valens: "I would have given HexT a little bit more time in the oven for sure"
In the second part of Dust2.us' Ryan Friend's two-part interview with Evil Geniuses' Director of Athletics Soham "valens" Chowdhury, the two continued their lengthy conversation regarding the restructuring of the squad amidst a lackluster start to 2023. Among the many topics discussed, Ryan and valens cover the main team's plans considering their lack of future events, Vincent "Brehze" Cayonte's decline in form, and integrating players like Jerric "wiz" Jiang and Jadan "HexT" Postma into the tier one space.
When we look at EG Black, do you feel that you adequately prepared HexT and wiz for the struggles of tier one? How do you feel the Blueprint helped them, and what do you feel it lacked?
Well for HexT, by the time he was promoted, he was really on EG for a couple of months. HexT probably had a more difficult transition because of that. To me, wiz, by the time he was promoted, had been on EG with the coaching staff resources for almost seven months, versus HexT's two or three months. The transition for HexT was harder, but he also had more time to show what he was capable of as well.
Knowing what I know now, if I went back, I would have given HexT a little bit more time in the oven for sure, but that's not because of his skill. That's not because of what he was showing in tier two, because he was dominating in tier two in my opinion; it's because I think you have to help players understand the pressures of tier one while they're in tier two.
You need to give them more time under pressure, and the only way to do that is you have to help them understand how we operate in tier one while they're in a tier two setting. More matches, like I said, let's do practice structures more similar to our main team, see how you guys cope with that. You can't do that with limited amount of time. wiz actually in my opinion has a higher chance to succeed, just from the pure fact that he was in our program for longer.
The lowest moment of this organization has to be the RMR closed qualifier. Knowing that you are searching for the possibility of a new player, how do you look at the team and not just have the reaction to blow up the whole thing and start from scratch?
This to me is a great question, but let's talk about when have teams who have really been elite done this in traditional sports or esports, blowing it up completely and starting from scratch.
It happens a lot in the NBA, the NFL, a little bit harder in baseball, but you can definitely see these blow-it-up and restart approaches.
It's exactly why we have the Blueprint program. We know internally that things, in terms of results, and playing under pressure, have not worked well. That being the primary concern of our players, our coaching staff, and myself, we're obviously working on addressing how to perform better when it matters. I think a big part of that is, in my opinion, having three tier one to tier two transitions happening at the same time. That I would say is something that we could have addressed quicker. That's a mistake, you can call that a mistake, but in my opinion,
I think we are correcting that in two different ways now. One, we are exploring tier one options to help bolster our roster, also with the consolidation we're going to be giving in the future... let's say HexT does go back to Black; by the time that he would be ready to come back to tier one, it's not going to be that he just goes back for an easy time in tier two, he knows what he needs to work on. How do you have these growth opportunities if you blow it up and cut people all the time, and they don't have somewhere to fall back to within the same organization?
We have a luxury here honestly because we know now in this case what didn't work out with individual players, and instead of just throwing them out we can see and build upon the experience they do now have in tier one to help them get back there in the future. Again, it's up to us to actually make it happen so that when these players go back they have a better chance to succeed, but also the tier-one team needs to play better under pressure, and in order to do that you don't need just one or two players that can do it, you need multiple, if not the majority. That's what we're addressing and you might be pleasantly surprised with which direction that goes.
One of the other sticking points brought up recently has been Brehze; he's not the same player he was in 2019. How is EG looking at Brehze's decline and then deciding HexT is the one that should be demoted?
That's been on our mind, obviously, we've been evaluating the entire roster. In a different dimension maybe we're two or three knobs away from cratering the whole thing like you were saying. The type of player and person that Brehze is, he's going to be a really great player as the fifth on a team, because he's someone you can depend on for certain things that right now we don't have in the rest of the players. First of all, he's down for anything, he has a lot of experience holding down spots by himself. Is he performing to the level that he was in 2019, 2020; obviously the answer is no. He knows that, we know that, but also I think we've been making incremental steps ever since the Stewie2K situation and the roster there. Ever since that entire roster, really going back to when stanislaw left the original EG team way back in the end of 2020, let's think about what Brehze really needs to succeed; a good environment, a team where he's also surrounded by other tier one dependable players. We went a little bit away from that with the RUSH/Stewie2K roster to the HexT/wiz roster, so again we're attempting to rectify that.
