The past two years have been something of a golden age for Israeli CS:GO, seeing names like Shahar ‘flameZ’ Shushan and Lotan ‘Spinx’ Giladi burst into the tier one scene with OG and ENCE, respectively. Despite its growth and the rising stardom of their phenoms, Israel has never had an organization that could compete for prestige in Europe. Finest are looking to change that thanks to the work of their General Manager Jeremy ‘Jeremy9000’ Gray and Captain Guy ‘anarkez’ Trachtman. They have built an international roster that recently locked in a spot for ESEA Premier Season 39 playoffs and are looking to breach HLTV’s top 30. Jeffrey ‘Mnmzzz’ Moore had a chance to sit down with the duo to discuss joining Finest, the trials and tribulations of the team over the past twelve months, and what’s next for the team as they fight for a spot in ESL Pro League Season 16.
To start us off, Jeremy9000 many people may not be aware that there’s an American General Manager of this team nor your extensive background in CS:GO. Can you give us a rundown of your previous experience?
Jeremy9000: I started off as a casual gamer wanting to go pro and turned into being a manager back in 2010 where there was no salary, no pro scene at the time. I got my first shot with Coast after winning ESEA Premier Season 19 with LunatiK. After Coast disbanded I got hired by Splyce and that’s when I officially went full-time in esports in 2015/2016. After Splyce broke up I was with eUnited, BlackOut, and Singularity. Now I’m here with Finest.
Your time in North America and with Singularity came to an end in large part due to ESL’s changes to ESL Pro League, how do we go from Jeremy9000 the NA tier 2/3 mainstay to leading the esports division of Israel’s largest organization?
Jeremy9000: Good question. Since that whole thing with ESL where they took Singularity’s Pro League spot, I was soured towards NA’s esports scene a bit and I got an invitation by dayv1D who’s a really good buddy of mine to work on an EU project with him that included shushan, flameZ, and Basso. Once the Adaptation project died, shushan went to Finest and asked the organization if they wanted a CS:GO team to replace the one that died and that he’d be willing to build one for them. Ruvik Milkis, Finest’s CEO, said ‘sure’ and shushan arranged a meeting between me and Ruvik back in September 2020 and he liked everything I had to say. Ruvik said he wanted me to be their General Manager and manage their VALORANT and CS:GO projects and bam here I am.
As you mentioned, before Finest you and dayV1D were building that Adaptation lineup in Europe, which was previously a North American organization operated by you two or three years ago. As that final lineup went to Finest, was it sort of a trial for the organization before committing to the project?
Jeremy9000: Yeah kind of.
Prior to you joining Finest, they were committed to having Israeli lineups that had interesting players but didn’t accomplish much internationally. When you brought that initial roster to them with t0rick and fejtZ were they receptive to having non-Israeli players on the books?
Jeremy9000: No, it is actually what they wanted to do because they tried having full Israeli lineups for a long time and Israeli personalities clash after a while and it’s hard to get four or five Israelis to work together and have the roles click. That’s why you never see flameZ, anarkez, Spinx, and Nertz on a roster together. The skill is there but it doesn’t work at the end of the day. So at the time I was really good friends with fejtZ, and I know fejtZ is an incredible player. My job was to find two international players to go with the Israeli core of shushan, Nertz, and meztal along with our coach dayv1D. Well fejtZ is a no-brainer and t0rick was at the time the best and most experienced IGL I could grab that was a free agent due to his experience with Syman. We played with him and it was going well, and it clicked for a bit, but it was hard to get invites for tournaments because there’s no regional invites or qualifiers for Israeli teams. It got stale I guess you could say.
When we’ve talked in the past you’ve definitely mentioned the issues with getting invites as an Israeli team. Is that something that Finest are conscious of and is it a struggle being essentially locked out from the Middle East scene and ignored by the European scene?
Jeremy9000: It has been a headache in the past, but it is a lot better now since we brought in spiroo as our manager due to his European connections that I didn’t have. Having these connections to all these European tournament organizers allowed us to get more invites but in the past it was super hard.
Circling back to an earlier comment, after the team was starting to get stale in your mind, Finest cut t0rick and add anarkez. In preparation for this interview, I was reading LucasAM’s excellent article about the history of Israeli CS:GO over on HLTV.org. One of the key things for you, anarkez, is that you were a pioneer in leaving the Israeli scene to strike out on your own. After spending the past few years after playing for Secret, HellRaisers, and briefly LDLC what prompted your return to the Israeli scene?
anarkez: I think the most important thing for me was to come back at some point to an Israeli org. I wouldn’t say to an Israeli roster right now at least but the important thing was to talk to Ruvik. He offered me some stuff and to play for him. Obviously, I love Ruvik, and I didn’t have many offers at the time, so I just agreed to play for Finest and agreed to what he wanted me to do.
For some background on your prior experience, you had a deep connection with the CIS scene before coming into Finest. During this time you played with the likes of starix, hooch, and the most recent HellRaisers squad. Does that mean you are fluent in Russian?
anarkez: Yeah I know Russian fluently so it’s helping me out a little bit.
Was there ever a team where you considered fully committing to the CIS scene?
anarkez: I tried to play it a bit like in CIS teams like you said with starix and hooch but I had problems with my army service at the time so I couldn’t play with them. With HellRaisers, it was kind of a headache to play with them. They talk a lot and it’s not similar to what I’m used to at least. It’s like a lot of information and four people talking at once and it’s really rough so I kind of gave up on it a little bit. At least for HellRasiers.
