QuakeCon 2017’s annual duel championship saw the return to competition for many of Quake’s past greats. Of all the veterans, however, the one whose ID shone the brightest throughout the main event was Sander “Vo0” Kaasjager’s, the runner-up whose only losses came at the hand of the 19-years old Belarusian phenom and an eventual champion, clawz. At the age of 32, regular people may think of cutting back on gaming, both as a recreational and and a competitive activity, due to either real life obligations or other interests. Vo0 isn’t one of those people. For him -- the best Painkiller player in the world, back in the distant 2004 and 2005 -- the release of Quake Champions and the increased prize pools presented a perfect opportunity to get back into the active side of competition and once again feel the thrills of high-stakes on-stage play.
Several weeks after his second place finish, we had the opportunity to catch up with him and ask some questions regarding QuakeCon, Quake Champions and what does being a professional gamer at 32 mean for one’s life.
Author’s note: some of the answers have been edited to make the interview easier to consume, but it’s been done with the utmost care to keep their original meaning.
De groeten! You actually qualified for QuakeCon from Europe. Obviously, you're from Netherlands, but, unless I'm mistaken, you used to live in the US. Did you have to go through the European one due to rules, or did you move back to Europe?
I did live in Dallas for about 6 years. I moved back to The Netherlands though in December of 2015, after I finished my masters degree in mechanical engineering. Currently I live in Amsterdam.
Before we continue with the Quake topics, could you share with us what you're up to in the the non-gaming part of your life?
I’ve been working for more than a year at Massarius, a digital advertising saleshouse. I work as a business analyst. Outside of work hours I tend to spend time with the girlfriend, friends and family. The little time I have left I spend on Quake and other hobbies such as kickboxing or tennis.
How much time do you actually get to put in practice between work, family and other adult-folk responsibilities?
Balancing a work/life/gaming relationship is actually quite hard. I have relationships to maintain, I have daily duties at work, and I have to practice with the team. I’ve learned that it is not possible for me to balance that completely without sacrificing at least some of them. This is actually what I did in order to prepare for QuakeCon. I couldn’t work a fifty-hour job while also playing QC(QuakeCon) at night with the team. This would leave no time for duel or my girlfriend. So, I decided to cut back on work, only working part-time, practicing duel in the afternoon, and playing team games at night.
It’s quite a sacrifice though, to completely skip out on summer activities in this city. Amsterdam is always full of events and having to say no to my friends time and time again is tough. But in the end, when you can bring home some good results, it is totally worth it.
In the two European qualifiers, you actually got to play several players from the CIS region's second tier whom we get to see only online, most of the time. How did they compare to the players you got to meet in the group stage and the earlier rounds of the playoffs at QuakeCon?
I did play a lot against some CIS players, and they are quite good. Comparing online results to LAN results is challenging, however, because some people are more comfortable at home than they are at an event. My group consisted of whaz, Steej and clawz. Whaz was at least as good as these CIS players, but I think Steej had some trouble adapting to my style. He did not handle my Anarki well on Corrupted Keep and Sorlag on Blood Run too well. The Australian scene is quite small compared to the European scene so we get to play many more playstyles.
In general, I think the scene in Europe is incredibly competitive. I predicted that the EU Regional qualifier would probably be tougher than the actual event itself, which is (for me anyway) kind of what happened.
Your match with Av3k was one of the best series at the event, but during the second map, and for the most of the first, it was a bit touch-and-go for you. What caused you trouble early in the series? Did you figure out something that helped you win, as the series went along?
My match against Av3k was very draining. He forced me to play on the backfoot on Blood Run constantly. He always had control of the important areas of the map, and forced me to hide in the Nailgun room. Luckily, Sorlag likes camping at the Nailgun room, since there’s two hourglasses, three HP bubbles, ammo and a light armor there. So he forced me in that area a lot, but was unable to take advantage of my relative weak stack because the room is hard to attack.
On Ruins, I had a relatively poor showing, I did not play well and was maybe a bit too confident since I won the first map, and gave away easy kills.
