GGRecon and Virge discuss Dignitas' recent resurgence, coaching tactics and stylistics, and look towards the EU Major.

20:30, 11 Feb 2021

Dignitas' journey in Rocket League is one of the most tantalising stories to date. Inheriting the championship-winning trio, previously of Gale Force Esports, success was immediately on the cards. The 'Dignitas dynasty' started prior to their introduction but with the acquisition of Jos "ViolentPanda" van Meurs, Alexandre "Kaydop" Courant, and Pierre "Turbopolsa" Silfver ahead of the Season 5 World Championships, their roll of the dice came up trumps, grabbing the trophy on their first event in the scene.

Success is sewn into the Dignitas Jersey, and even after the dynasty unfolded, it didn't take long to get back on top. Whilst progress was a slow burner, ViolentPanda was a constant core that saw the likes of Maurice "Yukeo" Weihs and Maello "AztraL" Ernst join to reinforce the ranks. A third-fourth place finish at Season 8 World Championships was bettered by a 1st place medal at the Season 9 European finals, and only an unforeseen pandemic haltered their journey back to world dominance. 

With John "Virge" Willis coming in prior to the season, his influence was clearly uplifting, getting them back to the top of the tree in Europe. 

RLCS X threw a spanner in the works for a roster that looked in fine condition, and Joris "Joreuz" Robben was drafted in to replace AztraL. A turbulent start to the season saw Dignitas struggle, but just as the new year was ticking over, the arrival of Jack "ApparentlyJack" Benton had them with a firm grasp on the Beyond The Summit championship, and a following victory in The Grid Week 3.

Back in pole position, we spoke to Virge about, the processes behind their resurgence, his influence as a coach, and a revised look at their RLCS X hopes.

Stopping The Spiral

Dignitas' Fall Major ended in a similar fashion as there performances throughout the split: pretty dismally. The side, albeit exciting in flashes, struggled to embed, and a change was looming.

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The only place to start is to congratulate you on the recent spike in form and with it the first silverware since Season 9. How did it feel to get both the BTS and the RCLS Grid Week 3 wins under your belt?

It was really rewarding. It finally started to feel like all of the hard work was beginning to pay off finally, you know. It’s been a long time since we have been in form. Getting back into it and with the amount of work we’re putting in to get where we are now is exhausting, so for it to bay off is extremely, one relieving, and two incredibly rewarding.

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Prior to the win, there had been a lapse in form for Dignitas since the start of Season X. You’d previously been open about giving the roster time to get familiar with each other, what changed your mind and made you look towards a roster change?

We’re pretty confident in that just about anybody we pick up or anyone we’re working with will improve over time and it will start to click. But we decided to make a roster move, shortly after bringing in Joreuz for AztraL, because once we really started putting time in and trying to find a playstyle that this roster works really well with, we started to recognise the playstyle differences between Yukeo and the style that we thought would guarantee us championships consistently, so it wasn’t necessarily a decision where we were like ‘oh it’s Yukeo, he’s the problem’, it was more of what we were doing wasn’t working and we started to recognise that his playstyle was clashing. The style that was working with Joreuz and Panda was going really well and they were doing it consistently, Yukeo just had a different vision, he had a different playstyle that didn’t really fit the style we were looking to build. It was more of a move where we were looking to play well but I didn’t really want to change Yukeo and make him be this player that he wasn’t. It was a difficult decision to make.

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During such a period, from a coach’s perspective, what can you do try and implement strategies to try and bring back some harmony?

There’s a lot that goes into it and I don’t want to give away too much, but yeah, it’s just a lot of time spent with these guys. It’s a lot of hours put into watching replays and time spent talking and really getting to know each other, getting to know the team, getting to know what their individual visions are and then doing my best to think how we can combine those visions equally, allowing them to play the role that they are comfortable playing. I mean, more than everything it’s just time. Time, time, time.

Virge marshalling Dignitas at work here at DreamHack
Prime Time - Virge marshalling the men at work here at DreamHack

Speaking of time, you’ve been with Dignitas since August 2019, meaning ever since you got here Yukeo was a part of the roster. Was it hard to let go of such a player with so many great memories?

