After a successful 2022 campaign for the German-owned organization, BLIX sat down with Sprout’s coach Danny “BERRY” Krüger, and manager Daniel Paulus.
Heine "puffin" Winthereig, BLIX.GG: 2022 has surpassed, Sprout peaked at #19 in the world; how well did you think your team did throughout 2022, did they live up to your expectations, have they reached their ceiling, and do you have a good feeling going into 2023?
Danny “BERRY” Krüger: It’s looking really, we have lots of talent, and we have the experience in refrezh, and I think right now, we have no ceiling because all the players are so young and so new, but in some way, they have already been through a lot. We have not touched the ceiling yet.
Daniel Paulus: I think it's a little bit early, as an organization, we are a German organization. In the past, we were interested in having a German majority, but at some point, we recognized that it was not useful and that I was really happy when raalz came up with BERRY. Since BERRY came there has been a lot of things that changed in Sprout as a whole.
We started picking up talents, and he’s [BERRY] really good at it, I mean, he knows Staehr before, so he knows what he is capable of, he did good research on lauNX, and also he knows refrezh really well and he knows Zyphon. So I think from the day BERRY joined we have been making changes that are bringing us forward. I think sometimes teams are overreacting and changing too much, we don’t really know what our ceiling is.
We only know that we had a few problems on the AWP role and how to play it out, that's why we chose to change something in that position, and also that BERRY needs more help back office-wise, doing analytics, strategic things, helping the players with watching demos, so we chose also to get someone to our coaching staff, so now we have Radion, and we are really happy with him because he fills the gaps and brings in new knowledge that BERRY and I don’t have.
We both have no clue of how to use Excel for example and this guy is doing it really well, thats really good that you can write everything down. So that was a huge improvement when we decided to go international at some point and BERRY was like the main reason, who showed us it was possible. And even possible without spending millions or hundreds of thousands of dollars on players.
It’s also good to give the players a chance to work on what they lack and to develop talents, but I mean, that will also be our future. As soon as we have the budget for it, the next plan is 100% to have an academy team, so we have backups when there are offers for players or if we want to change something from our side and then BERRY will also be in charge of that together with the new assistant coach. That will happen at some point and I hope that will already happen this year to secure a better future.
On refrezh and adapting to the IGL Role
BLIX: refrezh came from Heroic and joined Sprout as the In-Game-Leader. Historically, when riflers haven’t been IGLs before, they usually do it as a placeholder until they can get back to riffling and leave that responsibility behind, do you see this in refrezh, how has he adapted to the IGL role, can he become a great IGL?
BERRY: I would say he has the potential to do it. He has always been working really hard and he is also working very hard now. He is always asking questions, asking for demos, and asking the players if they feel like his style suits them. I think he is trying a lot and has the potential to do it. He is still very new, so there is a lot of stuff he needs to learn, but I think if he keeps going, there is a chance for him to become the next great Danish IGL.
When he joined the team, it wasn’t me who asked him to be IGL, it was him coming to me and asking if he could join as IGL, so I would say he is accepting the role, and he is trying his best to learn how to support everybody, but sometimes he still has this “he’s just a player”-mindset, but he needs to learn that he is the IGL and the captain, but this is something we are working on and I would say, since we started he has improved a lot. He is trying his best to become a good IGL and a good captain.
Daniel Paulus: I would say, from my side, I have obviously no clue about the in-game stuff, that's more like what BERRY said, but I know we have a really young team, young wild people, and it's not only that he is the In-Game Leader now, he is also an In-Game Leader for young talents, they are on a better level than many people think. Not only frag-wise or whatever, they are also good when it comes to reading the game, but if you come into such a young team, then it is even harder, I think.
I have so much respect for refrezh, that he is working a lot (hard) to become a good In-Game Leader and I would say even crazier circumstances than if he joined a team full of let's say second callers or people who have a lot of experience. On the other side, it gives him a really good chance, because of the players, they listen to him and draw on his experience. I mean, I am really happy from the organization's side, his working attitude, and I’m pretty sure if he keeps this up, then he can become a really good In-Game Leader.
Expectations in 2023
BLIX: 2023 has just started, what about your expectations for the coming year? What critical success criteria do you have inside and outside of the server to consider the Sprout project to be a success in 2023 if we start with the first 3 months?