On Keep, I was able to play my kind of game more. In the fourth round, I played aggressive and was one kill away from the victory but right before I shot a kill securing rocket Av3k hit me in the face with shotgun for hundred damage and the push back caused me to kill myself. I was then stuck on Nyx vs a Ranger who can use Dire Orb freely around the map, and on Keep it is hard to gain control back. In the fifth round, I did some good early work on Sorlag and was able to rocket jump effectively and play smart and aggressive. I killed his Sorlag quite early, then caught out his Nyx, and afterwards his Ranger (who almost got me with the Dire Orb). But in general, on Keep, I was able to play a more aggressive, rocket jump style type of game.
One of the changes you made in the series is start picking Anarki early, against Sorlag. Can you give us some insight on how the matchup should be played from each side and why are you so successful in it with Anarki when even other top players fail to execute?
Anarki can be a good pick against Sorlag, just as long as you do not go in a face-to-face LG(Lightning Gun) battle. Those are almost unwinnable since the [stack disparity] is so huge and one tick of spit already does 50 damage. However, with Anarki you can chip away Sorlag’s health fairly easily, since you can quickly get in and out of fighting situations. Hit a rail, move out. Hit some MG(Machine Gun) damage, move out. Chipping away at a tank is crucial so that when they do get low you can get up close and go in for a kill. Also, my Anarki fights backwards [while retreating]. Most other players can’t do that. [smiles]
You actually played clawz in the group stage as well and managed to pick up a map there, which many wouldn't have guessed going by the final, but the series wasn't broadcasted. Give us a summary of the series and tell us what allowed you to grab a map from your point of view.
I beat him 3-0 on Ruins in a very one-sided map. He was unable to LG me well on that map because I kept distance. I knew nothing of him as a player back then, so I went in pretty confident on Keep, which was my pick. His LG was brutal there and I think I lost 3-0. The third map was 3-1 and I was again unable to handle his aggressive LG rushing style.
Now that you've had some time after the series, do you think you could have done anything different to make the final more competitive or win?
I could have done many things in the final for a better outcome. After looking back at the game I noticed I made too many mistakes. I should have set more traps instead of going for direct fights. His LG aim is the best in the world and the fact that the weapon is completely overpowered makes for a really tough situation. In hindsight, I should have stayed calm and trusted my railgun accuracy more, like I did the day before. I wasn’t hitting the shots though. When you don’t hit your shots, you lose a bit of confidence and you shut down a little. My rockets were still pretty good, but rockets against Sorlag are very tricky, especially if the opposing player seems to hit 50% LG accuracy.
I think there were also many situations where he escaped with very little health. With a little bit more luck on my side the game score would be different. But in the end, he just beat me fair and square and I’m left to the drawing board on how to beat this kind of player.
Speaking of clawz, I noticed you laughed it off when he went to trophy and didn't notice you extending your hand, but do you have any comment on the situation.
Normally when you win a match you cheer a bit, then walk up to your opponent and tell him good game and then you continue cheering. This is the way it’s done in many sports. I’ve played tennis on a high level for years and this is where I draw inspiration from. It’s the same way there. I’ve acted this way since my very first event. Maybe the guy doesn’t have this kind of competitive experience, I don’t know. But regardless, once a match finishes, the winner is supposed to shake the hands of losing player, not the other way around, in my opinion.
His team was all over him, though, so maybe it didn’t cross his mind. It doesn’t really matter to me. We talked a bit after the ceremony and it was unintentional, so no hard feelings.
You mentioned in the pre-game interview with Redeye that you were a bit concerned about nerves. How much did that affect you once the games started? Do you still get 'the buzz' from being in a final?
In my Ro16 match against k1llsen on the side stage, I was quite nervous. I literally had shaking hands after I won a round in overtime. This is quite uncommon for me. Sure, I get nervous, but not to the point where my hands are shaking. I think it was because he beat me in the EU regional qualifier a month before and I felt like I could have done better. But after that round I was really calm for the remainder of the day. I was unfazed in the rest of the match and later against Av3k and DaHanG on the main stage. It was like I was playing a normal match at home, except with a bit more at stake. I’m very proud that I was able to think clearly and execute my game plan properly even though I should have had a ton of stress being in such big matches.
