flamie: "I think I can still perform at a high level"
The Russian player opened up about leaving Natus Vincere after six years and his plans for moving forward.
2021 is the year when everything changed for Egor "flamie" Vasilyev. He parted ways with the organization that made him the player he is today, and for the first time in a long while, his future is uncertain. While entertaining offers as a free agent, the Russian rifler decided to not stay out of the scene for too long and agreed to stand in for NAVI Junior at WePlay Academy League Season 2 Finals, which marked his first LAN event since IEM Katowice 2020.
During the tournament, we caught up with flamie to discuss how he dealt with getting replaced in the main NAVI roster, what the team's previous iterations were missing, and whether he is satisfied with the results he achieved while representing the Ukrainian powerhouse.
In a 30-minute interview with HLTV, the 24-year-old confirmed that he stays committed to CS:GO and believes that he "can still perform at a high level." While flamie wants to continue his career with a CIS team, he would also be open for negotiations if an offer came from Europe or North America.
First and foremost, tell us what you were doing after parting ways with NAVI.
The first two months, I was waiting. It wasn't clear if the new lineup would find results. If they didn't, it would open a possibility of my return. So I was just waiting, playing PUGs, nothing serious. After that, I had a month of rest. I wasn't playing CS at all, just resetting my mindset. Then, I was reached out to by Amiran, and he told me that the Academy League was coming up. They had an issue with the roster, a fifth player was needed. He said that it would be useful for me, I could gain some experience and practice instead of doing nothing. In general, I was adrift for three months, and then I spent three months with NAVI Junior.
It is widely believed in the community that the current NAVI roster is the best one in the history of the organization. How would you compare this team to the ones you were a part of?
Of course, based on the results and level of play, it is the best lineup in the organization's history. But it's hard to compare the current team to our previous rosters due to how different they are.
We've seen other teams hitting their prime before, but now the "prime" team is NAVI. It's awesome and I'm really happy for the guys that they grew into such a strong team. They won the Grand Slam, won the Major, and achieved every goal that they set.
What do you think you lacked in the previous iterations to reach the same level?
We went through different phases when Danya [Zeus] and Edward were part of the team. We were really close to establishing ourselves as the No. 1 team, but we were always missing something. At some point, we were competing with Astralis for the No. 1 spot; we won three tournaments, they won a few, and then we had really important events ahead: ELEAGUE Premier, FACEIT Major. We fell short at both, and then the Astralis era began. Maybe, if we won those events, we would have something similar to what NAVI have achieved lately. What exactly did we lack? Maybe...
With all due respect to Zeus and Edward, maybe it was firepower?
Maybe. But overall, back then I was playing good, electronic as well, and Sasha [s1mple] especially. We had a mix of experience and youth. Maybe we had to put in a bit more effort. We relaxed a bit after a few tournament wins, which could be noticed in the way we played. Then we had some conflicts, the team lost its cohesion and eventually broke apart.
You never know what exactly you were missing. You look at your mistakes, analyze your games… But I don't know why, and I don't want to put the blame on anyone. Some problems were on me as well. And now, frankly, the team started winning right after I was replaced. I can think all I want, everyone has their own idea of truth.
You said that some problems were on you. What do you think you did wrong?
Maybe not entirely… I don't really know. Back then, there weren't any issues. But recently, I've felt some kind of burnout. I didn't have the right motivation… No, not motivation really, because I was motivated. I just felt like I didn't have the strength to do it. It can happen when you are playing for the same team for six years straight. You experience a decline, which you either deal with and become stronger or descend into a psychological pit, which is hard to escape from.
I think there was heavy pressure on me and I couldn't handle it fully. I was nervous, it was hard for me to take any criticism. Also, when you play for NAVI — it's the most-watched team, it has the most fans, and some of them say bad things on social media. You see their replies and try to ignore them, work with psychologists, but it doesn't always help. I think getting replaced was for the best for me, and for sure it was for the best for NAVI as they won everything. To be honest, I stay positive, nothing bad happened to me. I needed that break to think it through, to understand what I want. I needed to brush off that ever-present pressure.