Daniel Paulus: From our perspective, the first thing we need to do is not think about what we want to reach, the first thing we need to set up is our base level. We need to make sure that, next week, for example, EPLC we are one of the favorites, we need to qualify for EPL. We need to make sure that we qualify for the events, EPL, the Major, Katowice, and so on. So, we can be in a position where we still get invites, as a non-partner team, that is the most important thing, that you always get invites.
So, the expectation is that we keep this level we are at right now and then improve from here. It's not important that we reach a special thing, for us the most important thing is to attend the events and reaching better positions there, step by step. The last time we attended Katowice we won one match, this time if we win two matches, then it is already a success.
BERRY: For me, it's just doing better than we did last year and for the first three months, showing that we actually did the right decision getting XELLOW and show people that, like I saw a lot of people saying that XELLOW was not the right decision, but you like all the other players we picked, that he is good enough to be one of the best in the world, I would say. For all of the players, this is one of my own goals, to help them become, maybe not all of them, but in the next couple of years get into the top 20 players in the world.
BLIX: Let’s take a hypothetical then, let's say you don’t qualify for Katowice, but you see that the level on the server is still going up and the team is playing better, would that still be considered a success?
Daniel Paulus: Yes, it's not always about skill, it can also be unlucky draws or something with seeding. Sometimes it's about the performance on the day. The first thing we need to reach is always attending the tournaments, then at some point, we will reach group stages and playoffs. Like last year, our first playoffs we reached was ESL Challenger Valencia. Through the qualification for Valencia, we got a good base for getting invites to other events or getting good points, and like with Elisa, we make sure that we go to Katowice, now we have another chance at Katowice, that's what I mean.
Gathering the points to be in the next event, then at some point if the team develops and gets better you will 100% go further, and that's what we want to do, we want to be hard working and attend tournaments, then at some point, you will go further, because of all of the work you put in, because of the spirit and the mindset it will happen at some point. I think the most important thing for the first three months is that people understand that we still don’t know our ceiling, that we still have room for improvement, and that XELLOW was the right choice for us.
BERRY: The roles and development will always be the most important. The results, I’m always thinking about how well we played before I think of the results. Obviously, you want the best results, but for me, it’s like, did we play well, and did the other team play well, then that's it. Were we actually unlucky or did we just play bad, this is always what I’m thinking about first.
I just want to be at the good tournaments again, but I also want to go deep in them, so it’s like a goal for the players and me to become a lot better, improve, and mature, and maybe not in the start of the year, but I would like to have a couple of deep runs in some tournaments. As for your hypothetical, it would still be considered a success, because this is also the first tournament, so I would say it would be a good sign that we played well, the result doesn’t matter, too much, because I think if you play good Counter-Strike, at some point, you will go far.
On choosing XELLOW
BLIX: Why did the choice end up being XELLOW to fill the gap after slaxz got cut?
BERRY: One of the things I saw in XELLOW was some of the same things I saw in lauNX, he is really good at just playing the game and killing the opponent. You rarely see him miss a shot, he is very consistent, and then he was the only guy we looked at because he was my first choice. I looked at some other demos because I had to compare him [to other potential candidates], but he was the only guy we talked to, he said all the things I wanted to hear and his playstyle fits our team. We need a more defensive AWPer and he fits this perfectly. We have so many aggressive players, that we don’t need another aggressive piece in the team.
BLIX: What about the first 6 months, what would need to happen to consider this Sprout project a success?
BERRY: In 6 months it’s the major, so I would say, the first 6 months it’s not too important to do the deep run. It’s more important that we improve, that everybody feels comfortable in the team, and that we qualify for the tournaments, so we get the experience and then we will get the chances to get the deep run. Like for example at the major. Even if that’s not the case, it won’t be considered a failure as long as we improve, the biggest goal is to get the deep run and in about 6 months we should get this.
Daniel Paulus: It’s hard, the first thing is to even qualify for the major, first we need to play RMR, and then we will see how that goes, I believe in the team, but I understand that it is hard like we saw with G2 and Astralis [last major]. In the first 3 months, I would like everyone to understand that XELLOW was the right choice and what we needed to be on a better base level. It’s not about the deep run, it’s more about the base level and qualifying for the tournaments. In the next 3 months it would be nice to qualify for the major and at some point do a deep run somewhere and hopefully gather enough points to qualify for Cologne.
