Vitality.Zonic: “International teams have no excuse not to find five players shining in their natural roles.”

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There is not enough time in the world to discuss everything you want with Danny “zonic” Sørensen. His vision and knowledge of CS:GO, approach to leading teams, and monumental experience inspire. And also, one would want to ask zonic’s opinions on a hundred questions, philosophize about important topics, advise, and so on.

In an exclusive interview for CS.MONEY Blog, Team Vitality’s Head Coach Danny “zonic” Sørensen talks about the team’s newcomer, adaptation to the new team after six years of Astralis, the importance of communication, diets and gyms, the worst years of life, and recalls how he switched from 1.6 to CS:GO ten years ago (spoiler: sorely).

Surely,  the results of BLAST Premier Fall Groups leave a lot to be desired, but zonic is sure that everything will work out in the end. And for some reason, his words sound plausible.

Vitality’s Plans & Spinx

Arseny, the interviewer: So, what are the team’s plans for the nearest future? 

Zonic: I think for me, it’s about integrating Spinx into the team. 100%. We didn’t have much time to prepare [for BLAST]. I think it was like six or five days with Lotan [Spinx]. So for me, it’s about integrating him into the team, getting the playbook up and running, and getting all the roles in place. And the big goal is twofold. To qualify for BLAST in Copenhagen, because for me, dupreeh, and Magisk, it’s been a long time coming home to meet the Danish crowd. But also, ultimately, it is to be ready for and qualify for the Major. Those are the two main objectives. 

You’ve said you have to implement a new player into the team. Can you explain a little how you do it?

There is a, I would say, an outside-of-the-server kind of thing, like a cultural integration for us to make a bond with Lotan. I always thought that it was very important as a CS team is traveling so much together only consisting of five players, not a whole team, like we see in football with the whole squad. I think the chemistry and the bond between the players are really important. So that’s one thing. But also more technical, having all the team play, strat and agree within the server needs to be in place. And instead of introducing him to the full playbook, we have introduced him to some of the things, we started out slowly in that sense. So to rather have him understand 4-5 strats 100% than introduce him to 10-15 and then have him do that with a lot of mistakes and stuff like that. So for me, it’s taking it step by step and not trying to be 100% ready before the first tournament, which is pretty much impossible.

Why did you choose Spinx in the end? And why exactly him? Can you praise him a little? 

There are two main reasons. One reason was that with the previous lineup, we had some role clashes. And I think when you are an international team, there’s no excuse for you not to be able to find five players who are shining in their natural habitat, in their natural roles. And I think with Misutaa and dupreeh, we had some issues with those two sharing some of the same roles. Now we have to go back to the entry role again, and we got Lotan in as a lurker together with Magisk. So they are gonna play their flanks on the T side, which they normally did in their previous teams. That was one of the reasons.

And also, we played ENCE a couple of times last season, and we saw what a big talent Spinx is: really good with the rifle, one of the best rifles in the first season of 2022. So for me, it’s also about preparing the future for Vitality without putting any pressure on some of the players. But some of the players are, I would say, in the last part of their career, in some sense, they’re getting older. So it was also to build for the future of this team.

One thing that really impressed me was that he came into this team not being afraid to state his mind, saying, “I think we can do this better. I don’t like playing this move. I think we should do this instead.” So he’s not afraid to speak up against players who have won a lot previously and against, in my opinion, the best player in the world. So for me, it’s a breath of fresh air coming into this team, not being afraid of stating his mind. And obviously, an insane, insane skill level as well. 

New Team, Old Staff

Let’s speak a little about something else. About you. It’s been more than half a year since you joined Team Vitality. Before, you spent six years at Astralis. Was it hard at first to be with a new team? And what changed in your approach to coaching?

Obviously, it’s always tough to change environments in some sense. I think human beings, in general, don’t like changes, they want to feel comfortable in what they know. And you have to learn to like new stuff. Otherwise, as human beings, we are just programmed to love what makes us feel safe. But yes, it was tough in the beginning in the sense that we really, I really tried as a coach to prepare for everything possible. And we put a lot of focus on the chemistry between the players because it was such a hard build-up in the sense that we had three French and three Danes. So I really wanted to avoid us having two divided groups.

