"My mental state is more important than going to the Major with HellRaisers". Daxak talks about Solo's failure as captain and conflicts in HR Exclusive
In the second part of our interview, Nikita "Daxak" Kuzmin went deep in the reasons why he ended up out of HellRaisers, even after the team qualified for the Major in Lima. Players at the highest level rarely reveal inside problems so much, and Kuzmin understands, that it's unlikely he will find a new team in close future after that. But he still wanted to give his side of the story.
In the first part, we talked with Daxak about his conflict with Akbar "SoNNeikO" Butaev in BetBoom. Two demanding leaders clashed together, and the result was disappointing — last place at The International 2022. So, coming to a new team, he wanted to prevent that from happening this time.
I said right at the start that I'm not really a "follower". In BetBoom it was obvious from the beginning that SoNNeikO will be the captain. So, before joining this team, I very thoroughly explained how I want to work and what to do, to not face the same issues. Everyone agreed. I also explained that I have certain social skills issues, and I'm working on them. I presented my pros and cons, and everyone was fine with it.
Daxak explained that the main issue in the team was the coach, Aleksandr "Nofear" Churochkin, for whom it was a first serious gig in that role. According to Kuzmin, Nofear had poor work ethics, made a lot of promises and claims and didn't follow through with them, while also having a poor understanding of the game.
His overall understanding of the game wasn't good, so we had to work together on it a lot. And he agreed with that: "I didn't have anyone to study from, sorry that I'm like that". But he isn't responsible, he doesn't hold his word.
Nofear would take upon 5, 10 tasks, but didn't do them. We had a list of who was doing what, he had to keep track of the tasks and change them every 2-3 days. But he just didn't do it. The way he examined replays for the team was wrong too. I had to do it with him and youngsters, so our coach could learn and do that in the future.Nofear was saying how he has everything covered, he will do this and that: "Team is ready, you just need to relax and play". Of course, that wasn't the case. I had to do a lot of work, a bit less than I did in BetBoom.He is also a bootlicker, and I hate people like that. At first he is sucking up to you, and then does crappy job. He was saying: "I'm a psychologist, I understand the game". You explain that he is wrong, he agrees with you and thanks you. And in few days he starts again, presenting his opinion as an absolute truth like a flat-earther, with zero reasoning. I tried explaining to our coach where he is wrong multiple times, but it became a waste of time. At some point I just started to shut him up.Even our training process wasn't structured at all. There was no idea or task behind scrims: just come and press your buttons. We study matchups, and then come to a scrim, what heroes are we playing? Our coach doesn't know. Anyone knows? All right, we will play with random stuff. I was telling all that to him, he was saying, "It will be fixed". I said one, two, three times, and then I stopped caring.
But ex-HellRaisers carry also gave some credit to Churochkin, saying that his understanding of the game improved a lot over their time together. He also started conveying his ideas better, even tho his communication still wasn't as good as needed. And when Solo withdrew from drafting, Nofear took this task upon himself and "did well".
Something that Kuzmin didn't mention — Nofear is married to the HellRaisers sports director Maria "Inverno" Gunina, and their relationship started before he became the coach of the team. Daxak didn't insinuate a conflict of interests in any form, but it's important to paint a full picture.
"In HR Solo failed both as a player, and as a captain"
Carry also had a lot of criticism for Solo. Berezin didn't listen to anyone and refused to explain his ideas, didn't take any input during drafts, and didn't work with the young teammates. "SoNNeikO at least explained in-game moments that he wasn't happy with, before the conflicts started, while Solo never did even that — just acted like we should read his mind", claims Kuzmin. Decorated captain joined the team after NAVI disbanded — it's rumored that the roster had an internal conflict because of his authoritative leading style.
I came to the team: nothing is ready, we need to work with young players and solve issues. We spend a week on bootcamp, and Solo leaves on vacation, which he planned during TI11. He comes back, now he needs another week to get his form back. And all that time he did nothing as a captain, while I worked with youngsters almost every day: examined replays together, taught them and the coach.
As a player, Solo did well in the beginning, moved around map in a right way. If I was giving him feedback, he was taking it well. He also taught me how to take highground and push the base, I always had issues with that. Thanks to him, I improved in that.
But at the end his form declined. He started repeating the same mistakes, which we worked on multiple times, we were coming on our lane just to suck. And I don't know why it wasn't fixed.
He never wanted to study replays together. I saw him looking at someone else's replay once, and never at his own. His motivation was just enough to play 10+ pubs a day. As I see it, in HR Solo failed both as a player, and as a captain.