BLIX: What about the last 6 months of 2023?
BERRY: If we didn’t get the deep run in the first 6 months it would be disappointing, but it’s just a goal, if we can become stable in these tournaments and become a team where the other teams fear us, instead of them thinking we are nobodies. For the last 6 months, I want us to be feared in the tournaments by the other teams, so we are not just a team where the others think we only will be there for two or three games. Also, that people believe that we can go far, I want to become competitive in the last 6 months. I want to be competitive so we can get a deep run every tournament we attend.
Daniel Paulus: I agree with BERRY, my goals are also that we want to improve as an organization. For the second half of the year, I want us [Sprout] to have an academy team, have it set up, and have young talented players as potential replacements if players from the main team get sold or if the players don’t do what they should do. It's more important as an academy team to develop talent and have a chance to go to the main team, than winning trophies. We are also looking into how we can support player development better, that’s more what I am looking for. We as an organization have never had crazy expectations from the players or their results. And for this year, I am already happy when we reach a major, qualify for Cologne, and make a deep run in a tournament.
Sprout academy soon?
BLIX: You’ve talked a lot about a potential academy team in 2023, what would your goal for an academy team be, and why invest in such a project?
Daniel Paulus: For me, at the moment we have a Danish majority, but you will never see a full Danish team in Sprout. That’s something BERRY doesn’t want and something we don’t want in our organization. We also don’t want to have a full Romanian team, we want to have a really good international team, where nationality doesn’t matter. We do not pick our players because of nationality, which also will be the case for the academy team.
We want to pick the best possible talents for us, from all around Europe, I wanted to say all around the world but it’s hard to get players from South America to Europe, but that is something I would consider in the future like football clubs do it with for example Bayern Munich getting Brazilian talents in their club. First, we will get talents from Europe, we don’t care about nationality, we care about skill, mindset, and personality. We don’t want an alibi academy team, who only plays in the academy league. We want to pick players, like BERRY did in the past, and see if already in the academy team they are good enough for our main team, so they could make our main team better.
That’s what we want to reach, like a good picking process before someone is joining the main team because it's hard to develop or pick a potential player for the main team if you don’t even know if the player is good enough or has bad habits. So basically having an academy team is really important, where you already know everything about the players you want to promote. It’s hard to say, the Na’Vi model is like they have a lot of talents in Russia and there aren’t many Russian academy teams like there is Spirit and there is Na’Vi, and that's kinda it. So there is a huge talent pool to pick from.
The other scenes don’t really have the same talent pool, I think some organizations have shown that you can do it in a way, that you have a second team for marking, and say it is good for the scene or you can really have a team, where you get out players and then you need to have a much higher standard for the players, you need to see them as potential new players in the main teams. For example, last RMR, if there was an academy team there would 100% be an academy player playing instead of BERRY, and also in Elisa, if we had an academy player, the academy player would play. And that's not to say, that the chance to play in our team is not that small, so the player needs to be ready at any given moment. We cannot have an alibi academy team, we need an academy team who can instantly replace players.
Also, we are in a position where probably other organisations want to pay a lot of money for our players and why we shouldn’t sell them if they want to go and we have replacement players ready. That's the intention. It might sound harsh to be clear, if we recognize that someone isn’t good enough for the main team or he cannot develop towards the main team, then we will replace them. Because we don’t want to waste his or our time. I think that’s important that players already learn in the early stages that you need to give it your all or if you don’t have the right talent, it’s not enough.
BERRY: It’s like Daniel said, it’s a way for us to have an easier way to replace players. It’s very hard to pick up players sometimes because we don’t know exactly how they are thinking, but if you have an academy team where you are in the team and help the team, then it’s a lot easier to know what you are working with. This is why an academy team would be nice, just because we are in this situation where we might need to sell players, then it is a lot easier to just pick up the next guy in the academy team to replace the missing player.
The most important thing about the academy team is, we would like for them to work like we do in the main team, so they are already prepared for how we work there, and it wouldn’t feel new to them or anything, it would just be like four new teammates. Obviously better teammates, but like the transition won’t be hard for the player. This is also one of the reasons why we got another coach because he is also going to be a part of this when it actually happens and we are probably going to get more staff when we do this as well. It’s more of a second team, rather than an actual academy team