Kyiv native Oleksandr Kostyliev, better known as s1mple, joined NAVI in 2016. Over the years, s1mple has proven himself one of the world’s finest Counter-Strike players, leading NAVI to glory at countless events and tournaments worldwide.
Watch the video, or keep scrolling for the entire interview transcript below!
Hello everyone, welcome to our channel. Our interview guest today is s1mple. We sat down for a chat, so we could get to know him a little better. Let's go!
Alright, let's get started. Sasha, tell us: how did you get into video games?
It was so long ago that you can't even remember, right?
Yeah, it all started when my brother Alexey showed me CS—I was about four at the time. I don't remember exactly which map I played on, though. I was also playing on a console, especially the old Mortal Kombat. And FIFA, lots of FIFA. That's about it.
Was there a moment in your childhood when you realized that gaming could become your profession? Or that you'd make a living from it?
No, I never really had thoughts like that. It was only when I was 12 or 13, and started playing in 2v2 tournaments in CS 1.6, that I began to think about playing professionally.
So, you switched from casual playing to eSports when you turned 12, right? As you say, you were already playing in tournaments then.
I switched to pro gaming when I was around 13 or 14, to be exact.
Were there any problems or challenges you faced when you made that switch, or did everything just go smoothly?
Well, there was one thing: I always had to do my homework, or my parents would take away my keyboard or mouse, or monitor cable. I did my best to study and get good grades.
Unexpected obstacles. More like external ones rather than in the actual game, right?
Okay. What was the hardest match of your life? Can you recall a game that really stands out in your mind as the toughest?
A game we won, yeah?
Not necessarily. Maybe you lost, even. But a game that you learned a lot from, that stands out for you.
Well, there was an intense game once at ESL Cologne in 2018 when we played against Astralis in the semi-final. We were on the third map, Inferno, and I remember we were all really going for it. We were switching our roles within the team, basically doing everything we could to try to win a round.
Astralis took the lead and opted for baiting. But ultimately, we won the semi-final and then beat—
Alright. Tell us: who's been your best teammate? Not necessarily in your official team, but maybe just the best player you've ever played with. And who's the best you've played against?
The best individual player and teammate I’ve had is electronic [Denis "electronic" Sharipov]. Before that, it was Hiko [Spencer "Hiko" Martin], when I was in Team Liquid. And my toughest opponent was ZywOo [Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut].
And before ZywOo? He's kind of a newcomer in the professional scene.
Before ZywOo... I guess device [Nicolai "dev1ce" Reedtz], for sure, because we always lost to him when he was with Astralis. And coldzera [Marcelo "coldzera" David]. It was hard to play against coldzera’s team—they were on a winning streak in 2016 and 2017.
Okay. It's well known that many athletes have rituals they have to follow before matches. What about eSports? Do you have any superstitions or rituals that you have to follow?
I drink coffee. I do it every day, and I try to have a cup during games or LAN tournaments.
Is that so you perk up, or...?
Just nice coffee. I guess it gives me some kind of energy. I don't remember how long I've been doing it. Not long. Basically, I'm a fan of coffee.
What kind of training regime do you have? Can you describe it in detail? Is it just: turn on CS:GO and play all day?
Yeah, I turn on CS:GO when I feel like I need a warm-up. Usually, I might warm up for about half an hour. Then we play together as a team for around eight hours. After that, in my free time, I play FPL [FACEIT Pro League].
Do you work on the mental side of playing competitively?
As a team, we get ourselves ready psychologically by having a group call. We talk for about an hour. Personally, I tend to listen to some music before a game.
Lots of eSports pros spend a lot of time on things like nutrition and physical fitness. Are they part of your training?
My nutrition is just perfect.
For real, or you're just being sarcastic?
No, I'm serious. I've got a well-organized nutrition regime and don't eat too much. Basically, I eat half of what I usually order. I do lack physical exercise, though.
But you'd like to fix that, right?
In the long-run, yes.
If it works out. CS:GO is also, in many ways, a game of strategy. Is that something that is part of your thinking or is that more the prerogative of the in-game leader, or [NAVI CS:GO team coach] Andrey?
I pay more attention to AWPers – there are a few I keep tabs on. I’ll observe how they move, help their team, what combinations they have with teammates on maps. Or, if they have a good game, I’ll watch it, in case they did something new.
All the tactical preparation work is done by Andrey—we’ll usually talk about it with him for an hour and a half before a game.
