At the time of this interview in Feburary, Jiri "LiNkzr" Masalin had just finished an incredibly close 3-2 victory against the London Spitfire. He seemed visibly relieved and before we had a chance to talk, he was already smiling as he sat down in the chair across for me.
What followed was an enjoyable insight into what makes someone like LinKzr tick, including an amusing detail in which he told me he wishes everyone knew how quiet he really was, how horror games are sometimes too scary for him to play, and why Crash Team Racing is the best-videogame-ever.
But first, we had to talk about the most obvious joy surrounding him and the win that brought him it:
That must have been a pretty satisfying win against London Spitfire
Yes, it was. Losing in the Stage 1 playoffs, it was... well, we knew we could do better. A lot of people thought that we were out of our comfort zone. Especially winning the two-course maps, which was our weakest point in Stage 1. It made me happy to win that kind of game where we basically swapped around our weak points and got near our strong points.
The last time you guys faced them, there's this very popular image of you; just crushed. You even responded with one of your rare tweets in which you said, "I'll remember this frustration until end of time to keep me motivated."
How does it feel to get over that hurdle, or was there ever this mental hurdle after this defeat?
I don't think I've peaked yet in terms of how I play and think in-game, so it's a constant reminder that when you're not playing well, there's always room for improvement. You should never think that you're already there, that you're the best player there is. Especially when new meta comes and there's map changes, you have to put more effort into being the best again.
If you can talk about any specifics, what are some of the things that you've been doing in preparing for this match as an individual player?
Usually, there's VOD reviewing of what opponents do. But if there's no VODs of anyone playing or there are time issues, it's mostly focusing on my own personal things and what I need to keep in mind in-game.
A lot of players in your position talk about a state of psyching themselves up before the match; a lot of mediation. Do you have any of those sorts of techniques before you get into a match
Usually, I know where my mental state is. But if I can’t hype myself up out of the game, then I use "the me" that’s in the game, in the moment, to make the team win. When the game starts, I need to see how much I can basically do - it’s where I feel comfortable.
" It's like a ticking time bomb ready to explode on the team and it's super bad to let this happen."
I trust my team a lot to win the games where I don't pop off every fight and I need to know that, if I play standard or normal and don't die, my team will clutch out the fight.
Take me through the worst-case scenario of what can happen in game.
Where everything goes kind of south for me when I personally don't play well and I start shutting down. I become unable to express myself regarding how I need to play well in-game and it builds up this frustration over time. It's like a ticking time bomb ready to explode on the team and it's super bad to let this happen.
You seem to be the type of player that really thrives to be on stage, to hear the crowd and see them out there. After a victory like this, how much of that positive momentum of that personal feeling that you've won, will carry over to your next match?
After that game, I was satisfied with myself and how I played. However, there are still things to practice, even outside of scrimming. There’s team stuff and there are personal things I need to focus on for the next game before I can be really satisfied with the victory. The team can still do really well even without me performing.
Is that something that's not intuitive for you to embrace, that the team can still do well even if you don’t have a good game when you might be used to carrying?
Team Gigantti and Outlaws are both are teams where I trust everyone and the team synergy is really good. I see how they act inside and outside of the game and I have a lot of confidence in them. With past teams, maybe it wasn't that serious for everyone else and I felt like I'm the one that has to do everything. But right now, I can trust my team to do their job and more. It gives me a reassurance that I can focus on what I need to do outside of the game, instead of trying to make everyone do what I need to do to carry the game.
" It's a balance between mechanical skill and very high intellectual plays. Small movements, small positional things, how you use your cooldowns. "
A lot of teams have said that at this level of skill, wins come down to mind games and how well a team is functioning outside of the game. But when we were first talking, you said that you weren't happy with your own play and you felt that you can go higher, that you haven’t reached a top level of skill. Can you elaborate further on that mentality?