The final was a different story unfortunately. The smooth flow I was in from the previous day was gone for me. I didn’t walk on the clouds anymore. Sleep was rough and I did not get into a good practice flow before the final. I was a bit nervous in the first few rounds on Ruins, but after I shook those off I didn’t really think about it anymore. Nerves in these precision games are a big deal however. In Painkiller, there is very little hitscan and it’s mostly about movement and rockets. When you get nervous in that game your aim doesn’t really suffer as much. In Quake, it’s different because it is so hitscan oriented with the LG and Railgun that being nervous and shaky really affects your overall gameplay.
So far id have brought back ZTN and DM6 from the old maps. What are your thoughts on those two remakes in particular and bringing back old maps in general? Does it give too much of an advantage to veterans, even if severely changed?
I don’t think the old maps give much advantage since the game is played in a completely different way, compared to QL(Quake Live). I would not mind seeing a map like Aerowalk or CPM3, just to see how they would play in this new game. I do think that a constant influx of new maps should be present in order to keep the game fresh though. Actual new maps, like Corrupted Keep. This makes for a very even playing field as ZTN for example is almost 20 years old.
Are there any particular map layouts, no matter if CPMA or Q3/QL, that you think would work great in Quake Champions or fit with the direction id have been going in? If there are any please give a brief explanation of what makes them a good fit.
I think maps should be a bit more vertical. All the current maps are quite flat and have two different heights at which fights take place for the most part. Aerowalk is a good example of a map that has a lot of verticality. I think that creates interesting fights. I also would like to see maps where weapon control becomes a factor. On certain maps it is possible to control weapons, but, with a five-second respawn, it is quite tricky to do -- especially on the lighter characters. Tanks can stack on health and armor and then just camp a weapon while their stack decays much more slowly.
A sentiment exists within the community that QC has brought more action-packed games to the highest level of Quake. Would you agree with it? If so, in your opinion, how much of it is a result of the round-based system with three and how much is because of the rest of the changes?
QL could be very action packed, and so can QC. However, once you’re playing for a lot of money, most people will play quite defensively. Once people don’t take as many risks, the match will slow down and won’t be as full of action. This is just the nature of big competition and I’m not sure if it is avoidable. There are of course exceptions, but, in general, this is the way it will be.
QC duel has struck a good balance between action and downtime though. I like the round system as it brings something completely new for duel and gives a pretty good flow to the overall pace of the duel. Tennis works with a points system as well and there is no time limit. It works well and there is literally always a chance for a comeback, just like in QC.
So, hopefully, Quake Champions has brought in a lot of new players to the genre. For those who've already figured the basics of movement, what practice/drills would you recommend for them to get as good as you with the CPMA heroes?
Jumping around on empty maps is something that I used to do. I’ve played CPM movement in many different games (CPM, Warsaw, Reflex and now QC) so it really is second nature to me. But what I still practice sometimes is backwards moving. This is tricky to do since, obviously, you can’t see what’s behind you. It’s pivotal that you completely understand the map layout before you even attempt to do this. You can only do so much without opponents though. The next step would be to incorporate the movement into your fights. Use it while attacking, dodging and defending. If I’m being shot and notice that I’ve gained some backwards momentum, I might be able to turn that around into a backwards escape with an injection and a light armor and within a few seconds I’m ready to attack again. However, this is a very risky play and people tend to think Anarki is OP because of it, but one tiny mistake and you’re dead.
But back to your question, the best way to practice movement is first by learning what the pro’s do, and then trying to copy it on maps by yourself, then with enemies, and then incorporate the different movement techniques in fighting situations.
The final words are yours.
Shoutout to Myztro gaming. They supported me very well during the event, during the ups and downs. Couldn’t ask for a better bunch of guys to be around with. Besides that, thanks to all the fans supporting me, hopefully next time I will end up on top!
If you want to keep up with Sander on social media, watch him play, or ask a question or two of your own you can do so on twitter.com/voogamer, twitch.tv/voogamer and his discord chat room.
Photo credits: ESL, Bethesda Softworks
About the author:
Hello readers, I go by the ID RadoN! I’ve been following different games within the esports industry ever since finding out about it in 2009. The titles that I follow closely for the time being are Overwatch, CS:GO and Quake, while occasionally dabbling in some other games as well. If you wish to reach out, follow future content, or simply know more about my thoughts on esports and gaming, you can find me on twitter at @RadoNonfire.