I didn’t want the French to feel like their head coach would take the part of the Danes if there ever were an argument. So we really focused on not having Magisk and dupreeh sharing rooms when they were traveling, mixing everyone when sitting together, French and Danes. And I think that we really succeeded with that at the start of the team, I think the players have really good chemistry. They are doing stuff together outside of the server. 

But obviously, I could really see when I joined Vitality that the philosophy things are shining in the sense that a lot of things have the same approach on how to play CS, where you can see the differences between the French and the Danes. Even the small things. I’m not saying that anything is right or wrong, but it’s just my job to ensure everyone is on the same page about what we do. Which probably was one of the biggest surprises for me.

You also have an assistant, a sports psychologist, and a team manager on staff. Can you tell me what is their influence on the team?

For the cultural thing and just for the mental part, we have Lars Robl, who we also had in Astralis. He has been a really big factor in building a strong foundation for what we call High Performance Teams. He was a big part of our success in Astralis as well. And I really wanted him to join this team. The small things that I told you before is something that has been created by Lars: to make sure that we are one team and not a French or a Dane team, or we represent the playing style of Astralis or old Vitality. We actually are the new Vitality. And that is not just on the server but also outside of it.

I also know Lotan, for example, hasn’t played too much on the big stages. There are some tools that Lars really helped us with in this as well: being known as a team that always lost semifinals in big tournaments to winning four majors. In that, Lars really played a big role. And also dealing with the pressure and not trying to seek away from it, but actually having the players embrace it in some way, because he always says something that I think is really important for CS players. 

And then obviously we have Matthieu, who is the team manager. He deals with a lot of the practical stuff, which takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders to make sure that I can just focus on the in-game stuff. And then, he also physically activates the players. So we always have tennis balls with us, helping the players train some reactions just before a game. But also make sure that everything is in line. And nowadays, traveling so much here and there, going straight from Copenhagen to Malta, having all these TOs who demand media days… Everything needs to be lined up, which makes it best for us performance-wise. It’s a really tough task. And that’s his job. 

And then we have Mat, who’s my assistant coach. He does in-game stuff just like me. So don’t need too much of an introduction.

Do you have a vertical hierarchy structure or is it horizontal? 

I like the horizontal way. I never wanted to be a bossy coach. I want to see Mat and me as equals. I love working with this guy and he’s really, really good with working with the players individually. So for me, it’s more like a team rather than me telling him to do most of the job and the small things that I don’t really like to do or just have him find scrims and doing all this practical stuff. I don’t like having that because I need to acknowledge that Matt is better than me at some points, and I’m better than him at other points. And for us, we have to make sure that we complement each other in the best way.

And I also told the players when I joined that even though officially Mat is my assistant coach, we are equals, we are in the same boat.

The players know that we have the final say. I’m never gonna go back to having five players talking about which new players they are gonna get, and then the coach is sitting and listening and can’t really say anything about it. The players are focused on the in-game stuff only. And that’s why we are also there, to help them and to assist them in that sense. 

Regarding roster changes or anything, Mat and I have the final call. And we also had that call about replacing Kevin with Lotan. The players were never involved in that decision. Dan, uh, apeX was briefed about it but also had nothing to say in that sense. But I would say that being the IGL, you really need to have him on board with the idea, you can’t just change the players. Let [your IGL] say if it’s a bad idea. Because you will just have these issues on the server otherwise. 

Using Real Names

I noticed that you are saying Lotan and Kevin, not using the nicknames. Is that intentional? Like a psychology move?

I always wanted to use their real names. It gives more of an effect in that sense. Obviously, we can give them some nicknames: ZywOo is called Matthieu; Mat, my assistant, is also called that, and our team manager is also called Matthieu. So there are three, and we have some small nicknames, but I’ve always used their real names. I think it’s just much more personal.

Data & Analytics

I wanted to ask about the numbers and statistics. You’ve been a coach for many years, so can you compare how analytics changed? Do you really need the data your assistant provides? Can you compare the past to these days in this matter?

Back in 2015 to 2018, it was a lot easier to do data yourself because not a lot of other teams did antistrats. They didn’t prepare, they didn’t look at you when you played against them, they were pretty much just playing the same style that they did in previous games. So it was easier for me to antistrat and just do that job by myself. 

We had the best clutcher in the world in xyp9x, the best anchor in Magisk, the best IGL in gla1ve, the best AWP player, in my opinion, at least the most stable, consistent one, in dev1ce, and by far the best entry in dupreeh. So for me, there was no need to look at data if that is what you are referring to as well. 

