Hugo "TheSwedishJoker" Nilsson Meier, BLIX.GG: NiP is your first Tier 1 team, and first team outside of NAVI Junior/Youth. How has it been so far for you?
Daniil “headtr1ck” Valitov: I’m excited to play, it’s a good experience for me to play with an international team and a legendary tag like NiP. I wanted to play for an international team even before NiP, because it’s a great experience and it improves your English language, so it’s good for me. And I’m feeling great, because every member of our team is trying to help me to play, in a lot of aspects inside and outside of the server.
BLIX: I’m sure you’ve had many offers, was it the fact that NiP is a legendary org as you mentioned that made you pick them? Or was it something else?
headtr1ck: When I knew that NiP might have me, I didn’t think about other teams because obviously it’s a big step forward, it’s Tier 1, and it’s a different level. So you have to take the chance and just play.
BLIX: How do you feel that the adjustment period is coming along for you so far?
headtr1ck: I think it’s fine, we didn’t play a lot but we tried to play well in practice. The first time it was hard to remember all the info, but I’m trying to improve and I’m already feeling like after a week of practice days I’m communicating better and trying to play more well.
BLIX: I actually saw your tweet that you thought that Stockholm was cold. What would you say has been the toughest to adjust to, has it been the weather, or moving away from home, or?
headtr1ck: No, I think it didn’t feel hard to go away from home because I now live in Prague, I went to the Czech Republic after the war started. It was hard to move from my old home, from Ukraine, but from here I’m just thinking about how to make my family proud and all that stuff. Just how to make your family and the people you love proud.
BLIX: Is your family still in the Czech Republic, or did they travel with you to Stockholm?
headtr1ck: My mom is in the Czech Republic, in Prague, and my dad and sister are in Kiev. So I came alone.
BLIX: But you keep in touch with them often?
headtr1ck: Yeah, yeah!
BLIX: Has there been anything that you feel has been easy to adjust to?
headtr1ck: I think… we played and on the first days we didn’t have any stress, and it wasn’t hard, just trying to feel each other, you know? Now because we have a lot of tournaments to play we have structure and practice more as a team.
BLIX: Obviously there is a big gap between Tier 1 and an academy, do you feel like there was anything in NAVI that helped you transition more easily to NiP and Tier 1 so far?
headtr1ck: Yeah NAVI helped me a lot, they’re like my childhood, they grew me as a player and my coach grew me as a player. NAVI has their structure for growing players, they have two young teams in NAVI Youth and NAVI Junior, even now that I think they only have Junior they still have a good structure to develop their players and let them grow. It’s also good if you look at it from a business point of view, because you don’t need to buy players if they’re ready for Tier 1 or if they want to test them. So I think NAVI has the best academy because they know how the game works and they’re just looking to the main team, taking some of their structure and trying to be as good as them. We were always just trying to improve, so that’s good.
BLIX: Have you noticed any differences in the organization between NiP and NAVI themselves?
headtr1ck: I just know both teams are hugely supportive, they’re trying to support them and make the players comfortable, so they feel good when they’re playing. They’re trying to help me outside, NAVI also always tried to help me outside the game, if I need something or etc., and NiP are also doing it. It’s two orgs that are Tier 1 organizations, so they know how to work and it’s good.
Finding his feet with NiP
BLIX: How are you playing now in NiP? Compared to back in NAVI do you feel like you’ve changed your positions or playstyle, or are NiP coming in and saying, “You do what you want, we’ll adjust”?
headtr1ck: No, I’m just trying to learn a lot of new information right now. As for playstyle I’m just trying to create space sometimes, it can be hard for me because it’s sometimes hard to understand all the info when three teammates are speaking. It takes time, so it should be good maybe in a few months. As an AWPer I’m just trying to listen to my teammates and individually to hit shots, so doing all this “AWPer stuff”.
BLIX: What do you think that we can expect to see from you? Obviously, this is your first Tier 1 event, but maybe when you’ll have some more events under your belt.
headtr1ck: Obviously I need some time to feel my teammates, because we just practiced for ten days or something. I think BLAST is a good tournament to see on what you should work more on, so… I don’t know, I’ll just try to play my game and think about how we can win, how to make my teammates play better now.
