seized on playing for NAVI: "When you join a team that you had dreamed of representing, you're indescribably happy"
In the second part of his in-depth interview with HLTV.org, Denis "seized" Kostin speaks at length about his near five-year tenure with NAVI and some of the issues that the team ran into.
After talking about a variety of subjects related to his personal life in the first part of this tell-all interview, conducted by Russian community figure Alexey "OverDrive" Birukov for HLTV.org, seized now offers some insight into the teams that he has played for throughout his career, especially NAVI, whom he represented between 2013 and 2017.
seized, who is currently plying his trade for Cyber Legacy, reveals how he got the chance to join NAVI, fulfilling a dream of his, and explains why it took several roster changes for the team to become a true contender. He also rejects the notion that he orchestrated Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko' removal from the team in 2016.
The Russian player also goes into detail about what went wrong with Gambit and Vega Squadron, and admits that he is at peace with the realisation that his best days are behind him. His current focus right now, he adds, is on passing on his experience to a younger generation.
When were you in your best form?
Back in 2016 during ELEAGUE and DreamHack [Masters Malmö]. I was in great form then.
If we reminisce on the Counter-Strike 1.6 days, did you see yourself developing a career then?
You couldn't call my career in CS 1.6 professional, but I had decent showings if you consider the restrictions my parents placed on me and my young age. I'm confident that had CS:GO not existed and the CS 1.6 era had continued, I would've been a top player.
Do you remember the first time you played 1.6?
I was seven years old and my stepdad downloaded CS on a laptop and showed it to me. I remember playing on cs_militia, where I killed three people in my first ever round.
Did you like CS:GO off the bat?
The main issue transferring from 1.6 was that I had a bad PC, and the first three months I played with terrible lags. Nevertheless, I was invited to dAT team, who, at the time, were considered top 1 in CIS. In terms of accepting the game, I didn't have any negative associations with it; in fact, I was quite interested as I understood that this game was the future. After around half a year, I had fully adapted to the game and I felt comfortable with it.
Tell us about your first teams in CS:GO.
Towards the final 1.6 tournaments, Rush3D invited me to their CS:GO roster, composed of Dosia, Fox, hally and ROMJkE. We were invited to ESWC Paris and we started preparing for it, going as far as organizing visas, but Nirvana, the manager of Rush3D at the time, couldn't fund his trip, so we disbanded. After that, I was invited to dAT team, where I played alongside WorldEdit, latro, Ubique and insom. The guys were quite young and inexperienced, but because they transferred to CS:GO from CS:Source, they had really good mechanics. We didn't have sponsors nor wages, we were supported by one guy who would buy us devices and pay for our trips. I was later invited to zNation by kibaken, with whom I had played a lot during 1.6. It was a more serious organization that had a future ahead of it. At the time, I had already got into university and could spend more time playing the game as I didn't have the same pressure coming from my parents as I had during the 1.6 days. Later, zNation closed down, and kibaken and I created a mix team composed of players from zNation and dAT team. We were invited to play for Begrip, who didn't offer anything at the time outside of a well-known tag and occasional invites to tournaments. After that, I was invited to play as a stand-in for NAVI, and from there my esports career really started developing.
Tell us about your transfer to NAVI.
I had known the guys since the 1.6 days. I was standing in when markeloff had some time off for vacation, and I had a solid showing in the matches that I played. After markeloff and Edward left, I was offered a permanent spot on the team.
What were your first impressions upon joining NAVI?
During the initial period, it was euphoric. I had always dreamed of joining NAVI in particular; back when I was in school, I'd watch NAVI's demos and study them to learn how to play. To make sure I wasn't scolded by my parents for staying up late, I'd hang a bunch of t-shirts on my door to prevent them seeing the monitor light. When you join a team that you had dreamed of representing, you're indescribably happy. The first paycheck, your first trip abroad, your first bootcamp — all of these experiences are difficult to describe.
Tell us about your time with NAVI.
