Following a Top 8 finish in LOCK//IN, which happened as a result of a memorable series against reigning world champions LOUD, NRG, with three of the former OpTic Gaming core, a former Masters champion in Ardis “ardiis” Svarenieks, and a young promising talent in Sam “s0m” Oh, was tabbed as a major contender for the VCT Americas League. Even as they faced Leviatan, another considerable force in the league, as the league’s marquee match for its opening week, NRG remained a favorite regardless.
Unfortunately for the North American team, they were upended by LATAM’s best squad with a 2-0 series defeat where, following a close 13-11 loss in Pearl, NRG was outclassed 13-4 in Lotus to start the season on the wrong foot.
Even after the team dished out role swaps in Pearl between Pujan “FNS” Mehta and Victor “Victor” Wong, which built a 9-6 lead in Map 1, they were unable to close it out, thus creating momentum for the opposing side that ultimately proved to be far too insurmountable to overcome.
Following the series, BLIX.GG talked to NRG’s IGL FNS on what went wrong against Leviatan, the idea behind the role swaps in Pearl, his experience competing in LOCK//IN, and more.
Pedro Romero, BLIX.GG: Commiserations on that series against Leviatan. I understand that it must have been tough to go out given how the second map transpired but to start off, I want to know your thoughts as to how that series transpired in general against Leviatan. What went wrong, what went right, and how did you go about it?
Pujan "FNS" Mehta: We definitely let Pearl slip. Obviously, we are known as slow starters but we actually had a good start for the first time in a while and then we kind of let them claw their way back into the half. Then we gave ourselves a second chance in the second half by winning the bonus round and being up 9-6, but we let them thrifty us.
They won a 4v2 on Pearl that they should have never won and they took advantage. We kind of let that map slip with mistakes that should never have been made and I think that if we didn't make those mistakes, it's probably a lot cleaner and we win. As far as Lotus goes, we were just outplayed. Their retakes were really good, their overall plan in the map was really good, and we kind of just walked into it more than anything else. It was just a learning experience.
BLIX: One of the things that was highlighted within the first map was the fact that you switched with Victor in roles for Pearl. How did that idea come about with you switching into the Initiator role for that map? How was that formulated throughout the team's preparation from the end of LOCK//IN all the way up until now?
FNS: Because I'm the in-game leader and I want as much information as possible, that's why I made the change. When I was playing the Sentinel role, it was really difficult for me to call things based on information. It was easier for me to get the information myself using Initiator abilities so I brought that up to Chet and we made the change and then practice went just fine.
It was where I was Initiator and I was going to be able to be in the middle of the map on attack side and defense, so I'm able to then make plays and calls that other players don't make. Mainly as the IGL, I felt more comfortable in the Initiator role just so I can make better calls as opposed to the Sentinel role so we made the change.
BLIX: We've seen a similar thing play out with dephh when he faced off against 100 Thieves in the opening match of the Americas League. Do you feel this trend of IGLs switching to an Initiator role is going to continue for the rest of the league or do you feel it's going to be a one-off kind of thing?
FNS: I think it depends on your team style. If you're a type of team where you just have set strats and not much mid-rounding, then I think those teams will keep their roles and not really switch off of Sentinel if they have their IGL on Sentinel or Controller. But for teams that are heavily reliant on mid-round, I think you'll definitely see more IGLs switch to the initiator role.
BLIX: Sticking with IGLs, you faced off against kiNgg in the series. It was one of the things that casters and analysis highlighted in both the series' lead-up and its duration. What is it like taking on kiNgg as a fellow IGL? What about it made it such a difficult series for you guys to come out on top of?
FNS: He's definitely a very strong player. It didn't feel like we were getting completely outplayed on the first map at least. In Lotus we definitely were outclassed, but it didn't feel like I was being out called or we were being out called. We usually knew where they were going for the most part, at least on Map 1, but overall, his playstyle is very slow and he's a lurker. It's very different from mine because I'm an Initiator and I'm usually part of the pack and he's the lurker, so for his role, he does a great job of being able to communicate his ideas while being on that lurk role, which is what I did in the past. I think he's a strong player in general.