But nowadays you really need to focus a lot on what you did because every team antistrats you. So you need not only to just focus on your opponents but a lot on yourself as well. You also need to look at your game, is there anything, or is there a hole that your opponents might exploit? You can’t rely too much on preparation nowadays, because people are doing that as well. They’re also looking at themselves. So if we see them do an A split, like three or four times the last three games, normally you would say, okay, they’re probably gonna do that again, but against us, because they know we are also antistrat a lot, they might not do that at all. 

So it’s a bit more tricky nowadays, and that’s why you need someone else to make sure you get a better picture of everything.

Diets & Gym at Vitality

Back in 2019, New York Times released an article “Less Pizza, More Yoga” about the nutrition system in esports, which included Astralis’ approach. Do you use the same way for Vitality? 

It is almost similar, I would say. Players nowadays have to concentrate for four or five hours sometimes during a day, to be on point because you have more games during one day, but also, a Bo3 can be really long in CS these days with the breaks and technical issues and toilet breaks between the maps and the timeouts, overtimes, and whatnot… It can be a long day on the job also have to prepare before the game and warm up, and you do your routines. And for you to stay focused for so long, I’m not saying it’s a key factor as a lot of other people say, it can definitely give these two or three extra percents that will help you during the day.

But it’s different today because there is a lot of pressure on the players. So for them to adapt and stay focused for a longer period, it’s really something that you can do. You can tweak these small buttons to get these extra advantages. Not saying that you are guaranteed to win if you are a team that is also focusing on it, but it will definitely help you to stay focused on that third map in the overtime. And also to prolong your career in some sense, to be able to do this for a long period of time, to be able to perform also in December, when you have been playing for six months straight with all these tournaments.

Transferring From 1.6 To CS:GO

With all the speculations and rumors going on with Source 2, can you remember how the transition from 1.6 to CS:GO happened? And what were your emotions? 

I think I was one of the first guys to actually try CS:GO. We were playing a 1.6 tournament in New York, and they had this show match between some star players from Europe versus the US team. And we tried the game, and I hated it. 

I thought it was the worst game ever to be created. And I went straight on Twitter to say, “Okay, this shit game is never gonna be as big as 1.6 so you all might as well–like we did with Source–ignore it.” And then we have a group of players turning onto this new game, and we continue playing 1.6 I loved. I retired as soon as I saw where this was heading.

I didn’t want to invest that much time of me going into a new game. I knew it would be better in time, but I wanted to focus on my studies. And I didn’t really feel the energy to spend 10-12 hours, which I think you at some point need to if you’re playing a new game per day. And if I don’t invest myself 100% into something, I need to quit. So it was a natural step for me to retire. But I remember the Swedes, GeT_RiGhT and f0rest, switching really, really fast compared to the rest of the scene, which I think gave them an advantage compared to some of the top 1.6 teams who stayed a little bit longer. I remember Karrigan stayed with fanatic for some time, and they played like half a year before switching as well. 

I stopped actually following CS:GO from 2012 to 2015. I started watching again in 2015. And then I came back. For me, it was doing a cold turkey, I think it’s called that. Not being around the game at all, not playing it, not watching it, just focusing on my was one of the most boring parts of my life. 

I really missed the competitions and working with a team towards a common goal. Like, “Next three months, we need to be ready for this tournament.” And despite me not being a player, I get the exact same feeling when I coach. So I’m happy that I came back.

On Skins

Do you fancy skins in CS:GO? 

I have some skins. I bought some skins to lend it to my nephew. Other than that, I don’t pay too much attention to it, but I understand its excitement. I have a knife, an AK 47 skin and an AWP skin. But it’s not something that I’m crazy about, even though I think it’s more fun to play in some sense with a knife skin instead of using just the default one.

M4A4 Howl

I had a Dragon Lore at some point, and I would really love to get one back. That’s a beautiful skin, not just because it’s the rarest, but I think it’s really beautiful. I also like the Howl… I’m an expensive guy. <laugh> But I like it as well, never had it, though. I know xyp9x had it for a long, long time, and he said once, “Oh, it’s $200 worth!” And I think he still has it, and now it costs a lot more. What else? Glock-18 Fade, I think that’s also beautiful.

AWP Dragon Lore
Glock-18 Fade
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