In a long, in-depth interview, Cybersport.ru contributor Overdrive sat down with HellRaisers leader Kirill "ANGE1" Karasiow to talk about the start of his career, the dynamic with his current (and former) teammates, what lies beyond CS:GO for him and what orgs offered him a job in major position in the past.
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Age, salaries, and career
Many players are nearing 30 now, including you. How do you see professional gaming past 30? Is it possible to remain a tier 1–2 player?
Of course it is. Your priorities with regard to the game change a little. You’re no longer trying to go for every in-game duel; you start trying to play with your brain more. Of course, playing after 30 is hard, and on top of that, I’m a captain. As years go by, you find yourself less willing to spend all your life in CS. I remember myself at a younger age, spending 12 hours a day in CS, and that was at a time when everyone sat in cybercafes where you couldn’t find anyone to play with before 17:00. So from 9 to 5, I sat there killing bots and waiting for people to come back from school or work. I’d just put on some music and forget everything; this is hard to do now. It’s more about psychological limitations kicking in, not physical ones. It’s just the desire to play CS 24/7 going away, even though I’m still drawn towards the game.
This is sport; you’ve come here to win, and if you think about money, you’re never going to win or achieve anything.
Till what age are you planning on playing?
I don’t set myself a limit. When I realize I’m no longer an impactful member of my team, I’ll probably quit. So far, I’m fine with the way things are; I realize that my teammates would have a hard time without me, meaning that I am useful.
Would you agree that players are less motivated to play after their salaries grow from $1,000 to $10,000 and beyond?
It’s all individual. I, for example, only think about my salary when I’m signing a contract. At that moment, I can get greedy and haggle a little. I realize that the next two or three years of my life are going to depend on this contract, and I take a responsible approach to it. The rest of the time, ever since I’ve been earning enough for a comfortable life, I don’t feel any difference. When your salary is five, six, seven, 10 thousand dollars, what’s the difference, you just order more expensive cabs and go to more expensive restaurants and shops. Nothing changes in essence, and I don’t see why my motivation ought to change. In fact, I don’t understand people for whom something changes there. This is sport; you’ve come here to win, and if you think about money, you’re never going to win or achieve anything.
CS 1.6 and the early CS:GO days
Did you find it easy to switch to CS:GO from 1.6?
Very easy. At the time, I was going through a period when I quit CS for a while, didn’t play for a year, and when GO came out, I just installed the game on my computer and started playing. I felt the same passion that I had early into 1.6 and frankly I liked the game right away, despite 90 percent of the community hating on it. Because the game itself hadn’t really changed. Perhaps it was a little different mechanics-wise, but all the tactical stuff remained the same.
What was your first CS:GO team?
Virtus.pro! I played for a few months, in mixed stacks at first; AdreN and I played together a lot, so we decided to start a team. I got in touch with LeX and kUcheR and proposed my vision for our team to them, then we talked to Dosia and Fox for some time, because they took a while to agree. So after a few months, we got that roster together.
The game became more tactical, but we didn’t realize that then; we kept playing 1.6.
What can you say about that roster?
Actually, we were doing great. We played and practiced well. At that time, we knew that our skill level allowed us to make the top 3 at any tournament. Initially, Ninjas in Pyjamas were our only rivals; later, VeryGames came along. Back then, you didn’t need a lot of preparation to play; you could use your knowledge of 1.6 and your individual skill. Gradually, CS evolved and we didn’t. We kept on playing the way we did.
I believe it was my mistake; I failed to make the team adapt to the changes. Everyone was still playing CS:GO as if it was 1.6, so the game was easy; it was a pace set by NiP. In reality, though, the game had become twice or three times as hard. For instance, molotovs alone changed the game’s entire meta. Before, you had your one smoke grenade, which didn’t make a lot of impact anyway; now, you had a second grenade that allowed you to hold off an attack, and when you’re attacking, you have more options when entering a point. The game became more tactical, but we didn’t realize that then; we kept playing 1.6.
So NiP were playing 1.6, and the others were yet to realize there was a different way to play?
When there’s a style of CS that the best team is playing, other teams observe and imitate it — and NiP were playing a simple kind of CS, so everyone else was playing it simple too. At a certain point, other teams gained experience and started outplaying the Swedes. We defeated them on our third or fourth try, and each time, we felt we were getting closer to victory. Once, we lost because of a 1v3 round at 12-12; other times, we lost in overtime — and then there was a moment when we broke out and started winning against them, first at StarLadder, then at ESWC.