My first roster in NAVI was far from ideal. We played and trained a lot, but we weren't a tier-one team. We constantly changed things up but we simply didn't have enough firepower. After the Major, Edward and GuardiaN didn't have a team, and NAVI couldn't just pass up on such players. We replaced ceh9 and kibaken because, at the time, they were the worst performers on the team.
Did you play a part in the decision to replace them?
No, at the time Zeus and NAVI's management made all of the decisions. Personally, I was hoping that I wouldn't be kicked.
Why was kibaken unable to have a successful career after being kicked from NAVI?
To a degree, he was unlucky. Had NAVI only needed a single replacement, he would've likely remained, and who knows how we would've performed from there. During the first events, he played really well, but the circumstances developed in such a way that during the main event, DreamHack Winter 2013, he fell off. It was really cold at the venue, we even played wearing coats; znajder won the Major playing the entire event in gloves. As for later, it seems to me that he didn't have enough competitive drive and he didn't want to make it into a strong team, instead opting to play with his friends in USSR; he just went with the flow.
What happened in the team after Edward and GuardiaN joined?
We played with that roster for a long period of time and had a mixed bag of performances. At some point, we realized that our next replacement would be starix. He had lost confidence and belief in himself and had really dropped in performance, while flamie was coming up in the scene and we couldn't pass up. At the time, there were few coaches in CS:GO, but we decided that it would be a good move to make starix our coach. Those adjustments really reinforced our team at the time. The next replacement after that was Zeus.
Some say that you initiated that replacement.
A single person can't initiate such a replacement. A lot of people had a list of questions for him (Zeus). At the time, he had stopped living the game and was more interested in his side business projects. He focused on his media side and, as a result, started playing worse. The team didn't like this. On a side note, we could've replaced Edward and Zeus with s1mple, bondik or STYKO after our poor performance in Dubai, but our psychologist helped us keep the team. We once more trusted one another and the only adjustment we made was having starix call as a coach. Our results improved drastically.
If we return to the conversation about Zeus' replacement, then the idea to bring in s1mple, who had demonstrated great results even back then, was already on our minds. The actual conversation with Zeus took place in Atlanta, and everyone was on board with the idea except for Edward. It happened during ELEAGUE, when we lived in America for a month. Prior to the tournament, it was mostly within the bounds of specific discontentment, but the actual wish to go ahead with a replacement really formed in America. It turned out that we informed him about it before our semi-final against Virtus.pro, which we, of course, lost.
Was Zeus' replacement discussed behind his back, or was he aware that the team was discontent?
Initially, he didn't know. It was all on the level of a group chat between players, but in time, we told him about it, and he knew about the issues we had. However, he didn't know that we wanted to replace him.
Was kicking Zeus a mistake?
It was a result of the circumstances that we found ourselves in. Had we known that Valve would introduce the coaching rule just a week later, then we wouldn't have removed him.
Why were you replaced?
First of all, the team wanted a different captain, and to be frank, I wasn't playing too well.
Do you agree that you were unsuccessful as a captain?
Everyone has their own truth, but I think that I was able to call at the top level. I started heavily concentrating on what needed to be done as a team, such as who needed to throw which grenade, and because of that, I lost focus of my personal game, and, unfortunately, started playing poorly.
How did your replacement take place?
Initially, GuardiaN and I were made to be substitutes, and they wanted to sign ANGE1 and electronic, but then the opportunity to re-sign Zeus came after he had won the Major. FlipSid3 wanted a lot of money for electronic, so they decided to keep me. We played for around half a year with that roster. Initially, things seemed fine, people were energized and motivated, but with time the atmosphere became unbearable. I'd arrive at every training session as if it were a katorga (penal labor during USSR/Russian empire times). We constantly quarrelled and bickered, and I stopped getting any pleasure from the game. If you stop getting pleasure from your favorite activity in the world, then there's no point in it. I actually lost 20kg due to stress over half a year.
