One for the future: sh1ro
Our seventh installment of the "One for the future" series features 18-year-old Dmitry "sh1ro" Sokolov, Gambit Youngsters' exciting Russian AWPer, as he prepares to compete at the MSI MGA 2019 Finals.
Much like many players' discovery of Counter-Strike, sh1ro was introduced to the game at the age of five by a close relative - his uncle. Young Dima would spend hours playing CS 1.6, until in 2013 he discovered CS:GO, which he picked up immediately.
Contrary to what happened with many other players, sh1ro's parents were lax when it came to the time he spent playing Counter-Strike. After his first team, team7, had made it through to the Russian e-Sports Championships 2018 in Moscow, they accepted that there was potential in their son's involvement with the game. They did require convincing when it came to traveling, however, and from sh1ro's recollection it didn't come easy and his uncle had to stand by his side to ensure his participation at the event as he was still a minor at the time.
Parallel to his FPS endeavours, sh1ro dabbled in Dota, but he decided that CS:GO would be his go-to game. According to him, the FPS felt more natural and played into his innate skill-set better. While other competitive titles of the genre were enticing, the weight of a mistake in CS:GO drew him to the game.
At the beginning of his career, the youngster's goals were very simple, in that he had his eyes set on becoming Global Elite - a target shared by many aspiring matchmaking players. After some grinding, this milestone was achieved and a new goal was set in the form of a level 10 FACEIT ranking, an accolade that undoubtedly contributed towards his subsequent recruitment to the Gambit Youngsters project. sh1ro would spend hours on end a day playing CS:GO, sometimes as many as 16 - a clear sign of his commitment to the game. When asked whether he knew right away that he had a natural gift for the game and would make it to the professional scene, sh1ro mentioned that he simply dedicated every living hour to the game to improve and that "few saw me as anything to write home about."
Having spent some time playing, one fine day sh1ro decided to assemble a squad named team7 in looks to storm a few online qualifiers, just to see where things could go. The team comprised sh1ro, Vladislav "nafany" Gorshkov, with whom he shares a roster to this day, and the trio of Arseny "KlyDeep" Pilguev, Andrey "aNsavage" Kuznetsov and Georgiy "fly772" Moiseyev. The communication in the team was described as fluent and concise, while rapport and mutual understanding were both in check.
After some time, and having locked horns with some of CIS' finest in a variety of online qualifiers, the team stumbled upon EPG, headed at the time by Counter-Strike veteran and CIS pundit Dmitry "hooch" Bogdanov. sh1ro recollects a confident 16-12 victory on Cache, which proved to be a pivotal point in his career - it was here that the squad realised that they had something going, and that, indeed, they were capable of besting some of the more established teams with a simple mix that lacked any substantial backing, aside from enthusiasm, of course.
team7 were subsequently signed by FLuffy Gangsters in time for their LAN performance at the finals of the Russian e-Sports Championship 2018 in Moscow, replacing fly772 with Anton "eQuake" Fesio in the process. This was the very same event discussed in the opening paragraph, where sh1ro had to persuade his parents to allow him to travel, and the convincing definitely paid off: the team achieved a monumental victory at the event, besting DreamEaters in the grand final and walking away with an invite to IeSF 2018, as well as a substantial ~$13,000 payout to split between a team of up-and-coming players.
The honeymoon period post-victory proved to be a short one as the team went out 0-3 in the closed qualifier for the CIS Minor leading to the FACEIT Major following losses to AVANGAR, Syman and HOLLYWOOD. This proved to be the catalyst for the squad's crumbling, as the belief in being able to achieve something outside of sporadic local results had waned, and confidence was at an all-time low. sh1ro recalls the community responding with comments along the lines of "ah, so the software is finally off". The consistent practice died off, as did the enthusiasm to perform, leading to the eventual collapse of the original FLuffy Gangsters crew.
It was at this moment that sh1ro took a step back from competition in serious fashion, representing aimg0d and, later on, Vyalie Pitoni in online qualifiers and local tournaments. Neither of the two mix teams stuck together for long enough to become a solid unit, but sh1ro remained focused, gradually improving individually through playing in the CIS Pro League and watching top-tier professionals such as Jesper "JW" Wecksell and Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev play FPL, trying to incorporate tidbits of their playstyles into his own repertoire.
Day in and day out, sh1ro would dedicate a large portion of his day to CS:GO, parallel to his studies, resulting in just five hours of sleep per night. After seven months of this lifestyle, a pivotal moment struck - his addition to Gambit Youngsters.
The Gambit Youngsters project was announced in the first half of 2019, with the finalised roster revealed in April. A lengthy two-stage vetting process took place, followed by an offline bootcamp supervised by CIS Counter-Strike veterans Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy and Ivan "F_1N" Kochugov, as well as Gambit's sports director, Konstantin "groove" Pikiner, himself a former 1.6 professional. "B1ad3 would watch the game with us and would be very vocal in his teachings, while Vanya (F_1N) listened to the on-goings and observed us when we played to see if we adjusted accordingly in terms of our movement and in-game approach," sh1ro recalls. "This went on for around a month."
