One of the few tier-two North American teams on the rise, Chaos were dealt a brutal blow towards the end of 2020. To the surprise of many, the roster had bounced back from the loss of Joshua “steel” Nissan, and had just began cementing their name as one to keep an eye on, scoring victories over some of the better teams in the region – including FURIA, 100 Thieves, and Evil Geniuses. Despite those wins, however, it was reported in late November that the Chaos organisation would abandon their efforts in Counter-Strike at the end of the year and release their team, leaving the lineup without a place to call home.
At first, the roster remained hopeful of finding a new organisation to play under, with promising results adding credibility to their search as they took down Evil Geniuses and Triumph en route to a title victory in IEM Beijing-Haidian North America. As time wore on, though, that beacon of hope began to grow faint. No organisations were in the market for a North American lineup as play looked to be moving overseas to Europe for 2021, and the allure of signing with an organisation in VALORANT remained a constant for these players who were about to lose their livelihood.
Although Anthony “vanity” Malaspina and Xeppaa were briefly offered a chance to join Gen.G before the organisation announced they would also be stepping back from Counter-Strike, offers for the roster as a whole remained few and far between. Early into the new year, vanity announced he would be switching games, while a report from HLTV.org and 1pv.fr indicated that Xeppaa had been targeted by Cloud9. Simultaneously, Nathan “leaf” Orf was making tournament appearances for Cloud9 in VALORANT, leaving the remaining members of ex-Chaos scrambling to figure out their future.
While the story of the players has been discussed sporadically in the past months, at least in the context of Chaos‘ rise, the team’s coach, Matthew “mCe” Elmore, has garnered less attention in the public eye, despite playing a pivotal part in their success. Left on the sidelines as the players around him look for greener pastures, the 30-year-old coach is disheartened – after helping Chaos to a top 20 spot and playing a key part in nurturing upcoming North American talent for years, he has no offers on the table, and has exhausted his options in search of a new team.
You’ve been around CS for quite a while but not too many people in the public know about the early stages of your career. Can you talk a little about that, how you initially got into CS and what you did early on?
I started playing CS:GO and didn’t want to play, because we were playing CS: Source at the time. Then a bunch of friends and I moved over with our team, which was kind of a meme, we were called “The Zoo”, so we were all animal names. We eventually picked up no_one, and we qualified for the first-ever season of Premier. I got cut shortly after that and went through a couple of different teams, played on Mostly Harmless for a couple of matches and we barely missed playoffs, and then started playing with the Team Jose Ole guys right before they got banned, and so I had to start over again.
I finally met up with RivaL, and that was probably where I started winning a decent amount or at least upsetting some better teams. We went to DreamHack Montreal, had a disappointing placement, went to Fragadelphia, played decently well, ended up switching our roster around a bit and I got the boot. I was actually going to stop playing. kaboose hit me up to play on ex-Selfless in Pro League, and we almost upset Cloud9 in our first match but one of our guys didn’t want to play anymore and stopped, so I was going to quit gaming and decided to coach.
Then I met up with the Broken Alliance guys and helped them win Main, and that was when I started coaching them. They wanted to cut motm and despite my advice that, ‘Hey guys, you don’t want to do this, just sleep on it,’ they really wanted an IGL, so they cut motm, and then I played with them that next season – that’s kind of when SoaR started. We started playing well together, started putting in a ton of time and won MDL that season and went to Pro League, where we had to change a player and start the season all within two weeks. Things weren’t good from the very beginning and it was obvious something had to change because we were struggling so the blame fell on myself. That’s when I started coaching full-time for Rogue, and I have been coaching since.
I feel like there were some ideas and principles that I instilled in people that definitely helped them down the line once they went through other people or learned some different stuff from everybody else
You seem to be discounted or rarely mentioned when it comes to helping train the likes of Grim, Snakes, xCeeD, motm, Xeppaa, leaf, and a number of other players who have made their way to the top. What role did you play in their rise? Grim mentioned you as a big component of his development when I talked to him, but why do you think other players rarely praise you publicly?
I think they have at different times, but it’s like… nobody is really asking about me, though. I used to be a bit of a rager, and still kind of am from time to time, and I’m very hard on my players because I want to get the most out of them. Sometimes it doesn’t rub the right way with people, like I know Ian (motm) and I used to get into it, but I would still consider us friends. Grim and I, even at different points, would get into it about stuff, but I feel like it’s important to try to keep people humble, and keep them down a couple of levels, and I might have gone a little too hard on that sometimes. But I had guys that kept working hard because of it, and whether or not they reached their peak or not, I think they were better off having gone through that instead of having somebody that was like, ‘Oh yeah, you can do whatever you want.’ I just don’t believe that’s how teams should be run.
Mostly I gave them a different perspective on things. A lot of the guys when I played with them hadn’t played with a high-level in-game leader at all, so what they would do was just run strats out of spawn, which I’m not saying I didn’t, but I gave them a more ‘X means Y’ learning structure. Like, ‘Oh hey, they’re taking map control over here, so we’re going to react by doing this,’ and just different ideas and somebody that they could feed off of. The more IGLs and different things you go through, you start to build more of an identity, in my opinion. Whoever you get to work with, you steal bits and pieces here and there, and it makes people better overall, in the long term. I feel like there were some ideas and principles that I instilled in people that definitely helped them down the line once they went through other people or learned some different stuff than everybody else.
You mentioned it briefly, but I wanted to talk about your time with the SoaR lineup and making EPL. What was that like for you?
It was definitely vindication, I guess, for a lot of things. There are so many times in your career where you’re like, ‘Oh, I might not be good enough’ or whatever, so to get a win like that is just so big, confidence-wise and everything else. That will remain one of the better moments of my career as a player, and as a person.
Leading up to it, we had lost to Rise Nation every single time, I wasn’t able to play as much because that LAN got delayed and I took a job in Colorado with the intention that if we didn’t make Pro League, I was just going to quit CS in general again. We ended up making it, and then while we were at the LAN, somebody approached us and said, ‘Hey, Dignitas is kind of interested in talking to you,’ and so it was just a crazy experience all around, that whole weekend and everything that happened. The relief of winning our EPL slot the first day, and knowing we weren’t going to play Relegation and stuff, so we just got to enjoy the weekend, it was just a really good experience. We kind of bombed out of Global Challenge, which is unfortunate, but I think that was our first real LAN together and we choked a match against Ghost Academy, or they played really well and we just didn’t show up well enough to win that game.
That was also one of the first LANs for Snakes and Grim as well, right?
For Mike (Grim) it might have been, it was definitely one of the first. Snakes is around the Philly area so he might have been to a Fragadelphia at that point, but everybody else, except for myself and probably xCeeD, were pretty new to LANs in general. I think we had been to one Kansas LAN together, which ended up having four teams, which was unfortunate, so this was the first real LAN we played together.
What was it like for you, playing that LAN with players that were that inexperienced in that setting?
That whole team was just such a blessing as an IGL, in terms of… they didn’t really have bad habits yet. So I could call the worst idea I’ve ever thought of that I thought would work, and we could make it work because everybody had this trust in me, that they were like, ‘Yes, this is the right call.’ There were so many times when we made things work that shouldn’t have ever worked because of everyone’s belief in my system.
During that LAN we were down so many times and made huge comebacks together, I think against Rise on the third map we were down 10-5 at half-time, we were going into CT Train and we lost the pistol, and that was the first time I was like, ‘Oh shit, we might be in trouble here.’ But I knew that if I didn’t show that I was worried about it, they would respond the same way. So I just talked to them about it, asked what they’d been doing that had been working and they told me, and then I just said, ‘Okay, let’s do it, we almost made this comeback a week ago.’ We made a huge play in an eco round to win it, and then everybody’s confidence from that moment was all-out, and we ended up coming back and winning that match.
They just had so much belief in me that even if I didn’t have faith, I just needed to pretend that we were going to win and if I didn’t show it to them, they’d have no idea that we weren’t going to win that match. So it was incredible that they relied on me that much, and trusted me that much as an IGL.