BLIX: Do you feel any pressure knowing you’ll want to make a good first impression at your first event?
headtr1ck: Yeah, of course I’m thinking about it, but when you’re playing, you’re not thinking about what will happen after the game, you don’t think about pressure. Obviously I have a bit of pressure, but I need some time and when I’m playing matches I’m not feeling it, I just try to focus on my game and on my teammates’ game. To feel each other inside the game, inside the server, and to win the game, you know?
BLIX: The report announcing you were going to NiP has been around for some time, how long has this been in the making? Is it something that happened really fast, or did you have some time to look over your options for a few months and finally decide on NiP?
headtr1ck: I started to talk with NiP in December, it took maybe a month. They also had meetings with other players, so when I had a gap from playing in December, I had like ten days, and no one was answering me I was a bit nervous! After they contacted me it felt so good, you know?
BLIX: Did they have trials, or was it just a meeting and trying to get to know you as a person?
headtr1ck: Yeah, we had some meetings with the owner, the coach, other guys. They just tried to figure me out as a person the first times, and after a few meetings I talked with the coach, djL, and he asked me some questions about the game. After that meeting, we just started to… I think they understood!
BLIX: Has it been a culture shock for you, or have your teammates been really accommodating outside of the game?
headtr1ck: Yeah, they always try to help me, and I think they’re very hard to play because they have young blood in the team now. For example REZ can focus on his primary role, so he’s playing insane. I think all guys are very kind and that’s very important in a team.
BLIX: In the HLTV Top 20 many pros picked you as their bold prediction for next year. Have you seen that, and has that put any extra pressure on you to live up to that? To reach that level like m0NESY did, for example?
headtr1ck: At the beginning, when the Top 20 started, I didn’t even think about bold predictions. When frozen first picked me I felt really surprised by it, because at first I hadn’t thought about it. I thought maybe m0NESY would pick me, because we played before, maybe also b1t, but it was a surprise for me that rain and blameF picked me. I’m feeling very happy that they did and I’ll do my best, but it’s not giving me extra pressure and I’m not thinking about it a lot. But still, I’ll just do my best.
Moving away from CIS
BLIX: Obviously since you were in NAVI I can imagine your biggest dream is playing for them like most CIS players. What was it that made you look for other options? Was it the fact that s1mple is there and he’s untouchable in the team, or did you just want to spread your wings outside of the academy?
headtr1ck: First of all I didn’t want to play anchor roles, because I didn’t feel very comfortable there. I thought about which team I should play on next, and I knew that s1mple, as you said, is untouchable. He’s insane and he’s my idol, you know, but I knew I needed to move forward. The guys in the main team, I tried to help them when I played for them and they’re also good people in the first place. After I knew I didn’t want to play for an academy team anymore, because I felt I was just standing in one place and I needed to move, I spoke with my coach and told him. After that they put me up for transfer and after some months, I had meetings with NiP.
BLIX: It can’t have been an easy choice to move away from the comfort zone that is CIS.
headtr1ck: Yeah, but I felt like I needed to go out of the comfort zone and it’s a very very good experience, especially at a young age. Of course, you’re feeling comfortable when you’re working with people you’ve worked a lot with already, and when you speak in your own language. It’s easy, but I wanted to try to play on an international team.
BLIX: NAVI has produced many worldclass AWPers: s1mple didn’t start out there but he’s been there for quite a few years, we saw m0NESY with G2 and his meteoric rise, and now with you coming into NiP. What do you think that the CIS region and NAVI make correctly that maybe some other regions and organizations don’t?
headtr1ck: I think that they have a good understanding of young players, how they need to improve them and all this academy work. For example, if you take MOUZ they also had a very good academy, they almost won every single Academy League season, but NAVI just feels like they know how to improve their players and to do a lot with them.
