Credit: PGL

zonic on the new Falcons: It’s naive to expect us to go out and win straight from the get-go

In an interview with Pley, Danny “zonic” Sørensen discusses the building of Falcons’ new roster, why it was tougher than expected and why the original Falcons roster didn’t get a fair chance when he joined.

The heavy-anticipated Falcons roster was officially announced in mid-December last month, following a long building process that included a myriad of rumours, leaks and reports.

Presenting strong names in Marco “Snappi” Pfeiffer, Emi “Magisk” Reif and Alvaro “SunPayus” Garcia on the team sheet, Falcons are now ready to hit the ground running in the upcoming season.  

We have had the chance to speak with the man in charge of the roster, head coach Danny “zonic” Sørensen, to hear his thoughts about the team and how he experienced the entire process.

A tough task building

When zonic signed for Falcons on the 1st of November, the job of constructing a completely new Counter-Strike team began for the five-Major-winning coach. Despite past accolades, that endeavour didn’t come easy, zonic explains.

- I’m very satisfied with this roster, but it has been a tough task that I've been given. Joining in November and then having to assemble a strong team with the ambition of qualifying for the Major in Copenhagen has been tougher than I expected. A lot of the teams are reluctant to sell their players two months prior to a Major cycle and the first Major in CS2, zonic says and adds:

- We also knew that all the teams that we were going to talk with believed in the narrative that due to Falcons being from Saudi Arabia, they will probably pay triple or quadruple for a player. Or the narrative that the Major is coming up shortly and that if they sell their player to us, it could potentially mean they would miss out on the Major and therefore also the big revenue from the sticker money.  

- So, it was hectic, and it was definitely also a tricky process with some internal stuff as well, where our plans were getting leaked –and that didn't help with the project, so it was tough, but I'm super happy that it worked out in the end.

The first piece of the puzzle

For zonic, the first and most important brick for the foundation of his new roster was Vitality’s Emil “Magisk” Reif. A player who zonic have worked with for more than five years and won four Major titles with.  

- If you can have a team with Magisk mixed with a couple of good players, who also can pull up numbers, then you have a tournament winning team. So, he's a really important piece of the puzzle, and just I’m super happy and humbled that he decided to follow me and Lars [Lars Robl], zonic explains and continues:

- I've known Magisk for many years now, and I know what he stands for and what he's capable of. His numbers are good - might not be as good as the ZywOos and the NiKos in CS- but in terms of the positions that he has, he is by far the best anchor in the world.

Do you think you have found this tournament-winning team now? 

-I think we have a lot of potential with this roster. We have assembled a team with players from two of the best teams in 2023 with ENCE and Vitality. The ENCE core has been super solid this year with their results. Obviously, they just managed to win one tournament, but they made many deep runs and managed to find a recipe for success.  

-I definitely think that we can win tournaments. But at the same time, my first year in both Astralis and Vitality was extremely rough. We need to get to know each other. We have to create not a Vitality or ENCE playstyle, but a joint Falcons playstyle. Yes, I have high ambitions for this roster, but to expect us to just go out and win straight from the get-go will be a bit naive. And given my past experience that is definitely not the approach, zonic explains.

zonic and Magisk [to the right] have a long and successful history together

A hungry captain

33-year-old Marco “Snappi” Pfeiffer is the man, who has been chosen to lead the new Falcons team, being a player that zonic admires for his work with ENCE, but most importantly for his hunger and motivation.

- What’s most important when I look at players, whether it's in-game leaders, riflers or AWPers, is their hunger. How motivated are they? Have they already won everything in their career? Snappi, I feel, is still super hungry.

- Snappi is obviously - in what you consider in CS – old. Even though I hate that term “old”. Usually, when you hit that age you have won a lot, but he hasn't. So, I still have a lot of belief in him winning trophies, because he’s done such an exceptional with ENCE. When it comes to in-game leaders specifically, I look at leadership. Here I need a guy who will stand up for his visions, who’s not afraid to take fights or arguments with the players, and someone who is a leader outside of the server. Here Snappi actually reminds me a lot of gla1ve when he was in his prime.

“The second-best AWPer in the world”

To headline the new project and be the new AWPer, zonic and Falcons signed Snappi’s talisman from ENCE in the Spanish star sniper Alvaro “SunPayus” Garcia.

- Of course, we also had a huge interest in getting SunPayus, who has been absolutely phenomenal in ENCE. We experienced that firsthand in Vitality playing against him. I think he has elevated his game tremendously, and he’s probably the second-best AWPer in the world, or at least third-best - Maybe in a tough battle against m0NESY, with ZywOo being number one. “

- I've been very blessed with working with device and ZywOo in Astralis and Vitality. Having that X-factor AWPer, who can win you games on his own, is just super important. It just gives comfort to the rest of the team. However, I will never choose a style where we are demanding or depending on a player to carry. But it's always a nice bonus, and at the end of the day you need to kill more than your opponents to win games. That's the essential part of CS, and to have that in SunPayus is definitely a step in the right direction.

The original Falcons roster & the signing of SunPayus and maden

At one point the deal between ENCE and Falcons of the transfer of SunPayus and maden looked to be in danger with reports of Heroic trying to capture both of them, alongside Guy “NertZ” Iluz.

That sparked some rumours that Falcons now were forced to play with Miłosz “mhL” Knasiak and Laurențiu "lauNX" Țârlea, whom they had benched in early November.

Down below, zonic talks us through the process and how he experienced it, explaining that they were extremely close to losing out on SunPayus and maden before the roster lock.

- When I joined, I said that I would give all the current players in Falcons a fair chance. Did they get that? Probably not. What I first saw was the strong group of talents in mhL, lauNX and BOROS – young, raw talent which also is important in a team. But when I started having conversations with the management, they said that the team was in complete turmoil. I mean one of the players said that he wanted to get benched if I were to keep the same roster as it is. So, for me to continue working with that roster was not part of my plans.

- And if I were to be able to convince a player like Magisk to leave Vitality or a Snappi to leave ENCE, then I needed to make sure that we had a competitive team. So of course, I tried as best as possible to assemble the best roster that I could.  

- I think my plan was to start on the 1st of December with whatever roster we had. We knew at that time that we had secured Snappi and Magisk. But essentially, we couldn't get some of the players that we wanted. I was completely honest with the former Falcons roster, as mhL, lauNX and BOROS were not my first priority - not because they were not good enough, but simply because when you want to start a project like this you want to get invites, you want to play the biggest tournaments.  

- There was also an interest for us in acquiring a core from the same team, and we eventually managed to get that with Snappi, SunPayus and Maden. Getting those three was always our priority, but at some point, it looked like it was going to be difficult. And yes, at some point we had to inform lauNX and mhL that, unfortunately, they could not stay within the team because we managed to acquire SunPayus and maden at the last minute. 

How did you experience the entire transfer saga regarding SunPayus and maden? 

- I didn't experience it that much because I was not part of the negotiations, it was Grant [Global Director of Esports at Falcons], who was doing the negotiations. He sat day and night working on these contracts, and from what I have heard we were talking hours before it was too late with roster locks and all that. So, I’m just super happy that he put in the effort and got me the roster that I asked for, zonic concludes.

zonic and his new-look Falcons team will make its debut later this month when they start their campaign at BLAST Premier Spring Groups in Copenhagen. Their participation in the event was secured after the Saudi organization was announced as a new BLAST affiliate member earlier this month, alongside, GamerLegion, and Spirit.

The event is set to kick off on the 22nd of January.

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