groove on Gambit's goals: "We want to establish ourselves in the top five"
The Russian organisation's CEO and interim head coach discussed the team's Cinderella run in IEM Katowice and their steady growth since the creation of the lineup.
Konstantin "groove" Pikiner took charge of Gambit's team on a temporary basis in September after Ivan "F_1N" Kochugov was suspended by the Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC) for using the spectator bug, combining his coaching duties with his role as CEO of the Russian organisation. The 38-year-old isn't new to coaching, though, having guided teams like Meet Your Makers and Moscow Five in Counter-Strike 1.6 after playing for emax and Virtus.pro for several years.
Under his guidance, the exciting Russian team ended 2020 on a high, winning DreamHack Open December and breaking into the top-15 in the world rankings. Hype surrounding Gambit began to build in the weeks leading up to IEM Katowice, and the team surpassed even the wildest of expectations as they netted the grand prize of $400,000 after a dream run that included victories over G2, Natus Vincere, Spirit and Virtus.pro.
As Gambit prepare to begin their ESL Pro League campaign against teams like NAVI, Cloud9 and MIBR in Group C, we had the chance to sit down with groove and picked his brain on what it has been like to coach again, the return of Abay "Hobbit" Khasenov, who was part of the organisation's Major-winning lineup in 2017, and the possibility of losing some of the team's most prized stars.
Before taking the team's reins, you hadn’t worked as a coach since the CS 1.6 days, apart from a brief experience at DreamHack Summer 2018. What made you take up the coaching role after F_1N was banned instead of hiring someone to do the job?
I've dedicated the majority of my esports career to coaching. From July 2002 until March 2006 I was a captain that additionally fulfilled the role of a coach, and afterwards, from March 2006 to February 2012, I was a professional coach in Counter-Strike 1.6. The ten years of experience competing against the best teams in Europe and the world largely continue to help me to this day. Since the creation of Gambit Youngsters I had taken an active part in the formation of the team's approach to tactical thought and the development of a training regiment, so my candidacy as a coach was quite logical. We didn't have to make drastic adjustments.
Will you stay as the team’s coach?
I will be coaching the team until F_1N's suspension period expires [Editor's Note: June 20].
What is it like to combine the role of CEO with your coaching duties?
I am only able to combine these two roles because of the pandemic. Since I don't have to constantly travel to tournaments with various Gambit Esports rosters, I have free time, which I use to work with our teams.
How much of Gambit’s success is due to Hobbit’s leadership? Do you think that his experience was the missing ingredient?
Firstly I'd like to address the role distribution of our team: nafany is the in-game leader, Hobbit assists him predominantly during mid-game calls and stressful situations; sh1ro is the AWPer, who takes on an active role in structuring our game; interz and Ax1Le are great executors that bring a lot of impact through individual actions on the map. There's no doubt that Hobbit became the missing element of the puzzle, as his experience and high individual skill level allow us to set more challenging objectives and successfully achieve them.
How is it to work with such a group of young players apart from Hobbit? What has it been like to follow their growth?
The most important thing when working with young players is patience and willingness to invest in the long-term. Gambit was the first professional esports organization for Ax1Le, interz, nafany, and sh1ro, and when they joined our team they were only 16-17 years old. Over the course of the past two years, we have gone from a beginner-level youth roster to becoming champions of the world in IEM Katowice 2021 — it was an unforgettable experience and incredibly emotional.
Some organisations will definitely keep an eye on your players moving forward, especially sh1ro. Is the organisation confident in keeping the players if offers start to come?
Gambit is a storied organisation with a list of international titles in various competitive gaming disciplines. Our experience and resources allow us to provide all the necessary conditions for our players, and I'm confident in every player that's part of our roster.
You were the lowest-ranked team in IEM Katowice and now you’re the fourth-best team in the world. What were your expectations for IEM Katowice and what are the goals moving forward?
Despite the fact that Gambit was ranked 19th in the world prior to the start of the tournament, we knew that our actual capabilities were somewhat different and that we were already able to beat teams in the top 10. This deduction was based not only on practice matches that had taken place in the previous six months but also on our tactical developments on various maps. Aside from this, we won DreamHack Open and were top eight in DreamHack Masters Winter, which gave us an additional confidence boost. We expected to make the playoffs in IEM Katowice, which means that we planned to make it into the top six teams at the event. As for this year, the team has set the goal of establishing itself in the top five in the world.