Interview with DIG CSGO coach, fifflaren
Former professional CSGO player Robin "Fifflaren" Johansson decided to take on the role of coach for DIGNITAS new lineup. While trying to get his old teammates back together, the Swede embraced a new challenge after retiring from the game as a player in 2014.
Hello Robin! Tell me a little bit about how things have been going post-qualification for the Minor Closed Qualifier.
fifflaren: One of the things that we had obviously focused on going into it was to be prepared for lesser known teams. They play a little bit different compared to the tier 1 scene. Right after we qualified, we knew we needed to take things one step further, we need to improve a bit more as team to be able to compete against better opponents. That's basically been the focus point ever since the qualifier, going over all the maps again, trying to get a little bit better, understanding some of the maps that we were struggling on heading into the qualifier especially. And now it's just preparation heading into the next Minor stage, the closed qualifier and also the FLASHPOINT league.
Were you expecting getting out of the nightmare zone that is the European Open Qualifier on the first try?
fifflaren: I don't really know what the expectation was. We knew that it was going to be hard and, because there's a lot of good teams playing the Open Qualifier, I think we got a little bit lucky getting the first seed, so our side of the bracket was a bit easier in the sense that we didn't have to play against Complexity or BIG, so I think we were definitely lucky in that sense. Us qualifying the first time around, I would say that, overall, yeah, I was sure that we were going to be qualifying, but on the first one? Not really, I don't think the expectation was quite there, considering we just had 10 days worth of practice.
Three of the matches during that qualifier had to be a mental endurance test, namely the 16-14 win against Nexus, the overtime fight with GamerLegion and being 0-1 down against Sprout in the final BO3. How were you adapting during those tight matches? Were you relying on old school mentality or are you trying something new with this new project?
fifflaren: I'd say we're definitively trying some new stuff as well, but obviously we want to go back to where we are feeling comfortable at the same time. I think that Friberg, having played for Heroic, actually does come with a lot of new ideas, as well as Xizt. One of the things that I always say he does well is just on-the-fly calls and we're trying to keep that strength and adding in a little bit more depth through Friberg's experience with Heroic.
To speak more about the three games that we had in the Minor, I think against Nexus was one of those games like I was talking about, where they didn't just play the way we're used to. We also didn't play Counter-Strike. We made a lot of mistakes overall, but you can clearly tell that even though we were able to make that comeback and kind of work as a team, I would say that we still keep that finesse from the old roster in the sense of knowing how to stay calm and play the game - if they can do it, so can we.
Against GamerLegion I think it was a little bit different, I think that one just came down to Swedish vs. Swedish roster, Draken and dennis obviously played for NiP before and played with these guys and so I think they just knew how we play and we kind of know how they play. Obviously, experience plays a big role, mainly going through overtimes. I think we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to do, it was more that we couldn't get it clicking. It was obviously way closer than it should have been with the triple overtime.
To speak more about the match with Sprout, if you paid attention to the qualifier, you might have noticed that we didn't get a chance to play Mirage at all. We didn't play Dust2 or Train either and the reason for that wasn't that we weren't prepared for them, it was more towards the fact that Valve released an update a day before the qualifier started and that, for us, felt like a straight gamble and we didn't have time to fix our game, especially on Mirage, considering the big change that was made.
So we took the gamble, we vetoed Overpass instead. We kind of knew that they would be going for Mirage and for us, like I said, the veto was good for us. Overall, we had Inferno and Vertigo for the last two maps and we were super confident on them. I think mindset-wise we were just like, "Hey, let's try our best on Mirage, it doesn't really matter because we're not really supposed to win it. They're really good on that map". But then heading into Inferno and Vertigo, the comfort level for us there was big. Inferno is a map that we played a lot in the qualifier and we gradually got better at it, and then Vertigo is one of the maps that we've been practicing as well. I would say that that series was easier for us mindset-wise than the matches against Nexus and GamerLegion.
During an interview with Dignitas CEO, Mike Prindi, you referred to the calling experience Friberg got during his time in Heroic, essentially making him the second caller in this new Dignitas lineup. How is that working so far and how can it be compared with the way the old NiP roster worked?
fifflaren: I think in the first week, we were struggling a little bit with it. I think it's more of trying to find a good level of how much should Friberg actually be helping throughout the half and the map, and also how much we can incorporate. Even before heading into it, I think that was a bit of a struggle to find that fine line, but I think it got a lot better now. Xizt is the primary caller, but Friberg has a lot of say in practice to what we will be doing throughout the matches. I would say that the difference between now and the old roster is more that having a secondary caller, and especially how we are positioning people across the map, takes time to get really good at.
