smooya: "I want to move to America and just smash it; For me to grow the right way as a player, I need to grow as a person"
Chaos announced on Friday the addition of smooya to their roster after a week with just a four-man roster following the benching of Gage "Infinite" Green. The British AWPer will be hoping that this new challenge will help him to kick-start his career after a tenure in BIG filled with ups and downs.
In a lengthy chat, smooya went from talking purely about his time in BIG and how his relationship with the organization and the players within it changed for the better over time, particularly with Johannes "tabseN" Wodarz, to a more general discussion about his goals, his future ambitions, and his growth as a person outside the server.
When did you learn that you weren't going to remain in BIG?
I knew about it roughly since the beginning of December. We were planning to have a bootcamp before DreamHack Open Sevilla and the Champions Cup Finals in Malta, our last two events. It was around the time the leak came out in that German CS Twitter account, so I messaged my owner asking what was going on and they said that it wasn't true at the time but that it depended on the results of the last two events of the year. In my head, I just kind of said, 'OK, I'd like to leave regardless,' because I knew syrsoN was going to be a free agent and that they wanted to speak German again. He's a sick player and I had told them to get him before a bunch of times, so in my head it was all happening around that time.
We were supposed to have the bootcamp, but I couldn't go in the end because my mom had some health issues, so I had to stay home to look after her. We ended up doing an online bootcamp before traveling to Sevilla, where we absolutely bombed out. We thought it couldn't get much worse than that and then we bombed out of Malta, so we had a talk and tabseN spoke to each player individually. I got told then. I said, 'Thank you,' we had a little bromance talk and that was it.
You had been in and out of that roster. How did you take it this time? Did you expect this to happen?
As I said, I was tempted to leave anyway because it wasn't going the way I would have liked it to considering the number of hours we were putting in. No joke, let's say we did three bootcamps, like a month total, and we maybe played like 12 hours a day. We were putting in so much work that it was disgusting. We were so insane in practice, just like every other team, right? But when we went to LAN we sucked, so I don't know. I kind of saw it coming and I don't really mind because I completely understood their reasons. They wanted to speak German again and all of this sort of stuff... which actually hasn't happened because XANTARES is still there, so I'm actually not so sure. But there's really no bad blood this time.
When I got kicked last time, or when I benched myself, everyone seemed to think I did it so they would do bad at the Major, to hurt them, but it was because I just wasn't having fun and getting my positions, and when I said I wanted to leave they just said, 'Sure, leave,' and I really wanted them to say, 'No, please stay,' so it was kind of like, 'OK, fuck you then'. But this time it was very different. Everything was in English this time around, management and everyone were really good to me. They had been good the first time, too, but it seemed like towards the end it almost felt like they got lazy regarding speaking English at team dinners and stuff like that. It wasn't disrespectful, but it kind of felt that way sometimes.
I imagine it was easy to feel like an outsider in those situations...
Yeah, when you sit at a table with 12 people and they're all speaking German to each other, and even the owners are speaking Turkish to XANTARES and I'm just sitting there like, 'Oh, this is fun'. [laughs]. But the second time around it wasn't like that at all. It was really nice to be able to show them that I had matured a lot and tabseN would come and talk to me every week about how proud he was for me actually improving as a person and not just as a player. Sadly it didn't go as planned and it's the way it swings sometimes.
You said you prepared a lot, bootcamped, put in the hours, so what sort of problems did you run into in Sevilla and Malta?
I honestly couldn't tell you. We were having a drink and a chat at the casino after the tournament for the good old times and they were talking about how it seemed like the mentality of everyone on the team had changed since they lost to ENCE at the Major when they were up 14-10 and threw the 5vs2. They said that ever since then on LAN everybody had been playing not to lose instead of playing to win. We lost like six games in overtime and we were always like 15-10 up, 15-12 up, 15-14, playing against pistols and we would lose to them.
We would always lose to pistols. Always lose to fucking pistols, man. These two games in Sevilla, I won an impossible 1vs3 on Nuke against North in the opening game and then I won another impossible 1vs3 against Movistar Riders knowing they had $2,000 the following round and then we just lost. The conclusion we came to was that it was because people were playing not to lose. If that was not it, I don't know, we just sucked on LAN, all five of us [laughs]. Our comms were really chaotic and stuff like that, and although it seemed like by the end we were starting to fix it, the roster broke up, so...
Are you sad about that or do you think it's better for everyone?
It's absolutely better for everyone. For me and them, at least, not for each individual player. It's really good for tabseN to get syrsoN because I think he'll be able to make him perform really well. For me, honestly, I'm just happy that we're all actually friends now, whereas before they were just colleagues, work people. Now they're genuine friends, all of them. I absolutely love tow b to death. The guy did so much for me it's crazy, and in such a short period of time... tabseN, nex, tiziaN... I love tiziaN, that guy is so funny. But yeah, I'm glad we left on good terms. We all hugged and said, 'Lots of respect, lots of love,' whereas the previous time it had been kind of the same but not really with the same feeling, it had been like, 'OK, bye,' and they hadn't really cared, whereas now I really feel they care about how I'll do and stuff like that. It's really cool, it's a nice feeling.