BLIX: You don’t feel like you’re in a race with m0NESY? Obviously, you were friends back in NAVI…
headtr1ck: Of course, especially some people are trying to compare our styles, but they need to realize that every player is an individual and they cannot just be similar players, you know? Of course, I’m trying to take the best from him and sometimes I’m asking him some stuff, like all his moves, but people need to realize that not every player is a m0NESY, a s1mple or a ZywOo for example.
BLIX: I want to talk to you about the new update a little bit now. Valve came out with the AWP nerf, do you think it will have an effect or has it had an effect on your playstyle?
headtr1ck: Yeah, I think it affected me at the beginning, because you need to hit your shots. Otherwise when you have like three bullets left and you forget to reload, when you miss shots, you need to pull out your pistol and strong rifles will kill you if you don’t have a good spot. But otherwise I think it’s a good update because the AWP was too OP, you know? When it had ten bullets you could just spam smokes and do wallbangs, it was really annoying and too powerful I think. Now it’s more balanced and it’s the correct decision by Valve, but AWPers will still be good because smart AWPers realize when they need to reload. For example, when you’re rotating from A to B you have time to reload and stuff. I think it’s a good update, they should have maybe done it earlier, but it’s still fine.
BLIX: Do you think it was the right update by Valve, or do you think they could have given the AWP seven bullets instead?
headtr1ck: Seven bullets would be still OP, I think. Five is perfect, seven it’s still so many bullets!
BLIX: Anubis also came out, I’m sure you played a lot of it with your team and on FaceIT. What are your thoughts on the map so far? Do you think that you guys will play it?
headtr1ck: I think Anubis is a good map. At the beginning I was very disappointed that Valve removed Dust 2 because it was one of my favorite maps and I felt really comfortable there, but updates usually bring new stuff to the game so it’s good. In the team, Anubis is really fun and it’s a good map. I think it’s something new, so you need to check some new smokes and all this stuff. It’s a very, very good map right now and we still need to see it in professional matches, because they didn’t play it a lot.
BLIX: So, we might see NiP on Anubis soon? What do you think?
headtr1ck: Yeah, I think we can see it!
BLIX: Do you think that it has potential to be a good AWPing map? Because we know Dust2 was good for AWPers, on Long for example.
headtr1ck: Yeah, I think Anubis is not a very AWP-map, not only for AWPers I mean, because you can use utility as a T and just do executes. If the CTs let the Ts do executes I think they’re going to be destroyed, because you need to not let the T side execute. For example, when you’re starting mid with the AWP they just use two mollies sometimes, and if you’re not extinguishing the molly, you cannot be so impactful there. I think it depends on the AWPer but it’s not the most AWP-friendly map in my opinion.
Preparing for BLAST Spring Groups
BLIX: How was the preparation going into this event for you guys? How has coming in been for you personally, did you have a break during the Holidays and came back after a few weeks?
headtr1ck: It was good, we had a bootcamp in Stockholm for almost a week so we had a chance to meet each other and to know each other in person. We didn’t play a lot of practice days, we played some online days when we came to the bootcamp, but I think BLAST is a very good tournament to improve, as I said.
BLIX: Do you have any personal expectations, maybe you want to reach the Top 20? And also, what expectations do you have for the team?
headtr1ck: Of course, I want to reach the Top 20 and I have all the chances. As a team I think we have very good… all puzzle pieces that NiP needed I think they have. We just need to work and try to play perfect CS, like a good game, you know? If you take the team we have a good coach, we have good players and a good AWPer now so I think NIP has all chances to win. We will just try to play our game.
BLIX: Are there any events that you’re most looking forward to?
headtr1ck: The Major, obviously, because I think it'll be insane. First of all, it's run by BLAST and secondly it's in Paris. I'm also looking forward to Katowice because it's such a legendary tournament.
BLIX: You want to have the same feeling that the people at the last Major got to experience, with the Rio event and the crowd?
headtr1ck: That crowd was insane. When you're cheering for your team, sometimes you can lose your mind. Rio was an insane Major with the most powerful crowd in my opinion.
Feature Image: Headtr1ck - Academy League S2
Credits: © 2023 WePlay Holding Inc. Used With Permission.