Hobbit: "I didn't really appreciate what we had – you don't know what you've got until it's gone"
Hobbit is one of only five CIS-based players to hold the title of a Major champion, having secured the PGL Major Krakow 2017 trophy alongside Gambit, where the squad defeated Immortals in a tense grand final. Shortly after, the team lost a crucial member in their in-game leader, Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko, and the squad never lived up to the result they achieved in Poland thereafter.
In a candid interview with Hobbit we discussed the reasons behind his benching on HellRaisers, working under Kirill "ANGE1" Karasiow's leadership, his outlook on Gambit's results post-Major and psychological issues in CIS squads, as well as other topics.
In a VK.com post from May you mentioned that you had three opportunities to join squads - two from NA and one that was up in the air. Could you share details regarding what happened to these opportunities, respectively?
Yes, I did receive offers after I was benched, this happened in May. I had options, but a significant factor in the decision-making process was my buyout. The main option was a team with Dauren (AdreN) and Rustem (mou). We wanted to reunite in something along the lines of an ex-Gambit project, but with a new approach. The reunion didn't work out firstly because of organisational issues - we didn't find an organisation that was willing to buy us out and provide us with specified conditions. Secondly, aside from us, there were players that needed to be bought out to round out the new roster; in the end, the stars didn't align, and Dauren (AdreN) decided to join AVANGAR.
As for offers from North American organisations, it was mostly expressed interest as opposed to anything concrete. I wouldn't go as far as to call it an invite, but there was a North American organisation that wanted to work with me and wanted to acquire me, but for some reason, it all fell through at a certain point and they found a different player that suited them. I don't know what the reasoning was behind this decision. There were two more organisations aside of the aforementioned, that simply expressed interest in me, but not much more – nothing came of it. I don't know why, honestly.
Since then, have you received any interest or offers?
Yes, there has been interest, but nothing in terms of actual offers. I don't know why this is the case, because when I left Gambit, I genuinely had a lot of offers and invites – I had choice, and if I waited an additional month there would have been even more options. As for now, it has been quiet – maybe people are waiting for the Major, maybe interested parties are approaching HellRaisers about it. I haven't approached them about it yet. Last time I inquired, they said no one had approached them about my acquisition yet. There was only interest - direct, serious negotiations haven't taken place yet.
Most recently you were seen competing on HellRaisers. You spent a total of five months on the roster prior to being benched - describe the situation and why the roster came to the conclusion that it would be best for you to sit out.
I saw that we experienced difficulties when we played, and the guys didn't have enough freedom. Sure, they secured a Legends slot at the Major, but I arrived to reinforce the roster and play better, but I was unable to ensure this. They had a certain vision about the game that shackled woxic. After we failed at the Major, I found out from a third or even fourth party that woxic was being bought out of the organisation. He was one of the reasons I joined the roster. Woxic sent me a message, letting me know that he got a good offer, and I understood his decision, because at the time I would have supported anyone that wanted to leave the team, because the atmosphere in the team was unworkable, so to speak.
I had the option to part ways with the team, becoming a free agent, but I needed the consent of the organisation to do this. There was a specific amount of money that the organisation had to pay me for joining the team, but I was refusing the money and asked them to release me from the roster because things weren't working out. At the time lmbt (HellRaisers' current coach) arrived, and I explained the whole situation to him – I wasn't able to find a mutual understanding with specific individuals, and I was causing problems as a result. I wasn't able to fix it from my standpoint, because I promised myself I wouldn't remain silent if I saw any issues. I asked him to release me from the roster - he refused to release me and said that part of the reason he joined the team in the first place was because of me. He asked me to give it a shot, and after some thought, I said: “Why not? New coach, new blood”. We gave it a shot, but in conclusion about two weeks later I was benched after the organisation fulfilled its responsibilities.
I didn't receive a specific reason, I was just told that I would be benched.
Can you tell us about how long you've still got on your contract with the organisation?
I can't talk about specifics, but I will be free from my contract at some point next year.
One of the reasons you wanted to join HellRaisers specifically was ANGE1. He is widely considered one of CIS' brightest in-game leaders - what were your takeaways from playing under his leadership?
If I'm honest then yes, ANGE1 is considered one of the best in CIS, and there aren't really captains in the region comparable to him. Obviously, we’re not counting Zeus, because he's on another level. Second to Zeus is ANGE1, he's genuinely a very smart and seasoned captain, he has an innovative approach, can create new strategies and can tactically excel. He's very hard-working, and I enjoyed my time playing with him, the only thing is that he didn't pay much attention to the mental aspects of the team, which is something we clashed on.
You previously mentioned that you, AdreN and mou were looking to reunite in a new roster – how did you come to the conclusion that it would be worth giving it another shot, and were you looking at creating a full-Kazakh stack, or were you considering a CIS mix?
