Certus: As long as such ESICs can have a say, cybersport has no future

Alisa Barladyan
16 May 2022

Nikolay Certus Poluyanov, the former coach of Team Spirit CS:GO, spoke to Cybersport.metaratings.ru about his early career, ESIC, and 322 matches.

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Nikolay Certus Poluyanov

- Tell us how you started your career in cybersports.

- It's a very difficult question because it was so long ago that I honestly don't even remember how it all started. My first tournament was in 4x4 format if I remember correctly. I don't even know what version it was. I remember my first computer club. There was only one computer with modem internet through the phone. The very beginning of my way is hard to structure because it's just scraps of memories and bright moments. I started playing in Volgograd teams with a purpose already as an adult with a family and a little daughter because I had time and money and could do what I wanted to do. I had my own business, which didn't require control 24/7. From roughly 2005 to 2006, I didn't miss a single Volgograd LAN, got acquainted with all local (and not only) skilled players, stood behind their backs a lot in between my games, listened, watched, and learned. I wasn't a captain. I was running and shooting.

Everything changed when I met Danylo Zeus. He posted an announcement about hosting group training sessions. If I'm not mistaken, I signed up for some ridiculous 15 dollars, and I learned more about the game in an hour of group training than I had in the years before that. There he mentioned that he was willing to coach both teams and individuals. We hit it off and then worked long hours. It was weeks, maybe even months. The day after I started, I realized I was going to be a captain, and, during the time I worked with him, I saw CS from a completely different angle. I listened to every thought and tried to absorb everything. While working with him, I won my team's qualification in a big tournament for the first time. And after that, it was a simple routine. There were the CIS and online tournaments, a ban at ASUS non-pro. I think the money I paid him was one of the best investments in my life and not only because the training paved my way into an eSports career but also because it gave me a friend, who guided me and helped me a lot, and I hope I somewhat helped him too. Once, he got the MVP on a big European LAN. I want to believe that this is the fruit of our endless 1vs1 aim training sessions that we ran for hours before that tournament. Therefore, to answer your question, it would be correct to say that it was Danylo Zeus and my desperate desire to prove that my older age wasn't a problem. I feel very grateful to Danylo Teslenko, and I wish him and his family nothing but the best in this difficult time.

- So you eventually became a coach. How did you get into the first team?

- I became a coach by chance. I didn't pursue it. After I finished playing, I got a letter from Alexey 1uke Zimin, who played with S0tfik, Dima, Coldyy1, and Krecker. He offered to become their coach. They played under the tag Phenomenon. I almost immediately agreed because it was simply interesting and unusual. I don't know why they decided to make that offer to me. After that, several substitutions led to the lineup signed by Spirit in 2016.

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- Tell us about your approach to coaching. What is your main objective?

- I wouldn't say I like to talk about my coaching strategy because it's hard to describe it briefly. It's more like a combination of mentoring and tactics. Like, I could say to some of my players: I've been playing CS longer than you have been alive, for example, Boris magixx, who is the same age as my oldest daughter. I was both a mentor, doctor and partly a psychologist, agent, and analyst. I conducted the first (and some other) negotiations with Spirit. As a coach, I was constantly trying to learn new game features, keep up with meta changes, and be up-to-date. I experimented a lot and was never afraid to take risks. I did everything the team needed, as long as the team wanted to work and develop.

- You have been a coach of Team Spirit for more than five years. That's a long time for cybersports.

- I've stuck around at Spirit. If people think that I'm holding on tight to coaching, they are mistaken. Yes, I've had sporting ambitions, yes, I considered and still consider Team Spirit the best organization in the CIS, but I have repeatedly said that I was tired, that I wanted to leave, and it started as far as 2016. Coaching is a tough and stressful job. I wouldn't say it gets paid enough, although I can't say I was wrong. But it takes so much time, nerves, and health! Apparently, I reached out to them somewhere in 2019, and the entire organization was looking for a replacement for me, and it was Sergey Hally.

- Tell us a little bit about OverDrive. What did he get into the Team Spirit, and what work has he been doing?

- OverDrive is a Team Spirit employee, as far as I know. He is in charge of scouting young people. Four out of five players of the current roster are his findings. And he is doing a good job. Perhaps he is the best in the CIS working with the youth. Hally is lucky that he is his friend, which means that OverDrive won't talk trash about the team like in my case. He'll help and support them. I still don't understand how you could get money from Spirit and destroy the organization's lineup on your public channel and YouTube. Popularity is a scary thing. I missed the support a lot. By and large, of course, he got his way. And it's possible that he was doing the right thing, and his criticism was on point. Time will tell. But he would never work for me. I cannot accept it from a moral standpoint. He shouldn't take offense because I have a right to speak about his actions just like he spoke out his opinion about my players.