There are always places to go higher. It’s more about mind games, but when it comes to getting even higher, there are so many decisions you're making in succession. In today’s match against London, I felt I didn't make that many good decisions. I made a lot of safe decisions, such as making sure the backline is alive and to focus their tanks enough so they can't dive. But there comes this moment in-game where you can win the fight by making really good decisions and communicating with your team.
It’s not about a perfect play but balancing the scales of when you make a risky play or a safe play. You bring this element that seems like randomness to your opponent where they can't expect what’s coming from you.
A lot of players may play very well, but they come from a safe kind of thinking. There are players like Pine who can make safe plays, but still pop off. Same for Saebyeolbe, for example. I have a lot of respect for those guys. They make a lot of safe plays look really good due to their mechanical skills.
Shadowburn seems to share that same mentality in regards to being unpredictable. If only being a safe player is limiting, would you say what you're trying to do is to be able to psyche yourself up to take the risky plays with more success?
If there is a decision between safe or risky play, it depends on confidence. When there's a risky play in-game, you never do it alone. It will be punished. An example of a risky play would be to use Widow grapple to take control of high ground in an aggressive position and you are the target and you know it, but your team plays around you while you are taking very hard shots repeatedly.
It's a balance between mechanical skill and very high intellectual plays. Small movements, small positional things, how you use your cooldowns.
As the layers of complexity grow, so does the skill ceiling. For other esports, watching older VODs can really show how advanced a game has become over time and can lead you to believe that older pros are far less skilled than current ones. Do you share that sentiment with Overwatch? That next year's players will be on a different skill level?
With Overwatch, there's a lot of mechanical things and new ideas that will be brought in. But fundamentally, it's not limiting. However, it does requires you to work with the team very hard. King’s Row is a good example of a favored tank map. In the future, there will be new heroes and balance changes and it’s just about using those resources the best you can. I
don’t think there will be a play that seems very bad, a play will only seem bad because there are new ways to answer it.
On Twitter, you are one of the players that the fans have taken a liking to drawing cartoons and anime chibi versions of you. How do you respond to that? Is it something you ever expected to see?
When I followed pro gamers in other games like CS:GO, I didn’t really see that side of support from the fans, so it was something that definitely caught me off-guard. But I think it's really cool that people are really into showing their support in multiple different ways. When you come out of a game, win or loss and you see cool drawings and a lot of positive comments to not give up, it's very nice to have that kind of support.
What is the one thing that people don't know about you that you wish they did?
I'm actually a quiet guy outside of anything other than social media and interviews. I tend to be the guy that sits in the background and wonders what everyone is doing today. I like to soak a lot of information and see what I do from that.
What is your all-time favorite movie, game, or media that you believe no one else appreciates?
I think a lot of people under appreciate Crash Team Racing. It was a really good game. It was the first game where I understood the idea of pushing yourself further. Time efficiency, cutting corners, making the best decisions. I loved racing competitively in that game.
What is the mark of a truly competitive Crash Team Racing player?
There was boosting mechanics, a lot on how you drive the cart and which cart you use. There was a lot of min-maxing that was straightforward, but there was also hidden mechanics. It reminds me of Counter-Strike 1.6 with things like long jumping - You could do so many things with the controls to make yourself go one second faster. It inspired me to push myself further.
Are you a fan of other cart racing games, Diddy Kong racing was an underrated gem too I think.
Anything apart from Crash Team Racing is bad. I play Mario Kart sometimes, but I feel like the mechanics in those games are very easy.
Have you ever tried to speedrun a game?
The only game I tried to speedrun was Dark Souls 3. I played it through once and wanted to try it again, but I'm actually very nervous when I play horror games. Dark Souls 3 was basically a horror game to me, so I wanted to speedrun it to get over it as soon as possible.
Is there a horror game that you wanted to play but you couldn't because it was too much?
I tried to play Resident Evil 7 and I stopped at the start when the one zombie just... disappeared. I'm like, "I'm done."
Any last words you want to give to your fans that now you're very nervous when it comes to horror games?
To all my fans, I still some watch horror movies. I can do those in small amounts! I really appreciate all the support and I hope you can keep cheering us on. It really helps.
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