In 2006, aged only 16, Alexey "Cypher" Yanushevsky was signed by Fnatic. By that point, he was already one of the strongest Quake players out there — both the third and fourth instalment. Cypher continued to make a living playing quake until 2014. According to him, it was only in 2011, when the first International was announced, that Quake’s lagging behind other esports disciplines began to be felt.
Cypher spent the last year and a half playing Overwatch, but switched to Quake Champions when its beta was announced — and went on to win its very first online tournament. CyberSport.ru talked to Yanushevsky about his career in Overwatch, the Quake Champions meta, and the esports prospects of this new game.
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After 2014, you went on a hiatus. What did you do while away from your Quake 4 and QuakeLive career?
I started devoting myself to my personal life and I was faced with a choice whether to remain in esports or take a different path. It’s just my attitude to life: if I do something, I do it 24/7, I go all the way because I want to be a hardcore pro in it. But I wanted to play, to compete, and I felt I had the energy to play every FPS there was. In 2015, I tried Counter-Strike. I played for a year, talked to pros, asked for advice, spent a lot of time playing on FaceIt. And then Overwatch was announced at the end of 2015, and I had to choose again: either play that or develop what I’d built up over my year of CS. In CS, I only had to start getting tournament experience, I could play in a Tier 3 team. After discussing it with several people, I decided to try my hand at Overwatch.
And how did Overwatch go for you?
I was hyped from the get-go, I played a lot, and I mean a lot, just like in the good old times. And I felt that, mechanics-wise, I was no worse than the Team Fortress 2 people, but I was a little slow in my understanding of the game. I was finding it difficult, as I didn’t have a lot of experience with team games. I did play CS for a year, but the teamplay experience I got in Overwatch is unlike anything. It’s a school of life! From the beginning, I wanted to start a team.
Eventually, I was able to bring together some TFers and Quakers, and as that roster, ANOX, we got into the top ranks on EU last summer. But the team fell apart, and since then, it’s been pretty hard for both Cooller and myself to find a new team that we could become part of and feel comfortable in, as well as make our teammates comfortable with us. So around the start of 2017, I got heavily into trying out US teams. I had already made arrangements and was about to go the US, but things went differently at the last moment. Cooller and I got on a team called Sekta, but then Quake Champions was announced, and I said I’d try it. Then we’d see how both games would develop.
If I do something, I do it 24/7. I go all the way because I want to be a hardcore pro in it.
Does Overwatch have a future in esports?
What is esports? It’s tournaments. If you have tournaments with money on the line, especially big money, then you have a future. It could be anything: Rocket League, World of Tanks, CS, Overwatch, Quake, you name it. If you know the game has a future, you will sit down and practice it.
Nevertheless, you soon switched from Overwatch to Quake Champions. Do you feel more at home in Quake?
I like Overwatch a lot as a game; I met a lot of people through it. I went to Overwatch Open in Atlanta with ANOX, we weren’t very successful but made tons of acquaintances, and I’m still in touch with some of them.
In a way, I’m even sorry that Quake has come out now, because it’s my history with CS repeating itself. Just when I got into form and could show what I was capable of, I had to make another choice and likely change my course.
What were your first impressions of Quake Champions?
I was invited to a test in Katowice, where IEM was holding a tournament. I did some testing; the game was fairly different then from what it is now. Everything was kind of weird and unfamiliar, while at the same time, I felt that it somehow lacked in novelty. Back then, I played FFA all the time, and didn’t see what could make people remain in the game for long.
For instance, in Overwatch, there’s always suspense. Everything is paced out; before a game begins, you’ve got time to think ten thousand times about the position you’ll take, the hero you’ll pick and what you’ll be doing. In Counter-Strike and Dota, too, you’re not in the middle of the action all the time. But Quake’s problem is that you don’t get time to relax; you must always push the button, it’s shoot, shoot, shoot. You don’t go without seeing any enemies for longer than literally a few seconds. It’s something for the brutally hardcore people who like to be awesome shooters.
The teamplay experience I got in Overwatch is unlike anything. It’s a school of life!
Is it fair to say Quake Champions has become too much of an arcade game?
It became simpler by an order of magnitude. This is a game in which you can’t heal yourself back to full, the way you could in previous Quake instalments; you can’t stack up and just circle the map killing everyone. That’s why the game used to be one-sided; there would be the one guy who was killing everyone and having fun.
