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rapha: 2011, the big four and ZeRo4

By Duncan 'Thorin' Shields
Feb 20, 2012 16:13


ImageSK Gaming's rapha discusses 2011, the big 4 (Cypher, Cooller, av3k and him), ZeRo4's influence and more in this extensive text interview.

SK Gaming's duel star US Shane 'rapha' Hendrixson is one of the greatest players in Quake history, with two IEM World Championships, an ESWC title and two QuakeCon titles to his name. Yet despite defending his IEM World Championship title and winning QuakeCon in 2011 his year had the shadow of BY cypher looming over it, as the Belarusian handed him losses in all three of their finals.

rapha spoke in this extensive interview about 2011, the big four of Quake (RU Cooller, BY cypher, PL av3k and himself), the effect US ZeRo4 had on his development as a player and his own approach to dueling.


2011

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As 2011 closed out many seemed unsure if you had a future playing Quake, thinking perhaps you'd quit entirely to attend school. What are your plans of now?

As of right now I am still interested and want to play in tournaments, if possible, as they come up, although it may be a little more difficult than I had first planned. Due to unfortunate events dealing with family I had to be away from home for too long and I missed signups to start school this Spring. So we'll see based on what seems best: for me to start school in the Summer or wait until Fall, as to how I will be able to work out my schedule. If there end up being enough tournaments during the Summer then sure I will probably wait until Fall to get started on school then but we'll see.

As for playing Quake in general, if people think I may have decided to stop playing because my stats show I haven't been playing practically at all lately I understand that, but I'm just in a bad situation right now with internet is all. Which is why I've chosen to just take a break, since it's almost impossible to play at the moment. Of course if a tournament comes up I will find a way, somehow, to get a hold of some good internet to practice on and get prepared as usual =)

Financially 2011 was the second best year of your career and you made every single LAN final, while taking the IEM World Championship and QuakeCon titles. How do you view 2011 as a whole and how satisfied are you how it played out for you?

2011 was an awesome year for me, there isn't much that could be complained about at all. I made every single final last year and the 2 most important events out of them which I wanted the most, I won. Granted I did lose to cypher 3 times, Alex's level of play in 2011 was pretty amazing. And I find it interesting based on how it finished that if you wanted to argue over who was the best in Quake over the entire year you'd have valid points you could make towards either of us, and I don't think I've seen that in Quake before: where there's not a clear #1 player when it's all said and done.

How do you compare 2011 and 2010? Which do you think of more fondly and how did your expectations differ across each?
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Maybe 2011 meant a little bit more because I went into the IEM V World Championship looking at it like "Hey what if they somehow end up deciding that they won't have Quake back in it. I could possibly never get another chance to win it." I remember how much of a motivating factor that was to try to and win it back-to-back and potentially be the only World Champion in Quake when it came to IEM. How good it felt to be able to accomplish that amidst all of the extremely close games I had and how close I was to being knocked out of that tournament as well.

Being able to win QuakeCon for the second time while ZeRo4 was able to be there meant a lot as well. Although he still has us all beat (cypher, tox and me) with 3 QuakeCon wins, so one of us will have to win once again to tie him :P

I won't go into detail about 2010 so much but I thought I still had a great year, obviously I struggled more placements-wise compared to 2011. But to answer your question about expectations: I honestly don't think my expectations for either year was different. I'm always going into every event to win it, always setting that goal and believing that it's always possible for me to win every event. I've never understood selling yourself short on goals in tournaments. No sense mentally defeating yourself out of the title before it's even begun. I know that may sound arrogant to some people but those are never my intentions. I have so much respect for the top players in this game and what they bring to the table and what it takes to beat them that I know that if you don't have that kind of confidence in yourself and belief you can it, you won't get past them with how good they are.


BY Cypher

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Looking for patterns in the stats of your matchup with cypher in playoff series you were winning all the time for the first half of the total series you've played, you split the series around the end of 2010 and then he has won all of them since then. He has also been able to push the map difference pretty significantly into his favour now. What changes have you observed in the matchup and/or in cypher?

I think he just over time started to believe in himself more and got some of his confidence back that he had in Quake 3 when he won all of those tournaments. And once that started happening I wouldn't say he got better, as in improved in areas so much. He just started to play at his maximum potential more consistently if that makes any sense.

How would you describe Cypher's style when he is in peak form and the problems it presents to the opponent?

cypher does a better job than anyone, in my opinion, of being able to deal damage without taking any. He's always looking for ways to do damage all the time so that you feel pressured. So when he's feeling confident in his game he is doing this almost to perfection and making you have to think extremely quickly to get things done.

