Edward: "After three consecutive tournament victories in 2018, we could have become the best team in the world, but we chose to hang out"
The Ukrainian veteran opens up about his career in the first part of an in-depth interview conducted by Alexey "OverDrive" Birukov for HLTV.org.
In the first of a two-part interview, Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev spoke about his early days in Counter-Strike 1.6 and shared stories about the living conditions in Virtus.pro, how NAVI was formed in 2009, and what the Ukrainian superteam did to dominate the world in the first year of their existence.
The 32-year-old, who recently announced that he is open to offers from any region, also shared memories of the last eight years in CS:GO — during which he mostly competed with NAVI but also had a short stint in Astana Dragons in 2013 and a brief loan period with Winstrike last year — and of the many phases the legendary team went through in that time.
When did you start playing team-based CS?
From the very beginning. If you play well, guys who are older than you will notice you and invite you to join a team. The most honorable achievement was to win a local LAN and become part of the internet cafe's team. When you become the cafe's team, you're contending for the title of the best team in Kharkiv.
I needed around a year to get familiar with the game, and after that, I never really just played, I was always interested in competing. You could say my first serious team was pro100, which we assembled in 2002. Initially, we became the best team in Kharkiv, then the best in Ukraine, and, later, ascended to the level of the best teams in the CIS region.
What do you remember from the times on pro100?
It was a dream team. It's no coincidence they say your first love is the hardest to forget, and pro100 was just that. All of the emotions from my first big victories and losses I lived through alongside that team. At some point, two brothers who were part of the team, Keks and Razor, decided to get an education instead of playing, but our trio kept rolling. We were looking for guys who could pay for our train tickets to different cities to participate in local LANs and we travelled around the country with them to play at these tournaments. My first large victory was at a tournament called Interp Festival in 2002, which had all of the strongest teams in Ukraine.
When did you realize that you were a pro player?
It was when I agreed to move to Moscow to play for Virtus.pro. It was a pretty serious decision, especially considering that I left my family and my friends to move to another country and city to dedicate myself to a game.
What was your time in Virtus.pro like?
I was invited to join Virtus.pro on several occasions back in 2006 when I won against them at ASUS Cups, but I declined their offers. However, in 2007, when it had become apparent that pro100 would cease to exist, I decided to begin a new stage in my life. I won the ASUS Cup at the time while they experienced issues in their team, so they invited me. Initially, I transferred alone but later I asked the team to invite Zeus, and after some time had passed, Kane joined the team as well. The core of pro100 reunited in Virtus.pro.
What do you remember from that period of time?
It was a pretty rough period in terms of living conditions. Sometimes, I wanted to howl from sadness when I realized that I was living inside an internet cafe somewhere on the outskirts of Moscow. Our lives entirely revolved around CS. A positive moment was that at the time we had a contract with Intel, which meant that we had to visit eight cities in Russia to play showmatches. We travelled across the entirety of Russia and these trips were amazing. Sometimes, we were joined by a female team called Megapolis, and these trips were in the best traditions of student adventures. In the context of CS, we started emerging onto the international level and I started seeing myself as a player who was part of the international scene. A trip abroad with pro100 was an astonishing event, while with Virtus.pro we would travel somewhere every three months.
How did you join NAVI?
The three of us were kicked from Virtus.pro and we returned to Kharkiv. We were obviously upset, but, after a short break, we took on a couple of young guys and started playing again. It was difficult psychologically, as we had just been playing against the top teams in Europe, and now it seemed as if we had reverted a couple of years. We trained and participated at ASUS and DTS cups, but the results were average and the team started gradually dying. I remember how Kane stopped coming to training sessions and wouldn't pick up the phone. Through mutual friends we later found him in a poker club. He was at the table, sleep-deprived and hungry, and when he saw us, he said: 'Boys, I'm sorry, but I really need to win it back'. After that it became apparent that he was no longer as interested in CS, and seeing as he was the captain, we wouldn't be able to save the team.