Here, it’s built a bit differently. You’ve got abilities you can use in a mass fight, and besides, a hero has a health cap that can’t be exceeded. No matter how many megahealths and armors you pick up, if you get hit from a railgun, the second hit will kill you, unless you’re some super-fat tank. And if you are a super-fat tank, you’re very easy to hit.
They’ve balanced the game with newcomers in mind. In Quake III, you respawn with a machine gun, 125 HP, and zero armor, and until you pick up a good gun and a more or less decent armor suit, you won’t be fragging anyone. Here, you can take down someone who’s full-HP with just that machine gun. You can’t be chased around spawn points. The abilities, the invisibility, the orbs, the teleports, it’s all about doing everything to prevent top-tier players from owning noobs, to stop noobs having 0/45 runs.
Many old players were worried that classes and their abilities would break the game. Have they changed it a lot?
Well, it’s become more interesting. That’s basically the whole point. Are we talking about what would interest a person who’s been a Quake pro for years, or a newcomer? I feel that a newcomer will find it insanely hard. There are things you can pull off, but essentially, you’re going to need a lot of time to learn it all.
Regarding the abilities and heroes, it’s become interesting now that you’ve got meta heroes. There’s one meta hero now, Nyx, who gets picked in every game. Meanwhile, I’ve noticed that there’s a class division between players who think Anarki is an exploit and the strongest hero in general, as well as all heroes with CPMA-style movement [bunny-hopping — Ed.], and those who play the other heroes.
In Overwatch, there's always suspense. But in Quake, you don't get to relax. It's for the brutally hardcore shooters.
It’s much too early to talk about any players of great skill, but what I can already note is that it’s not all about how many frags you make, but what you do to get at least one frag. And after that frag, the game doesn’t snowball, but rather starts over. Whenever an enemy dies, they’re reborn with a different champion and ability set, which allows them to grab one of the big items. Every frag is earned with blood and sweat.
As a consequence, you’re getting different sorts of deceptive moves using abilities, which everyone is countering each other with. There’s something MOBA-like about it. Personally, I now use a champion that counters my opponents. If certain champions are playing against me, I have a certain mental diagram of how I’m going to counter them with other champions. My opponents aren’t doing it now; they’re more into simply using the champions they’ve practiced well.
Perhaps the old Quake players don’t have a very good idea of the picking and banning system, and therefore don’t focus on it?
Maybe, maybe not. It’s all a question of time: those who play a lot will get into all that and become incredibly strong. The overall level of play may not be too great right now, but the QuakeCon and post-QuakeCon matches between the people who are practicing now are going to be very tough.
Would you agree that by giving the player more opportunities to make a comeback after dying, the developers have brought the game closer to an actual sport? In football, for example, a goal doesn’t change the rules of the game, it only affects the opponent’s morale, and they can still come back.
Yes, you’re right. But there’s the fact that when a really strong guy is playing against someone who isn’t particularly strong, the game is over quickly, in three or four minutes. That’s a plus: you don’t get those 0/50 ownages lasting ten to fifteen minutes anymore. You can just start the next game and try something new.
However, this can happen between two pro players as well, so the entertainment factor can drop dramatically. It all depends on the person. While I do take risks in the game, I only allow myself to do it when I’m pressured and my situation is extremely unfavorable. If you accept every engagement that a player like that forces upon you, the fight will be over in three minutes: either they win or you do. While if you run from them, get sneaky and so on, then, of course, the game will be more or less coherent.
What are your overall impressions of the duel mode in Champions? Isn’t it too fast?
Those three rounds can go on for quite a long time, up to 15 minutes. It all depends on the people playing. I try to take my time somewhat and don’t continually get cheeky, so matches against me get fairly lengthy. But if I smell blood, I can end the game right there and then without waiting for anything. That was what happened in the final against fazz, for example.
There are a ton of exploits in this game, and the player that finds and uses them wins.
Is it fair to say that this ton of exploits also means they’re exploitable by anyone? Nyx gets chosen for her invisibility. What other exploits are there?
Invisibility is an exploit to those who don’t know what to do against it. For instance, if my opponent picks Nyx, I can always pick Visor who’ll help me in any case. He’s neither a glass cannon nor a tank, but he can heal back decently. At 150/175, you have no problem running around. And that’s more than decent when you’re playing against Nyx. If you play aggressively, you can force Nyx to go invisible and then use the wall hack against her, at which point she’s no longer center stage.