I'd rather not go into too much detail on how to beat him when he's playing like that. I respect Alex as a friend and don't feel it's right to just reveal everything. So I'm going to pass on that. Only thing I can say is that the most important thing is to do your best to time as many items as possible and don't forget them. That's all I'm going to say =)

Reflecting on your four lost series vs. cypher in 2011, and with map wins put to one side, which do you look back and feel were the most winnable from your perspective? Which moments stand out as a vital turning points?

ImageUnfortunately in two of those matches I was having technical difficulties which prevented me from playing at the level I needed to be at to get the job done. The two that I didn't were the upper bracket final at UGC and the Dreamhack Summer final. The UGC match of course I think would be the one I should have won. I was up 2 on hub in overtime and instead of just making sure he can't hit me while I have a 100/200 stack I decided instead that if I got the red armor with X amount of time left I'd win the game. The result was that he ended up hitting 4 rails in a row, we both died and he spawned right on top of RA while I spawned near GL, which allowed him to make up the frags because of the control he got off of that.

The other match during the Summer the only game that was out of reach was hub, it was just one of those games where he hit every single shot, which crippled me from being able to make any advance on trying to regain control, it was impressive. He beat me on t7 in both of those matches, for the longest time he hadn't been able to beat me on that map. The difference was that when he's out of control with no armor he's started to play the map a lot better at being able to not be seen until he gets just enough to get back in. That's the biggest difference I saw in his game on t7 in those matchups compared to the past.

Also one thing I remember from Dreamhack Summer on the second map, toxicity. What should have been a routine kill and further grasp of control on the map ended up being him hitting every single plasma ball and taking almost no damage. Was one of the craziest plasma kills I've ever experienced on that map, but I shouldn't have been surprised: it is cypher who pulled it off after all =)

Has the inclusion of toxicity into the map pool had an effect on your matchup vs. Cypher? Who does the map favour? Do you like playing it? How does it suit your strengths or cypher's?

Hmmm I don't really know how to explain how the map suits my strengths because most people would think I'm not good at or don't like fast maps, but I love hektik and I've had very good results on both maps. What I can say though for cypher is that he seems to do a better job dealing free damage on toxicity than almost anyone right now. I don't think it's a deciding key factor in his wins over me this past year, as in that's not the main reason or shouldn't be looked at as the main reason. Granted I lost twice on the map but I don't feel he's leaps and bounds ahead to the point where it becomes a huge factor.


RU Cooller

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If the fate of the world dependended on you coaching Cooller to a win over Cypher what tweaks would you recommend to his game when he faces the Belarusian?

Just like the answer I gave for a previous question I can't say too much =). The biggest thing about Anton is that in that matchup though he needs to believe in himself and stop thinking that the worst is always going to happen to him in every game. From a technical aspect, I guess he just needs to be more willing to go for a kill sometimes instead of worrying about the items.

You've been involved in so many classic close games with Cooller and it seems from the outside that they become games within games within games due to how well you know each other's styles and strengths. How is that matchup from your point of view?

I would definitely have to agree with that assumption. Almost every match we've had the games have been so extremely close because of the fact we know each other's styles so well and our decision making processes. Rach time we play each other we're trying to do something a little different, throw in those wrinkles to try and throw each other off. Do something neither of us has seen the other player do. In doing so we both seem to manage to pull off situations which you normally wouldn't see us pull off, because of that surprise factor.

What is it like in those close games vs. Cooller when you're going back-and-forth? To what degree is it stressful or intellectually stimulating?
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Most of those games I've had to play him in have also been in the highest of stressful situations, being semi-finals and more importantly finals of tournaments. It takes every part of you to stay focused in those situations, with all the pressure of realising one mistake could cost you everything and you won't get a chance to make up for it. We're going blow for blow outwitting each other with good positioning, different traps or nice shot angles one of us hasn't expected. Even after being set back like that instantly in our minds trying to turn the situation back in our favor.

Most of what happens during the game mentally and emotionally for me is indescribable, just can't put words to it. I can't speak for him but I know that every time I've managed to beat him it's been a mixed feeling of relief and accomplishment. You just feel good about it because of how close our games almost always are in the sense that either of us can take them. Being able to be the one who did. He's probably felt the same when he's beat me but you'll have to ask him that yourself :)

Despite Cooller only winning one of the seven maps you and he have played across your two IEM World Championship finals those were some of the most consistently close maps in finals history. Looking back on them now is there a map you feel like you just squeezed out? One where he could feel like he had a really good chance to win it?

Even though on t9 I got the telefrag right before the end to seal it I planned on either that happening or I was going to kill him probably right as overtime hit with a very good stack. So in my eyes it would have been very difficult for me to have lost that game with the situation I was in had it gone into overtime anyways.

