Boombl4: "It's really difficult to achieve stability in CS; the only team to have done it was Astralis, and that led to burnout”
In the second part of his tell-all interview with HLTV.org, Kirill "Boombl4" Mikhailov talks about the teams he has represented in his career, NAVI's recent success and struggle to find consistency at the top.
After discussing life, family and his relationship with Counter-Strike in the first part of the interview, conducted by Russian community figure Alexey "OverDrive" Birukov for HLTV.org., Boombl4 now talked exclusively about his career, from his early beginnings in 2017 with EPG to joining NAVI two years later with a view to taking up the mantle from Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko.
The 21-year-old revealed his thoughts on Quantum Bellator Fire's unlikely playoff run at ELEAGUE Major Boston and why the team was unable to replicate that success afterward, shedding more light on the organisation's financial issues. He also admitted that, while it was hard to leave Winstrike right before a Minor, the opportunity to link up with Natus Vincere was simply too good to pass up.
Questioned about NAVI's shaky online form in ESL One: Road to Rio, Boombl4 stated that the team missed the LAN component and couldn't focus on online goals. This is one of the reasons, he added, why NAVI have been unable to hold down their status as the No.1 team in the world.
When were you in your best form?
When Perfecto arrived. I had already spent half a year with NAVI and got accustomed to the tier-1 level. By Katowice, I had attained a good level of game comprehension and individual performance.
You're in one of the best teams in the world, you’re compensated well and you constantly travel. How do you maintain the motivation to continue to play?
The days when I don’t practice I think about other teams and players who are actively improving. Motivation isn’t difficult to find because CS is my favourite activity. It’s impossible to lose motivation when you’re doing what you love, complemented by a good wage and the chance to travel around the world. There are, of course, days when you play three practice matches instead of four or when play 30 minutes of deathmatch instead of an hour, but you can’t abuse that. Usually that happens when I don’t feel so well or didn’t get enough sleep.
Do you remember the first official map you played on HLTV?
I made it to HLTV via FACEIT. I was playing in a pro series qualifier with Patrick and Sailas that was hosted on FACEIT. On the day of the qualifier we found two more members in nafan9 from Siberia and N1kl, with whom we occasionally played on FACEIT; he had pretty good aim. It later turned out that he was a cheater, which obviously had an impact on my reputation. No one believed that he wasn’t our friend and that we weren’t cheaters ourselves, so we had to prove it on LAN.
When did you realize that you were a pro player?
When I signed my first contract with Elements Pro Gaming.
How did you sign with them?
I went to Moscow for a LAN event where I won 16-3 against hooch’s mix team. I didn’t cherry-pick the roster to make sure we definitely won; usually, they were just mix teams with friends and acquaintances from my area. After that LAN event, hooch and I added each other as friends and I started visiting his TeamSpeak server, where there were a lot of pro players, like flamie and tonyblack. We played 5v5 mixes amongst each other and it was really interesting, I always tried to demonstrate my capabilities in some way. One day, Mitya [hooch] messaged me and said there was an opportunity for me to join FlipSid3. This was great news and I couldn’t believe that there was even the possibility of me joining a Major-level team. After around a month, hooch said that things hadn't worked out with FlipSid3 but that EPG had replaced arch and he had recommended me as his replacement to Ubique. That’s how I got into EPG, and two or three weeks later we replaced facecrack with hooch.
Was there anything specific that you remember from EPG?
It was all so new to me: the schedule, the training and the practice. It was as if I had returned to school, but I actually enjoyed it. I absorbed everything I was shown and told like a sponge.
How did you end up leaving EPG?