Quite often he wasn't happy about some in-game moves, but never explained why. When I didn't like something, I was starting a team talk next day. There I was presenting my vision of it, so the teammates could agree and fix the problem, or explain that this is bullsh*t and why I see things wrong.
There was a lot of moments where the whole team didn't agree with him on some calls. I was asking him to explain his position, but he didn't. When you are considering yourself a captain, it's not just a crown on your head, you need to earn the respect with your actions instead of going, " I'm the captain. Why? Because I am".
"Why someone tries hard every map, while others don't give a sh*t?"
Daxak also wasn't happy with team atmosphere overall. He disliked that some members had bad sleep schedule, and some didn't take scrims seriously. Kuzmin mentioned that the team was going out "to drink and smoke after official games". That didn't fit well with Daxak, who went to the gym, worked on his sleep and tried to eat well on bootcamp. Healthy lifestyle was the main thing that helped him to endure the "nonsense that was going on there".
I am a man fully devoted to my work. Roughly speaking, I'm terrible at anything else besides Dota. Why someone tries hard every map, while others don't give a sh*t? I didn't came to the resort, I came to work, so it was hard for me to put up with such an approach.
No doubts that things outside of the game also influenced the atmosphere. It's important to spend time together in a team. When one player wakes up at 09:00, while other sleeps until 14:00, it's hard to do. Because of issues with Solo and Nofear, it was difficult for me to connect with them. Kiyotaka is kind of a loner. I was spending some time with MieRo, we were going to the gym together.
After official games teammates were going out to drink and smoke. And I can't stand either smoking or alcohol. Even the smell itself is unpleasant to me. Few times we went out as a team, I didn't decline to go. But when half of the team is smoking IQOS [tobacco heating device], because smoking in public places is allowed in Serbia, and I ask them to go outside, that definitely harms the atmosphere.
"In the end, it was an ultimatum: it's either me or him"
All that culminated after HellRaisers qualified for the Major in Lima. A bit earlier the team pushed back to Daxak voicing his concerns again, and told him, "Mr. Negative, stop talking about these issues", so he stopped. But on team talk an hour after their achievement, he decided it's a good moment to discuss the problems — looking back, he sees that it would be better to start this talk "on the next day".
I explained that I don't want to play with Nofear, that Solo's form declined — but people didn't consider these things as issues. Instead, I became a problem. Solo started saying how I'm making mistakes on lane, but when I asked him to show me, he refused. In our whole time together, he has shown me something just once, and I agreed and promised to not repeat it again.
So, I said that if these things aren't issues for them, our views are too different, and we should part ways. Yes, we qualified for the Major, but I wasn't going to put up with this.
Before the kick, Nofear started gaslighting me, saying how bad I am and how I'm doing nothing, even tho before he was constantly sucking up, praising me, saying how good I am, and how much he learned from me. In the end, it was an ultimatum: it's either me or him. Otherwise, it was impossible to go on, at least for me.
They offered me to go to the Major together, because I "deserved it", and then to part ways afterwards. I said that I need to think for a while. In the end, I agreed to go on their terms, but asked them to clearly spell out my duties, so no-one could complain that I get into their business. But they suddenly started saying to me that I'm not motivated enough to go. <...>
I could silently go on and put up with this, we would go the Major. But why? For me that's a waste of time and nerves. And my mental state is more important for me than going to the Major with HellRaisers. What result they will get? If that will be the first place, good job from them, but that doesn't mean it would have been any different with me, and it's the same if they will end up on the last place, could have happened with me too.
But even with this list of issues, Kuzmin still understands and admits that he also played a role in the situation deteriorating that far. He says that his social skills were an issue sometimes, and that later young players suddenly started complaining that he was pressuring them and was too critical during replay analysis. Daxak claims that if they would say anything in the moment, he would reevaluate his approach, and that he told them so, but they never did until the end. "I was also told that I'm getting into everyone's business. But I was doing so because the necessary tasks weren't being done", explains Daxak.
When questioned how the team with such problems managed to qualify in a fairly competitive region, he responded that even teams with much bigger issues ended up successful in the past, and "you never know how things go". As an example, he reminded that Team Liquid wanted to change its roster before their triumph at The International 2017.
Important to understand that this is only one side of the story. After HellRaisers started testing other carries, one of the players went on record saying that, "the vibe in the team improved". While that doesn't mean that Daxak himself was the source of issues, it's possible that the relationships were strained to such degree that removing him was simply necessary. But he is still proud of the work he is done with the team, qualifying for the Major in Lima, where HellRaisers will compete with another player instead.
Update: HellRaisers coach responded to interview, saying that the team actively prepared without Daxak present, and also criticizing his approach to pubs.