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Photo: ESL

By Taras Bortnik

Special to VPEsports

Following Renegades elimination after a deep run into the event, VPEsports caught up with Aaron “AZR” Ward to talk about his teams performance.

Making it all the way to the quarterfinals where they would fall to MIBR, Renegades showed more potential than many gave them credit for coming into IEM Kaotwice 2019.

AZR discusses the roster, the MIBR match, in-game leading, coaching, and more in this exclusive interview.

VPEsports: Am I right in assuming that even though you guys didn’t win the Major, you still consider your result a victory?

AZR: Yes! It’s amazing that we made it to top-8, for sure. I’d goal coming into this tournament was top-16 and we made it pretty easy going through 3:0 in the Challenger Stage. Then we passed Legends Stage with a 3:1. Obviously we fell short a little bit to MIBR in quarterfinals so overall I think we had a pretty successful performance here in Katowice.

VPEsports: Dust2 was your pick against MIBR. Can you explain what went wrong?

AZR: It was a rough map. Rough for me personally, that I can say for sure. But I think the main thing was they won all the important rounds. They constantly reset our economy, forcing us into eco rounds. There was a time when we had four ecos or something like that. We kept giving them free rounds and they built up money on that.

VPEsports: Renegades had a bit of a Cinderella story throughout this Major. Do you have any thoughts about how you can keep this positive momentum for the team and not fall backwards into lower tiers like QBF and compLexity did after their success?

AZR: For me it’s just different. With us qualifying to top-8 compare to compLexity’s run, we were able to win bo3 matches, comparing to bo1 in London. So I think we are stronger in that regard but I think that since we made this new lineup we are a whole lot better as a team in general. In the past when we had issues in the team it felt like people were just giving up. Now we are mentally stronger, which is a huge thing in CS.

VPEsports: Before the tournament you had some expectations. Can you describe to me how they changed during the Major?

AZR: In Challengers stage it was simple – I expected us to see in top-16. That was our obvious goal. Going 3:0 in pretty convincing way made us very happy. Before the Legends stage I knew that we had the ability to make it to top-8, because our team is strong right now. The mental strength of this team is very high compared to what I had in recent rosters.

VPEsports: Top-8 at IEM Katowice Major – the biggest result in your career as a professional player. What does this victory mean to you?

AZR: For me personally it’s an amazing experience. Us getting top-8 at a Major, despite our real goal was to make it to top-16. But such a result… It feels so awesome to make it to Legend status. Now we are able to attend the next Major without having to go through the Minor. It’s definitely very good for us.

VPEsports: And obviously that’s a spot for other teams from Australia or China. What do you think about the potential of the region? Is there any other team that can decently represent your region on the world stage?

AZR: Definitely. For example, Greyhound. But in Australia there are few more good teams; Chiefs, Tainted Minds. And it feels like these teams will fight for this spot, but Grayhound is ahead of them right now. Well, I probably have to say that I believe in Tainted Minds. They have my old friend USTILO in the roster and I hope that he can get up to that point. Obviously there are more teams in China. So yeah, I think there is a lot of potential in our region. But all of these teams need experience from international tournaments like we do. For them, Major is the start.

VPEsports: After you ended your run at the Major, did you celebrate it?

AZR: No, we didn’t celebrate after we lost. Obviously we know that we did something good here, but at the same time, when we came into the game we wanted to win and I feel like we didn’t show our best there. I was a little bit disappointed, to be honest, I thought we could give more, but after all it’s a learning experience for all of us as a team. Especially on such a big stage as Spodek. But even if our opponent was MIBR – Major champions – it’s still disappointing.

VPEsports: After Nifty was benched, you became a captain. How does this change your performance and approach to the game?

AZR: Originally I was a secondary leader of a team. I was doing that all the time, and it was an obvious choice to put me into the in-game-leader role. And from the start it was definitely a big change for sure because I’ve never done a leading role before. It was something I had to get used to, had to get experience. I was really worried at the start because I’ve never done it before, but I was willing to take the challenge. As time went on and it got to be easier for me and it feels natural for me now. It feels good.

VPEsports: Have you asked anyone for advice?

AZR: I guess from the start I did ask people to talk to me to make sure that our communication is on point so I can make some mid-round decisions properly with the information that they give me. And obviously I had Kassad, our coach, when he came back into the roster. He definitely takes a lot of work off of me, making strats and stuff like that. This allows me to make more impact with my individual game, for sure. I guess Alex is the main person who helped me the most.

VPEsports: Before you brought Kassad back, you worked with Ryu. Can you compare approaches of these two coaches?

AZR: I think Ryu has a really good understanding with the mental sort of stuff. But me and Alex… it feels like we have a better connection in-game, we have a better vision of the game together. Just like I said before, Kassad is more than a mental coach, I feel like he has a deeper knowledge of the game which makes it a lot easier for me to be on the same level.

VPEsports: ENCE is probably the biggest surprise of this Major. Both of your teams ruined many pick’ems. Have any thoughts about ENCE?

AZR: It’s crazy, to be honest. This team started from 0:2 at Legends stage and got three wins in a row to get to the playoffs. And all of these matches were bo3. Even more, in playoffs they bested Liquid and Na’Vi. I was very surprised by these victories. I expected Liquid and Astralis to be in the final.

VPEsports: You are the only team who could beat the Danish Stars [Astralis] on a single map. No other team managed to do it, but you did. What is the secret?

AZR: On the first map it was all about not giving up. It’s about having a strong mentality and even if you lose like 12:3 you still have to have a strong confidence in comeback. In that game I felt like we played great both individually and as a team. I feel like if we had old-Renegades squad we would fall under the pressure for sure.

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