How and why did you transfer from Virtus.pro to Astana Dragons?
At VP, we had certain terms and an arrangement that we’d let VP know about any offers we received — so it worked on arrangements back then; we had no contracts at the time. We got an offer from Astana Dragons and told VP about it. We were willing to stick with VP but wanted better terms. We didn’t get them, so we went for the Astana option. That team’s owners, who knew AdreN, had a certain degree of influence in picking our lineup.
Why did that project fall apart?
There were two issues there: first, they expected us to perform like champions right away; second, we had the wrong approach towards practice. So there was this thing I talked about: we weren’t making progress. Let me reiterate that as captain, I fully own up to it being my fault. I had a different vision of the game then, I understood it differently, which is why things happened the way they did.
HellRaisers and beyond
How did the transfer from Astana Dragons to HellRaisers go?
It so happened that Astana Dragons abruptly cut ties with us. I don’t remember if we had contracts with them, but at the time, all those legal things were on a really basic level, just like in 1.6. So we were looking for a new home, and that was how the HellRaisers roster was started.
What did you think of s1mple when he was playing on your team?
S1mple was still very young and emotional at the time; playing on the same team with him was very difficult. Essentially, that was when we weren’t able to mesh. I kept asking him to calm down, until I realized time was the only thing that could possibly calm him down; with time, he’d come to look at things differently and become a great player. And it was indeed what happened.
S1mple was still very young and emotional at the time; playing on the same team with him was very difficult.
Who’s easier to interact with in-game, foreigners or CIS players?
There are different kinds of foreigners. You’ve got woxic, a Southern guy who’s similar to CIS players, very emotional, very hard to convince. Then you’ve got the Europeans, who are the opposite, lacking initiative in many ways and very calm. On the whole, we generalize too much when we talk about foreigners; they can have many different mentalities. Woxic and ISSAA are quite hard to work with, but it’s worth it.
How did you manage to approach Woxic and ISSAA?
The credit should mostly go to Johnta. We had a shortlist of players; ISSAA and Woxic were with Gux & Friends at the time and did well there as well as in FPL, so we included them on our list. It was handy to test both of them at once, and that was what we did. After a week, I decided ISSAA wasn’t a good fit for us, I even wrote to him saying as much, but then we couldn’t find a player in time for some tournament, so ISSAA flew there with us and played very well. That was why we went with that lineup.
Do you often get communication breakdowns during important games?
All the time, and really every CIS team gets them. It’s not always due to language. Even though, for example, we have our own name for every corner of B on Mirage. We’ve got “ebox”, “woods”, “backsite”, and “default”. But somehow most of our players just refer to it all as “backsite” during the game. This is the kind of problem we get all the time.
Does working with them get difficult following a loss?
So far it’s particularly difficult with this team. The guys aren’t good losers yet, but I’m going to teach them.
Has bondik improved after returning from China?
I can’t say his in-game qualities have improved, but his psychological ones definitely have. He’s become calmer.
Have you ever let fame go to your head?
Frankly, it’s not like I’ve ever been in a position to. I don’t think anything I’ve achieved so far distinguishes me among others. Generally, it’s something only others can judge, not the person themselves. So even if I say no, nobody’s going to believe me.
Throughout your time with HellRaisers, who was your best teammate and who was the worst?
None of my teammates were the worst. You get players with a difficult personality, but their personality becomes an asset in the game: they’re unafraid, they can play under pressure, but those exact personality traits create certain problems. For instance, there’s s1mple and Woxic, who both have remarkable personalities; nothing scares them, but they’re also hard to manage. People like them don’t acknowledge authority, not only in their opponents, but often also in their captain or other teammates. This is particularly salient when they’re young and haven’t yet been through dozens of LAN tournaments, winning some and losing some. But then again, in-game, such players do great. As for comfortable teammates, I’m essentially comfortable working with everyone, including Woxic and s1mple.
Talking the Majors
Do you like the Swiss system at Majors? What system would you have chosen?