The exploits are everywhere. You just have to see them.
The first machine gun that you spawn with is an exploit in its own right, since it deals 8 damage. No machine gun in any game has ever dealt that much. And if you pick up a heavy machine gun, it deals 9, or 10 when you’re zoomed. That’s what happened in the final of the tournament I won: fazz was on Sorlag, and I knew he didn’t have a shaft or anything like that — meaning I knew I could take him out at medium range. So I sprayed him down with that zoomed machine gun, had 80% accuracy, and took him down from virtually full HP. Then I fell down, he respawned in the shaft area and ran for that shaft on B.J. Blazkowicz who had another exploit, shooting two guns instead of one and the damage is increased by a half. He drew those two guns, and I still managed to suppress him with that exact same zoomed machine gun, killing him in a matter of seconds.
If you like, you can use this weapon instead of the shaft, especially on maps where the railgun isn’t present. You’re simply running around with just your machine gun, and the opponent is afraid of peeking out because the damage really is formidable.
But that double-gun exploit is just unreal. You get two shafts, and nothing survives. It doesn’t matter how stacked up anyone is, they just get shredded in a seconds. Those exploits are everywhere; you just have to see them.
How do you play against Anarki?
I sat down and thought what I was supposed to do when I was getting outplayed on Anarki; in the tournament, that was Wicht, and there had also been another player during practice. What does Anarki do? He runs around the level non-stop, and that’s what makes him powerful. He flashes before your eyes, eats up the whole map, and then attacks really brutally at some point.
But there’s a champion called Galena. This character has totems that can remove up to 75 HP. They can be placed at certain spots, around corners, which Anarki will not notice when making a turn. If one of those totems softens him up, he loses speed immediately. Besides, I’m going to know where he got hit. Anarki is also very sensitive to 75 HP hits: he can’t even take a single railgun hit, he can’t fight anymore after it, he’s got to hide. And if you think it through smartly and figure out where he’s running about, if you’re not afraid to fight for certain items and use the shaft instead of the rocket launcher, then Anarki can be tamed easily.
Some players’ movements on Anarki and Sorlag are just jaw-droppingly divine.
You said that players have split into two camps: those who prefer heroes with what we may roughly call Quake 3-style movement, and those who go for the Promode and QuakeWorld style. Which do you choose?
I haven’t played Sorlag or Anarki at all, and never will. I don’t like them. They do look crazy beautiful, some players’ movements on Anarki and Sorlag are just jaw-droppingly divine. However, I find it more pleasant to play Slash. Sorlag is quite maneuverable, her poison is strong, and she’s quite bulky, but there are other cool heroes.
Which hero is your favorite?
Slash, I suppose. And Galena. Probably Scalebearer as well. I don’t play them often, but they’re the ones I like best. The map is my first consideration, then the opponent, then their picks. I try to adapt. Say, against Agent, I can’t play without Visor at all; there’s no way I can win with anything else.
What can you say about the weapons, other than the machine gun?
The railgun is currently the most efficient one. Overall, the rocket launcher, shaft, and railgun are nicely balanced. There are useless weapons, such as the nailgun. I like the new Tri-bolt gun they’ve made, no matter how much everyone’s hating on it. It has a certain flair to it. Otherwise, it’s the same as in previous Quakes, nothing else to complain about. The way a rocket fires is weird, but they’ll probably fix that.
The game contains remakes of DM6 and ZTN. Which other old maps would you like to see in it?
Not even Aerowalk?
Especially not Aerowalk! Playing this map in Quake Champions would be a pain in the ass. I don’t play Anarki or Sorlag, and what if someone plays them against me? I’ll go crazy.
Don’t you think this reluctance to play Anarki or Sorlag is going to become a problem?
Can Ranger or Nyx be a match for them in theory?
In theory, yes, but I’m thinking of other heroes.
Which famous players do you practice with now?
Pretty much none. It’s my policy to avoid playing with the best. When you practice with strong players, you end up extremely exhausted and may start losing if you’re having a bad day or there’s some other nonsense going on. It’s a burden on your morale which later becomes a problem in tournaments.
I’m trying to maintain a positive attitude as I win my games non-stop. It’s not that I bully complete noobs; I play against mid-tier players and strong ones, but not the strongest. I do play against those occasionally, just to get slapped awake a bit. It can be anyone, whoever agrees to play.
original author: Stanislav Lomakin