Nitr0 Returns: Old Captain, New World
There’s no sense in pretending. You knew nitr0 was coming back to this roster weeks ago. You should also know that, as far as returns go, this is an interesting one.
Nitr0, Team Liquid, CS:GO itself - they've all changed a great deal in the long year and a half that the captain’s been away. We saw a Liquid which, despite some moments of brilliance, underperformed across a stretch of competition that brought low some of CS’s largest titans.
Virtus Pro, Gambit, Heroic, Spirit - these were all rising stars that outshined constellations that ruled over 2018, 2019, and 2020. Divine the stars and you could see it all to turn to the “Year of the AWP” - only fitting it’d be the year where S1mple and Na'Vi shined brightest of all.
It was also, in an unfortunate way, fitting that it wouldn’t be Liquid’s year. This team was never legendary for its AWPing - and especially not for online performance. Despite the addition of the incredible talents of Fallen and Grim, despite a stacked roster on paper and a whole lot of effort, this Liquid brought back flickers of a further past full of lost leads and mental blocks.
In that way, it’s reasonable to side-eye nitr0’s return - to wonder if this isn’t a further retreat into that history. But for Liquid and nitr0 both, it’s been a long year and a half, full of growth, which makes the move both a return to comfort and an effort to move forward as something new.
Given your quick success in Valorant, and having a good roster in 100T, why did you return to CS? What brought you back?
The main thing was, whenever I watched the Counter-Strike Major, it brought back a lot of good memories and I feel like I still have a lot of fuel left in my tank for Counter-Strike.
Counter-Strike’s a game that I’ve always played, my whole life. Valorant was… It was a game that felt right in the moment to switch to but my first option was not Valorant - as everyone knows. My first option was to still compete in Counter-Strike - so it’s not like I didn’t want to play. It was like, I wanted to play but there were no good offers that made sense in my mind, so I swapped.
I’m very grateful for the opportunity to play Valorant because it was actually a really good time - to spend time with my son who was just born. It was definitely a really good timing thing.
On that topic, how long were you eyeing a return to CS?
Honestly, it wasn’t until December. The month when I decided to switch. It wasn’t a thought in my mind for a long time because whenever I am doing something, I’m super narrow-minded on it. I’m not thinking about what I’m gonna do next month, I’m thinking about solutions for the current game I’m playing.
So for Valorant, at the time, I was in-game leading so even more I wasn’t thinking about Counter-Strike. I hadn’t thought about Counter-Strike in a year and a half. And ever since I swapped back to Counter-Strike I haven’t thought about Valorant. That’s just how my mind works.
You’re also coming back to Liquid. What motivated that return?
Obviously, I love Liquid. I think they’re still the best org in the world. I like the players that were brought up to me in the moment. I still like my teammates - and my ex-teammates a lot.
In Valorant I had a couple players who needed a little bit of micro-management and stuff like that so coming back to Liquid I had my experienced core again. I don’t have to micro as much as I had to in Valorant, so that’s kind of a relief. But a lot of it is just I like playing at the highest level, I like traveling to compete and stuff like that and I think in Valorant there’s just not enough tournaments for me to be sufficed about.
You have to do good at specific tournaments to play in the next like 3 months worth of tournaments. I like the open circuit competitive part of Counter-Strike.
It is a Liquid interview but you don’t have to call us the best org if you don’t want to.
[Chuckles] I’m not lyin’.
A big part of your moving to Valorant was there was too much travel in CS. [...] A little bit of oversaturation in tournaments. Are you worried about that at all?
It’s like a worry but it’s not as bad as 2019 was where you’re just gone for a long period and there’s no break between the long periods of travel. You could be gone for a month and a half, then you get a week home, then you’re back on the road for a month. It’s really bad for your mental health if you don’t enjoy traveling or you enjoy your family life at home. [...]
We’re not gonna compete in every tournament. A lot of teams were trying to get top 1 HLTV and stuff like that for contract incentives. Lotta teams had incentives back in the day where if you didn’t go to a specific tournament because you wanted to take a break, you would drop spots. [...] We don’t wanna travel as much as we used to because it’s super bad for your mental health.
Given you are a big flex player, do you expect to be flexing a bit in TL or are you entering with a defined role?
I’m pretty much entering with a defined role [IGL] because now we have an AWPer. On the CT sides, we try to keep [the roles] generally the same, that way we can create some chemistries within the team and between specific players. But I would say definitely less flexing now.
