b0denmaster's departure from the team may only be a temporary move

ATK CEO addresses criticism; discusses future of team

Flea touched on accusations of late payments and shoddy contract negotiation.

South African organization ATK has been in the NA news cycle frequently in 2023, and not always for positive reasons. For better or worse, the team has become something of a revolving door, with multiple players being churned through the lineup in the first half of the year. This has led many fans and pundits to start raising questions about the future of the lineup and whether it sits on a solid foundation.

However, this discussion was only really kicked into overdrive on March 27th when ATK's star rifler, Michael "Swisher" Schmid, announced that he would be evaluating his options for the future due to "the constant in/out of players [being] draining".

Swisher's own wavering commitment to the dysfunctional roster was followed up two months later by Jonathan "b0denmaster" Bodenmalm's announcement on May 5th that he would be taking a break from competing with ATK due to a contractual impasse with ATK keeping him from returning to North America and impacting his health negatively.

This was quickly followed by a same-day decision by the team to kick Jonathan "djay" Dallal after which the Canadian lashed out to Dust2.us calling the squad "a fiesta from beginning to end," while drawing attention to "late payments, zero payments, bad faith contract negotiations."

With one star out, one eyeing the door, and another roster change on the horizon, it seems only fair to ask, "What is going on with ATK?" as one of the cornerstone teams of the NA scene was seemingly at death's door.

To answer this question, Dust2.us' Jeffrey "Mnmzzz" Moore reached out to ATK's CEO and founder, Warren "Flea" Barkhuizen, to try and find out what's been going on, what the future holds for ATK, and what can be expected as the scene heads into the player break ahead of the launch of Counter-Strike 2.

b0denmaster benched himself on May 5th after month of being stuck in Sweden. Can you explain what has been causing the contractual impasse with him?

We started discussions with b0denmaster's new agent in February. The agent was asking for crazy things, a near doubling of the salary and a few changes to the contract. These are things that were impossible to achieve. Effectively it got to the point where he said our demands are this and I said if those are the demands and there's no budging then I can't do it.

That was when they were bootcamping for EPL in Malta. Eventually everybody else had agreed to a new number, a salary increase that was in the 20% range except b0denmaster's new agent, and all arranged to go back to Canada to compete in ECL or something.

b0den went to MisteM and sprayxd on the day they were going to leave and he said that he wanted to go back to Sweden and then join them later. I got a message from b0den asking if I could pay for his return ticket from Sweden to Mexico and I said 'your agent hasn't agreed on anything yet, so what is the plan?' b0den said he wanted to go home and asked if I can pay for his ticket.

I told him there was no reason to pay for his ticket if there was an existing ticket [to Canada]. sprayxd tried to stop him, but b0den wanted to go anyway and said he'd play from Sweden. We effectively never got anywhere with the contract.

It got to the point where clearly this wasn't going to work.

Doesn't that effectively rule b0den out of returning to the team? Is b0denmaster effectively out of the team?

When I spoke to MisteM and sprayxd about it not that long ago I asked them whether they wanted to look for another AWPer or whether they wanted to play with b0den. I like b0den personally, he's a great guy, and he brings a lot to the team. I would like to see him back. I know they've come to an agreement where he's happy about the salary everyone else was happy with which wasn't quite 100%, it was more like a 20% increase which was the number everybody was happy with.

As soon as we're through this short period of playing with the two new additions to the roster, I would like to see b0denmaster back. It's just about getting all of those pieces of the puzzle in one place. Short answer, it's not the end of the road, our last conversation was hoping we could make something work.

So essentially after the player break, the current situation is he's agreed to the contract and he should be returning unless he gets another offer?

Quite right. He was having a hard time AWPing with 150ms of lag. The hope is to get him back in. I leave it to MisteM and sprayxd, but I know they were happy enough with him in our last discussion and would want to see him back in the team.

Beyond resolving contractual issues with the team, there have also been discussions about finding a permanent home for the squad in NA after short-term stays in Mexico and Canada. What's the status of that search and why has it taken as long as it has?

