Team Liquid became the second team to book their place in VCT Masters: Tokyo 2023 after defeating Natus Vincere 2-0 in the upper bracket quarterfinals. The team’s display against what is deemed as the second-best Valorant squad in EMEA put a fitting cap on their improvement which stemmed from earlier in the year when they were knocked out in the first round of LOCK/IN by Team Secret.
Since then, TL, with a lineup featuring Igor “Redgar” Vlasov, Ayaz “nAts” Akhmetshin, Saif “Sayf” Jibraeel, Dom “soulcas” Soulcas, and Elias “Jamppi” Olkkonen, embarked on a beeline to Tokyo as they went 6-3 in the regular season before defeating Team Vitality in the first round of playoffs and eventually NAVI to formally complete the journey.
Following TL’s first series in playoffs, Fragster talked to nAts for an interview on how he viewed the team’s improvement throughout the season, what it was like playing against VIT, his thoughts on facing NAVI, and more.
This interview was conducted after TL’s victory over VIT and before their series against NAVI.
nAts on facing Vitality
Pedro Romero, Fragster: Congrats on taking down Vitality to move on to the next round of playoffs. To start off, I want to know your thoughts on how the team was able to pull out the win given that it was as tight as it did through all three maps.
Ayaz “nAts” Akhmetshin: To be honest, I’m always thinking that it’s going to be three maps. It doesn’t matter what team I’m going to play against but Vitality showed a great performance today. They came to playoffs with great ideas and with a full confidence. We saw that on the first map. They just didn’t give us a single chance.
For the second and third maps, they came in a different way and we had to show our game style. That game was a bit hard for us, but as I’m always saying, that kind of game always gives you an experience and that experience is super good for our team because, game by game, we’re really becoming better and better. That’s the experience you have to take and you have to be happy.
Fragster: It’s been highlighted throughout the broadcast how Vitality focused on preparing specifically against you given that you are a renowned lurker through your play style. Did you feel Vitality did as much as it could to prohibit you from playing how you usually play?
nAts: I would say yes they did a great job about that even in Lotus and Ascent. About Bind, I cannot say because it feels like, on Bind, they did the same thing as they usually do. They didn’t try to create anything else. but for Lotus and Ascent, they were trying to play a lot around the areas where I’m usually playing, I would say they did a great job in that area because I didn’t have a lot of experience in how people were playing games like this against me.
For example, on Bind, I have a lot of experience so I understood what should I do in different situations. Here on Lotus, for example, they showed a great game against me and on Ascent, they also showed the few things that I have to think of. They did a great job so I’m saying thank you to them for doing a great job against me. That’s a good thing for me to think about to become better.
Fragster: What were some of the adjustments that you made when it came to overcoming Vitality’s strategy against you? What were those adjustments like throughout that series?
nAts: I’ll just say one thing. When people are trying to play around that and destroy the play style, it creates gaps on the other side so you have to work with it. It feels like today, it may be sometimes that it wasn’t clear enough from me, but usually when people are playing like this against me, it usually creates gaps on the other sides. Sometimes, I just have to forget about the stuff that I’m usually doing and just playing in the other places because they are putting a lot of attention towards the place where I’m usually showing myself. If there are a lot of people that are using a lot of abilities, it means that in the other side, we can do something else.
Looking at the current state of TL and nAts
Fragster: With that in mind, I want to cover your reflection as to the team’s current state. Since you guys are one of the six teams in playoffs that have a chance to qualify for Masters: Tokyo, how do you view the current team’s state in terms of comms and playstyle? Also, how has that progressed throughout the season?
nAts: I would say the thing that I like in that team a lot is that we’re progressing game by game. If we’re gonna start talking from LOCK/IN and the games after that in the league, after every game, we’re becoming better and better. For example, while we’re fixing one thing, other things are coming and the main thing of that is you always will have some problems. You always will have some gaps but the important point and the thing that I like here is we’re always trying to fix the problems that we had, for example, in officials.
I will say game by game, if we’re gonna compare the first game of Liquid and Liquid now, it’s a way different Liquid. We started playing much better, but I’m pretty sure it’s not our best right now and we have to keep tryharding, we have to keep grinding the game, we have to keep practicing and improving in all of the directions and I hope you will see a great game tomorrow from us also.
Fragster: From talking about the old Liquid to the new Liquid, I want to dive into the old nAts and the new nAts. What has been the biggest change that you’ve seen out of yourself since joining Liquid from the offseason up until now?
nAts: I don’t think that a lot of things have changed, so I’m just trying to keep doing the same thing that I’ve always done to show my best in every game. I don’t think I changed a lot in the preparation and yet, for the games and other stuff (like the setups), all of the other things changing. But in general, I think it’s the same person as it was before and as it was in 2021. I just keep trying to do my best. I keep trying to play the game a lot. I’m just trying to live in that game and I’m having fun from that game.
For me, it’s a bit hard to answer what changed in nAts when he joined. I mean, the only thing that changed is that I have more of a fan base, the Liquid fan base. I really appreciate all of the fans that were supporting me before. I love all of them. And for the fans that came from the Liquid, I also love all of them. It’s a huge support and it’s unreal when you go into the stage and people are just screaming and supporting you.
Tweeting during matches
Fragster: I want to bring up one thing that you usually do before, during, and after each official match that you play in. You usually tweet by including a screenshot of a score between your team and the enemy team you’re facing at that moment in time. It’s interesting because not many people would prefer to tweet during an official match and I feel you’ve been one of the few people that have done that. Why do you prefer to tweet during matches with that in mind?
nAts: I don’t know. It just came as a habit, I guess, from 2021 when all of the EMEA qualifications were online. I don’t know. It’s just not hard. You just take your phone and you’re writing and you’re instantly posting. I just like it. It’s just a habit.
Looking ahead to NAVI
Fragster: You already mentioned facing NAVI and what that’s going to be like. How do you view your team’s chances on qualifying for Tokyo with the potential of you finally returning to an actual international LAN since 2021?
nAts: I would say that match is 50/50 so it’s gonna be a hard game. It’s gonna be a hard game definitely for us. About the match that serves as qualifying to Tokyo, I just don’t like to think about that. For example, in the previous year, I had four or five chances to qualify to any tournament but I didn’t qualify to anywhere so it’s fine.
Tomorrow for me, it’s just the match against NAVI. It’s just a match against a great team to play so I’m just focusing on that. I just want to have fun playing that and not focus on it being a match to play for Tokyo. It’s just a match to play against NAVI. It doesn’t even matter what stage is it. Whether it is semi-final, quarterfinal, or grand final, it’s just a game for me. My attitude to all of the games is the same so that’s why I’m not thinking about qualification.
Feature Image Credit: Hara Amorós / Riot Games / LVP / lag.