Looking back, it seems I burned out. I think I took in and did whatever I was asked to, but the quality of my game progressively worsened. I went from a top-fragger to bottom of the scoreboard, even though I was young and should be a better aimer. I remember when we lost in the closed qualifiers for the Minor, Mitya [hooch] was left in the team, while the rest of the line-up was placed on the bench. Mitya gave me a second chance and we started testing a long list of different players, but at a certain point I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to leave the team to reassess my individual performance. I remember how Fly and I were breaking down Overpass for three hours, after that I messaged hooch to say that I was leaving, and when he asked why, I said something along the lines of: "It is the correct decision to make". He laughed for a long while after he heard that phrase. I felt as if it wasn’t my team and that I wouldn’t be able to open up in it. I didn’t blame anyone, I just found it difficult to adapt.
How did you join Quantum Bellator Fire?
There was a player nicknamed Twin who introduced me to iksou, who was working with Spirit Academy at the time. It was a bit strange for me because at the time coaches in CS:GO were a bit undefined and useless, but he motivated me and told me that he had been following me for a while and would like to help me. You [OverDrive] then gathered the academy team in QBF, and I don’t remember how, but I ended up being part of it alongside Twin, Deffo, Novel and you, while iksou was coaching. We played together for around a week, and later, on your recommendation, iksou was invited to play at a LAN with Binary Dragons alongside the main roster. The team failed at the LAN and decide to replace FANAT ROCKA with me, following your recommendation. They offered me a spot and I agreed, a decision made even easier considering I had two friends already playing there in jmqa and waterfaLLZ. The break between EPG and QBF was around two months, and in that time I got really tired of inactivity, lack of practice and official matches.
The first event you played with QBF was the Minor. What expectations did you have for the event? Did you believe you could make it through?
It all kicked off with a curious situation, as on the day that waterfaLLZ was traveling for holidays with his family, the open qualifier for the Minor was announced, set to take place just two weeks later. At the time we trained very little, and on top of this, Nikita [waterfaLLZ] would only be back a week before the tournament. We decided to play without any extra stress, simply for our enjoyment. We had no responsibility because there were no expectations.
At what moment did you realize that you'd definitely make it to the Major?
I arrived at the tournament with the thought of it being my first chance and that I needed to make the most of it by showing my maximum capabilities. Our first match was against AVANGAR, who were the favourites to take the event. We lost the match 11-16 having won both pistol rounds. I was playing in a really constrained manner, constantly taking long-distance fights as if I were afraid of something. I got back to my hotel room that night and told myself that I had no right to play like that, that I shouldn’t be afraid and that the next day I needed to show a completely different game. We ended up winning our elimination match against Tengri after we were a map down and faced with a 13-15 score on Mirage T side. I remember it like it was yesterday: we forced up with Tec-9s, I suggested we execute, which was met with support, and we ended up winning Mirage in overtime. It’s worth noting that in that round, Ramz1k ran out on us alone and gave away an AWP and an M4, both of which were used to kill the remaining team. I later jokingly mentioned to Ramz1k that I owe him my career. That moment really invigorated the team, and we proceeded to play with the confidence that we would make the cut for the Major.
What did you expect of the Major?
I never think ahead of time, I always focus on a specific game in order to put out my maximum. Before we flew out to the Major we were bootcamping, and in our last official match we lost to EPG. At that moment, I nearly cried because I couldn’t understand how we could make a Major and lose to EPG at the same time. I was sure that making the Major would take the team to a new level. We made our way there without a sense of confidence or assumption that things would work out, and everyone around us anticipated a 0-3 exit. Despite this, we always played better on LAN than we did online.
Tell us about the Major.
Our first match was up against NAVI. We understood that we had few chances, but we put up a fight in the first half, while in the second they ended up crushing us. After that we faced Flash, and we arrived for the match fully understanding that we simply couldn’t lose. At the time, Chinese CS wasn’t very strong, and because of this we were confident that we were better. Because of this confidence and the fear of losing, we were really nervous and couldn’t play calmly. We barely won the map 16-13 thanks to a full eco conversion, but after this victory we were extremely happy as we had arrived at a Major and secured a single victory. What could go better?