What do you like most about your profession, about competitive eSports? And what would you change?
I would have said before that there should be fewer tournaments and flights, but now it's the other way around. Now, I want to fly to a new country and play a tournament with fans.The thing I don't like about eSports is the lack of time. Because you're constantly playing—
No time for your private life?
Yeah. I get a five-day break every two months. But generally, it’s one day off a week, but not actually during the weekend.
What are your personal and professional plans for this year? Were there any goals that you set for yourself at the start of the year?
Our goal is still the same: become the top team and win tournaments. That's all the plans I have.
And what about your personal plans? For example, Boombl4 wants to visit the Maldives on vacation.
Well, a vacation is a good thing, but that will have to wait. So no, I don't have anything like that.
Have you ever thought about your future after retiring from eSports? After finishing your career as a pro player.
I don’t know, I might try myself out as a coach. Or, maybe, I'd just work in eSports. I don't know.
As a commentator?
No, thanks. I'll pass on that.
Maybe I'd learn English first, then take a job in a studio.
It pays better, they say. What aspects of your gameplay would you like to improve?
I don’t know, maybe... just keep on putting maximum effort into winning rounds, without any screw-ups. There are stressful moments in games when you know you shouldn't do something in a particular way, but you do it like that anyway. It's these, I don't know, stressful moments, or something.
Do you mean, like, moments of weakness or emotional moments?
It’s just these moments in a game when, I don’t know, you’re completely focused on the round. And, when no one reminds you that you have to play out a certain situation in a certain way, you can make a wrong move. I'm constantly trying to improve on that.
When it comes to winning, how important is team chemistry? Does everyone on your team need to be friends and get along for the team to be successful?
In general, yes. Teammates should spend time together when they have the chance. That’s how you build up teamplay: you get to know your teammates better and you can try to understand them without words.
And how does that work, specifically in your team? You’ve had Valeriy ['B1T' Vakhovskyi] join your team recently, for example. How do you familiarize him with everything, and how do you build team chemistry with someone new?
Well, we usually say something to Valeriy about his mistakes. He asks a lot of questions, and we try to answer them all. Because, even though we’d played with Valeriy before on a couple of maps, we had never just got together with him on TeamSpeak and talked with him.
Either he would just talk to Andrey—who helped him through the two maps—or he would join our TeamSpeak channel to listen to our discussions. Or he would join as a spectator on other maps he didn't play on, to better understand our roles and how he should play.
Generally, though, we spend time with him, chat over a cup of coffee, or just ask him what's new. He's a complete newcomer to eSports—just like me when I was 16. And he’s 18 now, I think.
Still innocent as a newborn, right?
It’s unusual to meet people like him—
Because, ultimately, I—
But did he reinvigorate your team spirit in some way?
Well, yes. I mean, he's a good player. He has excellent shooting skills but still needs to improve his understanding of the game, just like everyone else.
What’s been the most difficult thing you’ve come up against in your career, in your profession? What’s the hardest thing for a player to deal with?
I don’t know, maybe when you have to play several tournaments in a row, and you keep losing.
Yeah, like tilting. And the lack of time, when you have to train constantly. When you’re training and always winning, that's one thing. But when you’re training and losing, then trying to figure out why you lost, then losing again, and again trying to figure out why—that's hard.
Some people might stop believing in themselves or start thinking it’s all pointless. That’s rare in our team, but it's definitely the hardest thing.
Alright. If you hadn’t become a professional gamer, what career would you have pursued?
I would have liked to be a soccer player. I used to play soccer before, but then I had to choose between soccer and CS, and that was that.
You made the right choice!
I hope so.
Do you play any single-player titles? On your console, for example?
I play basketball, soccer, and UFC with friends on my console. I don't usually play single-player games, but sometimes I play Valorant on my days off. I haven't opened DOTA for a long time—I'm bored of losing. I'm a creep in DOTA.
A creep? I guess we'll cut this part out.
FIFA is my best game though. Well, after CS. I’ve been playing FIFA for 12 or 13 years already.
Sasha, how would you describe your playing style and why do you play that way? It's indescribable.
That’s a tough one, for sure.
Well, your style might be aggressive, passive, or even reckless.
I would say, when it comes to attacking with an AWP, I'm usually looking for open kills at respawn points or during certain rounds. For example, when playing on the Dust map, I quickly occupy positions in mid or long areas, to try to find some kind of advantage for my team.