Honestly though the t7 from last year and dismemberment, t7 I was down and out of control for so long a couple of times and pulled off just the right reads at the perfect times to keep myself alive and keep giving myself a chance to get back into the game and win it. The same with dismemberment, I was probably out of control for 6 minutes or more at one point while only giving up a frag, and how I managed to pull off the kill to take the lead based on a read from what I'd seen him do all game and what I felt he would least expect, and to have it work out.

Both games were just so close in their own right. I would maybe pick dismemberment because I felt that at that tournament he was the best player on dismemberment, and I don't think I had played it that entire tournament up until that game in the finals.

There was a time when Cooller was by far the best player at calculating when to make his move. It seems as though he still heavily relies upon this aptitude for calculation when he is in a one frag deficit game with time running down. Where other players often feel pressured by the clock and try to force the action, not wanting to risk only having one shot to get back into the game, it seems as though Cooller frequently holds off engaging the enemy to get items and instead picks out one spot in which he can attack and potentially tie up the scoreline.

What is your analysis of this approach to those situations and do you ever apply it yourself? The dismemberment game you mentioned previously seems like an ideal example of it, where he had everything setup for one final engagement and then you surprised him and it foiled his plan.

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From what I can tell his mindset, in that situation, is he's trying to set himself up for the perfect overtime every single time. Where he gets a good kill while having maintained the control the entire time within the last minute, so that going into overtime he has the most favorable position in terms of map control. When this works out, it's great. Best position you can be in. However, this strategy can sometimes eat up precious seconds off of the clock in which you could be trying to deal some damage somewhere and chase the guy down. Or could leave him being able to go to one item while you choose another.

With this strategy you're pretty much banking on the one fight you're deciding that you're going to take. You HAVE to win it, which can work out if you play your cards correctly but if anything goes wrong, that was your only chance. I think that's why most players don't do it the way he does. At the end they're trying to give themselves two to perhaps four chances within the last minute to deal damage and possibly get lucky enough to get a clean kill.

I've taken both approaches before. Both working and both failing. I always try to look at it though from a mentality standpoint. Hey it's not a waste if I force this game to overtime. Even if I'm really weak I'll still be giving myself a shot to win this game. Sometimes I've gotten the feeling Anton just hasn't been willing to do that. Obviously I could be wrong, but that's just my opinion on what I've seen.


The early days

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Let's go back to the beginning of your time in Quake 3. The basic storyline I've seen explained was that you had a bad internet connection situation and were unable to play actively, so you would watch POV demos of the top players. Please describe how things were in your own words.

Well my parents were divorced and so the situation was that at my Mom's place we only had dialup, which wouldn't even work properly half the time lol. And at my Dad's he had internet and I had just started dueling about a month before QuakeCon in 2003. But at the end of that Summer my Dad moved from Illinois to Florida and I stayed in Illinois. So from 2003 up until late 2007, until I finally got internet at home, the only times I ever got to play were when I would go spend a week or two with my Dad. So I ended up only getting to play 2-6 weeks out of each year for almost four years.

Inbetween that time it's not like all I did in my spare time was watch demos but when I would find out about big events that were coming up, afterwards I would download the demos and watch them when I could. I knew that if I wanted to get better I needed to see what the best were doing right and what I could improve on, and even though I would go months at a time without playing I would be better than before every time I was able to play some again.

The tournaments I went to from 2003-2007 were QuakeCon in 2003, QuakeCon in 2006 when they had Quake 4 and CPL Winter 2006, where I got top 12. Then I was able to play in two or three tournaments in 2007 for Quake 4, something along those lines.

How old were you in 2003?

Just going into high school so probably like 13-14.

Did being restricted from competing fully but being exposed to the play of top level duelers make you more motivated to immerse yourself into it once you got the opportunity? Do you cherish the chance to win titles and play the great players more because of it?

I kind of looked at it in the sense that hey I'm going long lengths of time without being able to play and getting better every time I come back to it, and it's really hard to explain but I just somehow knew that I could end up having what it takes to be at the top like the greats like ZeRo4, czm and Cooller. Somehow I knew even when tournaments looked really bleak for a while that if I stayed patient I was, somewhere down the line, going to get my shot at doing so. I think with how it's all worked out, I've been so blessed and grateful with the oppotunities that I've been given to play because of what you said above. For so long I had no opportunity to do so, so I've always had this attitude that I need to make every single chance I can get count and never take it for granted. Who knows if I would have had that same attitude if I didn't have to be in the situation that I in was for so long.

Whose demos did you most enjoy watching during that early period? What quality stands out for each player as you think back now?