We were looking at young talents, and we didn't have the specific goal of creating a Kazakh team. The reason we wanted to reunite was because Dauren (AdreN) had played for FaZe, I played for HellRaisers and Rustem (mou) remained in Gambit. We missed each other, and at some point we got together to talk. Everything is explored through comparison, and Dauren (AdreN) made the comparison after playing with the star players from FaZe, understanding that we had a genuinely good roster and we could return to it with a new vision. I approved of this idea because I didn't really appreciate what we had – again, you don't know what you've got until it's gone. After we parted ways, we really started to appreciate what we had going, but this only happened after. We wanted to bring it back.
You were one of the top 20 players of 2017. At the time, you said that the goal was for the team to become a top-three team, which did not happen. Are you disappointed with the way things turned out, for the team and for you, personally?
If I'm honest, I'm extremely disappointed with what was going on, with our losses. If we look at our results, yes, we made it through qualifiers for tournaments, we made our way to events, and lost, but if we look at the statistics, we would lose with very close scores. We were always missing that little bit, we were unlucky. We genuinely had some sort of moments that you could call a bad streak – we were unlucky.
We could practice for days, we could train 100-150 hours in two weeks, but it didn't yield any fruits in micro-moments. In these micro-moments, luck just turned its back on us. It had an impact on our morale component and our motivation – when you win, and then abruptly start losing back-to-back, it's psychologically difficult to deal with this. In the end, it proved to be too heavy a burden, and we weren't able to deal with it psychologically. When I recall this time, I feel a burden on my soul, because we had grandiose plans, but were unable to realise them.
You've pointed out psychological issues on two separate occasions over the course of the interview so far. Looking from the outside, it seems like CIS teams experience these issues a lot. Do you feel teams from the region should pay more attention to this component of competitive play?
Yes, of course. I think first, and foremost, the psychological aspect plays an important role in esports as a general. Sure, in-game characteristics are significant, but you can experience psychological blocks that prevent them from shining through. Take a look at Liquid, they have a psychologist; Astralis – they used to have one, I'm not sure if that's still the case. Practice shows that it is effective.
I think in the CIS region our mentality is different – we're semi-professional, so to speak. We give weight to personable characteristics – friendly characteristics for us are very important, but if we combined this with professionalism, for example, if you have a disagreement with a teammate, and genuinely abstract yourself from this, then I think CIS would excel. We have these sorts of issues.
In Gambit, for example, we grew tired of one another and even grew irritated with each other. We were unable to abstract ourselves from this and constantly gave it meaning. Similarly, if we look at Gambit in 2017, we had mentality issues back when we had Zeus and Kane. We had results, and if we were professionals back in the day, we would've been able to reinforce the squad and play even better, but we were unable to deal with it.
You mentioned Gambit – despite all of the issues we've discussed, and all of the stories of the past, the team is the sole CIS-based squad to have ever secured a Major title. Looking back at the run, do you ever consider what could've happened if the team decided to remain a unit post-Major?
I don't think we would've gone on to dominate the scene 100%, but I will say that we would've definitely been a top 5-7 team in the world. It was impossible to retain the roster because the decision had already been made, either way, the roster would have disbanded. I just think that if, at the time, we had an effective psychologist on the team that would've been able to bring us together, then perhaps we would have remained a squad. As of this moment, time really put things in place – Zeus is currently where he deserves to be, he's in a top 5 team, meanwhile, we have given some slack. This proves that Zeus had a massive impact on our victory at the Major. Obviously, it wasn't his victory solely, but time has proven that he had a colossal impact on the team.
On July 25 you moved to St. Petersburg with your family, mentioning that you aim to improve and focus on CS:GO. Have you devised a specific routine or is it a general aim that you've set for yourself?
Firstly, my aim is to gain form to ensure that the next roster I join won't regret taking me on. Secondly, in terms of my program, I am dedicated to playing around 5-6 hours a day, irrespective as to whether it's FPL, personal training or bots. Using all possible avenues I want to gain form because after the Major I hope to find my new team.
You recently opened your own internet cafe - how have you found the experience of owning a business so far?
It's been a long-time dream of mine to start my own business related to computers, let alone an internet café. Seeing as I was benched, and how it all turned out, I decided not to despair, take things into my own hands and maximise the potential of what I currently have. I had the finances and the dream, and I realised the latter. I had people that really helped me out with the project – my relatives, my brother, who helped me with legal queries. I'm extremely happy that I have opened my own business where I can help future professional players realise themselves, because we have all the conditions for people to play at the highest level.
In early June you became a father - has this changed your perspective on life and your career as a professional CS player?
Honestly, of course, it has changed my perspective, how could it not. If earlier I didn't really think about the future and simply played, then nowadays I think about it a lot and want to ensure that my child is provided for. I think this is natural. From this perspective I've definitely changed, I think about the future a lot more.
In terms of other aspects, no I haven't changed. In life, outside of my family and Counter-Strike, I have nothing, and I hope that in the future I find a good team, where I am both able to provide for my family and be victorious.
In conclusion – what are your plans for the remainder of 2019 and early 2020? Is there any specific goal you've set out that you aim to achieve?
Of course – my aim is to return to esports, and assume the same position I previously had. I can start with a clean slate, but my aim is to be part of the top 5-10 teams in the world. I hope I find my team this year and I hope for the opportunity to demonstrate that I have the energy and willpower to play at the highest competitive tier.