There were things that I had never really thought to work on or realized, because I was inexperienced as well, going into that
Following that EPL season, in which you were benched halfway through it, you went on to join Rogue, passing your trial and becoming the team’s head coach. You were there for roughly six months and although you’d dabbled in coaching previously, it was your first time doing it for a professional team. How was that transition for you? What was it like working with cadiaN?
This was the first time I’d really gotten to work with experienced players, so that was drastically different. Communication and things like that were just so much better, and there were things that I had never thought to work on or realized, because I was inexperienced as well, going into that. For me, it always made sense moving into a coaching role because my individual ability was never that good, but my mind for the game was much better. I understood things, even if I didn’t do things the right way, I did them in a new way that I thought would work.
Getting to work with Rogue, I’d talked to them in New York during the Global Challenge, and cadiaN had wanted me to potentially come work with them immediately, but I told them, ‘No, I want to play pro,’ and they said that if that didn’t work out that I could let them know. That’s kind of how I got into it.
We made a roster change at the very beginning, we qualified for DreamHack Austin with gMd and then Rickeh became available, so we swapped Rickeh for gMd and I said, ‘Guys, I don’t think this is the right move.’ But they felt a player like Rickeh was too good to pass up, so we implemented Rickeh, and the first couple of days that we were practicing we were trying to have him play his spots and we were terrible. I was like, ‘Man, this is the worst decision, this is right before a LAN we just qualified for, this isn’t going to work at all.’
So we moved Rickeh into all of gMd’s roles, and it was a complete 180-degree change overnight. We started doing well again, everyone was comfortable, and we came into that LAN with a ton of prep work done on OpTic and some other teams. We won our group and two best of ones against OpTic and Space Soldiers, came out of nowhere and made the playoffs and eventually the grand final, which was huge. Everyone had picked us to finish in last so that was a really cool moment, we came out and beat both those teams that were favourites to win the event. We went on to qualify for the FACEIT London Americas Minor, where we placed second and progressed to the New Challengers Stage of the Major, where we fell in close matches to Astralis and North.
You just said that coaching was the role you always planned on transitioning into, but after Rogue you actually went back to playing on The Quest, which you’ve told me before you made with the intention of playing with Grim again. It took a while for you to reunite with him, the team had to make their way up to MDL first, but once you did, you once again transitioned to a coach role. Tell me about getting that roster back together.
All of us were friends from the SoaR roster, to this day most of us talk daily, so the original plan was… we had a sponsor that if we made Pro League, they’d announce us, and they were supporting us kind of under the table until that happened. The goal was to play with Grim, and Grim was like, ‘Well, you guys aren’t in MDL, and I don’t really want to go down, if you guys get to MDL then we’ll talk about it.’ So we made the team and we had a decent one, and then we choked really hard and our team pretty much imploded in Advanced playoffs because we choked an important match. It was not a good situation.
After that season we ended up in MDL, we had to make a change, and I kept playing up until we could get Grim. Originally the plan was that Jon (Jonji) was supposed to stay with us, but he got the Riot Squad offer and he talked to me about it. I told him it was the best choice for him and he should go chase it, so we had to add two people, which is when we got Snakes as well, and it ended up not being the worst thing.
We got the guys back together and the whole time I was helping them get an MDL roster so that they could try to play together again, because at that point I was older, I was never that mechanically skilled to begin with, so it made sense for me not to play anymore despite the times they wanted me to play. The goal was, since we weren’t at LANs, I could talk, I could help lead from the coaching role, and hopefully teach Voltage some things as we went along so that when we got to LANs, where I couldn’t talk – because, honestly, we weren’t sure if we could qualify -, it wouldn’t be hugely detrimental that I wasn’t able to call every round.
What was the reason behind you moving to Chaos?
