Before their elimination, we caught up with Aaron "AZR" Ward at the BLAST Paris Major 2023: European RMR A to talk everything CS:GO, including joining Sprout, his thoughts on CS 2 and more.
Hugo "TheSwedishJoker" Nilsson Meier, BLIX.GG: It’s been a while since we’ve seen you in the tier-one scene, how’s it been since the EXTREMUM days?
Aaron “AZR” Ward: It’s been a while since I’ve played some CS, other than when I played for a little bit for an Australian team when I went back there, but while not playing I guess I was focusing on myself quite a bit mentally.
I went through a lot of things, also not being able to play CS at the start of the year, which kind of sucked but also, I lost my dad last year to cancer, so that was pretty rough. Other than that? That's pretty much it.
BLIX: You’ve been with international lineups now for a really long time, with Renegades and such, then a short stint standing in for an Australian team. At this point in time, do you prefer playing with an international lineup over an Australian lineup?
AZR: I think the main thing for me is that I know that if you want to do something with your career, you have to play in Europe, right? So, I think that being in Europe in general and playing with an international team is always going to come first, but there’s also been like…
I guess in an international team, communication isn’t as sharp as it can be, obviously English is other people’s second language and stuff like that, so communication can’t be as clear as if I was playing with an Aussie team. That’s something that I definitely have to get used to with this team and I’ve only been playing with this team for like a month now, so there’s gonna be more hurdles for sure.
BLIX: Since you’ve only been with the team for about a month, do you feel like there’s some sort of pressure because Sprout did really well last Major, and you’re coming in like a month before it? How have the talks been within the team?
AZR: It’s been up and down, you know? At first, coming in, I was pretty confident, but at the same time I haven’t played in a while, so there’s a lot of learning for me. The game’s changed a lot, you can’t say it’s just one thing, there are so many things like rotations, strats, timings, everything changes. There’s a lot for me to learn and still a lot for me to learn right now, so the main thing is time, right? One month just hasn’t been enough.
Obviously, there’s a lot of pressure on me to perform, because I came into this team as a leader, and last Major they did pretty well, but then they hit a bit of a rough patch. We want to try and fix that for sure.
BLIX: You talked a little bit before about international teams versus Australian teams. What would you say are the main differences between those two?
AZR: Communication is definitely number one, that’s an easy one! I find myself sometimes like… if someone says something really, really quick, like Victor (Staehr, ed.) in this very heavy Danish accent, sometimes I struggle to hear what he says, so communication in an international team is probably the hardest thing for me right now.
Behind the scenes of Sprout
BLIX: Can you talk to me a little bit about the roles in the team and about how things are right now?
AZR: We got XELLOW, who is the AWPer, I just want him to go nuts with the AWP, that’s pretty much it. We got Victor (Staehr, ed.), who to me is the star player of the team, he’s also like the second caller of the team and when he’s feeling it and knows timing stuff he makes my life so much easier. I think Victor’s got a bright, bright future ahead of him, he’s a natural beast of a player.
Then we have Zyphon, who’s like one of our anchor players, he’s very, very sharp. Especially when he’s feeling good, feeling happy, when people run at him he’s just going to headshot them, he’s so good. And then we got lauNX who’s like the X factor of the team, I can just send him anywhere and he’s going to get kills, he’s just crazy. And for me, I just need to support them in the best way I know right now.
BLIX: What are you currently doing with the team now, day-to-day? It hasn’t been a long time, and you’ve just been thrust into the Major, how do you guys deal with all the practice? Did you come to the Major with no expectations?
AZR: Expectations are definitely qualifying, like […] I can’t say anything else, we want to qualify for the Major and the guys have been there in the past, that’s the goal. You just want to be at the Major because it’s the most prestigious event of the year, and we just want to be there.
Credit: BLAST/Michal Konkol
BLIX: Have you guys been able to talk about any goals, maybe past the Major?
AZR: I don’t think we’ve really spoken about it, to be honest. Like, since I joined the team, the workload has been pretty full-on. We’ve had a lot of online officials, and also have just been practicing.
Since I joined the team, we’ve had like one day off or something like that, so it’s just been a lot of practice and that’s pretty much it. We haven’t thought about anything past the Major at all.
BLIX: Do you feel pressure to replicate what Sprout did last Major, knocking out NIP for example? Or do you want to overcome what they did last year?
