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HObbit: “CS:GO is at its most competitive right now, there’s no clean favorite, no era”

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Cloud9 were among the favorite teams to lift the IEM Rio Major trophy before the tournament in Brazil started, but shaky start in the Challengers Stage that went all the way to the 2-2 decider match raised questions. Then a strong showing in the Legends Stage, where they went 3-0, put them right back in contention as teams like FaZe, Ninjas in Pyjamas and Vitality dropped out all around.

Cloud9 now have time to rest and reset until the end of the year

The Russian-Kazakh squad wasn’t able to seize the moment, however, as they became one of the last two top five teams still alive in Brazil, alongside Natus Vincere, to be eliminated in the quarter-finals at the Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro. It isn’t all doom and gloom for Abay “⁠HObbit⁠” Khasenov despite the early exit in the playoffs. “As you can see, every Major winner has a big history behind them,” he said.

You had a shaky start at the very beginning of the Major, then you had a strong performance in the Legends Stage, but in the end weren’t able to make it past MOUZ in the quarter-finals. Run me through the team’s ups and downs.

First of all, our start wasn’t good, we didn’t feel the tournament. The first thing in my mind that we didn’t have was a lot of tournament practice. During the online era we had tournaments every week, now it’s a bit different. We needed to adapt, anything can happen in best-of-ones, especially nowadays. CS:GO is very competitive, it doesn’t matter what team you’re up against, it doesn’t matter.

You need to play fully focused, as much as you can, and you need to be one hundred percent prepared. Before the games we felt like we were ready, but during the games, two best-of-ones, we understood that here at the Major the games are a bit different because our enemies played a different game than in practice or even at ESL Pro League. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is that it’s just the third Major for our team, we still don’t have that much experience. Everyone wants us to win every game as fast as possible, but everyone needs to understand that we’re still a young team. Everyone needs to understand my words. We’ve been playing together for two years, and in total the guys have been playing professionally for three years at the tier-one level. It’s impossible to get everything right here, right now, we need time. We make some mistakes, mental mistakes, it doesn’t matter, the main thing is that we improve tournament by tournament.

You talk about there not being as many tournaments as before and it being hard to get momentum. At one point here there was a moment in the Legends Stage when you found that form, why couldn’t you translate that to the quarter-finals?

We started to feel we had some advantage against FaZe, against NAVI. We already played five games here and we adapted, we were playing on the same PCs. On the professional side we adapted 100% for everything. We started to feel like we’re home and they just came in, first game, best-of-one, against a tier-one team that is also doing well and who are already warmed up. Of course we had an advantage.

We played on Overpass, which we had lost two times in a row, so we fixed a lot of mistakes and in my opinion that’s also an advantage. They’re a really strong team, one of the best in the world, and still they could have beaten us without giving us a chance, but because we adapted and we were feeling confident, comfortable, we started to make a comeback.

The second game was against NAVI, and it’s always close, tough games against them. We hadn’t played them for one year, so I don’t know exactly why we won, maybe we were better. Maybe it’s because we had adapted to the tournament, I don’t know exactly. We started to feel that we are making the rules in the server. After that we beat Heroic, I’d say very confidently. At that moment it seemed like we’re ready, but we got three days off, which is a lot. It’s really a lot. We tried to keep the feeling of the tournament, but it’s hard.

Three days off is really a lot. We tried to play practice, to stay focused, to relax outside somewhere. When we came into the game against MOUZ we won the first map, but it was a bit different than how we were playing in the Legends Stage. A lot of things went wrong, just because MOUZ, first of all, did really great. Secondly, there was some pressure, some stress. We were a bit distracted.

What distracted you?

We’re favorites, and the bracket that we got… We understand that the bracket that we got is really strong, really strong. We played MOUZ many times and we understand that they can beat anyone. I know what Outsiders can do, they have players who already made Major finals, so big experience and good structure. And then fnatic, who already beat us. So everyone said that we were favorites, but I’ll say that we weren’t, or maybe we were, but we weren’t the clean favorites.

I’m proud of my team, of my teammates, just because I saw that we did everything we could. It can happen, it’s our third Major, with young guys, it’s impossible to get everything right here, right now.

