Vitality made the Playoffs in Katowice, the first time their star Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut had played in the Spodek. It didn't go entirely to plan, however, as they could never have predicted what would happen in their eventual elimination against Liquid.
After their match against Liquid, we sat down with coach Danny “zonic” Sorensen and In-Game Leader Dan “apEX” Madesclaire to discuss their relationship, as well as the evolution of both of their roles. This is part one of the interview. You can view part two here.
Sam “AN1MO” McKenzie, BLIX.GG: Okay, so how would you describe your approach when you first started working together?
Danny "zonic" Sørensen: I think for me it was a lot about finding two cultures, finding two ways of playing the game, finding two ways of approaching the game. I think we had a lot of issues, in the beginning, role-wise within the team. It was also about adapting the Danes into playing a new way of playing Counter-Strike because we came from a strict system in Astralis and obviously getting to know the players, getting to know ZywOo, getting to know apEX, the team around the players as well. So, I think it's been a learning experience, but I think we have always tried to be really productive in the way of improving the team.
BLIX: So you mentioned role-wise, you've got a few players in the system that people might say are quite similar in terms of play style, especially like you [apEX] and dupreeh. How do you go about figuring out how that fits into the system?
Dan "apEX" Madesclaire: I think that wasn't me and dupreeh most likely because I'm an In-Game Leader now. In this team, I'm more like a supportive player and trying sometimes to entry but it's a bit different. That was more between misutaaa and dupreeh. They had a really similar role. They wanted to go first and that was pretty tough because back then we didn't have a proper lurker. I would say a passive lurker like Spinx is. So, there were a lot of things at the beginning, but now obviously it's much better in our roles.
BLIX: So who would you two say that in terms of creating the game plan, which one of you is the bigger voice, and how do you go about creating a game plan?
zonic: I think for me as a coach, if you have an In-Game Leader who doesn't feel comfortable in the way that we are playing, it's very difficult. So, of course, then he has a big voice and he has to set the team how he wants to. Of course, we have to be on the same page. But I think in terms of philosophy-wise and how we want to approach the game, we are quite similar. Of course, there are some differences, but we can always learn from each other. But of course, we have to be aligned and we have to see the game in the same way. But he obviously has a big voice because it's him calling the strats. And as I said before, if he doesn't feel comfortable in it or if I just bring in a whole new system, then it's going to be very difficult. But I'm happy that we are on the same page.
BLIX: So apEX, you weren't always an IGL. Did you ever expect to become an IGL? How did you approach it when you started and how has zonic helped you?
apEX: Well, obviously back in the day I didn't expect to be In-Game Leader. That was just something that came in 2020. When ALEX in the French team decided to step down and my old coaching staff told me it was my turn, I just took some days to reflect on it and I said, yeah, let's go. Obviously, before zonic came, I had two years of experience with the French team, so it's a bit different. Obviously, with the international team, I had to learn a lot from the Danes and from everyone else because it's a really different aspect. Before, I had players that were listening to me and had to listen to me all the time because I was micromanaging a lot and I was doing all the calls. Now, we try to rely more on everyone trying to make calls, and trying to make individual plays, so it's a lot different. I would say that sometimes I have less impact on the game, which is normal, because at some point if I had a bad day with the French we would have lost. But now with everyone else being able to make calls and trying to make plays, it's a lot easier at some points. But yeah, it's a big difference. That's what I think I learned the most with Danny [zonic], giving a bit more freedom to the players at some point and trying to play more on the other than just doing everything by myself.
zonic: Just to add, because I think nowadays, as an In-Game Leader, you need to be able to bring some firepower as well. And for them, with the old team, if he has to micromanage and do all the calls and has to think really about the game all the time, it's very difficult to focus on yourself as well. So for me, I think as an In-Game Leader, you can shine, but it's very difficult because you have an opponent who's also going to prepare, is also going to do a lot of stuff. It's very difficult to outcall your opponent's 15 rounds in a row, it rarely happens. So, we need that for these three or four crucial rounds, then he has called perfectly. But for me, it's also important that he has room and space and trust in the players so that he can also focus more on himself.
BLIX: How would you define IGLing, how much of the work that you do as an In-Game Leader is outside of the server?
apEX: Obviously there are like a few steps, I would say the first one is creating strats and trying to have new things. A lot of the time, obviously, you make more work than the other players in that sense because that's normal. The second part is most likely preparing for the game, so trying to make good calls against the enemy and I think the small things that are really important together.
BLIX: What's the difference between working with apEX to gla1ve and to karrigan?
zonic: There are a lot of differences. I think karrigan was very creative, he would call a lot of calls on the fly, a lot of new explosive things. And I would say the difficult thing with working with him in that sense, in terms of how I see the game was that a lot of the things that we practiced compared to when we then went to official we couldn't really use because he had so many good ideas, and that's fine. See where Karrigan is today? He won a Major and he has a really smart brain when it comes to Counter-Strike. In terms of gla1ve, it was more the opposite thing. I think he was really structured. Everything we practice we need to be able to do to be ready for the official game. I'd say Karrigan is very difficult to read because he's got a lot of new stuff whereas gla1ve is in more that department with how Counter-Strike is being played today with the CTs taking a lot of info and infrastructure, peeks, and stuff like that, it can be easier to read, but of course, you make fewer mistakes. I think in terms of Dan [apEX], he has a bit of both and I think that's how you're supposed to see the game nowadays because it can be easy to read, but you need to be able to play explosive, stay structured, be able to do calls on the fly, need to be good in mid-round calling. I think he has the full package in that sense. So, yeah, I’m very happy to have worked with them all.
BLIX: So, with the evolution of coaching and how Valve has slowly chipped away at the rules, how much more difficult does that make your life as a coach?
zonic: For me, I think it's fine. I don't think Counter-Strike is tough, especially not on our team with so many voices and so many ideas. It would be chaotic if I could talk all the time. So I think for the good of the game, I'm fine with the rules. It was made six years ago now. So for me, I think it's fine that whenever the players are on the server, it's their time to shine and understand the decision in some way. Of course, with the whole celebration thing and doing Majors now, I think it's very difficult and I think it takes away a lot of the love for the sport as well to see the coaches behind going crazy and high-fiving the players and trying to do what they can to pump up the players. If someone is down, you give them a pat on the shoulder or give them a fist bump or whatever. I think it's a bit sad that they have taken it to that step because even though they have good intentions, I mean, I could stand on the right side of dupreeh and when I do that it means B-Split or whatever and I could scratch my ear or whatever and then it means something else. So for me, I understand that decision, but I think it's taking it a bit too far right now.