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- Tell us a little bit about the Team Spirit players you worked with.

- I think I had, like, 12 or 13 players in Spirit. I'm not sure I could describe each one in a nutshell. I can tell you about my last roster. It failed because of me, and it wasn't because we didn't have enough tactics or anything, but because the series of substitutions I made left me at a dead end. I was mistaken about them. I couldn't get them to work, and when I saw everything going on, I didn't want to do anything anymore. It was the strongest demotivation. I wished it would all end. It was crazy, and I was under constant stress. We were switching roles, forcing Victor to play on the maps he didn't like. He was the only one willing to sacrifice his preferences. We were looking for options, communicating, and constantly trying to solve some old conflict between the two players to no avail. We were trying to remove the crown he had placed on his head with the other young player. We tried to make him work. It wasn't a team but a pathetic parody of a team. The players were thinking about money, haggling for contracts. All this lightheadedness due to the pseudo-success of winning the RMR series in 2020, sticker money, winning DreamHack, and a good performance in Katowice became a huge trap for us.

The team achieved all of this easily, without team play or integral teamwork. All the players just played a lot of FPL. A lot. After Katowice, I said: "Guys, we were lucky. I don't think these achievements are fundamental and deserved, we were in good shape individually, and all the opponents were disassembled." In response, I heard: "What are you talking about? We deserved it." To put it mildly, it was an arrogant statement. All of this made the team proud and lowered their demands on themselves. Everyone began to play a lot less. The team decided they were the stars. Everything had to be paid for this 15-0 over Astralis and their social media ads during match streaming. When we started training, it turned out that all the guys were too cool to compromise. I had wanted to make Dmitri S0tF1k my successor, but he was the one to suffer and eventually left us because we didn't know how we wanted to play. It was always: "We played cool at the beginning of the year without tactics, relying exclusively on the skill. Let's just do the same". I fought, yelled, persuaded, and fined them, but it was all in vain. I should have rebuilt the roster back in May 2021, but that stupid RMR system that allowed no substitutions led to the resignation, and we somehow made it to the major. Then I found out that players wanted to kick me behind my back. I wish they had the courage and respect to say their complaints to my face because I had done enough for them. We were just destined to fail. When I read the comments and listened to the statements of analysts, where everyone blamed me for the failures, it was painful and hard, and not one player took the slightest bit of responsibility. No one even texted me to give some support.

Even when I wasn't the coach anymore, the new roster was losing, and the fans kept blaming me. And just so you get it right, it wasn't a public opinion that hurt me - I didn't like the fact that all the players and people around the team were fine with it. Sometimes the most common and simple words of support are very much needed. So I can safely say that playing qualities never equal personal qualities, and if a player is brilliant, it doesn't mean he can be part of a team. The hardest part is to gather players who can potentially win, who want to win, won't let their teammates down on their way to the goal, and are also capable of making personal sacrifices for a common goal.

- You didn't leave the lineup until early 2022. Why was this decision made?

Even before the major in Sweden, we agreed with the organization that right after it, I would take a break and rest for a few months. I've burned out over the years. My wife saw all my worries and my graying head and asked me to quit, but I couldn't just quit. It would be a betrayal of my dream. I had put so much effort into this organization and the team I could not abandon everything without significant success. Immediately after returning from the major, I re-signed a contract with Team Spirit and went on vacation. I had to return after the current Belgian major to do some administrative work if necessary. But apparently, it didn't. Besides, the events currently unfolding in the world have adjusted the plans and financial capabilities of the organization. In March, they got rid of me, for which I am very grateful. Some steps have to be taken for you by others: I gave my word, now there is no need to keep it.

- Do you have a contract with the "dragons" now?

- No.

Nikolay Certus Poluyanov
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- What are you doing now?

- I am currently focused on my family and my children. All my life, I've combined my coaching job with the business and ran a small company, and now I have more time for it. I'm restoring my health and sometimes watch CS.

- What plans do you have for the near future? Have you thought about forming a new team?

- As for the plans, I will be back in eSports if and when I want and then pick a role. There are a lot of ideas. Let them mature.

- Have you received any offers since Spirit?

- I have received some offers, but I don't see a new challenge for myself, and I don't want to work if it is not interesting. I don't care about the financial side. Unfortunately, most people in eSports are easy riders and non-professionals who are looking for easy money and often find it. They stay in the system for a long time and parasitize it. I am not interested in all this. I want to be part of a project with the highest ambitions, but there have been no such offers so far. Maybe I will create something of my own.