AZR: Not in that sense, to be honest, I don’t really think about that. For me, my personal pressure is I just think about being the best that I can be after a month of being back in Counter-Strike.
As I said before, there's still a lot for me to learn, so I have just got to keep grinding with the guys. So not much for previous results, more so for myself and my expectations.
BLIX: What is the situation for you now coming into the team a month ago, have you talked about the living situation?
AZR: No, I actually live in Denmark! I live here with my partner, I’ve been living in Denmark for about two and a half years, I think. Ever since I left 100Thieves to come to Europe I’ve been living in Denmark.
I’ve been here for a while, and I usually just go back and forth to Australia to see family. It’s a long journey but I’ve got my partner here, so my life is here!
BLIX: And you FaceTime with the family and everything?
AZR: Exactly! And whenever I get that chance to go back then I love to see my family, so yeah.
Thoughts on CS 2
BLIX: Moving to CS2, it came out pretty recently in Beta. Have you been able to play it a little bit?
AZR: I have not played at all! Actually, I’ve opened the game and had a look at smokes and nades and that’s it, I’ve just been focusing on CS:GO. My expectations for Counter-Strike 2 are that it’s obviously not in the best spot right now and there’s been a lot of criticism for sure, but it’s still beta, and it’s the reason why it’s like this. I’m assuming that when it gets to summer it will be playable.
For example, it was the same way with CS:GO, when CS:GO first came out it was so atrocious, it was a terrible game, and everyone thought it was shit. So we have just got to let Valve do their thing, give them time and I’m sure it’s going to be a great game and I assume it’s going to be a lot bigger than CS:GO.
BLIX: Were you a part of the old “switch” from 1.6 to CS:GO, or did you come in later?
AZR: I played 1.6 but at the time CS:GO came out I was playing Source, so I made that swap. Because 1.6 was dying in Australia, so if I wanted to play some Counter-Strike it was mostly in CS:Source. I switched from there.
BLIX: Do you think things will be different this time around compared to back then?
AZR: I think so for sure, I mean back then it was combining the two games, like two communities together, so it’s a little bit different from then. I think it will just bring in a lot of new people, having the new Counter-Strike. There’s been so much speculation and so much talking about Counter-Strike 2 for years now, we’ve been talking about Source 2 Engine, you know that’s been around for a while now. I’m just hoping it’s gonna be great.
BLIX: You haven’t played it but as there have been tons of videos, have you noticed anything that you would have liked to see changed, maybe from CS:GO into CS2?
AZR: I don’t know right now, to be honest, I think I would like a different map pool for sure. I’m not the biggest fan of the map pool right now, I can’t give specific maps but I’m just not impressed with it right now.
I wish… I guess they could take it out of Valorant’s page, updating the game constantly, I wish Valve would have done the same. Like look upon Counter-Strike and do the same thing, right? That’s all I can say, I just hope Valve could put as much into the game as people love it.
BLIX: You mentioned the map pool, how have you been able to go through it with the team this month?
AZR: It’s been a bit crazy because for me, with the team right now, I’ve had to learn three maps pretty much to be coming into this team. Anubis is a new map that I had to learn. I had to learn Overpass because previously I hated Overpass, I never liked the map whatsoever. I still fucking hate the map and I wish it wasn’t in the map pool!
And Ancient, because when I actually took a break Ancient just came into the map pool, so it was really new to me. Right now, I’m going over it also, and it’s going pretty well.
BLIX: And have the guys helped you out a lot?
AZR: Yeah, definitely, BERRY (coach Danny “BERRY” Kruger, ed.) is always helping me out and trying to keep me up in the meta, especially on Overpass, because I don’t know the map at all! For me it’s just like, I just have to go and watch demos, and see how people play, see the spots. It’s just a grind, and that’s all it is.
BLIX: Obviously this is the last CS:GO Major and we have some tournaments coming up in CS:GO before CS2 is officially released. Do you feel like Valve did the right thing by releasing it as a Beta now, or should have they waited a little bit longer?
AZR: It would have been nice if we had two Majors this year for CS:GO like it was planned. But the release of CS2 in the summer meant the Major that was supposed to be later in the year got shafted. Now it’s just one for the year, so for that reason I wish they delayed it a little bit, but other than that I don’t really care to be honest!
I just hope CS2 is an awesome game, and we all love it, and it brings a big community along.