Danny Engels, gaming excellence director at Evil Geniuses, has said that Counter-Strike remains “an important pillar for esports in the organization”. He has vowed to do all he can to restore success to the team.
When Danny Engels took up the role of gaming excellence director at Evil Geniuses in July, one of his first orders of business was to bring order to a Counter-Strike team that has been in the doldrums for a year.
EG were the cool new kids on the block in September 2019 as they re-entered the Counter-Strike scene after an almost ten-year absence. The team they signed had enjoyed moderate success while with NRG, but they reached another level under the new organization, winning ESL One New York and StarSeries & i-League CS:GO Season 8 in the space of a month.
They reached the top of HLTV’s world rankings, if only for a little while, and were the fourth-best team of 2019.
EG then stabilized as a top-five team in the world during the first months of the global health crisis, winning a handful of domestic competitions, but those gains were lost once they traveled to Europe after the summer break. Since then it has been heartbreak after heartbreak for the North Americans, who are currently ranked 40th in the world.
“The biggest challenge of this team is energy management,” Engels told Dexerto. “That is something that I think players and teams still have to learn about across multiple games.
“The whole circuit in CS obviously makes it difficult to manage energy properly. You can also see it in traditional sports: Sometimes, you have to let your striker sit on the bench in order to have him peak at a certain moment.
“That’s something I think the team has struggled a bit with. There was the issue of going back to Europe, even though, heading into 2021, there was this big hope that we were going back to LAN and that everything would kind of go back to normal.
“I think that was the biggest challenge, because of the frustration that we’re still stuck in a COVID bubble, which makes Counter-Strike much trickier for them.”
Engels is looking to bring to EG some of the experience that he garnered during his almost four-year tenure working with G2 Esports. He occupied a number of roles within the organization, from manager of the racing team to head of esports.
While with G2, he observed the importance of the strong dynamic between head coach Damien ‘maLeK’ Marcel and team manager Jérôme ‘NiaK’ Sudries. He wants to implement the same concept in EG and is looking for a team admin that can act as the liaison between players and management.
“For me, the team admin is one of the most important persons on the team,” Engels explained. “You know how maLeK and NiaK work behind the team, I think they make an incredibly strong management team.
“I see the team admin as someone that is important to establishing this best-in-class operation outside of the game. Someone who understands the needs of the players together with the coaching staff. This helps us make sure that the players have everything they need to succeed.”
.@EvilGeniuses is seeking a team admin to connect the dots internally, with myself, TOs, GM, coaches and players.
— Danny Engels (@d4n_nyy) September 15, 2021
EG receive boost with duo return
Since Engels joined EG, a significant chunk of his time has been spent on the CS:GO squad, “while also looking out for the other teams”. He sees the players “motivated and determined to find a solution” to their problems during this crucial stage of the tournament season.
The team will next appear in IEM Fall North America, the final Major qualifying tournament. It is a season-defining moment as a poor run can doom one’s chances of reaching PGL Major Stockholm – the first CS:GO Major in over two years.
IEM Fall will mark the returns of Peter ‘stanislaw’ Jarguz and Vincent ‘Brehze’ Cayonte to the team after they requested some time off to preserve their mental health. Due to travel limitations, the players will be in different locations, reuniting only once they’re back in Europe before the BLAST Premier Fall Showdown and potentially the Major.
“CeRq and MICHU will be in Mexico since I cannot bring them to the US or Canada,” Engels explained. “At the same time, I found it unreasonable to send everyone to Mexico just for this one week.
“We agreed with the team that it would be best if we all just played from ‘home’ and then focus back on the European side after IEM Fall.”
Engels agreed with the notion that, with the stakes being so high, practice for IEM Fall has been less than optimal. However, he refers to the recent CS:GO update – with its controversial grenade-dropping feature – as a blessing for his side as every team is approaching the tournament with a clean slate.
“You could say we are lucky with the timing of the patch because it seems like there might be a shift in the way we play Counter-Strike,” he explained.
“Daps and stanislaw will make the most of the time they’ll have before IEM Fall and then in Europe. While practice and time are limited, I think we are in a good position, also thanks to the new update.”
Shutting down rumors
Over the past 12 months, the rumor mill has been rife with talk that Evil Geniuses are considering leaving Counter-Strike. This would deal an almost fatal blow to the North American CS:GO scene, which has seen many organizations shift their focus elsewhere, most notably 100 Thieves.
In December 2020, Greg Kim, then EG’s director of esports, told HLTV.org that Counter-Strike remained “a priority” for the organization.
And Engels insisted that EG still stand by that, even though the team have continued to struggle and even lost one of their star players, Ethan ‘Ethan’ Arnold, to Valorant.
When asked if EG are only still in CS:GO because of their commitments with tournament organizers, he said “If that were the case, I think we’d more likely go down the 100 Thieves route, which proved that you can exit a partnership with ESL and BLAST.”
“We’re totally engaged with the partners that we have there, and we believe in their vision and in what they want to create around Counter-Strike.
“Even though our performance has not been at the level we would like it to be, our ambition is still to lift trophies, as we did in 2019 and 2020.
“We hope that, once the world goes back to normal, we will have a better foundation to work with. This North American and European separation, with players having to live in hotels in Europe for nine months, obviously impacts performance. This is not just for us. I think Liquid has faced similar issues.
“I hope we are getting back to a normal world where we can celebrate being part of ESL and BLAST.”
But hope alone won’t solve EG’s current predicament. They have looked disjointed as a unit – not exactly a surprise, given their roster issues and the frequency with which they have had to field stand-ins – and even their star players have not been able to put in the sort of performances that can drag the team over the line. Vincent ‘Brehze’ Cayonte, the eighth-best player of 2019, has looked disinterested and out of form all year, leading many to wonder whether his heart is still in it.
One or two roster changes might be needed to breathe new life into the team, but all EG can do now is wait.
“Our hands are tied,” he explained. “There’s not much we can do, especially with the Major coming up. We cannot make roster moves. This roster is locked, also thanks to the RMR.
“The clear focus now is the Major, and the same goes for many other teams, and making sure that this lineup that we have has the resources to focus on the Major, work for it and hopefully make us proud at the event.”
Passion for the game
Engels acknowledged the challenges that come with finding tomorrow’s stars after the CS:GO talent pool in North America was left thin following an exodus of players to Valorant.
Still, he insisted that EG are determined to find a way for the team to be a “tier-one championship contender” again, and pointed to how engaged with the game he is to illustrate that commitment.
As someone who spent nine years on SK Gaming, five of which as a player, he is well aware of the organization’s Counter-Strike legacy. His deep and strong roots in the game, he noted, are part of what EG bought into when they brought him in.
“I think every time you’ve talked to someone from EG, they have spoken highly about CS and how they see the value in the game,” he said. “It’s a classic esports game that gives so much credibility to an organization.
“I believe they wouldn’t have brought me all the way over to Seattle if they didn’t believe in me bringing this experience to Counter-Strike and to multiple other games.
“We’re working in a direction where CS is an important pillar for esports in EG, and that also gives me an exciting background to work with.
“I’m passionate about esports and I want to win. I’m very competitive. My promise to all the fans is that, from the management side, I’ll do my best to bring success to EG.”