When playing as a CT [counter-terrorist], everything depends on combinations. If we're playing a round in the 4A setup, then I know that in my role, I can take risks. But in other rounds, I just have to throw a couple of flashbangs and occupy the long area, and then my style becomes passive by default.
But it's always different: when attacking and not looking for open kills, an AWPer shouldn't move first. He should let his teammates go first so that they kill enemies in nearby positions. And then, only when the bombsites are clear, an AWPer camps at a position from where he can make two or three kills on the retake.
I don't know really what to call this style, but...
It’s pretty clear, so far. I think everyone familiar with the subject will understand.
There are some moments when you have to take a risk and catch the timing when you— I don’t know, it’s difficult to explain. You make a decision in an instant, after which everything goes as it should and in just a few seconds you can kill an enemy and occupy another position that your opponent won't expect.
But that's already a different thing—
Is it some kind of intuition?
I think it's related to your understanding of the game. By default, you understand where your enemies are. For example, when you move into the A-site, you already know that one enemy is at the ramp, another AWPer is observing the long area, and another enemy is at the long area watching the box.
You know all three positions. You know the timing of when an enemy will move out. You know that he might throw a flashbang. You should be prepared to dodge flashbangs... That's about it.
Got it. You just need to play well.
But as for my style, I don't know, I guess maybe it is aggressive.
Has your role changed over the years, over the course of your career? And how?
Yes, I've had a lot of roles.
How did you adapt to each one of them? And why did they change? Was it your own initiative or was it because of your captains or teammates?
At HellRaisers, I became an AWPer right away, because Marik [Yehor "markeloff" Markelov] didn't want to be an AWPer. At Team Liquid, I... I can't remember exactly... If I'm not mistaken, at first I was an AWPer and adreN [Eric "adreN" Hoag] was our coach.
But then, when he was let go as coach, we had to find a new player, but couldn’t. So, adreN joined us as a regular player and I was an AWPer then as well. After that, adreN—the American adreN—left, and koosta [Kenneth "koosta" Suen] joined.
I remember that koosta was playing as the main CT AWPer, and I was the main attacking AWPer. But when playing as CTs, we could have three AWPers, so I was with Hiko. Back then, I took on the lurker role when playing in attack... or was it vice versa, as a CT...
Basically, I had various roles. And at NAVI when I joined, I was the second AWPer in the first roster. And then when Zeus [Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko] came to NAVI, I became the main AWPer. And then...
What was after that? Then, when Zeus retired from CS, Ladik [Ladislav 'Guardian' Kovács] joined the team, I think. Or it was that Vanya [Ioann 'Edward' Sukhariev] retired, and then Ladik came and became an AWPer. After that, I became the main AWPer again.
But before that, my role was to be a lurker. I had to occupy certain points at certain times and look out for enemy rotations. Basically, I was in the rear, a rifler.
Which teams do you see as the big threats this year?
This year, I think...I'd like to play against Gambit again, because I didn't feel well during the last game against them. They've beaten us twice already, in Katowice. Gambit is one of the biggest threats. Plus, they're currently 1st in the rankings.
Who else? For example, your teammates mentioned Astralis.
Well, Astralis after today's announcement... I didn't even know that. The first time we played a training match against them, dev1ce wasn’t there. I thought that was just because he wasn't going to play on that map, but now it turns out he's left the team. I don't think that Astralis will be stronger now than they were then, though that was a month ago.
What about Vitality? I think [your teammate] BoombI4 mentioned them as well.
Sure, Vitality too, but they need more practice seeing as they have a new player joining them. Since RpK [Cédric Guipouy] retired, it’s been difficult for them.
But, if they get enough training in and get the team going, it'll be hard to play against them. Let me think of who else there is. Virtus.pro, maybe, could be added to the list. We beat them once, but they played well.
It's the year of the CIS region, right?
There's also FaZe Clan. I think they'll improve their game and show good results. They have strong team members.
Do you come up with strategies to counter specific teams before official matches?
If I haven't tracked the progress of an opposing team, or if they've played only on a couple of maps before our game with them, I'll just ask Andrey what we need to do. But, if they've played on five or 10 maps before our game, I'll check them out and see what tactics they use, and how their AWPer plays.
But it's usually Andrey who tells us everything, and our analyst, who looks at the other team’s game and tells us where the weak points are.
Thanks for reading our 1:1 interview! For more exclusive content and interviews, check out our Blog!