k0nfig ready to restart pro CSGO career: “Astralis kick has ignited a fire in me”

BLAST/PGL

Danish CS:GO star Kristian ‘k0nfig’ Wienecke details his journey to recovery and self-improvement after being in the spotlight for the wrong reasons as he aims to find a new team for 2023.

“I’m ready to return,” k0nfig says with assurance.

He seems relaxed and content with where he is at this point, a sharp contrast to how he felt just two months ago after the traumatic experience that saw him fear for his life. The moon boot protecting his fractured right ankle — which he will still need to wear for another six weeks — is the only thing giving away that he was involved in a scuffle with a nightclub promoter in Malta, where he was competing with his then team, Astralis, in ESL Pro League Season 16.

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The incident cost him his spot on Astralis’ team, which missed him in the European RMR tournament and unsurprisingly failed to qualify for the IEM Rio Major. It also forced him to look inward and battle his demons.

Stephanie Lindgren/BLAST
k0nfig’s time with Astralis came to an end after just a year

It is not the first time k0nfig has had to face up to such a battle. Earlier in his career, he was held back by his outsized personality and work ethic, unable to realize the potential that many had seen in him when he burst onto the scene in 2015. “The tragedy of k0nfig” was how Duncan ‘Thorin’ Shields described his career in a 2019 article published on Dexerto, prompting an emotional response from the player. “I have been a bad professional and spent my hours wrong,” k0nfig wrote on Twitter at the time. “I have been an arrogant idiot thinking everything would come easy which it never will. It’s very sad that it has reached this point before I realized it. I won’t look the other way anymore and try to hide. This is my return.”

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On the surface, it may look like k0nfig has relapsed and gone back to bad habits, but he insists that’s not the case. “If you put those two periods next to each other, I guess it would feel a little bit of the same,” he says. “But I don’t think my mentality, my focus, or my drive to play the game are the way they were back then. I feel like the arrogance and the things that made me a bad teammate have disappeared from my life.”

k0nfig says that he is turning his situation around with the help of a psychologist he sees two to three times a week. He is continuing the process of personal development that began years ago, during his time on Dignitas and North, as he looks to “tweak the little things that make me a worse person than I want to be.”

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He adds: “I want to be a perfectionist in being a good teammate and a good guy toward everyone. There are always things to work on, and that’s what I’m doing right now.”

In that journey of introspection, he also dug deep into the root causes of another altercation that got him in trouble. At IEM Cologne, one month before the scuffle in Malta, he was reportedly intoxicated and behaved aggressively toward ESL broadcast talent and hotel staff, with police called to the scene.

“Drinking definitely triggers something in me,” he says. “When I’m too drunk and I happen to end up in a situation where I feel embarrassed or I feel that someone has done something to me, I get really emotional. If I don’t drink hard liquor, like whiskey, I don’t get those feelings.

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“So I decided that the best solution is to stop drinking and being up super late. To be honest, you don’t get that much from drinking anyway. It’s just a safe haven to escape real life. And I need to face real life to evolve into a different person. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m going to take my life in a more professional way and think about the situations I am in and the people I am with.”

For a while, k0nfig was one of the most talked-about players in the CS:GO scene for the wrong reasons as he saw some of his darkest moments dissected in public over multiple news stories, each one revealing just a little more about those episodes.

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k0nfig thinks that the way the media portrayed his behavior in those two incidents was not entirely correct, though he admits there is some regret in calling Jaxon’s report about the Malta altercation “mostly BS” without even explaining what wasn’t accurate about it.

“I shouldn’t have written ‘mostly bulls**t’ but ‘a little misunderstanding,’” he says now. “It definitely felt like they tried to write me as the aggressor. I did something wrong, but it wasn’t like how they wrote in the article. So yeah, I regret it a little bit, honestly. I should have been a bit more open. I felt that it was unnecessary for me to come out and tell my side of the story because it was just so overwhelming for me as a person.