Absolutely! Yukeo was one of the players that I looked up to in my career in general, for a long time before getting to work with him. The first time I ever got to saw him was in Las Vegas at that LAN [Season 6 World Championships] and seeing him play at the level he did as a rookie was just so inspiring. It excited me so much just for the scene in general, just seeing him as a keyboard player and seeing him play at that level. I was super excited to work with him and it was a really good time when we did. I think I built a really good relationship with him and a friendship. He’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met or even seen, so I know wherever he goes that he’ll end up succeeding. So, it was really really difficult, especially as he and I had gotten really close. It’s always difficult to switch rosters and players but he’s definitely one of the players that I’ll miss for a long time.

I think it always comes across more sever in Rocket League with it being 3v3 and those relationships are tighter than for instance football where it’s 11v11 and if one player leaves, they’re easily replaced. But it’s reassuring that he’s left when you’re both on good terms.

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Yeah, I’m definitely encouraging him to do even better elsewhere, I would love to see him succeed again.

Another New Horizon

A rough Fall Split saw Yukeo depart for Fadeaway, as rostermania commenced yet again. This time Dignitas was in search of a hunter, a predator, an absolute force to be reckoned with up top. Lacking that killer instinct, the roster opted to pick up ApparentlyJack who completed the move off the back of a stint at Rix.GG.

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That does now lead us to the current day though, and Jack’s introduction has been quite remarkable. What was the process like in picking him up?

So, we have a style of playing that not many other teams are doing, and that correlates to practice too so we learned a lot when we went through the last roster change and had to find somebody and we ended up giving away too much. Bringing them into a trial, practising with them in the way we normally practice, and seeing how well they fit into it. We kind of took more of a relaxed approach with this one because the players that we didn’t pick up last time went away knowing a little bit more than we wanted them too. So we took a little bit of a more relaxed approach and kind of just waited to see who fit naturally. The only thing we did out of the norm would be to do replays with them and see how they were comfortable voicing themselves, whether they were comfortable taking criticism and to see how they worked in the environment. It was a pretty laid-back style of try-outs, just with the addition of replay reviews.

You did imply that there were a couple of players in try-outs, one of those that was heavily rumoured was Itachi – now of the Vodafone Giants. Was there a particular reason surrounding picking Jack over anyone else? I know you mentioned that they were a more relaxed style, but why did Jack stand out?

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For us it was definitely between Itachi and Jack at the time. But the difference between Itachi and Jack was that Jack and Joreuz had chemistry in the past, they had played together previously. They had that experience together and the pre-existing knowledge of how each other played. We felt that we’d have more of a head start with Jack, being able to get into good form quicker and Jack individually is a really skilled player.

He’s one of those players that it would have been a shame to have not gotten him. Just as it was a shame that we didn’t get Itachi as well – he’s a great player – but Jack is just one of those players that you don’t want to miss out on.

Having that, and the fact he was already comfortable with Joreuz was a big bonus for us.

Touching on the relationship between Joreuz and Jack, is it something you’ve desired as a coach to have two young and raw talents to help mould and guide?

I’ve never really had a desire to work with any specific style of player other than one that is willing to work hard. So, this was kind of a new experience for me. A new challenge. A new thing to tackle. Getting to do it has been a lot of fun and now that I have done it and have a little bit of experience doing it, I would say yeah, it’s something that I look forward to doing; getting to work with a new player who doesn’t have those preconceived notions of what the high-level game is like. They don’t have those bad habits that they’re coming in with that you have to change, it’s just saying ‘hey, here’s how it works’, and for the most part they respect the experience. They understand that you might know a little more than them having been in the scene longer, so they’re really eager to listen, learn, and improve. It’s a really fun and exciting opportunity to get to work with these guys because they’re both hard workers and they’re both excited to improve.

Virge at DreamHack Montreal overseeing the Dignitas Roster of ViolentPanda, Yukeo, and Aztral
Virge getting hands-on DreamHack Montreal overseeing the Dignitas Roster of ViolentPanda, Yukeo, and Aztral | Image via DreamHack

Obviously, since the roster change, your results have improved. Individually, what does Jack offer that has helped – I know you mentioned synergy between himself and Joreuz, but as an individual player, what does he offer?

