As many people are aware, the Tier 2 and 3 CS:GO event calendar is jam-packed full of new tournaments almost every week, with anywhere from $5,000 to upwards of $50,000 of prizes on offer to the winning teams. With many opportunities, comes many chances for success.
This is exactly the method that Gambit Esports used throughout 2019, 2020, and 2021 to rise to one of the highest-ranked teams in world Counter-Strike at the beginning of March 2021.
When the core of this roster was established on 4th April 2019, it was touted as just another young mix of CIS players looking to see how far they can get in the ranks, and at the start this is really all it was. For the first few months, they were hovering around the 80th rank in the world, playing some local events back when LANs were a thing, and placing in some low online tournaments.
Their first real taste of success came in late 2019 when they won the MSI Gaming Arena tournament however there were some who thought this was more of a miracle run to victory rather than the start of a rising team. This tournament was filled with Best of 1 matches, as even the Grand Final was played and decided by a single map. Gambit had a close affair with ex-Epsilon Esports in the end but took the victory 16-13 to bag the first place prize.
This exciting Russian roster headed by some prodigy-type players was at the time one of the most decorated teams to watch in Tier 3 Counter Strike. With a mix of aggressive plays, a young in-game leader and a team community vibe that lead them to many victories, they began to really hit home some good results in online tournaments, placing 1st and 2nd in many events during 2020.
Star-player, “sh1ro”, gained so many new admirers during this period, and with great reason too. He held a 1.27 HLTV rating throughout the entire of 2020, and at just 17 years of age at the time, there were many speculating that he would be the next big thing to hail from the CIS region. He has really grown into this role throughout his time in the Gambit roster, as in 2021 he has started the year with a bang, and has maintained an incredible 1.23 rating. Sure, this might be slightly less than last year, but during 2021, Gambit has faced some opponents from the Top 10 in the world.
Prior to Gambit’s roster change, when “supra” was still part of the lineup, it was shocking how far this team was able to go. During 2020, when the frivolous calendar provided many opportunities for success, including 8 weeks of the Eden Esports: Malta Vibes tournament, and 7 iterations of the NINE to FIVE Cups, Gambit reaped their rewards during these tournaments, repeatedly taking home virtual trophies to place in their cabinet.
With 5 NINE to FIVE victories, and a further 2 victories in the Malta Vibes weekly events, they took home over $200,000 in prize money over the space of four months. This doesn’t include the rest of the tournaments they played, including DreamHack Open November 2020 and the Vulkan Fight Series.
Part-way through their run of NINE to FIVE success, Gambit made the decision to bench “supra” from the roster and add experienced man, “HObbit” to the ranks to make a 6-man roster, however, this was quickly turned back into a 5-man roster with “HObbit” being the permanent addition to the team. Many expected Gambit’s success to stop here, thinking that the cycle had been broken by swapping a player, with phrases such as “Don’t fix what isn’t broken.” being hailed through the community, however, it only got better for Gambit.
It was clear that Gambit, on their best days, were a head and shoulders above the rest of the competition in the Tier 2 and 3 events they were playing. Running rings around fellow CIS and European opponents time and time again to earn even more respect and prize money during these events.
This team was playing many games per week, and with practice added in, they were spending the majority of their days on CS:GO, but what else was there to do? Right in the middle of a global pandemic, Gambit chose their time to get good. With several free hours per day that could be dedicated to official competitions and practice matches, this team knuckled down when many other squads were complaining about the lack of LAN events, or the inability to bootcamp.
Many started to realize that Gambit was a real contender when they started to take wins over some of the best teams in their region, including Natus Vincere, who they beat back in WePlay! Clutch Island and faced a few times after that. As well as convincing wins over Virtus.pro and Spirit, they were facing some of the higher-ranked European squads and still proving they could come out on top.
On February 16th 2021, Gambit’s careers would be propelled to a level they never expected to happen so quickly. They were invited to the IEM Katowice 2021 Play In, and while many expected them to have a decent run, nobody predicted what would happen during the course of the upcoming week.
It was a shaky start in the main event, however, as their opening match went down the drain as they lost 2-0 to Evil Geniuses, and while both games made it to double digits for Gambit, they couldn’t shut down the North American squad as “Ethan” led them to victory. From there, things started to get better. A rematch against mousesports proved once again they were the better side, taking a 2-0 win to make survival in the event easier.
The next stage, whilst a little tougher, still proved a success. Danish side, Heroic, tried to offset their performance but failed despite making it to a 3rd map in the series. They couldn’t edge their success on Mirage though, as Gambit smashed home a 16-3 win to close the series. G2 were the ones that could stop Gambit, but the miracle run continued with a swift 2-0 to make it into the playoff bracket.
They could see their names in lights, but the dream could’ve been shattered early. Tensions arose. Natus Vincere were drawn against them in the playoffs. Great… The one team that Gambit wanted to avoid. They really had to knuckle down and play full-focus to survive this onslaught. That’s exactly what they did, though. Star man, “sh1ro” led them to a beautiful 2-0 win, dropping 47 kills across the two maps. From there, it didn’t get easier. Team Spirit were up next, and with so many hailing the names of “mir”, “chopper” and “degster”, it was going to be a tough series for the Gambit side to win.
In reality, though, it was nothing of the sorts. Another 2-0 victory led them to a Grand Final spot. Two maps that went close, but fell in the favor of Gambit. Twitter was going insane, fans were showing their love for the young boys, but it wasn’t over yet.
One more match. That’s all they needed. Virtus.pro lined up in the Grand Final waiting for the chance to get a trophy under their belt in 2021. As one of the best tactical and team-based squads in the world, Virtus.pro looked touted to win the event but everything changed once the game was underway.
Despite a close first map on Vertigo, Virtus.pro swung the victory in their favor to go up on the first map of the Best of 5 series. From there though, something in the Gambit players sparked a fire beneath them. The engines were refilled with fresh coal and it was all-steam ahead from here. 16-6, 16-4, 16-12. As easy as that. In 3 quick maps Virtus.pro were defeated and Gambit were the winners of IEM Katowice 2021.
In what can only be described as a miracle run, Gambit went from the IEM Katowice 2021 Play In stage right to the finish and completed it with a trophy to define one the best tournament wins to date.
Watching this team play, it is clear to see what sort of atmosphere they set in this team. Each game is like the rest. They take no opponent at greater value than another, they play their own game and focus on their own abilities, and scarily it’s working to great effect. Teams before them like FURIA and BIG have tried this, with FURIA having their aggressive style, and BIG utilizing some great players like “syrsoN”, but Gambit really made a statement.
No matter what team they play against, they are full-focused and ready to win. There’s proof in the pudding. Whether it’s a NINE to FIVE tournament, a Snow Sweet Snow event or the Grand Final of one of the biggest tournaments of 2021, as long as Gambit have got their heads in the game, there’s a dangerous team ready to strike you down at any moment.
Just take a moment to think. Last year, this team was playing in online tournaments, progressing and developing their players, learning how to handle such a young team. Now, look at them. Ranked 5th on HLTV, with a peak of 4th after the IEM Katowice victory. This team can now be regarded as one of the best in the world, and while many have already thought this for some time now, it can be proven with statistics and backed up with data. Do not take this team lightly, they’ll trip you up along the way.