Big E speaks to

Evan "Verhulst" Verhulst has become a cult legend in the Apex Legends. He won EA's first ever positive player award, and is one of the games most liked players by both fans and his fellow competitors. Known as "Big E", a nickname he says he enjoys, Verhulst is among the stars of the ALGS circuit.

Since moving to TSM back in late 2021 Verhulst has settled into the spotlight. TSM are heading to Los Angeles off the back of a near perfect year of LAN results in Year 3. They took first, second and first. Given the amount of variables across all those games of Apex, that is one of the gaming achievements of all time.

ALGS Year 4 has not been plain sailing for the defending Champions though. TSM had a bumpy Pro League split. However, in true TSM fashion, they pulled it back when it mattered most, taking the behind closed doors Regional Finals. sat down with Verhulst ahead of the ALGS Split 2 Playoffs kicking off in Los Angeles, on May 2.

Photo: EA/Joe Brady
Photo: EA/Joe Brady

Verhulst admits TSM struggled to settle on who to play

It was uncharacteristic to see Verhulst and TSM languishing (by TSM standards) in 9th ahead of the ALGS Regional Finals. TSM had made a decent start to the ALGS Regional Finals, before it was disrupted by the much documented hacking incident, sitting in 5th.

However, it was still a surprise to see TSM perform so well in the resumed finals given their Pro League performances prior. It seemed like TSM were really struggling to find their way in the Season 20 meta.

Verhulst recalled exactly what was going wrong for TSM across those weeks.

"I think it's because we were trying to figure out our team composition and struggling with what to play. We were going from Valk, Seer, Horizon or Valk, Horizon, Catalyst. We were even trying Horizon, Seer, Catalyst. Also, we just swapped to Bangalore, which we were not really used to playing. We tried a bunch of team comps, we had to start learning how to play Bloodhound and using Caustic again.

"I think it was just the team comp causing most of our issues. Now, we don't have to worry about shifting our team comp going into the tournament. So that's going to be a big advantage for us. I feel like we always struggle when we have to change team comps. But we've been practicing the same thing for months. So we've been able to refine everything."

Photo: EA/Joe Brady
Photo: EA/Joe Brady

Bangalore will be a key feature of the ALGS Split 1 Playoffs

One legend that Verhulst and TSM are using, like most ALGS teams, is Bangalore. It was prophesized that the large nerf to Bangalore mid season might knock her out of the meta. In some regions, she had reached a 100% pick rate.

However, she is still set to be a key feature of the ALGS Split 1 Playoff meta. Digi's have been removed from SMG's, all three of her abilities have been nerfed. Yet, her position in the meta is seemingly unshakable. What does Verhulst think about if Bangalore will ever be out of the ALGS meta?

"Her kit is just so good. Having that tactical where you can just smoke off sight lines letting you rotate from point A to point B without getting shot at is so important. Her tactical is so good. They'd have to hard, hard nerf her tactical and her ultimate. Or buff a bunch of other characters.

"Even her passive is really good. It allows her to run around and play like an idiot because she can get away with stuff. With that speedboost, she can avoid taking lots of damage when running out in the open. Even with those nerfs she is still so good."

Photo: EA/Joe Brady
Photo: EA/Joe Brady

Caustic is a different role for Verhulst

One of the other legends that we will see a lot at the ALGS Split 1 Playoffs is Caustic. The introduction of the Legend Upgrades system, and the nerfs to Catalyst, helped Caustic make a return to professional play. He is a very different legend to what we've seen Verhulst play in the past. How is he adapting to his new role?

"Caustic's definitely the most different legend out of all the ones I've played. He's probably the hardest because he's so big. He can get exploded, he'll just die really quickly because lots of teams will focus big characters when they see them. So a lot of times I get targeted, which means I'm always dying first.

"Another thing is I have to be really, really smart about my path finding. You have to play around cover really, really smartly. Each little slide jump, and every second you're out of cover it's really really important to make sure you're moving at the right time. Making sure you get full slide jumps and not dead slides. Caustic will get exploded on crossings if you're not really smart with your movement."

Photo: EA/Joe Brady
Photo: EA/Joe Brady

"In a lot of fights that I get into, I'll literally not even shoot my gun"

Verhulst is also learning to lean into Caustic's powerful abilities. His Gas Traps can act as makeshift cover, claim space and deal a lot of damage. The Nox Gas Ultimate is one of the most powerful in the game, especially with the extra size Upgrade selected.

"His abilities are really, really valuable too. Most fights, I'm trying to use my abilities and avoid taking damage, avoiding peeking because I'm so big and I can just die easily. So in a lot of fights that I get into, I'll literally not even shoot my gun. I'll only use my abilities and grenades.

"Going into a fight, the only thing I'll be thinking about is throwing a perfect Caustic Ultimate and throwing two grenades and that's it. Sometimes, I don't even do anything! Because Caustic is so big, he's bad to take 1v1 challenges with because he just gets destroyed. If you turn a corner on Caustic, they can see you before you can see them because his belly literally sticks out. Think about how much of a disadvantage that is."

Caustic means you have to prioritise staying alive

Verhulst rose to fame as a Valkyrie fragger, and has since switched to a more defensive role during ALGS Year 3. However, Caustic is a very different legend than he is used too.

"He's definitely different from the rest of the characters I've played. Every character I've played I can play pretty aggressive on, but Caustic you really cannot play aggressive on at all. You can just throw your Ultimate. If you're defending a position you can throw some barrels down, but that's pretty straightforward. On Caustic, your primary goal is to stay alive. That is it. You're not trying to 1v3 teams, you're not trying to output a ton of damage, you're just trying to stay alive."

