Team Vitality's zonic talks the BLAST Paris Major, working with dupreeh & the good old days

Team Vitality's zonic talks the BLAST Paris Major, working with dupreeh & the good old days
Image via Team Vitality | BLAST | Jak Howard

Written by 

Harry Boulton


12th May 2023 16:11

With five CS:GO Major championships between them and a recent win to boost their confidence, Team Vitality sits in pole position to succeed with home advantage at the BLAST Paris Major.

At the helm of this squad is Danny "zonic" Sørensen, who followed a fantastic Counter Strike 1.6 playing career into a managerial dynasty, immortalising himself as arguably the game's best-ever coach, and winning four Major trophies in the process.

We got the chance to speak to zonic as Team Vitality gears up for what is potentially their most important tournament in the game so far, as they attempt to take home the glory on home soil and place their mark on CS:GO's last-ever Major championship.

First of all, I'd like to say congratulations on winning in Rio - it must feel so great coming into the Major so quickly after.

It definitely feels great to see that the improvements that we have been making with the team so far this year are paying off. But normally when you win a tournament you go start relaxing or go into celebration mode, but it didn't take long before I was like, oh s***, we need to replicate this in two weeks' time.

Obviously [we were] really really satisfied, but also there was no time to celebrate and we were immediately thinking, okay, what can we fix for the Major coming in, and praying to God that we didn't peak just there and we are actually building some momentum.

Do you feel like this is the time for you? With no French team having won since 2015, this is the first CS Major on French soil, and the last overall CS:GO Major.

Yeah, there's definitely no better time than doing it here. If we're talking about a French team winning a Major, I tried doing it on home soil several times with the BLAST in Copenhagen and it is a lot of pressure.

What we have tried with the players this time around is from the beginning of January we have said there is a lot of pressure on you guys. Saying that 'it's just another tournament' and treating it like it's the same opponents are things that we have of course done.

But we have tried a different approach of saying 'yes, there is a lot of pressure on you, and there's never been that much pressure on you' and it helped us deal with it together because at the end of the day, it's why we are playing, to play on the biggest stage you can, and playing in front of your home crowd and family.

So, in general, we have been having a lot of talks with the players and I think the majority of the pressure for the team was at the RMR, as that's where you really want to qualify. It's just a tough mental challenge going into the RMR nowadays because it's so easy to fall out. 

You're playing against teams you don't know, and every team can beat each other. So I think the majority of the pressure is now off and it's time to keep going like we did in Rio, believing in our own game and hammering some confidence into the players.

Image of Magisk at IEM Rio
Click to enlarge
Team Vitality | ESL

Do you prefer the way that qualification for the Major is done now, where you qualify through the RMR system as opposed to instant qualification if you reached the knockouts?

I think that we had some pretty good times back in Astralis when we were almost guaranteed to be qualified for the next Major, but I think the seeding is the one thing that can be done differently.

I think they rely too much on previous results, and if one team f**** up - I think FaZe experienced it quite well in Rio when they went to the Legends stage, as we f***** up and Cloud9 as well, and they ended up playing C9 first and then we and they were 0-2 down.

So I think something has to be done with the seeding, but I like the RMR. I like the way that there's so much hype being created around it. And even though it's tough to be in as a coach and a player, I think it gives some really crazy matchups and storylines for the game.

It's actually a good system, but I think we are seeing way too many upsets, in the sense that if one big team screws up in one game, you always end up having the two best teams playing the 2-2 games. So it's always these crazy games with ENCE going up against Cloud9, and then you have two lesser-known teams going up against each other.

And I'm all for not making it like it was in the old days where if you were the best team coming in and you lost your game, you'd still get the worst team, and the system was trying to make sure you'd qualify eventually. You should get punished by f****** up in one of the games, but I just see some teams getting a really easy route because they lost the first game and then they just get three games where they are on paper going to win.

Does having three former Major winners on your team help you get through those high-pressure situations?

It definitely helps. It's no critique of Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen and Emil "Magisk" Reif in that sense, but you sometimes see some of the big players on the team - Lotan "Spinx" Giladi or Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut -  when it comes to these really high-pressure games, that they are not caring as much as they normally do when they're playing these more 'normal' or group stage games. 

I think it's normal though, we had the same thing back in Astralis with Nicolai "dev1ce" Reedtz - he was always known for playing really, really good until he came to the semi-final. It is part of the pressure, especially also when you are a star player you have a lot of pressure on your shoulders that you need to carry and that you need to perform in order for you guys to go further.

But I've been really proud of Magisk and dupreeh in the last two events and how they have used their experienced because dupreeh especially is going into a different stage in his career. I had a talk with him because he had too many high expectations of himself, and he has a position of himself of being this star rifler dupreeh who was in his prime time and who's still good and we have to work with him in order for him to accept that he's never going to be the star rifle of the team again.

He is coming towards the end of his career, or the latter part of his career, and there are just new people who are faster and better than him. But he needs to rely on something else like you do in football. You don't just have 11 young players who are the fastest and the biggest, you always need some experience around the lineup.

I think we finally saw that when were were in the game against Cloud9 in Rio that dupreeh stepped up because someone else was not doing it. It is in these games where nothing is working or there is high pressure on you that it was good to see that both the two Danes were stepping up. I would say that Magisk still has many years left in him, but it was good to see that he is finally using his experience because I think it's difficult for these players sometimes to understand how much experience they have.

