In an exclusive interview with Dexerto at PGL Major Antwerp, Team Spirit’s Abdul ‘degster’ Gasanov admits that the team will approach the match against FaZe without pressure. “If we reach the final, that’s great,” he says.
“Who cares about experience, bro? No-one,” degster says with a smile, when I point out how calm and collected his team, the youngest at PGL Major Antwerp, looked the day before.
It has been less than 24 hours since Team Spirit beat FURIA in the quarter-finals, and the Russian AWPer continues to show the same laid-back attitude that has been a trademark of this team since the beginning of the Major. Nothing seems to rattle them, not the chants coming from opposing fans or the unprecedented attention that their Cinderella story has generated.
Fairy-tale runs aren’t unusual at Majors. There was Gambit’s dream run at PGL Major Kraków 2017, Cloud9’s remarkable victory at ELEAGUE Major Boston 2018 after overcoming a 0-2 start, or ENCE’s grand final appearance at IEM Katowice 2019.
In Antwerp, Team Spirit are adding their name to that list. The Russian team, who began the year outside the top 100 in the world rankings amid a roster overhaul, came all the way from the open qualifiers to the Major and are now just one victory away from the grand final.
It’s all new for everyone on Spirit, even degster, who has been with the team since January 2021. He appeared on the analyst desk with a wide grin after Spirit booked the first spot in the playoffs with an unlikely 3-0 record in the Legends Stage. Struggling to contain his emotions, he revealed that playing in front of a crowd was one of his dream goals. It didn’t matter that most of the fans were cheering against his team.
“It was unbelievable,” degster tells Dexerto of the match against FURIA. “It was the best atmosphere that I had ever felt.
“As I said [on the desk], I didn’t care if fans hated me or cheered for my opponent. I just wanted to feel this atmosphere. And it was great. It didn’t bring any pressure, it just brought very good emotions.
“I saw some Spirit fans. There weren’t many, but every time I had a highlight [moment], I just waved at them. It was great.”
degster then reveals that his team received an extra dose of motivation in the lead-up to the series against FURIA. In his pre-match comments, FURIA captain Andrei ‘arT’ Piovezan said that Spirit had been “lucky” to win the best-of-one game between the two teams in the Legends Stage. The playoff match, he insisted, would be “easy” for FURIA.
“Disrespectful things, in my opinion,” he says. “I would never say anything like that, and I recommend no-one say anything like that, ever.”
Part of the secret behind Spirit’s incredible run lies in the positive atmosphere that has been created since the roster came together, just three months ago. According to him, that’s something that was missing in previous iterations of the team and that helped offset their inexperience.
“That’s the most important thing for young players,” degster tells Dexerto. “No-one gets blamed when they make mistakes. You are not going to be nervous because you know that, no matter what happens, your team will say, ‘Anyone can make mistakes.’”
But just as important as the mood in the Spirit camp is the hard work that has gone into preparing for the Major. Everyone has been on the grind, with degster alone logging over 180 hours in the game over the past two weeks.
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“I had nothing [else] to do,” he explains. “I was not at home. I was staying in Serbia and Romania, in a hotel room. You don’t have TV, you don’t have your girlfriend with you, you cannot talk to your parents because of the Internet. It was a hard time for us.
“And when you go through these situations, you try to make the most of it. And that was playing CS.”
Spirit’s preparations for the Major were rocked by the news that head coach Sergey ‘hally’ Shavaev would not be able to stand behind the team during the tournament. He was one of three coaches who were provisionally suspended by the Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC) for the use of the spectator bug.
That has given degster added responsibilities, which he has taken on with gusto. “Against FURIA, I could call a timeout and say, ‘Guys, let’s calm down a bit. We’re killing them. Just wait. We don’t need to play faster,’” he says.
“It’s hard because he cannot call a timeout and say what we should do, but it also gives you a lot of experience. I can decide what we want to do. It’s a unique experience because you’re never going to go through it again. I hope. I hope no-one is going to be banned. [laughs]”
Unable to coach the team in official games or even be present in the practice room, hally decided to stay in Serbia, watching his team overcome challenge after challenge from afar. “I’m sad that he’s not experiencing the emotions that we are feeling,” degster says.
Preparing for FaZe
The only thing standing in Spirit’s way of reaching the final is FaZe, the red-hot favorites to secure the title in Antwerp. They are expected to pose a much tougher challenge than FURIA, but degster believes that his team has a fighting chance. “We just need to play like we have been doing,” he says, adding that FaZe in-game leader Finn ‘karrigan’ Andersen cannot afford to underestimate his team. “He wants to win a Major. I think it’s his dream.”
Regardless of the outcome of today’s match, degster is proud of what his team has accomplished in Antwerp. Anything that they achieve from here on in is a bonus. And as the underdogs against FaZe, they will step onto the stage without any pressure, ready to play fearless Counter-Strike once again.
“We don’t have any goals here,” degster says. “We have already done unbelievable things. If we reach the final, that’s great. If not, that’s okay. We will do our best and hope everyone will have fun.”
Before degster goes on his way, I ask what the day has in store for him. Is he going to put in long hours again to prepare for the biggest match of his career?
Surprisingly, the answer is no.
“I’m not going to spend the entire day practicing. I’m already ready to play,” he says with assurance. “We will just play some scrims, watch some demos and do some individual practice. Deathmatch, bots or FPL.
“After that we are going to sleep. Tomorrow [today], we are going to prepare for the semi-final. The first semi-final of a Major in my life, so I am happy. I am very happy.”