Next up were FaZe, and all we wanted from that match-up was to gain some experience, going into it with no expectations whatsoever. The level of play was incomparable; they beat us up as if we were creeps from Dota 2. After that, we faced Envy, and, contrary to the match-up against FaZe, we weren’t afraid, we simply started preparing for the match. We understood that we’d likely play on Inferno and started analysing demos. RPK played poorly in pit, so we decided to abuse the position. The next day, we found out that Malek would be playing instead of RPK, taking the pit position, meaning we didn’t even have to adjust our game plan. Despite all of this, ScreaM put out all of his resources in the first half and just wrecked us all solo. When we were on the offense it was easier because we started playing according to the game plan; plus, they had a coach standing in. It might seem like an incorrect thing to do, but when you’re playing at an event of that calibre, all methods can that lead to victory are valid. Later on, we faced AVANGAR, to whom we had lost three times in a row. We were confident in our Train performance, and I even said at the time that if they picked Train it would be their biggest mistake. We put up a 9-6 CT performance, then took the second pistol and jumped to 12-6, at which point we realized that we were just four rounds away from the next stage of the Major. Things, however, weren’t that simple, because we were playing on the T side of Train. Nevertheless, I ended up converting a 1v3 clutch in their first buy round and they couldn’t get back into the match after that. No one really expected two CIS teams to be playing for advancement to the next stage. We gained a lot of confidence and took down Virtus.pro without too many issues, and they were struggling at the time. When you beat legendary teams like VP, you become even more confident and courageous, leading you to believe that you could beat anyone in a Bo1.
After all of that, we were sitting in the practice room waiting for our next opponent to be drawn, and I was beating my belly like a drum, chanting: "Gambit, Gambit, Gambit". When we actually got Gambit I screamed across the entire practice area. The Gambit guys were about three sections away from us and didn’t understand what the excitement was all about. Despite Gambit’s players being individually skilled, they were our best option from all the teams that remained in the event. When we were winning 2-0 we didn’t understand what was going on, it seemed surreal. G2 completely stomped us afterward, but then we had that legendary match against mousesports where we managed to come back from a 2-13 deficit. It’s difficult to describe the emotions from that day, it was a miracle. When you’ve made it through two stages of the Major, you want even more. We understood that we had overperformed the goal we had set for the Major by about 500%, but we still wanted to win more. It was upsetting for us to have to face NAVI next instead of a team like Cloud9, for example. In a Bo3 setting we didn’t stack up well against them; plus, they had already beaten us at events and had a good understanding of what to do and how to play against us. I remember that when we were travelling to the venue on our bus, I proposed we hyped the match a little by playing out the first round with full Deagles. The guys supported the idea at first, but then they kind of declined the idea. Kvik landed an ace in the first pistol round and, for a second, the thought of us being able to make it to the semi-final of the Major at NAVI’s expense crossed our minds, but we were later utterly crushed 2-0. Even though we made it into the top eight teams of the world, there was still some sort of sorrow around the fact that this three-week dream had finally ended. After some time, I fully realized what we had actually pulled off at that Major.
What happened to the team after the Major? Why was the drop in performance so abrupt?
I don’t want to speak on behalf of everyone, but I think that some players started slacking. I was confident that after these results we’d become a stable tier two team, but things didn’t work out and we started having issues with the organization.
What happened with the organization?