Photo: EA/Joe Brady
Photo: EA/Joe Brady

How do Verhulst and TSM stay motivated?

TSM could have been forgiven for packing up their controllers, buying a house in Barbados or somewhere equally nice, and retiring from competitive Apex Legends forever after their ALGS Year 3. This team has done it all.

Their dominance presents a challenge for Verhulst and his teammates. How do you maintain this incredible LAN record, and how do you stay motivated as a player when you have nothing left to prove and almost nothing left to win?

"I think it's that we all treat it like a job. It's our income and our livelihood. If we quit our job, what else are we going to do all day? We're just going to still play video games all day or just go on vacation every week. We're all too young to want to quit when we're doing so well. We need something to fill our time, and right now we all enjoy playing Apex.

"The only way I see any of us retiring right now is we have a really, really bad year or some health issue or something else like that. We all just treat it like a job, we don't think oh should we play another year. We're just considering it like, okay we need income, so lets just keep playing."

Photo: EA/Joe Brady
Photo: EA/Joe Brady

Verhulst looking to make the most of his short career

That position is understandable. When you're winning (almost) everything, why not keep playing? Verhulst is also acutely aware that competitive careers are always short.

"You can only compete for so long too. So, you need to make the most of it while you can. A lot of players retire when they get to their 30's. Apparently, you get slow! But I don't know we'll see how slow I am when I turn 30!"

North American Pro League is "harder than LAN"

A result of TSM's immense LAN record is that they are immediate favourites for any LAN event that they attend. Rightly so, but given that they have had a shaky start to ALGS Year 4, does Verhulst feel that it is still fair to see them as favourites for this event?

"I think it's fair. I think LAN is a whole different game than Pro League. And I think our LAN experience will come in handy. We know we're good at LAN, we know how the lobbies play out. I also think that North America's Pro League is a lot harder than LAN, and this is up for debate, but the top 30 North American teams are better than the top 30 teams that go to LAN.

"LAN would be harder if it was all just North America. But unfortunately, only 12 teams can go to LAN from North America. North American Pro League is just way harder. I think some teams are better in those kinds of lobbies than LAN lobbies. LAN lobbies are so different because you're playing against worse teams. I hate to say it, and it is kind of mean to say it, but a lot of APAC and EU teams aren't as good as North American teams. So, it actually is a bit easier going from Pro League to LAN.

"For whatever reason, we just specialise in these types of lobbies. So, I think it's pretty fair to say we're still favourites. Our performance has been pretty good leaning up to LAN as well. Obviously DarkZero has been leading the scrim leaderboard, but they're a pretty kill heavy team and those teams are always going to do better in scrim lobbies."

Photo: EA/Joe Brady
Photo: EA/Joe Brady

Verhulst feels SSG could be LAN dark horses

Of course, as the only other team to ever win an ALGS LAN event, DarkZero are also always automatically amongst the favourites. But, does Verhulst see any other teams that could break past the big two at this event?

"I would say SSG, I think SSG could win. I think Legacy [Team Liquid Alienware] could win. Legacy rely on a lot of kills, but I think they could still win. I don't see LG winning. I'd be surprised if Sweet takes it. I guess you could still consider them a dark horse. I feel they could win, but I don't think it's likely.

"In terms of any non North American teams, I think Reject Winnity might have a shot. I think they could do it, but they'd also be considered a dark horse. I wouldn't say they're a top three or four team.

"I'd also say E8, but I don't know how Zap and Shooby are going to do at their first LAN. They're also kind of a kill heavy team and those sort of teams don't do as well at LAN. You can't rely on team fighting as much because at LAN that is a bit harder, so I don't know if E8 could be considered a dark horse."

Home crowd does make a difference

With all three ALGS Year 3 LAN events taking place in the United Kingdom, Verhulst hasn't competed in front of a home crowd for some time. Of course, esports events are different to that of traditional sports events where crowds are especially partisan.

And, additionally, is there ever an ALGS event where the majority of the crowd aren't rooting for TSM? So, with that in mind, does playing in front of a home crowd make a difference in Verhulst's opinion?

"I think it definitely makes a difference, knowing that everyone is from the country is from the country that you're from. It makes it feel a bit more homely. You know everyone a bit better and it definitely feels more comfortable. I still love my fans from other countries too, but it's just more comfortable."

Photo: EA/Joe Brady
Photo: EA/Joe Brady

A good night's sleep is key for Verhulst

Another aspect for Verhulst, TSM and the other 11 North American teams is not having to adjust to a new country and different timezone. Some international teams have travelled out to Los Angeles way in advance, while some are arriving just before the event begins.

For Verhulst and TSM of course, every day is a bootcamp with the team living under the same roof.

"It's way better not having to travel to another country. The biggest thing is timezones. You don't have to go and shift your sleep schedule because that alone is a huge disadvantage. I feel like most of the reason we even went to early bootcamp [in London] was just to adjust our sleep schedules. It's not to practice playing together because we all live in the same house so we're used to seeing each other.

"Sleep is so important. If you get bad sleep, it can just totally nuke your gameplay. It's going to make you play a lot worse. So if you don't have enough time to shift your sleep schedule from one country to another that'll make you play a lot worse. Going to LA and not having to worry about that is nice."

With solid sleep in the bag, TSM will hope to defend their Split 1 Playoff title in Los Angeles. Competition begins May 2. Stay tuned to for full coverage of the ALGS and all things Apex Legends.

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