As we look upon the Counter-Strike landscape, there is one team clearly on the apex of the competition. The Danish powerhouse, Astralis, has been completely dominant in 2018. However, there is one team that is constantly on their heels, looking for redemption. North America’s Team Liquid has always been at the cusp of greatness, only to get denied right at the finish line. At IEM Chicago, we would catch up with Team Liquid COO, Mike Milanov, to get his thoughts on Astralis. We would also talk about how Liquid prepares for matches, and how they stay focused in high-pressure situations.
— Intel®ExtremeMasters (@IEM) November 11, 2018
Daily Esports: So, Team Liquid has been on a good run of it for CS:GO, but they always seem to come within — well, in these last four finishes, they’ve had a lot of second-place finishes recently.
Mike Milanov: Yeah, we have the most, I think I just got told the stat from Liquipedia yesterday, my team manager was pulling it. I think he said we had the most semifinal finishes of any team this year, or maybe top five in the history of CS:GO, or something like that?
DES: And one of those hard challenges has been Astralis.
Mike Milanov: Yes, who just came back against Fnatic!
DES: So how does the team prepare for that matchup again? What do you do for those maybe, minor adjustments to put you over the top when it comes to a showdown like this?
Mike Milanov: Yeah, we really respect Astralis and they innovated also, with having a sports psychologist travel with them full-time, focusing on their mental game, and focusing on not as many roster changes and kinda, the stability of the roster. For us, its kinda like our new SK Gaming. ‘Cause remember when SK Gaming and the old Luminosity roster used to kind of be number one in the world? Anytime we were up against them, we were like, oh my god, this is, like — even when it was quarterfinals, it was like, “This is gonna be the Finals match of this tournament, in terms of excitement!”, because SK Gaming are the ones who dethroned Team Liquid, right? So, Astralis is that new team and they have a very concentrated way of playing, like a very confident way of playing. So we just need to as confident and as concentrated.
We also have a sports psychologist that we’ve been working with over the last year. He’s here at this event, his name is Jared Tendler, and yeah, just focusing on the guys. Are they feeling well? Are they bonding? Do they trust each other, their calls? Do they trust Nitro’s in-game leadership? If something gets called, you have to do it. You’re not here for your YouTube clips or your KDA or the highlight clips. You’re here for the W. So even if you have to sit, crouch, for a whole minute patiently because you have to cover that angle and you have to just smoke, or you’re literally just a utility role. You know you would love to be an explosive rifler but you have to do that for the team. That’s what team play comes down to. Everyone knowing their role. Astralis is so meticulous and so into the metagame and they play such a — not even unpredictable, it’s like predictably meticulous, that type of style.
We just have to match and be confident in our calls and in our game. And yeah, we have won against them in the past over the course of the past 12 months! So we just wanna keep repeating that. We’re not gonna go into it with any expectations or any fear, but also not with cockiness or any sort of intimidation, just because they have 1000 points on the ladder ranking. So, that’s what we have to focus on.
DES: And obviously, you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourselves. The team still has FaZe to go up against, right now. How do you temper those expectations, the excitement of coming this far and keep them in the moment?
Mike Milanov: Yeah, I think Zews, our head coach and Jared, the sports psychologist, even Steve Perino, the team manager, they really like to drive home the story of go in with no expectations. So don’t go in, you know, imagining what it looks like to win. Don’t go in imagining what it looks like to lose. Don’t go in thinking that it’s FaZe and your last game is against them. Obviously, from a strategic perspective, please do, but don’t imagine outcomes but just actually focus on what’s in front of you and the game.
Be hypersensitive to strategy, mechanics, reaction times and cognitive functions. We don’t want them to create this whole mental game for themselves with the pressure, or like, “Oh my god, the hometown Chicago fans, I don’t want to disappoint them! They were on my stream last week and I was confident against FaZe”. So we try to eliminate all of that, so we really want to make sure we have a great support structure around the team that’s providing them with everything they need to only focus on Counter-Strike. Not so much, all the fluff and narrative, which is what fans love, right? We focus on that afterward, like after a victory.
Then the players can let loose and tweet about it, and like comments and give interviews with you. So before then, it’s very concentrated. You know, your shuttle comes at this time, go to the stadium — they probably got stressed out by the last game, to be honest with you! I imagine my team like I was watching the last couple of rounds. Imagine my team watching that game! I was like, “Oh my god, my team is gonna get so stressed out from this game.” Cause Astralis is just–
DES: I was stressed out and I wasn’t even playing!
Mike Milanov: Exactly! I tweeted that the stadium was so tense during the last couple of rounds, cause it was unbelievable!
What are your thoughts on the 2018 performance of Team Liquid? Let us know what you think in the comments below! If you want more CS:GO coverage and interviews, check us out here!