As you can see, every Major winner has a big history behind them. We don’t have so much history, we don’t have such a big background, so I’m looking forward to playing more tournaments with the guys. It’s a good experience, a really good experience, I’d say it’s the best in my life.

What’s the best experience in your life?

To play here in front of such a crowd, that’s mostly cheering against us. To have had so much stress, pressure, but still, no matter what happened, we tried to play our game. I’m pretty sure that next time, if we’re in this same situation, we’re going to be better.

You beat Imperial in the group stage with a very loud crowd against you, which felt like you passed a trial by fire. When you got on to the stage here was it different, did you feel a pressure of being on a big stage with the crowd against you?

To be honest, no. I’m already seeing that the guys are focused. The crowd was cheering against us, and maybe it distracted someone, but everyone said that it was okay, that it wasn’t distracting, and everything was good. Everyone was enjoying themselves, I was enjoying it too, it didn’t distract me.

You two were on opposite sides of the bracket with NAVI and a lot of people had you both going through to the final. Do you see this as a missed opportunity?

Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. It seems like since we’re in the top five and NAVI is in the top five, and we’re on different sides of the bracket, we need to be in the final, but that’s an illusion. Nowadays CS:GO is really hard, you need to be prepared for everyone. Of course we have favorites, but not clean favorites, so that’s the thing which distracted us.

We understood that NAVI was on one side of the bracket, we were on the other side of the bracket, and these thoughts can sometimes break you. It’s a mental mistake we have to fix. I remember before the game we talked about that. MOUZ, they’re a great team, we’ve practiced a lot against them, and we know that they can beat us, easily, just because you can see their play style in practice.

You can’t see their whole game in practice, but you can see a picture of what they can do. I played on a stage in which the crowd was very loud and cheering for us, it’s boosting. It’s not about us, it’s all about them — MOUZ came and people cheered for them very loudly.

Many of the underdogs here have been winning against theoretically better teams. Where do you think Counter-Strike is at now? We had FaZe and NAVI fighting it out in the past year, but now it seems they’re not as dominant anymore.

CS:GO is at its most competitive level ever right now, ever, there’s no clean favorite, no era. We have some teams who consistently play at a high level, FaZe and NAVI. Maybe Vitality, but it’s hard to say. I’ll say NAVI and FaZe right now, but still, they’re struggling because they’re not far ahead from Vitality, from Liquid, from Heroic. Any team could beat anyone, especially top 10 teams. They’re favorites, but not clean favorites.

Just to close out the MOUZ match. You went into Ancient, the decider map, starting on the CT side. You started 5-0, what happened after that?

A couple of crucial mistakes, and because of these mistakes they started to snowball us. If the score is like 3-5 and you’re playing T-side, you’re already getting some confidence because you can take risks. So they started to take risks, and it started to work. I lost really crucial duels against xertioN, important duels, if I would have won those the game could have gone differently. We have some problems on the CT side of Ancient, we lost to Spirit last time, but we need more time to fix them.

Where does Cloud9 as a team go now? What do you learn from this experience and what do you build on?

We got a lot of experience from this tournament, tons of experience — mentally, tactically, a lot, in every aspect. We got a lot of experience and learned many lessons. We don’t know what will be next. We don’t have tournaments until the end of the year as far as I know. This was our chance to make the final, get invited to the BLAST World Final, but now I don’t know. We need to get some rest, refresh ourselves, but we need to learn from this tournament. If we do that, if we make the right decisions, it will pay off in the future.

This team has been together for a really long time now, has there ever been talk of making a change? Every player is so settled into their roles, so it seems like it would be difficult, but has it been discussed, what can be done to reach that next level?

Everything is in our heads. Of course it’s easy to do some shuffle, that’s not my decision. We have Konstantin “groove”, who understands everything. He can see everything. He’s going to decide, and every decision he makes, I will accept. I don’t know what the future will bring for us. Will we fix these problems and go big? We’ll see. It’s the hardest part, every team after playing for some time gets some mental problems, but not everyone wants to fix it, that’s why teams make changes. We’re capable, we can fix it. Everything is in our head, in our hands.

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