You initially came into this Finest lineup as a stand-in and were only there for a few weeks. What happened that prompted your exit if you could say?
anarkez: Basically Ruvik told me he wanted to kick two people and he called me in as a stand-in. I just helped to save the season in ESEA Advanced after they started the season 2-6…
Jeremy9000: We were 3-5 at the time we brought anarkez in and playoffs were looking bleak. When we brought him in we went on a run and won seven out of the eight remaining games to make playoffs.
anarkez: I helped them and took them to the playoffs and after all that Ruvik told me I could rebuild the lineup and we’re here now I guess.
Jeremy9000: So what happened there was after the season we wanted to go full international and that’s when me and anarkez got the go from Finest to rebuild the lineup. But after two to three weeks of practicing with the lineup we wanted, the vision of what Finest initially wanted us to do clashed with what the board wanted. I was given a lesser budget to build the team for the time being due to our past results not being so bright. I was given two weeks to build a lineup for the BLAST Rising series, and that’s when we put the Radifaction, rilax, and Rock1nG squad together. After two months that went to complete shit as we failed miserably. We dropped out of Advanced and went down to Main and then that’s when Ruvik told me:
‘Jeremy, I’m tired of this. Let’s bring in anarkez and do a complete fucking rebuild. He’ll be the Israeli captain with the flag on his back. Take as much time as you need, the budget has been expanded.’
So anarkez and I took two months to rebuild and that’s the lineup we have now.
You mentioned the short-lived rilax, Rock1nG, Radifaction squad. What were the problems with that team and why did it fail?
Jeremy9000: Good question to be honest. I can’t pinpoint anything really just we started losing and snowballed. People had bad attitudes and lost motivation. The team didn’t click.
That core is cut and Finest goes into a complete rebuild. The final form of that new squad is anarkez, mar, kreaz, robiin, and shokz. How do you begin to navigate the vast European landscape and begin to build a team when the board gives you carte blanche to pick any nationality, any region, any language as long as it gets trophies?
anarkez: Before we started to look at players we added spiroo as a manager. spiroo and Jeremy helped me a lot by giving me names and I could say if I wanted to play with them or not. It was really rough to find free agents that were available. A lot of players were benched…
Jeremy9000: Especially IGLs.
anarkez: Yeah finding IGLs is the biggest problem right now and back then as well. [When choosing the players] the most important thing was for me to bring people that I have fun with. I don’t really care if they’re really good individuals, apparently they’re all really good but when I started to talk with them I knew I had people who could be my family. I can have fun and build something really good with them. That was my main thing when I chose mar, shokz, kreaz, and robiin.
I feel that the most high-profile signings for Finest was bringing robiin on after he was wandering the scene after being removed from Endpoint. What’s it like working with robiin as someone who is an incredibly experienced and cultured IGL?
Jeremy9000: So I actually if you remember worked with robiin for a short-time on Singularity when we replaced wrath. We wanted someone to fill a slot for EPL and considering that we couldn’t use players from stage one of the league and that we weren’t interested in anyone down in Premier at all we went to Singularity’s CEO, Atle Stehouwer, and he recommended robiin as a former Singularity player and that we should give him a shot. We got robiin for a week of scrims and it clicked. Now things have gone full-circle and we played a couple games with him and it was a no-brainer because of his experience.
Were there any other options on the table or were you always set on robiin?
Jeremy9000: At the time we had our eyes set on phr and we played with him for a month or so during the beginning of the rebuild. But considering that we kept switching players and he thought we had our original five when we didn’t once we switched phr got put off and went to Wisła Kraków. Within 30 minutes he told us he was leaving, and we were like, ‘shit’. We had our eyes on robiin earlier, but we didn’t go with him so once he was a free agent we went with him.
With the international characteristic of the team it seems like nothing is off-limits for you and roster moves have a tendency to shock in their ‘out of left field’ nature. The most shocking for me this year was the decision to add righi as your coach. He was previously Team One’s coach and had never left the Brazilian scene or worked in English before until Finest, so how did you find him and bring him in?
Jeremy9000: I made a post looking for a new head coach, sprayxd (ATK’s head coach) mentioned righi. So I clicked on his profile and saw he had a good following and I decided to ask malbsMd about him because he is a good buddy of mine and was coached by righi previously. He had really good things to say about him so I told my players about him and that we should give him a shot. Brazilian coaches have a good track record, and he seems like a cool guy. It couldn’t hurt so we brought him in and after two to three days he decided he’s what we wanted, and we offered the job. He wanted to give the European scene a shot and he wanted to give speaking English a shot compared to the Brazilian scene. Here we are.
How is his transition to working in English going and does he bring a different style to the team as someone from outside of the European meta?
Jeremy9000: So we didn’t want a head coach that had his own ideas and bring in something that would clash with me or robiin’s vision. We wanted more of an analyst head coach that could do prep work, spot mistakes, and bring in ideas. He’s been doing a fantastic job in that role.
With the team locking in Premier playoffs, what are your expectations for that portion of the league?
anarkez: My dream is to go to ESL Pro League, so I guess that’s the goal. I want to show to everyone on my team that I can play on a good level and I want to show I can play at Spinx and flameZ’s level. I feel like I’m ready for it.
How does it feel to potentially be the third Israeli player in CS:GO history to make it to Pro League, is that a source of national pride for you?
anarkez: I think it is. It’s never happened so everyone is excited, and I’d be excited as well to be at that level.
Where else can we see Finest play before the player break?
Jeremy9000: We are also playing Elisa Invitational Winter and will make playoffs if we beat AGF on December 7th at 6pm CET.