In general, are you satisfied with what you managed to achieve during your time in NAVI?
In general, yes, I'm satisfied. We won a lot of tournaments. But those three Major finals that we lost… Those matches left their mark. Sometimes I caught myself thinking that we could have worked more, got luckier, and it could have gone differently. But whatever happened, happened. I still think that while I was on the team, we managed… Let's start from the beginning. When I just joined, we also started winning, and I could feel that I was that part of the team that helped achieve those results. We can be proud, even though it happened in 2015 and things were a bit different back then. Our results were above average in those six years. Neither best nor worst, above average. We were always around the top, even the No. 1 team for some time. That's why I answer yes, we did well.
If I'm not mistaken, you were asked once which Major final loss was the toughest to get over. Was it DreamHack Cluj-Napoca?
Frankly, I don't remember [what I answered], but I will say it was the MLG Columbus final. It was the first Major with a $1 million prize pool, there was more hype around the tournament. We felt at that Major… In Cluj, both us and Envy were playing well, and we knew that we would go toe-to-toe. Why I could say Cluj — we knew that Dust2 would be the third map. I think that they made a mistake in the veto. Given our results at the time, we were super confident in our preparation for Dust2 and Train. We were in the lead at 12-9 on the CT side of Train, it was a heavily CT-sided map back then, and it was tough to get over losing that kind of advantage. We didn't prepare for Cobblestone — we put in some work but were still bad on the map — and hoped that the series would go the full distance. We wanted to make it to Dust2, we counted on that, and that's why it was tough.
At the MLG Major, it was even tougher because we reached our optimal shape. We were gaining momentum, we were setting ourselves up to win that Major, and since… I don't know why, but at the time there was a short time window between Majors. We lost the final [in Cluj], and it happened to us again a few months later. Now the breaks are much longer.
Going into [MLG Columbus], we put our focus on preparation, were in a good shape, and won all the games prior to the final quite easily. Also, we were ahead 11-3 on the first map of the final but ended up losing it. Unfortunately, we didn't have psychologists at the time, and we weren't mentally prepared. I was young, the team was also not ready to lose the first map, so we crumbled. As for the second map, we didn't put up a fight and lost 2-16. Now, looking back at that match, I understand that the second map would have gone differently if we were ready from a psychological standpoint. It was our pick, but we couldn't fight back because I was tilted and the other guys were tilted as well. That's why losing that final hurt the most. We went down without a fight, and that left a very unpleasant after-taste.
As for the Major final against Astralis, we weren't really prepared for that Major due to urgent reasons. I don't even know how we… we didn't count on making the final. I mean, we always hoped that we would win, but we also knew that we could have a bad showing at the event. Moreover, the praccs went really bad. However, we still reached the final and ended up losing. But we weren't as upset as before, that I remember for sure.
You brought an interesting point about psychologists. After you were benched, B1ad3 said in an interview that nothing could help you get back on track, even psychologists...
It's his opinion. I spent a lot of time working with NAVI's psychologists, and I think it helped me. But as I said, the pressure was too strong, it was hard for me to handle it. On top of that, the pressure inside the team increased, the atmosphere got worse, and we all felt that the team needed changes.
I wouldn't say that the psychologists didn't help me. I think that both psychologists that we had did a great job. There were moments when everything was calm, take BLAST [Global Final] for instance. It was the last tournament we won together. We had some tough matches at the event, but psychologically it was all good.
I think it's just his opinion, and it has the right to exist. If you asked me, I would say that the psychologists helped me, but it wasn't enough. I wasn't playing well, there was pressure on me, which I couldn't get rid of. I couldn't fix the psychological issue entirely. The other guys handled it, but for me it wasn't easy. My morale was low.
Wanted to ask about you being Entropiq's substitute at the Major. As far as I know, no substitute player actually went there.