Looking at the rest of the Americas League
BLIX: With the first week of the season finally wrapping up, which team has stood out to you from the rest of the competition so far?
FNS: Definitely Leviatan. They're definitely a strong team. Definitely, it was the team we were most worried about and for obvious reasons, we did end up losing to. But for us, we also spent too little time working on things we should have been working on so I think this next week is going to be definitely pivotal for us. And as far as teams we're looking at, in general, it's always going to be the same top teams in the region. Sentinels, 100 Thieves, and even Cloud9 are playing at a high level. In general, every single team is a threat but those are the teams that I mainly look at—of course LOUD as well.
BLIX: Of course, you can't forget about LOUD. Talking about Sentinels, they're going to be your next opponent in Week 2. What were your takeaways from watching them defeat 100T and how are you going to approach them? Is it going to be different from how you prepared against Leviatan or anything else in that aspect?
FNS: I think Sentinels are the kind of team, at least from what I've noticed, where you just can't give them free picks and give them 1v1 aim duels because, more often than not, those players are just gonna be able to win them, especially with TenZ and Sacy. Overall, we're going to try to do the best that we can to outplay them like we always have and stick to our structure, but as I said, this week is pivotal because I felt in the past month or so, we just haven't been able to practice the way we wanted to practice.
Personally, for me, that's how I felt and I made that very clear to the team, so I think going forward, it's going to be very hands-on for me and making sure we're getting our fundamentals right, our reactions correct, and have more advantages in rounds than we do currently.
Looking back at LOCK//IN
BLIX: Looking at the team and how the season has transpired, you guys came off of a Top 8 placement in LOCK//IN off of that memorable series against LOUD. What were your biggest takeaways from that experience in Brazil and how have you utilized it for the Americas League?
FNS: Our takeaways from LOCK//IN was us having to keep our composure and making sure we get our reactions down and I don't think we did a good enough job of that this last month. I think we focused on the incorrect things in scrims and it almost felt like we just didn't do the correct things that we were supposed to be doing and I just felt very uncomfortable. Going forward, we're definitely going to just do what we took away from LOCK//IN which is when we stay composed and we bleed rounds down and make the opponent think, that's when I'm at my best calling and I think that's when we're at our best playing.
Another thing I took away was gaining that experience with s0m and ardiis because they're new teammates. We just added them so that was good for us to have that tournament to shake off the LAN rust and get that chemistry with them. And we did play enough maps to where at least I feel I can call around them really well. I know how they play and I know their play style. I'm really confident in this team. It's just, for this particular month after LOCK//IN, we just didn't put in the most productive and most efficient hours that we should have and focused on the incorrect thing, so I think going forward, it will be different.
On ardiis’ performance against Leviatan
BLIX: I want to highlight ardiis and his performance within the team for this series. Obviously, Lotus was not a good map for him. It's not the kind of performance you would expect to see out of a player of his caliber, but how did you view his performance against Leviatan in that aspect?
FNS: You'll never see me blame one player for their bad performance or good performance. I'm never going to point out one player and say this is the reason we lost. I think it's a team effort overall. Our game plan wasn't as solid as it should have been. Our reactions weren't solid. If those things aren't good, if our support as teammates isn't good, he's not going to be able to get the best out of the Raze. I think that was the main thing for him.
It's just such bad support from our side so I more blame ourselves than just him because how is he supposed to get some of those picks if we're not doing the correct things? I think overall as a team, we're in a slumpy phase rather than a progression phase and that's what we want to change going forward into Week 2 and even throughout the rest of the league.
The good thing about it is this is a whole league season. There are many matches to be played. We have a lot to work with and we have a lot to go over and a lot to fix, but the good thing is every single player on the team believes in the system. They believe that, at the end of the day, it's not one or two players' fault. At the end of the day, if everyone does their job, everyone that's supposed to get their kills will and I think that's what happened today with ardiis. We just weren't able to support him to the best of our ability. He was taking a lot of fights that were not favorable for him because of that and that's what caused him to not have crazy numbers, but going forward, we're definitely going to do the best we can to help him.