Richard Lewis: Sources reveal crisis behind Astralis burnout - Dexerto
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Richard Lewis: Sources reveal crisis behind Astralis burnout

Published: 15/Jun/2020 20:30 Updated: 17/Jun/2020 12:42

by Richard Lewis

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The Astralis Group would appear to outsiders to be one of the most successful organizations in the esports space.

They are represented across multiple titles, all under their own unique brands. They have attracted many big names sponsors such as Jack Jones and Audi who haven’t engaged with esports before. They also recently floated on the stock market in a move that was simultaneously heralded as being unexplored territory for the esports industry and also successful.

Currently though, especially in regards to Counter-Strike, our sources indicate that that the perception that all is well internally is something of a myth, and that what is being publicized by the organization doesn’t align with the reality of what is happening internally.

The Counter-Strike squad are the flagship team for the Astralis Group. Consisting of a core that many consider the greatest of all time, the team had ended 2019 on a high having won IEM Beijing, ECS Season 8 and The Blast Pro Series Global Finals, as well as achieving a semi-final finish at the 10th season of the ESL Pro League. This success came at a significant cost. The team competed at five tournaments across a 43-day span, traveling from Denmark to China, China to the USA, the USA to Denmark, and finally Denmark to Bahrain. Performing so well at these tournaments meant no days off to take in the scenery.

Astralis celebrating a win
ELEAGUE
The core Astralis CS:GO lineup are considered the best of all-time by many.

As the team jetted around the world lifting trophies, the brand that they were representing was putting into action one of their long-term plans; to float on the stock market and become a publicly-traded company. They had officially applied for admittance to the Nasdaq First Growth Market Denmark on November 14th. By December 9, they had launched their initial public offering (IPO), selling 16,759,777 shares and raising $22 million in the process.

These two sets of facts portray a success story few esports teams could boast, one of rude financial health as well as unparalleled success on the server. However, according to our source, the separate pressures – those of the management who now were playing on a very different financial playing field and those of the players who were heading into 2020 absolutely exhausted – were about to collide and start to cause internal friction, which would bring the greatest team CS:GO has ever seen to the brink of collapse.

Back to work

The rest of December and January saw no tournaments that required the team’s presence, not even online qualifiers, but after the standard break for festivities, the team were back to training and meeting their contractual obligations to the organization. This wasn’t insignificant in ramping up the player’s desire for a real break. Sources internal to the organization tell us that during this time the Astralis Sports Director, Kasper Hvidt, was becoming more hands-on in dealing with the players. Coming from a traditional sports background and being a successful handball player himself, his attitudes and ideas didn’t always align with those of the players and their coach.

A source close to some of the players, who requested anonymity, told us: “Kasper is known for his management of fear style and is very rigid in his views. He also happens to be the closest point of contact when players want to talk to upper management. There’s definitely some friction there.”

We were also told that the Astralis training regimen is in line with that of a traditional sports team, with players having to deliver between 37-48 hours a week spread between their homes and the facilities. This deliverable is measured “strictly,” according to our source, who also stated that management had annoyed the players with their unwillingness to be inflexible despite them having gone above and beyond this schedule at the end of 2019.

Astralis CS:GO team practicing
Twitter: Astralis
The players must stick to a gruelling practice schedule, a source explained.

The first events of 2020 came around and saw the team travel to London for The Blast Premier Spring Regular Season. They lost both their games – a shocking 2-0 defeat against compLexity and 2-1 at the hands of a resurgent Na’Vi – meaning they would finish dead last and only accrue 400 points towards qualifying for the grand finals. Sources say it was after this the team started to explore their options for taking a holiday. They had been on the road so much of last year and they felt this poor performance was a direct result of not having taken a prolonged break from the game.

Unfortunately, management wasn’t necessarily in agreement with this assessment. Having come so close to the festive period, it was more attributed to New Year’s bloat more than genuine burnout, and the players were told that it would take some time to plan a strategy that would enable the players to take their much-needed break.

