daps: "Biggest regret was not getting NAF for NRG; I would've finally completed my perfect team"
The Canadian in-game leader opened up about the highs and lows of his career in Counter-Strike as he embarks on a new adventure in VALORANT.
In an interview that marks the end of his CS:GO playing career, at least for the time being, Damian "?daps?" Steele spoke about what drove him away from the game he spent the majority of the last decade playing.
daps also addressed the community's biggest talking points about himself: individual skill, the relationship with Tarik "?tarik?" Celik, and the notion that he and other North American players are switching to VALORANT only for the money.
The 27-year-old also brought some new details to light, a big one being that he was planning to bring Keith "?NAF?" Markovic to NRG as a replacement for Jacob "?FugLy?" Medina in February 2019 — "If we had got him I would have finally completed my perfect team, I'm sad I couldn't pull it off" —, while praising the trio of Vincent "?Brehze?" Cayonte, Tsvetelin "?CeRq?" Dimitrov, and Ethan "?Ethan?" Arnold, stating that "those three together can be the best in the world".
Let's start off by discussing the current year and the early days of the pandemic. Gen.G had two surprising tournament wins, DreamHack Open Anaheim and ESL One: Road to Rio, with less impressive runs filling in the gaps for the first six months of 2020. How come you were able to have such high peaks while lacking event-to-event consistency?
To be fair, I feel it's hard to compare Anaheim and Road to Rio. I genuinely feel on LAN we would have been consistent, if the year had panned out in a normal manner, with bootcamps and regular LAN events, because we had a LAN team in my opinion, and I also needed LANs and bootcamps to help keep a good and positive mindset in CS at this stage of my career. We were never consistent online because that is the nature of online play, as you have seen with online results since CS:GO was created. That, combined with playing the same four-five teams 24/7 in scrims and matches, made innovating and practicing even harder.
In your post on Pastebin, you mentioned wanting to make changes in Gen.G. Which issues led to the desire to change things? Were these strictly roster changes, or did you also want to touch on other things, including roles and the approach to the game?
A general reason for wanting changes in the team was knowing that we would inevitably hit our peak faster than teams such as EG, Liquid, and FURIA, and trying to get ahead of it because our overall level would be lower on average. Out of respect for their current project and the rebuild, I won't go into detail about all the changes I wanted as it doesn't matter now, but they were both inside and outside of the game changes as I already said in my Pastebin. I wish them the best and hope they find the replacements they need to get into the top 10.
Expanding on the effects of the pandemic, many fans are having a tough time understanding why burnout and lack of motivation have been such big issues for players this year. Can you talk about how playing professional CS:GO was for you in 2020 compared to how it had been in the past, and where the frustration comes from?
Well, my point of view is probably a little more extreme than that of most pro players, but the main reason I even continued playing CSGO three-ish years ago was because of LAN events and bootcamps. I found fulfilment and happiness in those.
Online, on the other hand, is pointless compared to LAN, and the results barely matter at all — I had been playing online CS for over a decade and didn't find any enjoyment in it anymore. Online is better in Europe, though, due to it having more teams to play and better ping, but in North America it's dreadful, so I assume all teams will move to Europe from North America if LAN events don't continue at a regular pace soon because, while other pros may not feel as strongly as me on this point, I know most of them agree to an extent.
The cancellation of the Major seems to have opened the floodgates for roster changes, with players leaving to VALORANT, but it also affected organizations who are missing the most important event of the year and probably the most financially lucrative one, when in-game purchases are available. Do you think Valve should or could have done things differently to keep the interest in CS:GO?
It's hard to say as I don't know the logistics or the liability Valve/ESL would have had to take on to run something on LAN, but I assume Valve made the right choice for them as a company since they're a video game/hardware company and not an esports company. It will hurt the CS:GO esports scene, though, as CS:GO is already really hard to monetize for organizations and the Major is something pretty much all of them rely on to some extent. So yes, I wish they'd do something more, but it is seeming like CS:GO organizations will have to depend on Flashpoint, ESL, and BLAST to make their money back, which at this point is no surprise to anyone.
Talking about your departure from CS:GO, you noted that you were open to other options before moving to VALORANT. How enthusiastic were you about the idea of coaching in CS? Was there any other role that you were open to? Perhaps returning to an analyst desk?
There was one playing option I potentially had that would have been better than my past team, but things happened that were out of my control so it unfortunately never materialized. I've thought about coaching in CS on and off at times but I don't feel it's time for me. In terms of talent work, I doubt I'd do it again unless it was with people I knew as I don't really enjoy that line of work.
Did you consider the idea of moving to Europe and playing there, on a lower level if necessary?
There were some opportunities there that could have been formed into something decent, but nothing that would have made me move and continue playing CS in these times.
Some critics have said that the influx of CS:GO players in VALORANT in North America shows that there is a different mentality in this region, where players are more driven by money and are more open to changing things when compared to their European counterparts. Do you think there is some truth to it, or is it a matter of opportunities dictating the behavior?
There may be some truth to their criticism for some players, but to assume everyone leaving CS is 'securing the bag' is wrong because a good amount of people switching to VALORANT are taking a pay cut, some bigger and some smaller, and the prize money is also way higher in CS. The main reason I switched is I wanted to be in a project I believed in again since, after NRG, I failed to find that same feeling of comradery, happiness, and hope I once had, and if I don't have that in a team I can become depressed and my ability to play takes a hit.