We did well, we qualified for DreamHack Atlanta and different things. I was working full-time and doing coaching on the side, and vanity had talked to me about potentially working with him and TSM. The money difference is a lot between an organisation like that and what we were receiving at the time on Triumph, and my contract was coming up, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to re-sign, Mike (Grim) was thinking about going to Riot Squad, there were a lot of things that were up in the air.
I wanted to get out on my feet with another chance again, so I couldn’t turn down the Chaos offer because of different things happening in my life. I’d make more money doing this, and it was just a really good situation that I would be able to work with a better team again, with more resources and everything to go from there. I ended up taking that Chaos offer, worked with Shakezullah to set him up with Triumph as well, and we just switched places – except obviously, Alan is still playing.
I also did our preparation work as well for when we played other teams as we didn’t have an analyst, which is something I’ve been used to in my time in CS – I’ve never really had an assistant or analyst to help me out
I would say, despite all you’ve said about your past and what you’ve done to bring up these players, your time on Chaos was when the general public began to take more notice of you. What was your role on that team, what did you help out with in general?
They brought me in to try to be harsh and fix mistakes, which is more of what I’m known for. In terms of breaking down how we lost rounds or decision making from players and stuff like that. I also did our preparation work as well for when we played other teams as we didn’t have an analyst, which is something I’ve been used to in my time in CS – I’ve never really had an assistant or analyst to help me out.
We were all originally in Arizona together, so it was very easy. After practice, I would have a notebook full of stuff and we would talk over different rounds. People had recordings that we could go back to and watch, so when a round broke down we could obviously see, you know, we lost this mid-to-B split every single time after 45 seconds, so we need to talk over what’s happening in those situations to try to get better about that. That, and just bringing differing ideas about things helps a lot because, at the time, we had way too many IGLs. You had ben1337, you had me, vanity, and steel, so we had a lot of really good opinions and ideas in the server. Just having that many different viewpoints works well when you have a common respect between everybody. We would go over different things and try to fix it, and we started rapidly improving.
We did have to make a couple of roster changes, unfortunately. We started picking up younger players based on advice from vanity. He said, ‘Hey, I think these guys are going to be good.’ I knew about leaf from playing against him, I knew about Xeppaa from playing against him, and every time he played against Triumph he always did well, so I was very on board with that one. We ended up lucking out that those two were also players for future generations, like they’re everything you’d want in a player. Their attitude is very good, and they take criticism very well.
Considering the teams you’ve been on have been ones on the rise, how do you think you would fare coaching a tier-one team instead of one that is more of a stepping stone, with fewer of these small mistakes you’ve helped out with so far?
I think it would be intimidating at first. When I first stepped into Chaos, one of the things I was worried about was working with smooya. Like, would he take what I said seriously because I’m kind of an unknown in terms of Counter-Strike?. Owen (smooya) had a really open mind, I really liked working with him, and I think as long as I stepped into a place where people would generally actually listen to what I would say, it would work. But if I came in and somebody constantly fought me off the bat, then eventually that is going to fail.
If I went to Liquid, if I went to Cloud9, EG, obviously these guys have been playing much higher CS levels than I have for a very long time. So it’s like… there isn’t a right or a wrong way to play CS, which I think is important. As long as you can work with an IGL and have different viewpoints but have the level of respect to listen to each other, it works out really well. But you never want to be a yes man, and I’m not a yes man when it comes to a lot of stuff. I’m going to fight for what I think is the right way to go about stuff, but I can also listen to another side, and I think through that, you get the best combination of things.
I’ve always been able to get more our of a roster and players than what people thought could happen. I’ve consistently done more with less so I have always wondered what I could accomplish with a truly elite tier team. I feel like my track record is fairly solid and I know that I’d be able to push whoever to new heights if they could buy into some of the ideas I would present.
There are people out there that have never played high-level CS but they can understand the game at a very decent level. Like TYLOO when they came around, they had these different smoke execs that people started to copy. If people aren’t open to trying new and different things, like FURIA for example, you’re not going to improve or you might miss out on a meta. The Krieg is the biggest example in my opinion – people refused to use the gun for so long because ‘it was not the right gun.’ There’s a lot of things in terms of mollies and nades and flashes and different little gimmicks and plays that, if you aren’t using them or at least open to using them, then you’re potentially missing out on optimizing your arsenal of different plays you can make as a pro team.
