I don't know about you, but I had many conversations with my parents about not "wasting my time" gaming when I was growing up. As the decades roll on, more people recognize that video games can actually be good for things like brain development and memory. But what about esports? We spoke to former professional CS:GO coach Viktor "vuggo" Jendeby to learn what skills you can gain from competitive gaming.
Catt: Hi, vuggo. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. I think most people who know anything about CS:GO will have heard of you but, for everyone else, could you tell us about your esports background?
vuggo: Sure. I've been involved with esports basically my whole life. I got my first computer when I was 5 and have played and worked with esports ever since. I wanted to become a professional player myself until I was around 21, and that’s when I decided, with some push from my parents, to take my life “more seriously”. Back then, 10 or 15 years ago, almost, there wasn't much money working in esports. Everything you did was volunteering or just for the fun of it. Maybe you got a trip to Germany or something paid for because you worked as a journalist, but it wasn't something that you could live off.
So I started studying civil engineering. I was still interested in esports but not actually pursuing a career as a player in it. However, the people I previously played with continued playing and became better. They ended up playing for one of the best teams in the world and asked me to join them as a coach. At that point, I'd studied 4 out of 5 years as a civil engineer, but I thought, "I need to take that opportunity." Esports had grown a lot and, obviously, being at the very top of something, competing at the very highest level regardless of being a player or coach... I mean, I had to do it.
I worked with that for 2 years and, after that, continued working with esports, not with a team but rather organizing tournaments and helping sponsors finding their way into the esports market. I've been at the very top of esports, but I've also been in all parts of esports. I know how it is to struggle with becoming a professional player myself, but I have also worked in all aspects of the esports world.
You also did stuff as an interviewer, and now you work at G-Loot, which is quite different. That must give you a unique perspective.
Most definitely. At the company I worked with previously, Fragbite, my title was Brand Manager, but I basically did everything. We did a lot of broadcasts where I cast and hosted shows, mainly in Swedish to the Swedish audience. I also did a lot of project management. We set up one of the biggest amateur tournaments for nordic people. We had over 2000 teams. That was the Yoggi Yalla! Cup together with Swedish milk brand Arla. We were few people, but we did big things, so you learned a lot and tried many different things. I've definitely seen esports from a lot of different angles.
So drawing on all that experience, what would you say is the most important thing you learn competing at a high level?
What sets a great player from a professional? I mean, anyone can become great at a game, but I’m talking about that last 1% of the very best players. What is rare in esports and in CS:GO are the people that understand that the team is winning, not the player. I worked with 20-30 players, and you can see that the players who did everything for the team are the players that today, 6 years later, are still relevant in the top scene.
What is rare in esports and in CS:GO are the people that understand that the team is winning, not the player.
It's the same even if you're a coach. I was just a 6th voice to the team. Everything was up for discussion. Whatever we did was a decision that everyone was comfortable with. I was perhaps more the one to give structure to those discussions and maybe identify problems and get people to talk about them. It wasn't for me to find the solution to the problems but to find the problem and open up the discussion. I wasn't the traditional coach that said, "we're doing exactly this, this, this." I led the team in the right direction, but every decision, how we should play the game, was always made by everyone. Everyone needs to be comfortable with the decision; otherwise, it won't work, in my view. That's how I've always worked. For example, when working together on a project with people in school, everything needs to be done on equal terms for everyone, and that's how I tackle adult life as well. I'm a product manager and a team lead now, but I will never tell someone, "this is what we're doing," I want to know how the team wants to do it and then find a solution everyone is on board with.
It doesn't matter if they're the pawn or the king on the chessboard, they just want to be part of the game, and they love the game.
Part of teamwork is also being humble. You can't have 5 superstars. The best players also do everything asked of them, and they also have a very positive attitude when playing. To be fair to those early players in CS:GO, the game and scene exploded in a sense. When I broke into the scene in 2015, basically, it was kids all of a sudden getting a paycheck of way too much money: more than they could handle. They were famous. They were superstars. And with that, they felt privileged. They were not humble at all, not nice to their teammates, and when things didn't go their way, they were not nice. Being humble and being calm and positive can take you a very long way, and I think our team was great at that. Basically, it was one of the reasons we were so good: we always kept our heads high, we never whined at each other. We could have hefty discussions after matches, but during matches, we were having fun.