I like having two groups of eight teams where everyone plays everyone, much like at The International in Dota 2. Except I’d like more teams to be eliminated in the group stage, so that important matches where a team’s survival is on the line become more frequent in groups. It’s both more interesting to play and more interesting to watch. Overall, though, I don’t particularly care if I like a system or not; I get told the rules and I adapt my plan for the tournament to those rules.
Why have HellRaisers seen no success at Majors?
We lacked something every time; there was always a different reason. With one tournament, it was Dosia leaving before it started; with another, we didn’t prepare well in the couple of weeks we had. I remember the tournament after which oskar left; that one was just poor preparation on our part.
After that tournament, I completely rethought my approach to practicing and preparing for Majors. Even though we deserved every one of those defeats, we were always just one map away from making the Major. Once, we lost to Team Liquid in a decider on Dust2 after leading 12-8. They went on to place second at the major. But you’ve got to qualify for a Major more confidently, which is why I always look for mistakes, my own and my team’s.
On team offers: NaVi, EG, and more
Tell me about the offer from NaVi.
As many people know, before they signed Zeus, they wanted to buy me.
And did you want to go to them?
I did at the time. It wasn’t like playing for NaVi had been my childhood dream, but I liked the fact that they were getting a lot of invites to large tournaments at the time. When you keep playing qualifiers and various average LAN tournaments because you need the experience, it all puts more between you and an opportunity to be top 1. You spend a lot of energy, you reveal your round plans, you dissipate your skill. That was why I found NaVi’s offer attractive, but the two orgs never agreed on the price.
I got an offer from Evil Geniuses to put a team together.
What if they invited you now?
Right now? I’d say no! I get offers from various organizations virtually all the time. But I’m going to consider them when the time comes.
What other offers have you received?
A couple of years ago, I got an offer from Evil Geniuses to put a team together; I was talking on Skype with EG’s CEO and he offered that I create a roster at my own discretion. OpTic Gaming made an offer when they were in the middle of making one of their rosters. I can’t really think of any Europeans, though. After the NaVi situation, everyone knows an offer must be very attractive to get me to transfer. Anyway, I’m not even going to give these things a thought until the Major ends.
How much has your salary increased since Virtus.pro?
Multiple times. With VP, I was earning less than $1,000 [a month]; with Astana, it was already more than $1,000. A significant salary boost came a year and a half ago when I re-re-signed my contract with HR.
What significant things have you bought with your CS money?
None at all; neither a car nor an apartment. I can’t say I’ve earned enough to buy the car and the apartment that I want. Generally, I spend my money on living well.
Favourite CS:GO scenes
Which CS:GO scene do you like the most?
I really like our scene. Things keep happening in it. Feuds, scandals, people writing things to each other all the time. Bondik’s usually the one who tells me about it, and I go to read the details.
And with regard to the game proper?
Every scene has its own advantages; there’s no particular one that I like more than others. I like how unpredictable the CIS region is; on the one hand, any team in their peak form can upset the way ex-Quantum Bellator Fire did at theMmajor, but on the other hand, a favored CIS team can have a 0-3 run. Our teams are always interesting to watch. I [also] really like the Danish scene, it’s the most competitive one, with its three top-tier teams. With such a high level of competition, you can sign a high-tier player anytime.
In esports, there’s a degree to which we’re all enemies, and there’s one to which we’re all friends.
Why is the Danish scene currently stronger than the other Scandinavian scenes?
I think they just happen to be going through such a fortuitous time in their country. Think of the Belgian national football team. All of a sudden, they got a global tier 1 lineup, now how could that come about? Denmark has 20 to 25 top-tier players concurrently active in top tier teams.
What about other scenes?
Well, the two main regions right now are Europe and America. I’m not considering the Chinese scene for the moment; they don’t even get to practice against proper teams. Australians got a boost when they moved to America. I’d say Brazil, too, has had a good generation: coldzera came along and rounded off his team perfectly. Brazilians are an amazing example of hard work and its eventual payoff. They’d been practicing more than anyone else, and they deserved to win those two majors in a row.
And why is the Kazakh scene rising in the CIS, while others still aren’t making any progress?
Owning a good PC is a pre-requisite of success in gaming. You can do something as basic as counting the number of PCs per person in the country. Say, in Kazakhstan, one in 20 people owns a PC; in neighboring countries, it’s one in 100 people. And they generally have a lot less people who could in theory become CS players. There’s a fairly large number of good players in Russia and Ukraine, but that’s where our mentality comes into play. Success makes us relax too early. Kazakhstan has a slightly different mentality in this respect.