The management had other concerns to factor in. As outlined in the publicly available portfolio, they had entered into contractual agreements with the ESL Pro Series and Blast that would see them obligated to attend a pre-arranged number of tournaments less they forfeit their revenue share.

Finding a time when the team could take a significant break from playing without any of those agreements being broken was going to prove difficult. This was also compounded due to the IPO as now any threat to those revenue streams would impact on shareholders.

The contracts that players sign when representing Astralis Group properties are decent and in accordance with Danish employment law. As such, players are entitled to take 25 fully-paid days off from performing any duty for the organization. However, these cannot simply be taken at any time. A clause in these contracts stipulates:

“The holiday is to be taken at a time or times and for such days during the holiday year as determined by the Team [meaning the organization] but so that (subject any international commitments) the Team shall not unreasonably refuse to permit the Player to take three of such weeks consecutively between 1 May and 30 September. However, holiday shall be held in accordance with the eSport calendar and the Services (including Competitions) planned.”

The players were told that a strategy would be put in place so they could take a break and they got back to the business of playing. Traveling to Poland, they competed at IEM Katowice, before being manhandled by Na’Vi and losing in a quick 2-0. It would occur in strange circumstances. Efforts to contain the COVID-19 virus had failed, and countries were taking serious steps to shut down large gatherings. Their runners-up finish took place in a mostly empty stadium. Esports, like the rest of the world, was about to see some serious changes.

The pandemic

In March, many esports events made the move to hold their tournaments online to avoid unnecessary risks during a time when most of the world was either in lockdown or practicing social distancing. Astralis were one of the 13 teams that had committed to being a partner with ESL in their Pro League and so they were due to attend. The team continued to play throughout March with just five best-of-three series encounters.

ESL Pro League
ESL
Major events were moved from arenas to bedrooms as the pandemic hit.

The pandemic and the subsequent measures had hit the global economy hard, and across the globe there were layoffs and liquidations. Many sizeable companies had to take cost-cutting measures to stay afloat as both productivity and consumption of goods and services nosedived. Many organizations in esports decided to take similar measures, including Astralis. Heading into April, management had told staff and players that they were likely going to have to take a 30% pay cut. Not everyone was on board.

A source close to some of the players who requested anonymity explained:

“The org hadn’t lost any sponsors and the feeling was that with no travel expenses they were already saving money. No one knows the details but when they said to players that they were going to have to take a cut in pay it was not well received, especially from the players who had been begging for a holiday for months because they were exhausted.” 

Another source who was familiar with the negotiations also told us the following: 

“They [the management] can say for sure that they asked but they also made it clear that if everyone said no the teams could be in trouble. There was nothing in the contracts that said anyone had to accept a pay cut under these circumstances, but it was strongly suggested people agreed to it.”

We’re told that the League of Legends team that play under the Origen brand, in particular, felt aggrieved with how things developed. It was made clear to the players that the organization had to operate within a strict budget due to the cost of entering into the league and that was going to impact on the type of signings they could make for the squad. Multiple sources from within the organization confirmed that at this time the players were asked to take a reduction in salary so the org could free up the money to sign Elias ‘Upset’ Lipp from FC Schalke Esports, who the players wanted to be part of the squad. This was in November.

The management then came back just a few months later asking if players would be willing to take another 30% pay cut due to the pandemic, with a verbal agreement it would be restored later once the economy rebounded. Our source alleges that not all players fought but some brought in legal advisors and agents in order to stop Astralis Group management from simply imposing it. Some got their way.

“The premise was that the salaries would be restored once this was all over,” one source familiar with the negotiations told us. “But we know that won’t happen. Some players took the deal because compared to some other European teams they weren’t being as forceful in their efforts.”

Origen playing a match
Riot Games
The Origen League of Legends team.

Similarly, players in the FIFA Squad, called Future FC, have also said to have been being pressured into taking the 30% pay cut. Once again, sources suggest that it had been intimated that if the players didn’t accept the reduction in salary, they might find themselves dropped from the squad.