How do you feel about Liquid’s AWPing setup in this current lineup? Given this is the first time - in your experience with Liquid - where they’ve had a really dedicated AWPer?
I think it’s a great thing to have especially in this meta nowadays, with how strong the AWP is and how much impact they’re having in the rounds. I think it’s super crucial to have because if you look at all the top teams, they all have really good AWPers. Most of the teams also have really great secondary AWPers - I think anyone in my team can AWP so I think it’s definitely a good attribute to have.
Given your history with Elige, how does it feel to return to playing with him?
It feels great to return playing with him. I’ve been knowing him for forever pretty much - it feels like. Since I started Counter-Strike seriously, professionally. So it feels great to be by his side again and hopefully we can win some more stuff together.
In leaving Liquid, nitr0 has gathered experience he probably never would’ve had within a team that had been his home for years. Moving to Valorant gave nitr0 a chance at something new - in form of both a new game and a new team environment. And 100 Thieves Valorant was not nearly the same team as Team Liquid CS.
In some ways, the teams were on opposite poles. 100T became known for wild comebacks built off of herculean clutches - both on and offline. They were a team of mostly veterans built around young talents in Asuna and Ethan (Dicey before that).
In that environment, nitr0’s versatility and experience got put to the task, rotating roles as primary IGL, lurker, Jett-Operator, and leader. Nitr0 as he was known in CS would fit Liquid well - it’s now documented that the team suffered from lacking a clear IGL in 2021. But I think there’s something more intriguing - and maybe more hopeful - in the new things nitr0 could bring.
How was the experience for you, working with that younger base - working with Asuna? Was it rewarding, weird…
It was rewarding for sure - seeing Asuna come up and become the player he is today. I’m not gonna take credit for how he is as a player but I feel like I definitely helped him in some ways.
I hope that he learned from me and it’s nice to see him be really good, considering whenever we first played with him he was a crazy kid. The way he played the game, not outside the game obviously. His spacing was pretty bad, he would try to be really ahead of everybody trying to get the kills. But I think he’s very smart about the game and I think he has a very bright future.
You have something a little similar but also a little different in form of oSee. [...] How do you feel about him joining the team? Was he on your radar to play with at any point? Is he someone you see the rest of the team mentoring?
So oSee’s a great player obviously, he’s been performing really well in Counter-Strike in the past 2 years or so. He’s definitely an up-and-coming player. He’s gonna need all the experience he can get, so joining Liquid is definitely a step in the right direction for him.
Actually, I wanted him to join my Valorant team. We were in talks like last year about him potentially coming to Valorant because Extra Salt was pretty good but they weren’t competing in international LANs in the near future. But props to him, he said he’d rather just play in Counter-Strike and he thinks he can get to be really good at it. [...]
Props to him for staying committed to the game. It definitely shows this is where he wants to be, you know, he wants to be on the best team. I think he’s gonna show his skill for sure.
Liquid’s legacy online is pretty much strictly negative, right? We’re fairly well-known for not playing up to the same standard online, even before COVID. What do you think makes Liquid struggle so much online?
I don’t know the true answer to it but in my opinion, I think it’s hard to bring that same energy. If you’re a more experienced team/player and you’re in your zone on LAN with a crowd and stuff, you’re gonna perform. That’s where you wanna be, that’s your zone.
Then you play an online match, it’s hard to match that same intensity when you’re sitting on your computer at home. We were trying to bring that same intensity but sometimes it’s not the same. I think the guys, they really performed the best under that intensity.
We won a Grand Slam on LAN then we go lose to a nobody team online. So it’s like, “What the hell’s going on Liquid?” I dunno dude. There’s no solution, it’s just how we are. It’s hard, it really is. Then the fans look at you and they’re like, “Why don’t you just play the same?” It’s not how it works.
Why I ask this, is because on 100T you were on a team that navigated the online era pretty well. [...] There was probably a LAN buff there too, but what do you think makes the difference there? Did you feel there was anything different within 100T that made that team perform better online?
It’s kinda hard to be honest, with the different games. In Valorant I really wanted to play on LAN that game - that was my number 1 thing I wanted to do. I got to play 2 LANs. Well, 2 and a half. [Chuckles]
I think switching to Valorant, I had the fire to be the best online as well as on LAN. I don't think there was much difference there compared to Counter-Strike, where I’ve been to a million LANs and going to online just sucks. Period. There’s no way around it.