Given that vanity and leaf have switched over to VALORANT and Xeppaa is reportedly headed to Cloud9, what is your situation looking like at the moment? Where does that leave you, Jonji, and MarKE?
We’re still exploring different options. All of us still have a love for CS, and I think we still have a lot left to give. We’re trying to explore things together, but at this point, if somebody gets an offer, we’re all encouraging each other to take it solely because you have to look out for yourself, at a certain point. It just is what it is, it’s really unfortunate. I hoped we’d be able to play together, but some of the offers that people started receiving in both games were too good for them to turn down. We were waiting on a response from somebody and it kind of took too long.
Everybody wants us to stick together and play it out, saying, ‘Oh you just won all this prize money, why not go to Europe?’ Like yeah, we would like to do that but it’s not that simple. Eventually, somebody is going to get an offer from like Gen.G’s Counter-Strike team, or Cloud9’s team, and then one other person takes an offer, and then all of a sudden you have two guys who potentially won’t get offers because they get left in the dust. We had somebody reach out and contact us about potentially staying in Counter-Strike together, as the two of them (Jonji and MarKE) plus me as coach, but at this point I’ve heard so many different things and promises and offers that have just fallen through that I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen.
You think something is taken care of, you do all this stuff and think, ‘yeah, there’s no way we’re not going to get an offer in Counter-Strike, we’ve done really well,’ and then all of a sudden a month goes by, a month and a half, two months, and you’re like, ‘oh wow, this actually isn’t going to happen.’
For you personally then, what roles have you considered? Are you open to being an assistant coach for a larger organisation, are you open to broadcast talent work as well?
I’m open to any possibility. I’ve done a little bit of colour commentating work before with Scrawny actually, way back at Fragadelphia and really enjoyed it, and I’ve done shoutcasting on the side for different things. But I would like to stay in CS and work regardless of where I end up, but I just don’t know. It’s been quite the end of the year and beginning of the next year for us, and especially myself.
You think something is taken care of, you do all this stuff and think, ‘Yeah, there’s no way we’re not going to get an offer in Counter-Strike, we’ve done really well,’ and then all of a sudden a month goes by, a month and a half, two months, and you’re like, ‘Oh wow, this actually isn’t going to happen.’ Then you start to get VALORANT offers and you think that it’ll pan out, and then slowly one thing doesn’t work out here, one thing doesn’t work out there, it’s rough. It’s very discouraging.
But I think I would work as an assistant coach, I think I would work as a coach, I’m open to whatever options are out there, it’s just… I don’t have many leads at the moment, and it’s very discouraging. I know with my analytical mind and how I view the game, that if given a chance I would impress whoever considered me regardless of the game. I just have always thought differently about approaches and am known for how much I nerd out in servers trying to find more optimal grenade sets or just things that I think we can use that teams haven’t seen before.
As somebody who’s brought up a lot of the current developing talent in North America, like Grim early on but also Xeppaa, leaf, and the like, are there any players you see around right now that haven’t really been mentioned that could make it to the top?
First, I’m going to talk about my love for Shakezullah. I think he’s one of the hardest working IGLs in the scene, to be completely honest. He puts a lot of passion into it and I think he’s phenomenal.
There’s a lot of guys in the NA scene that are coming up, that are grinding, that don’t get mentioned as much. Part of that might be attitude in terms of different things. I think his name is cynic now, he’s super good but just needs to alter a couple of points of his game. Obviously, Danny, cxzi, has been mentioned a lot more recently, but that guy is putting in a ton of work, and I think he’s insane. FaNg has done exceptionally well, I was kind of a critic of him at the beginning but he’s proved himself at this point.
You have these guys who are grinding, who are putting in work, who have never really considered VALORANT, and I think that speaks a lot to those players because I’m sure some of them have had different offers and they’re like, ‘You know, I just love CS, I want to stay in CS.’