apEX: “We had a day of practice”

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It’s been “close but no cigar” for Vitality at ESL Pro League Season 19 and IEM Dallas, where the international mix finished runners-up both times. Before the start of BLAST Spring Finals, Liam “Slevo” Slevin spoke to in-game leader apEX about the boost of having the only UK player in the event and their efforts to recapture their form from last year.

There hasn’t been a lot of turnover since Dallas, and obviously, with the flights coming over from North America, what’s it been like trying to prepare coming into this tournament with all the travel you’ve had to do?

Well, obviously we didn’t have, like, the best preparation (laughs). We had, um, a day of practice, and a bit of practice here, but that’s the way it is, we get used to have these moments. For us it’s just focusing on ourselves, trying to change a bit of things overall as a team, and that’s it. I mean the preparation is not big, but that’s the end of the season, no one has the best preparation for this event anyway.

In terms of the final in Dallas, there’s obviously a sense of disappointment. You said, last event of the season, not much preparation going into it. Do you have a bit of a chip on your shoulder when it comes to this event specifically, with the disappointment of the final?

Yeah, we come from 2 losing finals in a row, which hurts obviously. We really want to try our best here and try to get the trophy home, that would be fantastic for the whole team, and I think the team deserve a trophy for this first part of the year. It would be also amazing for Mezii, he plays on home soil, it will be the first time he plays on home soil and it will mean a lot for the team to win here. Even though fatigue and tiredness are pretty high, that’s the way it is, it’s still the same for everyone and we’re just going to try to bring the trophy home.

In terms of homecomings, you guys had the Paris Major and you obviously went into that one with the crowd. Considering you have Mezii, do you think that’s a bit of a boost for you guys having the hometown hero?

I think it’s going to help. We could see in Dallas that for Stewie2k it was a huge thing against us, they had the crowd with them, they made a lot of noise, they were cheering for them. In football we say the public is the 12th player, in CS it’s the 6th player, I think it helps a lot in a lot of things when you’re down. Everything you do, they’re going to scream for you, and cheer for you, so it’s a help. I just hope we’re going to get to the play-off just to be able to have the crowd cheering for us, but for Mezii, for the first time to have his family and the people he loves watching him play.

Going back to the final in Dallas, for one of the maps ZyWoo didn’t perform to the level that we expect. In the past you’ve never been a person who’s afraid to say to your star player, you’ve said it to ZyWoo in the past “Come on, we need you to win these games.” Have there been conversations like that recently?

Well, he had a fantastic tournament before that third map, so it’s really hard to blame him or say anything. The only thing I could tell him is about the last few times we’ve played on Nuke have been rough for him on CT side, and we discuss about that, not about… it’s not because you play bad on one map that’s going to define who you are, it’s more about why these last few Nukes have been rough. We had a talk about that, but not about the performance itself, and I think he also understood what he needed to do, and I think his next Nukes will be pretty good.

In terms of the criticism he’s faced from the community since the likes of donk and m0nesy have broken out, ZyWoo’s come under fire a bit. What do you say to that criticism from the outside public?

Well, he’s a three-time the best player in the world, so you kind of expect him to perform all the time. Yeah, he had some rough moments this season, a bit more than usual, with the play-off moments he didn’t play his best against FaZe and against G2 on the last map, but that’s always the same. When you put the mark that high as a player when you have been the best player for three years, people expect you to do good all the time. He knows about all of the shit, he’s just going to play good, I have no doubt about that. Sometimes you have a bit of doubt, and that’s what happened for him, I just hope it’s going to get better soon enough because it was only a map there and that’s nothing big.

In terms of someone who doesn’t get as much eyes on him from the public and the outside, with previous iterations of Vitality, Zonic was a real focal point and very focused on him, considering his background. What can you tell me about what XTQZZZ- has brought to the team since you brought him in?

The thing is with Zonic, he’s not such a public guy, but he’s known because he won the five Majors. That’s normal, that’s what he deserves. For XTQZZZ, the difference is, yeah of course he didn’t win as many trophies as Zonic, but we need to remember what he did with the French teams as well. He had a rough moment in G2, but what he brings to the team is also part of our development and why we’re getting better this year, getting better and better. I think this guy is a really good coach, I just love to work with him, I think all the players love to work with him. Even though it’s been rough for all the team, I knew XTQZZZ when we had to change coach. You never expect to change coach when you’re the best team in the world, and for him it’s never easy to come to a team that’s already done a lot of things and it’s tough to implement new things as well at the same time. But we’re working all together, hands to hands just to try and get some trophies and be the best we can be.

Who do you think poses the biggest threat to you guys here in terms of recent form?

I think you don’t have any one team, you have a few teams here. Obviously FaZe is a big contender, they did so many finals in a row, even though the last two tournaments have been rough for them they’re always a big opponent to play against. Spirit as well, they’ve been really consistent even though after Katowice it’s been a bit rougher for them, they also have like donk who is an amazing player, and they have an amazing team around him, it’s a real threat. We have G2, G2 have been winning Dallas with a stand-in, so I think it gave them a lot of confidence. I mean we have really big teams here and even we play first game against [Virtus.Pro], we know that playing VP is never the easiest, and NaVi even though they had problems after the Major. Everyone is really dangerous here, the only lower team here is SAW, but the rest are pretty damn good, Astralis as well, you have really good teams here and it’s really tough to expect who’s going to win.

We’re heading into this big break for the second half of the season, what are your expectations for yourself and the team moving into the second half of the year?

We want to win big trophies, we want to win trophies. We had a chance to win two, the last two events, we were not able to grab them, but that’s the way it is now. For us it’s all about winning trophies and being the best we can be. Vitality 2023 have been the best team in the world, they’ve been the best team in 2023, we want to do the same even though we have less months now, we know what we’re capable of so we’re going to give our best to be the best.

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