The SC2Improve Team League Season 2 has been crazy so far and the middle of the groups are as tight as ever - with the difference of a single win denoting whether a team is in playoff position or demotion position. With only two weeks to go things are starting to tense up for a lot of teams who are hoping to reach their expectations.
Two teams will already be filled with relief however as they have had a phenomenal performance so far this season and have already qualified for the playoffs. They are AT Gaming and Vega Squadron and they currently stand with 9-1 and 9-0 match scores at the time of writing. While Vega Squadron were definitely expected to be one of the favorites in the group, especially when the beat down Cascade and Alien Invasion in the first weeks, AT Gaming were definitely not the team many were expecting to be leading Group A.
They were undefeated in the Group Stage last season - but that was when the groups were much easier. In their run so far they have taken down some of the best, including mYinsanity and Team MiA (who knocked them out last season 4-3.) They came into this as a strong team, but will be leaving even stronger with this performance. I caught up with their manager, Maarten 'Liveon' Jan Buurman, to talk about the team, goals and their general outlook in Starcraft 2.
Wardí : This is your second season in a row now where you have made it to the playoffs and you have done so in spectacular fashion both times (undefeated in Group Stage in S1 and in S2 with 2 weeks remaining.) Were you expecting such a solid performance from your team?
Liveon : I've only been the manager since this team league, actually, my first match as manager was the one we lost in the last season. I knew we had the quality to make it through, but I didn't expect to be undefeated. I think we had a bit of luck as well, there were some instances of key players of other teams not being available when we had a match.
Wardí: With two matches remaining are you confident of moving through the group in first place?
Liveon : Only ESC can still reach us, but they'd have to win vs both us and Kaos Latin Gamers who are fourth right now. I don't think they'll be able to beat us so yes, I'm confident in going through in first place.
Wardí : Group A obviously has some fairly well established teams with strong rosters. Which team, if any, in particular gave you the biggest challenge so far?
Liveon : Surprisingly enough it wasn't one of the big teams that gave us a lot of trouble. The match vs RuW was the hardest, with us being 3-2 behind and Optimus making us come back with 2 kills. We haven't played two off the bigger teams yet (aAa and ESC) so those could be trouble. I feared mYinsanity the most, but they put up a b-team which we beat without too much trouble.
Wardí : One of the major differences between the Seasons has been how in S2 almost everybody in ATcm has pulled their weight in the league - has anybody in particular stood out for you and surpassed expectations?
Liveon : I knew uThermal would be a key player, but I didn't expect Optimus to play as well as he did. Besides always being available for the team league he also won a lot of games, going 12-3 so far. With the addition of Jona and aGaham and players we already had like Elazer and Vium I think we have a very solid all-around team that doesn't rely on one player too much.
Wardí : In season one you were within touching distance of the semi-finals, taking a 4-3 loss in the RO8. How do you feel about your chances in the playoffs and are there any teams in particular you would want to avoid?
Liveon : We got protoss'd in the playoffs last season, but it won't happen again. I feel we're way more solid than last season and that we're able to take it for sure. Vega is still without a loss, but I feel they're too reliant on zergs (LiveZerg, JonnyREcco, DaNa). I have the feeling Ai [Alien Invasion] is stronger than Vega, but I still think we should be able to take them. If mYinsanity sends their A-Team it will be the hardest match for sure, but still not impossible.
Wardí : You are one of the leading Dutch-based teams in Starcraft and have continued to make a statement of this with recent player additions - how do you feel the Dutch scene is doing right now?
Liveon : I think the Dutch scene is doing fairly well, but I hope Dutch players get some more recognition in the future. There are some great players in NL that belong to the top of EU but are still unknown and I hope tournaments like the DSCL can change that. The local scene is fairly healthy, with large LANs every 3-4 months.
Wardí : The DSCL is doing a fantastic job in bringing Starcraft tournaments to the Netherlands - how important is it for a team such as AT Gaming to have these offline & online opportunities?
Liveon : Events in SC2, whether online or offline, bring the team together. Watching each other play and rooting for each other is what a team is for. When uThermal beat HasuObs in WCS we all went crazy on team speak and we were all sad when he lost to ToD. Seeing each other do well in leagues motivates the other players to do just as well themselves. Without these online and offline opportunities I don't think being in a team adds a lot.
