Let us reflect on the team's performance at the ELEAGUE Major in Boston last January. Nikolai (Nikolai 'device' Reedtz) had returned to activity after a medical absence. His rather flat performance led you to an early exit, finishing with a 1-3 record in the Swiss group stage. What was going on within the team immediately after? (i.e., were there any talks of roster changes, role changes, etc.)
Let me start with stressing that by no means was us losing Nicolai’s fault, nor did he perform at a worse level than the rest of us. It was simply a matter of us not performing as a team.
There wasn’t any talks of roster changes and such, as we don’t believe that should be viewed upon as a solution to fix problems. We did as we always do after a tournament, whether or not we win it: We talk about preparations, practice, approach and such. You can always get better at these things. So dev1ce and dupreeh [Peter ‘dupreeh’ Rasmussen] switched back to their former positions, meaning dev1ce picking up the AWP again.
Looking back at 2018, your team was turned upside down immediately after the conclusion of the Boston Major, when Markus (Markus 'Kjaerbye' Kjærbye) left for better waters and signed with North. In response, you signed Emil 'Magisk' Reif. What was the team morale when Magisk first joined the roster, and how has he since grown to become the player he is today?
Honestly, it was great. Emil was chosen for the obvious reason of him being a perfect fit for us. We saw this immediately, and it gave us a big spike in confidence. Also, Emil is a very outgoing and hype type of character, which the team actually needed. Someone that brings a lot of energy and fire both inside and outside of the game.
Emil has grown so much, both as a player, which I believe most people can see for themselves, but also as a person. He has matured a lot just over the past year with us, and the way he approaches everything in his career is amazing. He takes his job very serious and lives and breathes the performance model we use to better ourselves.
The team has had a successful 2018, no doubt: ten trophies - including another Major Championship - and the first-ever Intel Grand Slam. Some are calling it the start of an era, comparing your team's victories and achievements to FNATIC's run of dominance in the first half of 2015. Would you consider the team's achievements in 2018 the beginning of an era, or is it something more than that?
We’ll let others discuss and decide these things. To us, it’s all about taking [it] one game, one tournament at the time, focusing on the task at hand, more than talking about eras and comparing achievements. What teams like FNATIC, SK Gaming and NiP have done in the past is nothing short of admirable, and what we do shouldn’t take anything from that.
Let's talk about how Astralis' year started. Day 1 of iBUYPOWER Masters IV was struck with technical delays (your game against compLexity was delayed by over three hours) and overall organization issues, including a lack of security presence at the entrance - as noted by press attendees such as myself and DeKay - and inadequate setup of displays for proper viewing by audience members (remember the two TVs iBUYPOWER had set up at the edge of the stage?) How do TOs' lack of preparation for an event negatively affect the player and viewer experience, in your opinion?
I can’t speak for the viewers, as I’m not really one of them. As for us, we have a clear-cut strategy of not letting these things getting in the way of our objectives. We were in LA to win a tournament, and that was our focus. We lost to Liquid in the finals, but learned a lot from it, and use that experience to prepare for the next tournament.
In the grand final, you faced off against Team Liquid, with Stewie (Jake 'Stewie2K' Yip) and coach adreN (Eric 'adreN' Hoag) making their inaugural appearance in place of TACO and zews. It was a surprisingly back-and-forth affair, but the North Americans finally brought you down and took home the title. Looking at how you and Liquid played in that grand final, how ready is this North American squad to become a contender in 2019 and why?
It’s hard to tell. The tournament in LA was obviously a weird one, since most of the teams went there as a part of the Major preparations. Also, one tournament is a very limited amount of data when it comes to predicting how well Liquid will do this year. They are a great organization and the team is stacked with elite players, so I believe they will do good. How good exactly, only time can tell.
The IEM Katowice Major is fast approaching as the New Challengers Stage is set to start in a few days' time. The teams set to compete in this leg of the Major include ENCE, NRG, Team Vitality, and FURIA Esports. Which team(s) and/or player(s) has the most potential to prove themselves and make a deep run here?
There are a lot of strong teams in the Challenger Stage with a lot of potential to make a run similar to compLexity at the London Major last year, or maybe even deeper.
2019 is set to be a breakthrough year for the competitive scene as a whole, with online leagues switching up their formats and more tournaments with larger prize pools on offer. ESL, in particular, has switched up the format by moving all online matches for the ESL Pro League to a LAN-like setting inside a studio - very similar to Riot and the LCS/LEC. What is it about moving these matches to a LAN-like environment that makes the game more competitive?
There’s a significant difference from playing on LAN to playing online. Some people like the lack of pressure and intensity, playing on stage gives, but we, for example thrive under it. With that being said, we have been super strong online for the past year, which I credit to our overall way of approaching our games.
Who are your team(s) and/or player(s) to watch in 2019, and why?
I believe the teams we will have the toughest time against in 2019 are Liquid, MIBR, FaZe, Fnatic and Na’Vi. Some teams that could surprise us all are teams like ENCE, Renegades and hopefully some of the teams from the Asian region.
I believe s1mple will do well in 2019. I believe he will be a top 2 player in 2019, but hopefully dev1ce can beat him this time around. I am also curious to see how FalleN [Gabriel ‘FalleN’ Toledo] will perform now that they are back with a full Brazilian squad. I really hope for felps [João ‘felps’ Vasconcellos] to do well because he was really underrated back on SK, in my opinion. And of course, I believe my teammates will perform this year.
This interview has been edited for clarity