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Counter Strike: Global Offensive

AZR: “I don’t think we have the best winning mentality leading into these games”

When 100 Thieves announced that they were pulling the plug on their CS:GO team late last year, everything indicated that IEM New York North America would be the last time that we would see “The Boys” playing together.

Over the next few months, twists and turns in the story led to four out of the five players, as well as their coach, coming back together under another organisation, Russia-based EXTREMUM. But the core that made history for the Oceanic region, reaching the Major playoffs and ranking as high as fifth in the world, is having a tough time making its mark on European soil.

What is going on with EXTREMUM?

EXTREMUM didn’t have the smooth start they were hoping for

We caught up with Aaron “⁠AZR⁠” Ward during EXTREMUM‘s first bootcamp, which took place in Serbia, the country that is now the place of residence for Jay “⁠Liazz⁠” Tregillgas, Sean “⁠Gratisfaction⁠” Kaiwai, and Hansel “⁠BnTeT⁠” Ferdinand, as well as for staff members Aleksandar “⁠kassad⁠” Trifunović (coach) and Nestor “⁠LETN1⁠” Tanić (manager). With AZR and Joakim “⁠jkaem⁠” Myrbostad living in Scandinavia, the team dynamic is different than what it used to be during their time in North America.

“We are a bit all over the place, it’s something we are definitely new to, but I guess we have adapted to it pretty easily,” AZR says about no longer living near his teammates. “I think we are used to travelling all the time and being somewhere new.”

Adapting to a new home was a straightforward task, but getting back on the server — not so much. The absence from competition left its mark, AZR admits with a chuckle. “Yeah, I definitely think we got out of shape. It was the first time that I had a break longer than two weeks in probably… let’s say maybe 10 years. I’ve been playing CS my whole life and this was the first time for me that I had a long-ass break and just relaxed.” After the collapse of 100 Thieves, he adds, the players spent weeks mulling over their future before the EXTREMUM offer came. “We all thought we were going separate ways,” AZR recalls. “At one point I thought Sean (Gratisfaction) was going to VALORANT, then Jay (liazz) was going to Gen.G, and obviously Jod (jkaem) and Justin (jks) had already gone to their teams. As for myself, I thought I was going to play for another European team, but when EXTREMUM came to us and we could make this team, it was sort of a no-brainer.”

The team finally assembled in mid-January following the arrivals of Liazz and BnTeT in Europe after they had both gone home. “I think the first couple of days of practice, individually, were pretty rough for everyone,” the in-game leader says. “You could tell we hadn’t played in a while. We definitely had some catching up to do. A lot of demo watching, a lot of deathmatch, just trying to improve our in-game. We are definitely a little behind, but we are slowly getting there.”

Another setback that hit EXTREMUM early on was missing out on spots at the biggest tournaments following the reformation of their roster. Under 100 Thieves, the Australians were a part of the BLAST Premier circuit and the ESL Pro Tour, but they lost the privileges that come from being a member team after parting ways with the North American organization. HLTV.org knows that EXTREMUM were one of the parties bidding for the BLAST Premier slot that ultimately went to BIG, and that they will be vying to become a part of the “Louvre Agreement” group.

Getting to the big stages became increasingly difficult for the team in 2021

Even without being a member, EXTREMUM could’ve been invited to ESL Pro League Season 13 based on their past results, but ended up missing that window of opportunity. “I think because we made the roster too late, that slot had gone to another team,” AZR says. “That was kind of annoying, not to be straight back into Pro League. Obviously, not playing any tier-one events right now sort of sucks, I guess it is a little bit demotivating compared to what we have been used to in the past. But we knew coming into Europe we’d have to grind against lower-tier teams and make our way back up.”

The team’s trajectory has been the opposite of what one would expect, mostly due to factors outside of their control. In 2019 and 2020, they were the team that almost exclusively played on LAN, but they reverted to online play as the pandemic hit. Then, in 2021, they took another step back, and instead of playing elite competitions online, they have been forced to grind the lower tiers. “So coming back to online play, and then coming to Europe and playing the lower-tier tournaments, it is sort of a demotivating factor, I guess you could say,” AZR admits.

A touch of ring rust, a bit of a lack of motivation, and a field of hungry sub-top European teams — you put that all together and you have a recipe for disaster. AZR doesn’t run away from his responsibilities in this difficult situation and acknowledges that criticism coming his team’s way is fair and natural.