I'd say US ZeRo4 and RU Cooller, and someone who I also watched a lot actually was RU LeXeR. They all played differently but there were good things to be seen from each player. The fact that those three normally had the most demos from which to choose from is probably why I watched them, also helps that they each won tournaments.

I felt like LeXeR had a craftiness about him that some players didn't. He would try to out-think his opponents in a way that set him apart from other players.

ZeRo4 I always remember for aggressive play while in control but at the same time rarely overextending himself. Obviously learning the importance of how much the RL helps out since that was arguably his best weapon.

With Cooller it was definitely his focus on timing and control, and his dodging that set him apart from others. It was interesting to me to watch him back then because most of the time he did everything while barely using rail, that seemed like a weakness for him back then but he would still manage to beat players while barely using it, which was impressive.

What was your style of play back then? Did you always have an analytical approach? What did you pickup from those POVs of pro players? What did your game look like prior to meeting ZeRo4?

Back then I tried to look at what they were doing out of control more so than in control, and I would look for different types of shot angles and overall when they would decide to attack. I realized how important positioning was early on and tried to focus on positioning and the advantages it gives you. As I would get better I would watch myself and compare and look for things that I could do that others didn't, and still add things to my game that the pros did best that I wasn't doing. Just prior to meeting ZeRo4 I was starting to get a really good grasp on proper decision making. Doing my best to always make the right choices.


Learning from US ZeRo4

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When I've heard you speak about the period when you meet ZeRo4 and began to practice with him you've spoke about the importance of encountering his mindset and approach to decision-making. What was different about his mindset and your own at that time? How did your practice and discussions shape your style and its development?

I remember a lot of it was him explaining to me, after we'd practiced, situations where I would do something that seemed smart and I would get the kill or a risk or something that I would take ahe would show me that yes it worked out then but what if it hadn't. The cost of failure 1-2 mins down the line. The cost of trying to be tricky too often. Really preparing me for LAN play in terms of the mindset I needed to have. Granted I did have some LAN experience but not the kind where I was making it far enough to win the event, and the pressure that keeps getting added and the rash consequences for failing in certain battles on LAN which online don't seem so bad to take. On lan you can be devastated if you're not on top of your game.

ImageThe other thing I remember him going over with me most was my defensive game, because he showed the importance of hey what if you're having a bad game/day you need to still be able to find a way to overcome it and do certain things and be thinking and taking certain kinds of risks to win when you're outmatched, because you're not playing up to your normal level.

There were a lot of things I added to my game but of course I still took some approaches from myself so I mixed the two the best I could and it was a lot of having to set aside any ego there was and really look at and think about what he was trying to tell me, and see that yes it was the better thing to be doing and having to force myself to trust it even though I may have thought one way about it for some time, and change that part about my game.

Beyond the period where ZeRo4 was playing with you for SK to what extent have you continued to discuss Quake with him during the rest of your career? In what kind of circumstances does it occur and is it more general principles or is there opponent-specific material involved?

We've definitely talked about Quake even after he stopped playing again in 2008. When I would go to other events he would try to encourage me and give his thoughts on how he saw other players who were playing at the time, and we would go back and forth on what to do in certain situations that players could put you in with how good they were. Obviously some of the stuff he would say I had already thought about on my own time but I never turned down his advice, always looked at it as refreshing to look at situations from more than one point of view.

As he had started to come back and play more I would help him with his game to get him back to the level he needed to be at. We would just feed off of each other with what needed to be changed, especially this past year with how the game was evolving. They increased the jump height and added chain jumping into the game, it made it faster. Not to the point of being super fast like cpm or anything but it's definitely had an effect and made the game faster and more reliant on aim than it was say in 2009 through to mid 2010.

Looking at the all time great Quake duelers there some who may have a very high Quake IQ but their knowledge was largely intuitive, built up from experience or practice rhythym. The way you speak about ZeRo4 he seems like a very reflective player whose game involves a lot of analysis. If one went to a great basketball player like Kobe Bryant they could no doubt spend weeks describing their tricks for setting up a shot using pump-fakes or footwork based on what the defender will do, due to how much time they've devoted to thinking about each situation they face. Was ZeRo4 a deep thinker in this sense? Do all the great players shae that kind of mindset?
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I think so for the most part but some players seem to play more analytically and others seem to play more in the moment and by feel, and I think you can see it in their play. ZeRo4, for example, even though he does do a lot of thinking about the game and thinks very creatively, most of that comes while playing someone, spur of the moment ideas just click for him. He's one of those in-the-moment kind of players and there's a lot of stuff that's thought about during the game at any given time, most especially during fights, based on players's dodging habits, current health/armor/weapon situation etc. All sorts of key factors fit in as well as bad/good situations you're currently put into.

