As the 2023 VCT Americas League season begins to wind down, rising in tandem is the sense of urgency for distressed teams to put up good results. The initial inconsequential window of experimenting with new agent comps has well and truly closed shut, and as a result of leaning on that direction for too long, the teams embroiled by it suddenly found themselves in danger of missing out on international competition.
Such was the state for NRG who were 1-3 and outside of the playoff picture when they lost to Cloud9 2-1 in the third day of Super Week. However, following a change of focus towards playing with comfortable agent compositions, the team kickstarted their resurgence by defeating KRÜ Esports and 100 Thieves in succession.
Against 100T, NRG bested their opponents 13-7 in Bind, a map that was reintroduced this week in the pro level and one that is well known for being OpTic Gaming’s favorite during the 2022 season, and continued that momentum by winning 13-3 in Fracture.
Though the alarm bells of an possible NRG collapse started ringing at the midway point of the season, with their resounding 2-0 win over 100T, it looks as though one of North America’s best teams has finally rediscovered their mojo, thus putting the rest of the league on notice.
Following NRG’s series against 100T, BLIX.GG spoke to Austin "crashies" Roberts to discuss how his team defeated their opponent, their continued resurgence in the league, his thoughts on the return of Bind to the map pool, playing with Ardis "ardiis" Svarenieks and Sam "s0m" Oh this season and more.
Pedro Romero, BLIX.GG: Congrats, crashies, on that resounding 2-0 victory over 100 Thieves. I just want to know your initial thoughts over taking down 100T. What was the preparation like against this particular team given that you guys were so close in the group standings previously
Austin "crashies" Roberts: For preparation, going into Bind, it's the first map of the new rotation so no team really had info. Last year, we were super confident on Bind and everything we were doing in scrims was working. We knew we had a chance to be at the same level of skill this year that we were last yea, and I think we showed that today.
On Fracture, we've never shown that map before so they had no info going into it and we had info on them, so we kind of knew what to expect and they didn't really know what to expect out of us, which is a strength of ours. They have to adapt faster and stuff like that.
BLIX: This week marked the return of Bind, a trademark map for you guys. How has playing on this new version of Bind been? How does it compare to the old Bind, has there been any sort of difference?
crashies: There hasn't been any major changes in my opinion but the comps obviously are a bit different now that Harbor is out. Harbor-Viper is pretty strong so we gave it a try and scrims and it was going well for us so we stuck with it. We've shown the strength of it today, so I'm just happy we pulled out a dominant win on Bind.
BLIX: Looking at the scoreboard of the entire series, you lead the entire team in kills, rating, and KAST. How did you view your own performance against 100T, given that it happened on top of the team's resurgence in the league so far?
crashies: Obviously, I'm really happy with my performance. I haven't really put up a dominant performance, I would say, since LOCK//IN. I've been looking to find that stride again so I'm happy to do it today against a good team and I'm hoping to continue to do it and hopefully make playoffs.
BLIX: Looking over to Fracture, it's a map you guys have not played at all during this league. The last time you guys played it was against LOUD in LOCK//IN. What constituted the change in this team wanting to play Fracture for this series compared to not wanting to play it beforehand
crashies: I mean, we just tried a bunch of different comps on Fracture when we got back from LOCK//IN. Obviously, the LOCK//IN game was super close and it could have went either way, but like I said, we just tried a bunch of different compositions.
We tried Raze, we tried Jett, we tried Cypher, Killjoy and Breach. We tried so much stuff and we came down to this one just because it fits our players' best, I would say. I would just say it's just like a comfortability thing, honestly.
BLIX: And what about for you to go from Breach to Skye? What caused that change for you specifically in that map?
crashies: FNS is a really good Breach player. He's probably one of the better Breach's, I would say, on our team and I was happy to give it over [to him]. Even though I played good on Breach in LOCK//IN, it's not an enjoyable role, I would say.
Skye kind of fits me more. I really like entering with the duelist and stuff like that, and as you can see today, it was like a mirror calm. I feel the meta right now is you'll see a lot more Sky on Fracture.
BLIX: A conversation regarding yourself doing mid-round calls was touched upon by Doug in the post-match interview you had a few minutes ago with him. How has that been developed so far throughout this season from your end?
crashies: It kind of goes back to our OpTic days. Me, FNS, and Victor have always been the core trio so we have a lot of chemistry together. We trust each other a lot and especially on maps where I'm in Skye, it's pretty easy for me because I'm going in with the duelist and I can get a lot of info.
