Stacking the Deck: Discussing Wildcard’s Roster Shuffle
On November 9th, Wildcard made the shock announcement they had parted ways with four out of five members of their successful lineup, bringing an abrupt end to a seemingly strong partnership. This was followed up by the equally shocking reveal that Wildcard had signed the core of Forsaken and Aran "Sonic" Groesbeek, creating a new "stacked" squad with aspirations to climb even higher in NA's ranks.
To understand the decisions that led to this new era for Wildcard, Jeffrey "Mnmzzz" Moore sat down with Wildcard's manager Jeremy "Jeremy9000" Gray and co-coaches João "horvy" Horvath and Matt "Warden" Dickens to discuss the radical change in lineup, the tough choices made in building this lineup, and what it means for horvy and Warden to even be "co-coaches", among other topics.
A lot of people were surprised by the change overall, what prompted Wildcard to completely overhaul their roster?
Jeremy9000: So during the bootcamp the issues that we have been working on, horvy and I, over the past three months or four months became magnified and more apparent at the bootcamp which pretty much escalated our vision and it became a lot more clear the way we wanted to go about things.
Yeah that's pretty in my mind what prompted these changes because we thought it would take longer than we wanted for this core to get to where we wanted as an organization so that's why we decided to make these changes.
Can you specify what issues you saw with the former Wildcard roster at the bootcamp?
Jeremy9000: I won't specify exact issues, but it was more in-game issues that we've been trying to fix for so long that just weren't able to get straightened out. Even at the bootcamp it became more clear what the issues were.
While Wildcard did end up dropping the core, the organization chose to keep SLIGHT. For horvy, can I ask about that decision to retain SLIGHT over pursuing over options?
horvy: First, it's not only my decision, it's a discussion between me, Jeremy, and Warden. But, in general how aggressive and explosive SLIGHT can be for us as a team and the impact we want for an AWP in-game, he is more of this kind of guy who can be an aggressor and get picks and entries for us and bring a round back for us. That style over a supportive AWP [is what we wanted].
Looking at his development, many would say he's one of the top AWPers in NA. Where do you rate him in that hierarchy?
horvy: If you put him AWP to AWP in the right situation, he's the second-best [AWPer in NA]. In NA the impact he can have when things are right in the team for him to have his freedom to perform is incredible.
I saw him first hand when we won [the Thunderpick NA qualifier] what he could do when the team was well organized and working properly, so for me he has a lot of potential and has grown a lot working with me over the past six months. I see a lot more he can do and know he can improve on his game. I only see good things for his future.
For Jeremy, we have never really had a chance to discuss the decision to bring on horvy as a coach. Now that he's been retained into the next squad, what prompted the decision to bring him into the project?
Jeremy9000: As you can tell, I wanted more of an EU/SA splash for our coach, not really more of an NA coach because NA has bad habits and I wanted the team to learn from a good region. After trialing three or four coaches from EU, horvy sent me a DM and we didn't have a coach set, so we brought him in for a couple trial periods and he knew what he was doing and helped tremendously and its been good ever since.
Bringing Warden into the conversation, after Forsaken's explosive rise over the past few months, when looking for a new home, when did things start coming together with Wildcard?
Warden: We had a few options, and probably within the last three weeks we've been in talks with them and then within the last two weeks we were able to come to terms and bring it together; not only with our own contracts but what the roster may look like after a merger.
With this new roster being recently announced, Wildcard has received a fair amount of criticism for the fact the old lineup wasn't informed they they would be dropped until the day before the announcement. Was that your intention, and if so why do you think that was necessary?
Jeremy9000: No I don't think it was our intention to make this thing a secret or not. People were at the bootcamp and I didn't want anybody to get anything in their mind at the bootcamp that would distract them from what we were trying to achieve as a team.
There were some hints at the bootcamp that you could feel changes were going to be made. I didn't directly say it to them, but 2 + 2 = 4 sometimes. If they can't get a read on that, I don't know. We just decided to tell them when we felt it was the right time when they came back from the bootcamp.
If during the bootcamp you knew Wildcard would be dropping them, does it necessarily matter at that point to keep them in the dark at the bootcamp?
Warden: Your timing is off. Their bootcamp was about complete and they had already proven to management where they stood skill-wise. It's not like they planned a bootcamp and planned to drop them as they were currently bootcamping. They had already played all their matches for the most part in Thunderpick before we really got into talks with them.
Maybe I said it wrong with a month of what-not, but the deal came together really quickly within the last two or three weeks. I think your timing is a little off.
horvy: I would say things from our side came down after we finished United21, when we lost the games and we talked about needing changes in the team. Not initially all four, but we needed to do something. When things fell into place where everyone was happy, me, Jeremy, and stanislaw. We had the opportunity that came to us quickly and we could take it in a quick manner and it was something that was really hard to pass on when you have a guy like stanislaw that can be the captain of your team, who has so much experience.
It's an opportunity to build something great for the organization and be a top-level of this game again.
Jeremy9000: We didn't go into the bootcamp saying changes would be made, we went into it wanting to see these guys progress over the three-four weeks, hopefully they can blossom, and see what we can do and have three-four-five players that we can build around.
