degster: "It was amazing, we surprised everyone"
Abdul "degster" Gasanov was still incredulous of his team's feat at the Major in Antwerp up until the tournament's last day, stating "I need more time to understand that I was in the semi-finals."
Spirit put forth one of the most impressive runs at the PGL Major in Antwerp, where degster and his young teammates, the youngest at any stage of the event by a whole year with an average age of 20.7, made it all the way to the semi-finals before being knocked out by the would-be champions of FaZe.
The day after their elimination at the hands of Finn "karrigan" Andersen and company, just a few hours before the start of the Major grand final, we sat down with Spirit's AWPer to have one last chat about what it was like to have such a deep run, constantly pushing the boundaries of what people expected of them, and becoming a top 4 team at the Major and by extension the sixth best team in the world on the HLTV ranking. degster also recounted some of the big moments during the event, what went right, what went wrong, and what lies on the horizon for him and his teammates.
You made it all the way to the Major semi-finals, which is something that nobody expected before the event started. I imagine it must be hard to process everything just one day after, but what are your first impressions?
I told my team that we did a great job. We have four young players, very young in my opinion. Actually me, as well, but for my teammates I'm an old man or something like that. I told them that this was amazing, we surprised everyone. A lot of pro players put us as 0-3 [in the pick-ems] and they never respected us. When I was asking some of them why they were doing that, after, they said 'I don't know, I just didn't believe' or stuff like that.
First of all, we did a great job here. It was unpredictable for us as well, no one in our team I think expected that we would make the semi-finals before the RMR started. We came to the Major from the open qualifiers, so it was great for us. I need more time to understand that I was in the semi-finals. I told my team yesterday, and two days ago, that when we're playing I understand what we do, where we are, but after [playing] I'm thinking and saying to myself 'oof, is that the semi-final or not?' [laughs] It was amazing for me, I was not expecting to be in the semi-finals at this age. It's great.
As you mentioned a lot of players had you going 0-3, analysts also had you going out at every turn. But you kept winning and beating expectations and after your match yesterday karrigan gave you a lot respect saying that you have been playing very well. How was it hearing that from him?
Actually, I'm not going to lie, I didn't hear the interview after the match. I will watch it. But on the stage you can't hear what he's saying. If he said some good words about us, that means just a few things for me, that this guy is one of the best and he respects other people's hard work. That's great and I have big respect for Mr. Finn Andersen, who is one of the old callers in our scene. Thanks to him, it was a great match and I believe that he will win at least one Major in his career. [editor's note: this interview was conducted on the morning of the grand final]
Talking about your match, there were two very close maps, but especially that Dust2 with multiple overtimes. You had some map points but weren't able to close it out, then FaZe got their match point and won. How did you live that from the server?
The match against FaZe was the first time during the Major that we got nervous. I heard it from some of my young teammates and, you know, if you're feeling that the atmosphere isn't right you'll make mistakes in one or two rounds, mistakes you would never make if you weren't nervous. We had a lot of situations in which we should have made other decisions and we just didn't make them.
It's OK, because no one in our team has ever been in a Major semi-final or Major play-offs, but if you want to fix your mistakes you can just think about that right now. If we get more experience, these mistakes will be fixed and a lot of us understand that.
You, personally, had a very good tournament, among the top 10 highest-rated players at the event. All of your teammates also had their moments and games. Being less experienced than the rest of teams here, how did you get yourselves to play your best?
The best thing we bring in this roster is an atmosphere in which you can do a lot of things. It's because of the atmosphere, nobody is going to blame you if you make mistakes because everybody makes them and you should never blame your teammate in-game if he does something bad. We just say 'it's OK, it's OK, we'll do our best and try to win the round.' It's the best thing you can bring to the young players with no experience and who are not ready to be blamed. That's only my opinion, but it's important.
How do you maintain this atmosphere, these positive...
Vibes? We talk about it, positive vibes and atmosphere in the team is a very important thing. If we don't have positive vibes in the team we'd have a smaller win-rate in this tournament. We have very funny moments, being loud and smiling, I don't remember smiling like this a year ago.
Do you think you'll be able to keep this going even if things get harder? Are the personalities on the team bright enough?
I think it's hard if you're losing, it's harder to be funny, to have positive vibes, especially for me. I'm very critical of myself when we lose. If I see my mistakes I'm not as positive as when we're winning. We have a psychologist and our coach, both of them are trying to make a positive atmosphere in our team, that it's really important. Everyone believes in that and if we feel like there are any bad vibes we try to fix them.
We talked a bit about how young you guys are, but it's not just that you're young, you were the youngest team at the Major, in any stage, by a whole year. How have you been able to develop so quickly?
I don't have an answer to this question. The synergy in the team just worked at this tournament. I don't think we'll just keep beating teams because of our synergy, we need to work more, but if you're a six-month-old team then synergy is very important.
We can look at other more experienced rosters with more experienced callers, and they didn't get to the semi-finals. We're a team in which nobody has ever played Major playoffs and we made it through to the semi-finals. I think that's because of our synergy.
Have you broken a mental barrier with this result? Do you think you're going to be able to keep this up and get more established?
I hope so. Being stable in the top ten is a lot harder than getting into the top ten. I'm not going to lie, I didn't make it in the old roster, so now I have this experience and now I will use it to help this team.
What's next for you guys? What's on the horizon for Spirit?
We don't have invites to top tournaments right now, but I hope we'll at least get invited to IEM Cologne. First of all we'll play Pinnacle and after that I believe everyone will get some days off. After that we'll see what invites we have and create a plan to prepare for them.
To close things out I wanted to talk a bit about the FURIA trash talking and shooting dead bodies. From what I understand hally doesn't want you to do it and I've also seen it in a lot of CIS teams, that they find this quite disrespectful. How was your understanding of it all?
I cannot answer this for my whole team because all of us have a different opinion, so I can give you my own: it's a part of the show.
I didn't hear what arT said before the match, but after we won the first map my teammates told me what he said and I really took it personally. I would like to say thanks to him because he made me more angry in the match. I have no hate towards him, but I think it's disrespectful to say that he lost because of luck. I don't like that.