meL: “Eight months down the line, I can unequivocally say this team is better than what Cloud9 White was”

Pedro Romero
category_image Valorant
    Reading time  ~23  mins

    In the second part of BLIX’s interview with Version1 IGL Melanie “meL” Capone, she reflects on her experience in the 2022 Game Changers Championship in Berlin, Germany, how she has handled the attention and pressure surrounding her throughout her career, what the current level is for GC teams within co-ed tournaments and more.

    Be sure to check out the first part of the interview here.

    Pedro Romero, BLIX: Let's get into Berlin because one of the things I want to touch upon is your experience in the GC Championship. During a post-match interview following the GC Series 2 grand finals, you highlighted how you wanted to get to the level that surpassed that from Berlin and not having to crash out in fourth place. How do you look back on your experience with C9W in the 2022 GC Championship? Do you still look at it with disappointment, given that you guys weren't able to live up to the expectations that surrounded you prior to the event?

    Melanie “meL” Capone: At the time when it happened, and even a month or two afterward, I was really sad, disappointed, and down on myself, honestly. It was definitely not a highlight of my career. It was definitely the low light. To go from never losing a GC event to going in the international level and flopping hard by losing to not only the people that won but also someone that you have previously beaten every single time was definitely like, 'Wow, am I on fraud watch right now?' It was like, 'Wow, dude. F**k, this really stung.' Sorry if I cursed, but it definitely stung a lot, and I definitely felt really disappointed for months afterwards, thinking what I could have done better, but having jumped to a new team right after, I had to quickly think about what practical takeaways I get. What can I do better this time around? What can I do better as a leader, as a caller, as a teammate, and as a person this time around that I didn't do that time in Berlin?

    I think that, in a sense, I'm not saying I'm grateful, but I think it was a logical end to the C9W roster. Things went on behind the scenes, and it kind of did end up making sense that we did get fourth, and I think that was a good conclusion because we were gonna go our separate ways regardless after Berlin. In all honesty, that was the plan, so I think, in a way, it was just a big learning experience for me on how I can be a better leader, and I think I brought a lot of that to V1, and I had to quickly kind of get over it. I definitely don't feel as many negative emotions nowadays. Back then, I would think about it, and I would get nauseous. It was bad. It was really, really bad for me. But now, in a way, I'm not happy it happened, but it happened and it gave me so many things to learn from and tools to take away from that I'm just happy I'm with my new team now, more than anything.

    I'm just happy to be with this great group of girls who want to improve and make my life easier. Coming into practice every day, I look forward to playing with them, and that experience brought me here, so I guess, in a way, I'm kind of grateful that it happened, It was a wake-up call for sure.

    BLIX: With V1 doing so well right now, there are going to be comparisons people will make between the two teams and who would win if they faced off. With that in mind, how would you compare C9W and the current iteration of V1? Also, which team do you think is better?

    meL: To be straightforward, I think my current team in its current state is better than C9W at its peak, and I think I knew that very quickly. I didn't know it to be sure in the very first couple of weeks of playing with them, but I knew that in the Challengers open qualifier, we had topped C9W's peak placing in that event. I was like, 'Wait. Off the rip, this team has the potential to be better.' At the time, I didn't know if we were better, but we definitely had the potential to be and I think now, eight months down the line, I can unequivocally say this team is better than what C9W was, for sure. Obviously, there are a lot of games where Flor will take over, and she is incredibly consistent at doing that, but when she's not popping off, I promise you someone else on our team will pick it up, or the entire team will pick it up. I fully believe that any one of my players can do that.

    I'm not saying that couldn't happen on C9, but there's just an amount of depth in this team and the amount of trust I have in this roster that when you watch how we play out rounds and how we win the way that we want, the team that I see in scrims every day is on a different level. And if you watch old VODs, I think it'll pass the eye test, and if you watch it in the context of Game Changers, teams today are more competitive than they ever were before, I think that also adds a level to it, in my humble opinion. This is not to disrespect anyone on any iteration of C9W. I have so much love and respect for everyone who was a part of C9W in any capacity. I loved everything that we accomplished together in the things we did, but in all honesty, with my current team, it definitely feels like we have a higher skill ceiling for sure and the results reflect that as well.

    meL on V1 in comparison to C9W: “Obviously, there's a lot of games where Flor will take over, and she is incredibly consistent at doing that, but when she's not popping off, I promise you someone else on our team will pick it up or the entire team will pick it up. I fully believe that any one of my players can do that.”

