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Heading into the LEC 2023 Winter Split, there were a number of different expectations for multiple different LEC teams. For Astralis, that community expectation was for them to be the 10th-place team. At first, that perception proved to be a truthful statement as they stood at an 0-5 record with only four games left to play. However, that perception of the team soon changed following their exciting upset victory over Excel at the end of week two. Now, after a strong week three performance, they now find themselves in unfamiliar territory as they are set to enter their first best-of-three as a team.

In this interview, Esports Illustrated’s Sage Datuin spoke to Astralis mid laner Oliver “Dajor” Ryppa on their miraculous run to the group stages and how exactly the team made the run from 0-5 to the LEC 2023 Winter Group Stages.

I want to start by asking you about the five-game losing streak and what unfolded after that. When you were 0-5 in the season, what was preparation like going into the next set of games? What marked that shift in play in the team?

Astralis Dajor: After we were 0-5, we were having pretty bad scrims for the past two weeks throughout that period. The coach told us, “we are at five losses, so it doesn’t really matter”. In my mind, if we lost four more games, there is no pressure on our part. We did not do anything more than that, and it changed our games completely. You could hear it in our voices during communication that everybody was playing relaxed. There is a big difference when you no longer feel or put pressure on yourself. That’s the main thing that changed during our win streak.

Did you yourself feel a bit tense at the start of the split because of how well Astralis performed last split with the same core of players? Was there pressure to at least guarantee a spot in group stages on your end?

Astralis Dajor: Yeah, definitely. Before the game or the first official game, we had pretty good scrims so I was pretty confident actually going into the first official game. But after the first week, I guess, I told myself or felt that I pretty much solo lost all three games. My friends were telling me that I looked like I was playing without confidence even though I said to myself that I would go into the first week with a lot of confidence. So for the first week, I pressured myself really hard. I was so stressed out, I couldn’t think, and I was just perma-inting so that was the biggest problem I had. For myself, I feel like I was working through those by the end of week two.

Did you fix it through your coach just saying, you know, there's no more pressure anymore? What was the spur to help you regain that confidence?

Astralis Dajor: One factor is that we are playing in a new format, so you are really pressured. If you have a problem, like for myself, I entered the first week and straight up inted. That is already three games out of nine, which is a crazy number of games. It mainly had to do with that. Same time, I was also telling myself that it is normal to freak out in the first week because the first week is hype. You are getting back into the swing of things, and I think I was still adjusting back to everything. The second thing was listening to my friends who were saying that I looked like I was playing without confidence. I asked myself some questions about what I am doing and refreshed my mind to play like the player I know that I am and that my week one performance doesn't define me. I remembered the type of player I am which is somebody that has fun when playing the game. I should go on stage, relax, lean back, and just enjoy my time.

Something I was curious about was your relationship with Coach AoD. He was one of the pieces of Astralis that was retained from 2022, so as somebody who has worked with him for an entire year, what has it been like to work under him?

Astralis Dajor: I can’t really compare a lot of coaches because I have only worked with two or three coaches in my entire playing career. But in the first year of LEC, I actually was working a lot with the assistant coach on Astralis and not AoD. So our relationship was not as close as it is now. Even though I can’t compare my experience with him to a wide range of different coaches, I feel he is really smart about the game, and he puts so much time and effort into it. He burns himself out a lot during the day because he is working very hard and giving it his 100 percent. He handles vod review, drafting, player scouting, individual sessions with players, and everything right. I trust him completely. After every loss, I go to him and instantly ask him about the game because I know he is right about what I do well and wrong. He is really good, he has great knowledge so that I can trust him fully. I just really like working with him.

After 2022, what reflections did you have after your first year as a pro player? You experienced a wide range of unexpected highs and lows as a pro. What was your mindset going into 2023? Was it to be more of a leader in 2023? What is different about this year compared to last?

Astralis Dajor: What I took from 2022 or what I wrote as one of my goals for this year is to take more responsibility and take more leadership in the team. I think I just had a lot of like thoughts about it. I think that in our team, no one was really stepping up. That was one of the problems we had. Prior to week three, I remember back what my goal was. So I did a lot of sessions with my coach to improve and get better at this. I did a lot of things to work on that. So even though I would say that I failed, because the split is already over, I took that responsibility more on myself compared to last year. But recently, I just stepped up a lot into that type of role. I was talking to AoD nonstop and asking what I can do to improve. As a leader, I grew very fast, and I believe that is what changed the most. Obviously, it wasn’t all because of that. It was a team effort, but on my end, that is what changed my own mentality.

It’s nice to see you embrace that leadership role in Astralis because of the goals you created for yourself to take more responsibility and be a leader.

Astralis Dajor: Definitely, if you have a team where everybody is low, and nobody is stepping up, and you are constantly losing, it’s a deep hole to be in. If nobody is that voice then you will never get out of it. For myself, I would take time to myself after I lost, but that is not the correct step in the team. If nobody is stepping up, then we would have just gone 0-9 this split. We would lose because everybody is completely down and depressed. I kept telling myself, if I really wanted to win, I have to work hard for it. It isn’t the only reason for our wins, of course, but that mentality really helped me.

So talk to me about going to the group stage. This will be the first time in Astralis’ time in the LEC that the team has made it past the regular season. What are your thoughts about that?

Astralis Dajor: I’m just really hyped. I’m excited about best-of-threes because having best-of-threes means you get more games as a team. More games means more practice and that means you get better. That is the only thing I really care about. Getting into playoffs just means you get to play more. Of course, you also have a better finish in placements too. It is nice at least being in the top eight compared to being ninth or tenth like many people assumed. But to me, it’s mostly about getting more time as a team. The break is really short in between splits too so if you don’t make it, it’s really tough. For example, I am not sure how Excel will fix their issues in such a short amount of time. If we didn’t make it, we would have little time to fix our own problems as well. It is nice to get practice and having that practice is just important for the team.