There are a lot of platforms out there today that focus on the individual: what is your ELO? What is your score? How many kills did you get? Any game you play is a team game. It doesn't matter how many kills you have: if you win matches and contribute to that, that is the biggest success you can ever have. Regardless of your role. Regardless of how many kills you get. The thing is, there are so many good individual players out there today. To differentiate yourself from the masses, you need to be humble, do what is required for the team, be positive, and always do these things that the rest aren't. Because just being good at the game isn't unique anymore, there are too many good players. You have to love the game, not just getting a lot of kills personally. Thinking “I love to get a lot of sniper kills. It's so satisfying to hold angles and get a lot of sniper kills.”, it's important that what the player finds fun and what motivates them is the bigger picture of the game: playing as a team, the meta structure of a game, how a team works together, how we rotate, winning that way. It doesn't matter if they're the pawn or the king on the chessboard, they just want to be part of the game, and they love the game.
You mentioned superstars before, and I think there's a lot of crossover with music, right? You can be a great guitarist or singer—you can be a rock god—but if you're not willing to work with the drummer, the bassist, the keyboard player, you're not going to get anywhere. You need the whole band, and you need to create music and play it as a band.
Yeah, exactly. And to be fair, in any sport, you don't only need to be a good player; you also need to be an artist. It doesn't matter if you're good at guitar if you're not a likable person. In the end, anyone who is working with sports is a marketing pillar. You're representing a team. You're representing sponsors. You're representing yourself. You need to understand that those parts are essential as well. Sure, that's way further down the line, and if you're a good player, you'll learn all these things, but to aim for a career and then not realize that you'll be a "famous" person as well and ready to handle that... Then maybe this isn't for you. It's a big part of the job. You're a role model for kids if you're a professional player, and you need to be able to handle that with extreme caution as well.
Having a team that could adapt, change, and be comfortable in so many roles was quite rare. It still is, but that was definitely one of the keys for us to find that much success.
We already talked about teamwork, but maybe you can go into more detail about how that works in CS: GO.
The meta changes a lot in CS: GO. How you should play changes, what roles you should have in a team. In general, you need to have a leader; you need someone who likes to play more passive, one who plays more aggressively; someone that is perfectly fine in what people would call "supportive" roles though I don't like the idea of calling someone a "support" in that sense. What you have is an IGL (an in-game leader,) you have an AWPer. You have a lurker: someone that's not always with the team. In a classic 4+1 tactic, 4 go to one side, and there's another who's trying to catch off rotations and being an annoying little bug in the enemies' butts. Then you have an aggressive and a defensive carry: someone that really likes to take duels and someone that's a great anchor. You can see these 5 roles in every top team today, but back when we were playing 5 years ago, it was important to us that we didn't greatly rely on one person that perhaps teams do today. Now, it is expected that a sniper will not miss shots: basically, you should consistently deliver 100%. Whereas the players in Fnatic back then, we were so good at everything that if our "main" sniper wasn't having a good day, he took a step back, played rifles, and let someone else snipe. So, whoever was feeling it that day, whoever was in the zone, could take up the sniper role. We made sure that whoever was the sniper on that day, on that map, had a good day so that we always got 100% from the sniper role. We rotated a lot depending on the map, depending on the day, depending on so many things. We went so much with the flow in that sense, which is super important in any sport, I feel. If someone has a good feeling about something, they shouldn't be held back. Having a team that could adapt, change, and be comfortable in so many roles was quite rare. It still is, but that was definitely one of the keys for us to find that much success. We were very adaptable to the feelings and the flow of the players.
How do you handle that adaptability in the heat of the moment when the pressure is on?
You either follow a plan—because then everyone knows what is expected from one another—or just straight up need to have excellent communication at all times.
It's very common that every team has a so-called standard round where you start off with the same pattern as attackers; like you spread out through the map, you put some pressure here and there, you make sure to save X amount of grenades in case you want to execute on a site that looks exactly like this, that we need 3 smokes and whatever, so you make sure to save that but maybe spend a flash or a Molotov here and there to put pressure on the other team. And you're just continuously communicating, and if someone over there feels that, "yeah, I see an opening here, I'm going for it," that's okay. Then we need to know what's the next step if he's successful in his initiation? If he's not, what is the next step then? Making sure that we're together there. So just keeping up great communication about what is happening and how they want to act upon that. If nothing happens, which is quite common, we still get useful information: "Yeah, they've spent 2 smokes on these sites here. I put enough pressure on them to force out some smokes, so we should gather here." And then the in-game-leader or tactician calls, like, "yeah, let's rotate, and we'll do the... banana bomb" or whatever we want to call that next tactic. And then you execute that because it makes sense to do that if they've spent their 2 smokes because that was the only counter-play that could work for that tactic. It's really about being all over the map, gathering information all over the place, allowing players to go off on their individual feelings, if they feel like they have a great edge, otherwise group up and do something together. That makes it really important to learn to communicate well. I mean, if I'm over on the far right side of the map and my teammate is on the far left side of the map, if we don't communicate, then both of us make a move, and both of us fail, then we've lost the round because we're 2 men down and the rest of the team have no idea how that situation panned out. If we know he's going to do a move on the B side, the guy in mid knows this may or may not create a rotation from A to B; I want to be ready and cut off the rotation or whatever it might be. Optimizing the situation, optimizing the whole map depending on what he wants to do. So the communication there is insanely important.
