In an exclusive interview with Esports.gg, Team Vitality’s apEX speaks about the upcoming Major, his teammates and leadership responsibilities.
After a two-year break, fans can finally look forward to a CS: GO Major. The PGL Stockholm Major is upon us and features the best teams across the world competing for glory and a $2 million prize pool. One of the favorites to win this event is Team Vitality. Led by Dan “apEX” Madesclaire, Vitality has seen significant improvements over the past few months with a consistent top-five ranking.
After briefly dropping out of the Top 10 earlier this year, Vitality has climbed its way back to the top through consistent performances. Right now, Vitality is the third-best team in the world and a real contender to NaVi’s dominance. R Under the apEX’s leadership of CS: GO, Vitality goes into the Major as a potential favorite and definitely the biggest threat to some of the best teams out there.
Esports.gg’s Rohan Samal caught up with Team Vitality’s In-Game Leader apEX before their Major. He talks about the team’s goals for the Major and the players’ preparedness. The PGL Stockholm Major will be the first Major for some players on the roster. Vitality has earned a Legends spot and its Major journey will kick off on October 30.
Rohan Samal, Esports.gg Eurasia Editor: Firstly, congrats on qualifying for the Major with the Legends spot. How is the team feeling ahead of the Major?
Team Vitality apEX: Qualifying for the Major was obviously one of the goals. But what I always say while qualifying for the Major is that a team like us has everything to lose. If we are at the Major, is just a normal thing for most fans, but if we are not at the Major, it’s a big thing. We just did the job and I’m happy we did it.
Rohan: This is the first Major after nearly two years. Is the team preparing in a special way for the Major or are you guys looking to approach it just like any other event?
apEX: Everyone is excited to play. A Major is always different. We have two rookies that have never played Majors. For them, it’s a big step. For ZywOo it’s going to be his third Major so he is still relatively new to Majors. Shox and I have played a lot of Majors, it’s good to be back. For us, it’s a very different tournament. We just want to give our best to get there. We are really excited to play in the Major.
Rohan: Do you guys have any minimum expectations of the Major?
apEX: The goal of the team is to at least reach the playoffs. Playing in front of the crowd will be something really nice cause we didn’t experience that for two years. It’s been too long, to be honest. Going to the playoffs is a minimum. When you play the Major and you are a Top 5 team, your main goal is to win the whole thing. So that’s what we are going to try to do.
Rohan: You guys spoke about the crowds. You have already played at IEM Fall and Cologne. But those were studio LAN events. Does playing in front of a live crowd or is it motivation for the team to perform better?
apEX: It depends on the player but for myself, it’s just extra motivation to go to the playoffs. It’s been too long since we’ve played in front of a crowd. That’s why I personally play Counter-Strike. I play Counter-Strike to live to do things, live in front of the crowd, to have fun, just playing with the crowd, having the goosebumps when you enter the stadium. All the important things that we didn’t have for two years.
But for the younger players, maybe they are a bit scared to play in front of the crowd. They’ve never done that before, so maybe it’s a different experience. I’m not sure yet how the rest of the team feels about that but the three of us are really excited.
Rohan: This is the first Major for Misutaa and Kyojin. Has the team done something to help the players mentally?
apEX: To be honest, for Misutaa, he is ready to play at the Major. He is playing better and better for the last few months. With his attitude, he is really ready to do it. I have no problem with him. For Kyojin, I don’t think a sports psychologist will help him now. It’s more about being ready in the game than anything else. So I’m not sure about Kyojin, I think it will be a bit of added pressure for him, but that’s normal.
Rohan: How has the experience been as the in-game leader in this online era of Counter-Strike?
apEX: I started being an in-game leader for almost three years now. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to do it at big events or at the stadium. It’s really important for me to show myself and others what I’m capable of. I think I’m doing good online already as I feel the game pretty well. I just want to get even better and am ready as ever to do that.
Rohan: Kyojin joined the team earlier this year. As the IGL, how have you been helping him adjust to the team or get along with the rest of the squad?
apEX: We added Kyojin in April. In the beginning, Kyojin was a big rookie. He had never done anything like this before. This was his first ‘real team’. He hadn’t played in Tier 3/4 teams. So he had everything to learn about the game. That wasn’t an easy experience for him overall. Every day since then, we have been trying to help him.
Mostly the coaches and I are trying to explain our vision of the game to him. It takes time to know all of this. He is pretty good individually and that’s what we want from him right now. We want him to give his best showing and just listen to the team’s calls. I use him a bit like a soldier because he is not ready to take initiative yet. I am doing that and helping him to gain experience and control of what he does. But it’s not easy at all.
Rohan: You draw the example of a soldier when you talk about young blood in your team. What’s that about?
apEX: When you have young blood in your team when they have no experience at all, you need to use them in that way. It can’t be another way. We’ve tried sometimes to let them make choices, but it was not a good experience. They were not playing better at all, and we were playing way worse as a team. I think they will be good if they take initiative but it will take too long.
We don’t have much time. If we do that, we will drop down in the rankings and we don’t have that time in CS anymore. What we can do is to help them play in a certain way. We can help them in being entry fragger, trading and nothing thinking much and that’s what we are trying to do. I think that’s the best way to take in new players. Otherwise, it just takes too long.
Rohan: Vitality has two generations of players. You and Shox are veterans and the rest of the squad is much younger. How’s the team environment with this age difference.
apEX: We have a really good team environment. We like spending time with each other outside of the game. Even though they are young, we can see no problems in our relationships. We don’t see any difference between veterans or young blood. We are feeling good and having fun. Age doesn’t change much. The most important aspect is to create a team and create good humans.
Rohan: Besides Team Vitality which other teams do you expect to do very well.
apEX: Obviously NaVi. They are the best team in the world right now. There is no doubt they will play fantastic counter-strike and will be really hard to beat. I think NiP are in good form as well; I don’t know exactly what to expect from them but I think they will play well. Gambit, even though they have four players that have never played the Major, I think they will be ready. Overall, they are playing good CS and are one of the teams to beat.
I will add probably teams like Liquid, FaZe or Astralis. One of those will do really well because they have experienced players on the team. Players that have won Majors, played on big teams etc. I think they will reach a really good ranking.
Rohan: Are there are any changes you want to see to the CS: GO esports circuit after the Major?
apEX: It’s not going to be an easy end of the tour cause we have so many tournaments. We have the Major and then the BLAST Fall Finals. Then we go straight to IEM Winter and if we do well at IEM Winter we go to BLAST Premier World Finals. It’s not going to be easy. I don’t understand why IEM Winter is a two-week tournament instead of a one-week tournament. It shouldn’t be a two weeks tournament, only Major should have that. I wish they could shorten the tournaments.
Rohan: Valve has said the player signature stickers are only available to the top eight teams at the Major. What are your thoughts on that?
apEX: I think that’s a bit sad, cause a lot of players expected to have their signatures at this Major after waiting for two years. Unfortunately, it will not happen. I don’t know why exactly they did this, but it’s a sad thing.