From just barely making playoffs as the number six seed, Evil Geniuses officially punched their ticket to Masters: Tokyo as they defeated Cloud9 2-0 in the upper bracket semi finals. As a result, they become one of three teams from the VCT Americas League who will compete in the second international LAN of 2023.
Without question, EG reaching this point in the season wasn’t something everyone expected at the start of the league. By that point, the team was 1-4 and were sitting in ninth place with little to no hope of reaching playoffs, much less qualifying for Masters. Nevertheless, through the guidance of head coach Christine “potter” Chi, the team, with a few tweaks to the lineup, most notably the addition of Max "Demon1" Mazanov, and its subsequent synergy, EG caught fire following their Week 4 loss to LOUD.
Despite falling 13-0 in the third map of that series to the best team in the league, EG went on to win five of their next six series, including playoffs, changing the narrative surrounding them. No longer are EG seen as a pushover. Now, they’re an undeniable force, evidenced by their 2-0 win over C9.
Having locked in EG’s spot in Masters: Tokyo, BLIX interviewed potter about her thoughts on facing C9 and what contributed to their qualification to Japan, as well as their forthcoming rematch against LOUD in the upper bracket finals and more.
Making Masters: Tokyo
Pedro Romero, BLIX: Let me be the first to congratulate you, potter, and the rest of EG for reaching Masters: Tokyo. From the sixth seed, you guys made it to this point. I just want to start off by asking what's going through your mind right now with this accomplishment in hand?
Christine "potter" Chi: I honestly can't believe it. I literally can't believe it. Just a few days ago, we were in a position where we didn't even know if we were going to make playoffs. Everything rode on MIBR versus 100T and now just a couple days later, we're qualified for Masters so it's an incredible feeling. I'm so grateful for my players stepping up. We put in a lot of work this year and we're seeing it pay off.
BLIX: Even so, even after making playoffs, you guys had to fend off two major teams in NRG and C9. It's a challenge not many teams would have overcome, but you guys were able to do exactly that. When it comes to transitioning from the regular season to playoffs, what was your approach behind the team's strategization? Was there any change in that?
potter: There wasn't a huge change, to be honest with you. Since this team formed, our focus has been a lot on the fundamentals and defaulting and things of this nature. It took a lot of time, it took a lot of reps and it took a lot of building trust in each other to be able to capitalize off of each other.
Over these last few weeks, especially after that first W versus Leviatán, that really accelerated our confidence. It really accelerated a lot of things for us and that just made us belief. It made us believe that if we peek this corner, we're gonna be able to get traded and things like this. Not a lot changed. We just got a lot more confident.
BLIX: Since that loss to LOUD, you guys have gone 5-1 in series, including the recent two matches against C9 and NRG. Many people will be talking about what contributed to EG's turnaround this season — given that you had that rough start with a 1-4 record — but for you, what do you think was the main catalyst behind the team's turnaround this year?
potter: To be honest, if we didn't have such close matches in the beginning of the split, if we didn't have that close series was C9, if we didn't have that close series versus Talon in Brazil, we had a lot of answers right in front of our eyes. There was a lot of footage to watch and a lot of data to see and unpack and figure out we're right there.
The margin, I think, between top five and top 10 is quite small. It just comes down to those individual reactions to the info that these players are giving each other. For us, again, if those matches weren't as close as they were, our progression probably would have slowed down. But because we were so close and because we had the evidence in front of us, that opened our eyes a lot.
Taking on C9
BLIX: I want to dive into this past series with C9. It was one with plenty of anticipation for being a tight affair, but you guys managed to dominate them in every single way, shape and form. Were you surprised it turned out in the way it did?
potter: Yeah, I'm very surprised. I definitely expected a lot closer of a match and a lot tougher of an opponent. We scrimmed C9 often and it's very neck and neck all the time. They're an extremely good team. They're very young team and I'm glad we caught them on a day where their honeymoon period wasn't just propelling them forward. We definitely broke them.
Certainly winning all of our pistols today helped, a complete 180 from yesterday for sure. We put a lot of focus on our pistol rounds last night and this morning so I'm glad that paid off as well. I guess if I look back on even yesterday's match, if we had won some of those pistols probably, those matches would have been a little more dominant as well, but I'm glad we're able to close it out today.
BLIX: Cloud9 selected Bind for the first time this season. Were you surprised to see that pick, and how did you relay your reaction to the rest of the team?
potter: I was very surprised. I think the veto went a little bit not how I expected. Maybe C9 had been practicing a lot of Bind and they wanted a curveball. I didn't think they were a team that needed a curveball. I thought for sure they would stick to their strengths, so I think maybe they'll probably regret how the veto went down.
But we got what we wanted for sure. That's definitely been a strike for us coming in towards the end of the split. It has been our map pool and it has been how we choose to veto, so it's been really good for us.
Diving into EG’s turnaround
BLIX: I talked to some of your players earlier in the season and they highlighted how you implemented a system which allowed them to play well amidst EG's positive stretch. I want to ask exactly how you implemented that system and how it worked in a way that allowed everyone to be flexible and play as well as they are right now.
potter: The biggest thing is just the structure, right? It is having these players understand exactly what each other are doing, Setting those expectations within the rounds so that each player understands, again, where the help is coming from, what we're ride or dying for, what we're not willing to give up on the map and what we're willing to give up on the map. Then it's having the protocols of retakes.
There's a lot of moving pieces in setting up that structure, but it's just essentially setting up the players so that they have to think as little as possible and it's just more of a natural reaction versus a rigid reaction. When you're watching these teams, you can see when a player is thinking too much versus a player just naturally reacting to what's in front of them. My goal this whole year has been to make sure that all my players are able to look as natural and fluid as possible in the server, and if they don't, then I figure out why and what's causing it and then I fix it.
BLIX: Going back to the team's accomplishment, who do you think provided the most help when it came to coaching this team and helped you lead them to where they are at right now?
potter: I have to give a lot of props to the four players. It's gotta start with Boostio, C0M, Ethan and Jawgemo. These four have been putting in so much work over the last few months and figuring out exactly how to make everything as smooth as possible. It's definitely a process and it takes a lot of communication from everyone involved so I would say these four have been amazing and obviously Demon1 also. He's just a fragger and he's a little bit newer to the squad so I gotta give props to the four.
Ethan has been in amazing. He's elevated our entire team play. He just got an incredible mind for the game. I always talk about his experience, but money can't buy that sort of experience. He's been at the top echelon of competition in FPS for a long time, so for him having that sort of power on our team is amazing. He is ice cold on the stage and he brings his teammates up there with them. I can sit here and talk about all the positives for all these guys, but it's definitely these four. These four have helped me a lot.
Looking ahead to LOUD
BLIX: And it's with that frame in mind that the story will come full circle as you then take on LOUD in the upper bracket finals. What's the approach for LOUD in this go around now that you guys have the ticket to Japan secured?
potter: The last time around when we played LOUD, that 13-0 is always going to be in everyone's mind. It's time for us to show that that was a fluke. At that time, even though it was just a few weeks ago, we were a team that definitely wavered. We didn't have the confidence that we do now, and as soon as we lost a round, we were definitely a little bit shaky. Right now, we're feeling great. LOUD is going to be an uphill battle.
These guys are extremely confident. Aspas is amazing. Saadhak has incredible mid-round calls that just sets up his team for success. Less is a perfect player. I don't think I ever see him make a mistake. These guys are incredible so we're definitely going to have to bring our A-game, but I'm excited for the rematch. That 13-0 shouldn't have happened so we'll see.