Presumably, it must take a lot of training to get to the point where you can communicate and be flexible together.
Yeah. It takes a lot of work outside of the actual official matches. If you're constantly adapting and changing to however people feel, doing that during a match could be very stressful; it could be unstructured and just flat-out weird. So you need to train that way together and have the communication prepared and get to know each other in-game. For example, I know one player likes to do X, Y, or Z, so if he says, "I'd like to do Z today," then we've already tried that out in different scenarios, and I have a rough idea of what that means for me. So it's just grind, grind, train, train, learn each other, learn everyone's tendencies and how they like to play the game and the differences and how we could adapt to that as well. If he feels like doing X, how can I do my very best to support that? How can I move and interact with the map to ensure that he gets the full potential from what he wants to do? So it's a lot of discussions, prep work, a lot of training to get to that stage.
Not only coming up with the tactics but also to co-ordinate and train those timings as well. In practice, to do the same tactic 10 rounds in a row, 5 matches in a row: really grinding and getting every little detail 100% with that tactic. Rather than playing with the flow like "oh, I feel like playing a sniper now" the way we play in official matches, right? The team wanted to also play that way in training, and it was productive because we got to know each other. We evolved in that sense to always know each other and always know what the other players wanted, but we still needed that backup plan. What if 5 players sat quietly? No one had flow? What the fudge are we doing? We still had ideas, we still had something, but I just wanted more structure to it so that we had a baseline of things "this is what we can do to have some variation when things aren't going our way."
You're part of a team and whatever that entails. You need to work together as a team. The more you see it as not just something individual and fun, the better. The more mature you are in that sense, that will get you a long way.
Fnatic took 1st place at 7 tournaments between 2015 and 2016 including the SL iLeague StarSeries XIV Finals. Source: HLTV.org
Even when you're playing at your absolute best, every competition has a winner and a loser. That must be hard to get used to.
There was a point where we were so good. We won 7 big tournaments in a row, which was incredible back then because it was a very competitive scene. Then one of our players got RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury, a common problem for gamers and esports players) and was away for a couple of months. We played with a stand-in, and our performance dropped a bit. When he returned, we were never the same. We needed some time together, I felt, to get back to ourselves. Coming from 7 victories in a row, when he returned, we thought, "Okay, now back to business again. We'll start winning." But it didn't happen that way. I think we lost a semi-final once, so we were still top 4. Then we placed second in another tournament, and, looking back, that wasn't a failure by any means—being top 4 and top 2—but we dealt with it really badly. The team split up after that. We were so used to winning, we felt comfortable winning all the time. That's why not winning felt so hard because it was almost "easy" for us to win before that. We felt that when we didn't win, it must have been because something was wrong. We started blaming each other. I tried to keep the team together but couldn't, so we split. I wanted to stick together and work hard, but it was easier to blame someone else and go for the "greener grass" than to actually put your head down and do the work.
To be successful, teams need to be able to take those losses and use them to improve instead of just giving up.
Definitely, we had, in my opinion, the 5 best players in Sweden and by that also competitively in the world. But if we wanted a full Swedish lineup, which we wanted, there was no better option for us. I didn't feel that we really put in the boring hard work when we needed it most.
Stress must be quite a big part of competing at such a high level. How can players keep themselves going even when things aren't great?
That kind of stress and dealing with pressure is something fresh every time. It's not like I dealt with pressure 5 years ago, and now I'll never feel pressure again. It's something that you need to constantly have to face and deal with to put the lid on, in that sense. What helps you is continually being exposed to pressure and finding out that everything's fine. Being on a stage the first time is scary, but then the second time, it's kind of cool, and the third time? You don't even realize that you're on a stage; it feels just like home. This constant exposure of pressure is needed; you need to play a lot of official matches. You need to be put outside of your comfort zone. I was highly extroverted as a kid. I played a lot of music, I did everything on stage. Then I didn't for a couple of years, so when I started coaching, I felt super anxious again when entering the stage. It was like I forgot that it's totally fine to be on a stage. I definitely would get shaky legs now if I went on stage with 15000 people watching, given it was a couple of years ago. So you need to practice it.
Decision making and problem-solving
Just because it's a computer game, I don't think it's less valuable; all problem-solving helps your brain evolve.
