Meet Kei: A deep dive on TL's newest member
If you missed Team Liquid's stream on July 28th, you missed history being made.
After applying to and winning our path-to-pro FPS series, The Next Wave, Kris “kei” Mead has become the first fan to earn a pro gaming contract at Team Liquid! He’ll be joining us as a streamer and content creator for CS:GO.
Kei’s journey through The Next Wave truly had all the makings of a hero’s adventure. For being the youngest competitor at 20 years of age, kei’s resolve was almost as impressive as his mechanical ability. The first two days of the contest featured Apex Legends and Doom, two games outside of his wheelhouse, and he was sent to the elimination round TWO consecutive times. Both times, he shot lights-out in the Aim Lab duel to keep his run alive.
The following day, kei finally got to play his specialty game, CS:GO, but his first-round matchup, Sea7, played the match of his life and was actually leading in points until kei managed to bring it back and win.
And the cherry on top? In the final episode of The Next Wave, kei won an Aim Lab challenge and was given the choice to pick the deciding game of the entire contest. Despite having 7,000 (and change) hours in CS, he picked Apex Legends. Instead of pressing his advantage, he chose a game that would give everyone the fairest chance and allowed himself an opportunity to redeem himself from his first performance. Many people (including myself) questioned this decision because there was SO much on the line. But going with his heart ultimately proved to be the right decision. When the final bell of the contest rang, it was kei’s arm lifted in victory and the beginning of his Team Liquid career.
There’s an entire road traveled you don’t get to see before someone gets their chance in the spotlight. And for kei, The Next Wave captured a small but exciting piece of that journey. Now, a week from his win and back home, I sat down with Liquid kei to dig a little deeper. I picked his brain about Counter-Strike, his experience with esports before getting on The Next Wave, how he trains, who inspires him, and got to know him better with the truly important questions like what kind of music he listens to and what his favorite anime is.
Before we get to the nitty gritty of the interview, congratulations and welcome to the Team Liquid family! How was Southern California? What did you get up to out here?
Thanks! It was definitely interesting. I’ve never been anywhere to the west side of the country, so it was weird seeing how different it was there. Like, I’ve never seen a palm tree before.
I went to the Santa Monica pier, I went to the mountains and all that. I think it was called Inspiration Point or something like that, something corny *laughs*.
For sure. So tell me, is winning a reality show how you envisioned joining your first esports team?
No, not at all. I had no idea that this was going to be the big turning point in my life. I applied for this thing not really expecting much to come out of it. I applied just to apply. Like eh, there’s a good chance something might not happen, but it’s worth getting into it.
I knew I had the skill for it, but I recently took a year-long break from gaming and I didn’t really have much confidence in getting back into it because I only started really playing games again around September of last year. I hadn’t played in so long I felt a little rusty getting into the challenge for The Next Wave, but I saw how good my score was and realized maybe I’m not as rusty as I thought.
Before going on your gaming break and applying to The Next Wave, were you actively trying to break into esports? Or, what was your gaming journey up until that point?
Well, I first started gaming on console. I mainly played Battlefield and Call of Duty. Then my sister got to an age where she would kick me off the console whenever she wanted to play, so I stopped playing console games and started playing on a crappy little laptop instead.
That’s where I found Team Fortress 2 and eventually CS:GO. I put 2,000 hours into TF2 just with sniping alone. I was intrigued by the skill of aiming and things like that. Then I found Counter-Strike, a game that heavily relies on aim and skill and thought it was really neat. I played that for years and years.
I played it up until I quit gaming last year, because I had to get a job and I started attending college and I didn’t have enough time to grind out teamwork and scrims and practices. It didn’t seem very realistic. The Next Wave came at a really good time, because I had just quit that job—I was working overnight at a grocery store, it was hell…and then The Next Wave popped up so it was like, good timing…I feel like I got really lucky with the timing.
Yeah, timing can be a big factor in success. But even though you took some time off from grinding, you never really left the FPS scene completely. I heard you were still working as an tourney admin for some FPS games during your break, right?
Yeah, during that time off, my friend offered me a job at a company where we ran tournaments for different FPS games. I was doing shows at least like once a week, sometimes once every two weeks. It all depended on the schedule, and I did manage to play a little in between jobs. All the skill I developed over the years came from me just grinding CS:GO day in and day out for like, probably five years straight.
