The trials and tribulations of koosta
Twenty-two-year-old koosta has had a ride of a career over the course of the past four years - the player had gone from relative obscurity within the North American scene to being signed by several premium-tier organisations, at a certain point considered one of the hottest AWP prospects in his region.
His professional career kicked off on Tempo, a young roster that was hungry to achieve. Featuring a North American mix, the quintet struggled to produce substantial results over their ten-month tenure but showed grit and perseverance when progressing up the slippery ladder of North American CS:GO. Tempo was koosta’s first competitive roster, and over his four-month tenure, he played his role in assisting the squad in achieving results, albeit of mixed nature.
On June 4 2015, the entire Tempo roster was signed by Enemy, a crucial transfer in the context of the American AWPer’s career. Results were maintained at a satisfactory level, with noteworthy achievements in qualification for the NA closed qualifier for ELEAGUE Road to Vegas and, most importantly, a first-place finish at the Americas Minor precursor to the MLG Columbus Major. This proved to be a pivotal achievement in koosta's career, as he was invited to represent one of his home region’s premium organisations, Liquid, in part thanks to his team’s showing at the preceding Americas Minor. Subsequently, on February 21 he replaced then-active Eric "adreN" Hoag on the starting roster of the Liquid squad. The AWPer enjoyed the new-found exposure, although the attention did bring criticism his way:
“I guess from an outsider's perspective, it looks pretty explosive, because I had been just playing in random online cups before that. I didn't think much of it at the time. I guess it's always nice to be hyped up on Reddit, so, there's always that. I was playing a LOT at the time, and I would always read like ESEA would have writers doing power rankings, and those were always nice to read. It's just nice to read about yourself, right until it turns negative."
Having joined Liquid, koosta was set to represent one of the most ambitious North American representatives at the MLG Columbus 2016 offline qualifier just six days after his addition. While this may have been the initial plan, a ruling from Valve meant that he was unable to do so, and the 22-year-old was forced to play the qualifier alongside some of his former teammates, who had formed Selfless after contracts with Enemy had run out. Unsurprisingly, the reunion was not fruitful in the least, contrary to Liquid’s semi-final run at the tournament, as Selfless fell through in Group A of the offline qualifier, conceding two consecutive best-of-one matches to FlipSid3 and ex-Tempo Storm. The offline qualifier for 2016’s first Major marked koosta’s final event with his previous squad, returning to Liquid’s starting roster upon its conclusion.
After koosta’s return, many expected the brand new North American roster to demonstrate unprecedented results with their new addition, at the very least in a regional context. But the squad was unable to live up to expectations, as the quintet consistently struggled against top-tier international competition and so did koosta, who described the trying times on Liquid:
“I remember, when I first joined that team, one thing that really pissed me off was the coach [James "GBJame^s" O'Connor]. Within 30 seconds of me signing, he was talking to me, and he said, 'Oh, you have a lot to learn, we have to get you up to speed with these other guys'. And I'm like, 'okay, I guess...' It just set a precedent as to how I thought the team was going to incorporate me. Like I wasn't on the same level as them. It was demotivating, especially since they had to practice for the Major, so I was benched. I played a couple of scrims with them, but they were really focused on the Major obviously, so I was working with the coach, GBJame^s. He would watch my demos and tell me what I was doing right and wrong, but, I think, for young players trying to break through, it's hard to tell them something so concrete.
"You have to know yourself as a player first, you can't have someone force you to play a certain way before you do that, or everything will go to shit. It puts seeds of doubt in your mind and you don't play how you know you can play. At that time, I was too inexperienced to realize that that was clearly not the right call. I didn't have that confidence in myself to defy these people that had a sick run at a Major and be like, 'oh, you're wrong, you're telling me not to flash and stuff", and I joined CLG and threw the same flash and everyone was like, 'yeah, nice flash, man!'”
As disappointing results persisted, the squad grew progressively more frustrated with the lack of success, able only to show up at local and smaller tournaments. The difficulties described by koosta above, in addition to a demotivated state, meant that his individual level was also impacted - he averaged a 1.05 rating across the nine events he played for Liquid. We learned from koosta that this was further exacerbated by an imposed cookie-cutter approach to AWPing, one that didn’t sit well with the American's understanding of how a young player should develop:
“I mean, I DID know how I wanted to play, like play for late rounds, but at the same time play really aggressively if I had a read on something. And I was being told to just post up on an angle, take a shot, and fall back, like very standard 'this is how you should AWP', like starting from the beginning of CS in 1999, that's how people AWP (laughs). It still works, but you just have to let young players learn for themselves, and if they make it, they make it on their own accord. You should obviously push them, but you shouldn't force their hand to have them become something that they're not.”