“I definitely don’t think we are playing up to our standard,” he says. “When we come into our official games we make a sh*t ton of mistakes, ridiculous stuff. Mistakes, miscommunication, whatever, there is definitely a lot to improve on.

“At the same time, going from tier-one to tier-two and tier-three events, however you want to call it, I don’t think we have the best winning mentality leading into these games. It is sort of hard to get motivated, is that the right word? It is hard to get pumped to play against these teams — and that is completely on us, we need to fix our mentality coming into it, get hyped as if we’d be versing f**king Astralis or something. That’s also been a downer for us.

“But, in general, we’ve been playing pretty sh*tty, to put it like that, and we are going through a big adjustment period with Hansel and Liazz, we are still trying to figure out the best way to put them in better positions for themselves, with communication and stuff with Hansel, it’s been a little bit rough, but it is just stuff we need to fix.”

The Australian caller notes that the strength and depth of teams in Europe are completely different to what they were used to in North America — “I think there is a massive gap” —, with GODSENT, forZe, Winstrike, and Sinners some of the teams that EXTREMUM have lost to since they returned to the servers. Nevertheless, the team that proved time and time again that it can take on the best on LAN was expected to have a lot more to show for their work after two months together. With the discrepancy between where they were with Justin “⁠jks⁠” Savage and where they are now with BnTeT, discussions about how important the Australian clutcher was for the team have come to the forefront.

“For us, Justin was our rock. We always said that in the past.” AZR says, explaining that jks always delivered, both as a multikilling solo anchor on CT and a clean-up clutcher on the T side.

“I still think he is one of the best players in the world, it was massive for us to lose him. When it comes to us now, it is just a matter of us being more consistent than we used to be, so we fill in those holes. I guess it also means that individually, all of us have to step up. He filled in a void, if we f**ked up it was like: ‘Justin, what’s up bro, go hit a headshot for us’.”

Currently, EXTREMUM are still working on finding the right spots for everyone on the team, having realized that plugging BnTeT into all of jks‘ roles wasn’t working as well as they hoped. “I think communication-wise, in those roles, that it has been a little bit rough”, AZR points out, adding that Liazz will be getting a bit more freedom, while BnTeT will be put in spots where he can focus more on his aim and less on communicating.

A key part in elevating EXTREMUM‘s level will be played by kassad, the team’s coach who returned to the fold after a brief tenure with Cloud9. “Round three!”, AZR throws in, jokingly, before opening up on the topic. “At the end of 100 Thieves, kassad and I didn’t end things too well. It was pretty rough. It was COVID, everyone was feeling pretty stressed, it was just pretty rough.” The fact that, in-game, the two have always understood each other helped put their differences behind and allowed for a reunion that they hope will bring more impressive results. “I think that is very important for a coach and an in-game leader, to see eye-to-eye and make sure the team is playing towards that goal that the IGL and coach have.”

kassad returned to the fold once more

But what is the goal for EXTREMUM right now? Having failed to qualify for the BLAST Premier Spring Showdown following a loss to Spirit in the Winstrike Spring Cup, they will have to content themselves with competing in the likes of Snow Sweet Snow and Pinnacle Cup, and hope for brighter days.

“These are tournaments we have to play because there are no tier-one tournaments for us to play right now,” AZR says. “For us to stay relevant and get points, we have to play these events. We want to be a top-10 team, we want to be playing these tier-one events. We just don’t want to become irrelevant, you know what I mean? We need to be playing the top-tier events to get up the rankings.”

But the pressure is on as the pride of Australia is currently ranked only 36th in the world (ESL ranks the team even lower, at 67th). Without a big turnaround, invites to tier-one events won’t be arriving anytime soon. Can EXTREMUM click before it is too late?

“I think it will get better, there is still stuff I think we have to improve on, but it is something we have to work on every day and keep grinding,” AZR starts optimistically, before changing the tone.

“If not, if we don’t start improving, then I don’t know if we will have to change roles completely in the team or… I don’t know. I don’t want to think too far down that line, I want to give this lineup a chance to prove what we can do. Because practice has been alright, but when we go into officials, we fall over, [we’re] f**king noobs, you know? But we just have to keep grinding, stay positive, that’s the main thing.”

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