Veteran CS:GO coach Danny ‘zonic’ Sørensen spoke to Dexerto about his time with Astralis and his future goals as he looks to kickstart a new legacy after almost six years with the same team.
Zonic begins the conversation by revealing that he is feeling “a bit stressed.”
That might sound strange, coming from the most decorated coach in Counter-Strike history. One might be inclined to think that the off-season rostermania is a rather mundane affair for someone who revels in high-pressure situations.
But these are unfamiliar times for zonic. After almost six eventful years with Astralis, it is time for the Danish coach to move on. He will be leaving the organization at the end of 2021, closing a successful chapter in his career while opening up a new one.
As we sit down to discuss his past and future, reports are already circulating that zonic will join Vitality on January 1 and will bring with him two of his Astralis players, Peter ‘dupreeh’ Rasmussen and Emil ‘Magisk’ Reif.
Zonic does not wish to comment on those stories, only saying that he has received “a lot of offers” since it came to light in the summer that he was considering his options.
After helping to set a new standard for esports head coaches with Astralis, the veteran Dane is targeting more success with his next team, insisting that he is “not satisfied” with what he has accomplished.
Astralis’ rise and fall
Zonic joined Astralis in January 2016 as one of the founding members of the organization. It was only his second coaching stint after previously guiding another Danish team, Dignitas, in late 2015.
He boasted a wealth of experience from his playing days, having been a part of the iconic SK.dk, NoA and mTw squads that competed at the highest level in CS 1.6 between 2005 and 2011.
After being around players for so many years, he knew that the way in which teams operated was less than ideal. And so he set about changing things.
“We had sky-high ambitions when I joined,” he told Dexerto. “We were not afraid to try and seek new solutions in order to win.
“I think we were one of the first teams to give a coach the power to actually bench players. Back then, it was usually the players gathering around in a hotel room talking about the fifth guy who wasn’t good enough.
“We wanted to get rid of that situation and have the coach call the shots, like you see in traditional sports, with the team around him.
“We really wanted to find new ways to reach excellence. We made some mistakes, but I think the results speak for themselves.”
During zonic’s reign, Astralis became the most successful team in the history of the Counter-Strike franchise. They have the most CS:GO Major titles, four, and are the only team to have won three consecutive Majors.
Their grip on the game began to loosen in 2020, when Lukas ‘gla1ve’ Rossander and Andreas ‘Xyp9x’ Højsleth both took time off after experiencing symptoms of stress and burnout, but it was only in 2021 that Astralis went into crisis mode, especially after Nicolai ‘dev1ce’ Reedtz left for NIP.
As he watched the team that he had helped to build slowly fall apart, zonic began to evaluate his options.
“For me, one of my dreams was to be Counter-Strike’s answer to Sir Alex Ferguson, being in the same team for 25 years and trying to create new eras with different teams within the organization,” he said.
“It obviously feels sad to leave Astralis. It’s always sad to leave a team. I created long relationships with some of the players and the colleagues at Astralis.
“It was a difficult decision, but I am also very much looking forward to testing myself in a different environment and on a different team.”
Major issues and devastating news
It has been days since Astralis bowed out of PGL Major Stockholm on a disappointing note, and emotions are still raw. After winning three Majors in a row, they now placed 12th-14th, exiting the tournament in the Legends Stage with a 1-3 record following losses to dev1ce’s NIP, Heroic and Vitality.
Heading into the event, Astralis knew they had an outside chance of reaching the playoffs, let alone of retaining their Major crown. The team still showed great fighting spirit as they overcame a 0-2 start to the Challengers Stage, but as the intensity went up a notch in the last-16 stage, they were simply found lacking.
“We tried to keep our spirits as high as we could,” zonic said. “We knew it would be very difficult to win the Major, and we were very humble about it.
“But there was also something that felt a bit off, I would say. I think we fought as well as we could. It’s very difficult when you’re part of a team and you know that this is not going to continue.