To get more information on the internal mechanics of the drafting process, we spoke with B1ad3, who gave first-hand insight into the drafting process and the pool of players who went under the microscope:
"The vetting process took approximately one month. I and coach F_1N were very specific in terms of the criteria we were seeking in individual skill, understanding and analytical capabilities within the game, fast thinking and decision making, communicational abilities and character. The main goal was to assemble a roster that would within six months be able to contend against tier-three competitors.
"In all, there were around 20 candidates. We needed young prospects with in-game experience who had previously been part of teams and were used to group routines. We didn't consider complete newcomers, which meant that our selection was limited."
"sh1ro demonstrated high skill level and game sense, but the most impressive aspect was his understanding of the game, as he has been playing since the age of six. He has well-developed in-game analytics, which in turn means very effective processing of in-game information and fast generation of reactive responses and new ideas.
"He is playing CS:GO parallel to his studies. I am certain that if he goes full-time and has a solid team with a good mentor, then in a year's time he will be one of the best players in the world."
Just under six months have passed since sh1ro joined Gambit Youngsters. Over the course of this period of time, the player has sent massive ripples with his impressive AWP plays, which have caught the eye of not only local pundits, but the worldwide audience as well. This was most noticeable at the two large LAN events the team attended in Copenhagen Games 2019 and the CIS Minor leading to the StarLadder Major. The event in Denmark was a better showcase of the AWPer's capabilities, as he secured a whopping 1.48 rating at the BYOC qualifier - where he destroyed EsportsAdviser, SJ (featuring fellow "One for the future" prospect Elias "Jamppi" Olkkonen) and GODSENT, while a slowdown was experienced at the main event, where the team bombed out in groups and individual showings were lackluster.
During the team’s Minor performance, sh1ro recalls a sense of discomfort during matches due to their sheer significance and an unfamiliar setup with simultaneous matches. These two factors combined would result in an early exit in 5-6th place.
The question stands: why is it that you should watch sh1ro in 2019? In times of calculated CS:GO, the 18-year-old AWPer stands as one of few exciting prospects who are partial to creating plays that make stadiums roar. You might not describe them as optimal plays, no, but when you see them happen they remind you of what makes CS:GO such an exciting game to spectate.
A large reason behind why so many eyes have been turned towards sh1ro in recent months is because of his exciting aggressive playstyle with the AWP. It encompasses a wide variety of split-second, often impulsive decisions that make for an explosive presence on Gambit Youngsters. Adding to the excitement factor are impressive reflexes and an intimate familiarity with mechanics that allows the youngster to produce plays reminiscent of those seen from iconic aggressive AWPers such as the very players he watched in FPL in s1mple and JW. Further complementing his toolkit is the ability to wield rifles to great effect, a must-have if the ambition is to become a top tier hybrid player down the line.
On the offense you will find sh1ro as the second or third player into bombsites. His impeccable aim and movement allow for effective refragging and setting up for strong post-plant situations, particularly when an AWP is in hands. In line with his general aggressive tendencies, do not put it past him to breach a smoke if his intuition calls for it - the developed game sense praised by B1ad3 shines through in these specific moments and can be the deciding factor in rounds. Needless to say, these are usually accommodated by a flash from teammates, so the aggression comes in a controlled manner.
As for the CT side, sh1ro serves as a site anchor who masterfully plays angles and is able to hold off the offense, often accounting for more than a single frag in crucial rounds. What's more, his playstyle does not restrict him to passive hold angles, as sh1ro can frequently be seen assuming off-angles and taking aggressive approaches with the Big Green, which enhances his ability to catch opponents off-guard.
In a region as large as the CIS, it is no mean feat to turn heads of the international audience, so accustomed to the top tier of competition. The region has a long history of difficult personalities, big egos and differing mindsets that frequently get in the way of progress, not only on up-and-coming rosters but sometimes on established ones as well - something frequently written off as the "CIS mentality".
The key to further progressions is clear in the case of sh1ro - further application and progress while following the guidance of coach F_1N are a surefire way of moving in the right direction. One can only imagine the theoretical potential of the AWPer if he comes around to placing studies on the back burner and taking CS:GO on as a full-time occupation. In the words of B1ad3 himself, sh1ro may well develop into one of the world's finest within the course of the year, albeit with caveats in place.
The team will perform at their third ever LAN in the MSI MGA 2019 Finals, where crucial experience will be garnered, and a rare opportunity to demonstrate individual capability offline will be presented. Should you be tuning in to the event in New York over the weekend, make sure to keep an eye out on sh1ro, because one day you may have the privilege of recalling the player's formative days.