The volatile cocktail of individual underperformance and general team issues inevitably led to roster adjustments, and having spent just under four months with the organisation, koosta parted ways with Liquid, swapping squads with CLG's dedicated AWPer, Josh "jdm64" Marzano.
koosta’s time on CLG was another crucial chapter of his evolution, both in personal and in-game terms. Following a short and complicated tenure with Liquid, the player had finally found a home where he could hone his ability and focus on improving and developing some form of consistency. Furthermore, the dynamic in the team allowed for him to vocalise his contributions without inhibition, something that koosta notes as one of the main reasons he was able to improve over the course of his tenure with CLG:
“That [CLG] was obviously when I started to become more consistently good. And the biggest reason for that is that I was less scared of being assertive within the team environment. I was just as afraid to do things that I thought were correct. It helps a lot, even if you're not playing the game but watching a demo with your team, it helps a lot to not feel like, if you say something, you'll be judged for it – if you said something wrong. That's a big thing on Ghost, too, I feel like I can just present my ideas and it's not like, 'oh, that's fucking stupid'...”
Despite the apparently improved situation, koosta’s personal struggle to find his way persisted.
“I didn't know what the fuck to do. I remember, when I joined [CLG], we had to prepare for a Major, because they were legends. And at that bootcamp, I was still AWP'ing at the time, but we had pita standing in from the coach position, and at the camp, tarik and pita both told us that they were leaving the team. So we went to the Major and played as well as we could, and after that... going from Liquid and onto a CLG team that pretty much instantly disbanded, I really didn't know what to do, so for a while, I was thinking. On Liquid, for a while, I was asking them to just let me rifle, because AWP'ing wasn't working out, and we had s1mple, who can obviously AWP. I guess I wanted to take a step back and just re-learn how to play the game.
"For a while, I had no idea what to do, so I came to the realization that because I don't know what steps to take to actually become this player that I used to be, I had to just bring everything back to basics and try to forget everything. I think on Liquid, I was told a lot of contradictory situational information, and it's just not good, it wasn't helping me mentally.”
Come November 2017, koosta concluded his time on CLG after the entire male CS:GO division was let go, forced to remain inactive until he was either bought out or his contract ran out. While the run alongside CLG may not have cardinally changed his mentality and approach to the game, it apparently assisted him in unraveling some of the questions that had cropped up over the previous two years. A three-month-long hiatus followed, after which he joined ex-iBUYPOWER representatives in Torqued.
In joining Joshua "steel" Nissan and company, koosta finally found an optimal environment for growth and development. A committed quintet with ambitions would get together in a bid to better themselves day by day, taking things at a pace comfortable for the entire squad. This produced what was described by koosta as slow growth, whereby all members of the roster effectively started from a clean slate, but at the same time, it allowed for consistency to be developed, something he felt had specifically been missing during his time on the Liquid and CLG rosters.
“We [Torqued] showed up every day with the same five, played together, grew together. Those guys were out of the scene for a while, so we were pretty much all learning how to play the game again. There's just something about slow growth that makes me more consistent. Contrary to Liquid, where everything was just so overwhelming.
"Thinking back to that team, and I think that's just who I am as a person, I can sit here, and if this room we are in was burning down I could just sit here and be like 'yeah, this is fine', like the fucking dog with the coffee cup. But when you're all trying to get better, because you know you're bad (laughs) like, we knew we were bad on Torqued, so when you're all trying to come up like that it's a good bonding experience, and you have each other's backs, and that's what makes players unafraid to make mistakes and play the best CS you can play."
Similarly to some of koosta's previous teams, Torqued had issues of their own, and not long afterward the roster split, with koosta, steel, Matt "Pollo" Wilson and coach James "JamezIRL" Macaulay signing with Ghost to join Matthew "WARDELL" Yu and Yassine "Subroza" Taoufik.
The new squad set out to an ambitious start, tackling an internationally significant tournament in ESL One: Belo Horizonte 2018 as their debut event. Through Torqued’s core transferring to Ghost, the newly-assembled roster inherited a slot at the tournament, initially obtained by the former squad via a first-place finish at the North American qualifier for the event. Unsurprisingly, the quintet experienced difficulty in Belo Horizonte, bombing out in last place with a 0-2 record, having conceded best-of-3 series to the former versions of the Space Soldiers and SK rosters.
Before landing on their finalised roster, Ghost would still make some fine-tuning to the squad. This included the departure of original Torqued member Pollo. Only as recently as January 2019 did the squad finally stabilize, and they have sported the same five-man roster going on four months - the longest standing line-up for the organisation.
With the current iteration of the roster, featuring Ryan "freakazoid" Abadir as their newest member, Ghost saw success in the form of a semi-final run at iBUYPOWER Masters 2019, a tournament where they bested the likes of FaZe in a best-of-one setting on two separate occasions. After this success, the squad did their utmost in contending in North American qualifiers for international events, namely IEM Sydney and DreamHack Masters Dallas, but fell through in series in both tournaments, suggesting ample room for improvement.
koosta’s journey through North American CS:GO initially saw valleys, despite him being part of rosters that were considered some of the finest in the region. A sink-or-swim environment with an imposed mindset was not something that the player embraced, instead opting to develop gradually, creating a playstyle and approach of his own. This was true to his creed, creating a much more meaningful and wholesome development in the process. After the numerous trials and tribulations that koosta experienced earlier in his career, he has found himself on a squad that is aligned with his outlook on all the significant factors behind what constitutes a CS:GO team, and he can finally go into a server and enjoy himself.