How many tournaments did you play when you were grinding CS:GO? How invested did you get in that pro scene?
I don’t know if you’re familiar with ESEA, but it’s a third-party client that hosts a league system for CS:GO. You start at Open. If you make it to playoffs in Open, you make Intermediate next season…if you win Open playoffs you make it to Main…above Main there’s Advanced…above that is Premiere, and then Pro League.
I hovered around the Advanced level for a while. I’m really close to a lot of people at the semi-pro level, and watching them grow and continuing to play is very interesting…I’m in a unique position where being a member of Liquid, I’m not at a professional level, but I’m not just a streamer either.
Touching on your tournament experience, I saw your Tweet about playing against oSee at your first-ever LAN. Can you give us more context? Like, what tournament was this? Did you have to qualify or was it an open bracket?
It was an open LAN. I think I was playing Main at the time…right under Advanced…I was good at the game but not semi-pro. At the time oSee was on Team Singularity, he was playing with Shakezullah who was on Bad News Bears, and floppy who was on Complexity.
It was very, very difficult playing against them, because that was my first time ever playing against an actual professional team, and to be doing it at my first-ever LAN event as well, there’s extra pressure applied when you’re playing against them in-person you know?
It was tough. We got absolutely shit on *laughs* it was not even close...
I was surprised we even got a couple of rounds on ‘em. But that’s just how Counter-Strike works, not every round is going to be perfect.
The Next Wave isn’t the first time you’ve ‘won’ something to get closer to Liquid. I’m talking about that Splitgate tournament at IEM Chicago and how you won VIP tickets. Did you go to IEM Chicago knowing about this opportunity?
No, I actually was going to IEM Chicago specifically to see Team Liquid. There aren’t many events that happen in Chicago with pro-level teams. I missed the first one in 2018, so when I heard they were coming back in 2019 I told myself I had to go to this. And so, I got what money I could and immediately bought tickets to see them.
And while I was there…they set up a bunch of gaming things where you could try some computers and play Call of Duty, I think Black Ops 3 at the time…and on the other side they had a Splitgate tournament…you literally could just sign up…first place winner gets VIP seats, a jersey with your name on it, and we also got to meet n0thing from Cloud 9. He was basically one of the first up-and-coming players. He was so young when he was playing 1.6 and he was so good at it. To meet him was an honor because I watched that team for so long and knew what a reputable player he was.
Had you played Splitgate before that day, or did you rely on your TF2/ Arena FPS experience?
I had never played Splitgate…but I’ve practiced my aim for so long that I can hardly attribute my good aim to just Counter-Strike. I’ve touched Overwatch and my aim is pretty good in that game.
Jumping into Splitgate, they were 10 minute games, and the max amount of kills you could get that would end the game was 50. I was actually the only person to get 50 kills. After I got 50 kills they actually had to lower the max to 40 because the other people were taking too long.
I didn’t even use abilities. I didn’t even know there were abilities! The whole point of Splitgate was to use teleporters and things like that…I was just running around shooting people and meleeing them *laughs*.
Hah, at the end of the day, aim and fundamentals go a long way. Speaking of your skills, on Episode 4 of The Next Wave, Hodsic calls out your incredible one-taps. Do you have a particular set of Aim Lab maps you practice? Or how is your aim so good?
When I was practicing my aim, it was way before Aim Lab came out. I would go into Aim Bots. It’s the most downloaded Counter-Strike map ever. It sets up a bunch of bots around you in a circle at different distances, and I would just practice flicking at them, from different angles, from different distances, trying to get quicker and quicker at it. And I would do this every single day, for as long as I’ve played CS:GO.
And even on days when I wasn’t planning on playing games, like if I didn’t feel like playing a 5v5 match, I’d wake up and I would just hop on CS:GO, have a video on my second monitor and practice my aim.
I don’t even remember what Aim Lab maps I use, but I don’t like Gridshot though, it’s not fun for me *laughs*.
I saw you playing an Aim Bots map on your stream this week. Which map was that?
I think it’s called Fast Aim / Reflex Training. That’s the one I mainly use now. My aim has gotten good enough against targets that are standing still, so I try using maps where bots are moving a lot more. Players like ScreaM used it when they were playing Counter-Strike.
Would you say ScreaM is up there as one of the top players who has inspired you? Or who are the top three players who have influenced your playstyle?