Obviously, decision-making goes hand-in-hand with pressure because everyone can make a decision but being confident in making a decision and being confident in making a quick decision comes a lot with video games, I feel. That has helped me to not doubt myself. Even though I said that to deal with pressure and stress is something you need to constantly practice, being confident in your own decision-making sticks. Or at least it has for me. I've had to make so many decisions within 1 second that could define a win or a lost round. So constantly being forced to make quick decisions makes you comfortable making decisions without hesitating and without giving it a second thought. So that helps.
As with many other things in life, there are cons to that: making quick decisions and being confident about them. Not exactly mansplaining but that kind of thing, right? When I'm confident in my opinion, I say it now, and maybe no one questions it, but it was just a "guy guess," perhaps you'd call it. So there are definitely cons to it as well—to making fast decisions confidently—but overall I feel it's a good quality to have in life to believe in yourself.
Obviously, you also learn problem-solving. In video games, like anything else, you're facing scenarios that you can plan for, but it's never going to be exactly as you planned, so you need to be able to solve those minor problems. I mean before and after matches but during matches as well. Just because it's a computer game, I don't think it's less valuable; all problem-solving helps your brain evolve. Whether it's Candy Crush or CSGO or doing some matrix calculations in maths, it all stimulates your brain. I've done all three of those, and I don't remember anything of matrix calculations because it was 10 years ago, but they all helped me grow in that sense. So any brain stimulation and problem-solving is excellent for you, including video games.
There's a Swedish expression which is H.A.L.T. Like the word halt in English, meaning to stop, it means the same in Swedish. In this case, it stands for "Hungrig, Arg, Ledsen, Trött," which translates to "Hungry, Angry, Sad, Tired." You should never play if you're any of those.
It's never a good idea to play when you're, with most certainty, going to underperform. You're not going to play well. But the most crucial part is that you're not going to handle the loss well. You're not going to look at the loss and see "I lost because of X or Y" and then improve upon it. You're going to find excuses for why it didn't go your way because you don't think rationally if you're in any of these 4 states. You will always find the easiest solution to why it went wrong. That will never take you anywhere. If you continuously play with the frustration or hunger or whatever, if you always play with the sense that "I'm not doing anything wrong, it's someone else's fault," then you're getting stuck in a loop where you're not going to become a better player, you're evolving into an even worse player. So it's extremely important to always play when you're happy because that will yield the best results and help you grow as a player.
Alongside self-awareness also comes balance. In this regard, I didn't live as I learned because I played 10 hours a day for probably 15 years. I always played. As an adult, I feel like balance, regardless of what it is, is so important. The discussion right now is so focused on that you shouldn't play too much. I don't think playing is the problem; I think doing anything too much is terrible. Hard focus on one thing is never good. You need to have a breather. Whether it's playing computer games for 10 hours a day or reading books 10 hours a day, or, heck, even playing football 10 hours a day, it's not healthy. Nothing is healthy if you're taking it to its extreme. What you need is a balance in life.
Having a physical activity hobby is great. You don't need to be a bodybuilder; you don't need to exercise 2 hours a day, but having baseline stamina helps you manage the H.A.L.T. problems. You can keep focused for longer if you have good stamina. You are more optimistic; it's easier to be positive. There are so many chemicals in your body when you have good stamina—if you eat well and drink well—that help you perform in the game. It enables you to grow and helps you be humble so that if something goes wrong, you think, "why did it go wrong?" rather than just being mad about it. So some sort of physical activity and try to have some variety to what you're doing every day. If you're good at computer games, then sure, focus on playing but not 12 hours a day. It doesn't give you that much, the difference between 5 hours and 12 hours. If you spent those other 7 hours on something else, like physical activity or going for a walk, or socializing, or playing board games with your family, or whatever it might be. Stimulate other parts of your body and brain that will help you perform later on. It will also make you miss the game. Coming back to the game after 1 or 2 days' break can feel like, "I'm so hyped to play now!" If you play 12 hours a day, you never realize what you're missing. So yeah, creating a good life balance definitely helps.
Computer games have been such a big part of my life since I was 5. My girlfriend and I met through gaming. We still play a bit—both of us—but since our daughter came into the world almost 2 years ago, there hasn't been that much time for playing. We're focusing on other things now, obviously. It's still an interest; we still like to watch games, but it's still weird to think, "Wow, I have 5 hours to spare. What am I going to do? In the past, I would have played, but right now, I don't feel like gaming, so what should I do?" It's a weird situation. To not think it's the best thing in the world, now. I think it's fun, but it's not the best thing in the world anymore, and that's okay because it taught me so much.
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