nafany: "We want to establish our own era"
Gambit's in-game leader discusses the team's meteoric rise and some of the issues that they are trying to sort out.
Gambit climbed to the top of the world rankings on Monday following a memorable run that saw the young team claim their first Big Event title, in IEM Katowice, and finish in second place in ESL Pro League Season 13.
Expectations are now through the roof for Gambit, who only a few months ago were still trying to break into the top tier. Vladislav "nafany" Gorshkov attributed the team's recent success to the hard work that players and staff have been putting in and said that the more established sides may have slowed down because of the impact of the online era. "I think we're the hardest-working team in the scene, we work a lot, and practically no other team spends as much time as we do bootcamping," the 19-year-old in-game leader said in an interview conducted in Russian and translated.
nafany spoke about the struggle to close out maps sometimes and admitted that the team ran out of gas in the five-map thriller against Heroic on Sunday, taking his share of the blame for the Mirage thrashing. "Had I called better, I think we would have been able to win, despite the individual showing not being great." He also expressed his belief that Gambit will remain an elite side when LAN events return. "Perhaps we'll be top eight at the first couple of events, but it'll still be a good result for us. If we look ahead, I think we'll still be contenders for titles."
People now associate Gambit with a unique, slow playstyle. Which teams inspired your style around during your early days? Did you model your gameplay around anyone in particular?
I can't say that we singled out a specific team, it's just that when we were assembled, Astralis were dominating the scene, and naturally, we borrowed quite a lot from them. It's apparent that when a team maintains leadership in the scene, all other teams will try to pick up aspects of their gameplay, and we were no different. We kept our eye on all of the top teams, and every single one of our players watched a lot of demos. We absolutely picked up a lot of Astralis' game, but we also borrowed quite a bit from other teams.
In demo reviews back then we followed NAVI, Astralis, and Liquid, who were playing really well at the time. We just tried to extract the best out of all the teams and transfer it into our game. As for our slow playstyle, well I wouldn't even really say we have a slow playstyle, I'd describe it as hybrid, it's just that the current meta means that it's comfortable to play slowly against opponents.
You've been a team on the rise for quite a long time, but it wasn't the latter half of last year that you started to take strides towards the top with a big winning streak in the summer and then another later in the year after you added Hobbit. How did you make the jump from a borderline top 30 team to one that would start winning trophies consistently at the lower tier?
I'm of the opinion that everyone just got tired of losing. We had a poor showing in the WePlay! RMR tournament, and, personally, I was very upset after it. It was apparent that we'd make adjustments to the roster afterwards, and we were told after that it was very important to have made a good run at the event.
Our players became hungry to win, and during our streak, Hobbit joined the roster after we played out a few tournaments with supra. We saw some issues in the first few weeks as we were still deciding who would be calling, and, generally, there were a lot of issues in terms of explaining the inner workings and tactics of our team to Hobbit. On top of it all, we had role changes in the team, but after around two weeks, we realised how we should play and started gaining form. With Hobbit's arrival, we gained a ton of experience, and possibly thanks to this we've seen such monumental growth.
It turned out that Hobbit wanted to win, and we wanted to win too, so it all stacked up in a way where we continuously won, and developed a sense of confidence that led us to understand that we don't have any unreal opponents that we can't beat.
With the increasing number of official matches, how did you balance practice and made sure you would keep improving while you played in so many tournaments?
I think we're the hardest-working team in the scene, we work a lot, and practically no other team spends as much time as we do bootcamping. Our schedule is really tight, and we really work hard. We didn't have issues with clashes between training and officials. For example, after we have an official match we follow up with training on the next day, we haven't had breaks. In the beginning, we had a single day off at most, and that was fine for us, and it remains the case because we want to anchor ourselves in the top tier of teams. Back then, we simply wanted to breach into the top tier of teams, and we simply followed our coach's instructions, that was the way things worked. Judging by what we reap now, it was extremely productive, and a massive thanks goes out to our coach.
Considering Hobbit's experience and achievements, pundits often see him as the final piece you needed to make it to the top. How much of a factor was his addition to the team? What does his pedigree bring that you didn't have before?
Before Hobbit's arrival we had a system where I would call most of the match, a certain percentage of the calling was on sh1ro seeing as he's the AWPer, and the remaining time would be distributed among the others more or less equally. With the arrival of Hobbit we initially had him call for some time, then we reverted to me calling, and we developed a system where I'm calling the majority of the time, then Hobbit calls a little less than I do, then comes sh1ro, and the remainder is down to the guys who communicate info and occasionally make calls.