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One of the biggest individual skills that we were looking for was a finisher. We have historically had issues finishing our goals. We’ve had no problem creating opportunities, or applying pressure on offence, our problem has always been the shot being slightly off target or too easy to save. With Jack, we looked at his shooting and he’s got some of the best finishing in Rocket League overall so that was one of the main attributes of his skillset that we were looking to bring on to the team; to have a really strong finisher.

Sticking with individuals, it would be rude to have this opportunity and not discuss ViolentPanda. What influence does VP have on helping you and moulding these two young lads by leading the pack towards the Dignitas vision?

He’s been a huge component to our success, but also, a huge component to my coaching experience. He’s done nothing but help me improve as a coach, and his vision of the game is just so unique and that allows me to see things I’d normally not be able to see. He has the same impact on the players as well, allowing them to see his vision too and when he sees the game like nobody else it’s really given me an insight on how to play the game at the highest level and how to improve. He’s been a great influence on my experience.

Just to elaborate on that and touch a bit on your specific coaching style and the influence of others around you: do you feel as a coach it’s beneficial to work with as many different players as possible?

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Absolutely. I did Gamers Ready full-time for a year and in that time I did about 200-300 coaching sessions. Not all of them were different people but most of them were, so working with that many people taught me that there are so many different ways that one person can improve the same skill. It opened my eyes to understanding that you can have one person that needs to do something different to get good at the same skill as another player. It definitely opened my eyes up to understanding how much invariability there is in Rocket League – there’s really not one answer to any problem.

Sticking with your coaching style, looking across Rocket League there are certain coaches that stand out. There’s yourself, Chrome, Sizz, Fireburner, Regan, RamS, and even Moopy. But the list isn’t too extensive. What makes a ‘good coach’?

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There are different ways to coach. There are definitely different aspects of what you need to be good at. For example, I would say – obviously, I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, I only know the public interpretation of these coaches – look at Sizz. His public reputation is to be this hype man who is very good at getting his players to be energetic and getting them to give a lot of effort with high energy and positivity. Then you have a coach like me who are more strategic and tactical who work more on playstyle and elements like that. So, it really depends on what style of coach you want to be.

But to be a good coach, you have to want it more than anyone else, and that’s how I’ve always been. The thing with this position is I’ve wanted to be a top Rocket League coach more than anybody else and for longer than anyone else.

The real answer to what makes a good Rocket League coach is, well obviously you need experience and to understand the game at a high level, but the main factor that really matters and that you really want to see in a coach is someone that wants it more than anybody else. If you want it more than anyone else you’re going to encourage your players to have the same attitude and your squad is going to have a work ethic that no other team has.

I mean you can’t go too far wrong with that kind of mindset. Obviously, you touched on some coaches, namely Sizz, who generate hype; when we get back to LAN – if, should, when – obviously it will be Joreuz and Jack’s first major. Are you looking to encourage that type of attitude akin to that we saw Yukeo had?

No, not really. I’m not really encouraging the players to do anything that is out of their comfort zones. It’s very important that, especially at LAN and in a tournament as important as RLCS, that the players don’t get pressured into doing things that the wouldn’t normally be doing. If they’re not comfortable showing that much energy or being that energetic, or they’re more comfortable with focusing and acting as if the crowd isn’t even there, I want to be there to encourage that mentality and make sure that they are in the most comfortable state of mind that they can be whilst playing up there.

The Resurgence

Virge's coaching tactics have never been more important. For Dignitas, this is a team with such raw potential that needs honing and guiding. When they're on top of their game though, they're physically unstoppable.

Stepping away from the coaching angle a little bit and looking towards the team as a whole, Dignitas’ perfect sweep was one of the most outstanding moments of the season and may already go down as the best series of the year. How did you maintain such relentlessness attack and yet such assurance in defence?

On this one, I want to give all of the credit to the guys. They’re just incredibly talented and really good at what they do. There’s no other team that is as good as they are on their best day. It came down to the individual skill of the players and then the communication of captain Panda and coordinating with them, then receiving communication back and showing that they’re receiving it properly. It was just a day of cohesive unity where everybody was on the same page, respecting and trusting one another and everyone was playing on top of their game. It came down to their individual performance levels and the ability to tie that in with each other.