Sometimes it's just really difficult to explain what goes on in words and I think responses would vary from each player. I think that would be evident based on the multiple styles we currently see in the top 8.

When US ZeRo4 was still in his prime he would discuss Quake with US Makaveli, talking over game situations and approaches. Makaveli was himself mentored by US Thresh back in Quake 2, breaking down his game while watching demos and talking about the mental approach. In this sense one could say you're a part of an American Quake dueling lineage, inheriting concepts or approaches to the game from the previous generations. Is this something you've considered in light of your relationship with ZeRo4?

I didn't know that piece of history actually but in terms of ZeRo4 yeah I've looked at it that way and I've been very grateful for it. I've looked at it like he knew he wasn't going to be able to play as much with real life stuff going on and saw I had the potential and wanted to at least be able to see someone take what he'd given them and do something with it in his stead.

I have no clue what will happen with duel in the future and what opportunities will arrive. I know that it's not very likely that I'll be able to go to every event possible even if there's a really good new game that comes out down the line. So who knows, maybe I'll end up doing the same for someone else and help pass along my knowledge and the intangibles you can't learn anywhere else to some new player down the line, only time will tell =)


US rapha's approach to dueling

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How do your mind process the next course of action you'll take in a game? Is there an internal voice telling you what to do and how to react? Do you visualise future scenarios in your mind's eye? Do you actively focus in one thing or allow your intuition to dictate what the next move should be?

It's pretty much everything you just listed haha. For the most part though it's a quick simple play-by-play way of thinking. Of what's going to happen, what needs to happen and what's the worst that could happen. I try to see all the options available as quickly as possible. Then there's some times where it comes down to a gut check decision where your head says one thing but your gut feels another way, so you go with your gut instinct instead. Even if it seems crazy, you just know it's going to workout somehow.

Provide an example of the latter approach being applied in a significant tournament game.

One of the most important of times it has happened and that sticks in my memory the most would be the third place decider at ESWC 2008 when I was playing Jibo on dm6 and everything that played out within the last 5-10 seconds. I had a gut feeling so strong letting me know that if I did this, this and that, that he would decide to wait the time out at a certain spot and wouldn't expect me to attack from where I would be coming from, and hey I ended up killing him with like .01 seconds on the clock :D

Many pro players claim not to get nervous anymore or feel any intimidation playing against certain opponents on the big stage. From the biographies and interviews I've read with world class sportsmen most say nerves never really go away and that it's more a case of managing them or redirecting the energy. What kinds of emotions do you feel in big games and what is your approach to dealing with them?

I dunno if I believe that you get to some point where you're never nervous when it comes to big matches, or maybe that's just me who still gets nervous. As for myself, in interviews I've had before I don't hide the fact that I get nervous in some big matches still. It really comes and goes to be honest and I just feel it in different ways than I used to when I was first being exposed to high pressure situations and matches deep into tournaments.

I think the most common feeling when you start getting into those kind of situations is being extremely uneasy, your mind is thinking way too fast, and probably the most damaging one is being jittery to the point where you can't execute everything properly. Fortunately for me the jittery portion seemed to be the quickest to go away, I haven't really had that for a very long time. If I have during a match recently it's probably only happened for like a 10 second period before I've collected myself and just calmed down. I get more nervous now before matches than I used to during matches.

The biggest example would be last year's IEM World Championship final, for about 50-60 minutes leading up to the final with cooller I was the most nervous/anxious I had ever been. But once we got back on the stage, sat down and finally got into the game all of that melted away. Even at quakecon, I only felt really nervous when I woke up and was preparing for the day. Once I got into the TDM match in the morning I didn't really feel nervous at all for the rest of the day.

ImageMost people look at being nervous as a bad thing but sometimes I've encountered it as being helpful. There are times when I've played and I've been nervous it's been to the point where I just get this huge sense of knowing that this is my last chance, if I lose this game I'm out and I'll never get a chance to redeem myself. So it helps me in-game to make sure that I'm not being too confident in certain situations or taking risks that I shouldn't. Kind of helps me to think twice about everything that's going on. As far as overcoming extreme cases of it, I think it just comes down to the will power of that person, I can't really give any tips to help others through it. It's something you have to find out on your own.

In a game with a lot of engagements how possible is it to aim with maximum focus while simultaneously making decisions on what to do next or planning the next course of action? Is there a price to be paid for focusing on one or the other based on the player's own strengths? How does this relate to your own style of play?