Hobbit first and foremost contributed to the development of our team's confidence, because he is a self-confident person, and it was definitely a missing factor. When we faced tier-one opponents we'd think, 'Damn, facing these teams is incredibly hard. It's shocking'. When Abay arrived he just said, 'Guys, there's no need to be intimidated by them, let's beat them'. Also, I never had a captain that could teach me something about the game, but Hobbit has the experience and he transfers it to me. As a captain, I've developed a lot since his arrival, and I am able to call a lot better in a variety of situations. Previously, I was unable to do this.
Were there any specific facets of your calling style and methodology that Hobbit helped develop and flesh out?
An obvious one would be my understanding of the game, where I now understand situations and what I need to do, while in the past I could call something because of a gut feeling or something along those lines. groove and F_1N help me out tremendously, as I'm quite a young player and as a captain I was inexperienced. Now I have some experience and I understand how Counter-Strike works. Previously I didn't have this, and Hobbit, groove, and F_1N had a massive impact on what we've managed to achieve.
Currently, I think the meta is such that not a lot is dependent on the in-game leader, or at least not as much as people may think. If we take a look at it closely, a lot rests on the trio of the in-game leader, the coach and the analyst. If that trio works well together, the team will show good results. It also needs to be added that players in the team can also come up with suggestions and calls that bring a lot to the success of the team. To answer your question, it's difficult to pinpoint something specific, but Abay's arrival improved us as a team in all of the aspects that I mentioned.
Tell me about your run at IEM Katowice and making the jump from an up-and-coming team to a contender at the biggest tournaments. Just a few months earlier you still seemed to be missing something when you played at DreamHack Masters Winter and were stopped by Astralis, and then you also lost consecutive DreamHack Open semi-finals to Virtus.pro and FPX. What was it that you had been missing and found at IEM Katowice?
If we take DreamHack Masters, it was our first ever S-tier event. Naturally, when we faced Astralis we had the feeling of playing against the guys we were previously only following. If we take a look at the demos from the match, the initial stages of the maps were spectacular, where we kicked off to an 8-1 start, but later we would get nervous, lock up and the fact that we were winning against Astralis messed with us. I think in the end we simply lacked the experience and confidence in ourselves.
After that DreamHack, we had a debrief where we came to the conclusion that, in all, we can take on teams like Astralis and really demonstrate our capabilities. During Katowice, we had a similar feeling playing against EG, where we weren't too confident. When we lost, we realised that we shouldn't play this way because it's simply not enjoyable, and we should try to have some fun from our matches. We broke down the match, and afterwards went on to win every remaining series of the event.
You seemed to be heading for another title at ESL Pro League but faltered at the last hurdle in the grand final against Heroic. Have you had the chance to analyze what happened in the best-of-five series? From the outside, it looked like you had run out of gas on Mirage as a team but also yourself individually despite having played a solid series up to that point.
If we discuss Mirage specifically, then everyone was exhausted, for sure. I wouldn't even say that I had an individual dip, but rather a dip as an in-game leader. A 2-13 score on the T side of Mirage is terrible, and I attribute most of that score to mistakes in my calls. On top of all that, we were genuinely tired as it was our first best-of-five where we played all five maps, and we had previously played not four but five maps, if we account for all the overtimes. To reiterate, had I called better on Mirage, I think we would have been able to win, despite the individual showing not being great.
You've had some issues in big advantages, which showed against FURIA and NIP in the earlier stages of Pro League but also in the grand final itself, where you were in a winning position on Inferno and Train but ended up losing the two maps in overtime. Is there a connection there, are you struggling with some mentality issues or a lack of experience in those moments, or were there different reasons behind that?
I think depending on the match we had different issues, but if we take the series against Heroic specifically, then on Inferno we just have a bad T side, which we're already working on will definitely improve. Against NIP, I think we started celebrating our victory too early, so to speak. We were in the final leading 13-2 on Dust2, which was our pick, and everyone had the feeling of it being a breeze, while our opponents had a sense of responsibility and it became easier for them to play against us. This led to a tight scoreline and nervousness on our part, which ultimately meant we won with a much less comfortable scoreline than we should have.
You beat NAVI the last two times you faced them, and after this run in ESL Pro League it's more than likely that you will also surpass them in the next ranking update [Editor's note: Gambit reached the No.1 spot after the interview was conducted]. Is that a source of pride for you? Did you compare yourselves to them when you were coming up?
I think everyone is proud of where we find ourselves today, because it came as the result of an unreal amount of hard work on our part and on the part of our coach and analyst. The guys don't sleep at night to make sure they break down our opponents' demos, for which they have our utmost respect.
