When it comes to gaming, Aleš Kněžínek doesn’t mess around. You may know him as Freeze, the infamous ADC wrecking ball and first Czech native to play in the European League of Legends Championship Series.
Having been a member of 10 professional teams worldwide over the years, it’s safe to say that Freeze’s career has been a long and storied one. But guess what? (SPOILER ALERT) None of those stories involve instant glory or easy fame.
From sneaking Diablo sessions on his brother’s computer at 6 years old, to working around his parents’ limit of three hours of computer time per day in high school, to overcoming debilitating tendonitis in both wrists, Freeze’s relationship with gaming has turned him into a powerhouse for powerful and effective ways to (really) improve as quickly as possible.
Put simply, his whole philosophy around gaming is built on the idea that improvement doesn’t come from how much you play, but from how you play.
We were lucky enough to sit down with the 24-year-old star recently to get his thoughts on everything from prioritizing health and overcoming adversity to his take on the rapidly evolving nature of professional gaming and how to train for it.
Setting Goals and Playing Smarter
When you set out to get better, it’s easy and so tempting to assume that more time = more results. While that may work in the beginning, at some point you’ll realize that your improvement has slowed down or even stopped. The decision you make at this point is what separates the pros from the rest.
Freeze’s love for the game combined with the limited time he could play naturally pushed him to get the most out of every minute he had at the computer. Calculated time management. Setting the right goals to push you forward. Always looking at every game as a chance to improve. These are the skills that have fueled his success year after year.
“As a successful player you shouldn’t chase the success. It’s better to focus on very small trackable things, simple goals, that’s the best way to learn.”
You are consistently ranking among top players with major successes and were the first Czech player to make it to the US. What is the secret, according to Freeze?
My secret? I think my secret is my time management. I’ve unintentionally learned how to time manage myself because my parents didn’t let me play more than four hours a day because of school. I scheduled what I would learn in those four hours while I was in class and then did it when I got home. I spent those four hours I had on the computer learning as much as I could and I just skyrocketed. And ever since that, I just try to time manage myself.
What is your competitive advantage? What do you do differently than other players that makes you better?
I set goals. I focus on one specific thing that I want to improve and then work on that one thing until I do. Then I move on to another goal. Most of the players just play to win or they play to improve without really knowing how. They don’t have a goal. They make mistakes but then they review the game and they’re like, “I made a mistake here, and here, here, and here” but they haven’t learned anything, you know. So, that’s my competitive advantage.
In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes other players make?
The most common mistake is usually trying too hard to carry. One individual is trying to carry too much. He usually ends up losing the game.
You mentioned time management. Many people just play and hope to improve. Do you have a specific approach?
Most gamers, they just play to win and that’s very bad nowadays. As a successful player you shouldn’t chase the success. You just let it come to you. It’s better to focus on very small trackable things, simple goals, that’s the best way to learn. So, if you track your own goals, you set a base, like, let’s say, 100 CS in 10 minutes, that’s so easily trackable.
Can you take us through the day of a pro gamer?
Usually you wake up around 10AM, sometimes 11 or 12, it varies from team to team. You have two hours for breakfast then whatever you want to do but usually coaches tell you to play solo queue before scrims. Then you have three hours of scrims, a one hour break for food, and then another three hours. That’s six hours of team practice.
In the evening you have another session with your team, recapping everything that happened throughout the day and updates for what tomorrow’s practice will focus on. After that it’s your free time again but coaches advise everyone to keep pushing and play more during free time. So, you basically play or work on yourself all the time.
Maximize Performance By Maximizing Health
Regardless of your skill level, we can all agree that the healthier you are, the better you play. But being healthy doesn’t mean just not having a cold. It means eating right, getting enough sleep and getting up and moving around.
Freeze shared a lot of practical tips that he’s learned during his time on various teams, as well as playing solo.
“When I wake up I put my hands in warm water for about 2 or 3 minutes.”
What are the factors that impact your performance the most?
The most obvious one is health, you know, how well you can maintain your health, sleep, and staying active, and a healthy diet. Pretty much health and then sleep as well, lots of healthy sleep.
How important is diet in your gaming life?
Diet just started becoming an important topic this year. I never paid much attention to it before. I just always ate whatever I wanted but then I noticed as I’m getting older that my reflexes are getting slower. When I eat badly, I notice that I play worse and super slow. So now it’s very important.
