hard for you to get into VALORANT? How was working with their coaching staff in a completely new game?
Yeah, I got the offer to join from vanity and JamezIRL; obviously vanity knew me from eUnited, I'm still good friends with him. JamezIRL obviously from working before, and so yeah, I got the opportunity just to work as an assistant coach. It's pretty weird, especially joining, I feel like I've never fully understood the comms side of things, and how that kind of all played into each other. It was a bit different from CS in that way, and so eventually vexel, the coach from the academy ended up joining and then vapen also ended up joining because they got rid of the academy. So we have four coaches for LCQ which wasn't really necessary, especially for a team led by vanity. But those three guys, they were just more interested and more intrigued and more passionate about VALORANT than I was. I think they did a great job and I think they will continue to do a great job.
Working with the team was a lot of fun. vanity, Xeppaa, leaf, all those guys, I really enjoyed being with them and hanging around them. I really like the team, the coaches themselves I thought they were really good. In terms of the game itself I just never was able to get into it like CS. I like how CS feels like a sport. It's very much the same, It's a lot about perfection and adapting, doing the same things which is very interesting to me. Whereas VALORANT was a lot of gimmick stuff. It was kind of a new game made by Riot, right. In terms of the scene, the VALORANT scene felt artificial to me, just in terms of the game itself and the scene, it didn't feel authentic, as authentic as CS did. So I was never able to get super interested in the storylines and what was going on. I enjoyed my time working with the coaches and the players, but obviously, I was never able to get super into the game itself and I'm sure they could probably feel that around then. C9 didn't plan on keeping four coaches, so I was the odd one out. It was unfortunate, but I wasn't really too upset by this and I pretty much understood it.
Can you elaborate on the authenticity of the scene? What do you mean by inauthentic?
CS has been around for like 20 years, right? The game has been pretty much exactly the same to an extent throughout that time, obviously, there are certain things that got changed like molotovs and different things. At its base, it's very much the same game and it comes from just a single mod, just one guy making the game and it just exploded into something. I just really love that vibe and the atmosphere of the game. It feels like a sport, it feels like a classic thing to me. It feels like soccer, you know, in terms of real sports to me. And then VALORANT in comparison, they've got a very large company Riot, and the scene itself is very you know... I guess because I started in CS in 2014 I saw the scene kind of explode starting from that grassroots LAN type of environment and explode into that. Whereas VALORANT from day one is supposed to be an esport and you know, we're gonna play competitively and it always felt not as good to me, like not as authentic to me. Winning in VALORANT never really felt the same as it does in CS.
VALORANT is moving towards a semi-franchise system and a lot of teams have been dropped recently on the basis of their pitches not being accepted. What do you think is going to happen to the VALORANT scene once we have our defined teams?
Obviously, I understand the franchising system. I don't necessarily think it's bad because also to me a lot of those teams that were in VALORANT anyways were only there because they were trying to get into franchising. That was the whole point of them being there for the most part. I think that the tier-one scene will be supported pretty well; the good players will get their chances in the franchise scene, there’s a lot of good up-and-coming players and I'm really intrigued to see the tier-two scene and how Riot treats it because apparently there's not going to be academy teams allowed. I'm intrigued to see if orgs actually buy into that tier-two scene and get a chance to get a spot for a year or however it works with the franchise, or if it'll be like kind of somewhat what we see in CS, where some people will invest around it, but for the most part, there’s not a lot of interest in it, you know?
We saw at the start of this year and a little bit at the end of last year a big push of notable players returning to CS:GO, floppy, daps, nitr0, and Infinite, for example. Do you think once the franchise system is in place and all these players are left out in the cold we are going to see people come back to CS:GO?
There will be a few people that will try to make the switch back. Maybe they just feel that “well now the opportunities are pretty similar and I'd rather be in CS", or they even think that there's more opportunity in CS and people come back and you know, there's decent NA teams. Also in terms of CS, obviously I know these rumors have been around fucking forever, Source 2 seems to be getting more and more real, and stuff like that, that can make the game kind of explode again. I'm curious how that will play into people coming back or if the tier two scene in VALORANT will be enough for people to get the opportunity to still make their living from.
Even when you were deep in the VALORANT scene, working full time with Cloud9, you were still a host on It's Server Time. Was that something you intentionally did to keep one foot in the CS:GO scene?
Yeah, I wouldn't say it was necessarily intentionally done to stay within the CS scene. I've always enjoyed watching CS and being able to go on the pod and talk about it with Mauisnake, Nohte, and pr0nogo, this is something that's a lot of fun for me to do, and it's not too tough for me. I'm usually still paying attention even in VALORANT, [although] my knowledge probably was lacking a bit in the recent months because I was so focused on trying to learn VALORANT and stuff. I wouldn't say it was necessarily to keep a foot in the door, but obviously, that does help a lot to still be a name within the scene that people will care about and be able to sit around. I was always still tweeting about CS and it was always still interesting to me, especially keeping up with the NA teams and how they are doing.
You're obviously here at FRAG just for fun, visiting some people, seeing some people you haven't talked to in a while in person. But what's next for m1cks? What are you looking at for your future plans, whether that’s in CS:GO or outside of CS:GO?
Well, at the moment I feel like I have to mention it because I love it, after all, I'm just trying to learn pro wrestling for myself and I've been training and doing that stuff just to kind of like do something different. Sitting at my computer eight hours a day just in esports was really burning me out and I feel like if I just hopped right back into something full-time CS it wasn't like going to go well, I was going to get burnt out pretty quickly again. So for now, it's just doing different things, like maybe working at different jobs somewhere. Just focusing on that training thing and doing something that I really love and getting to experience that and then just doing that so that I can just put part-time into CS just kind of on my own time and let's see what will pop up around that eventually because obviously things are ever-changing and there's always new opportunities popping up. I’m sure eventually there might be a team that interests me that I want to work with and the opportunity just makes sense.
So do you think you would come back to full-time CS:GO coaching or assistant coaching or analyst work if the opportunity presented itself?
I think I'm more into doing assistant coach and analyst stuff, especially now because head coaching, it takes so much out of me mentally because when I am the head coach, it's the only thing I can think about and it takes up all my thoughts and all my energy and it's like if I'm doing something else, I feel like I'm taking time away from head coaching. I think I really genuinely want to just be one of the best assistant coaches, analysts and add the value that I know I can add that way rather than head coaching where I feel like I can add value but I get burnt out so quickly doing it that I don't think it's viable necessarily for me long term.
Is it reassuring to you then that more NA teams and more European teams have been looking to add that larger support staff that you see? Like Evil Geniuses with their big staff or Liquid, etc. Is that reassuring to you for the future?
Yeah, of course. It's always good to see teams embrace that because there's only so much a head coach can do and you know if you're responsible for managing the team's mental and you have to do all the anti-strats, and you have to help with the strats, there's so much to do that even if you're super interested in doing all that and putting all that time, there's only so much time you can actually put into everything, right? So just having more of a support staff that you can say “hey, focus on the anti-strats for these maps” or “hey, can you focus on these two specific players for me so that I can focus on doing these other things right?”, it just adds more value that way. I think there is like a point like on C9 Blue where I feel like we probably overdid it, but I feel like there's like a sweet spot between having two or three people on the support staff that can really benefit the team, especially in the long term, and developing people.