Players who have influenced me? ScreaM, shox, and shroud.
I didn’t even know Counter-Strike had a professional scene until I saw a video with ScreaM, where they went into detail about how he plays for an organization that pays him and flies him all over the place. That he plays Counter-Strike for money, and I was like ‘Woah that’s so cool!
So I googled him, I looked him up on YouTube, started watching a bunch of highlight movies and I’m like ‘This guy is a fucking monster and I want to be just like him,’ *laughs*.
And with shox it was kind of the same thing. They were on a team together on G2 and that duo, shox and ScreaM’s aim, they were mechanically better players than everyone else on the server, and they would just dominate whenever they were in a 2v5 situation.
And shroud is just shroud. He’s the guy known as the savior of NA for a long time. He played games for fun but he was really good mechanically. And that’s how I want to be viewed. I want to be seen as someone who is good but isn’t trying super hard. There’s something about that that feels cool to me.
Ok I have a fun hypothetical for you: If you could be the 5th man of a Team Liquid CS:GO team, who would your other four teammates be? You can choose any player who has ever played for Team Liquid.
Oh my god.
Man, part of me wants to pick shox so bad, because I still look up to him. But when he was playing for Team Liquid it wasn’t working too well for them.
But this is your dream team. You can pick shox!
*laughs* Yeah, I could, but I have no problem with the current CS:GO roster. I would love to stick to NA. Even though I look up to shox, he’s an absolute legend, and I would have loved to play with him—I want to see the NA scene grow and shine, because it’s so flushed out right now. So, I definitely want to stick with NA with my picks.
I would want to play with EliGE, I would want to play with Twistzz. Those two are players I also look up to a lot. Especially seeing them at IEM Chicago and watching them win it.
Nitr0 is another player I’d want to play with. He wasn’t originally an IGL but he had to adapt and come into that role when he had to start AWPing during their miracle run when they became #1 in the world…He used to be an entry-fragger. That’s a completely different role and he’s doing really well at it. I’d love to play under nitr0. He’s absolutely insane.
So me, Twistzz, EliGE, nitr0…I’m gonna go with prime Skadoodle. I love oSee, he’s really good, he’s definitely the best AWPer in NA right now but there’s just the nostalgia of…oh wait. Skadoodle never played for Liquid *laughs*. I take it back, I take it back, I’m playing with oSee!
I’m playing with the original Team Liquid squad that was winning all those tournaments. There’s nothing wrong with YEKINDAR, he’s doing really well right now on the Team Liquid squad!
Hey this is just a hypothetical for your dream team! No reflection on the active roster, just who you’d want to play with.
I think that would absolutely be an insane roster. If, IF I could keep up. I probably can’t. Those guys have a much higher skill ceiling than I do. I want to continue to play Counter-Strike at a competitive level though to see how far I can go.
That reminds me, I skipped a question. Now that you’re on Team Liquid, will you be leaning into content creation full-time or do you still have aspirations to play professional CS:GO?
I for sure have aspirations to play Counter-Strike competitively. As a content creator my content would be centered around Counter-Strike of course, but I do also want to try my hand at other kinds of content. On my YouTube channel I have other videos that aren’t Counter-Strike related.
So I do want to be a content creation guy, but I also have a competitive drive.
If I could find a team that would want to pick me up it would be cool to play with them. But they would also have to sacrifice not having an organization, which a lot of teams do want. I’d love to keep playing CS:GO competitively, as long as the team lets me record scrims and matches and lets me upload them.
Ok this is the last deep question before I go into some easier ones to close us out. Since you briefly touched on it earlier, what do you think the difference is at this point between your level and professional play? Your aim is already amazing, so what do you think you need to work on?
Yeah, um, that’s a really deep question *laughs*.
There’s a lot that goes into it. Aim is a big factor, but you can ask any pro—aim will only take you so far…There’s so much of the game you have to rely on aside from mechanical skill alone…Being a player who is really good at aiming and able to take any fight is cool and all. But there’s so much of the game that I don’t really know about, that it would be hard for me to take on different roles and positions and be able to adapt and play them correctly.
What sets me apart from a player like Twistzz who has really good aim and is a mechanical god, is that he can be shoved into an unexpected situation and come out of it with more than one kill, or keep himself alive. But I feel like I’m much more of an aggressive player and I take fights more often than I should…I struggle with being put into situations where I have to play slower and think.