Who did you quarrel with the most?
There wasn't a person I quarrelled more or less with. You spend a lot of energy explaining to people what the optimal move in a specific situation would've been. There were occasional difficulties with s1mple, and once, during a game with NiP, they had a fight with Zeus that nearly got physical, and there were many moments like this. After our loss to Vega Squadron, I requested to be transferred to the bench as I no longer wanted to play like that.
Now that time has passed, do you think you made the right decision at the time, or would it have been better to power through that period?
At the time, I took everything close to heart and wasn't able to take my mind off such moments, I couldn't approach it with a cool head. Had I been able to abstract myself and simply continue playing, then I think I would've been able to play on that roster for a while longer, with the caveat, of course, that I regained my individual form.
Why did NAVI lose in two Majors finals?
At our first Major, we came in as an underdog but gained some really good form over the course of the tournament. During the final, we experienced our negative trait: we weren't prepared to fight after a bitter loss on the first map. We were leading 13-9 on the CT side of Train, lost a round in a 3v1 situation, played stupidly when it came to 14-14 and got so pissed off that we simply couldn't compose ourselves for the second map. We really had to win Train, as the second map was, indeed, a lot weaker for us than it was for Envy. The third map was random, and we got Dust2, which we were stronger on.
Two weeks before the second Major, we won CounterPit after beating Astralis in the grand final. We were very confident going into the Major, and we made it to the final, steamrolling our way there without dropping a single map. We went into the final as favourites to win, and we weren't able to deal with the pressure, and we experienced the recurring problem of being unable to stay composed after a bitter map loss. We were once again really pissed off, and even had a fight, which ended in us giving the second map away without a fight. Essentially, if the first Major final was lost equally due to psychological issues and gameplay, the second Major was all about psychological issues.
How did you transfer to Gambit?
It all started with NAVI needing electronic, and in order to get him for less money, I was supposed to play for FlipSid3 at the Major. I couldn't refuse the request as NAVI had done a lot for me, and I consider the organization a second home. Basically, I hadn't played CS:GO for around a week, and then started practicing with FlipSid3. I signed papers with them, saying that I'd play the Major with them. At the Major I realised that I wouldn't remain with FlipSid3, and Gambit realized that they would be making roster adjustments. After the tournament I was invited to Gambit.
What went wrong in Gambit?
Everything was great in Gambit. When I arrived, I once more gained the drive and proper emotions that I needed from the game. Hobbit was the team captain at the time and, initially, we played well, but gradually we lost our form. When it became apparent that things weren't working out, the team came to the conclusion that I should try the captain role. We had a decent showing; for example, we finished top-four at DreamHack Marseille, but after that event we weren't able to train much as the Kazakhs always needed to travel somewhere, organize visas or some other stuff. Later, AdreN and Hobbit decided to kick me.
How did you find out that you were being kicked?
It all started with Abay (Hobbit) being rude to me at DreamHack. He openly demonstrated his negative attitudes towards me, and because of it, Dosia had to take on the captain role for the duration of the event. I came to the event with my girlfriend, and after the tournament we went to Paris for a day, and when I was there, Dosia let me know that Abay (Hobbit) had made a ruckus and wanted to get me removed from the team.
It's worth noting that we had an agreement that we would play three consecutive events together in DreamHack Marseille, ESL One Cologne and Starseries & i-League Season 5. It later turned out that after we had played DreamHack Marseille and started the qualifiers for ESL, I found out from an administrator at StarLadder that one of the tickets had been bought for a different person. That's how I found out I was going to be kicked. Everything was done behind my back, I was told that they'd assess the situation and see how it went, but, factually, everything had long been decided.
Would you describe your time in Gambit as a mistake?
No, [but] what Gambit's players did could be described as one. I'm confident that if people had shoved their egos up a distance place and simply continued to work, then we would've been able to make some noise.
Tell us about your time with Runtime and your transfer to Vega Squadron.