Wardí : In general do you feel there are enough competitions/cups/leagues for players to play in either as a team or individually?
Liveon : I think there are a lot off competitions, which means the scene is healthy. A problem with that is that the smaller competitions can't get as many viewers because there is always something else going on. You have to market your tournament really well in order to get noticed in the scene, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Good tournaments will always get noticed and are the ones you want to play.
Wardí : How would you describe your experience in the SC2ITL?
Liveon : The SC2ITL is a very good tournament for us because it's our weekly team league. We played in the Dutch Starcraft Team League as well, which was more of a 'schedule your match when you've got time'. That meant that we had like 4 matches in 8 weeks. The consistency of the SC2ITL makes me really appreciate it and the high level of the other teams makes it worth it to play in this tournament. Overall we've had a very good experience with the SC2ITL and I'll make sure to try and play in the following seasons as well.
Wardí : What would be the importance to the team and players if they were able to win the SC2ITL this season?
Liveon : We already know that we've got the potential to win this team league, but where we failed last time we will make sure to consolidate our number 1 spot in this tournament. I think it would be good for the motivation of our players to win this team league, especially to prove to themselves that they're really good.
Wardí : Thanks for your time and best of luck in your remaining matches - any final words?
Liveon : As always in an interview I'll use this spot to thank our sponsors for making our team possible. People should never underestimate the importance of sponsors and what they bring to the table for a team. So thanks to CoolerMaster, HyperX, Eizo, Orcbite, Spam and Avermedia for giving us this opportunity!
Thanks again to Liveon for his time to answer our questions and we wish AT Gaming the best of luck as they prepare for the playoffs. We also managed to grab Vanja 'HighArT' Šimunec for a few questions as well!
Wardí : Clearly your roster has become very strong in recent months - but even the other favorites in Group B didn't put up much of a fight. Were you expecting more of a challenge?
HighArT : Well, we are constantly working on our roster, and i think now we reached the point that we have the strongest roster then ever before, especially with our head players like elfi and LiveZerg, our new recruit. When we saw our group, we knew we can qualify for playoffs and that our strongest opponents would be Ai of course, and Cascade. Seems like we passed these favorites pretty well, and we are very happy about it. It gives us a lot more confidence for playoffs.
Wardí : With a performance like this you must be expecting to go the distance in the playoffs - which team do you think could be your biggest obstacle in your path to victory?
HighArT : Last season playoffs was pretty much failure for us, because we dropped in early stage of playoffs. This season we expect nothing less than finals of league, and maybe to take the champion crown. On the other side of bracket we expect mYi, obviously one of strongest teams in league, when Koreans are playing ;)
Wardí : As a team building up an image how important are results in team leagues/individual leagues for exposure of the team?
HighArT : Results in team leagues are very important in SC2 world, but obviously not as important as we would like. Individual results are far more important and teams are much more focused on it. If you want exposure, results are in 2nd plan, in 1st plan is marketing and selling the product nowadays. Regardless, team results contribute to that too.
Wardí : Do you feel there are enough leagues/cups to participate in?
HighArT : EU scene is pretty good developed, there are a plenty of individual cups, but lack of better team leagues, that can gather all top EU teams, where we, as lower part of EU Major teams would show how good we are.
Wardí : What are the goals for your players individually and as a team in the coming months?
HighArT : Well this week is WCS round of 16 with LiveZerg. We are so lucky and happy that we have our representative in Cologne, Germany in top 16 WCS EU tournament. We will work on winning RSTL and SC2ITL season 2 for sure, and focus on upcoming leagues such as EES and Cascade team league, preferably new season of ATC too in near future. DH: Valencia and DH: Moscow are next big stops for some of our players too, so it's pretty big focus there too, as well as other less known local LANs.
Wardí : Thanks for your time and best of luck in your remaining matches - any final words?
HighArT : Thank you mate. I wish to thank to all my players, which are all incredible workers, and after some turbulence in team before, we finally have perfect team, squad, players and friends and good atmosphere after all, which is most important.
Other then that, big thanks to our sponsors which made this squad possible, as well as our other squads LoL and CS:GO. Thanks to Vega LLC, our main sponsor, EoReality, esportclothing and our newest sponsor NoScope. Cheers!
Again a congratulations to both teams and we look forward to their games in the SC2ITL Season 2 Playoffs.