A lot of my game comes from taking fights and winning them. There’s a part of me that’s like “I played too passively at some point because I was afraid of playing Counter-Strike the ‘incorrect’ way”…
But after giving it some thought I realized I’m really gifted mechanically, so why am I not taking those fights? Even if I lose them it’s worth taking the risk because you’re never gonna win a fight unless you take one. So, I’m still adapting as a player and still have a lot I need to learn. I feel like I can definitely improve still…It’s weird because saying I have 7,000 hours in-game is like, man, that’s a lot. But I feel like there aren’t a lot of incredible Counter-Strike players who have less than 7,000 hours.
I’ve heard mastery comes at 10,000 hours. You still have 3,000 hours to go! Plenty of time to figure out the missing pieces of your game and gain the opportunity to have those experiences against higher-level competition that would let you navigate some of the tricker scenarios in CS:GO.
OK, with the tough questions out of the way, here’s a few easier ones to round out the interview.
Favorite CS:GO map?
Inferno, because it’s in the current map pool and it is my favorite CS:GO map currently.
But Cache, that was actually my favorite map for the longest time. I think statistically it’s also the best map I played when I was playing league. It’s unfortunate they got rid of it. They basically nerfed me *laughs*.
Favorite CS:GO gun?
Uh, definitely the Scout. The…SSG08 I think it’s called?
For a long time, before they changed it, you could jump and the gun was accurate at the peak of your jump. They changed it now and you have to be at the exact peak of your jump. But years ago the window was much longer. So you could just jump and hit every shot and it was so fun.
I played from Silver 4 to like LEM just using a Scout only. Those are my most vivid memories of CS:GO. Shout outs to Scouter, a guy who only uses Scout at FACEIT Level 10. I played against him a couple of times and he’s a monster!
Favorite CS:GO skin?
That’s also a tough question. I have no idea. I think my favorite CS:GO skin has to be the AWP Graphite. It’s a simple skin but feels so nice when the light refracts off it and shows all the little graphical parts of it. It’s such a cool gun, especially when you put stickers on it.
My other choice would have to be the AK Red Laminate. Also a really simple gun, but the way the red wood shines on the AK makes it pop. It’s the perfect gun for stickers because it’s so simple.
Favorite music album?
There’s a band called Dance Gavin Dance that I’m in love with. They have an album called Afterburner which is more of a recent album. I love that album so much. Instant Gratification is also a good one by them.
Total different genre, but Beer Bongs and Bentleys by Post Malone is also such a good one. I feel like there’s not a bad song on that album.
Hunter x Hunter is definitely up there for me. There’s another one called Oregairu, it’s more of a romance anime *laughs*. I also keep it basic with Attack on Titan. The whole concept of the show is also really cool. It’s hard for me to dislike it even though it’s super popular, I don’t care *laughs*.
Favorite TV Show?
Breaking Bad was definitely really good. I don’t spend time sitting down watching TV shows, so for me to actually binge watch one is rare. Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones. The Office was also really funny. I know a lot of people hate The Office because of how often it’s mentioned and like, how often people are like “You gotta watch The Office,” but it was a funny show!
Kei, thank you so much for your time and best of luck on Team Liquid! Anything else you want to say before we call it a day? Any shout outs?
Shout out to my buddy Shane, aka ViLE for showing me The Next Wave. I wouldn’t have found out about it had he not messaged me. Shout out to pol0. He’s my best bud, my Counter-Strike duo. He’s an FPL player, he streams occasionally. I have to thank him for having me get addicted to the game and showing me the ropes. He basically teaches me everything that he can. I love him to death. Shoutout to my girlfriend Meg. She’s been by my side through a lot of stuff. This Liquid thing has been stressful *laughs* I've gone through a lot, so thanks for sticking around.
(After asking him how to spell both of his friend’s gamertags) By the way, what year was it when you played oSee? I forgot to ask.
Oh god, that might have been like 2018, 2017? Something like that. It was a long time ago. It was my first LAN ever... Of course they ended up winning the whole thing. I should mention that.
OK that’s definitely a nice detail to close out that story. You didn’t lose to just anyone.
No, we lost to the winners for sure. Shout outs to oSee *laughs*.