Image of Apex and ZywOo fist bumping at BLAST Premier
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Team Vitality | BLAST | Jak Howard

How important would you say that stability is to success for you, especially bringing dupreeh and Magisk over with you from Astralis?

Stability goes very much together with consistency. I think that's where the big challenge for me personally comes in when you have an international team. It is to try and create a play style where even when you have a bad day, or you have a ZywOo or Spinx who are not popping off, you have enough team play to still bounce back and win.

I think that the game in Rio finally proved that for me, where ZywOo didn't have his best game but we still won. I think that has been the identity of Vitality previously, where if ZywOo didn't carry then they were probably going to lose. And there's no way that if you want to win a Major that ZywOo is going to carry eight or nine games in a row.

It's really bad that it happen, and I think for me when I joined the team I said to the players that we need to be able to win games where ZywOo is not popping off, and that requires someone else to step up.

I think that has been my focus point, at least it was the same strategy I did with Astralis - so always relying on dev1ce, and as soon as they hit the semis and he had a bad game no one stepped up. And that comes through a lot of agreements, and having a lot of different strengths to play on, so if he's not hammering the game you can say 'OK, what else can we do?'

Then it is just having a lot of discipline, because sometimes when he's not feeling the game you tend to go out of your comfort zone and use plays that you haven't even done in practice. I think that's been my key issue where we don't need to rely on ZywOo to win games.

Are they any particular teams that you are excited about facing at the Major, or that you're hoping will turn up in the seeding?

I hope no one shows up, I hope we're alone showing up! No, I think the whole scene is in a weird spot. I think before the RMR there was only one stable team in the scene and that is Heroic, and with the rest you don't really know what to get. But one thing for sure is that everyone is coming in as strong as they possibly can because it's the Major.

You might see a team like NAVI fix a lot of their issues, I expect them to play a lot better as they've been looking better and better over the last couple of months. I also expect Heroic to do well - Heroic is the best team in the world obviously, and now on paper too, but I think they are levels above a lot of the teams whenever they're playing their A game. Sometimes something just goes off for them, and maybe it's their play style or some mental thing where they look really poor in some sense, so it's up and down with them.

I think it's also exciting to see G2, and what they have been working on - they've definitely had some time off to boot camp now, so I'm always excited. 

I think we see a lot of young teams coming in that have zero respect for all of us top teams who have been in the game for a long time, who they have probably looked up to in some sense. They just come in and they don't give a f*** and I think that's really refreshing to see, and the generational shift is more clear than ever. They put a lot of pressure on the old guys, where they need to step up or someone else is coming to take their place.

Image of Team Vitality walking across the stage at BLAST Premier
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Team Vitality | BLAST | Jak Howard


I've always loved Counter-Strike's ability to keep its consistency. Obviously, it has changed, especially in the professional scene, but as someone who's been involved with the game for nearly two decades now, what are some things that have stood out that have changed the most?

So I started back in 1999 when the game came out. I think game-wise it has changed a lot, but also the professional side of things too. It was fun because I just saw my first contract the other day - I still have it as an email.

Alex Müller the CEO of SK Gaming sent it to me in 2005, and I got $600 per month, and it was something along the lines of if I did something wrong they could fine me like €5,000 so the contracts back then were just a gimmick.

I remember we always tried to do interviews and act like role models because in the back of our minds, we knew that this was going to be big, and by acting as a professional you would help build the sport in some sense.

Back then you would take your PC under your arm, go on a bus or a train, travel across Denmark for four or five hours to go to this school hall and sit for 12 hours straight every day. You had to go to the admin table to ask for the game's IP, and then someone would f*** up and you couldn't restart the game, so you had to go in and replay the last four rounds with the same kills, it was crazy.

Then now to go to these big arenas with fans waiting outside - we have a meet and greet at the V-Hive where a lot of French fans are going to come and meet us. When you are walking in Denmark people stop you in the street, and it's not just people your age or young kids, it's parents and grandparents because they have seen you on a poster and they want to show off to their children.

You have politicians in Denmark being involved in Counter-Strike and now you have Macron in France also wanting to get esports to Paris. I think it's crazy being a part of the whole thing from the beginning, and sometimes I miss the old times when the pressure wasn't on you and you were just having fun. It can be tough now, but that's why we work and we're obviously getting paid accordingly so I'm not complaining, but there are good and bad things about the change.

I think it's when you talk to some of the young players nowadays or players like dupreeh who have been in the game for a long time, and he's writing that he's been playing for ten years on his Twitter, and I'm like yeah I'm almost at 24 years in. So when he's talking about the good old times in 2013, I'm saying 'what do you mean?' the good old times were in 2002 when I started going to these internet cafes.

It has been crazy going from the biggest stage in 2002 being some internet cafe, to now playing in front of the biggest arenas and having superstar football players coming in to watch us play video games.

Image of Team Vitality lifting the trophy at IEM Rio
Click to enlarge
Team Vitality | ESL

Team Vitality and zonic will be starting their BLAST Paris Major journey on Saturday, May 13, at 3PM BST, where they will look to capitalise on the home advantage.

Image assets provided by Team Vitality | Swipe Right.

Harry is a Guides Writer at GGRecon, having completed a Masters of Research degree in Film Studies. Previously a freelance writer for PCGamesN, The Loadout, and Red Bull Gaming, he loves playing a wide variety of games from the Souls series to JRPGs, Counter-Strike, and EA FC. When not playing or writing about games and hardware, you're likely to find him watching football or listening to Madonna and Kate Bush.

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