M80 took part in ESL Challenger 2023 at DreamHack Atlanta as one of the two North American representatives in front of a home crowd. Shortly after the team’s opening match against Virtus.pro, their head coach Rory “dephh” Jackson talked to BLIX for an interview, discussing stepping in for Marcus "maNkz" Kjeldsen for the tournament, how he reflects on 2023 and much more.
Standing in for maNkz
Pedro Romero, BLIX: It's been quite a whirlwind of a day for you after getting in the starting lineup as a stand-in due to maNkz [Marcus Kjeldsen] being unable to show up. What's that situation like for you?
Rory "dephh" Jackson: Yeah, it's kind of chaotic. We were rushing and trying our best to get him here on time, but the US Immigration Office had a different opinion. So we tried [on that] and, yeah, I haven't played a pro game since 2018 or 19, so it definitely [threw me] in the deep end, but I'm just trying my best. I actually think we performed pretty well today, all things considered. We'll just go into tomorrow and see if we can sneak a win from some of these teams.
BLIX: I want to go a little bit deeper on the timeline. From the moment you guys realized that maNkz was not going to show up to then deciding on you replacing him, what was the timeline like for you?
dephh: It's 50-50. We didn't know for sure if he was going to make it, so we kept practicing and playing tournaments with maNkz and I didn't even get a chance to go into one of the practice scrims. So we're just winging it, really and hoping for the best. It's really difficult to lose your caller in general, like in any team. You get punished a lot easier, so yeah, we're just kind of free-balling it and hoping that some of these guys can step up and take the voice role.
BLIX: And to be fair, in looking at your career, it's not like you don't know anything about shot-calling, so there was a seamless way of transitioning to that role. That said, how much did you focus on just shot-calling or anything else when it comes to being in this role?
dephh: I did a little bit, but most of it was just keeping these guys happy. I know, as a player, having to play with a coach or a stand-in you're not familiar with is difficult, so it's just about making them feel comfortable and trying the best they can do. And coaching, too, is obviously such a different role. I realize now that I've become a coach that if you're not in the server and doing the strategy and actually physically being there and doing it, it's hard to be in that moment if you get subbed in, so we're just embracing the chaos and trying to enjoy it.
M80’s progress and player development
BLIX: I want to now shift focus on M80's year overall. Now that you guys have been able to get a lot of tournament reps, how do you view the team's progression from the start, up until now? And what were some of the pros and cons that you've seen out of the team?
dephh: We had a mixed roster, so [there] a lot of different personalities from different places, and it's always kind of difficult, but we wanted to make sure that we had a European system. That's kind of why we went after maNkz early on. That's kind of why we took some of the NA pieces that we think were talented and haven't been proven yet and taught them from the ground up what the system was like. So it's been really rewarding actually seeing these NA guys especially grow. I think our trajectory has been insane, and I think we're gonna just keep on going. I think the next step for us is international play. You have to be punished to be able to learn, and we haven't been in Europe enough and haven't been to enough tournaments for our system to be fully fleshed out, so we're just excited to get to Europe next year, get to some of the bigger tournaments and just get this experience.
BLIX: By that metric, what were some of the biggest punishments that you felt benefited the team the most?
dephh: We did a boot camp. During Thunderpick [World Championship], we were in Poland and that was a huge one because we just played every single day--four or five scrims a day--and getting to see how the Europeans are approaching CS 2, so it was really cool. And in NA right now, it's hard to even find practice on certain days, so we're always excited to get to EU as much as we can.
BLIX: One of the main goals of the team, when it came to entering the scene, was to be one of the torchbearers for the NA scene. Now that we're at the end of the year, do you feel the team has been able to reach that goal?
dephh: In terms of NA competition, 100 percent. If we didn't drop one of the games on an online qualifier, we would have been on a [21-match] unbeaten [run] and had a [21-4] record, which is pretty insane. I think that's an obvious talent that we're ready for better competition and that's really why our goal is to get to Europe as much as possible next year.
A year in review for dephh
BLIX: Looking at you specifically, you had quite an eventful 2023, so I want to also cover your reflection on this past year. With you being with Sentinels Valorant and then transferring over to CS, how do you look back at this entire year with everything that went down?
dephh: This year has probably been one of the toughest of my career, and it was the year that I actually retired as a player and became a coach. If I'm reflecting on the year that I had, one of the main reasons I came to M80 was because the management were actually ex-XSET, which I was there before in Valorant, and it showed me how important it is to actually like the people that you work with, the people that are your bosses and are telling you what to do. You have to have a good relationship with them and, for me, this year showed that it's not all about money and it's not all about fame. Sometimes, it's about just enjoying the work that you do and working as hard as you can.
BLIX: One of the things that encapsulated that sort of sentiment was when you acknowledged that you weren't good enough and made the call to step back and transition to a coaching role. As you look back on that decision now, how big of a decision was that?
dephh: Like I always said to myself, if I ever feel like I'm letting my team down in the server mechanically, then that's the time I'm going to retire. And I didn't wait. I had six months of pretty bad results, and I just wasn't really enjoying myself, so I realized that it was time to get out of there as a player and use my strengths as a coach.
“If I'm reflecting on the year that I had, one of the main reasons I came to M80 was because the management were actually ex-XSET, which I was there before in Valorant, and it showed me how important it is to actually like the people that you work with”
BLIX: Are there any regrets from that time in Valorant, given the team's eventual season following your departure?
dephh: No, I don't have any regrets about it. I don't really like to think back. I just think forward, and I'm on M80 now and that's really all that matters.
BLIX: You already mapped out the goal of boot camping in Europe and getting that additional experience for next year. Amidst practicing in Europe, what do you think is going to be the biggest things that the team will focus on for next year?
dephh: I guess a lot of it is staying true to what we think is good. We watch a lot of teams, and I think this is what NA struggles at is that even though you're not playing in a certain region, it doesn't mean that you can't learn from them, and that's something that we've really been focused on. As much time as we can be watching and observing these other teams that are doing well, especially as CS 2 is so new, I think we're gonna see a bunch of different roster moves and a bunch of different teams play well. It's going to be a bit more sporadic than CSGO was. I'm just excited to be in that Valorant landscape that is now moving into CS 2, which is really interesting to see.
BLIX: Regarding next year, from your perspective, what do you see as the ceiling for you to accomplish?
dephh: My personal goal is to be in the top 20 [in the] HLTV [ranking] and get to the events- that's the most important thing. We just want to qualify for some events and get our feet in the door of some of these offline events. We're kind of sick of playing online all the time, so we want to travel, we want to go sit down on the stage and we want to perform as best as we can.