We didn’t have contracts; everything was built on personal trust. We weren’t against signing contracts, but they didn’t exist and according to the CEO, Monster, this was to ensure the team didn’t feel the pressure of responsibility before the Major. We knew that all players who made it into the playoffs had good wages. We asked for the organization to increase our compensation by around $1,500-$2,000. QBF asked for two months to find sponsors, but after two months nothing changed and they asked for some more time. Honestly, I didn’t really think about it as I was focused on training to ensure we played well, especially considering that we frequently lost and didn’t post decent results. We received a lot of interest from other organizations that offered hefty wages and transfers to other cities. We didn’t want to leave because we had found our start in this organization and they had done a lot for us. We told the organization that we had received a lot of offers but that we didn’t want to leave, simply asking for at least a $1,000 raise. The response was that the organization was still looking for sponsors and that they needed time. We thought that a lot of time had passed at that point, and we notified the CEO that we’d be forced to transfer to another organization if our compensation wasn’t increased. Our wages increased slightly, but at that moment we were wondering where our sticker money had gone. The CEO said that the funds were frozen because they were going through currency control. Nothing changed after a month. Other players who participated at the Major said they had received their money, and ELEAGUE admins also confirmed that all funds had been transferred. We became suspicious of the situation. The organization constantly said that the money had arrived and that it was simply going through currency control. If we subtract the organization’s cut, then we should’ve received around $70-80k USD. Then Winstrike entered the picture, and they wanted to buy us out. The first order of business between the organizations was the agreement that Winstrike would only wire the transfer sum after all outstanding debts had been paid out, but in the end it worked out in a way where we transferred to Winstrike for free, but Winstrike covered the debts for QBF. We were very happy that that period of time had finally concluded and that we had a new organization with a better salary.
So, to make it clear, QBF owe you nothing as of this time?
Yes, factually I have received my money from the Major, but the foul taste from the experience still lingers. I’m not sure if QBF would have paid us had it not been for Winstrike. I think we wouldn’t have seen that money, but I hope I’m wrong.
What happened with the ex-QBF roster in Winstrike?
After transferring to the new organization we still failed to produce results. We traveled to the [FACEIT] Major, where we came in last. I wanted to become an in-game leader, while the organization decided to bench everyone on the active roster and offered me the chance to create a new team. WaterfaLLZ did a decent job as an in-game leader, but I knew what he had been capable of in the past with the AWP and what he was demonstrating at the time. I thought that the in-game leader role was preventing him from focusing on his aim. I was always confident that if I were to lead, my aim wouldn’t be impacted. In the end, I basically created the roster that I wanted to, barring perhaps a couple of people, for example mou and mir; I would’ve liked to have them in the team. I signed WorldEdit, wayLander and n0rb3r7, and brought Kvik back from the previous iteration of the roster. He had issues with communicating in-game, but he always tried to do as much as he could when you asked him, and he had impeccable aim. At the time, I thought he’d be able to fix his issues.
Why is it that you’re the only one of the former QBF squad to have really made it?
It’s difficult to answer that question, as all the players put in the effort to show what they were capable of. It’s a matter of circumstances, and perhaps if I wasn't an in-game leader I wouldn’t have been invited to NAVI. I always tried to play to my maximum and was always motivated; when I was presented a chance I always took it. It’s possible that I wanted it a little bit more, worked a bit harder and slacked a bit less. I can’t assume the minds of the other players from that QBF roster and understand what they did wrong.
Why didn’t the new Winstrike roster that you assembled work out?
Our beginnings weren’t too bad; we signed a second coach in Pipson. We made it to the Minor and secured third place, making it to the Play-in, joining North, ViCi and Envy. There was a single week between the Minor and the Play-in, and I was the only one who wanted to remain on site and continue training, while everyone else wanted to go home and rest up, but I ended up convincing everyone to stay. We found a bootcamp location at the Katowice Gaming House, where we had good preparation, and that week of training helped us make it to the Major. I was happy that the team that I had assembled from the ground up had made it to the Major. Our first loss there was against NRG, and their coach, ImAPet, seemed full of himself. In an interview, he mentioned that I was a stupid, aggressive player, which hurt me at the time, and since then, I’ve not really liked him. After that, we beat NiP and, later, fnatic. In the match against fnatic we had a 40-minute-long pause after the first half that we won 12-3. It was really important for us not to let the victory slip, and it was fortunate that I managed to convert a 1v3 clutch at 13-9. At that point, our record at the Major was 2-1 and we felt as though we were winning not because of the luck of the draw, but because of our genuine skill. After all of this, we weren’t able to challenge ENCE, and this was caused by a personal conflict. I remember that communication during the match was completely off; I couldn’t understand what was going on. Later, we faced Cloud9, and they ended up eliminating us from the Major. We had a bad map pick and we were broken during the match.
