s1mple: "My aim is for my team to be number one, the rest is irrelevant"
Since his ascension from lower-tier CIS teams, s1mple has become a household name in Counter-Strike. The Ukrainian prodigy has made HLTV.org's annual top 20 in the last four years, earning the title of the best player in the world in 2018 and finishing runner-up to Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut in 2019 despite Natus Vincere often struggling to challenge for titles.
In the first section of a two-part interview conducted by Alexey "OverDrive" Biryukov for HLTV.org, we explore general topics about s1mple's life, including his educational background, the progression of his wage over the years and whether it has ever impacted his motivation as a player. We also found out which country pleasantly surprised him out of the long list that he has visited and what his largest expense to this day was.
When you want to watch an interesting match, do you tune in to the Russian or English broadcast?
I don't watch Russian streams, I prefer watching in English because it's more pleasant. Here's a typical example of a Russian stream: forZe were playing against Virtus.pro at EPICENTER on Inferno. At 12-3, VP made a comeback, and the analysis was something along the lines of, 'forZe just needed the pistol round'. Effectively, their breakdown of the loss is that the team gave up the pistol round at a 12-3 scoreline and lost the map off the back of it. Russian casters have a massive audience, and when they talk gibberish people listen to them and start believing what they say.
Commentators don't understand the game, yet they accentuate their attention on mistakes that may not even have happened. I'm a professional player, I can tell if a mistake was made or not, yet I don't commentate games because it's not my calling. I think casters need to focus on their strengths and stop reaching into things they aren't knowledgeable about; either that or they should improve their competence. Also, they should never insult players or do things that lead to viewers hating on players.
How did you come up with your nickname and did you have others before?
I can't remember how I came up with s1mple, I just remember that I added a "1" to the nickname so it looked a bit more interesting. Other than that I used "Awesome", which came from wrestling.
How did you get banned for cheating?
I had my friend over and for fun, I showed him how to play with cheats. I didn't really even get to play with them and, at the time, didn't think I'd become a professional player.
Did you regret your ban during the CS 1.6 days?
Yes, of course. I was banned from ESL events for two to three years in the days when they were the most relevant [tournament organiser]. Most importantly, I regret the wasted time, as had I not been banned then I'd have spent that time more productively.
What is the age limit on playing at a professional level?
Age isn't a barrier, you just need the will. Even in traditional sports, people remain until their 40s and it's not an issue for them. Besides, in esports we don't have the same physical load as athletes in traditional sports.
What age would you play to?
I'd definitely play until I hit 30. After that, I would have to go off my performance; maybe I'd become a coach, maybe something else.
Talk about your wage progression from the start of your career.
In Courage Gaming my wage was $300. When I joined HellRaisers I was paid $300, later $500 and then it approximately doubled because we made it to the Major. When I transferred to Liquid I paid maintenance while staying in the organisation's house so, in total, I was making about $3,500 a month. In Na`Vi, during my three-month trial period, I was receiving a partial wage similar to what I was receiving in Liquid. After my trial ended it doubled, and gradually increased dependent on our results and ratings.
I'll say this: the top 15 teams in the world earn more than $10,000 per month, and while Americans receive the most, they give away practically half of it in taxes.
Has money ever impacted your motivation?
It hasn't affected motivation, it has just made life easier, and there isn't really enough money to just forget about CS. You always understand that the more you win, the more money you make, so when talking about monetary motivation, it never really loosens. Besides, the money doesn't arrive immediately after a victory, so after an event, you don't feel as if you've become richer.
Have you ever let stardom get to you?
From the outside it may seem to be the case, but that's not true. If a person does something stupid in-game or out, then I always point it out to them - that has always been the case. People might interpret this as letting stardom get to me, but, in reality, if someone comes up to me and asks something, I'll always answer, take a photo and respectfully treat them. Having said that, I recently denied an autograph. I was playing basketball with my friends and a group of guys started recording videos of us. Later, one of them came up and started making weird jokes, flaunting in front of his mates, so that was a bit unpleasant and I refused to take a photo with him.
Do you enjoy being called the No.1 player in the world?
I try not to think about it because it's a distraction. I personally align myself to think that I am capable of winning against anyone and my aim is for my team to be number one. The rest is irrelevant.
Are you demanding towards your teammates?
Yes, I'm a perfectionist and I want every player in the team to put in an equal amount of time and effort. If I see someone slacking, lying or missing out on commitments then I won't be happy with that. If a mistake is repeated two or three times, I won't sit quietly. If we face a team that doesn't repeat their mistakes, then we will likely lose, which I don't want to happen.
Are high buyouts good?
We need agencies that take care of legal matters. They should study contracts and agree on all of the nuances between the organisation and players. It shouldn't be the case that an unknown player costs $1,000,000 to be bought out, or how FURIA signed players to five-year contracts and immediately kicked them, or the unreasonably high buyout of blameF, but in that situation maybe the organisation had the money to spend. In any case, it largely depends on the organisation.