The Counter-Strike players were, of course, also asked to take the 30% pay cut. We’re told that was a genuine cause for grievance among the players who, as they saw it, had played through an unprecedented schedule, exhausting themselves emotionally in the process, only to have requests for a holiday rejected and now were being asked to take less money.

Some believed that this, like the League of Legends squad before it, was not an example of financial prudence but rather a management tactic of having the players fund things they need or want by foregoing salary and bonuses.

“If you want my opinion on why they were cutting the pay,” said one source from within the organization. “It was how they were going to get the players a holiday. The team had to keep playing in all these tournaments they had agreed to so they figured they could sign a bunch of players who could stand in that don’t expect too high a salary from the money they save on the pay cuts. I think it’s bulls**t.”

On April 2, the organization released a statement that most of the staff and players within the Astralis Group had accepted the 30% pay cut. The CEO, Anders Hørsholt, said the following in a press release. 

“We are fortunate to operate in a digital industry where most activity can be maintained and even increased online, but like everybody else, we are dependent upon a thriving economy in the surrounding society and with our stakeholders. The fundamental strength of esports as a live and broadcast product is obvious, however, the coming months will be a challenge for everybody, and in order to maintain a healthy business, we have decided to reduce operational costs significantly.”

New faces

On March 22, the world of Counter-Strike was shocked when Astralis announced they would be signing a sixth player. Patrick ‘es3tag’ Hansen – who the Astralis Group management knew from their previous ownership stint of his team Heroic – was set to join as soon as his current contract expired on July 1. There had been some talk of a buyout, but with the new Heroic management refusing to budge on a reported $800,000 buyout fee, Astralis simply elected to wait out the remaining few months. 

While substitutes and stand-ins aren’t anything new in the space, it was generally the prescribed wisdom that unless something was wrong it was best to have a team of five playing together as much as possible. Astralis themselves know this from a period in 2017 when star player Nicolai ‘dev1ce’ Reedtz had to take time off due to prolonged problems with his digestive system. The shock came from a seemingly functional and highly successful team making a change of this nature, especially with a player who not even the most generous esports fan could describe as being in the same caliber of the players he would replace. 

Stranger yet, the management publicly framing the signing as one that was part of some long term plan, rather than a response to the internal issues of trying to juggle player time off and meeting league commitments. The messaging contained a bizarre back and forth between it being a move designed to facilitate the health of their players, but also that it would be a permanent addition and all players were viable selections for the squad moving forward. 

In a press release published to their website, Kasper Hvidt explained the move:

“Our work with Astralis and all our teams is focused around performance and health. It’s our responsibility as an organization to secure optimal conditions for our employees on all levels, and especially our players, who on a constant basis experience the highest pressure to perform. Increasing the roster size to six players is something we have worked on for a long time with relevant stakeholders in Counter-Strike. This approach is no different than in traditional sports, but it’s new to Counter-Strike, and a change like this will take time to optimize for full advantage. The players, coach and our performance team have been involved in this decision and everybody agrees it is the way to go.”

These sentiments were echoed by the team coach Danny ‘zonic’ Sørensen who, in an interview with HLTV.org, was quoted as saying, “Es3tag will be a part of the team on equal terms with everybody else. We will have six players on the team, not five and a substitute. Some will play more than others, but we focus on long-term performance and the health of the players, and I do think everybody will sit out a tournament.”

Astralis at StarLadder
StarLadder
Astralis coach Zonic (center) clarified the team’s plan with the surplus players.

In another interview from the same time period, this time with Dot Esports, Sørensen also added that, “We are not speculating in swapping players between maps, but on giving players some much needed breaks and time for recovery – mentally and physically… We will work with the options, and I will certainly not say, it could not be the case on a later stage.”

A source with knowledge of the situation explained to us, “The IPO had a big impact on how the management put out the news. They had to make a positive reason for why the squad would be losing the best players in the world and replacing them with players who weren’t as good. No one knew how long the break would last. The org was actually planning to sign five players at this time and had contacted multiple squads looking for Danish players.”

