One for the future: degster
The second Russian player featured in our "One for the Future" series, and the ninth overall, is Abdul "degster" Gasanov, Espada's 19-year-old talented AWPer, who has the fourth-highest rating in the world in 2020.
Despite being a young talent in CS:GO, degster discovered Counter-Strike when he was around six years old. The now 19-year-old promising AWPer would visit internet cafés in Dagestan with his older brother to play Counter-Strike 1.6. Being so young, degster couldn’t reach the keyboard and the mouse on his own, but he would sit on his older brother's lap and just focus on cracking heads, while his sibling was responsible for moving around the server.
It wasn’t like degster was hooked to Counter-Strike from the very beginning, though. When he was a teenager, he was more interested in playing another Valve game, Dota, and only bought the Counter-Strike package on Steam in 2012 to have it in his library. When degster played CS:GO for the first time, he got irritated because he didn’t know how to change the weapon to the right hand, and ended up dropping the game after just one hour. He didn't touch it for a whole year.
“I used to play a lot of Dota, and I had a decent MMR for my age, around 5000, but I noticed that I had become extremely aggressive and started swearing a lot,” degster recalls. He recognized that playing the MOBA title wasn’t healthy and decided to give CS:GO — a game that has all the tools he knew from 1.6 — another try.
Things weren’t easy in the beginning, though. While he had been away from CS, he had experimented with other first-person shooter titles in which he could just run and gun and not worry about recoil, which is a key part of CS:GO's core mechanics. "In the initial stages, I was quite mad that I wasn’t able to get frags because I didn’t understand the mechanics,” degster says. He eventually began to follow professional players and downloaded their configs to adjust his game, and CS:GO became a place that served as a distraction from everything else in his life.
With his own PC, degster eventually started spending all his free time in CS:GO and stopped being involved in sports, which used to take up a large part of his free time. That concerned his parents, who wanted him to go outside instead of playing the game all day. His mother was the first to talk to him, not in a negative way, and later his father also voiced his concerns. The fact that degster was devoting so much of his time to something without making an income didn't help.
Attending local tournaments in his hometown of Makhachkala wasn't easy: one time, he didn’t have enough money for the sign-up fee and his older teammates had to pay for him to play. The tournament, as usual, ran the entire day, and around 2 in the morning he received a call from his father, who was angry at him for being out so late. His team had just qualified for the semi-finals and degster asked his teammates to explain the situation to his father, which didn’t go as well as he wanted.
“He gave me around two hours to get home, but even then I realized that if I was intent on winning the event, it wouldn't be enough time to make it,” degster recalls. He eventually made it home at around 5 in the morning after his team had lost in the semi-finals, but there was no time to rest: he still had to study for an exam on the Russian constitution that he was going to take just a few hours later.
“I grabbed two chairs, made a little gap between them, and laid on them, studying for the exam," he says. "I ended up falling asleep on those chairs, and I was awoken by my father in the morning. He chuckled at what I had done and sent me off to school."
The pressure from his parents decreased around that time, when he was already winning some prize money from local tournaments and attending events covered by media outlets. Later on, degster gave an interview to a national TV channel and his parents understood the magnitude of esports. Even though things were starting to go well for degster, he didn’t necessarily settle with any of the local teams. He was playing an average of 200 hours every two weeks but most of the other players weren’t willing to put in the work to break out.
It took some time for degster to experience the feeling of winning a tournament. His teammates were constantly changing and he was trying his best to assemble a strong team around him. When he finally managed to taste victory with one of his local rosters, degster realised he wanted to fly higher. “I understood that I needed to join a Moscow-based team and play tournaments there,” degster explains.
Moving forward, degster started dedicating time to FACEIT and eventually made it to level 10. Once he was playing at that level, he became acquainted with some CIS pros, such as Leonard "kenzor" Volodarchuk and Ivan "AiyvaN" Semenets, who had already played in HLTV-covered tournaments. degster started adding players from his FACEIT matches on Steam to assemble a mix team in Moscow or even earn a trial period with some established CIS teams. It didn’t work out the way degster wanted, but thanks to kenzor, he was introduced to Vladislav "FinigaN" Usov, who to this day is still his teammate.
With FinigaN by his side, degster went to compete at MID.TV Cyber Cup, a tournament held in Moscow in June 2018 with some known CIS sides. His team, PEY, won two matches in the group stage and qualified for the quarter-finals, losing to the Winstrike lineup that had made a miraculous playoff-run at the ELEAGUE Boston Major in January 2018 under the Quantum Bellator Fire banner.