What would be the best gaming diet?
The best gaming diet? Well, start with a healthy breakfast, eggs with bread, that just basically that gives you the right amount of omega-3s and then you go from there. Chicken and rice is easily digestible. It’s not heavy so it doesn’t make you sleepy while you practice. And overall, eating vegetables or small amounts of other foods often. That’s just the best way.
In your opinion, what are the best foods for performance?
The best food for performance? Usually very small, vitamin-heavy meals more often during the day. Things like apples or chicken, just basically normal food. You just have to eat it a lot of times a day, like five, six times. Some pro players eat only once or twice when they’re hungry and that’s bad.
What about exercise?
Exercise? You don’t have to lift heavy weights but you do have to keep active. If you are at least walking somewhere or running, that’s so much better than just sitting on your computer. If you’re sitting on your computer, you’re getting slow, that’s not gonna help you improve.
Do you have any strange rituals when it comes to gaming?
When I wake up I put my hands in warm water for about 2 or 3 minutes. Just to warm them up. That helps me a lot. And then I do the same thing before and between tough matches, like in “Best of 5”. I like it because it feels nice and makes you super prepared for what’s coming next.
Staying Humble, Staying Focused
Beyond specific tactics and staying healthy, mindset is another crucial aspect to being a successful gamer.
In addition to the importance of not trying to carry too much, Freeze also touched on several important topics, including not only how he recovered from a case of carpal tunnel syndrome that left him unable to play for 8 months, but also how he used his tactics to climb back into the rankings afterward.
“What I admire most about a lot of the best players now is that they basically focus on their weaknesses.”
“Keep getting better and never get egotistical.”
So, why are you not the number one ADC in Europe?
That’s funny. I used to be two years ago. I was a rank-one player in the entire world so no one was higher than me. Then I got injured and ever since it’s been a struggle to make it back. It was easy to overcome the injury with rehab but overall it was just such a drastic hit on my career and my reputation.
What was the worst part about the injury?
I couldn’t play video games for eight months.
Was there something that you learned when you were injured that helped you improve?
I was reminded how important time management is. I realized I had stopped caring about my time management and my goals. When I got injured, I couldn’t play as many games as I should so I had to manage my time again. I had certain amounts of time that I could play before my hands starting hurting. That’s how I reminded myself how I got successful in the first place.
Why did you take the role of ADC?
Once I realized that people like tournaments I started to look for a Czech team and no one was looking for the roles I played. Everyone was looking for ADC, so I started playing ADC and that’s how I got onto a Czech team. After that, the rest is history.
What keeps you motivated?
Every time I watch The Worlds and I see the players winning, I say, “you know, I was in The Worlds once. I won throughout the group stage, through the semi’s, all the way to the finals.” Just being there, the atmosphere, I remember that. That’s my ignition.
How does your learning process change when you are at the top or when you’re chasing the top?
Well, being on the top is basically like balancing on a tightrope. One mistake and you’re falling, right? You have to maintain your focus and always try your best to stay on the rope.
What do you admire about the best players?
When I was starting out it seemed they focused on their strengths and playing to those strengths but it’s shifted lately. What I admire most about a lot of the best players now is that they basically focus on their weaknesses. They try to find the weakest part of themselves and they constantly work on it and that’s how they get better, and better, and better. That’s the thing I admire about them.
What would be the most underestimated characteristic of a successful gamer?
Lately it’s been shifting but the most underestimated thing about pro players is their willingness to play for the team. Their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the team. That was always seen as a weakness before but lately it’s being seen as a strength and that’s what teams are looking for.
Professional gaming seems like it’s a very enjoyable job but also very difficult to stay on top. Can you speak on that?
Sure. I agree with you. It is very hard to maintain this job because there are millions of players that want to be pros, they want your job and they will do everything to take it. You have to stay on top of your game. You just keep practicing, keep getting better and never get egotistical. Ego will just lead to you practicing less hard and just getting lazy. That’s usually what happens with the best players.
What would you say to talented kids that are unsure about their game but might get a chance of becoming, you know, the next Freeze? Would you encourage them or would you tell them to go find some other career?
I mean, this of course is just the beginning. It’s very early you know, and getting better and better every year, bigger and bigger. So basically, I say go for it if you can.
Do you still enjoy playing?
Do you ever regret becoming a gamer?
No. Just simply, no.