    BLIX: If you're able to identify them, are there any aspects where C9W is better than V1? If so, what is it and why?

    meL: If I was to say, I do think that in early C9W, we were doing something that none of us had done before. On C9W, a big difference between that and my V1 team now is we didn't have anyone to really look to, you know? Valorant was a new game. There wasn't any champ. The era was yet to be defined, so there was a level of pioneering and drive that that team had that was just very raw. If there was one aspect that was different--and I'm not saying my current team's drive is not good; they want to play in co-ed and compete in Challengers and so on--back then in C9W, the level of bond and sisterhood of 'we're going to do this together' was crazy to be part of and I'm really grateful to have been a part of that, for sure.

    BLIX: Due to how long you have been playing Valorant since the start and how much of a dominating force you've been, it would be fair for people to say that you are one of the pioneers of the game in the GC scene. Would it be fair to agree? Also, have you thought of yourself as a pioneer the longer that you've continued to play this game?

    meL: It's pretty surreal to be called that. I think it's crazy. I don't really realize it because it's my job. It sounds a lot more fun on paper than in reality. I'm not fun. I guess it sounds more grandiose. Really, I just sit on my PC all day and play video games, so I really don't realize it until I go to events like Masters Tokyo. I don't really realize, kind of maybe, the weight of it until there are so many people that come up to me and tell me they're a huge fan and they've been watching me since MAJKL. I never really see myself that way, but I don't know if it's because I'm me. I'm not the type of person who likes to take compliments very well, but it is very interesting. I'm very grateful that people have seen me in that way. I'm very appreciative.

    2023 meL = reformed meL (Image Credits: Stefan Wisnoski/Riot Games) 2023 meL = reformed meL (Image Credits: Stefan Wisnoski/Riot Games)

    BLIX: Even so, people still are going to talk about you, given that you've stayed at the top for so long. Also, to this day, it feels like no matter what any team does, it's always going to be you at the top winning GC in North America and being revered internationally as well. Amidst this change and increase in profile and popularity, how do you feel you have handled it in recent years?

    meL: Like I said, I didn't even really realize it, but after the first year in C9W, it started to hit me. I've shared my thoughts about this in an NSG documentary, and there was a point where I actually had a mental breakdown. There was a lot of pressure and weight, and I think a lot of it actually--and what I haven't really gotten into--was definitely during a very volatile time for me mentally and emotionally because that's when I realized, like you said, people are out to beat me. Their goal is to demolish C9W and respect to G2 Gozen and SR since they completely obliterated C9W in Berlin. We flopped so hard, and that was such a tough loss because, in my head, it definitely broke my sense of self. I thought I was better than this. I actually thought I was the person people were meant to beat, and they almost made it look easy.

    We did not play to ourselves at all, which definitely took a toll on me, and I was down on myself. I had an emergency call with a sports psychologist in the middle of Berlin after our first loss because it was so tough on me seeing the person I thought I was get shattered. Even losing one series was not even in our bingo card. I think we weren't even gonna lose one right, and that was not us disrespecting the other teams. Really, it was more like we felt so confident we were such a good team, but we played at such a low level in Berlin. It was something that I didn't even know was possible for us. I think that Berlin was the peak amount of pressure for me. I hadn't experienced pressure like that until then, and I think it kind of made a diamond afterward.

    Losing was good for my ego as a person. Sometimes, things don't pan out the way you thought they would. You could win 10 million GC events, and still, you have a chance to lose one and there's always going to be that aspect, but as a person, I think now I've started to really feel the weight leave after losing. The worst is over, you know? This is the worst feeling I'll ever feel in terms of competing and it eventually did leave, and I feel a lot less pressure to any of these events. Maybe in Series 1, I was a little nervous because I had V1, but we hadn't even gotten a GC series under our belt and it was a new team.