They also added: “The players aren’t happy with Kasper, having to fight so hard to get time off or with the money situation on top of that. They said they were going to make sure they got their break and that it was on the org to fix it. There’s no guarantee they even want to re-sign their contracts. A lot has to change.”

The CSPPA

A crucial component to the situation Astralis have found themselves in is the Counter-Strike Professional Players Association (CSPPA). Announced on June 29, 2018, it was the first official association of its kind in esports, designed to be a unified voice in addressing concerns of professional players when it came to matters such as tournament conditions, working environments and contractual disputes.

While it brought together players from all across the world, a significant part of its infrastructure and influence came from amalgamating with the Danish Elite Athletes Association (DEF), who had already started taking Danish esports stars under their umbrella. One of the most high profile names attached to this was Astralis player Andreas ‘Xyp9x’ Højsleth, who would also go on to take a leadership role within the CSPPA as a founding board member. The CSPPA would also make use of the DEF legal advisor Michael Døi, and in January 2020, Mads Øland – who was a director for the Danish Football Association (DBU) – left that role after 23 years to focus on the CSPPA full time.

Mads Oland joining CSPPA
CSPPA
Former professional footballer Mads Øland went full-time with CSPPA in January.

To understand the CSPPA’s role in all of this, it is best to give you a brief history of Øland, who is a both a legendary and divisive figure in Danish sports. A former football player who came into the Danish Players Association in 1990, he quickly established himself as an articulate, passionate, and effective voice for player rights. He became chairman in 1992 and held that position until 1997 where he took on the CEO role that he held until 2020.

In 2004, he established himself and the DPA as serious when they stood up to changes over the rules surrounding 23-year-old or younger players that were made by FIFA. The contention was that a third-party simply couldn’t change the rules that Danish players were governed by, and because the Danish players rejected these rules, the members of the DPA went on strike. The timing of this was unfathomably bad for Danish football. Bringing the Danish Superliga to a standstill was one thing but two teams – Brøndby IF and Aalborg BK – were playing in the UEFA Cup. If the strike stood, it meant teams would have to field a combination of retired veterans on short-term contracts, coaching staff and youth players to meet their obligation to complete the match.

This disproportionately affected Brøndby, one of the most decorated teams in Danish football, who were heavily fancied to beat the Latvian team they were due to play, FK Ventspils. The strike wasn’t necessarily well-received by all, and huge controversy erupted when legendary Brøndby defender Dan Anton Johansen and team captain Per Nielsen both broke the strike. Some called them scabs, some called them heroes, and in the resulting press melee, an agreement was made between FIFA via the Danish Football Association and the DPA. The damage was done for Brøndby though, who were knocked out the tournament on away goals.

Perhaps because of this Øland became viewed as a great union leader to some, but a pariah to others. Regardless, the flag had been planted. It had been made clear that players in Denmark would be willing to strike if anyone tried to introduce rules that the DPA deemed unfair, and it didn’t matter whether you were an international governing body or not. Danish players had a seat at the table. 

He was instrumental in securing the Danish holiday pay rule of 12.5% of all earnings to not just be bundled into the signing on fee of professional players, but actually applied to the period they took holidays, even if the teams had already paid out the amount upfront. He was a key figure in the push for better pay for women’s footballers, where again the Danish team went on strike for over two months in 2017, something that caused them to miss games and be suspended for four years.

He was also a central figure in the push for Danish players to own their own commercial rights, which came to a head in 2018. The Danish international team captain Simon Kjaer had agreed a deal with NordicBet that saw him appear in a number of commercials for the company. The problem? The Danish Football Association had already signed an agreement with a rival betting company, and so they came in with a lawsuit. The DBU wanted to push players into agreeing that their personal sponsors couldn’t conflict with the national team’s sponsors. Needless to say, the players felt this was an overreach. The resulting argument about image rights and players being able to pursue individual sponsorships resulted in more strike action, and Denmark fielding an amateur team in their that would lose 3-0 to Slovakia in an international friendly. The disagreement was resolved in time for the team’s UEFA Nations League match against Wales.

