TSM hazed talks First Strike, Sentinels rivalry, age, Valve vs. Riot, & the VALORANT vs. CSGO skill gap – exclusive interview

After TSM’s win over Envy, VPEsports had the chance to catch up with James “hazed” Cobb. The veteran esports professional discussed First Strike, their rivalry with Sentinels, age & competition, Valve vs. Riot, the VALORANT skill gap, and more in this exclusive interview.

VPEsports: Starting with the match that just took place – did you expect it to go so..easily? Apart from the first half of the first map, you guys were in pretty complete control. Were you expecting that or were you guys just playing lights out?

hazed: We weren’t expecting it, and we were playing lights out. It was a mixture of both. We were surprised at how easily we were manipulating the rotations and catching them off guard.

That’s not something that usually happens when we play them. Usually they’re the ones out rotating us. Whatever we did today was definitely good, it was something special. Our communication in particular was amazing and obviously that helps. I think they were just playing a little cold today.
VPEsports: I think it’s fair to say there’s a bit of a rivalry between TSM and Sentinels, at least between some players like WARDELL & ShahZam. Where do you stand on it? How do you feel?

hazed: It’s a real rivalry for sure. Whether or not they think about it that way doesn’t really matter to us. To us, they are the enemy. We don’t want them to win.

I don’t wish anything bad upon them, I just don’t ever want to lose to them ever and I think most the players on the team feel the same way. We acknowledge their skill, their tenacity, how hard they put in the work to put in strategies when we play them. They feel like the most complete team along with Envy.

So we have that respect for them, but at the same time I don’t want them to win.

VPEsports: Your age comes up a decent amount, whether it’s jokes made on Twitter, or in other interviews, etc. which once again brings up the age old question of how long can esports pros last? It seems that the previous thoughts of the mid 20’s has been thrown out the window with folks such as yourself & cutler in VALORANT, you have guys like f0rest in CSGO. 

In terms of how you feel in the game, do you feel anywhere close to a “limitation” for lack of a better word?
hazed: You definitely feel something. I don’t know what the limit is, but I think the issue is the older you get the more responsibilities you have and it starts to weigh on you a bit. When you’re younger you just don’t have those, you’re free, just kind of do whatever you want and that reflects in your gameplay too.

I think younger people are much more willing to play off their intuition rather than play off of information. What ends up happening for older players, specifically myself, is I get lost in thought a lot. Because I’ve seen so many scenarios, I start thinking about well this could work or this could work if I do it this way or if I call for a teammate. My mind is running through all these scenarios instead of just playing off my feeling, my intuition.

But I’d say maybe around mid-30’s, 35, is probably gonna the limit. It’s already hard enough for me to compete with these young kids, I’ve seen some of their aim and I’m not going to say my name is significantly worse but I’ve noticed a decline in my own aim over the years.

I can tell I’m approaching the limit at some point, but it’s interesting to see where that limits going to be in the future.

VPEsports: Coming from a very open circuit Counter-Strike where Valve had little input/impact on tournaments outside of the Majors, what has it been like to have a more hands-on publisher like Riot Games?
hazed: I think it does more good than bad. I think having that support from the publisher really helps the scene thrive because you know they’re invested. Most of the time with Valve it didn’t feel that way, it felt like “whatever happens, happens, we don’t care.” Whether or not they do care is another story.

Early on at the first couple Majors there were always Valve employees there and they’d talk to players and get their feedback. But I don’t know that that continued because I haven’t been in the pro scene for CS for some time. But I think they stopped doing that.

Having Riot involved has been amazing. I think there should be a little more freedom in the open circuit; I’ve heard some things, whether or not they’re true I can’t say, but I’ve heard there’s been some pretty severe restrictions on some of these open circuit tournaments which I didn’t like. But ultimately I think it does more good than bad.

VPEsports: There’s some talk that VALORANT has less of a skill gap (higher skill floor, lower skill ceiling) than Counter-Strike. Do you have a stance on that? Are the abilities and how they’re used enough to make up for it if you even agree with it?

hazed: I agree, I think Counter-Strike is a harder game mechanically but the problem with that argument is they just discard the whole abilities thing and the fact that there’s different comps.

An example I give is that in Counter-Strike you can set up crossfires or pop flash setups that will work against every single team because you know the utility that every team has. But in VALORANT, a crossfire or a set up that you’re running could not work against another comp because the way they execute on the site is different because there’s different abilities. So you have to be incredibly dynamic in the way you play.

In my opinion, yes it is easier to shoot in this game but it is infinitely harder to understand strategy and make the right play. So people who complain that VALORANT is easier, I think they’re foolish.

VPEsports: So from that point of view, which do you prefer? Greater mechanical ability or more strategic depth?

hazed: I would say I prefer the strategical depth, but there is something special about Counter-Strike that I can never get over. So for me, it’s the best of all time.

VPEsports: Has anything surprised you with how First Strike has played out? Perhaps who qualified?

hazed: I was surprised is how quickly T1 turned things around. I figured they were still a top 10 team but I didn’t expect them to improve so quickly. Also Renegades beating C9 was a shock AT THE TIME, but since then we’ve seen C9 decline heavily. IMT was another team I didn’t expect to make top 8, but they proved their aggro style of play was well refined and abused teams with it.