Another reason I switched is that I had been playing CS on and off for 15 years and as much as I'll always love the game, it has been nice learning a new game and moving on to something new, which has put me in a way better place mentally. If I still had it in me to give 110% in CS, things would have been different, but I can't wait around for things to return to normal in the circuit. I had thought about stepping down or taking a break multiple times over the course of the year, telling management and some teammates, and I should've done it during the player break as I had planned, but the Major kept me hanging on by a thread.
Moving back in time: when you initially signed for Cloud9, you mentioned that the team being built wasn't necessarily meant for them. What other organizations were interested and why did you end up going to Gen.G so quickly after signing for Cloud9?
There were like six-seven organizations that contacted me after NRG to make a team for them. Most of them didn't have a team yet at that time, so you can put two and two together. The whole Cloud9 situation was kind of odd and not really my story to tell, but Cloud9 was a very good organisation to me and Jack [Etienne] was insanely nice to let all three of us go to Gen.G at that speed.
From the outside, people have faulted you mainly for your individual performances, saying that you held your teams back by not fragging enough. Do you agree with the sentiment?
I'd say it depends on the team or era. On some teams, I do agree I played way worse than I should have, and there were moments in which I played better. I also played the entry role most of my career and it was a role I was not good at but did it so my better players could have more room, it's a sacrifice I'd make again.
I'll never regret dropping Brehze an AK (laughs).
Throughout your interviews in the past few years, two things were often mentioned as issues: lack of discipline and lack of effective practice. Do you feel responsible for those things?
That comment was only meant for my time on NRG. All five players, the coach, and the management of the team were the reason for that because we honestly had way too much fun all the time, inside and outside of the game. Looking back, though, I feel I was wrong and that the environment we had in the team was actually why we were so consistently good.
Let's talk about the tarik - stanislaw - daps relationship. The removals from OpTic and NRG, both in a similar fashion, are another big talking point. Do you find the community's perception of what went down annoying or straight-up incorrect? You seem to be painted as someone who can build a team, but not as someone who can hold it together or win championships with it…
I don't have an issue with stanislaw, he's a good person and a good IGL who took offers that anyone would take. The OpTic situation was weird before tarik even joined, NAF was the one going to be cut, then it switched to stanislaw getting cut, and then it turned out that I was getting cut. And to be honest, I'm glad I got cut because it helped my career a lot. For NRG, stan got to join the No.4 team in the world at the time and leave Complexity, any IGL would take the offer in a heartbeat and I'm glad stan got to experience playing with CeRq, Brehze, and Ethan because they're the three best players I ever played with by a long shot.
As I've stated many times about tarik, I don't really have an issue with him as a person as he's a chill guy outside of the game, but I feel he handled the situation on NRG poorly. From things I heard from people inside and outside of the team, I knew he had been trying to remove Chet and me for a long time, and if I know someone has been actively trying to remove me for months, I'm not really going to be in a good mindset to play well - especially since this was a team I had been building for years and that had been improving at a consistent rate. If we had worked together more, I feel we could have turned some of those semi-final runs into finals or wins. But who knows?
Do you think you were not given enough credit as a player? In a very stat-oriented game, do you think that you and other similar players were often painted in an overly negative light by fans and experts alike? Can Counter-Strike be better in that regard?
I think I got a good amount of credit, to be honest. While there will always be negative comments for players with bad stats, I honestly saw just as many positive comments. I don't feel I was painted with more negativity than I deserved because I generally played roles I wasn't too comfortable with. On the majority of teams I played on I had roles such as entry fragging and anchoring sites, which were both things I was pretty uncomfortable/bad at individually. If I wanted better stats, I would have been one of those hard-lurk IGLs and a rotator on the CT side on all my teams.
Do you have any regrets from your time as a CS player?
The biggest regret was not getting NAF for NRG as we were supposed to get him for months, but the situation didn't allow us to do so. If we had got him I would have finally completed my perfect team, the one that I was aiming for all those years. I'm sad I couldn't pull it off because NAF fit role-wise and was already close with everyone on the team and was literally the perfect replacement for FugLy. If we had got NAF instead of tarik we would have been insane. We also should have asked jks when NAF wasn't possible because our list of options was: NAF, then jks, Stewie2k, autimatic, BnTeT, tarik, s0m. Out of the players we wanted we either couldn't get them due to money or organizations stopping it, the player not wanting to join, or in Stewie's case, Liquid getting to him before we could even ask.
This period was very disappointing as we couldn't get a direct role/firepower upgrade for FugLy. Our manager at the time warned us about the path we were taking, but we had no other choice as keeping FugLy wasn't an option for the players at the time.
Switching to some more positive things, you managed to bring over two European players to North America, one of whom still remains a part of the scene, and you did something similar with BnTeT in Gen.G. What is the key to importing talent to North America?
The key is to do your research, talk to the players and see what their motivations are, and hope they're not lying about being serious and wanting to give their all. Overall, though, it's a big risk because you never know how someone is going to be when they actually arrive in North America.
Overall, what are your fondest memories from competing in CS:GO? Which do you consider your best achievements?
I remember my first international LAN ever on Denial with NAF, FugLy, ShahZaM and anger, and beating the original Cloud9 because that is where most of our careers started and what led us to get our first salary ever. Making my first Major ever on OpTic with NAF, stanislaw, RUSH and mixwell as we started to feel like we could finally compete with European teams, which was unthinkable back in the day for North American teams. And finally, my time on NRG after we got Ethan and CeRq, there isn't really one moment on this team I didn't enjoy because my whole time with this team was the best experience of my career by far. I wish those guys continued success because those three together can be the best in the world, easily.
Lastly: is there a chance we will see you back in Counter-Strike one day?
Never say never.