There's a lot of micromanagement, even on the CT side. That was definitely something that, at least for me, was one of my strengths and I think that we want to try to get to a point where we get more fluent in that, but the idea should really be somewhat of the same. I think that a lot of teams have the same, where you have your primary caller and then you have that secondary that helps with the mid-round calls and helps with general ideas. That's definitely what we're striving for.
Image courtesy of Black Molly Entertainment and Kim Eskilsson.
On that same interview, you mentioned how hard it could be to get f0rest due to his contract. Were you already looking for some other player in case that wouldn’t pan out? If yes, which ones and why?
fifflaren: Initially I would say that we were discussing this, but I think that the longer the time progressed in the sense that he wanted to leave NiP and join us, it felt more like "When can we get this done?" rather than "Can we get this done?". I think it was only during the first month that we were talking about whether or not we should look for someone else if we can't get him. But the full focus was getting the four of us back together and then at the same time looking for a solid fifth that could perform.
hallzerk put up massive numbers during the qualifier. You said that you wanted a young player that could perform under the experience of the other four. How is that experience impacting his game, and what are your opinions towards his first showing with you?
fifflaren: Honestly, hallzerk is fantastic. Obviously we spent a lot of time, even before reaching out to him, to see if he would be a good fit for our team and he's been fantastic for us and one of the things that we noticed really quickly, even before he had joined, is that he just feels like a very complete player overall. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He tends to be a little bit overly aggressive, but, you know, it's pretty common for someone that hasn't really played at this level - when you play against Tier 1 teams, they punish you for every single mistake you do, but outside of that he's really smart.
He makes really good decisions, he calls well, he doesn't tilt easily, and I think it really played a big role in our team in general, in the way that we structure and stuff like that. We do want to try and give him as much space to play as possible, try to work around him as much as we possibly can without really putting the other four in the backbone and not being able to play their own game.
This is your first challenge as a coach. How are you adapting, after such a lengthy road as a player and desk analyst?
fifflaren: It's definitely a change, I think that me going from being a player to a talent... even those two, you could say they're very different. As a coach, one thing that is pretty apparent is that you do get the full picture, but it has been a little bit difficult in the sense that I'm getting used to it, focusing on an array of things, trying to make sure that you're giving enough room for all the players and making sure they feel comfortable on all sides where they're playing on the map. I definitely think that when I first started in the beginning of January to now it's definitely been an improvement, I'm learning new things every day through practice and official games.
One of the things that's just as important overall is that when you're playing an official match, and especially in a LAN environment, I'm not allowed to talk at all times and it's been a focus point for me in making sure that the guys have an understanding that we need to help each other as much as we can. When I call the timeouts, it should just really be some reads of the game and basic stuff if we're missing something. I am really hoping to get to a point where Xizt and Friberg are leading this team on both sides of the map and only needing me for the little things.
How are you enjoying that new experience?
fifflaren: I think it's great! It's fun to be back with all the guys and, like I said, I think hallzerk is just a fantastic fit overall, even in terms of personality. I think he goes along well with all the players, even in terms of humor and what-not. We're having fun playing and I think that's important.
What are your short and long-term goals for the new team?
fifflaren: This is definitely a long-term project. I think that us remaking this team set that one of the most important things is that we don't fall back to the old usual things. We obviously have to reinvent ourselves a little bit, so in the short-term, we obviously want to try and get everything done as quick as possible in the sense of knowing the basics, knowing everything, and just being able to be competitive. And then long-term, we should be even better than that, we shouldn't be doing a lot of mistakes... when we finally qualify and go to these events, we should be getting out of our groups.
fifflaren: I think Dignitas is just a great organization overall. I think that all the changes they've made in the past few years have made them one of the best we have in esports. After being here for a little over two months, I have nothing but good things to say about all the people working in the back-end of Dignitas. I've been talking really well about Michael, the CEO. I think he's absolutely fantastic and all the people that he got around him and work for this team, it's been a great experience so far!