So, as this very brief history should make clear, when it came to Danish law as it applied to sports, Mads Øland was notorious as someone who wasn’t someone you wanted to annoy by mistreating players. He was not only a serious representative of player rights, but he was also someone everyone with even a cursory understanding of Danish sports history would know.

In 2018, Denmark recognized burnout as an occupational disease, and in 2019, the World Health Organisation also recognized burnout as a medical condition. A source from inside the CSPPA informed us that Højsleth had talked with Øland about the ongoing pressures coming from Astralis management that were being applied to the players. Øland’s reaction was to tell the players that they absolutely had a solid case for burnout, and that they could, under Danish law, force the had of the organization into giving them time off by consulting with a doctor.

Astralis competing in CS:GO
Astralis (Twitter)
Xyp9x and Gla1ve have both cited burnout as reasons for needing a break.

“When you look at what the players did for the org,” the source said. “No one could argue they had exhausted themselves to do the right thing. When the CSPPA heard about their conditions and them not being able to get time off they told them exactly what they had to do. The pay cut as well was something he didn’t agree with. I think Mads wanted to go a lot further than the players did.” 

And so it came to pass that the first player who told Astralis they would be taking some time off was the in-game leader Lukas ‘gla1ve’ Rossander. He himself had already experienced a significant series of health problems prior to joining Astralis, having had a collapsed lung on two occasions in 2016. As the leader of the team, and the person who had to put in many extra unmeasured hours to ensure the team functioned properly, he felt he absolutely needed the break. The exact date he told management isn’t clear, but somewhere between March and April was absolutely no more a theoretical proposition. It was now simply a matter of what the organization would do in response to his impending time off.

More new faces

Tension had started to spread through the Astralis management. Not only were they worried about the involvement of such a prominent figure as Mads Øland, but they also knew that it was no longer an option to simply defer holiday time until it suited them. They were on the clock and had to deliver on this “strategy” that had been promised to the players. When it came to hiring the criteria was simple; be available as soon as possible and willing to take a modest salary. 

On May 11, the organization announced that they would be signing Jakob ‘JUGi’ Hansen on a free transfer. The move was received with widespread confusion and mockery from fans. Hansen had been released by Danish rivals North after a string of poor performances and hadn’t played in any team since being benched in January. He was, however, known to the management as he was also Heroic alumni and, crucially, he was available immediately.

JUGi joining astralis
Astralis
JUGi took Gla1ve’s place on the line-up just in time for DreamHack Spring.

Four days later, Hvidt gave another interview placing a positive spin on the situation.

“We do not pick up players, rebuild our facilities, arrange additional bootcamps and team-building sessions if we do not intend to integrate the new players into the team,” he told HLTV. “Will we sell players at some point? Absolutely! We even sold JUGi for a really decent amount a couple of years ago when he was top-performing on Heroic and I can’t say that won’t happen again. Did we sign him or any other player with the aim to sell him? No. We do what we do to create the strongest possible Counter-Strike team now and in the many years to come.”

Addressing the already circulating rumours that Rossander was going to be taking a break from the team, he also said, somewhat cryptically, that everyone else on the roster was capable of being an in-game leader.

“In Astralis every player has a deep tactical understanding and they all pitch in when it comes to tactics and the playbook. I think everybody would understand I won’t be discussing specific tactics, but we have more potential co-IGLs on the team, should we need to rest Lukas at some point.”

The interview also, perhaps unknowingly, addressed a few other points relevant to the current situation in the organization. Hvidt had pointed out that the organization had given players a rest before having missed several tournaments in 2019, namely StarSeries, DreamHack Masters Dallas, and IEM Sydney. While this is true and they did miss those tournaments, it ignores the fact that the players were also attending the Blast events across this time period, which at the time was a tournament series owned and run by the RFRSH group that also owned Astralis.

