One of the Australian scene’s biggest success stories is that of Tainted Minds. Their rise from an online upset team to a squad competing in international events has been remarkable to watch over the past year and a half. We spoke to Tainted’s in-game leader Stuart “sonic” Rayner about the team’s successes, controversies and recent roster moves.

Thanks for joining me sonic. Many fans and viewers wouldn’t know that the core of your team, Tainted Minds, has been together since 2015, so could you talk us through how that VICE Gaming roster was formed?

The VICE Gaming lineup was formed prior to season 19 of ESEA open in early 2015 when myself and Liazz, someone who I had been friends with well prior, formed the team. InfrequeNt, who we had known from subbing for us a couple of times, was an obvious choice to pick up coming into our first season of Cybergamer when we had decided upon making a change in the team.

Under Alpha Sydney, you guys really started to rise up in the Australian scene. The IEM Taipei qualifiers are a big highlight of that lineup’s success. How surprising was a top 4 finish, as well as the overtime win over Immunity, to you guys at that point?

It was a huge moment for us. We were quietly confident about our ability as a team and coming into it completely under the radar made it easy for us to play our own game and upset a lot of the more experienced and accomplished teams.

Your team has a pretty controversial history, thanks to CyberGamer’s ban of your AWPer InfrequeNt. But the most spectacular thing, to me, out of that situation is you and your teammates’ willingness to stick together as a unit, even if the ban was longer than it turned out to be. What was the reasoning, for you personally, behind this decision?

It was an incredibly difficult time for us as a team. We went from being praised for our rapid improvement and our accomplishments as a young lineup, to then have being ridiculed by people who we had considered friends and had our accomplishments be discredited. The decision never felt like a hard one to make, we all trusted Infrequent and none of us believed that he had cheated. We had accomplished and come so far as a team that it didn’t feel right to force him to fight the battle on his own, he was our teammate and if he was to be banned then the team would stand by him.

In mid-2016, for the first time in almost a year, you guys made a roster change, removing kyoto for wizard. Can you, as the team’s leader, give us any insight as to why this change was made?

Kyoto decided under his own accord to leave the team, and as such it wasn’t a decision that I or the team made. I won’t really go into the reasons behind it out of respect for Kyoto and his decision, but looking back on it it was a change that we didn’t realise we needed to make and saw us have the success we had with wizard in the second half of 2016.

Following the change, additionally, you guys started winning basically every domestic tournament in sight, despite having to use a stand-in for chuch. What was the dynamic in the team at that point that allowed players like erkaSt and jokes to slot in with ease?

I think a lot of our success as a team during this period comes down to the flexibility of our team and our players. In our team I give chuch a lot of flexibility and plan a lot of our stuff as 4 so that we can let chuch’s creativity flourish. So when we were subbing him in and out, even though it was difficult, we had a system in place for the rest that the team that we could rely on regardless of who we had as a 5th and how their playstyle worked in the team.

After joining Tainted Minds, and with the full roster back together, you guys went to your first event outside the Asia-Pacific region. How was that experience and has playing against those European and North American teams improved or changed your outlook on the game from an in-game leading perspective?

The ESEA MDL lan was a weird event for us as a team, as due to some internal issues in teh team we hadn’t actually played or practiced outside of a few times post our win at PAX in November. So chuch hadn’t had too much of a chance to acclimatise back into the roster or fill him in with the stuff we had done whilst he was gone. Besides the issues of practice coming into the event, I think it was hugely beneficial for the team to play against european teams like LDLC and Kinguin. Their level of team play and strategy was at a level that you can’t really appreciate through demos and it was a huge eye opener for us as to how far we still have to come as a team.

With wizard out of the roster, dexter, previously of Winterfox, slots in. What does he bring to the roster?

It’s still early days, but Dexter has brought a completely different approach to practice and strategy that has been hugely beneficial to the team, and in particular myself as the IGL. Having someone to bounce ideas off of and to bring fresh ideas to the table for our team is crucial for us to go to the next level as a team. When Wizard left the team we had pinpointed Dexter as the guy that we wanted to come into our roster and we’re all happy to have him on board.

At the same time as dexter, you also brought in ferg as the team’s coach. What’s the dynamic between you and him in the team?

Just like with Dexter, it’s still early days with Ferg and we’re trying to find a system in which to optimise the skill set that Ferg brings to the table. Currently he is more of a hands off coach that provides feedback post-game in terms of bad habits and flaws in our gameplans that he sees.  As he gets to know our team and our players better this may change and evolve into a more hands on role.

As, arguably, the best team in the region, are you guys looking for any opportunity to go the way of Renegades and Winterfox and move to North America to compete or are you firmly planted in the Australian scene for the time being?

Our goals as a team aren’t to just remain as the best team in Australia, we want to strive to continue improving and to become a world class team. Though, in the short term we have no plans to move to America or Europe and will continue fighting to hold our spot as the best in Australia whilst building a name for ourselves overseas.

Thanks again for your time. Do you have any final words or shoutouts?

Thanks to Respawn Ninja for the interview and of course Tainted Minds for the continued support of us as a team.