“The incident that happened in Cologne was just me getting too drunk. It’s a weird situation because it felt like it could have easily been avoided and then it escalated into something it shouldn’t have, and the media is going to write it up like it’s some massive thing that happened. The other guy and I talked it out and agreed that we can still speak to each other, smile, and give each other fist bumps and stuff like that.”

k0nfig is determined to move on from those episodes and be “a professional player at all times” as he looks to get his career back on track. “Everyone makes mistakes. Mine were just public. It definitely hurt. I just need to get back to focusing on Counter-Strike and not make mistakes in my own life.”

Leaving Astralis

“I mean-”

k0nfig pauses for a few seconds as he thinks about how to respond.

The question was whether he was surprised that he was dismissed by Astralis in the aftermath of the Malta scuffle.

Reactions to his release fell into two camps. There were those who considered that k0nfig deserved to be shown the door after being involved in altercations, one of which potentially cost his team a spot at the Major. But at the same time, some argued that, by dismissing k0nfig, Astralis were not offering one of their most prized assets the support and rehabilitation he needed.

In announcing k0nfig’s departure, Astralis said that both parties had “agreed on a cancellation” of the contract. Kasper Hvidt, Director of Sports at Astralis, explained that it was necessary to give k0nfig “space and time [to recover] without the constant pressure of having to get back and play.”

João Ferreira for PGL
k0nfig says that his former Astralis teammates are sorry that he is out of the roster

In reality, however, k0nfig seemingly had little say in the matter.

“I was a little bit surprised, to be honest,” he notes. “I really wanted to be part of the team after I got some help and my foot was healed. But I also understand their decision to let me go because it’s hard for me to get back into a team after I let them down like that, before the Major qualifier.

“I definitely believe that the decision was made by the organization. I don’t think it was made by the players.”

k0nfig says that he exchanged brief messages with his teammates after the incident and that they were all very supportive of him.

“They wanted to wish me good luck with the surgeries,” he says. “I admire everyone on the team. I think they’re really good guys. They said they’re sorry that I’m not coming back to them.”

k0nfig spent nearly a year with Astralis after signing with the organization in November 2021 alongside his Complexity teammate and compatriot Benjamin ‘blameF’ Bremer. They arrived during a transition period for a team that had lost Nicolai ‘device’ Reedtz earlier that year and was trying to start a new era as Peter ‘dupreeh’ Rasmussen, Emil ‘Magisk’ Reif and Danny ‘zonic’ Sørensen were also on their way out.

The first impressions were impressive as Astralis placed third at the BLAST Premier Fall Final, in Copenhagen, but it went downhill from there. A semi-final run at IEM Cologne 2022 was one of the few elite tournaments where the team managed to reach the playoffs. At PGL Major Antwerp, they could not even go beyond the Challenger Stage.

Individually, k0nfig’s form suffered from peaks and falls. In some tournaments, he was the team’s second star and the principal wingman to blameF; in others, he struggled to even post above-average numbers.

This is the reason, k0nfig explains, that he revealed in the summer that he had been “mentally up and down”. He says that it was hard for him to find consistency in his game and build confidence in a team where he was constantly the one who had to find solutions to unlock games — pointing to the struggles experienced by the AWPers, Philip ‘Lucky’ Ewald and then Asger ‘Farlig’ Jensen.

“I think there was a little bit of misunderstanding of roles within the team,” he says. “We had too many defensive players, so I had to do something aggressive all the time. And of course, our AWPers had a hard time, Farlig and also Lucky.

“I felt like I had to do more stuff for the team than actually focusing on myself. I had to take chances. I felt like when I had bad games, opponents were just shutting me down to avoid me getting into good situations. And the rest of the team was a little bit too passive for me to get into good positions. So when I got shut down in games, it felt like it was just a passive team.”

There was a certain sense of irony that Astralis re-signed Nicolai ‘device’ Reedtz after k0nfig was gone. The Danish AWPer, who is returning from a year away from action due to mental health reasons, is exactly the sort of player k0nfig wished he had by his side during his time on the team to take some of the load off of him.