Off my info that I'm gathering with Skye, I can make a mid-round call or suggest something, and if FNS thinks it's right, he'll confirm the call or he'll call something else. It's just been a learning thing for me. I'm grateful to have FNS, who's a great IGL, and I've learned a lot from him.
BLIX: I also want to touch upon this team's struggles before these past two weeks. Of course, it's not the kind of display we've seen from your team specifically in the past two years, given that you've always remained on top of North America and the world. How did you view the team's struggles this season so far?
crashies: Early in the season, we were just trying a bunch of different things. Obviously, we had some success at LOCK//IN and we thought that we could expand and get even better. We just tried a bunch of stuff because it's a regular season so you have time to experiment and we didn't want to stay stagnant, especially because we're a very innovative team as we were last year. Unfortunately, the MIBR game was really close.
We could have won or we could have lost and unfortunately we lost. And then the Cloud9 game was also close but they beat us. When you have three losses, you can't really, like, afford to lose another one, so after the C9 game, we were like we had to stop experimenting. We just had to go back to what we know that worked. Ever since we did that, we 2-0'd KRU and we 2-0 100 Thieves so I think we're definitely on the right track.
BLIX: It's always a good thing to add new strategies to your team's back pocket. But now, with the urgency behind the team continuing to get victories to try to make playoffs and also qualify for international events, is this the end of the experimentation period for NRG? Or will it be a 'we'll see' kind of approach on a weekly basis?
crashies: We're still not guaranteed for playoffs so I think we're definitely going to still be playing what we know and what we're comfortable with. Until we're guaranteed playoffs, I don't think we're going to experiment, but once we're guaranteed playoffs, we'll definitely innovate a little more, experiment a little more, see what works in scrims, and maybe pull something off for playoffs.
Looking at teammates from past and present
BLIX: I'm curious as to your thoughts on what you've seen from your new teammates, s0m and ardiis. S0m has already been with the organization for the past two years, but this is your first time being his teammate. With ardiis, you brought him in from Europe and having him work on different agents. How have you seen the two of them so far this season, and how have you meshed with thm?
crashies: I meshed really well with them. Sam is 20 years old so he's like a young hyper kid. There's a lot of energy in him. He's a really good teammate. He's open to learning and open to criticism. He takes criticism really well. I knew him back from when I played Counter-Strike so we've always been friends, and to finally bring him in our team and get him into our system, he's been really good. He's performing amazing this season, I would say.
For ardiis, he meshes really well with me as well. We'll go to the gym together, our jokes are the same, and I think he's a really good duelist. His Jett is really good in my opinion. I do like that he can be flexible and he was open to try Killjoy and Sage. They're just two great guys. They're pretty good fits for us, I would say.
BLIX: I want to ask you how you think it’s been different playing with them, compared to what it was like with Marved and yay from last year.
crashies: It's kind of hard to say just because I played with yay and Marved for two years or something like that and I've only played with these guys for half the season, but the short-term, I would say, it's not too different. Sam is a little more vocal than Marved was, but Sam brings other things and Marved was good at other things so it was like—I don't know. I can't really say. It's a hard question, honestly.
BLIX: Although we're finally seeing the resurgence of this NRG squad and the potential they can bring to the rest of the season, how far is the team from reaching the same level of success that OpTic had last season
crashies: We're still making some mistakes and clutches. We lost 1v4 today and also a 1v2. It's really basic mistakes we were making and last year, we didn't really make those mistakes. I would say we are close but we still have some issues that we need to iron out and once we get those fixed, I think we'll be a super good team and super hard to beat.
BLIX: Looking ahead into the schedule, you guys are facing off against FURIA, your mortal enemy in LOUD, and Evil Geniuses to round out the season. What are your thoughts on your remaining schedule and the three upcoming opponents?
crashies: I still think we have a hard schedule coming up. We can't underestimate any of these teams just because every team is really good right now. Every team is good so we're not going to underestimate any of them. I mean, FURIA is a team I respect a lot. I think they have very good players. LOUD, like you said, have been our rivals since the start of frickin Valorant or something, but we're comfortable playing them.
I'm glad to bring in s0m and ardiis on that rivalry and I think they handle the pressure really well, so it should be a really fun game. Evil Geniuses, even though they haven't been the hottest, is still a team we can't underestimate because like I said, like, all the seams are good. They can beat each other and we just have to play our best.