This was widely perceived as not a way to give the team a break but a way to devalue competitors in the space, by not having the world’s number one team in attendance, but there were also rumours of the team looking for appearance fees to attend “lesser tournaments.” These were never confirmed at the time. Missing these tournaments contributed to Astralis losing their number one ranking in the world, allowing Team Liquid to overtake them by attending these tournaments.

Similarly the interview responses glossed over the overall impact that this sudden desire for a roster with “two players for every role” would have in regards to potentially qualifying for the upcoming CS:GO Major in Brazil. With the rules in place currently, a squad loses 20% for substituting one player between the Regional qualifiers. Replacing three or more would result in a points reset. Even swapping the original players back would still lead to a significant reduction. There couldn’t be a worse time to try and implement a system like this.

On May 19, Rossander announced that he was standing down from the team after consulting with a doctor who had diagnosed him as suffering from symptoms of burnout and stress. He would describe it as the “toughest decision” of his life. His total time off would stretch to three months, a not insignificant period of the Counter-Strike calendar.

A few hours later, the CSPPA also released a statement saying they wanted to talk about mental health issues in professional CS:GO, and that they would be reaching out to teams to discuss what measures were being taken to protect players.

May 19 was also significant as it was the date that would see the CS:GO team back to competing. The DreamHack Spring Masters, now being played online, started and the team had three series in as many days to complete. Even without Rossander at the helm and with their new player something of a passenger, the team won their first two series before going on to lose to G2. The DreamHack games would take a break until June, but there was still another tournament to come. It was one of the tournaments that Astralis were partnered with and obligated to compete in, the Blast Spring Showdown. 

The next domino 

If it was publicly presented that the time off for Rossander was pre-planned, what followed next was going to be a much harder sell. Just a little over a week later, it was reported by CS:GO beat reporter Jarek ‘Dekay’ Lewis that Andreas ‘Xyp9x’ Højsleth would also be standing down from the team. The following day, May 28, the player confirmed that he too would be standing down from the team for the same reasons as Rossander. While it wasn’t explicitly stated, sources close to the players have also told us that he too consulted with a doctor, was medically signed off, and will be facing a similar length of time off from the team.

Xyp9x playing CS:GO
DreamHack
Xyp9x followed Gla1ve in taking a break, again due to burnout.

The organization released a statement explaining that the timing wasn’t ideal, but they were able to find a replacement for their matches at the Blast tournament, Marco ‘snappi’ Pfeiffer, another member of the Heroic alumni. If the JuGi move had been met with confusion and mockery, this move seemed to be met with stronger derision from the fans. It was also a move that came from out of left field. Pfeiffer himself had just signed for a Chinese organisation TIGER, and the move had now devolved into a weird tug of war. TIGER had already paid for the player but had decided, for whatever reason, that they were now going to take the roster in a different direction, and were in the process of asking Heroic if they would take the player back.

In this scrum, the Astralis management, desperate for options to field a player now that Højsleth was unavailable, reached out to Pfeiffer due to their previous association. Heroic didn’t want to take the player back having sold the player in good faith, so TIGER, looking to recoup something for a player they now no longer wanted, agreed to loan the player to Astralis. It was pure fortuitous coincidence this all aligned. It was not by design. Astralis were scrambling for players and made inquiries into the availability of others before realising Pfeiffer would be the cheapest and least permanent solution.

What unfolded at this tournament was about as bad as you could imagine. Two new players, both below the standard of the players they had replaced, and with no time to even implement the fabled system Hvidt had talked so extensively about, this tournament was an embarrassment for the team. They only won one match at the entire thing, against Portuguese minnows sAw, and only made it out of the group stage by virtue of this victory. Despite a spirited performance against mousesports, it was now clear that the team could miss one piece of the puzzle and still grind out results. Two pieces missing and that Astralis magic was no longer present. They also lost their playoff match at DreamHack Spring to Ninjas In Pyjamas, seeing them crash out the tournament in 9th-12th place.