When you join an organisation you immediately understand the level of seriousness and professionalism. When I joined Liquid, I was taken to a room where they showed me a presentation of the roster, laid out the rules and which sponsors I needed to follow. Around seven years ago I scammed people for knives, and Liquid compiled letters from these people, printed them out on A4 sheets of paper and I had to reimburse every single one of them what I owed. This indicates that the organisation takes its reputation and that of its players very seriously. I tweeted something stupid and was immediately approached and told that HyperX wanted to fine us for a significant amount of money. Once, when I was streaming, I scolded a Razer mouse and was immediately approached and told that I couldn't be doing that because Razer was our sponsor and they followed my streams.
The organisation has full control and you can immediately gauge their level based on that. Na`Vi operates on a high level as well, but they have a different specificity and mentality.
You mentioned streaming in your previous answer, what are your thoughts on your recent Twitch ban?
I understand why it was done, but the ban system needs some work. The last time I said that word, I immediately remembered that I couldn't say it, and I even mentioned at the time that I would probably get banned. I don't think it's fair. People find out that I was banned for that specific word and think that I'm a bad person, but the real meaning of the word is the last thing in my mind when I say it. I then go on to read news about s1mple being banned for the use of a prohibited word - why make a drama out of it?
Have you ever been offered to fix a match?
Yes, but it happened a very long time ago. I even had people come to my place with an acquaintance of mine, Fix. I stepped outside to chat with them, they offered me to play a match that day and I would receive $1,000. I immediately said no, and when we said our goodbyes, one of the guys didn't shake my hand - he was probably disappointed that I declined.
In the end, we lost that match 0-2, but the initial request was for us to lose just one map. It was a strange occurrence. We later hopped on Teamspeak with the team and I said that I wouldn't play with them if this ever happened again.
Did your parents support your gaming hobby?
Initially, it was so-so. When I was studying they wouldn't give me the monitor cable or mouse until I had finished my homework. Later, when I played at tournaments and started making some money and gave it to my mum and dad, seeing as I didn't need it myself, they were more accepting of my hobby. Nowadays they even watch our matches with my grandparents and cheer us on together.
Did you finish university?
I studied to become a Chinese translator for six months, but I wasn't able to take time off studies, and then my transfer to Liquid came around. If I ever need higher education, then I'll go study, but currently, there's no time for it.
Who did you want to become as a child?
A footballer. I played football for a long time, then I had to make a choice between playing football and being an admin on live-cs.ru, and you know what I chose in the end.
What is your favourite cuisine?
Asian, specifically connected with sushi, which is why I opened Ninja Sushi with my brother. I also like Ukrainian, Mexican and Italian food, I like everything. When it comes to meat, the look of it is very important, and even if I know that the meat is fresh, but I don't like the way it looks, I won't eat it. I absolutely love any kind of fish, especially salmon.
Tell us about Ninja Sushi.
It was my brother's idea, I just liked the fact that it was sushi. In total there are four co-owners, two of whom had previously created Panda Sushi, and my brother and I. I just receive my cut and follow the developments.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I currently listen to American rap/hip-hop.
Have you ever worked outside of esports?
The most I have done was handing out fliers. I would receive 10 hryvnias per hour, and it was important, specifically, to stand around a lot, as opposed to handing them out. At the time, 10 hryvnias was about one or two hours at the internet cafe.
Do you have a dream unrelated to esports?
I haven't really thought about it. Currently, all my thoughts are centered on esports.
What was your largest expense?
I bought a fully-furnished house for my parents.
Do you have any fears?
I don't really have any fears. I don't want to do things that turn out to be a waste of time. I've started my journey and I wouldn't like for something to get in the way of it. This applies both to the game and my life as a whole. I don't want to regret things 10-20 years down the line. I'd also add that I fear the loss of close ones.
You've visited a long list of countries, which one really left a mark on you?
I think it's Portugal. Lisbon was very beautiful, the nature was cool, the weather was great, the people were nice, the ocean, the mountains - everything you need for a happy life. At the time I hired a car to drive around Portugal, it was amazing. I wouldn't say it's my favourite country, but it pleasantly surprised me.
Do you own a car?
Yes, I have a 2018 Porsche Panamera GTS with a 5,000km mileage. I bought it but never spoke about it or shared photos of it on social media. Usually, when a player shares a photo of a car, people start saying that he has lost motivation, doesn't want to practice anymore or solely thinks about how to splash the money. I don't want people to think this of me. I just had an old Audi and wanted to replace it with something newer.
Part two of the interview will be released on Monday, January 27, featuring questions more specific to Counter-Strike, including his time with Liquid, the removals of Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev and Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko, his dream roster and his best and worst teammates.