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[EXCLUSIVE] “Get Rid of the Kickoff Tournament Completely” EG Derrek Criticizes VCT 2024 Format

[EXCLUSIVE] “Get Rid of the Kickoff Tournament Completely” EG Derrek Criticizes VCT 2024 Format

13 Feb
Foo Zen-Wen

Prior to the VCT Americas Kick-Off tournament, Riot Games organized a Pre-Season Media Day, inviting some of the most noteworthy names in the industry. Strafe Esports received the opportunity to conduct an exclusive interview with Evil Genius member Derrek “Derrek” Ha.

Called Up at the Eleventh Hour

A season ago, Derrek was part of the notable 100 Thieves organization. A mid off-season shuffle left both him and former teammate stellar adrift in the sea of free agents. Just as he was about to accept that he would likely not be part of the 2024 VCT season, he got a call from Potter. Shortly after, he reemerged as Evil Geniuses Derrek.

“All I want us to do is just play our best and play confidently.”

[Interviewer] Happy 2024! First big question: heading into this new season, how are you and your new team [EG] feeling heading into it?

Yeah, this was a super last-minute thing, I got asked to join a few days after Christmas. And we’ve been practicing since then and we’ve been meshing. I’ve played with supamen before, and I’ve played a lot with Jaw [Jawgemo] in ranked. So, I think we’re meshing pretty well.

[Interviewer] I remember on Twitter you were posting, saying that Potter reached out to you at 6am on ARAM or something like that.

Yeah! [laughing]

[Interviewer] As you said, this was a pretty last-minute project, what are your expectations heading into this season? What are you guys hoping to achieve as a team? [1 min]

Obviously EG won Champs in 2023. They did super well after everyone doubted them. So, no matter what we do […] if we don’t win Champs, it’s kind of a disappointment from last year I guess, or the name of EG. But as a new roster, all I want us to do is just play our best and play confidently. So, I think I lacked that in 2023 individually, and with these new guys, I feel like I kinda regained that – as a player. So, I just want to play well. And I think if we do that, we can be a top contender.

An Unfavored Format, High Pressure, A New Team

Derrek was not the only addition to the EG lineup over the off-season. Despite walking away the victors of VALORANT’s largest tournament – Champions – only head coach Potter and player Jawgemo stayed behind with the project. To that, they added former sixth man Apoth, former TSM IGL NaturE, and of course, the man himself, Derrek. Adding to all the uncertainty, Riot has introduced a new schedule for VCT 2024, that includes an even more tense track for teams headed for the top.

“Sometimes your year just doesn't go your way [...] But obviously you have to work with what you're given."

[Interviewer] This is a two-part question. I first wanted to get your thoughts on the overall scheduling decisions that Riot has taken for Kickoff, and then leading to Madrid, and of course the season-start. What are your initial thoughts on the way the season’s been spread out? This year, compared to last year.

Yeah, I know a lot of my peers have said pretty bad things about it, and I kind of agree with some of it. I don’t know about having a Kickoff tournament for Madrid. I believe that we could have just got out like a regular split, and then had another split for Shanghai. And that would have been fine. Obviously there may have been scheduling issues – with like League or whatever. But yeah, I think a Kickoff tournament with two 5-game splits is just way too short – in my opinion. But…yeah.

[Interviewer] Would your suggestion then be to include another split and move the two splits forwards, making it three splits a year?

I think we get rid of the Kickoff tournament completely. Do a regular 10-11 game split. And then Madrid. And then you would have a 1-2 week break. Between that time, we have another 10 game split, and if time was an issues, we could do like maybe 2 Super-weeks or something to just get it all done within the same time frame.

I think two 10-11 game splits would have been absolutely fine, and that way, if let’s say your team doesn’t do well, you can still at least see them compete for longer. I think the maximum number of games – if you lose pretty badly – is like 13-14 games. Something like that. So yeah, it’s rough if you have a bad season.

[Interviewer] But do you think it’s better in the sense where each split is separate? So, if you do badly in the first split, you still have a fresh chance. Compared to last year, where it was just one giant split and if you messed up at the start, it was kind of rough.

Oh yeah, for sure. Anything was better than last year. Last year, we only got one split because of LOCK//IN, so we only got one regular split. I got to play, I think it was 12-13 games all of last year, before the season was over. Obviously that’s our own fault, but it just sucks.