I remember taking the lift after the match and I had an internal monologue about how I could improve my team and which areas I could improve. When I exited the lift, I was told that so and so doesn’t want to play with so and so from my team. I gathered the team for a talk and asked everyone to openly express their issues instead of doing it behind other people's backs. Everyone became scared and no one spoke up. The relationship of the team worsened and we lost the required unity to continue.
How did you find out that NAVI were interested in you?
B1ad3 was always interested in me, even before I was a part of NAVI. He later told me that he had been planning my transfer to NAVI for a while. The actual transfer took a while; it was a whole month of depression. I understood that I could join the team of my dreams, but at the time nothing was under my control. There was a certain duality to the feeling: on the one hand, I could join a team that was two to three steps ahead of where I was, I could travel the world and contest against the top teams with them; but on the other hand, I was leaving a team that I had assembled myself, and I would be leaving them without a captain right before the Minor. I asked if we could postpone the transfer so that I could play the Minor, but NAVI said that they’d sign someone else instead. I was self-centered in my decision, but I didn’t want to give away my spot to some other player, I had no right to give up such a chance.
What were your impressions of NAVI when you first started playing for them?
I was impressed by the high skill level of the players. In-game situations that I struggled to comprehend they understood at the click of a finger. It was a completely new level, it was the big leagues. The people didn’t even pay mind to the little things that we thought about in Winstrike or QBF.
Did Zeus ever get to transfer his in-game knowledge to you?
Playing with Danya [Zeus] gave me a lot. I don’t usually try to copy players; I do my best to take their best aspects and adapt them to my own gameplay. I have people that I look up to, but I don’t want to be similar to them. I want to create my own comprehension and my own style of play. Danya is an exceptional leader and captain, he has a certain resilience in that you can always rely on him. I didn’t always understand why he made calls the way he did, as he didn’t explain the logic behind his thoughts. Instead, I tried to analyse his calls and decision-making myself. I didn’t receive any education per se; I just paid attention to his actions and calls.
Who helped you adapt to NAVI the most?
electronic helped me out the most. He would always tell me when to peek and when not to, he told me where to look and where I should use grenades. He taught me the basics to ensure I became a stable player. In any case, every single player contributed to my development, but Denis [electronic] did the most.
Why did the team have such a poor performance at Zeus’ last event?
If I’m honest, everyone wanted for him to leave the team with a bang, plus, we were playing at a home event with our fans right in front of us. We weren’t professional in our approach to the tournament, and as we know, wishing for a victory just isn’t enough. At the time we agreed to train in the practice room, but no one ended up going there.
Why was GuardiaN unable to perform?
I thought, as did the team, that he had difficulties communicating. It was as if there was a language barrier, even though he had played with NAVI in the past. It could be the case that during his time playing for FaZe he forgot Russian. He didn’t work on it; he didn’t try to improve his Russian. Even when we were bootcamping we’d discuss different topics in our free time, while he would prefer to talk to his Slovakian friends on the internet using his mother tongue. Also, our style didn’t really fit him, he was a lot more disciplined in-game and other teams adapted to him. This seemed to lead to a slight loss in confidence, he started missing easy shots, and later Sasha [s1mple] decided to return to AWPing.
Did you participate in the choice of GuardiaN’s replacement?
We had a shortlist of players, and we even trialed some of the academy players, but I was immediately up for signing Perfecto. I remembered him from a LAN I had attended with QBF, where we faced Atlants, whom he was playing for at the time. He was really good, and later he had great showings with Syman. B1ad3 had a look at his demos and he liked him as well. electronic also liked him, so we all came together and decided that we would like to sign Perfecto.
Tell us about the victory in Katowice.