Some of them were there, I guess. I think pashaBiceps was there, but I'm not sure. The thing is, there was a rule at the Major that every team had to have a substitute. hooch reached out to me and said that Lack1 couldn't get a visa. They had two weeks left, so he asked me if I could play if necessary. I said that I could as I had a visa; it's hard to get one right now if you are from Russia. I got it way back. I had a visa, was vaccinated, so I was like a "backup plan" if someone, god forbid, gets sick or Lack1 can't make it.
But what if someone had to be replaced in the middle of the tournament?
Yes, I was also confused. We arrived in Kyiv for a bootcamp on the first day of the Major. In theory, the worst-case scenario would be: one player is out, I take the first flight out, the match is rescheduled so I can make it in time. That's how it would probably go. Or I don't know… But that was weird indeed, it applied to every team. And no one, as you pointed out, went there. I think all substitute players stayed home.
This tournament, WePlay Academy League Season 2 Finals, is your first LAN since IEM Katowice 2020. Does it feel like a downgrade, or young players are actually tough to play against?
I wouldn't call it a downgrade. I just like the atmosphere of LANs, always have. When we didn't have LANs, I would go to computer clubs to participate in small LAN tournaments. I also did it when I was 17, 18, 19, and during my time in NAVI. I've always liked to play on LAN.
Here, of course, the level of play is lower compared to tier 1, but these young guys play lots of CS and they are very passionate about the game. This tournament is very important to them, they play their best because they represent big teams, and for them it's a chance to prove themselves and get a promotion. For instance, it happened in NAVI with B1T. MOUZ NXT, for them it's an opportunity to get to the main MOUZ team. NIP and BIG compete here as well. In NAVI, however, it would be much harder to make the main roster given their last results. All teams here are fully focused and motivated.
This event has a cool atmosphere. Yesterday, when we were playing against MOUZ, they were shouting aloud, and I haven't experienced it for a while. Even in Katowice it was different, we started in the studio environment and then we didn't have a crowd during the playoffs. Here, the studio reminds me of ELEAGUE, to be honest. I remember those times, I liked ELEAGUE tournaments a lot; it's a great flashback. All in all, I'm glad that I decided to play here. To play on LAN, to practice with the guys - it's better than doing nothing at home and playing FACEIT.
Speaking about the level of play here, is it more like tier 2/tier 3 or lower?
Well, from what I've seen so far… BIG are at the beginning of their path, NIP are somewhere in the middle. MOUZ play simple CS but have really strong players individually. I think some of their players are ready for tier 1, they are ready to face top teams. They are proving it right now. You can see that they have a strong aim, they understand the game well and know how to play out rounds with a man disadvantage. And if I recall correctly, I heard their TeamSpeak on the broadcast a few times, and they communicate really well. Overall, communication is one of the most important things in CS. Looking at their results, they beat tier 2 and tier 3 teams on a regular basis. To draw an analogy, they remind me of Gambit, though they don't have a veteran player such as Hobbit. These are five young players that perform well. I think they have a bright future ahead.
I know very little about NIP. We lost to them in a match, they have a good aim at least, but everyone can shoot heads right now. There is potential for sure, but it's not tier 1 yet. I watched tier 1 matches with our coach, Amiran, and noticed that teams on that level don't use grenades as often as here. Usually, they run fast and simple rounds. Here, as I said, you can see that players put in the work. Everyone but MOUZ run heavy executes. Sometimes you can get naded here three times more than on tier 1. Also, I noticed that young teams usually play by scripts, they learn how to play certain rounds and what to do after trades. On tier 1, it's more about experience so players can act more freely than on tier 2 or tier 3.
How does it feel playing with such young players? Do they see authority in you and listen to everything you say? Or you are on equal terms?
When I just joined, I could feel that for them it was a big moment. They respect me a lot, it's like the next level for them. Not from a game point of view, but due to my experience. We were having a laugh because it's my 90th LAN, while they competed in just 4 combined. So of course they respect me and I feel their support. Plus, if I point out their mistakes or say how to play better in certain situations, they listen carefully and never argue. And they also enjoy playing with me.