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These type of moments have historically almost put teams on the map and in the mouths and words of fans. With the win, Dignitas put a massive stomp on this years RLCS and you came across as one of the best attacking sides in Europe, if not the world. To elaborate on the offensive side of your game, how mentally strong do your player have to be to keep making fresh ideas game after game and maintaining that type of momentum that can end with you perfect sweeping a team?

It takes a lot of energy and a lot of focus. A lot of mental fortitude. These kids, well they’re just that – kids. Panda is obviously an adult, but Jack is 17 and a young man just as Joreuz is, but they’re all young and it’s what they do all day every day. This is what we study, what we eat, drink, breathe, and sleep. So, it was just another day at work to be quite honest with you. I don’t want to take anything away from how great they are, but this is what they work so hard for every day, to be able to do things like that and prepare for when it's game day so it comes easy.

Since those back-to-back wins (BTS / Grid Week 3) you’ve secured some solid placements, including third at Regional 3 and quarterfinals in The Grid Week 4 – in your eyes, how can you sustain as winners and keep winning events?

This has been something that I have been consistently pushing on these guys is that it's one thing to win a tournament, it's another thing to win every tournament that we touch. One thing we've always focused on is consistency, so, we tried to build a playstyle that is replicable. We tried to build a playstyle that, no matter how anybody is feeling on one given day or are underperforming individually, we can still execute the playstyle properly. To continue winning every tournament we need to continue learning and improving faster than every other team. This means building a playstyle that is replicable and that we can keep doing, and then we can build on it from there by adding new and fresh ideas. But we can still always fall back on that base playstyle that we're comfortable with because we'll just keep getting better and better at it.

The schedule is more hectic than it ever has been, and consistency at the winning events being something that's almost in Dignitas' DNA. Yes, there are different managers, players, rosters, roles, but Dignitas are known for being successful since the days of the dynasty. In the current day, do you feel like it's possible to have that type of mentality and win so many events, given the standard of competition and the sheer volume of events?

Yes, but I think it's exceedingly more difficult than it ever has been. I mean BDS is a prime of example of being able to consistently win tournaments even with this format. I personally think this format is, like you said, a more hectic one so it creates more volatility and more opportunities for having off-days on a tournament day. So, it's a lot more difficult. But do I think it is impossible? No, it's entirely possible, it's just going to take a lot more work than it used too.

It's safe to say that - well in my eyes, anyway - this is the most competitive that RLCS has ever been with so many teams in the mix, so many different teams that can win it on their day. Europe for example, there are yourselves, BDS, Giants, Top Blokes, even Team Singularity have started popping up with wins, and you can never write off Vitality. Ahead of the Major is there anyone, in particular, you’d like to avoid up until the final or do you relish the challenge to eliminate some big teams early?

I don't think we necessarily want to face or avoid anybody at this stage, as at the end of the day we strive to be better than everybody, so it shouldn't matter who we play. Of course, to make our run easier, I would love having to skip BDS, they were the only team to beat us in the last regional that we played - both times in the winners' bracket and the losers run too. So something that we don't want to go through is having to face them early on if we can avoid it. But at the end of the day, we're working on being better than them, we can be better than them, and on our best day we are better than them, so there are no teams that really don't want to run into, or would like to for that matter.

Going into this major have you guys sat down and discussed any goals of where you think you can finish and where you think you should finish?

Yeah, we've sat down and talked about what we're capable of and where we want to end up.

Obviously, we want to win. That's how we enter every tournament and it's the mentality of 'we've won this tournament before we've even played it'.

This way we go in with this confidence and the mentality that we're not going to be afraid of making any mistakes. It's definitely something that we want to win, but I think we'd all be happy with wherever we place as long as we can come away happy with our performances. We do want to be top-four at the very least.

And to finish, the placement here will set you up for the year. The overall standings are topsy-turvy at the moment, but have you got any overall goals for the entire year following the change and resurgent form?

If we get to the World Championship, and that's a pretty big 'if' especially with the way things are going and today's climate meaning we don't really know whether we will even have one or not, but we see the entire season as a long winding staircase to get to worlds. Worlds is the end goal, and winning Worlds is the absolute goal. We would love to finish the season winning a World Championship if we even have the luxury of having one, and if we don't we'd love to finish at Regional Champions, just as we did in Season 9.

 

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