The situation with Gambit really messed me up as there were two weeks left until the Major and I wouldn't make it as teams were not going to make replacements at that point. I stopped competing for about four months, only playing a maximum of a couple of FACEIT matches a week. The first tournament I prepared to any degree were the qualifiers for WESG as part of Team Russia. We won against forZe and travelled to China, where we managed to land third place. Afterwards, we came up with the idea of creating a team with starix and hooch. We had good practice and even made it to the Minor, but when a team has three captains with different interpretations of the game, then it becomes difficult to make compromises, and that concerns both in-game and real-life aspects.
After our loss at the Minor, belief in the roster finally disappeared, and we decided to part ways. I was later invited to Vega Squadron, where we played decently and made it to the WePlay qualifiers, but the organization ran into financial issues. Roughly speaking, I was in the team for four months but was paid for only one of them. It's obvious that in that context, the team couldn't exist for very long, and we stopped training. That's how that roster crumbled.
What happened next?
I had minor health problems. In my last game with Vega Squadron, I suddenly lost hearing in one of my ears. I was scared, so I immediately made my way to the hospital and it turned out that it was because I had an ear problem that I had developed while vacationing at sea. Because I hadn't addressed it for a while, the rehabilitation process was long and I didn't play in a team for a few months. In January, I put together a mix team in time for the Minor with jR, kalinka and scoobyxie; we couldn't decide on a fifth for a long time, but we landed on fostar in the end. We played well and the future was looking bright, but we weren't able to find an organization, and essentially because of that we disbanded. Later, fostar recommended me to Cyber Legacy, and it turned out that he joined pro100, while I went to Cyber Legacy.
What are your thoughts on Cyber Legacy? It's pretty far from a top tier team.
When I arrived, I understood that the players still had a lot to learn about the game, but having said that, they had a massive desire to learn and develop their skills. I became interested in developing a team from the ground up.
What do you want to be more, a captain or just a player?
I used to enjoy being a player and a secondary caller, but now I'm more interested in being a captain. I have enough experience and I can share it with people.
Have you ever thought that you'll likely never return to a tier-one level?
Yes, after Vega Squadron I had these thoughts, and I understood that the chances of me returning to the top level were slim.
What interesting teams were you invited to during your time at the top level?
The most interesting proposition was from Envy. I was also approached by the manager of c0ntact, and I could've ended up in Cloud9; they decided to sign a full roster, but I was ready to commit. That was around the time I finished my run with Vega Squadron. I really regretted that I wasn't able to join Envy because of my ex-girlfriend as she was unable to travel to America with me.
Tell us about the impact of coaches in your career.
In modern CS:GO, you won't be able to achieve outstanding results without a coach. At the start of my CS:GO career, there weren't really any coaches, and even the ones that did exist, people didn't pay much attention to, so I can't really say much about their impact outside of some basic help. I had a mutual vision of the game with starix, and I enjoyed working with him. I didn't want us to replace him, but he found it difficult to work with us and not all of NAVI's players, particularly s1mple, saw him as a full-fledged coach. Later Andy joined us, but he was more of an analyst. His coaching abilities only came through towards the end of his time with NAVI. I didn't have the chance to play a lot with Kane and couldn't get a gauge on his coaching competency. Andy was lacking authority and rigidity in Gambit, and he wasn't always able to deliver his ideas to the players. In Runtime we had MSE, and despite him having just begun his career as a coach, things were good and our vision of the game was very similar. Later we had Fierce, who was strong with micro aspects of the game, but he had room to grow when it came to the macro game. He impressed me with how hardworking he was, but he lacked rigidity when it came to the training process. He was like a friend to everyone, whereas you need to be both a friend and a chief. Currently, my coach is Xoma, and everything is really good. He comprehends grenades and gimmicks from the macro perspective, while at the same time maintaining a good level of play himself. He is able to fill in for one of us without there being a loss of quality. Out of all the coaches I've worked with, he's the best.
Read the first part of the interview here.