The whole reason we've been sitting with this hack situation where we had a house in Mexico was because of COVID-19. We set up in Monterrey which works quite nicely because of the ping but I'm not particularly excited about Mexico as a place to house a team because of safety and travel to and from Monterrey is a hack.

Leaving young people in a country where there's not much English speaking... I know there was a health issue with one of the players and they really struggled to get it sorted out quickly and effectively in Mexico.

ATK have been approached by a number of American partners in order to set up a North American-based entity. One that can open bank accounts, make rental agreements, that sort of thing, which we cannot do right now. It's quite a process, I can't rent a new apartment without paying the entire year up front in some cases.

Moving as much money as we are out of South Africa, there are limits to how much you can move before you cause yourself problems. It's those administrative pains that are very easy to fix if you're based in NA but from this side of the pond are not so easy.

Let's get this thing sorted out so we have a player house that is 100% set and permanently there for the guys, not a hotel that is disgustingly expensive, not an Airbnb, or not an apartment where a guy is willing to take paper. People aren't willing to do that anymore.

We had a place in Canada, an Airbnb as an interim solution because we were moving around, and now the reasoning for the end of next month as a hard deadline for me to get it sorted is that I want one place where they're all safe, have a home that's set up, and not have a situation where we don't know where we'll be playing month to month.

Turning back the clock to a few months ago, the team seemed very interested in Aleksandar "CacaNito" Kjulukoski before negotiations fell through after EPL, what happened there?

CacaNito was considering his options, and we had agreed on salary, which was significantly higher than everyone else's salary, but MisteM really really wanted him. We issued everyone's contracts back except for b0den after EPL and CacaNito was happy with the number, but he wanted to speak to his family about moving to Mexico, and eventually he said he didn't want to move quite yet especially as we weren't sure who was moving across.

With the plan to partner with an NA organization, what happens to the team if these deals fall through?

We have funds to keep them going for a period of time. I'm not concerned if we're going to get it done, it's just who we get it done with. We have three interested parties who would like to jump on board.

Ultimately if we can't get a stable base I'd rather pull them back and take a break. The project is really based around my belief in sprayxd and MisteM. I would have no problem letting them take a few months off and then send them back once I have everything in place.

Without having that stability I'm not happy to invest in the longevity of a project where we never know where the people are going to be going from month to month. We have runway, it's just setting things up with the right partner is important to me.

You mention Daniel "sprayxd" Kogan and Gareth "MisteM" Ries being the key pieces of this squad, but Swisher is also an incredibly important star. Is there a plan to keep him on the roster as he looks for new offers?

He was approached by other organizations last year and we were discussing his desire to join a bigger organization to support him. It's not new that he's looking around. He went properly public with it after he had a good performance at EPL, hoping it would be a time where he was hot property and he is.

As you say he has been a star performer in the team. One of the major problems is he didn't get on with our former team manager [Gage Ridley]. I wasn't aware of how bad it had gotten and they had their issues which is where I decided to be more hands on with the team.

The comment from Swisher was look at how we're getting shit done now compared to before. We've gotten to the point where he's mentioned to sprayxd that he's happy to stay but he's still got his eye out for bigger.

That's a problem with being a smaller team where you can't pay Cloud9 or Evil Geniuses money, when you find good players they're always on the lookout to start earning the big money. It's part of the process. I told him our job was to keep him happy and give you everything you need to perform, but there's no hard feelings if you do want to evaluate your options given your standout performance.

How would it affect your operations if Swisher were to leave?

We have contingency plans if that happens. I have spoken to sprayxd to have him keep his eye out for replacements, so we have a strategy. We hope to not use it, but we have a plan.

What do you think about djay's comments about late payments, zero payments, and bad-faith contract negotiations?

I don't generally like to comment on what other people have said but I feel like I have to. When I heard about it, I went to MisteM and sprayxd and I asked them what this could be about.

