"I saw a bit more of the real s1mple. He's always someone I can rely on". James Banks' interview Exclusive
— It’s been a pretty intense week for you since it was your birthday, the official announcement of Bad News Eagles, and there is still Major going on. How are you going through this?
— You know, with everything in life, you have to just take it as it comes. It’s a lot of positive moments at the moment, so I’ll take that for now and just hope it will continue a little.
— Do you feel 32?
— Oh, no, not at all. I think because we work around so many young people in a quite young industry, even though I have a son, I still play games, and I still get to be just a big kid. So, I don’t feel 32, but I still have to do all that boring stuff that a 32 yo has to do.
— I can relate. Working with younger people, you really feel more youthful. You know, all these children memes…
— Yeah, exactly. The memes are what the young commentators are teaching me all the time. I'm not up to date on some, and then Hugo, Harry, or Scrawny will say something, and then I'm like, "ah, I'm learning, thanks, boys."
— Let's talk a bit about Bad News Eagles. How did the whole thing start? Who was the initiator? How did you come to this?
— Basically, I did an interview here for the Major with rigoN from Bad News Eagles. And he was just telling me how they don't have an organization. He explained what happened with an old organization, BLINK. They couldn't come to an agreement. He was saying how their coach right now is a manager, analyst, coach, and a social media guy. And I was like: "How the f**k are you preparing for the Major? You should just be focusing on the game".
So, basically, I went for some chill time with them, just to sit with them, and I said: "Boys, I don't need anything from you, guys, but I have connections. If you want some help, I will help you". And they were like, "Oh, could you be our manager?". So we sat down, they offered to support me, and I said, "Look, I have a job. I will get paid for doing my things at the Major. I don't need anything from you guys". There were organizations, and I won't name who they are, but there were organizations that offered them deals that I would personally never in a million years allow anyone to accept. You know, it's just not a good deal.
But for them, they don't need huge salaries or anything. They got the sticker money now, and they can support themselves. So now it's about finding an organization that can take the talent they have and give them that extra level of experience. At least from my experience, I know when the org is able to offer enough or not.
— It's not your first experience in managing teams. You've been a manager for Alliance previously. Don't you think that being a talent and being a manager are two completely different things? How do you combine it, and what do you like about management?
— Before I did esports full time, I actually got promoted to a different role to be a manager. I like people, which is probably why I’m good for the talent stuff as well. So, I have a pretty good understanding of people, but also when you need to take things seriously, how you should step things up, and I felt that it was quite a good crossover. Now, we’ve seen how other people take the role and maybe not do so well in it before, but I’d say with Alliance and with what I’m doing here so far, I feel like I’m doing a good enough job otherwise, people wouldn’t want me to keep doing it. So, fingers crossed, it keeps going good.
— Do you have some goals regarding the management part of your career? Maybe one day you want to have your own organization?
— Obviously, because I’m a massive NAVI fanboy, one day, it would be to join NAVI. But I think for that, I will need to improve my speaking skills in Russian or Ukrainian quite a lot. It would have to be very increased. But, I mean, even for Bad News Eagles, if they get a big offer and they won’t need me to be their manager, I don’t care, I just want to help the guys get something, so I don’t set a goal with it, it’s more like if it’s interesting to me, I will do it. Bad News Eagles were interesting because I liked the people, we got similar kinds of attitudes, mentality, and I see a younger me in them, but back when I was a player.
— So now we know what you like the most about managing, then what do you like the most about being on stage?
— People are always asking if I prefer hosting or interviews. Hosting is great when it’s the studio events, but when it’s the arena, normally the host is not on stage. So I like being on the stage, the feeling of fans, I just came off stage now, before I spoke to you I did an interview, and I’m warm as hell, sweating, but it’s the anticipation, a good nervous feeling, and also that I can feed off the energy of the crowd.
Or, I just did an interview with rain, right? And he comes to see me, and he is so happy and buzzing, you just get that emotion. Obviously, the real special one was the last Major, when NAVI won, because Boombl4 proposes to his wife, we have all the madness, me and Sasha [s1mple] are jumping around like two kids on stage because of our friendship together. And it doesn't have to be NAVI winning, any team, you get caught in that moment of "Oh my god, this just happened," and they are over the moon, and you just feel that you are in the same boat as them.
— Another part of your job is doing elimination interviews. How do you handle it?
— I'm not going to say I'm the best interviewer, but I'm the best one at doing loser interviews because I was a player. So I know what it feels like. Now, not at this level or that stage, but I know how to handle the situation with a player to make him feel comfortable. And I think that's my most positive attribute. I can help get some of the best loser interviews from players because they don't feel like someone is just "oh, you are shit" and putting a mic in front of your mouth. I try to look at the details of why this happened, or what was the reason behind it, can they open up.