As the bootcamp is coming to its conclusion and you're recognizing changes needed to be made, how did picking up Forsaken come to mind? Was it always the natural conclusion or were other options on the table?
Jeremy9000: It was a no-brainer when the option came to us. It just made sense as the visions were the same and clear. We just pulled the trigger on it.
For Warden, when looking for a new home, what was Wildcard able to offer that tipped the scales in signing them?
Warden: Just support in general from an org, you know? They're going to be doing bootcamps which are a necessity for a team to be able to progress. On top of that, their culture is a really good fit for me and the three players that came with me. I really like the way Jeremy9000 and horvy operate, and I like the management in Ben and Grif.
We've had some good conversations with them, and all-in-all this is a good organization for a young North American team that is looking to grow.
Looking again at the formation of this team, there are questions about the decision to move on from cxzi and wiz to SLIGHT and Sonic. From management's perspective, what led Wildcard to move away from cxzi and wiz?
Jeremy9000: I just felt that SLIGHT was a more impactful AWPer and had higher potential than what wiz can offer us. When it came to cxzi I just felt there's better options out there to bring in and make it more of a powerhouse.
With that in mind, this sees Sonic return to pro play. How did you all make that decision, keeping in mind he has said he cannot travel due to school?
horvy: This statement about travel has been misinterpreted than anything else. Sonic is able to travel, he just cannot live in EU if we became a Complexity-level team that is always out of the US or Canada. He's going to be with us normally if we go for a bootcamp, it's not an issue for him.
Jeremy9000: He is trying to get his Canadian citizenship so he has to stay within Canada for more than half of the year. When it comes to traveling more than half of the year, that's when it becomes an issue and I don't see that being a thing until six months or more down the road for us.
horvy: Yeah at least not in 2024. It's not going to be an issue.
Warden: And, if we were to hit those landmarks, then we would address it when it comes up. It would be a good change because while it would obviously suck to lose somebody that helped us achieve that, if we are hitting those landmarks, it would be a change that would be welcome from everyone, including him I'm sure.
What about him as a player, with his return to competition being quite recent, what was the deciding factor for him joining?
Warden: Basically me and stanislaw, with the help of horvy and Jeremy9000, came to the decision that we like to round our teams off with two rookie and three experienced players, we think that's a good fit. So when we were looking for that rifler spot, we were looking for experience and Sonic has been playing out of his mind in FPL. He's very friendly with many of our players and for us with his experience the fact he can do any role and fit into the team is a no-brainer.
Another intriguing element of this announcement, is that horvy and Warden and going to be co-equal coaches on Wildcard. Why did you two decide on this arrangement and what does it mean on a practical level?
Warden: It means we're both going to be working together, and splitting the duties. If you want to know the truth this is something I've never done before, same with horvy, and most esports teams don't go this route. But, Jeremy9000 and Wildcard's management believed in horvy, and I know horvy from his time as a player and I believe in horvy.
This is going to be for me and horvy to deal with maturely and I feel strongly that is something we can do. Two brains are always going to be better than one if you can use them the right way. If we're not bickering and trying to fight with each other, and that's not going to happen. When we were talking through the team at first I at first found it different for esports and the more we talked it through, the more thought this could be a very positive thing if we made it work, and that's exactly what we intend to do.
horvy: Me and Warden also have different styles of going about things, so we can complement each in-game and out of the server. We will be able to find solutions and solve problems for issues we have in the team. I know Warden has a lot of experience but I'm also pretty good at my job. I think it's a really good fit and we've already talked a good amount on how we think this can work.
When it comes to LAN, the team will decide who is needed that day, at that event, it's not going to matter, what matters for us is winning. So if the team comes to a LAN event and they want to use Warden because the team needs a different kind of support, then I'm going to be by their side cheering for them.
Warden: It takes two mature people to make something like this come together, and I don't foresee any issues.
How important was it for the organization to secure an IGL as pedigreed as stanislaw for this new project? Was that an explicit goal for this new iteration of the team?
Jeremy9000: 100%. That was something since day one that I felt we lacked, was experience from the IGL role. I've known stanislaw for a long time and even worked with him in 2015 with Team Coast, he was there for a little bit before a bit 'ole fiasco happened.
I know the brain that stanislaw has, so when the opportunity came that he was free, it was a no-brainer. Same with Warden as well, Warden being with stanislaw has made the duo combo that much sweeter because I've known warden for a very long time. Being able to grab both of them was key to our CS division.
Warden: I'd like to add onto that in the sense that not only does stanislaw obviously bring good calls in game and a calm voice on the server, but a lot of stanislaw's value is his structure before the matches and the discipline he brings to the team. I've already seen that on Complexity when he made top eight at a Major and now I've been working with him in Forsaken for four months and you can't put a price on the structure he brings to practice.
He's not only that disciplinary force that makes sure people show up on time and do things right, but he motivates and inspires players around him to better. To me, he's the best IGL in NA right now, even on top of JT, and I think JT does a very good job.