The one thing that did happen was when contracts were issued in February and we got to the point where nobody had signed them and were about to be voided. So I asked MisteM why no one had signed them and he said he said he was waiting to see what the team was going to do. The only person we had an impasse with was b0den, everyone else had agreed.

The other player we were looking at that we can't mention yet, their agent wanted a small change to the contract but in the absence of anyone signing a contract, I said I wasn't going to be paying the team beyond an extra month. I said that if the team weren't going to sign a contract I wasn't going to be paying, I think it's a fair thing. You can't expect me to carry on paying salaries if no one is signing these things.

Everybody agreed on this, but perhaps that is where djay was coming from because eventually I just paid, because they continued playing under the ATK banner. The results were bad but I said that was ok to sprayxd.

There's never been a zero payment anything in ATK's history. If that had been true someone would've said something, right? I asked MisteM to shed light on this because some people on Twitter are going above and beyond to make something out of nothing.

I asked MisteM and his exact words were, 'I don't know, people just say what they want to say and deal with being kicked in different ways.' I'm assuming he's saying that djay is grumpy that he got kicked.

Are you saying djay's comments are based on frustration from being cut?

That's the perspective from sprayxd and MisteM. Sometimes payments are delayed due to reasons beyond our control. That's why we're trying to get an American partner and American bank accounts sorted for rentals, contracts, etc. because it's a frustration that we don't need.

It's not like a malicious thing, but zero payments is bullshit. No one has ever come to me saying they've got no money and I owe them. Show me evidence to the contrary and I'll sort it out, but I have no evidence of that.

Regarding the team's current short-term composition, how did ATK decide on WolfY, reck, and Jonji?

I don't get involved in that, I leave that to MisteM and sprayxd. They tell me who they want, they evaluate them, sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn't, but it's not like I know the game better than them.

I invest in them and sometimes it goes wrong, like when Pluto was signed, that didn't go well, but generally, they have a good eye for it and have big Counter-Strike brains. If you want to know how we decided on that trio, we'd have to ask them.

MisteM and sprayxd have a lot of power in ATK, are they essential pieces that the team can't survive without?

Effectively yes. In this version of the project that's 100% correct. As I said to them, we've been on the journey for a long time together so they're the core two. I'd like that to be a core three with Swisher. It would make it very difficult to start up again without them.

My involvement is purely what do they need and how do we get that to them. They make the rest of the calls.

Besides them, what's the rest of the future lineup looking like? What are ATK targeting more: South African, European, or NA players?

I can say without a doubt, MisteM and sprayxd have no interest in any South African players. They feel the skill gap is too wide at this point. A European import into North America is an important piece of the puzzle. I can see it and they're very honest about where they can acquire the skills that they're looking for.

sprayxd is on this all the time, he's always telling me about new players and dropping names. We need a certain number of NA players in the roster for rules and regulations, so we've always got an eye out for NA players but European players are where they look.

How confident do you feel about the future of ATK's CS:GO program? Do you think everything's going to come together?

I can only talk to the team's responses, obviously only having a short two-month stint doesn't make them feel so confident and secure, but we've been down a long road. We didn't just start this thing the other day so I'm confident we're going to be carrying on. North America is where I hope to put a lot of my players from South Africa, giving them a pathway into NA in VALORANT, LOL, or Rocket League where we are involved.

My strategy is a North American move even for Impact. My focus is on North America and that expansion and the key to this is the Counter-Strike team which is why I'm saying we do this properly or we don't do it at all.

I'm not a big fan of putting people in Airbnbs in Canada and ordering PCs from Amazon to keep them going. We need something stable and I wouldn't be doing that if I didn't think it was something for the future.

Also read

#1(With 0 replies)
May 18, 2023 06:04AM
b0den is so bad maybe its because of his ping but ive never seen an ecl awper miss so many shots
#2(With 0 replies)
May 18, 2023 07:46AM
give fadeys pc back lol, atk snake org, clown show
#3(With 0 replies)
May 18, 2023 10:00AM
WolfY is back in NA and showing up so I'm not complaining one bit.
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