I transferred to DTS and moved to Dnipropetrovsk, where I played with markeloff, pops, ANGE1, and Johnta. We had pretty good conditions and we travelled to DreamHack and GameGune events. Zeus was playing alongside ceh9 in pro100 in the meantime. At the time, there were four top teams in Ukraine, which contested for the title of the best team in the country, and each team could beat the other. These were A-gaming with B1ad3, pro100 with Zeus, KerchNET with lmbt, and DTS with me.
pops left DTS, and the financing of the team was tied to him, meaning that we lost our arrangement. We invited a young player into the team and renamed to "HellRaisers". At the end of the year, we won WCG Ukraine, where the top teams in the country participated, and we travelled to China to defend the honor of our country.
Later, Arbalet organized a LAN event in Sweden, where all four of the top Ukrainian teams were invited. There was the possibility that I wouldn't fly out to the event as I didn't have a visa. I accidentally put my passport in the washing machine, and the Czech embassy (we were supposed to fly via the Czech Republic) denied my passport. I found out that there was another embassy in Donetsk and made an appointment to see the consulate in two days. Upon arrival, I explained my situation and he told me to come back in two hours, which I did, only to be denied again. My team was practicing without me while I was travelling around the country in an attempt to get a visa. I decided to go directly to the Swedish embassy, bringing with me an A4 piece of paper that showed exactly where I'd be travelling to. HLTV sent me a letter for the embassy that said I could miss an international tournament if I didn't obtain a visa. I arrived at 6 AM, and despite getting in so early I was 30th in line and only got to the consul towards the evening. I showed him the document, explained the whole situation, and he ended up asking me: 'Do you know SK?'. I said: 'Of course I do', to which he replied: 'Great, come and pick your visa up in 40 minutes'. We ended up going to Sweden.
At the tournament, all of the Ukrainian teams ended up losing. We got a call from Arbalet, who offered to create the best team Ukraine could offer, with good conditions. Starix was given the task of assembling this roster. The team was assembled in Sweden and we laughed about the idea that Serega (starix) walked around like a baron, picking people for his team. He immediately picked up Marik (markeloff) and me. I proposed we signed Danya (Zeus) as a captain and we did it. We already knew that the manager of the team would be ZeroGravity. Even back then I knew that the manager would play a key role and that we needed a strong person who could rally a roster. I was happy we picked Sasha (ZeroGravity) specifically. The five of us then set out to find our last player and there were a lot of options, but we decided to make an offer to valentiniCh. I had replaced him on DTS back in the day. He had a good understanding of the game, good utility usage, and we thought he'd be a good fit. He thought about it and ended up declining as he was with A-gaming at the time. Zeus then proposed ceh9 as a candidate, he had played with him during his time on pro100, and we signed him.
What happened after you assembled?
The organization rented an apartment for us and paid us a good wage. All of it was a bit unbelievable for us. Prior to that moment we had never had such conditions, Arbalet created a fairy tale for us. We started training a lot, we lived the game. Some time later, we travelled to our first event, the IEM European finals, under the KerchNET tag, because the slot belonged to the organization. Despite us not being prepared on all maps, we immediately showed great results. We finished fifth, but that was enough to make the cut for the IEM Global Finals. Over the course of a whole month, we diligently prepared and returned to Germany for the finals, where we triumphed - our dream had come true. We finished first and I was the best player stats-wise for the event, I couldn't believe it. It wasn't even about the statistics but that as a team we were the best. After that victory, we knew exactly what we needed to do to become the unquestionable number one in the world. We could afford to play at a smaller event to expose our weaknesses in order to iron them out in time for events that we had our eyes on. It worked out just right, in that before WCG there was a small event that we lost, and this was right before ESWC [DreamHack Summer 2010]. As a result, if we account for the main events of 2010, we were undoubtedly the best team in the world.
What were your thoughts towards the end of the CS 1.6 era?
By that point we weren't the best team in the world, and a lot of the competition was on par with us. Despite some teams transferring to CS:GO, we continued participating in CS 1.6 events. We didn't believe right until the very end that everyone would transfer to the new version. We had played CS:GO once while we were in Sweden and we thought the game was a bit funny, but when the entire world transferred to CS:GO, we realised that we were late. The NiP era had begun.