- Just recently, ESIC banned hally, the current coach of Team Spirit, for using a coaching bug 2.5 years ago. If they had done it earlier and if replacements in the major were possible, who would have gone with the team? Maybe you or OverDrive?

- I don't know who would have gone there, but it's not me. Talking about parasites, that would be ESIC. Sergey didn't deserve that ban.

- Have you ever had a coaching bug? And how did you react to it?

- Honestly, back during the first wave, I was worried I might have had it and didn't notice. I had situations where this bug appeared, and it made me mad because it prevented me from watching the team, but I spotted it during warm-up or in practice, as far as I remember. Hally's situation could have happened to me too. You logged on to the server, went for a smoke or got some water, and came back, and the round is already in progress. But this is utter nonsense. You have to investigate if this was done on purpose. Yes, there definitely must be some punishment, but what does a coach have to do with it if it is an engine bug? As long as such ESICs can have a say, cybersport has no future.

- Do you know any other coaches who have used this bug but have not been banned yet?

- No, I don't. Maybe it was me, but I don't remember doing it deliberately.

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- There have been a lot of discussions about 322 on the pro scene lately. Do you know anything about that?

- Anyone who plays matches that get featured on HLTV (??or on bc18go) knows that there are more fake matches than you think. Have I been offered to participate? Yes. But it's always been suggested by people who don't know me well. There are some ethical boundaries I cannot cross - cybersport is a sport to me, and I believe that any foul play is unacceptable, no matter how much money they may offer. If I ever caught one of my players having such thoughts, they would no longer exist for me as a player or as a person. I'd like to believe that I didn't miss any of that in my squads. The amount of 322-matches in any sport is huge, but there are many more metrics and opportunities in cybersports to analyze some strange decisions or actions of players. I don't understand why no one does that. Of course, I can have my guesses, but I don't want to become completely disappointed in everything. One of the reasons I've been loyal to Team Spirit is the CEO's attitude towards 322-matches. That intolerance greatly united us. That's why I will cheer for this organization forever. I can rest easy for as long as my trusted comrades call the shots. From what I've seen and heard, I can conclude that all trials lead to China. Several people in the CIS function as coordinators, recruit, make offers, etc. But I don't know anyone in particular, and I don't have any evidence. That's just the opinion I have. Overall, it's almost immediately clear that if a team is here to get cash or sports achievements, you can tell by their approach to training.

- Let's talk about the current lineup of Team Spirit. The guys are competing in the major right now, and they're doing pretty well. How far do you think they'll get?

- This is a subjective evaluation: their level of play, the captain, and the coach can well get them to the playoff stage. When the roster was announced, I was very surprised and, of course, I had my doubts, but hally and chopper pulled it off. It's just another sign that everything we did was right. And hally wasn't a mistake. All the decisions, including my work, were justified. There is only one way for the guys to achieve nothing in cybersport: if they cultivate the wrong thoughts. That would lead to a drop in motivation, lowering the bar for themselves, and getting star-struck. Any boundary line is in their minds. If they want to be champions and give every second of their existence for this desire, they will become champions. Maybe not in this major, but they will get there eventually.

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- Do you keep in contact with the guys? Do you help them in any way?

- I can't help them in any way now. I only keep in touch with Sergey hally. I feel hurt for him, for this ridiculous ban. But at the same time, I'm glad his players are showing a high level of performance, and I would congratulate him forever.

- What could become the biggest problem? Especially if you take into account the fact that they perform without hally.

- The hardest thing is to calm down, to tell yourself that the top 8 is already a success. They have to believe in their game and that everything is possible and not give up any more matches, like with G2 Esports. Then everything is going to be fine. And then, after the major, they will have another challenge to work on: how not to lose their achievements, which is the most difficult task in sports. Climbing to the top is easier than staying there.

 - What are the chances that a more prominent team buys a player after the major? And will Team Spirit want to let him go?

- I don't believe that the players will want to leave, and I don't believe that Team Spirit will be willing to sell anyone.

- What is the most unfavorable opponent for the Dragons right now?

- Any of the CIS clubs will be the most unfavorable opponent.

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Quick-fire questions

- Who will win the major and take the MVP?

- I believe in Team Spirit. Hopefully, it's chopper or magixx.

- Who will become the best player in 2022?

- Degster.

- What should Valve and the rest of the tournament operators change in the rules for coaches?

- They need to give coaches more influence throughout the game, let them talk at every freeze time, and we should allow rosters with 6, 7, and 8 players, all of which would add to the spectacle.

- Make up a dream team that you'd like to coach.

- All the players I've worked with will be on it. I don't need anyone else.

- What is the secret of your success?

- I don't consider myself successful. I just do what I have to do.

- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

- I hope I live to see it, and if I do, I want to be as happy as now.

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