Sometimes, your year just doesn’t go your way. Like, practice might look good and everything, but you can’t just find that balance on-stage, and sometimes you and your team just need a little bit more time. But obviously you have to work with what you’re given and that’s what we were given…so.

[Interviewer] That’s true. I mean, I don’t know if you follow League of Legends, but I feel like that format is more forgiving in the sense where there are teams that start out the split bad, but they still have two more splits to look forward to.

Yeah, yeah. That was kind of where I was going with that.

[Interviewer] Ok! In the second part of my question, they’ve revealed your matchups. Because of EG’s performance last year (as you sort of hinted at earlier), you guys have been placed in Group C. And you’ve been given a pass in the 1st round. So, you basically need to win one game to get to Playoffs. And you’re also in the same group as G2 and KRU. So, what are your thoughts first of all on the two teams you’ve been placed with? And then also your thoughts on being placed in this group in general.

So yeah, I think we’re super blessed to be able to keep the same performance that the last EG had. Honestly, we don’t deserve it because we’re kind of like a new roster. But I mean, if they didn’t do that, I feel like it would have messed the bracket up completely. It would have just been all out of whack. But anyways, yea.

I haven’t scrimmed against KRU much. I haven’t seen any of their scrim scores, so I can’t really go off on anything about them. Honestly they’re a solid team, all these teams are solid. G2, I’ve had a bit of experience with, and they look good. I think it’s just going to come down to whoever is most confident, plays it the best.

[Interviewer] As a sort of side question, getting placed in Group C. Obviously there’s the benefit of you skipping the first round. But there is one unique downside, which is you guys don’t get that opening game to get you guys into it, and whichever opponent you’d end up facing would have that momentum coming in.

Jaw and I are the only two players who’s actually played in VCT Americas last year, so, I think we just have to instill that veteran mentality to our other three teammates. Obviously they’ve been on LANs before. But yeah, I think they’ll be fine. Supamen – is a Crossfire – he played Crossfire on LAN.

He was like the GOAT of Crossfire, NaturE has also competed on LAN recently with 100 Thieves before he transitioned over to here. And I think Apoth will learn pretty fast with the way he plays and in scrims.

[Interviewer] As you’ve mentioned, you and Jawgemo are the only ones that have played in Tier 1. So, as we get closer to the season, how have the roles been shaping up on the team in the sense of, would you be taking on a more veteran/leadership role then? A secondary caller role perhaps? I’m assuming NaturE is going to be primary caller on this roster.

Yeah, he will!

[Interviewer] Alright then, would you be assuming a secondary caller role on this new EG? Guiding the other players, etc. Could you take me through it?

Yeah, so I’m going to be playing initiator obviously. That’s essentially your job, is to guide people to initiate fights. I’m going to be doing – kind of what I was doing on 100 Thieves – secondary caller and just helping the boys out with utility. So, that’s what I’m going to be doing.

[Interviewer] Also could you take me through how all the roles are going to be sorting themselves out on EG? What is everyone playing? You mentioned you’d be playing the initiator role. Is Jawgemo going to be back on the Raze?

Yeah, so Jawgemo is our primary duelist. I’m the initiator. And Supamen is going to be controller. But obviously, Supamen, NaturE, and Apoth, they kind of overlap roles a little bit. I mean, so yeah…we’re cooking with that [grinning]. There are certain comps, that I cannot say…we have it figured out, let’s just say.

[Interviewer] You yourself have also been playing for a while. Since 2020 obviously, and I believe it was on Rise where you started catching some eyes. I believe in one of your previous interviews, you spoke about how being on that roster and team was a massive milestone for yourself. Could you take me through what is your personal motivation as a player, what drives you to play?

Other that living the money to live in California? Just a passion to compete. Whenever I played video games, I always tried to be the best, whether that was like playing Mario Kart with my cousins or just any casual game or competitive game like CS or League.

I just always strived to be the best because I figured if I didn’t try to get better at it, I was just kind of wasting my time. Obviously there was casual games where I take it easy but I’m a pretty competitive person in that sense and truly I just want to say that I was the best at that current time, maybe this one season or however many season I can be the best. That’s kind of why I do what I do.

[Interviewer] Thank you very much for telling me. Ok, you also mentioned that you’ve played with Supamen before on…Rise I believe. Could you speak more on the existing synergy that happens between you. Is that something that comes into play on this new roster?