Over the course of the next year, we just learned to play the game. I actually really liked the game, while markeloff and ceh9 really disliked it. It was difficult, but because we were a strong group, we managed to achieve a decent level and even won a few times. Then there was the fateful tournament in Prague where we lost to your (OverDrive's) mix, Nostalgie, and markeloff let us know that he was transferring to Astana Dragons right after it, and invited me along. I thought about it a lot, and initially I declined, but in the end I made the difficult decision to leave NAVI. We had a good roster in Astana Dragons, the organization rented out a flat for us and we started training, but I realized that it wasn't my thing. I was under the impression that everyone was playing for fun and no one wanted to work on improving their gameplay. Everyone was content and everyone was happy that such a team had been assembled. I tried to get everyone to work on teamplay, but in the end, the team seemed to feel that I didn't align with their views and I was kicked after around six months. We placed third at ESWC, and on my train journey home, lmbt, who was our manager at the time, called me to let me know that I had been kicked. Even though it turned out that things had been done behind my back, I had a feeling of relief. At the time, I travelled to the first Major in Sweden with you (OverDrive), where we weren't able to make it through the BYOC qualifiers, but I befriended GuardiaN, and the two of us joined NAVI later.
What do you remember after rejoining NAVI?
I remember how I experienced my first performance crisis in 2015, to a point where the team wanted to kick Zeus and me. Our manager, Ugin, did a lot to save our roster at the time. We had an open talk and after it, we saw improvement in our level of play. For the first time in our careers, we were playing in the final of a Major at DreamHack Cluj-Napoca, where we lost to EnVyUs. 2016 was a very good year for me. I managed to outlast the crisis and I really liked the way I was playing, but we weren't able to become the best team by the end of the year.
We once more made it to the finals of a Major [MLG Columbus], which we were supposed to win, but, in the end, we lost to Luminosity. That's when the Brazilian era started. After that, a pivotal moment was the team's decision to kick Zeus. On paper, it seemed that everything was fantastic, in that s1mple would come in and replace Zeus, who couldn't really be called a captain at the time as starix was calling as a coach. I agreed that Danya (Zeus) was dedicating less time to his gameplay and that he was more interested in his business projects, but with that said, I don't think that Zeus was a problem in our team. We were progressing and we needed just a little more time to become the best team in the world, but the younger players had other plans. They conspired with starix and made the decision without notifying me, Ugin, or Danya (Zeus). Practically right after the kick, Valve implemented the coaching rule and seized became the captain, but he was unable to cope with the role. s1mple's personality came through, and it inhibited everyone else on the team, bringing a lot of destruction. He compensates his toxicity with immense dedication to the game and a high level of play, so you have to decide whether you want to have the best player in the world on your team or a calm working environment. These days this isn't as pronounced as he has matured and become calmer. We played terribly at the time.
The team crumbled - first starix was removed and later so was seized. Essentially I was left with s1mple and flamie and we needed to decide what to do next. As the oldest person on the team, I assumed control alongside the organization's management. Danya (Zeus) and I always kept in touch, and even before PLG Major Krakow, which Gambit won, there was the possibility of him transferring back to NAVI. After they won, I forgot about the possibility of such a move and started looking for two additional members. In the end, Gambit experienced some issues and Zeus was transferred back. I could finally exhale as it really isn't an easy task to find a captain, especially at such a level. We decided to bring back seized on trial, but we weren't able to play together very well. seized left before the end of the trial period and we signed electronic. This is when a period of progress began, and we trained a lot. In 2018 we once more became the second-best team in the world, and made it to the final of the FACEIT Major. We didn't have good team preparation going into the Major, but despite that, our individual form, which had developed as the year progressed, was on a high level. We sustained a lopsided loss to Astralis in the final. In 2019 we lost to ENCE in the semi-finals of IEM Katowice, where we were leading 12-6 on the final map. Some time later, I was kicked from the team.
