Hobbit: "It was hard to hear we are the second team in the world"
Gambit reflect on their IEM Cologne performance, and look forward to their ESL Pro League quarter-final and beyond.
"It was hard to hear we are the second team in the world." Abay "HObbit" Khasenov says the words with a smile on his face, but there is more than a hint of frustration behind them. Whilst many players and teams would be thrilled to feature at the #2 spot in the HLTV rankings coming out of the player break, Gambit do not count themselves as one of those teams. They have good reason not to.
It would be fair to argue that 2021 has been Gambit's year so far, the Russian squad having secured five trophies and a litany of top-two and top-four placings. Starting in April, they went on a streak of eight events where they finished top-two in every single one.
It came as something of a shock then that their first lan as a team, IEM Cologne, was the first tournament since April where they did not place top-two. After beating MOUZ and NIP they fell 2-1 to G2 in the upper bracket final of their group, a team they had an 8-1 map record against going into the match, sending them to a quarter-final matchup with FaZe. Once again they faltered, losing 2-1 and just barely stealing their own map pick of Overpass in double overtime. This was most definitely a Gambit team not quite performing to the level they had shown so far in 2021.
"Our goal was of course to win this tournament." HObbit admitted in a recent interview. Despite the bitter disappointment, they have not let the performance get to their heads.
"We have to be more objective, it was our first LAN, and one year ago if someone said to us 'you are going to play in Cologne and play in the playoffs' we would have said 'yes, we want it!'"
He also emphasised the learning opportunities the event presented the team with: "Everything is not going to come in one day. Next tournament we are going to be better, and we got a lot of experience."
When discussing the reasons for his team's underpeformance, HObbit was in no doubt, identifying two key reasons: "The first reason is inexperience. The second thing is we were really tired, we had a lot of tournaments and it is hard to create something new after this."
The team also seems clear on how they will avoid the latter issue in future. "We accepted every tournament last season [before the player break]. This season we do not have so many tournaments, I think we have four or five big tournaments. Our schedule is better than it was before."
The end of the player break brought with it the beginning of ESL Pro League, a chance to put some of the demons of Cologne to bed. So far Gambit seem on course to do so, having come out of their group in first place and winning four of their five series played.
The only blemish was an underwhelming performance against NIP, a throwaway game that had no bearing on their finish in the group, and IGL Vladislav "nafany" Gorshkov only sees this loss as a positive: "I can say that this loss brings us some new experience. I believe that we can fix some problems after this loss. This will have a positive effect on us."
They also briefly touched on their map pool, with HObbit quick to praise the team's Vertigo. "In my opinion we have a really strong Vertigo, it's the best map for us. I think we have the best game sense in the world right now on the map, we don't have many tactics, but we know how to rotate in certain situations."
HObbit also emphasised that, outside of their perma-ban Nuke, Gambit are a six map team. "We are practicing every map to be honest, we have six maps in the pool." nafany echoed this sentiment. "We are just trying to play our best, it doesn't matter which map or which tournament."
Looking forward to the playoffs, Gambit are not thrilled to have missed out on the extra practice time that a round of 12 series would have brought according to HObbit. "In my opinion, playing the first games, which we are not going to play, is very important. The tournament practice is the best thing that can happen to you."
When asked which team they would rather play, nafany felt that the team would be happy with either quarter-final matchup, Vitality or Complexity, but wanted to settle a personal score from their loss to the French squad at IEM Summer. "We don't think Complexity or Vitality matter for us. Both teams are very good, we just want to win. It is only my opinion, but for me, it would be better to play Vitality… I want revenge."
Looking further beyond the tournament, specifically examining their battle with NAVI for the top spot, coach Ivan "F_1N" Kochugov was looking forward to the fight. "I think that Natus Vincere is a really good team, with strong players and structure, and they have everything to be at the top. We have been meeting a lot, and the games have their ups and downs. It is really nice that we have such games, and we are ready for such games in the future."