apEX: ''We’re going to start playing with Nivera this week''
Since taking over as the in-game leader for his team, Dan "apEX" Madesclaire’s Vitality has been a force to be reckoned with, finishing deep into several tournaments throughout 2020. However, a tournament victory has not happened for them in a while, and as the strenuous schedule also impacts their team, additions had to be made to the roster.
In this interview, apEX talks about their recent struggles, how they are trying to incorporate Nivera into their line-up, his style of in-game leading, and the changes he had to make to set Vitality on a path of continuous improvement.
The following interview was edited for clarity and brevity.
You just came from a heartbreakingly close final against Heroic. How do you feel about it now, a week removed?
As everyone knows, for five months straight we’ve been in four different finals. We’ve been playing good Counter-Strike but unfortunately, we can not finish these finals. Even if this one was the best we played actually. It was really close, it was a damn good match. We’re a bit sad but it’s life. We need to go further anyway - next tournament.
We hear time and time again about the burnout issue in CS. Are these placements motivating you more or is it draining?
This moment is not too easy for us. For seven months since COVID, we’ve not been on LAN. We’re doing way more matches than we did during LANs, so it’s not too easy for us. It’s not the life we chose, but you just need to accept that you don’t know when you’re going to LAN again and you don’t know when you’re going to have a normal schedule, so you need to accept it. During this time, we had up and downs, but we’re still trying to enjoy what we do and we’re still trying to be the best whenever the LANs come back. That’s the main goal in the team and that’s what we’re trying to do every day.
You recruited [Nabil "Nivera" Benrlitom] in order to help with that issue and your coach has come out and said that we can expect to see him play maybe even mid-series depending on the map. Is this something that we might even see this week?
Yes! We’re going to start playing with Nivera this week. It’s going to be way different than the approach that we had and that every else has. We’re trying to do map by map, so Nivera is going to start on two maps. I’m not going to tell you which ones. The great thing about Blast is that we’re already qualified for finals, so this one is going to be more of a test for us with Nivera, how we can adapt to him and how he can adapt to the team, how we can use him etc.
Even if we had already thought about that, we’ve never played with that guy. We’ve been in boot camp with him but he wasn’t playing, he was just watching to learn our game style and the way we approach a game. He’s going to play this week, so we’re going to see his talents. I think seeing him playing in Heretics, there is no doubt that that guy is really talented. It was the first day that we practised with him today. I was really impressed by the way he plays, the way he thinks, his skill. It’s going to be good, we’re just trying out if it’s going to work. If it’s not working, it’s life and we’re going to train a new thing. We have way too many tournaments lately. We need to get some rest for some of our players. That’s the main thing. Hopefully, it’s going to work and we can try to work with that for a long time.
How is the substitution going to work? Are you going to rotate or is it just two players switching in and out?
For now, we have only two maps that we change between players. We just talked about what Nivera could give us and which player is underperforming or not feeling good on a map. The coaches talked about this stuff, not me. They came up with two maps for now and we’ve been trying a little bit on a few sites. It’s also good because with [Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut] and Nivera as ZywOo is our main-AWPer but he doesn’t want to play AWP all the time. With Nivera liking the AWP as well, he’s a bit like ZywOo. They like to mix together and I think it’s a great thing to have that.
The interesting thing about the composition of your roster is that you have two generations with the young guys and the older talent. Are the young guys giving you the energy to go on and are these the guys who always want to play?
I think I have even more energy than those young guys. I like the things I do, I like my captain role, and I like the game. I just want to get better all the time. Obviously having young guys helps us out in many ways. It’s really good to have fresh players, fresh aimers. All these things together make things good. We have players who are 27+ or younger than 20. It’s pretty fun and it’s good for the group, I guess.
You took over the in-game leader role. Has it been easier or harder to transition into that position with the season being online?
I think the biggest challenge was to be online because as I mentioned before, I’m someone with a lot of energy. I need to just [release it] and when we had to stay home, this was really difficult for me and that was the beginning of me in-game leading. It wasn’t easy but I’m feeling really good with what I’m doing. I would not go back to being a player again right now and I’m pretty sure I will never. I feel comfortable. I feel my teammates are happy with what I’m doing. That’s the most important for me. I’m trying to improve again and again to become the best. It’s all I want. That’s what I’m trying to do at least.
How would you describe your style now? Do you try to fit around the strength of your teammates or are you trying to mould them in a specific way?
I guess I have both. I have my own ideas, but I’m also trying to put my teammates in the best condition to perform. For ZywOo it’s really important to put him in the best conditions. With [Alex "ALEX" McMeekin ] as in-game leader or even [Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt] the main problem was that we lacked some firepower from some of our players. I feel like our players were not used in a good way. That’s what we are trying to do right now, changing this. Everyone is feeling comfortable on every map and we are working on that every day.
Any specifics you can give us where you thought that something needed to be changed?
Well, [Richard "shox" Papillon] obviously. Shox has been underperforming under ALEX in-game leading. It wasn’t easy for ALEX because he had two players that...I’m going to say… are not “soldiers” because we like to do what we like, shox and me. So it wasn’t easy for him to use three players like that, because he was also like that.
But for me, I tried to do make sure that I leave him some space and help him to get better by positioning him in the best condition, put him in a good position to lurk as he likes, because when you have Shox you need to do what he likes because otherwise, he’s not really good when he’s not on his style. That’s also what we’re trying to do. I think shox has been performing well for the last six months and I hope it’s going to stay like that or become even better.
Between Complexity and you guys, it has been going back and forth throughout 2020. Of course they had a roster change. How do you think this match will go?
We both are qualified for the big finals for Europe. Obviously, we won against them last game but they were not playing [Owen "oBo" Schlatter], as he left before the tournament. They are a hardworking team, they are playing really well. I think it’s going to be a tough one for sure. Our styles are a bit different but it’s always really good matches. I’m just looking forward to play that game and hopefully win that one.
We talked to [Tizian "tiziaN" Feldbusch] earlier. They lost to you recently and he talked about how they took six hours to analyse half of your map. They feel pretty prepared. In your group, they look like the likely opponent you will face if you make it in the upper bracket. How do you think a match against BIG would go?
BIG is also a tough opponent. They were like in the best shape of their lives in July when they won several tournaments. Now they are, I would say decent or good. They are not at their best and I think they know it. I think it’s going to be a great game. I’d never say it’s going to be easy or hard for me. I think it can always be surprising. Obviously they are a great team, they are showing good things. Hopefully we win if we face them. It’s not going to be a problem for us anyway.
FaZe would be the other opponent but they are missing [Nikola "NiKo" Kovač] as he’s just been announced for G2 Esports. What do you think that means for your former team going forward? Is that the guy they needed in order to get back to the top?
I have no idea, I’m not going to lie. I don’t know how they will use him but obviously adding such a good player is going to help them, that’s a sure thing. He’s been one of the top five players for three or four years I would say. That guy is just insane, so I’m pretty sure they are going to be good at some point. I don’t know when, but having NiKo in the team is something fantastic for them, even if I think that was pretty expensive.
Images via Blast