HellRaisers come straight off of a fourth-place finish at SuperNova CS:GO Malta, their first event with Abay "Hobbit" Khasenov, and opened up their run at the ESL Pro League Season 8 Finals with a victory over Renegades in a one-sided match that saw the European team take it 16-5 on Mirage.
In the interview, Johnta talks about Hobbit joining the team and how the transition is going after the event in Malta, parting ways with Vladyslav "bondik" Nechyporchuk, and the plans HellRaisers have as a team and an organization to try and reach the next level of competition next year.
You just came from Malta, where Hobbit played his first event. What was the feeling there, and having to come here without much time to do anything after that.
In Malta we played a bit differently, in some ways, which always happens when you have a new player and everyone is getting used to each other. Some things went well in practice, on-the-fly calls and so on, and we played more freely. It worked in practice, but when it came to an important match, like the semi-finals, everyone was a bit off in their calling, their movement, their communication...
We had to have these losses to understand that we need to play more together and not so individually oriented. That was the main changed after Malta. We talked about it a lot because some things were a bit off and we have to mix individual plays with more team play and communication. Even if only one player changes, it's not the same, there are differences. Players feel the timings of the game a bit differently and can get caught off sometimes.
But have you had the time to change some of these things?
We talked about it after we lost in Malta, to BIG, mostly because of these mistakes on Overpass. We flew here from Malta, an early flight, but when we got here we played a practice match and watched a demo... the team is experienced enough overall to understand that we can fix some of the things by talking, we don't need to play ten practices to feel it.
You noted that communication was a bit off. The event in Malta was the first time Hobbit played in English, how did that affect the team?
It was off for the whole team, for the most part. Hobbit speaking English pretty well, in-game. During stressful moments he may not use the best call because there are a lot of call-outs he has to remember and everything, but he's pretty good at explaining what's going on. It was the whole team, and when you don't have the communication on point then it's harder for the in-game leader to make the best call and feel the timings on the map.
Moving on to today, the match against Renegades. How did you feel going into this match? You seemed quite confident, getting on a roll quick on the attacking side of Mirage. Were you expecting it to go that way?
We knew we'd play Mirage, we usually know the maps we're going to play, especially on best-of-ones. We had a game plan, and we talked about how we would play and some mistakes we had to fix from the match against NRG. We mostly just played our game and it felt good, everyone was hitting their shots and feeling the timings, ANGE1 was making great calls, so that's the result.
Tell me a bit about the decision of parting ways with bondik, where did that process begin?
After the Major we had a bit of a slump and we felt that we had to change something on the team. Not only a roster change, but to change the atmosphere. Every team has a life stage, and when one stage goes on longer than it should, you need to make a change. For example, we lost some events because we were making the same mistakes, mistakes which we should have fixed to become better and keep growing as a team.
When we didn't fix mistakes, again and again, everyone started to feel like we couldn't win tournaments, and we started to have less faith in the roster. It wasn't something about bondik, particularly, but he didn't feel good on some roles and that hurt our map pool. For example, against teams that play both Nuke and Train, we had to veto Nuke, and Train was really hard for us because we couldn't find the right roles, so it came down to role things. I've known bondik for a long time, I played 1.6 with him, and he was always the kind of guy carrying and fragging a lot. On some roles that he had on HellRaisers he wasn't comfortable or able to do that.
When we realized we can pick Hobbit up, ANGE1 talked to him and saw that he was O.K. with playing any role on the team. He's super enthusiastic about playing in a new roster since he had the same problem we were having but in Gambit. He wanted to change and was really enthusiastic to jump into a new team and a new language, so he just jumped right into bondik's roles and now we're trying to feel how it's going to go in the future. Hopefully, it'll be good, we feel like it was the right change for us.
You said you were at a point in which you were stuck and that the team couldn't win tournaments. Do you think that with this roster you can reach the point of becoming a tournament contender?
Yeah, definitely. I believe that this change will make us stronger when we've had some time to prepare. We're also going to change some inner things about practice, the approach to the game, and other things that should bring us to a new level next year, I hope. My expectations are that we're going to be very good.
Can you tell me a bit about these changes?
It's kind of inner things about the organization, the team, how we should practice and prepare...
Is that something inspired by Astralis, for example? They're an organization that has taken measures about how the team practices and prepares and so on...
Definitely, top teams like Astralis inspired a lot of other teams and players and the way they approach their practices and everything. In our case it's a bit harder because we're an international team and it's harder to find a sports psychologist that can work with all the different mentalities, it's not that easy, and we need some time for our organization to grow and find the ways to fix it. In Astralis everyone is from Denmark, so in some way's it's easier for them, but there are definitely things we need to do that will raise the level of professionalism overall.
We need to raise the level of professionalism because at the level we're at now it's not just about five players on a team, there are a lot of things behind them, and sometimes minor management or coach moments can do some damage to the team. It's important to have structure and discipline and a more professional way of doing things.