What did you think about the most recent CIS Minor?
Team Spirit were a pleasant surprise; they had prepared for the tournament well. AVANGAR disappointed me; I expected them to take the Minor more seriously. It was, after all, the most important tournament of the year. The rest were all mixed stacks, I didn’t see any teams there; people were arguing among each other all the time. Essentially, it was the middling performance that I’d expected from them.
Do you feel you guys could become the Major’s Legends?
Our minimum goal is to make the top 16. I’m really counting on us being able to pass the first stage, which will allow us to skip the next minor. This time, we must do it!
Hobbies and life outside CS:GO
What are your main hobbies right now?
I don’t have time for anything except playing Hearthstone. And when I’m not on my computer, then perhaps movies and football — but I spend most of my time in front of my computer, ten hours a day, five days a week. It’s only on weekends that I’m able to get out somewhere.
What impact have the coaches you’ve worked with made?
Every coach makes a different impact. lmbt complemented the players more than he commanded them. Johnta helps you build a team from scratch. B1ad3 is very much an in-game leader, he can tell you about any round plan or strategy. I don’t know if the tactics Andrey gave us when he was helping HR at the major are still relevant, but back then, those tactics were very relevant and helped us a lot. In a large part, it was thanks to him that we made the Major’s top 8. I kept telling Andrey to become a coach for a long time; any strong team would be happy to take him — and that was basically what happened.
Assembling a dream roster is not something I would do. I’d like to achieve the best results with less resources.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A football player. I played a lot and was really into football.
Favorite team and player?
Messi and Barcelona. It’s not like I’m a Barça fan, it’s just a team I enjoy watching.
What’s your dream unrelated to esports?
I’d like to go and live in a warm place where it’s always summer. But I can’t idle, and I can’t think of anything I could do except esports, so any dream I have is going to be related to esports one way or another.
What about, say, opening a restaurant?
Maybe a pub with good tap beer.
What’s your opinion on large player buyouts?
It’s evolution, it’s something you can do nothing about. Some buyouts are of course way overhyped, especially in the CIS. But large buyouts in top-tier teams are a must! The way things are now, tier-1 orgs with multi-million annual turnovers are obliged to support smaller organizations with large buyouts.
The guys aren’t good losers yet, but I’m going to teach them.
When were you at your peak in-game form?
I suppose for the entirety of the past year; I’ve slumped a little lately. Could be because I spend 30 to 40 percent of my time resolving issues inside the team. We’re a very emotional team, and I keep trying to rein them in and keep them in working shape, which takes some effort.
Can you name any teams or players you’re not on good terms with? And some with whom you have warm relations?
I’ve never made these sorts of distinctions. In esports, there’s a degree to which we’re all enemies, and there’s one to which we’re all friends. When you’re on a server, your opponent can’t be your friend. I’m on very close and friendly terms with my team, with whom I spend 80 percent of my spare time. Among other teams, I’m on good terms with the guys from Gambit Esports.
What would be your dream roster (outside of your own team)?
To be honest, assembling a dream roster is not something I would do. I’d like to achieve the best results with less resources. But if we do imagine a dream team, I’d pick HObbit, and I’d pick Woxic on AWP even though I’d probably regret it all my life. He’s an awesome AWP player who creates a lot of problems for the opponent on the map. When he develops a sense for when his initiative is justified and when it isn’t, he’ll be a tier 1 AWP. And to complete the roster, let’s take dupreeh and Xyp9x.
Are you going to stick with HR until the end of your career, or would you like to try something else?
Honestly, I’d like to try something in America, because it would be interesting to live there; we’ll see if anything ever comes out of it.
If your kids decide to go into esports in the future, will you support their decision?
Yes, of course. I don’t support the older generation’s skepticism. Esports is the future. I’ve seen the numbers on streams, I know how much esports players are earning, and I’d generally support whatever choices they made.
Do you have any fears?
Not making the main event at the Major! And if we’re being serious, probably not. Snakes, height, flying, enclosed spaces — I’m not afraid of these kinds of things.
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Currently, HellRaisers are competing at the FACEIT Major and are off to a good start with a 1-0 record after day 1. The side will play the speedily climbing Team Liquid today at 15:30 CEST. Follow our on-site Major coverage right here.