    I was confident in us, but I was like, 'Anything can happen, you know?' Now, I don't feel any pressure at all. I don't feel the weight of any connotations that people put on me, like, as Mimi says, 'You're the CEO of women.' Maybe it's a bad thing because maybe I don't feel the positives as much anymore, but it's definitely taken a huge weight off of me, especially after Berlin when we lost.

    meL: “Losing was good for my ego as a person. Sometimes, things don't pan out the way you thought they would. You could win 10 million GC events, and still, you have a chance to lose one and there's always going to be that aspect, but as a person, I think now I've started to really feel the weight leave after losing.”

    BLIX: When it came to you branching out of that old mentality and molding your new one for this year, what kind of reference (books, media, people) did you look at that helped manifest that change?

    meL: It's gonna be cringe, but there's this quote from an animation series that I really like called The Legend of Korra and it goes something like, 'At your lowest point, you were open to the greatest change,' and for me for the past eight months, it hasn't been me seeing a sports psychologist twice a week every week. I've worked with Coach Kona every now and then, mostly through my workout routines. He's given me some good nuggets of information, but a lot of it really was just learning on my own.

    A lot of it really has just been my experience in Berlin and doing a lot of reflecting over the past eight months on that experience and thinking about how bad it felt. Tying into what I was saying before, obviously, there was a lot of pressure from the outside, but the expectations I held myself to--Derrek, in the regular season, was tweeting about, 'You think you guys are saying awful things about me? I'm saying way worse about myself,' and that was real. It was controlling that self-talk I had to myself. I also stand by that with what Derrek had insinuated, which is, like, people will say awful things about me, the most sexist, terrible things, and that's not new to anyone. I'm not gonna sit here and complain about it.

    Everyone knows about this by now. In traditional sports, LeBron, Michael Jordan, and Kobe have so many people hating on them, and awful things were said, I'm positive, but none of that comes close to how I was talking to myself. It was really negative. It was really bad, and then it kind of peaked in Berlin and then I realized, in going to that low point and the dust had settled, I reflected on my own. I had dabbled a little bit in talking to sports psychologists. I've ascertained a lot of knowledge just passively throughout the years, and I was just trying to apply it and reflect mostly on myself more than more than anything.

    I do watch a lot of podcasts of other leaders talking to sports psychologists about what it's like to lead and a lot of sports psychology content with Jared Tendler and stuff like that. I feel there are some things you can really only learn yourself. It's not that talking to someone isn't very helpful; it will get you on the right path, but if Berlin hadn't happened, I don't think I would have come to any of these conclusions. I would be placing the same amount of pressure and that really negative self-talk, so a lot of things you can only learn on your own.

    You know when your friends ask you for advice and you tell them and then they end up doing the thing anyway, sometimes you need to let the bird fly. They need to get kicked down, or they need to have that bad thing happen to them and then they realize truly themselves what they need to do differently, and I think that was the case, at least for me.

    BLIX: It's very good to hear you acknowledge the flaws that you've had within yourself after absorbing such a grueling defeat in Berlin. I now want to ask you about the co-ed tournaments. Effys highlighted how the main goal for him was to win a co-ed tournament and do so in a way that not only puts V1 on the map but also lets everyone know the GC scene can improve and get to the level of the tier-one and tier-two teams. Compared to past years, how do you view the difference in level of GC teams compared to male and mixed teams right now?

    meL: I think the difference in level has been closer this year compared to ever before. We still weren't getting the placements that we wanted. Our focus every time we get into any tournament, GC or co-ed, is just to play how we doing scrims and we have been playing pretty well in scrims in the past few months, to be honest, and it's just a matter of, like, replicating that. Obviously, scrim bucks is scrim bucks, but as a team, having that reference point is really important to us because we know what level we can. I'm not trying to call us scrimmers, but we got third in one of the NSG tournaments, and that marks the highest that a GC team has gone in one of those events.

    I think, in my mind, we could be winning those events, so in my head, I think we underperformed towards the end, in all honesty, but I'm still confident because, as I said, at the beginning of the year, this team, despite having very little practice together, was placing at the round of 16 and with that alone, I'm really confident going into the next Challengers qualifier. I think we have a shot at qualifying.

    Obviously, I don't think anyone even knows when the next qualifiers happen, but depending on how many slots there are, I do think my team has a decent chance of making a good run, to be honest, if the circumstances are right and we keep improving. And to that fact, I think the competition is closer now than ever before. As I said earlier, with C9W dying and us going off to different teams, theoretically, that instantly spawns in two more competitive teams in co-ed and XSET especially plays in a lot of co-ed events. Even before GC, they played the Knights Monthly that happened right before the qualifiers started, so I know that they are keen really to get involved. They haven't had crazy placings, but it's just the fact that they're playing and learning so much from these experiences.