My point here is that when you evaluate who's going to be on the team moving forward, you have to give those players as few excuses as possible and see how they do. Put them in the best position to succeed, and if they can't succeed still, fine, then changes are required, that's how it should be. I think we're gonna reach that point incrementally for a lot of players on the team to see, look, this is the best position now for you to succeed, you're surrounded by players that I know will bring out the best of you, you're in an environment that I would consider one of or the least toxic environment in tier one, a credit to Vorborg, Shakezullah, and the team itself, now let's see. If you can't perform, of course, we're gonna talk about it; you're a highly-paid player and someone that we look to and depend on. Brehze knows this, this is pressure that he's used to, but it's not pressure that we're applying day-to-day.
The initial plan was to have these three teams and create an environment to develop these players. What you've figured out was that there just isn't enough space for three teams to grow. Has parting ways with EG White changed the ethos of this Blueprint project?
No, in fact, I think we're doubling down on the philosophy, and this is part of actually doubling down on it. Why does this to me mean we're doubling down on it? First of all, these players, both EG Black and EG Gold, are coming to Seattle, the hometown for EG, it's where I am, there's going to be other resources in Seattle and the teams are going to be in-person. What is the number one thing tier-one teams do when they get to tier one? Spend a shit load of time together in person. How do you replicate that? You can't magically replicate those interpersonal dynamics, team dynamics, issues, and strengths that might pop up unless you actually have tested it out in person. We're doubling down here.
To me, figuring out the best way to see which of these prospects could succeed in tier one, part of that is having them in person and surrounding them with resources that are an arms-length away. These are resources now that you'll have, and you'll see issues that creep up, because look, there's always gonna be personality clashes. This is why it's very critical for people like RUSH to be here. It's very critical for people who do have some experience to be on these developmental teams because how do we keep people grounded? It can't just be one coach keeping everything grounded, we need people on the actual player side of things also doing that. With this consolidation, we're doubling down on the ethos.
In esports, [particularly in] Counter-Strike esports, there is no traditional path to getting better, there is no little league, there is no Pop Warner. Not only are there not coaches that teach you, there's no one that teaches you the right way to act. How many stories have you covered specifically across NA where people are acting in ways that are just mind-blowing? Why is this happening in a semi-professional environment where aspiring pros are acting like this? Part of the reason why this is happening is most players, by the time they decide they want to take this seriously, they probably haven't completed high school, they probably aren't going to college. How do we replace that, all those life skills that you get? You can't. You have to give them an environment, like the Blueprint, bring them in person, give them resources, give them more reps under pressure, and then you see, evaluate and talk to them, literally watching and seeing who can thrive in tier one. That's our best indicator to see who can actually make the transition and succeed.
You can't teach players how to handle the scrutiny and pressure of top events. How is EG working on that problem with younger players like wiz?
It's an ongoing process, and I think part of the reason that it's more difficult for esports players, Counter-Strike being no exception, is that you aren't taught how to handle what's happening on social media; most people could probably use some education on that, whether you're an adult or teenager or somewhere in-between. It's no exception when you take this to professional esports.
One piece of advice that I give to players is if you're affected by the positive on social media, just know that you're also going to be affected by the negative. One-liners aren't what's going to help them cope, it's just they need to start somewhere to understand why it's affecting [them]. I don't even think it's the actual social media presence that affects our players as much as the fact that you know when you have this shot at tier one that you're under pressure, you have to perform, you have to hit this shot.
Honestly, whether you're coming from tier two or tier three or have already been in tier one for a long time doesn't go away. I don't think being nervous is a bad thing, I don't think feeling the pressure is a bad thing. I think what you end up figuring out, for example, public speaking is a huge indicator of how you deal in front of people. It's about being in front of people. In terms of mouse movements and playing the game, these players are doing things that they've been doing hundreds, thousands, millions of times; the reps are not the problem. What's happening is there's something that we're helping them with. we have different folks at EG, maLeK was great at this, I consider myself pretty good at this, Vorborg [is] excellent at this; how do you handle pressure while having to perform?