I did the one where dev1ce started crying, and I just had to end the interview. I hugged him, I let him go, and you have to be able to read a person, that's very important as well. Another horrendous loser interview was BLAST World Finals when Vitality got eliminated by NAVI. ApEX is crying, he is talking about his old French lineup, knowing he is going to have the Danish guys in there. I think because I have the personality to be able to be close with these players, it gives me an edge in it. So it's tough. Definitely not fun. If any new interviewers are reading this and they are like: "Oh, I want to do loser interviews," then just kinda feel the energy around you.
— Do you feel drained sometimes when you do loser interviews?
— Well, for the emotional ones, like the dev1ce and apEX… There was one I did a few years ago with kennyS where he spoke to me about his depression, obviously, I've had depression in the past, but those ones suck because you feel like you're also being sucked some of your life out of you. But it's fine. It's part of the job, but it's very easy to get caught up in it. So you have to just kind of bring yourself back up and go around some positivity afterward. But as long as you're cautious of what emotion you're feeling, you should be all right.
— Maybe you can give me some tips on how to make a good interview?
— Okay. Top three tips for interviews. Ask the questions that you want to ask, not what someone else wants to ask. People say, "Oh, I should ask this question, or that question". What are you as a fan interested in? Ask that, but also always try and open with a very neutral question because that's easy to break them to feel more comfortable.
For example, some players or even talent, they're not happy to do interviews as much. You know, it's like "Oh, I'm nervous". So if you can make them feel comfortable, smile, be happy with them, and also just read what they're feeling, read their emotions and try to kind of bounce off them a little bit.
And also follow-up questions. When I first started interviewing, I got to look at my questions down here, I was like "Question, question, question". But sometimes they might have said something where you can ask something off the back of it and that's always a good one as well.
— What do you think about NAVI this time?
— The best team in the world.
— Do you want them to win or do you see that they actually are capable of getting the second title?
— In all honesty, when I came into the Legends Stage, because of the situation in the world, because of the last few tournaments, I was like “I don't expect us to win”. I want us to win as the fan.
But then I saw us get 3-0. I saw B1T was just destroying everyone. Perfecto is playing better than we've seen him play at this level in a long time now. S1mple hasn't even woken up. He was just streaming before the playoffs. He was just playing a lot of CS. Now what happens to s1mple? In any playoff stage he goes into his God mode. So if that all continues, we’ll win it. We're definitely doing it. I have full confidence in that.
— You seem to be really close to the players, especially to Sasha. How is he in private? Is Sasha different from s1mple we see?
— I wouldn't say massively different. Obviously, he is a bit more open in real life, because he doesn't show everything to the fans. I believe that I’m just me, good or bad, and I show everything, but there is nothing wrong with other approaches.
There are loads of players in the world who don't show their personal lives and stuff like that. Sasha is a bit of a mix. Sometimes we see some pictures from the holidays and with his girlfriend and sometimes he's just more game focused and that's the way he does it.
But with me, I think I saw a bit more of the real s1mple. We're good friends. He's always someone I can rely on and obviously, he helped me a lot in the past.
— I was a massive NAVI fanboy. I played CS 1.6, even against these guys, when they were way better than me, not even when they were NAVI as I retired in 2007.
Now, as an interviewer, you want to be able to interview as many players as possible. Zeus never did English interviews. They f*cking won the major. And I just basically looked at him and I was like "Zeus! Now is the time we do an English interview!" It was like 4 minutes long. His girlfriend was trying to translate.
He kept saying "blya" a lot of times, he kept trying his best to do English, but he was so excited: he picked up the trophy and put his hand around me. He's never done an English interview, and it was the perfect opportunity to be the first person to do an English interview with him.
That's always going to be special because I love being able to do interviews with people I’ve never done them before. I'd love to be able to interview every player, but some of them even just pretend they don't speak English. Yes, players, I know you pretend! The players talk to me and they will even DM me. And then they aren't doing interviews."Oh, I'm not confident". I'm like, "You're a liar. I know you could do it". But sometimes they just need to be feeling more confident, right? And I'm never going to force anyone to do it.
— You've been really open to the public about your emotions and the tough times you had. Now a lot of people especially from Ukraine are having tough times. Maybe you have some words to cheer them up.
— I feel like at the moment, with the situation in the world and also with Ukraine being my home where I want to go back to, it is really terrible right now and it must be beyond what I can even understand for these people who are struggling every day and they don't know what's coming next and they probably feel very lost at times. Just find the things that can make you happy, even just a little bit. Try and focus on that and don't go against each other. Like times like this, you need to support each other, be together as people, as people who have a common goal.
I played FACEIT and there were two Ukrainian guys who were queued. I spoke to them a bit. They knew who I was and I said "So you're just fine playing Counter-Strike?". They answered: "This is all like escape from this", you know, everyone needs an escape.
Even the toughest, strongest people, you know, check on them because everyone is struggling in some way right now. And I just hope real soon that everything will be fixed, we can go back to some sort of a normal life. But mainly we just have to rebuild Ukraine to be better than it ever was!