    I think it's just a matter of time, and I say it every year, but truly, I think it is. Every year, I don't think there's any regression, I think it only gets better. Maybe I'm biased because of my team but when we scrim partnered teams and Challengers teams, we typically tend to play well against them. I just see the potential and I just hope that we can realize the potential more than anything. So yeah, I think the gap is closing in my eyes. The gap is closing year by year.

    BLIX: How much time do you feel it would take before we reach an equal level of parity between GC and tier-one and tier-two teams? How long would it take for such an equal playing field to finally be reached?

    meL: My goal right now is that by the time the next Challengers qualifier comes, I think everyone on the team will be super psyched to make Challengers. My timeline for at least my team and have that gap between tier-two and GC scene be eliminated is by the next time the qualifier comes. That's a big goal for us. We really want to work hard these next six months and prove ourselves and make it to that next level. The timeline for that with my team would be hopefully, six months. If not, then I'm thinking six months to a year. We can finally make that jump in my eyes.

    Again, we play a lot of Challengers and partnered teams in scrims, so I know we have the potential to do it. It's just a matter of grinding out these tier-three and tier-four co-ed tournaments and placing better and winning them to get that confidence so when the Challengers qualifiers come around, we can feel very confident.

    I think it really depends on when one team can do it, a lot more will follow immediately after. I think it was the four-minute mile where someone finally broke the record, and in the next year, there was a bunch of people that broke the record. That's my thought process. If one person could do it, then we'll see the rest follow suit, so it really depends on how much the top team go. But still, seeing other teams, I could be surprised. Maybe it'd be awesome to see XSET, Complexity, SR, or FaZe pull off a co-ed win. That would be amazing. I'd be nothing but happy for the scene.

    BLIX: With the 2023 GC Championship coming up and how you talked about the struggles you experienced in Berlin, if you could have one term that defines how you were in Berlin last year, what would it be? Also, what term would you use to describe yourself now at this moment in time with such a reformed state that you are now in?

    meL: For Berlin, I'd say flop. That whole situation was a flop. Now, one word I would use is revitalized. Being with this team has really revived my competitive drive for the game because it's not an easy feat where you have a new team and you don't really actually know how things are gonna go. For C9W, I played with the same team for three years. Not a lot of people can say that, right? A lot of the time, you play with people for a couple months, and then you're gone and you go to the next team. Going from playing with the same people to playing with completely new people and seeing just how hungry they are, I'm kind of waiting to do it for them and push them towards their goals.

    meL remains a contender in GC (Image Credit: Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games) meL remains a contender in GC (Image Credit: Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)

    BLIX: Of course, it might be too big for me to ask what happens if you guys manage to win GC3 and the GC Championship, but still, what would it mean for you if you were able to win the GC championship in Sao Paulo?

    meL: I think it would put a nice close to the chapter of GC. At least for me, it would be, like undisputed. I was part of many pretty successful teams and finally winning one [GC Championship] would mean that it would kind of put me in GOAT status and it would mean a lot to me to just prove to myself that I could finally do it after getting fourth in Berlin when I wasn't expected to. I would be on the best GC team in the entire world and there'd be no doubt about it anymore and it would give me a lot of confidence going into Challengers and knowing that if I can win an international stage in front of hundreds of thousands of people online and finally prove to myself that I can put my mind to things and accomplish them at any cost, it would give me such a confidence boost.

    Let's say there are two universes where there's one in which I lose in Brazil, but we make a run for Challengers and make it and then the other one has us winning Brazil and don't make Challengers. Honestly, it doesn't make much difference, but to me, it would be nice to make it to both. It would be such an awesome close and a great opening to the next chapter of my career. Hopefully, fingers crossed. I'm not saying we're favorites to qualify or anything, but it would be such an amazing story and it would feel like such a success for me personally.

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    CS Virtual Trade Ltd, reg. no. HE 389299 Registered address and the principal place of business: 705, Spyrou Araouzou & Koumantarias, Fayza House, 3036, Limassol, Cyprus
    Copyright © 2024 BLIX.GG. All rights reserved.