“We tried to find solutions, but we didn’t have that much time. Gla1ve had just had a son. And when we arrived at the Major, there was not much that we could fix because we didn’t catch a break. I would have loved a day or two off to fix some of the mistakes and analyze what had gone wrong, but when you barely get over the finish line after going down 0-2 and you have to play the next day, it’s really difficult for me as a coach to try and figure out how to fix things.
“I think we fought bravely but, to my standards and Astralis’, it wasn’t good enough. But I think that knowing in the back of your mind that the team is not going to stay together also played a role.”
The 2-1 defeat to Vitality marked zonic’s final appearance for Astralis. It was a small stage game played behind closed doors – quite the departure from the packed arenas where Astralis used to thrive and strike fear into opponents.
He will not be with the new team, now featuring Kristian ‘k0nfig’ Wienecke and Benjamin ‘blameF’ Bremer, at the BLAST Premier Fall Finals, which will be held at the Royal Arena in Astralis’ hometown of Copenhagen.
After an excruciating wait for the return of in-person events with a crowd, to be deprived of the opportunity to bid farewell to Astralis’ fans has only added to zonic’s sense of frustration, even though he understands the organization’s reasoning for wanting to turn a page.
“I was devastated when I was told but tried not to show it to the team,” he admitted. “Not being able to say goodbye to the fans after six years and in front of a home crowd. We would have loved it and I think the fans would too.
“But there’s also a part of me that looks at things in a pragmatic way. Astralis have every right to make that decision. It’s their team, and we didn’t perform well at the Major. So if they wanted to start working on what they know is going to be the team for next year, I can understand that.
“But I would have loved to have had the opportunity to properly say goodbye to the fans in Denmark.”
Zonic joined Astralis as a rookie coach, someone still trying to translate his playing experience into a coaching philosophy.
Six years on, he is one of the most accomplished names in the business, with more titles than he can remember and back-to-back esports coach of the year honors (from different award-giving bodies).
Still, he maintains that he is as hungry as ever.
“Even though it sounds crazy, I’m not satisfied,” he said when asked about his achievements. “For me, the feeling that you get from winning a big event, like a Major, is the best in the world.
“But it doesn’t last long. The following day, I’m already thinking about how many break days we need and what we need to work on to be ready for the next tournament. I have a huge desire to try and accomplish some of the same success that I had with Astralis with a different team.
“There have been a lot of rumors about me wanting to retire to focus on my family. Yes, it’s tough having two kids and traveling 200 days a year, but it’s my passion.
“When I was playing 1.6, the conditions were not good, it was very unprofessional. When I started thinking about having a kid, I focused on my education and got a Master’s degree in Business and IT.
“But when I saw that Counter-Strike was going towards the direction that I had always dreamed about, I decided to convince my wife that this was where I was going, despite already having a full-time job.
“That was when Astralis came and gave me something big to believe in. My passion has always been there. Those three years when I was away from Counter-Strike kind of made me depressed.
“This is what makes me happy and I have full support at home. So hopefully I will continue being a coach for quite some time.”
Message to the fans
Time will tell if zonic will be able to achieve something similar, wherever his journey takes him next. But given his impressive record with Astralis, one shouldn’t bet against him continuing to embellish an already glittering CV.
Before we wrap up the interview, zonic says he has one request. Unable to attend the BLAST Premier Fall Finals to have what he described as his “last dance” – a reference to the Chicago Bulls’ iconic final championship season in 1997-98 -, he would like to take this opportunity to deliver a message to Astralis’ loyal supporters.
“The fans have always been extremely important to me,” he said. “I think I’m one of the few members of the team in Astralis who is also part of the Danishcorner group on Facebook. Over the years, I’ve written a couple of messages in there.
“I don’t think they understand how much I, all of the players, and Astralis, in general, appreciate them. They were one of the reasons why we wouldn’t be in a bad mood after losing a tournament.
“We can go on Astralis’ Facebook page and see the praises and the encouraging messages that we get. Also on Instagram, we don’t always answer all the messages but they really help a lot. Astralis’ fans have always had our back. We have won a lot of things together and there have been ups and downs, but mostly ups.
“I will miss them dearly and hopefully I can meet them one day and have a proper goodbye.”