Definitely yea. When I got back into the server with him, it was just like 2 years ago, 2-3 years ago, and it felt like we were the same – it literally felt like we didn’t have a two year break without being teammates. We slotted right in and whenever we’re on the same site, together on the server, it feels good.

[Interviewer] I also believe you’ve never worked with NaturE before, and I don’t believe you’ve worked with Potter before either. What has your experience been like working with these two individuals?

Yeah, I didn’t really know much of Nick…or NaturE beforehand. I knew of him from Gen.G, TSM, and his recent stint on 100T. And I didn’t have much to think about him. But, when I joined the team, I could already tell I really liked that guy’s calling. I like his energy. He’s a good caller in the sense that he know when to change the pace, to up the tempo, he know when we need to slow down, when we need to speed things up. And yeah, I think he’s just a super good caller.

Potter’s coach, she’s also someone that I knew of, before when she used to play on EG and then she transitioned into the coaching role. She also just won Champs, so. I have nothing but good things to say. She has a lot for us. And yeah, I think we’re going to be cooking for these next few weeks.

A Shifting Meta for VCT 2024

As the off-season wanes off, the aftershocks from the changes Riot has implemented throughout are still being felt. Among the biggest changes was a surprise decision by Riot to nerf high priority initiator Skye. Her presence in professional play had been a staple and the changes brought forth for her utility has the potential to dynamically shift many teams’ approaches to the game in 2024.

[Interviewer] In this last part of the interview, I wanted to grab some of your thoughts on some of the in-game changes that have come through. The sentinel changes – Cypher buffs, Killjoy nerfs that have both come through fairly recently. And then of course the Skye changes that have come through. Have these changes changed the meta? How do you see the landscape for 2024 shifting with these tweaks?

I feel like KJ has been kind of kicked to the dirt a little too harshly. I think they’re just trying to get Cypher to be played a little bit more. And I think the trip changes – you know some days they feel a little overtuned, some days they just feel like regular Cypher trips where you just break them, and then Cypher is just a cam and two cages. But, I wouldn’t say that changed too much.

The Skye nerfs are pretty drastic, but you just have to play her in kind of a different way, in the sense where you can’t just throw birds for fun. You kind of have to have some intent with them. I feel like getting early info for free – like Bind B long, you can’t just Skye bird for no reason. You have to actually want that information at that time. I think she can still be played, obviously we’re experimenting with other things, just because we have a few more weeks. But yeah.

[Interviewer] Speaking of changes, what are your thoughts on the current map pool? Of course, Haven is out now, we’ve got Breeze and Icebox back in. Changes to both maps and Lotus. Is this something that works well in your guys’ favor? Are you happy with the current selection of maps?

I think our players are pretty flexible and like Jawgemo can literally play anything. So, I think this map pool favors us a lot. I’m going to miss Haven. Haven was one of my favorite maps, even in competitive play, so kind of miss that one. But I think as long as my team is good on every map, then I can’t really complain about the map pool too much.

[Interviewer] As a final question, do you have anything you’d like to say to fans maybe? Sort of like closing words?

To all the EG fans out there, I understand that we’re not the 2023 version of the roster. But I can guarantee you Potter and Jaw did the best they could with the circumstances they were given. We’re going to do our best to try and reach that level in 2024. And for any fans that followed me from 100T to EG, I appreciate all your support from the bottom of my heart. I didn’t think I was going to be in franchising this year, but I’m here and I’m going to do my best to show up to some of these games with a bit more confidence than last year.

[Interviewer] Thank you so much for your time Derrek, and hopefully I get a chance to speak to you again. Good luck in Kickoff. Thank you very much.

Evil Geniuses start their VCT Americas 2024 Kickoff journey with a bye. They await their first match to emerge from the smoke of G2 vs KRU.

Follow the VCT 2024 action on Strafe.

For more information on the VCT Americas Kickoff, check out Strafe Esports' piece on the Format, Schedule, Teams and more. If one of the other Kickoffs catches your fancy, we also have previews for EMEAPacific, and China.

As an additional bonus, you can catch the VOD for the interview on our new YouTube channel. Also, check out our tier list for the 33 partnered teams (VCT China notwithstanding) heading into 2024's season.

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