“After this event, I received an invite to the CIS Pro League, where I start playing and meeting people of a higher in-game caliber,” degster says. Around that time, he tried to get into FPL-C twice and failed, so he kept playing in the CIS Pro League, which was his best chance to get invited to a team. degster spent nine months playing matches in the pug platform and eventually started playing with NorBant, a CIS mix team. He wouldn't stick around long, though, as his teammates wanted him to be a main rifler instead of an AWPer, which he refused.
degster kept playing with mixes until FinigaN recommended him to Alexey "OverDrive" Birukov, Espada’s soon-to-be head coach. He was offered a trial, which lasted a month, but OverDrive was hesitant about giving him the AWP and thought about making a final decision only after some tournaments.
“I was categorically against the idea and told them that it was either me on the AWP or I wasn't interested,” degster says. He officially joined Espada in April 2019, and although the team was built under the premise of replacing a player every three months, that wasn’t the case for him. The CEO of Espada told degster just one month into his stay that the organization wanted to work with him on a long-term basis. That turned out to be the best decision Espada have ever made as degster quickly became a star player, ending 2019 with an average 1.17 rating. In 2020, his numbers have only improved.
His evolution hasn't happened overnight. degster knew from the beginning about the importance of self-sacrifice. “I just put my mind to it, and as my mother always says, when I'm set on something, no one can convince me otherwise,” degster says. Even now that he is playing well, he continues putting the work in to become a better player. He shows a maturity and work ethic that exceed his age.
degster had three main inspirations to mould his playstyle: Initially, it was mainly Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev and Kenny "kennyS" Schrub, and later he started watching Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut as well. The NAVI player, however, is the one who has inspired degster the most because he’s equally at home with the AWP and with rifles. “I've always been a person who wanted to play with both and to be able to switch between the two,” degster says. The other thing about s1mple is that, according to degster, his movement and decision-making evoke emotions in viewers. That also helps to explain why he decided to model his game after the Ukrainian star.
With great numbers also comes confidence. degster said he received an offer to join Spirit, one of the most established teams in the region, but he passed up the chance as they wanted to use him as a rifler. degster recognizes that the skill ceiling for AWPers in the CIS is quite high at the moment, and that it is unlikely that top teams such as Natus Vincere, Virtus.pro and forZe will change snipers any time soon. degster, however, is absolutely fine with the competition.
“I think that you have to earn your spot on a team and prove that you deserve it," he notes. "If you're better than them in all aspects, then it's unlikely that the organization won't want to sign you. If you're weaker, then you need to apply yourself and keep working instead of thinking about how bad it is that there's someone better than you. It's normal for a competitive environment, and sure, the AWPing competition in CIS is fierce, but I'm fine with that. I don't expect to be offered a slot simply because I want it, I need to grow to be able to contend for that spot.”
degster assures that Espada won’t keep him from joining another team in case he receives an interesting offer. That is quite positive and almost shocking, considering the sums that are usually demanded by smaller CIS organisations. Espada have already received some offers, none of which has matched his release clause. He hasn’t contemplated the idea of joining a European or North American team but is confident enough in his English skills.
But how will degster fare against better teams? He has mostly faced smaller teams and is averaging a 1.18 rating against top-50 opponents this year, a number that goes down to 1.07 if we only consider top-30 teams. Is he going to follow in the footsteps of fellow Russian AWPer Dmitry "sh1ro" Sokolov, who has been able to perform consistently against all sorts of teams, or will he struggle like Elias "Jamppi" Olkkonen, who has barely managed to put in above-average numbers for ENCE in 2020?
“The way I envision my transfer to a top team, the process will involve a lot of work,” degster says. His main goal when the time comes is to arrive in the team with a winning mentality. He explains that he saw this hunger in Kirill "Boombl4" Mikhailov and Denis "electronic" Sharipov, two of the NAVI players he has had the chance to speak with.
While he’s still part of Espada, degster dreams of taking his team to a Major — something that is not as far fetched as it might seem as they are currently inside the qualification zone in the CIS Regional Major Ranking (RMR). He is eager to play with the team on LAN, which he hasn't been able to do with Dmitriy "Dima" Bandurka, Dmitry "S0tF1k" Forostyanko and Robert "Patsi" Isyanov — who all joined at the end of 2019 — because of the coronavirus pandemic. As for long-term career goals, degster is nothing but ambitious.
“I don't have a goal along the lines of winning one or two Majors," he says. "Astralis have already shown how many Majors you can confidently win, and everything will depend on how the scene develops.”
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