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NBK on ELEAGUE Group D, EnVyUs’ challenging year and caster criticisms

Slingshot’s Vince Nairn caught up with EnVyUs’ Nathan “NBK-” Schmitt before their ELEAGUE Group D play Friday (10 p.m. on TBS) to talk about rebounding after a tough year, caster criticism and his problems with the current Major qualification system.

Vince Nairn: First off, what’s your take on your group of ELEAGUE and the teams that are here with you?

Nathan “NBK-” Schmitt: So we have a group that is pretty balanced, I’d say. The four teams roughly have the same level at the moment. I think almost anyone can get through in the group. It’s a matter of playing better than the other teams this week. It’s definitely going to be a challenge.

VN: Yeah, with IEM Oakland being this week, we know the teams that weren’t going to be in this group. Did that change anything for you — if only mentally — going in knowing that you weren’t going to have to see certain teams here?

NS: Not really. Mainly, the weaker teams are the ones who qualified for the tournament. For instance, Alternate aTTax qualified in Group C. Other than that, every team in ELEAGUE is at a high level. We know each other real well. There’s no outsider other than the qualifying teams. We were happy to dodge the bigger teams at the moment — SK, VP, Na’Vi — but I think the group is very tight. Either way we were gonna have a hard group.

VN: Coming out of Northern Arena over the weekend, how do you think your form is right now, and what would you like to work on this week?

NS: To be fair, Northern Arena was rather quick. We played two best-of-ones against the American teams. We played OpTic to win our group. Then of course we play G2, which is our French rivals. It was really quick. G2, we haven’t played them for months on LAN. That was probably one of the worst games we’ve played as EnVyUs, as of late. We felt bad losing that game, especially after the Overpass game. We have things to fix, obviously. We really couldn’t take too much from the event. Now it’s gonna be all about coming back to our A game and just doing what we can.

VN: It’s interesting in the French scene because there are pretty much the two top teams, and that means anytime one or both of you struggle, the rumors pop up about roster shuffles and who is going to end up where. It’s constant. How do you try to block that out?

NS: As simple as it sounds, it’s just about ignoring it. There’s nothing you can do about what people are gonna be talking about and what people are gonna think about roster changes or possible super teams or whatever. What we have to do is focus on our own team and look forward. See if we can improve and try to understand how teams are winning consistently. Taking the good things of the better teams at the moment and try to incorporate them into your own games. Concerning all the rumors, it’s just about ignoring that because aside from the 10 players and two or three managers, nobody exactly knows what’s happening to French teams. It’s just about not thinking about it.

VN: You guys entered this year on a really high note. You were one of the top couple teams in the world and probably gave Fnatic the toughest games of any team when they were on top. What have been the challenges in dealing with the drop on form that seemed to hit you guys hard in the spring and summer?

NS: First thing, it was very hard for most of the team, and the players especially, to deal with going lower in the rankings and having to work again to really find the will to grind against the best teams in the world. I think that was a huge blow. For some players, if you steal that confidence from them, it’s extremely hard to get it back. We’ve been struggling all year long. It’s not that terrible in the fact that we always manage to stay in the top 10, but we couldn’t find — especially with the players we have – we couldn’t find any play going for us. It’s about finding our play style back and chemistry back. It’s something we have been struggling with all year long. We’re still working in that same direction. Being on the same page. It’s just taking a long time, and we’re still working on it.

VN: Do you take it for granted at times, being one of the top teams? It seems like it can disappear in a second.

Yeah, especially I think it’s something that’s very specific to French teams. Everything outside the games, the fans and talking to people and telling you you’re the best. Especially to the French scene, we have that mentality where we easily forget the hard work and what you have to put in the game to win. When you fall down from that, it’s very hard to come back from because you have nothing to rely on anymore, and suddenly you’re not the best. Keeping the mentality and keeping the will to grind while you’re on top, that’s something SK is doing well. They have a FalleN as a leader, who is a grinder. He will not stop and will definitely aim for first place. When you have that guy who will always bring somebody up, it helps a lot. That’s something French teams don’t have. Having a person who will say “Next time everyone will do better.” We’re working on that.

VN: Recently there was a bit of a spat about casters comments toward players, which sparked from the event you were at over the weekend. As someone who has probably been both praised and criticized at times by casters, where do you fall in that debate?

NS: I think there is some stuff. Some casters and analysts are notorious for doing that. It’s not a surprise. There are different factors. And also that some memes being created about players, the prime example being Smithzz. It is something that went too far as in people using the meme for fame of “He’s a cool caster” while shitting on a player. I think it’s fair and completely normal to point out bad plays or being bad in the game. But to do it just to ride the meme wave, that’s too much. Some casters and analysts are notorious for that. So when you have people coming with that out of nowhere, I guess that’s when it started and people started talking more about it. Definitely on some players, it’s way too hard. Even if a player is bad 24/7 in each and every game, you can point it out from a narrative point of view that he’s bad. There’s no reason to destroy him.

VN: The Major qualifying system has also come under debate recently. You’re playing on a team that is in the world top 10 but also has to qualify for the Major. What do you think about the current system?

NS: The whole big system is fine. There are just several points that are completely absurd. Qualifying for the minor, you have some invited teams, and then (some) you have to qualify online in two days. That’s very harsh for a team that wants to qualify. That, and then there were some problems with roster changes. For instance, you had a team in a Legends team and was getting kicked and wanted to play in a Minor but couldn’t. I don’t remember the exact details, but I think that should be looked at. The last thing that I would say should be changed is the seeding system at the Major. I think the whole system is fine. I think the hard part is that there’s no seeding being made during the major. You always have a fairly easy group and a “Group of Death” at the major. That is where there could be a huge improvement. Then you could see less top teams that have to qualify. Those are the three points, but overall the whole structure is fine.

Cover photo by Adela Sznajder/DreamHack