Being able to strategise while you fight can definitely be accomplished but from what I've seen it can be very straining and can only last for so long. If this type of playstyle keeps up during the course of the game players start making more mistakes because they're thinking of doing damage too much and end up overextending themselves, or sometimes just forget certain options the opponent has of escape or what it would mean to die in a certain situation.

Even though I've just said that it can definitely be done trying to balance out both game plans I also think it's evident in certain players's styles that they struggle with one or the other. And to extend on that it might only be on certain maps as well. Since it's very difficult to balance both most of the time players will choose their one strength for the most part. Either being aim, so they focus on getting all sorts of angles to do damage all of the time, or whether it be always trying to calculate steps ahead and have exit strategies in case something goes wrong.

I know for myself that some games I've played, based just on the way I feel that day I've favored one over the other. Almost always the strategy portion in my case. I've noticed the same in cypher, for example, where some games/days he is just so on he focuses on the aiming and damage output portion of his game. Other days he doesn't feel so comfortable aiming so he switches to focusing on strategy and making less mistakes.

Does that balance contribute to why in comparison to most of the other top players your aim is rarely considered a strong point for you?
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I think so in some sense. Most of the time it comes down to the fact that I just don't feel comfortable or 100% into the game in terms of my aim. So when I know that I'm not in a rhythym like I want to be I really try to focus on making no mistakes and eliminating as many options as I can from my opponent. Most of the time I try to look at who I'm playing against and what his greatest strengths are in his game. During the course of the game I'm trying to force them as often as possible to have to take fights I feel they aren't as comfortable with and avoiding fights that they're obviously very strong at.

But I've most definitely had games where I just get in the zone and it's an amazing feeling, you get to the point sometimes where you just know you can do just about anything you want and impose your will on your opponent. Those are the games where I do engage in more fights and my aim is pretty on, and I do play more aggressively because I feel like I can. But I always try to make sure even when I feel that I'm playing that well to not get overconfident and just keep a very sound game and make proper decision making.

It seems as though your aim at times becomes your secret weapon against specific players. They go into the game expecting you to gain strategical advantages and try to setup tricky traps, being as that's what your style is famous for, and so they end up assuming their aim will be better overall and that they'll hit certain shots during the course of the game. So they put themselves in situations where to get back into a game they only need to hit the shots they already expect to and thus when you hit shots rapha isn't "supposed" to hit then it throws their rhythym off completely, since their mindset had been that they'd hit those shots and then move onto the next part of their plan.

A good example would be in the QuakeCon 2011 final vs. FR strenx, that scenario seemed to be play out a number of times.


I have definitely had my share of "zis is rapha" moments :P. Let's say the game against strenx for example on t7. Yes there were a few kills where I really hit some nice shots which turned fights and what not, which led to kills and control. And some would say "oh wow he was totally lucky there!" and I can agree with a few. Yet there were other situations where I had totally calculated the risks, what I was doing, thought everything out and knew I would live with low health at times but would be able to retreat to the stacked portions of the map at the time.

ImageOne key example in that game was a fight where I was at the corridor from RA and mega going into the mega room. We were both stacked and he had maybe a bit more health/armor, but not by much, and decided to drop down and attack LG on LG. I already knew hey if he attacks me I can retreat and do tons of damage because I have great positioning and for him to keep attacking me his dodging will become extremely predictable and easy to hit, and it was and I barely missed anything. By the time I got into the RA room I had 84 health and he pulled out the rail and was trying to rail me as I would go get RA, so I quickly knew that, with how much damage I did, he wouldn't survive much more LG. He won't expect me to push into his face for an attack either with his position, which I knew based on the railgun sound.

I knew it would go 1 of 2 ways: A) it would be great, he would miss and such an easy kill. Or B) I would get hit with a rail, live with 4 health and still get the easy kill. Then just quickly collect the health and armor in the area, easily putting me back to 54/150 before he even has a chance to try and engage me off of the spawn. So what seemingly was a very lucky situation, where I had only 4 health left at the end of the fight, and was just some random fight where I got lucky, was all quickly thought out and went according to plan. Would have been very difficult for me to mess it up with how he was overextending himself in that situation.

That was an extremely long winded answer but going back to part of what you asked: I think sometimes the shock factor of some opponents failing in certain situations against me they were sure to win also comes down to the fact that at the beginning of games I normally don't play at my best. As the games go further I get more warmed up and start to feel more comfortable, so sometimes how I've been playing during the first half of the game and situations I'd been losing can be deceiving. On the flip side, it's not like I haven't run into that problem myself, playing against various players at times, so it goes both ways.

PL av3k told me you were the first top player to calculate your opponent's health points precisely, beyond just vaguely knowing that you'd hit him and which items he might have. Were you the first to your knowledge? To what extent do you do this in games? How successful have the other top pros been at adapting to including this approach in their styles?