Those are things that are ongoing discussions that are different for each player. I'm not going to tell wiz something I told HexT, I'm not going to tell autimatic something that works for Brehze, you have to identify the players. It takes time, and we're willing to work with the players if we see progress. You can't just check the boxes by seeing if you do a long practice; if you just went by practice, honestly, our tier one team looked insane for the first two or three weeks of this season in Europe. No matches had taken place, but practice was good. That's the baseline, first seeing how good you are in practice, then you have to see if you're good in matches where it matters. My point is that in that process we figure things out, we have a ton of resources, we're not applying blanket workshops and sessions with every single player in group settings, it's one-on-one coaching sessions. Honestly, actions will speak louder than words here, so the players that remain on Blue and continue to perform under pressure, you'll see an improvement, or you won't and we're tracking it similar to our fans and critics as well.
Do you think EG's lackluster results and reputation have caused problems in trying to find tier-one players to fill gaps in the squad?
In the back of my mind, I would say maybe it was a worry at some point, but what gives me a great amount of hope [is] when I have these conversations with tier-one players and folks that want to come in. They're very excited, still. To me, they want to be somewhere where they're talking to people, real people. Do they agree with their philosophy, do they like what they're hearing, are we liking what they're hearing, do the playstyles fit; that's what really matters at the end of the day and you build a team from that. All the other stuff is honestly just noise.
Does the move to Seattle involve the Blue team?
No, and that's just because of the traveling.
They're going to have a big gap, in the summer at least. You have Showdown, then Dallas, and that's the rest of the season until August. Until then, what is the Blue team doing with their time?
[Editor's Note: This interview was conducted prior to the announcement that EG Black would be participating in the BLAST Premier Spring Showdown instead of EG Blue]. That's the worst feeling; you're in the season but your season is short because of various reasons. Of course, we're going to be continuing to practice, of course we're going to be getting in-person and also practicing in-person. It's unfortunate for sure that we don't have as many events to participate in, obviously missing out on the Major cycle. We're going to be replacing that with as many events possible, whether that's online stuff or in-person things that we can get our hands on, even for the Blue team.
The primary thing that we are working on here is really to get more reps under pressure, that's what we need. Practice hasn't been a problem, playing under pressure and making sure that we are implementing what we've done in practice, [making sure] our communication is still as good as in practice, those are the kinds of things we're working on, and we can't see that unless we're playing some of these events. You'll most likely see, keep your eyes peeled, for the main team to participate in events you don't necessarily always see us participate in, because we're part of the Major cycle and everything else. We're not just taking it and phoning it in at all until the end of the season, we're gonna be practicing, we'll be in-person, we'll be trying to attend as many events online or otherwise as possible, and we're gonna keep trying to do better and better.
Are we nailing down the team's problems to pressure, and an inability to adapt at the tier-one level for these players? I want to be generous, but when I see stuff like the Illuminar loss at CCT, how are you able to reconcile that when losing games that you should very well be winning?
First of all, let me clarify that our season has not been a success in terms of how we're playing officials. In terms of how we're improving, for the most part, I would consider it a success. Obviously, I can sit here and say that, but that means nothing who don't have that insight. The end goal for us still is to create a sustainable team where we're building step-by-step, brick-by-brick. The only way to do that, whether we're winning or losing, whether we win versus Heroic or lose versus Illuminar, that we're taking something away from these games.
At this point, I've been a part of a lot of different professional teams, and our review process in EG is one of the best I've seen. I think that we need to take those learnings, retain it, and then apply it under pressure. But that's the whole point of the rest of the season and moving forward is seeing if we can continue building on it, surrounding ourselves with tier-one, stable, consistent talent. Then, are we actually improving in the right direction, even in those matches?
So yeah, you're right, we shouldn't be losing to certain teams, [but] at the same time, we're seeing it across the game right now where each team in the current Pro League group ongoing, there's some crazy stuff happening. This is unrelated to EG, but right now this is a ten-year-old game and a lot of people know how to play it properly. There's a ceiling of skill that's more about who's better on that day, who's handling pressure, who doesn't sometimes care as much for that match so they can just play as similar to practice as possible. All these factors, still you've gotta find a way to win. I looked at the Astralis era when I was wondering about this. They dealt with the AUG meta, the Krieg meta, crazy things happening, and somehow, some way they're finding ways to win, so it's not impossible. We're in pursuit of that, we're just not there yet.
Valens and Evil Geniuses have certainly made an effort as they are pushing to revitalize a struggling main team to bring greater results to the organization. While the main roster is not playing in the Showdown, they are utilizing EG Black to gain more Tier-One exposure. Evil Geniuses has also been in the market for a replacement to HexT, with Ismail "refrezh" Ali the prime candidate.