If you look at the statistics, you have three times as many LAN maps as all the other players here combined.
(laughing) Of course, this is an academy league, they are only starting. When I was like them… How old are they? 16-17. I started when I was 16, then I joined HellRaisers. I remember when I was 14 or 15, I went to my first LAN, Copenhagen Games, with OverDrive.
I can see a fire in their eyes, it's noticeable. If I tell them that they made a mistake, they want to hear more about it. While experienced teammates can start arguing with you, young players always listen. They understand me, share their ideas. At least in our team, I don't know about the others. I enjoy playing with them, I even learn from them in a sense. They show me new grenade lineups, boosts, etc. Some things that I didn't even know.
After you left NAVI, ceh9 said that players of your calibre get chances to prove themselves without any proof that you can reach your previous level. Is it true in your case?
Usually, yes. I think it happens often if we go back and look at the roster moves in the past few years. But as for me, I don't know. I haven't received any interesting offers from top teams yet. Young players get more chances now. Teams usually bring in 17 or 18-year-olds. If you are over 23, your chances are lower. Even though it's not a big age for CS, you can already be considered a "veteran."
I haven't been doing well lately, so it was expected that teams wouldn't want to take a risk. Also, my status wasn't clear, I wasn't a free agent. Then I just disappeared (laughing). Well, now I hope I will get the chance to prove myself and use it, we will see.
FaZe's analyst, innersh1ne, also said that you need teammates like Zeus to get the best out of you. Do you agree that you need a strong teammate like him, or you can be self-sufficient?
I can't say that I need a strong teammate. But I analyzed my previous teams and indeed, I was at my best when I had teammates like him on my side. First, it was seized, who helped me a lot inside the game. He did everything so I could perform: threw nades, went in first to die first, etc. In general, he was making sacrifices so I could do well. Then, Zeus came in, and he did the same but for the whole team. He didn't care at all about his statistics. Now, a lot of players do pay attention to the numbers, and it's kind of a problem. They can't always do what's needed, they don't want to make sacrifices in the game. Not everyone is willing to do that. Zeus helped massively, from a moral point of view as well. If we had some issues, he would cheer us up, and that was so energizing. We didn't have a teammate like him after he left, it was a different team, more structured and so on.
But I wouldn't say that… I think I can do well without a teammate like him after all those years. I'm ready to play any role, doesn't matter what it is. So I believe I can do well on my own. But I would still be happy if I had such a teammate because it enhances your individual performances. In a way, I became such a player.
Let's talk about your future in Counter-Strike. Do you want to stay in CIS, or you are willing to consider international offers?
I have a few offers. One from Europe, one from CIS. I'm thinking right now. I would probably prefer CIS because I never really played many PUGs, FPL, and that would be a quick change. I mean, I can speak English, but in CS… I read an article recently, where it was said that only teams that speak one language win in FPS titles. If in Dota 2 it's not as important, international teams win trophies there, in CS… FaZe were able to do some serious damage back in the days. Only a few international teams managed to achieve big success. So I want to stay in CIS, but I'm ready to consider offers from NA, Europe, Asia… Okay, probably not from Asia. So NA and Europe are the second and third options in case I don't find anything in CIS. I would really like to play in America, I like America a lot. But unfortunately, there are much fewer teams now. Can't imagine what team I can join, except for Liquid.
Will you consider becoming a streamer if you can't find good offers?
I still want to play. I think I can still perform at a high level, I just need to put in the effort. If I get the chance, I will do everything to use it, but if things go south, I will need to think about my future, and streaming is a good option. A lot of people ask me [to stream], I see it often, read their comments. I just don't like it much. But really, a lot of people in CIS support me and ask to stream. So maybe I will have to [go down this path]. Hope not, but it's likely to happen if things don't go well in CS.
One thing is certain, I won't switch to VALORANT. I don't like the game. On the other hand, streaming and working as an analyst on broadcasts… Honestly, I expected that I would do it closer to 30. Now, I'm still young and have the energy. I think I'm not done playing CS on a professional level.