I don't think I was the first, I think probably cooller or czm were. They were in my opinion the first and best at it at in their respective times. I did notice how much of an impact it could have, it lets me know when I should or should not engage in certain fights. The advantage and disadvantage of certain positions based on his/my health/armor stack. I really try to do so for the entire game. I've had plenty of conversations with av3k about Quake, and I think now moreso than 2009 and the beginning of 2010 he really trys to do the same.

Doing so just gives you more reassurance because I know that the times I've lost track of it and there's situaitons in a game where if I had only started to push offensively with the situation I was in I could have easily won the game but I didn't, because I didn't know his health/armor, and it ends up costing you. I think players started to see the gravity of it over time and have been trying to do a better job at it.

The "five steps ahead" comment has been repeated a million times with varying degrees of humour depending upon the specific moment. With that said most would agree you're one of the best players ever strategically and that does seem pretty apt as a description of your style when you're at your peak and in terms of the storyline of your career. Is what you've done since the comment what you meant when you originally made it? Does the way that narrative has played out over your career feel surreal?

ImageI agree the comment has been used quite often as a joke and even when I made it I was scorned so to say, which I can understand from the perspective that at the time I hadn't won anything yet. But I wouldn't take the comment back, it really does describe how I try to play the game, the very core of my style and I was just trying to give an honest description of how I try to play the game. I think it does have somewhat of a surreal quality to it, but I try to leave that kind of stuff up to other people to decide. To me that's kind of like the question of who do you think is the best player, do you deserve such and such merit over someone else or vice versa. All I am willing to say on it is that I am more than happy out how it's turned out so far =)

If every rapha demo/VOD was to be wiped out tomorrow but you could save one series to best showcase your style of play in Quake which would you pick?

Tough choice to make because I've had so many really close matches. I would probably have to pick the series between SE Spart1e and myself at QuakeCon in 2009 or cypher and I at the IEM IV World Championship, where in both situations I had to come back from being 0-2 down. Probably because even though I would have had every excuse, like anyone else, to end up losing after going down 0-2 in both series that I didn't accept it and I continued to believe even when the odds were stacked against me, and managed to make it go in my favor.

On the flip side of that I'd probably have to say for someone watching a set of me losing I would probably recomend the upper bracket final at UGC against cypher. Just how well he had to play those last 2 maps and how close he was to losing the hub but managed a win, was impressive. There are obviously maps I've lost against various opponents I could recomend but I think I'm just going to stick with the sets theme.

There's a quote from JP Miyamoto Musashi, a famous Japanese swordsman and philosopher, which says "if you know the Way broadly you will see it in everything". I take that to mean to the extent one works to gain mastery in an area of life or discipline one will see how it can be applied to other areas and endeavours, so that learning can be accelerated in that respect as a result of that past experience. Have your experiences found this to be accurate? Is Quake/gaming a viable avenue for developing one's human potential? What degree of satisfaction have you derived from your own growth as a player?

I would have to agree, I can definitely tell that there have been positive ramifications from how I've had to approach quake. I've had to learn how to set goals and not just set them but continually recheck them and see my progress on how or what I'm doing to make them come to fruition. The mindset and attitude you have to have in order to make those goals that you want to achieve happen. You have to focus on not accepting anything less than what you want and find a way to make it happen.

ImageIt's really helped as well in terms of knowing when I have a passion for something I know I can be at the top, be better than I've shown myself to be. Getting to the point in my mind where it's not just believing that I could do it, but knowing that I can and then looking at it as ok how do I make it happen. Another big thing I've been taught is keeping my ego in check. Always trying to look at others for inspiration and not denying yourself those avenues because you think to yourself that you're better than that or them. Always realizing that even though you've succeeded, don't take anything lightly because it could have been you who failed to make it through or fell short of your goal.

All of these mindsets and determination I've seen that it takes to win, can most certainly be applied to things outside of Quake. I know for sure that when I decide what I want to end up doing that I will pursue it with everything I've learned in terms of character and determination that I've obtained from Quake.

Most ordinary players and even the lower tier pros complain that when they go to non-BYOC LANs they can't perform close to the level they can from home. For the elite players though I've always gotten the impression that they were able to play their absolute best in big tournaments matches, reaching even higher levels of play than they could from home, despite the environmental difficulties. What accounts for this pattern?

I think some of it, for example, comes from let's say you see these players who play really great online, what almost seems flawlessly. A) they're in the comfort of their own home. B) most players like that have a great monitor setup, very smooth connection and just a great playing environment overall, but there is a downfall to being in such a situation. A lot of those players develop bad habits playing online by forcing fights which work online but more often than not on LAN either fail or are punished extremely. Which you end up seeing on LAN when some of these players really struggle because they're not used to being put in certain situations.