It was the second time in k0nfig’s career that he had missed a potential career-defining moment. The first had been in 2018, when he was on Astralis’ shortlist to join the team after Markus ‘Kjaerbye’ Kjærbye’s sudden departure. In the end, zonic picked Magisk after being left unimpressed by k0nfig’s attitude during the interview process. That team went on to establish a dynasty.

“It feels like I’m setting up tripwires to make things harder for me,” he says. “It feels like every single time I’m close to having success, I’m stumbling over something, making a mistake and doing something stupid.

“I’ve been talking to my psychologist about changing my views and how I behave in situations where there’s the possibility that I mess up. We’ve been talking about how I should think more about my life, focus on feeling good and being happy, and remove the situations where I can make mistakes. And also share my honest opinion. That’s really important for me as well.

“I’ve definitely been setting up tripwires for myself, but I’m slowly taking them down.”

Despite the fact that his Astralis tenure ended on a sour note, k0nfig does not close the door on a return to the team, be it now or sometime in the future. He says that dev1ce’s return alone will not fix everything and that the team will still need someone just like him to return to the top.

“It’s definitely sad that I missed out on that opportunity, but I think that there’s still a way for me to grind and maybe get the opportunity to once again,” he says. “I don’t think that the door is shut. I feel like the door is still open.”

“I know it might sound a bit funny, but getting kicked by Astralis has ignited a fire in me. When you have the feeling in your body that you just want to let go and quit, and then you realize that is not what life is meant to be for you, then you definitely feel the motivation at its highest.”

If they invited him back today, would he take the offer?

“I think I would, to be honest,” he says. “I still think that Astralis is a good team. They’ve done so many good things for me as an individual and as a player. I definitely feel like I can forgive and they can forgive as well. We are all grown-ups. Sometimes mistakes happen, both from my end and theirs.

“So yes, I’d be able to forgive and forget.”

Returning to action

Regardless of how much k0nfig would like to have another chance with Astralis, he won’t sit back and wait for the phone to ring. He’s already taking the steps to bounce back, playing FACEIT pugs, Deathmatch, surf maps and KZ daily to keep his skills sharp with a view to returning to competition when the new season starts in 2023.

He has been approached by a number of teams and organizations, but he will wait some time before making a decision on his future as he waits for more offers to come. He says he has no preference between a Danish team or an international project, stating that his priority is to find a group of players with whom he can build a rapport — something that was a bit missing on Astralis, where he says he never truly felt at home.

“I want to be part of a well-built team where I feel like I belong, with five players who are dynamic together,” he says. “I want to feel that there’s a friendship between teammates from the get-go and that it’s a home for me. You know, like when you join the server or when you’re in a tournament and you just want to achieve the same things. That’s what I want.”

Adela Sznajder/ESL Gaming via ESPAT
k0nfig says he still has a lot to achieve in his career

k0nfig says that he has the blessing of his psychologist to start looking for a team and compete again, but that doesn’t mean the end of the therapy sessions. “I’m still going to use her as a rock to get the rest out of my system,” he says, challenging any team that doubts his resolve and mental state to reach out.

“I want to play,” he says. “I feel like my life, right now, is the perfect situation. I’ve messed up. I’ve forgiven [myself]. I definitely think that it’s the right call.”

k0nfig is determined to show that he has navigated this obstacle in his life and is committed to self-improvement in his personal life. He wants his game to be the only thing he is known for and let the other stuff, the outside-the-game antics, the bad rap, and the distractions, in the past.

Inside the server, he also believes that he is still evolving. Oozing his trademark confidence, he says that he still feels at the peak of his individual powers.

“I don’t think I am past my prime,” he says. “I still think I can outplay everyone and dominate the server,” he says. “I feel like I have not yet become the player I want to be. Of course, being in the top 20 HLTV player ranking again would be really nice individually, but I also want to prove that I can improve teams and make them a better unit. I want to win tournaments, so there’s a lot that I want to achieve.”