Pfeiffer, having helped Astralis meet their obligations, was now due to move on, a temporary fix to a problem that the management hope will be fixed by the arrival of Patrick ‘es3tag’ Hansen in July. However, there could still be fresh developments from within the Astralis camp.

What next?

As the disastrous run at Blast was unfolding, Hvidt released a blog entitled “We Need A Change.” In it he would state it that the organization would like to have a 10-man roster, with the back-up five functioning as an academy team of sorts.

“The pressure on a CS:GO player today is inhumane,” he said. “We have done a lot to avoid fatigue and burnouts, including prioritizing tournaments to give the players much needed time to recover and also have a private life. We have worked with mental tools, physical fitness, sleep patterns, and a range of other areas, and had we not done this, we would not have seen Astralis on the top of all charts for as long as they have.

“It is not a healthy industry when teams and players are punished for taking breaks and being substituted no matter the reason. It is not healthy for the ecosystem that players are called in as stand-ins only to be under even more pressure in a new environment with new teammates and a different way of playing. It is not healthy that we have leading members of the scene making it a business to call out players with burnouts liars. It’s putting even more pressure on the players as fans buy into the conspiracies and make the players or teams the villains. It is not fair, it is destructive, and we all need to help change this culture.”

However, the article fails to address key questions in this saga. The most glaring is that it doesn’t acknowledge that for an organization that is supposedly doing the most to prevent burnout, they are the first high profile example of a team having players require intervention from a doctor to get time off.

It doesn’t explain why an organization that cares so much about its players would require them to seek a doctor’s intervention to get time off. It also doesn’t explain how the burnout has taken hold during a time when most squads are having a reduced workload due to a lack of global travel commitments. By the same token, it doesn’t address why an organization so attuned to its players’ needs would ever have put them through the schedule that they endured at the end of 2019. It should be no surprise if people are sceptical, especially coming from an organization that down the years has had a tendency to, at best, bend the truth at times to suit their narratives. In 2017, in regards to ownership of multiple teams, RFRSH said they only “work with” them in a media rights capacity, and that the teams “operate independently which means that we won’t have any influence over matters like what tournaments they play, matches, lineups, etc.” Contracts showed otherwise, and that they did in fact co-own the teams.

Over the course of this investigation, one of the sources who I knew to be close to the players and had knowledge of their situation asked me to imagine a hypothetical situation. “Let’s say you were the best players in the world,” he started. “And you had done everything the org asked you to do. Let’s say you had worked through health problems and losing family members. You play here, you don’t play there, the fans laugh at you for missing tournaments. Then let’s say you didn’t like the working conditions, because they are too strict and too much based on real sports. Now you ask for some time off because you are exhausted with it all and the org says you have to wait. Then while you are waiting they ask you to take less money. What would you do?”

Dexerto sent Astralis the allegations made in this article, and Astralis Group responded with the following:

“We don’t comment on players’ personal matters and/or contracts. This means we cannot comment on a number of the rumours we understand are a part of the article.

“What we can say is that our focus is and has always been to create a healthy, competitive environment around our players and teams to secure long term success and results.

“Over the past four years, basically, all-new performance concepts and ideas have been discussed thoroughly with the relevant players and the coach. It is very true that not everybody has always agreed to everything from day one, but overall what we’ve accomplished over the years is a result of great team work between players, coach, performance staff and the sports director.

“Ultimately, though, it is obviously the sports director’s responsibility to decide on the overall direction and what actions to take.

“Our general principle is to provide the players and teams with the best possible tools, facilities and individual programmes. This also goes for physical exercise, and over the past 2-3 years we’re glad to have seen the players taking full advantage and worked out either on their own or together with our physical coach. This has helped them in many ways – just like the dietist, doctor, physio, Body SDS therapist and sports psychologist is always available to all players.”

CS:GO

CSGO’s Nivera on surpassing his brother ScreaM: “A Major is not enough”

Published: 23/Nov/2020 21:12 Updated: 24/Nov/2020 11:16

by Marco Rizzo

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Dexerto had the opportunity to speak with Nabil ‘Nivera’ Benrlitom, the newest member of Vitality’s lineup about his role in the squad, his performance in the finals of IEM Beijing and his drive to one day outdo his brother and CS:GO legend Adil ‘ScreaM’ Benrlitom.

