As IEM Chicago is about to start, we sat down with AVANGAR to discuss the rapid ascent they have made in recent months.
2018 has been a learning year for AVANGAR, who have come to experience first hand the struggle that is breaking out of the CIS scene. As talented as the region is, it has over the years looked more prone to producing fairytale underdog stories - of which Gambit is the biggest example and FlipSid3 Tactics the longest one - than consistent world-class performers.
Many were thus left to wonder what the future held for AVANGAR, one of the CIS newcomers at ELEAGUE Major Boston. Overshadowed by Quantum Bellator Fire, who would go on to secure Legend status, the Kazakh side still gave a good account of themselves, missing out on a spot in the final 16 following a gruelling three-team tiebreaker with Renegades and Liquid.
Yet ‘disappointment’ seems to be the word that comes to mind when the players are asked to look back at their Major run as they wonder how far they could have gone had they been able to close out the game against the North Americans at 15-14.
"I am still very upset that we did not go through to the next stage," Alexey "qikert" Golubev says. Ali "Jame" Djami blames "lack of experience" for the mistakes that the team made and admits that a cloud of uncertainty hung over the players as they returned home. "We were like in a limbo and did not know what would happen next. We only knew one thing for sure - we did not want to have to live from Minor to Minor."
Signed by AVANGAR in July 2017 after playing as LoG for almost half a year, the team had little LAN experience before flying out to Atlanta, with only three offline events on record before the Major (none while playing under their previous name). As such, it was no surprise to see the team go through the normal growing pains after returning to Kiev, where their training base is located.
Between February and June, AVANGAR went through a dry spell that included some underwhelming finishes on LAN: top eight at the Cybersport Festival Defender, top 16 at IEM Katowice and top 11 at StarSeries i-League Season 5, with a second place at Adrenaline Cyber League 2018, where they only had to beat a Virtus.pro side in crisis, offering little solace.
"During this period, we won and lost a lot, and after all these games we tried to draw the most correct conclusions," Jame recalls. "We played dozens of games in which we did not let ourselves make a mistake. After IEM Katowice, we concluded that we could actually play our game." In the midst of this confusing period, the Russian found himself out of the team - a move that the team quickly came to regret. "It was the organisation that decided to make the change," Timur "buster" Tulepov says. "After playing with Ramz1k for a month, we realised that Jame was better suited to our team."
AVANGAR’s woes continued, though, with a fourth-place finish at the CIS Minor - the event they had previously won - symptomatic of the changes that were already in motion. Just days after the tournament, Dmitry "dimasick" Matvienko made way for Bektiyar "fitch" Bahytov, who had top-flight experience from his six-month stint with Gambit.
"After the Minor, the team had one of the worst atmospheres ever," qikert explains. "It came down to the fact that we needed changes. We knew that fitch, an experienced and mature player, would join us after the tournament. Honestly, none of us knew how we would play with fitch, but, after bootcamping with him for a couple of days, we quickly got used to him and became friends.
"In terms of the game, not much has changed. Fitch added a feeling of freshness to the team, and, because of that, we won almost all the official matches that we were playing. He is a very strong entry fragger and a great guy."
fitch’s impact was felt instantly. AVANGAR qualified for the MSI MGA Finals and for IEM Chicago via the open brackets, and for the EPICENTER wild-card stage through the CIS closed qualifier. They also passed their first real test with flying colours, topping the four-team MSI event after beating Movistar Riders, eUnited and compLexity, who at the time were ranked 11th in the world and had just come off a top-eight finish at the FACEIT Major. "We went to the tournament to check the level of our game and also to determine which emotional state was most effective for us during matches," says Jame, alluding to the team’s recovery in New York after losing their opening match. "This was the main goal of our team in preparation for the next big tournaments."
EPICENTER came up next, the team’s first Big Event since StarSeries i-League Season 5, almost five months earlier. Late withdrawals from Astralis and mousesports saw AVANGAR skip the wild-card qualifier and secure direct entry into the main tournament, and they made the most of it as they placed top four after beating NiP and HellRaisers, while also earning rave reviews for their performance against Natus Vincere in the semi-finals. "We felt that we could have beaten Na`Vi, but our overall place was satisfactory," says Jame, who has developed into the team’s main carry since relinquishing in-game leader duties, averaging a 1.21 rating at the last two LAN events.
AVANGAR find themselves in unfamiliar territory as they travel to Chicago. They have peaked to 15th in the ranking, and with that comes extra pressure to perform. Yet the players are surprisingly coy when asked about their goals for the final two months of the year."We want to perform well at these LAN events," qikert says. They are more concerned about continuing to be overlooked by tournament organizers, something that has been equally frustrating and exhausting.
"You cannot imagine how difficult it is to play against all these teams who are on different levels," Jame explains. "You need to adapt to your opponent every time. We did not get a single invite this year. I really hope that this will change." Team coach Dastan "dastan" Akbayev stepped in and echoed his player's sentiment, making a plea: "Tournament organisers, if you read this, know that there is a young competitive team who will practice day and night to get into your tournament. We would be grateful if you could ease our path to the top."