Why is it that the team never managed to win a Major?
We had three finals. After the first final, I was very worried and felt personal guilt as I had been unable to play at the required level, and despite that, we were still supposed to win. In our second final against the Brazilians, the morale component decided it all. Judging by the gameplay, we looked better, but after we lost the first map in overtime, the team completely crumbled and we couldn't show up on our map pick. In our third final against Astralis, as I mentioned previously, we lost without a chance. On a side note, we came into that event lacking competitive confidence, yet we still managed to make it to the final.
Were you aware that you had been on the shortlist to be replaced for a long while?
One time in 2018, Zeus secretly told me that the players were talking to Zolotarev (NAVI's CEO) about me. I ignored Danya's request to keep it a secret and I assembled the entire team to express what I felt about the situation and that I was unhappy with it. There's no smoke without a fire, though, and it's true that my performance wasn't great, I was in a slump. Immediately after that conversation, I had a slight performance improvement and we won three tournaments in a row: StarSeries Season 5, CAC 2018, and ESL One Cologne, where we beat Astralis in the semi-finals. Then, we had ELEAGUE in Atlanta, and in between the group stage and playoffs, we had approximately a five-day break. We threw that time away by relaxing and hanging out, neglecting the team completely. After three consecutive tournament victories, we could have comfortably become the best team in the world, but we chose to hang out. It seems the younger guys weren't yet ready mentally, while Danya (Zeus) and I, who were a bit older, didn't prevent this from happening. We played out ELEAGUE, and the momentum we had after built our conversation had disappeared. Teamplay was non-existent and everyone was focused on individual preparation. I never shared this approach, but I didn't say anything despite being categorically against it in spirit. I find it more important to break down demos together and discuss things than play FPL until the morning hours and hang out, but they shouldn't be heavily judged for that. At their age, I was much the same, and only with years behind your back do you truly understand what needs to be done. Some aspects of life or work can be explained to you in detail, but you'll only truly understand them once you go through it yourself. Six months after ELEAGUE I was kicked.
When did you realise that you would not remain in NAVI?
I had a feeling that there were conversations going on behind my back. Internal conversations had also changed. If earlier it was the case that management would consider the older players' opinion first — to put it simply, Danya (Zeus) and I would have deciding power —, later it became apparent that that was no longer the case and we had become normal players. That's normal, though, I have nothing against it. At the time, no one was operating the team and things were left to go with the flow, and in that situation, s1mple became a key figure by taking the reins, and the organization obviously supported him. Now B1ad3 and Sasha (s1mple) make the decisions.
How did they let you know it was over?
We were eliminated from the group stage of ESL Pro League and Ugin (NAVI's Manager) let me know that the team wanted to remove me. Half an hour later we got together and the players confirmed this, saying that they wanted to get Boombl4 instead. I just wished them luck, but the decision definitely benefited them. I can't deny that it has become easier for Sasha (s1mple), Denis (electronic) and Egor (flamie) to play with Kirill (Boombl4) and Ilya (Perfecto), if compared to playing with Danya (Zeus) and me. Even outside of the game it's easier for them to find a common ground. Initially, we didn't have problems, but with time the age gap started to have an impact.
Did you want to join Winstrike or did you do it against your will?
They asked for help after they had found themselves in a difficult situation, plus the conditions were pretty good. I moved to Moscow for three months, but of course it was a mistake to have accepted the offer. I don't know what affected my decision at the time. It seems I wanted to simply play in a team environment that I found pleasant, as towards the end of my time with NAVI that had not been the case. We had appalling performances with Winstrike, we were nervous all the time and it was difficult to get the maximum out of yourself knowing that you'd be leaving in three months.
How did the idea of creating selectah come to life?
I was approached by coach Sasha, who said he had some young players and he offered me to play with them. I was playing FACEIT and trained on DM servers, and I liked my form, so I decided to try it out. Gradually we put together an international roster that existed for a short space of time.
You can read the second part of the interview here.