When you’re leading 2-0 in the final, you understand that you’re about to win the largest tournament of your life. Then, you take the final round, make your way to the stage and hoist the trophy. I was happy, as life doesn’t present too many such moments. With this victory, we came to the realisation that we could win any tournament and that we were equal to the best teams in the world. You realise that all that you went through prior to this moment wasn’t for nothing.
When did you realise that you’d definitely win the tournament?
It was when we beat Astralis 16-5, 16-5, we gained immense confidence after that. In all, we worked together really well over the course of the entire event. After every match we would almost immediately go to prepare for our next opponent, we were all on the same wavelength.
Have you significantly progressed as a captain? Overall, is it difficult to be the captain, and would you, theoretically, like to go back to just rifling?
It’s difficult to pinpoint, but there’s definitely progress. Generally, it’s quite difficult to be a good in-game leader, and not only in NAVI, but in any team that is fighting for the top spot. We try to structure it so that the captain’s burden is lessened and so that every player can adapt and make a call. We listened to Astralis’ TeamSpeak, where every single player can suggest the right action and sub-call because every single member understands the game perfectly. In regards to what I’d like to do most, I’m happy either way. It’d be interesting for me to see how my statistics would change if I were to transition to a simple rifler.
Why is NAVI’s game unstable?
It’s really difficult to achieve stability in CS. You can win a few tournaments in a row and then lose just one, leading you to think that you’ve become worse, whereas in reality that’s not the case, it’s simply that other teams are growing, while you didn’t work on something individually or the opponent was a very uncomfortable one. We, for example, find playing against fnatic really uncomfortable. In essence, the only team to have achieved stability was Astralis, and even then, that led to certain players experiencing burnout and taking leave as a result. Quarantine also has an impact, as constantly staying in-doors makes me miss bootcamps, tournament hype and live conversations, but some teams find it more comfortable playing online [than others]. For example, we played the online RMR tournaments, and teams that we faced there didn’t really go to LANs, and, for them, the online format is the equivalent of LAN for us. They find it more pleasant and comfortable playing online, they’re in their element, while our element is the LAN setting, we lack focus online. We’re only used to training at home, and after training you normally wind down and relax. When you’re bootcamping or on LAN, you’re fully focused on the game. We’ve done some work on this, and if you compare our results after Katowice to the recent ones, I think we’ve improved our online performance.
During the first CIS RMR tournaments you experienced a lot of difficulties, and a lot of teams beat you and gave you trouble. Is it the case that the level of CIS teams has elevated, or are you coming up short?
It’s true that CIS teams have gotten better, it’s silly to dispute that, but, again, had these events been on LAN, we would’ve won both of them without any obstacles. Online, we can lose to a team once, but it won’t happen a second time, which was the case with both Hard Legion and Gambit Youngsters. Still, the scene is growing: Spirit have improved, Virtus.pro are playing well and Nemiga feel very comfortable online. It would be great if we could play the third RMR event on LAN so that we could put the question to rest.
What was your favourite victory and the toughest loss?
My favourite victory was in Katowice, it was my first victory at such a high level, and I played well individually. When it comes to bitter losses, there were a few, but I would specifically underline ESL Pro League Odense, which we were set on winning. It was disappointing to lose to fnatic after we had won the first map.
Did you frequently receive offers from other organizations?
I received the most offers during the period of time when I remained alone on the Winstrike line-up and was building a team. I could’ve been signed by AVANGAR or Gambit, and I even got an offer from the Chinese organization OneThree.
Tell us about the impact of the coaches you’ve had over the years.
I’ve worked with Xoma, iksou, pipsoN and B1ad3. Every single person had their own approach, with their respective pros and cons. Iksou tried to create a correct environment inside the team, while pipsoN simply focused on the meta and tried to hone it. B1ad3 has a more analytical mindset, and he’ll calculate the win rate of every single move to come up with an optimal solution. The coach is the sixth brain of a roster and can lead it both towards success and failure.
Read the first part of the interview here.