Whereas Valorant’s a new game, new atmosphere. There’s a bunch of new stuff, so we definitely brought the fire there. I think there’s just a difference in games and culture for sure.
Do you think that it helps to have somebody like oSee, who hasn’t reached those heights, to lend some energy to the team playing online?
Oh yeah for sure. I don’t know how many LANs he’s been to but I think when you play a lot more online matches than LAN matches you’re just more comfortable online naturally. [...] I think bringing oSee in will definitely help us in that department.
Liquid had this period of mental blocks with Grand Finals, getting a big lead, gradually throwing it away, things like this. Then, 100T, you see a bit of the opposite. Did you feel like you learned anything within 100T about [clutch] atmosphere, playing adaptively, etc?
I might not consciously notice it but I think something I did notice was if you have a really clutch player on your team, they learn faster. Your teammates will learn faster because they’ll study the situation, see how you play. Next time, if they watch you clutch, and they’re in that situation, they’ll have an idea of how to win that round.
For example, having Asuna, he became a really clutch player I think by having really clutch teammates. If that makes sense.
Especially [for] having comebacks and stuff, you always gotta believe. That’s the number one thing, is that you believe can come back and win it. That’s just part of creating a team culture and environment. I think having that on 100 Thieves really helped me as a person and a player.
In an interview with DBLTAP, Twistzz said your in-game calling was really good and allowed him and Elige to grow a lot individually. [...] Can you explain the role that a good caller has in helping other members of the team develop individually?
I take pride in those kinda things. I’d rather the person next to me feel like they’re succeeding, and that would be towards the betterment of the team, instead of being a selfish caller. Where you’re calling something for yourself to get frags. I don’t believe in those kinds of things. [...]
In another part of the interview, Twistzz said that you lacked some of the out-of-game leadership aspect but he felt that you would gain it by playing with new people and going into Valorant. What do you make of his opinion and his prediction?
I think he’s right. I’m not gonna sugarcoat. I’ve always said myself that I’m not a natural leader. I’ve never been a natural leader, I’ve never felt like one. Recently, I think the older I get and when I play with younger players, it makes me feel like I have to be that leader, so it’s kinda forcing me to be in that role.
So it’s just a matter of me not being awkward about things, just saying it how it is. Knowing that if I say something, it’s not to be condescending or anything, it’s only for the betterment of the team. I think both parties have to understand what the actual message is and hopefully the delivery is good enough.
Old captain, new world
Heading into 2022, nitr0 is 26 years old. Young in most fields, in esports it means he’s a veteran. He’s every bit the old captain returning to a ship that is by now, as familiar as it is unfamiliar. The stars that light the way now are mostly separate from the ones that did in 2019 and 2020, and after a year in an entirely different sea, there’s a natural uncertainty around nitr0.
But, the new world of CS is almost characterized by uncertainty. As Na’Vi rose to the top on the scope of S1mple’s AWP, a number of teams across the world have shuffled their rosters to better face the new CIS dynasty. Liquid is no exception, just as hungry as the rest - and gambling just as hard on an interesting reconfiguration of new and old.
Nitr0 will not be the main fragger or the star AWPer but he will be the key role player - the old IGL brought back to the mic to lead a very different squad. In his chill and steady way, he seems braced for a return to an old post and an ever-renewing challenge.
You’ve mentioned earlier, you don’t feel that you’re a natural leader. In the world of the FPS, what do you feel you’re a natural at?
I think I’m a natural studier and listener of the game. Kind of taking that in and teaching other people about it.
I think the game has taught me to be more organized as a person and be more of a people person, being able to work with teammates. I’m not playing StarCraft where it’s 1-on-1. You gotta be in a team environment, you gotta work as a team, do team activities, stuff like that. That's the main lesson it’s taught me throughout the years, for sure. [...]
Individually, I’m not working 90% of my time trying to become the best player in the world. I’m trying to make other people better around me and help the team win. Whatever it takes for that.
Aside from winning, what gives you the greatest feeling playing CS:GO?
Personally, probably just making a good call - a round-winning call.
What are your expectations for this Liquid team in 2022?
Realistically, I think we could be a top 5 team. We might just need a little bit of time. Obviously, when you have a new roster you need a little bit of time to get the kinks out and see how everyone is as a person and all those little things. We might not be the best off the bat but I think eventually we’re gonna get a feel for it and I think we’re gonna be great.