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Kjaerbye on IEM Oakland format, realistic expectations and what gla1ve brings to Astralis

Astralis exited in the semifinals of IEM Oakland on Sunday after losing a tightly-contested match against SK Gaming (16-14, 16-12). Afterward, Slingshot’s Vince Nairn caught up with Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye to talk about Astralis’ recent form, the addition of Lukas “Gla1ve” Rossander and expectations for the rest of the year.

Vince Nairn: It’s been a crazy couple of weeks for you guys. What are your biggest takeaways from ELEAGUE and here?

Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye: I think these past couple weeks have been building our expectations. We’ve been together for two weeks, and meanwhile we won our Group in Atlanta at ELEAGUE, and we had good practice in between and won our group here in Oakland. So we had one or two weeks to actually become a team and make it more strategic with gla1ve coming in as a new in-game leader. That’s a lot of things to go through, and it’s really tough. But while we’ve been at these tournaments, we haven’t had the time to put into improving our play. It’s just about maintaining. It’s really promising just these few things we have at this point, getting a win at ELEAGUE against SK and losing a very tight match here against the best team in the world, in my opinion. That’s just really promising, and we take the loss very well. It was amazing to get the crowd on our side as well.

VN: Yeah, what’s your take on the event overall? Big arena. Had the feel of a Major, too, with all the teams that were here

MK: First of all, the group stage format was something I really appreciated. The first time I tried it. I heard good things about it. We get to play much more than just one game per day. We actually get to decide our fate in one day with five games. It just shows that you need to be able to perform throughout more than one or two matches per day. And even if you get a bad start like we did against G2, you get to come back, win the four last remaining games against some really good opponents. I just think it was a really good first step to win that group as well and advance to the semifinals. We had three days off and had been playing as much as we could, trying to keep in shape, of course. But it was actually almost a bit too much to have these three days off. And at ELEAGUE as well, we only had two best-of-ones, so we hadn’t been playing as much as we want to. Of course, it’s best because we ended up winning our group and hopefully was better for the players.

VN: Having an entire group in one day, does relieve any pressure knowing that you don’t necessarily have to be perfect in every match?

MK: Yeah, I think it sort of takes some of the pressure off. We lost our first game and our coach told us if we win the last four we’ll go through as first in the group. It’s just so much different than one game per day because you just have to focus on the next game right away. You literally have 15-20 minutes before the next game. So OK, high five everyone and focus on the next game. It also limits how much we can prepare for the other teams because we just have to focus on one game per day and hope our own game is good enough to win. And it was.

VN: It seems like you guys have a very realistic view of where you are and what you need to do to get where you want to be. How has that mentality just kind of taken form as your roster has come together here recently?

MK: We are on the right path. I feel like we have played so little together now that it’s almost criminal to have big expectations, but I feel like throughout these few days we’ve had off, it built a confidence in us. Even though, as I said, it would be criminal to think we could go on and beat the best team in the world in the semis, we really started to believe it. It wasn’t just a joke anymore, making fun of how far we would go. We really believed in ourselves and we came really close, as the scoreline showed. And we should be really proud of our Train. First of all, it’s the world’s best team on Train, and we got more rounds than their last five opponents combined. So I think it was a decent showing. Of course, it’s sad we didn’t get the win, but it’s just about focusing on the next event, and people still have their heads high and we’re ready for ELEAGUE in one week’s time.

VN: What has gla1ve really brought to the table that has helped give you a spark?

MK: He has brought his own play style in many ways. We take the majority of our gameplay from him, of course, so he feels comfortable calling. Otherwise, it doesn’t make any sense. We have given him some of our old things as well, and we just need to find the right mix between it. And still, we have a lot of tactics we can put into our play, but he’s also given us a lot of belief. Without having expectations, you still have to have the belief you can beat anyone. That’s what’s going to decide the close games in the end, and that’s what I’m looking forward to building on, this kind of belief. It feels like a fresh slate.

Cover photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL,