Ranked as one of the best Counter-Strike teams in the world, Complexity Gaming was tabbed as a favorite for winning ESL Challenger Atlanta 2023. However, those expectations were quickly put in danger as an overtime loss to The MongolZ sentenced CoL to the elimination match against GamerLegion. Despite the early setback, the North American representative rebounded by besting their European counterparts 2-1 to stay alive in the tournament.
Following the first day of competition in ESL Challenger, BLIX talked to Håkon "hallzerk" Fjærli about facing their two opponents, how he looks back at the 2023 season with the team, the inclusion of Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski to the lineup and more.
The first day of ESL Challenger play
Pedro Romero, BLIX: A 1-1 day for Complexity on Day 1 of this competition. After beating GL, how are you feeling? What's the mindset looking like right now?
Håkon "hallzerk" Fjærli: I think we're still disappointed because even though we won this game, we had moments where we played really badly. Especially on Nuke and also for today against MongolZ we had those moments which made us lose games and maps, which we shouldn't have at this point. So, of course, we're happy that we won, but we still are disappointed that we still make these mistakes, so we have to go back now and look at what we can do better tomorrow because if we just keep playing this way, we will lose.
BLIX: And looking at the GL series, where the team rebounded from that MongolZ series and you performed as the best player in Map 3, what adjustments did you and the team make throughout the series?
hallzerk: We had a talk after the second map because we were disappointed in how we played. In the break between Map 2 and Map 3, we had a talk that we need to step it up here, or if we keep playing how we did, we're gonna lose. So everyone came into the game with the right mentality, and everyone knew what they had to do to win this match.
BLIX: One other aspect, aside from the team's improvements and the discussions within the series, was the effect of the NA crowd. How much of a factor did they play in the series?
hallzerk: It definitely makes it easier to keep the mood up. When you're down, and you do a good round, and they cheer for you, it just makes everyone feel better, and it definitely helps. We need them to keep doing that because it's very good for us.
Diving into Complexity’s 2023
BLIX: The same can be said about the team's turnaround, specifically in the second half of the year, with their lineup adjustments and the inclusion of EliGE [Jonathan Jablonowski], whose contribution can't be said enough. But even so, in reviewing this team's 2023, what do you think sparked their turnaround, especially in the second half?
Hallzerk: I definitely think the EliGE change helped us tremendously. When he came in, he changed the mentality of the team from "We just want to make playoffs" to "Now we want to win the entire thing." It's having a better-winner mentality. One of the main things is just changing the mentality and also when we picked up EliGE. He’s a top-three player in the world right now, so that helps a lot as well.
BLIX: Is it mostly just because of EliGE with regard to the team's improvement? Or were there any other things besides that that made it possible?
hallzerk: No, I think everyone has stepped up, especially JT [Johnny Theodosiou]. From the calling perspective, he has been very good and also just the amount of time and effort he puts into being a better leader, figuring out new stuff and how he wants to call and do stuff. He's also improved a lot in just the last few months, and I think that's one of the reasons why we're doing so well. His calling has been very, very good.
BLIX: And what about you in particular? With the team's progression from the start of this year up until now, how have you seen your development in particular?
hallzerk: I think I've had the opposite right now. I've been struggling a bit, especially in the past few tournaments. I've been looking at my past performances, and they haven't been good enough for my role, and I definitely need to step up. Today, I showed a little bit of what I can do, and I just have to keep building on that.
BLIX: Reflecting on the team's performance for the entire year, what do you think was the biggest pro and con that you've seen?
hallzerk: The pro is how even though we are down in a series or a lot of rounds, we're still able to come back, so it's just having a good mentality Also, for the con, I would say it's our mentality. Sometimes, we can just drop off, and that's when [other] people drop off. I think our pros and cons are both the mentality side of it.
BLIX: And amidst the team's improvement, especially in the second half of the year, there is an increase in expectations of the team continuing to do well. How do you view that increase in expectations and whether or not it affects the team's performance on the server?
hallzerk: I don't think it's affecting us at all. I think people on the outside are expecting more from us, but inside the team, we are putting more pressure on ourselves than people from the outside. There's no pressure from the outside for us. It's mostly inside the team. We want to perform well. We want to win this tournament, so we are just having high expectations for ourselves right now.
BLIX: Many teams will have their own set of expectations and goals for this event, but what are your goals for this tournament?
hallzerk: Our goal coming here is to win. There is no other [alternative]. If we don't win, we're gonna see this tournament as a disappointment. We think we are one of the best teams there so not winning this thing is gonna be a bad thing for us.
BLIX: And how much does winning this tournament play into the lead-up towards next year, with the Major approximately three to four months away?
hallzerk: Going into next year with a tournament win on our back is going to definitely help us keep a good mood throughout the break. And just having something to keep building on after the break is going to be very good for us, so hopefully, we can manage to do that.
“Our goal coming here is to win. There is no other [alternative]. If we don't win, we're gonna see this tournament as a disappointment.”
BLIX: Just to wrap it all up: If there's one word that you can describe your performance for 2023 and all of the things that you experienced, what would it be and why?
hallzerk: I would say "Okay." I'm not very happy with my performances, especially the past few months. I've been very disappointing, especially at the last two tournaments. That's something I'm reflecting on and looking back at and trying to improve every day. I know what I can do, and the team knows what I can do, and I'm just happy they're still helping me and everyone on the team is helping me improve. Performances like this just show us what I can do, and I just have to keep trying to get that consistency.