As for the comparison to NAVI, I don't think any of us compared the team to them, nor did we aspire to become number one in the CIS region. Instead, we always aimed for the global rankings. Nowadays there's a tendency for media to compare some of our players to NAVI's players, for example I'm frequently compared to Boombl4, or sh1ro is compared to s1mple. I don't really like these comparisons because, as I've mentioned previously, we are two separate teams with two different playstyles. If we take myself and Boombl4, considering the previously-mentioned meta of the IGL/coach/analyst trio, then the issue is not in the in-game leader, but in the trio itself, which means that the IGL shouldn't be blamed as much as the coach or analyst, for example. It's not important to me whether I'm better than Boombl4 or Boombl4 is better than me, and the same goes for whether sh1ro is better than s1mple or vice versa. I know that, currently, I have the best sniper and players, and the rest is irrelevant to me. The confirmation of this is that we should be number one in three different rankings.
NAVI is without a doubt the team that most young players in the CIS region would like to join one day. Is this a dream of yours too, or do you only see yourself in Gambit?
It somehow came to be that I never cheered for NAVI. I knew that the organization existed but I was never interested in supporting it. I always liked supporting FlipSid3 when B1ad3 and electronic were part of it and even earlier teams like dAT. I enjoyed cheering for teams that weren't at the very top, teams that showed promise.
I have never wanted to play for any specific organization. Instead, I want to work with people, and, at the moment, I don't see any group of people in CIS that I would be more comfortable working with, or that I would find as interesting to work with, than the guys in Gambit. Objectively, I know that I currently have the best coach and analyst from the CIS region, as we just don't have anyone else in the region quite like them. I don't feel the need to leave the organization, and I don't see myself leaving in the future.
Analysts sometimes like to call the star duo of sh1ro and Ax1Le as the "budget s1mple and electronic". What do they think about being compared to two of the best CIS players in CIS history?
I think they have a positive outlook on it, as it's always great when people praise you. They aren't being compared to s1mple and electronic because their playstyles are similar, but rather because they're really good at the game. For the longest time, s1mple and electronic were considered the strongest in the scene, a duo composed of two players from the top five in the world. They're being compared to them because they're demonstrating results that are comparable to them, and as such they can only really see this as a positive.
A lot of people consider you the best team in the world at the moment and that will presumably be supported by the ranking in just a few hours [Editor's note: Gambit reached the No.1 spot after the interview was conducted]. Do you see yourselves as the No.1 team? If not, what are you missing from becoming one?
That's a difficult question, and I'll answer from a personal point of view. I definitely know that if we look exclusively at the numbers, then, yes, we're the best team in the world because we won the previous event and made it to the finals of this one. We're the best team in the world, but it doesn't matter where we find ourselves right now if our goal is maintaining this status in the long run. We want to establish our own era as Astralis, fnatic, Virtus.pro, and NIP did.
A part of the community often questions the legitimacy of some of the recent results from teams like Gambit and the improvement you have made over the past year, when everything was played online. What is your view on that? Do you think the online "era" has helped you or do you believe you would have been able to do it all on LAN, as well?
In principle, I don't think that the online era differs from the LAN setting because when it just about started, teams maintained the same ranking. For example, Astralis showed great results for a further two to three months until gla1ve and Xyp9x took a break. NAVI also played more or less the same and remained at the top. Sure, they had some issues, but the guys were practically not playing online at all before that.
I think that more teams are making it to the top now not because of the online era, but because the older professional players are getting tired and are losing motivation. They're used to traveling and moving around, but because people are under quarantine these days and they're forced to stay at home, they have to train long hours from the comfort of their house, and they lose motivation and their position in the rankings as a result.
Seeing as we're part of the younger generation, we grew up playing from home and we don't care whether we play from home or on LAN. We just want to win, and it doesn't matter whether we do it on LAN or online. Online helped us in the way that the older teams started getting tired and gave way to teams that we currently see in the top. For example, take Heroic, who before the pandemic weren't participating at many noteworthy events, at least as far as memory serves. I think they formed just before the pandemic, played a couple LANs and that was it.
The ranking that we currently see is an accurate representation of the scene, and when LAN events return, perhaps we'll be top eight at the first couple of events, but it'll still be a good result for us. If we look ahead, I think we'll still be contenders for titles.
One of the main points people make when arguing that teams wouldn't be able to recreate the same results is the LAN environment and the impact it can have on the nerves of younger players. Do you feel that despite this, you would be able to show up and demonstrate the same results?
I think that it is indeed a factor that can have an impact, but you can adapt and get used to anything. I am sure that after one or two events we would get used to it. Before the pandemic, we played the MSI tournament hosted in an arena in New York. Honestly, I was more emotionally impacted by the fact that I saw Astralis in person than the stress and nervousness I experienced during the matches. Sure, it was cool, and of course it was nice to hear people chant 'Gambit!', but it's not something extraordinary. I've experienced the same emotions playing online, because when you're playing the final of a large tournament you go through the same intense emotions, and you have just as much drive to win. I think it wouldn't have had much of an impact.