Also most of the time monitors at tournaments aren't as good as those players who play on crts at home and such. That also comes into play. If we look at, for example, Cooller, cypher, ZeRo4 and me:

Cooller for a long period of time, because he lived in Russia back in Quake 3, would have to play players online in Europe where would be outpinged all the time.

cypher has been in the same situation.

ZeRo4 used to have to deal with being on the West coast and having to play with 60+ ping against good players, since they were on the East coast or in the Midwest.

I haven't always had the best connection either and I've purposely used monitors which are ok but not fantastic because I know at tournaments they don't tend to be amazing.

All of us have had to play in conditions worse than others, so I've always gotten the feeling when being at LAN that for players like that it's like a breath of fresh air. Everything just feels so good to them, compared to playing at home, that they play at their best. There's obviously a lot more that goes into it but the last point is probably that the players that do their best on LAN and come up when it counts have a very strong will and don't tend to get as emotional. They are able to put things behind them when they fail and just move on quickly to the next step at hand.


The big four

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In a world where rapha didn't exist the other three elite players (Cooller, cypher and av3k) may well have split all the titles between them, since there have been periods of time where it was A>B>C>A in terms of how they matched up with each other. Yet since you do exist you've taken up so many of those titles which likely would have gone their way and so it's perhaps easy for people to think less of these players.

Also when someone has won a lot there can feel like there was an inevitability that he would win again over the same player, even though the challenge to him might have been just as great or bigger the next time they faced each other. How would you describe the situation of battling these great players?

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Of course it was always in the air whenever I was going to play any of them. I never looked at any one matchup as easier than another. However, my mentality going into each matchup was that I always knew I would have an easier time doing certain things in-game against each one, that I wouldn't against another. Best way to describe it is like a scale where even certain strengths I could enforce against one were made up in other areas that they were better in than the other two players, so even though they have all been great in their own right it's just been different.

And the scale to me seems to meet just about in the middle, every single time. I think the main thing that's tipped it to my side so many times has been being able to stay very composed for the most part and my will to win just seems to have been a little bit stronger.

Looking at the big four names in QL one could take components from each and build the perfect Quake dueler and yet individually each has a key weakness which tempers their strengths from being overwhelming against all opponents. What is your perspective on how the elite players play to their strengths and cope with their weaknesses? It seems as though the elite players are more aware of their weaknesses and how to battle them, where the lesser players rely on their strengths as a crutch and when they aren't there in full force are consumed completely by their weaknesses. What do you think?

I think the difference, for example, between the top 4 (you could even say top 5 now because of strenx) and the bottom half of the top 8 is that the top 4 seem to be more prepared in what to do when they are having a bad day. They do a better job at finding a way around their weaknesses, avoiding them in the game like the plague. And maybe it also seems that way because even on an off day most of the time the top 4 might have less weaknesses to try and manage. Whereas the bottom 4 have a bit more to juggle with, so it's harder for them to overcome a bad day.

As for myself, maybe it seems this way because I try to focus my game on not making mistakes and being able to beat the other opponent when his aim/confidence and other factors are currently better than mine. Confidence meaning how freely they move around the map. I try my best to eliminate as many situations as possible that I feel my opponent will have an advantage in. I try to make the game as difficult for them as possible.

Now that doesn't mean that I try to play extremely defensive all the time or one specific way. There are times where I just know that if I am able to speed up the tempo of the game it will make it very difficult for said player, so I do my best to try and put myself in situations to cause more engagements. Other games I feel that a certain player might not play as well if I really slow things down. Obviously the biggest weakness for me seems to be the consistency in my aim, so when I am feeling on you can definitely see me expanding my game in what I am trying to do offensively and which battles I deem strengths for my opponent based on how my aim is. I hope that sums that up.


The end

The final words belong to you.

As far as shout outs are concerned of course I'd like to thank SK Gaming for supporting me and believing in me. The support DE Min-sik (reis) and DE Alex (TheSlaSH) have shown and the confidence they've had in me has been greatly appreciated.

Also I'd like to give a shout out to PL Carmac, this one is long overdue. There have been many times he's supported me when it's come down to my morale or just trying to make sure I'm focused and sure of myself. And has said things that yeah I already know but sometimes even if you already know it, hearing it from someone else can go a long way. Thankful for the support he's shown me in the past not just as a player but as a person and grateful for his friendship.

Also thank you for the interview Duncan, you always have very insightful questions from a point of view you rarely see others take. Makes it interesting :)

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(Photographs courtesy of Dreamhack, ESL and others)


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