Damian “daps” Steele is set to make his return to the servers on July 6, when Evil Geniuses kick off their IEM Cologne Play-In run against FaZe in hopes of qualifying for the tournament’s main stage, where the best teams in the world will be fighting over the lion’s share of the $1 million prize pool and the glory of being crowned champions of one of the most prestigious events in the CS:GO circuit and the first Big Event held on LAN since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
But this time around, the former NRG in-game leader will do so in the coach slot and standing behind the team led by Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz. The 27-year-old put an end to his Counter-Strike playing career in October 2020 to try out VALORANT in hopes that Riot’s game would reignite his motivation to play, but after not finding joy in the new game, the former IGL opened a new chapter in his career, one he had been eyeing as a possibility dating all the way back to his OpTic days in 2016.
Reuniting with three former teammates in stanislaw, Tsvetelin “CeRq” Dimitrov and Vincent “Brehze” Cayonte, as well as getting acquainted with two new and exciting players in Owen “oBo” Schlatter and Michał “MICHU” Müller, daps says he is ready to take his experience and put it to work in order it to try and get Evil Geniuses, once the top-ranked organization in Counter-Strike, back in the highest echelons of the world ranking.
In this interview, which was conducted before flying to Germany to meet up with his team, daps shares his thoughts on returning to CS:GO to become a coach, how he wants to approach the job, his thoughts on the roster and other topics regarding the direction Evil Geniuses will be taking under his orders.
It seemed as if you were somewhat on the fence between staying in Counter-Strike or moving to VALORANT before you decided to make the switch. Looking back, do you see it as a good move for your career?
My plan, initially, was to stay in CS to either play in Europe or coach, but NRG contacted me pretty fast about how they wanted to get into VALORANT and what their plans were. My mindset was to give my playing career one last chance and see if VALORANT would give me the same competitive hunger that CS gave me with the long-term hope that Riot would slowly make the game better over time. I felt like it was a fine move for my career because I now have no regret after exploring that option and now know with 100% certainty what I want to do.
Where did your decision to retire from VALORANT so shortly after moving to the new game come from? Did you not enjoy it? Or do you just not enjoy playing as much in general anymore?
In general, it came from a feeling of not wanting to play anymore, mixed with the fact that I didn’t enjoy the competitive side of VALORANT nearly as much as CS. I honestly prefer watching VALORANT over playing it.
You said that CS moving online is what really killed your motivation when you decided to quit. Is the nearing of a return to LAN play what made you decide to come back to CS?
LAN coming back isn’t the reason I came back, the main reason I came back is that I’ve always wanted to coach a CS team, even dating back to OpTic in 2016. The game being online doesn’t really affect me if I’m coaching as much as it does a player.
What made you decide to take up coaching? Why do you think now is the time to make the jump?
I have considered coaching many times over the last four years and my lack of enjoyment actually playing, mixed with some arm/wrist issues, kind of pushed me to this choice. I also wanted to coach CS over any other game first and this felt like the perfect opportunity to finally move to a role I’ve wanted to be in.
What type of coach do you want to be? Do you have any role models or methodologies you want to implement?
I want to be a coach that tries to offer more than the standard coach, who is either only an analyst or just purely there for motivation. I feel both sides are very important and I can use my experience as a player and from all the coaches I’ve had in the past to take the good things from my past and try to avoid doing the negative things that were done.
How did the offer from Evil Geniuses come up? Did they come to you or did you offer your services? You have a history with some of the players, what were the conversations to join the team like?
I heard they were looking for a coach and they wouldn’t have asked me since I was playing VALORANT. I reached out to CeRq and at first he thought I was trolling, but after he knew I wanted to stop playing it all moved pretty fast.
You’re joining up with CeRq and Brehze again, how does it feel to be back with the guys you helped break out?
It’s definitely an easy transition since I’ve played with CeRq, stanislaw and Brehze before, so I already know what to expect to a certain degree and get along with all of them.
Brehze has been one of the players most affected with role changes after the last couple of roster moves. Do you have a plan to try and get him back to his best form?
My main plan is to first get integrated into the team and watch and see how and why they lose because it’s easy to call out one player, but you never know why he is playing bad and how much of it is based on their surroundings. Over time the goal is to get the whole team’s form back, not just his.
What are your first impressions of the guys you haven’t played with, oBo and MICHU?
oBo is kind of what I expected, a highly-skilled inexperienced player who has a lot of potential, and MICHU is also kind of what I expected, a good overall player.
Jokes have been made about you coaching stanislaw now because of him joining teams that removed you in the past. What’s that relationship with him like?
The narrative that the relationship was ever terrible in the first place has been misguided. I picked up stanislaw on Conquest/OpTic and played with him for 1.5 years and always got along with him personally. He wasn’t the guy who got me cut, he was the guy who took offers anyone would have taken and it just happened to be him twice.
Most CS is happening in Europe right now because it’s still logistically complicated to move around and have events. Are you willing to spend a lot of time there until LAN is fully back and events in North America are possible?
I don’t mind living in the EU as long as the setup is good.
Evil Geniuses have had a lot of struggles this year, and although they got a couple of big wins at IEM Summer, they’re still looking shaky. What shape is the team in and what are your plans to turn things around?
From what I know before I came into the team, it seemed like they had lost their identity and all of their confidence, which I kind of noticed compared to when I last played with them. The plan, for now, is to revert back to the way in which stanislaw was comfortable calling originally and building back from the basics to make sure we set a good foundation over time.
How is the team preparing for the IEM Cologne Play-In? What are the expectations going into the event?
Our preparation is focusing on the fundamentals and small things again so we set a proper foundation first before adding more. It’s very hard to set expectations, to be honest. I don’t know which teams are super online or not or who is still good on LAN, so we are going to take it one match at a time and see where we land.
Have you set any personal goals?
My goals are to take what I’ve learned from past coaches and from myself as a player and apply them to the team as I would have wanted as an IGL, while also learning and adapting my coaching style based on the people and personalities around me.
How about as a team? I know stanislaw wanted to set some goals, is that something you’ve talked about at all?
I’d say, at a minimum, that the goal for the next three to four months is to get back around the top 10 and make the Major while being competitive against every team we play, even if we lose.