Maksym Bednarskyi is CEO of the Ukrainian esports organization IKLA and former CEO of HellRaisers and Windigo. We sat down with Maksym to discuss the current situation at IKLA and Ukrainian CS:GO scene in general.
Lineup changes and finding the right fit
BLIX: Let’s talk about the lineup and the recent changes. Dmytro “SENSEi” Shvorak and Yevhenii “j3kie” Serhachov have left the team. Have you considered the option of keeping, for example, only SENSEi, who stands out statistically at his level, and saying goodbye only to j3kie?
Maksym: Well, you may have noticed that SENSEi is no longer on FPL — he was removed even after getting third place last month. The problem wasn’t his rating. We learned that we may not have been invited to some important tier-2 events because of the reputation issues associated with these players in the past. And we understand that as an organization that wants to build its future, we would rather work with less experienced players now and move forward with a clean reputation.
During the six months they played with us, we didn’t surpass the results we had before. Clear goals were set, but they weren’t met.
BLIX: You signed Artem “kensizor” Kapran from Iron Branch and brought Pavlo “uQlutzavr” Bilov and Roman “WOLF” Mykhailenko back. Is this the final line-up, are there no further changes planned in the nearest future?
Maksym: Well, I can’t call any line-up final until we become a stable top-15 team. We’ll always be looking for ways to become stronger and if there are good opportunities, we’ll take them. We want to be a competitive team, and we don’t want to stand still.
As for kensizor, we bought his contract because out of the players we looked at, he was the best-suited to working in our team at the moment. He keeps his cool, makes good decisions quickly, and has great mechanical skills. He is very young — only 17 years old — and we see a lot of promise in him. I think that next year, he’ll already be showing a rather high level of play.
Regarding uQlutzavr, this isn’t the first time we are giving him a chance, and everyone should understand that he wasn’t on the team before for a reason. We believe in him and understand that his skills are good enough to help us achieve our goals, but everything will depend on him.
As for WOLF, we tried several candidates for coaches, but we went back to Roman because the coaches who worked with us before didn’t deliver the results and the training process that we expect in our team. We always look at the competition and who can strengthen us not only in Ukraine but also in Europe.
BLIX: About the buyout of kensizor’s contract. As far as I understand, Iron Branch is not an organization, just a mix of players, so who owned Kensizor's rights?
Maksym: Despite the fact that it’s something akin to a mix of players, they have investors who have agreements with the players, and the players get paid a salary, so we had to make a buyout. I would call Iron Branch a semi-professional organization with its own management.
BLIX: Have you considered another Iron Branch player Illia “Ganginho” Chernichenko for the AWPer position?
Maksym: We have Kyrylo “s4ltovsk1yy” Lytvynov who we think is the best option for us. I believe that he’s one of the best AWPers in Ukraine and there is no need to replace him at the moment. He spent six months in another position and gained new experience, having more understanding of the map playing with a rifle. Now it seems to me that we cannot find a better option in Ukraine. Ganginho and Artem “r1nkle” Moroz are at the same level as we are, so they wouldn’t bring instant improvement. Kyrylo suits us very well in terms of synergy. Also, he has never been involved in any scandals, which is very important for us at the moment.
Plans for future expansion
BLIX: Do you have any plans to expand into other disciplines like Dota 2 or VALORANT?
Maksym: We are carefully looking at all disciplines and if we enter one, it must be profitable and beneficial for us as a business. Currently, Dota 2 is not a rewarding discipline — there aren’t many sponsors and market conditions in terms of prize money are unfavorable. With VALORANT, if you aren’t a member of a franchise league, then you don’t have many opportunities to monetize your team. We want to make good business decisions, so for now, we are staying in CS:GO only, but we are always looking at other disciplines as well.
BLIX: Three Ukrainian female players at ESL Impact Europe, and two more — at ESL Impact Northern America. Are you considering signing a female CS:GO roster?
Maksym: I follow the situation in the women’s scene and know that many organizations are interested in it now because they have good prize pools. However, women’s esports events attract a much smaller audience than men’s, so there are fewer sponsorship deals and partners. It’s very difficult to have a competitive female squad in Ukraine — even NAVI signed a Polish roster. If this situation changes over the next few years, then I think we’d be interested in that as well, because we want to grow.
BLIX: Also, you mentioned you’re considering players from Europe, so the option of switching to an English-speaking team is real?
Maksym: Yes, we are researching the market. But I would like to point out that we would need to get a strong player to consider switching to English as the language of communication in the team. We will only be interested in players who have experience at tier-1 events. We talked to Aurimas “Bymas” Pipiras, who played in MOUZ, but he is currently interested in organizations that have slots in BLAST and ESL, so we can’t sign him. I don’t see much sense in taking players of the same level as us.
The transition to English will be very difficult — I know this from the time when I was in HellRaisers and understand what it is, so if we decide to do it, it will be a transition with very strong players who are really ready to yield high results today.
BLIX: Also, you have launched your own academy squad IKLA Gennins which is currently playing in the ESEA Open playoffs, has there been any talk about the team participating in WePlay Academy League?
Maksym: We didn’t [sic] have such a conversation yet, because it’s still unclear whether this tournament will be continued at all. There are a lot of rumors that WePlay won’t be doing it anymore, so there’s nothing to talk about right now, but if someone is doing similar leagues in Europe, then, yes, we will talk.
We are happy with them and even tested some players for the main team, but we understand that we want them to play together and gain experience. I see potential in them, we are investing in Ukrainian youth because we understand that currently, there are no amateur-level tournaments, so the youngsters have nowhere to get experience. We gave them the conditions to show what they are capable of.
BLIX: What are the plans for the rest of this season and the year in general for both the team and the organization?
Maksym: As an organization, we want to throw an online semi-professional tournament in order to support the Ukrainian scene, so that everyone who wants to can participate. We’ll also invite teams from Ukraine, who are already showing promising results as newcomers. Right now, we’re developing the tournament concept and communicating with possible partners. We want to offer a good prize pool to interest more teams.
Also, we want this event to appear on HLTV. In general, we are investing in media and increasing our numbers on social media, which now have a reach between one and two million users per month. We also want to sign a title partner this year. Of course, all of this is not easy due to the war in Ukraine and the recent sanctions against gambling companies.
As a team, we aim to enter the top 30 by the end of the year and secure a place there.
We want to go to a big tournament. For example, we play the qualifier for IEM Dallas 2023. So far, we haven’t played anywhere and only trained the roster for two weeks. In addition, we plan to win ESEA Advanced and enter the next division in order to have a chance to qualify for the ESL Pro League.