m1cks: "Working under MSL was probably the most important experience I've had"

We spoke to Cloud9's assistant coach about some of his past roles with various organizations.

As Cloud9 bootcamped in Europe in preparation for their IEM Katowice 2020 appearance at the end of the month, Danish "Nohte" Allana had the opportunity to talk to the team's new assistant coach, Joshua "m1cks" Micks. The pair discussed his time as an analyst on various teams, working with Johnny "JT" Theodosiou and Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen, and a variety of other topics.

Let’s start with how you got into coaching and being an analyst, tell me about how that became your career path to where you are now.

I've always really enjoyed watching the game over playing it. I’d thought about it before, going into the analyst/coaching role, and trying to figure out how to get into that exactly because I thought there was still a gap, an opening for me there. 

How I got into it was... I mean, pretty much I've always tried reaching out to tons of people, doing my own work and showing them the stuff I've done. It's how I got on my first team in Advanced, it's how I got on Bravado, and how I got on Rogue as well. That's how I've got up in the scene, and it's kind of lucky as well to get up like that. 

What led you to reaching out to Bravado specifically, over other MDL lineups?

Well actually, I reached out to pretty much every single MDL team, in any way I could, and T.c was the only person that actually replied back to me, so...*laughs*

So that led to your first big breakout, as an analyst for Bravado in 2018 and early 2019. What was that like, and how was it working under JT back then?

It was pretty much only my second team, so I didn't have a ton to go off of myself. They brought me in, and JT even back then was still really good at doing server work, and I could tell he was a good IGL even though I hadn't really worked with many. 

He was not as assertive at times as he is now, but I thought he had a pretty good idea of how to call, reading other teams, setting up the team, and things like that. T.c was also a really good coach in terms of managing everyone, doing his own prep work, things like that.

After Bravado you had a really short stint as a trial coach for Spacestation, about two weeks. What spurred on the change from analyst to coach, and what ultimately led back to you returning to the analyst role on Rogue?

So on Bravado, I wasn't getting paid or anything, I was helping them out to gain experience and things like that, which was fine. But I always wanted to coach anyway, it's my preferred role at least, but obviously on certain teams I don't mind being the analyst. 

Towards the end, I definitely was unmotivated in Bravado, I was still working full-time as well, so it got to be a lot of work between MDL playoffs, whatever events they were going to, and things like that.

The change to Spacestation was spurred on by DAVEY reaching out to me, coaching that team was a paid position, and I really enjoyed the guys in that team. Even before I joined that team I talked to MSL a bit, and I was still waiting to see what was happening there and what he was doing. 

I was only in Spacestation for two weeks because I got the opportunity from MSL to go to Rogue as their analyst, but in Rogue I still had quite a few of the responsibilities that a coach might have because they didn't have a coach or an analyst at the time, and Rogue wasn't going to get MSL a coach or an analyst, or rather pay for one, so that kind of worked out in my favor because it meant that I got in maybe over other people because I was willing to do it for free, or whatever.

There are very few players, coaches, analysts, etc. in North America who've had the opportunity to work with in-game leaders from other countries, especially ones that are as seasoned as MSL. What was that like?

I took my time in Rogue. Obviously I still had some input here and there, but it was MSL's team, his system, everyone followed him, did what he said. I just took my time in Rogue to learn everything I could from it, learn how a team is supposed to be set up, how team CS can be played, how a system is created and enforced, things like that. 

I feel like I knew nothing before Rogue about Counter-Strike, and after Rogue, the month, two months that I was there, it completely expanded and really helped me to understand how a team is supposed to be run and how the game works in terms of systems, calling, and how things are setup. Working under MSL was probably the most important experience I've had in terms of my own development and learning my own coaching style and how I'd like my teams to be run.

When you say it was "his system" you were working under, that's a term that a lot of people use to describe different ways in-game leaders run their teams. Can you expand on what that means a bit, what does a system entail in that sense?

I remember valde on Counter-Points once said something that I really agreed with about MSL, it's that when you were on his team you didn't really realize that you were playing in a system, but afterwards you'll realize that you definitely were playing in a system where everyone knew what they were doing. People have different systems and MSL's is very structured, there wasn't any room for individual freedoms and players doing their own things, especially in that lineup.

Everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing at a specific time, they knew what their goals were across the map if you were defaulting. As soon as we go back into what MSL calls, everyone knows exactly what they were supposed to be doing on that specific strategy or execute, and I think that's different from a lot of other IGL systems where, it's the same general idea, but might be a bit more loose in terms of the executes or what people are doing it certain defaults. Systems can really differ in terms of how structured or loose they are, and to put MSL's into context compared to other systems, I feel like there's a lot less individual freedom.

You took a small break after the disbanding of Rogue before eventually ending up on eUnited. You had your longest tenure on a team since the Bravado days there, but there was some roster shuffling beforehand, and they were unable to make it through a majority of the qualifiers they played in. What happened there?

I was originally contacted by eUnited to be the coach, I was supposed to coach that team. They already had all of their schedules sorted out through Sydney, so I wasn't going to have a chance to do anything until after that. I helped them for those three LANs or whatever, just doing analyst stuff, helping them do prep. Once I actually signed on to eUnited, I was responsible for doing pretty much everything outside of the actual game. I was doing all the server time, I was doing all the prep work for opponents, I was implementing all the strats, I was reviewing everything after scrims and things like that — I was responsible for doing 95% of that stuff. 

eUnited was a bit of a mess because we went to the Minor, we bombed out, and I had a meeting with the owner and my manager. I was essentially told that I was going to be moved to coach before New York — I always felt the plan was to move me after the Minor. Instead, it didn't happen because when I got signed on as the analyst, their coach at the time wasn't really doing anything, and they wanted me to try to create some structure and stuff like that. No one was really ever being held accountable for anything in the team, so when I tried to do things like, when people were late and I was chewing them out or something, they felt like that wasn't warranted coming from the analyst of the team, which caused a couple of people to take a disliking to me. 

Because those couple of people didn't like me, they didn't move me to coach, and so I had another meeting where I felt like I was essentially told I didn't know what I was doing because I was never a player, and to take a step back in my role. Instead of being moved to coach before New York, the opposite happened, I was told to take a step back, they lessened my role, they were no longer going to send me to ESL New York, they told me I could just do my stuff from home. 

At that point I wanted to wait it out and see if maybe more bad results would change their mind and they'd move me to coach after that, or if they would just continue to go down that route, and I would just leave at that point. Eventually I saw that they were just going to continue to go down the same route, which I didn't have faith in, so I ended up leaving the team.

That brings us to where we are now, with you coming full circle to reunite with JT, Sonic, and T.c. First of all, tell me about the Cloud9 organization and how it compares to the structure of your previous teams, as well as how your role on the team came to be as assistant coach.

Cloud9 is far and away better than any other previous org I've been on, which to be fair, I wasn't ever officially on Rogue, so I can't say much about that, but I can say that in terms of the structure, the management, the response to things and the org itself, just overall everything is far and above anything I've been on before.

It kind of came to be because after I left eUnited, after all that shit, me and T.c still talked a lot, so I already knew I was going to be helping them for EPL LAN, which ATK sent me to, Denmark, which I went to as well with them for the EPL Finals, so I was helping them out already and doing things with them. 

Cloud9 came to me because JamezIRL took a position back in his old job, his old field, so they needed another coach. At the time, I was waiting to see what happened with a couple of teams, one of them being the TSM lineup which I was going to coach if it happened, but it didn’t. So Cloud9 came to me, they gave me the offer, and I didn't know what was happening with the other teams really, so I just took the offer as assistant coach. You want me to talk about my role too?

Yeah, what being an assistant coach entails versus a full-time coach, and also the differences between being an analyst and your current role.

I feel like I'm still trying to sort out my role in the team beyond just preparation for other teams, which is actually nice because T.c and JT still do their own prep and still watch other teams, unlike kind of what I had in eUnited. Beyond just prep, I've been trying to locate what I can do in my own role in terms of setting up the team itself, so review, preparation, strats, adding stuff in server time, what we need to change ourselves. 