Brought in as the sixth member of an already established Team Vitality roster, Nivera found himself surrounded by some of the biggest names in French CS while facing a skeptic community on the feasibility of an extended roster.

After all, Astralis had also recently moved to an extended lineup but had not used Lucas ‘Bubzkji’ Andersen as a regular substitute after the original roster had been reunited.

Nivera was required to prove himself against the Complexity juggernaut at BLAST Premier Fall Series, being the first player to ever been subbed in during a CSGO match.

Nivera on his role within Vitality

Nabil has only made appearances for Vitality when the team played Inferno or Dust_2, subbing in for Richard ‘shox’ Papillon and Kévin ‘misutaaa’ Rabier.

While being an AWPer by nature, Nivera has been playing a flexible role on his new team, expanding on the topic he explained:

“In Dust_2 I’m playing with the rifle and on CT side…If I want to take the AWP, I take it…[on Inferno] I’m the main sniper, that’s why Inferno is my best map because the main sniper is my main role but I can play Rifle, that’s why Vitality took me.”

With big shoes to fill Nivera raised up to the challenge, delivering some great performances in the maps he played and helping the team secure a top spot in their group at Blast Premier Fall and the trophy at IEM Beijing-Haidian.

Nivera on being subbed in the Grand Finals of a tournament

The young star did not seem to be affected by the pressure of the grand final, even after witnessing his team’s dismantling on Nuke at the hands of NaVi.

“I had not a lot of pressure honestly…I have to give my best. I stay here for only two maps, I have to play good,” Nivera confessed. “I was a little bit sad after Dust_2 because we lost it but I was proud of myself ’cause I gave my best, even if we lost the map.”

Regarding his team’s comeback in the final, he felt the team had what it needed to win the event: “…everyone woke up, they won Overpass and we were very confident for Inferno.”

Nivera CSGO BLAST Premier Substitution
Twitter: TeamVitality
Nivera debuted for Vitality just 13 days after joining the team.

Nivera on his first tournament win at IEM: Beijing-Haidian

With little over three weeks of practice with their new member, Vitality headed to IEM Beijing after topping their group at BLAST Premier Fall.

Despite appearing like the most consistent team of the year and reaching multiple finals in the online era, Vitality failed to win a trophy until now.

“It was the first tournament that Vitality won in 2020 so I was really glad that they won it with me. It’s a really good feeling.”

Their journey to the final wasn’t easy. They faced their Danish nemesis Heroic and the Complexity juggernaut on the way.

Nivera was crucial in their victory against Heroic in the quarter-finals, being subbed in on the last map and ending the game with almost 30 kills to his name.

“I had to play and if we lost we would be out of the tournament but in my head, I was like: I will just play my game, give everything and stay focused on the game.”

Team Vitality CSGO
Team Vitality
Nivera has been impressive in the nine maps he has played for Vitality.

Nivera on becoming a legend like his brother ScreaM

After this level of performance at such a young age, the community started drawing comparisons between him and his older brother ScreaM.

“ScreaM has a big career…he has a lot of fans and is a legend of CSGO, literally. Doing more than him is hard but I will try to do it… I will just give my best like I do with everything in life and I will have no regrets”

ScreaM has been considered one of the most iconic French players in CSGO history, appearing at the top of headshot-related statistics even after his retirement from the game and switch to Valorant.

When asked if a Major title would be the determining factor of his status as a better player than his brother, the younger sibling was humble in his response.

“My brother did a lot of things in this game and I have to work hard, like really really hard ’cause he’s such a big player,” he said. “A Major is not enough, I have to do way more.”

Nivera has really impressed in his games for Vitality and if he keeps developing at the current rate, learning from veterans such as shox and Cédric ‘RpK’ Guipouy.

The 19-year-old has a bright future ahead of him.