It's something I'm still trying to sort out in the team because before in eUnited, I had to do pretty much everything from when I started, and now I have an IGL that knows what he wants and knows what he wants to do, how he wants things to be set up, and I have a coach that wants to do all these things as well himself and has a big hand in the team changing things like that. 

I'm living with the team in LA, close by the house, I have more of a say in review and how do things in our own game, and I travel with the team to all their events.

What was being in Leipzig like, with the Cloud9 lineup debuting at their first LAN since they were signed, and what happened to the team there?

I think we were the only team that showed up the day before, like even Renegades had been bootcamping. I think the first day we were definitely a bit out of it, and we definitely weren't playing up to our standards. We were playing very sloppy, and everything overall was sloppy on the first day because we hadn't even been there 24 hours, and between that and a lot of sickness going around, it was a bit rough. The second day was a bit better, against VP, I also felt they played very poorly, but we definitely played a lot better against them. 

The second time against Renegades was maybe just more fatigue and stuff, especially playing against a team like Renegades with dexter, who was just a total pain in the ass on all three maps that we played them. It can be a bit rough, especially against our style, when you have a guy that is just running around like a madman and stuff we can't really predict. I think we really struggled with handling dexter especially, and handling Renegades' overall style.

What sort of differences, if any, have you noticed in the South African core of the team in JT, Sonic, and T.c since you first helped them on Bravado? Whether that be in-game or outside of it.

JT is a lot smarter now, and he knows a lot more about what he wants and how he wants to do things. They're all a lot better at connecting things to each other, playing off of certain strats and certain nades, just flowing with the game a lot better and being more structured and less predictable. How JT has implemented a system overall has improved from what I remember in Bravado.

As far as Sonic goes... I feel like Sonic is still pretty much the same, he's still this crazy skilled guy who sometimes is a bit stubborn, or is just a bit out of it and things like that. T.c is still a really good coach, he was back then, he still is, and I feel like if anything he's also just gotten smarter with JT and they've both learned a lot in the year that I was separated from them.

Having had the chance to work under a handful of different in-game leaders from various regions, what sort of changes do you think need to be made in North America in terms of practice or mentality that would help improve the outset of in-game leaders and players we have at the moment?

With the North American IGLs I've played under, the main difference I've noticed is that they aren't really as good at going over things in server time, and using that time as efficiently as possible. The one to two hours you have before scrims going over things, implementing things, creating, that's where your system is created in those one to two hours before practice. 

That's something that MSL did extremely well, it's something that JT does really well, and I think that with vanity it was just more so that he didn't really have the experience. Like he just joined Chaos, and that's pretty much the first IGL that he's really going to be playing with, so I think for him it'll just be getting experience with steel to use in future teams as an IGL. I think vanity's mid-rounding was really, really good, and pretty much what he needed to improve was overall in terms of being a leader of men. He needed to figure out how to use that time more effectively to set up how he wants to play better. 

You guys are headed to Katowice at the end of the month, where the top 11 teams in the world will be in attendance. Tell me about the step up from playing against teams in North America to teams of this calibre, and what that means for your preparation.

I think, for the most part in terms of preparation, we try to prepare the same way. I feel like that is the best thing to do, to prepare for the NA teams we play the same way we would prepare against fnatic or mousesports or whatever. The times we've played these top teams before they've kind of just wrecked us, and I think that just comes with getting more experience — we're a super inexperienced team, EPL Finals was everyone's first big event that they've ever played — and getting used to playing against these teams that give you no room for error, and will capitalize against missteps that you make. 

We need to get more used to playing against that consistently, and I hope that at Katowice we'll be able to show that we've improved in that regard and hopefully show ourselves that we have the skill, the teamwork, the preparation, everything else to compete against these teams and play good CS against them, have good games against them win or lose. I don't think we really have a set placing we want to get at Katowice, I think we just want to play well and not show up flat like we did against Renegades at Leipzig.

eUnited declined to comment when contacted by Dust2.us. Cloud9 will next make an appearance at IEM Katowice, set to run from February 25 - March 1st.

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