The news about the changes came the other day, and besides the arrivals of syrsoN and k1to, it was also revealed that gob b would become the head of CS:GO. Where was he during this whole time after he retired? Was he anywhere around?
I think we asked him not to be a part of it at the beginning because we didn' t know how every player would take being criticized. Having gob involved... if you can't take criticism you're going to struggle because he's a perfectionist. If you miss a smoke on a map you'll hear about it because he expects you to hit everything every time, so we asked him not to be involved too much at first. He started to come in towards the end to help us with strats for Sevilla and Malta. I believe he was watching a lot of demos for us and finding some new grenades and new ideas, but that was it, really. I think he was mostly chilling, enjoying the retirement life for a while before coming back.
How was it playing for tow b?
I think he's one of the most dedicated people I've ever met. Let's say he went to bed at 3 AM and practice started at noon. He would be awake at 8 AM. Every single day, he'd work out and then spend like three hours preparing before practice. He would then sit and talk for two hours in our theory session, order food or cook for everyone, and then would check and make sure everyone was on the server on time and so on.
He keeps so much structure and he gets so upset when people are late. He sets very good standards and is never, ever, late himself, it's crazy. He taught me a lot about discipline and not lying to yourself, to stay true to myself, and just a lot about life. I talked to him a lot about that sort of stuff and I have a lot of respect for him, like a lot of fucking respect. Awesome guy and a very good coach.
We haven't seen XANTARES perform to the Space Soldiers level on LAN, he hasn't been that crazy fragger that he was known to be in the past. What is it about playing in the BIG structure that has not allowed him to flourish or even play the way he used to?
I don't know. I didn't really play with him or know him during his Space Soldiers time. I only knew him through FPL and we actually didn't like each other because I picked a map he didn't want to play and he called me a 'fucking bitch' [laughs]. We didn't speak for like seven months until he joined the team and was calling me 'brother' and stuff, so I was like, 'OK, I guess there's no problem.' You can see him online and he performs really well in all of the qualifiers, he has like 1.7 ratings over 8 maps. It's actually impossible, some of the stats he gets! I think on LAN people just prepare more for him and his problem is that he doesn't really change his game.
He's clearly a top three aimer in the world, I swear if you watch this guy deathmatch it's like watching an alien, it makes no sense. I try to go DM and perform like him, but after I kill two guys I just leave because it's boring. I have more fun watching him play than doing it myself. I really don't know, I guess people just prepare for him more. Let's say he has four or five players on Banana, if you don't just face him and have aim duels with him he can struggle. The way we played sometimes was just giving him full freedom on maps, him and me, so it was up to us two to get picks, but then on LAN we just sucked [laughs].
It's hard for him to play on LAN the same way he does online if the rest of the team doesn't, and I think it had a lot to do with that. I see a lot of comments saying 'ONLINETARES' and 'Turkish trash can' and stuff like this, but it's so hard to flame one guy when you look at our last three months together as a team and four of us were just above 1.00 rating and one guy was below 1.00. We all sucked. But since he's the star player that he is, all of the pressure goes on his shoulders and everyone flames him, but the reality is that it's not just down to him, it's on everybody. I don't understand the hate, really.
He also joined the team and struggled with English, then it seemed like maybe he'd learn German, then the team went back to English. Do you think that has also played a role in him having some problems adapting?
Oh yeah, 500%. I spoke to him a lot because he was my roommate, but he actually said he wouldn't want to join another Turkish team, ever. He just wants to improve his English, which I find pretty cool. From when I first played with him to when I rejoined, his English got a lot better. It still wasn't perfect, nowhere near perfect, but it wasn't like at the beginning, when he was hard to play with. I think he's improved a lot and it's a big issue for him right now, but as soon as he fixes that... and I said this in an interview a year ago when I played ELEAGUE, when he fixes his English he will be a top 5 player and he's on the road to fixing it, so my prediction still stays true.
He just has to learn how to explain himself properly when we're talking about scenarios—that's really hard for someone who doesn't speak English—, because you're talking about really complex situations in the game that may only happen once or two per LAN after eight games, but it's really important and it's really vital and you have to try and explain why you do this or that.
Do you think his situation will be worse now that he doesn't have another English speaker on the team? Do you think the team could revert to speaking more German?
I don't think so, they have to speak English, if they speak German it's pointless to have him on the team and he's by far, skillwise, their best player, and you're just going to make him shit by not letting him know what's going on. They definitely won't do that. The only thing I worry about is them speaking a lot of German outside of the game and him not feeling in place the same way it happened to me, but I really don't think that will happen because tow b forces everyone to speak English all of the time. If I just walked into a room he would instantly change to English and give me the context about what they were saying in German. If he wanted to finish a sentence in German he would go back and say it in English again so I could join the conversation, and that was really cool. I swear you won't find a coach like that. If someone spoke to him in German he'd literally answer, 'Sorry, I can't understand you, what are you saying?', which was really cool. But I don't think they'll just speak German, they won't do that to XANTARES.
How about yourself, you were back on the market, you had some holidays. How was it?
I had some family time over Christmas, chilled a bit, played some deathmatch here and there... Yeah, just chilling, really. I got a car, was driving about. In my four years of playing I had never gone longer than three days without touching the game at least once. I still didn't because I deathmatched at night, but it was the least I had ever played in my life. I was like down to 30 hours in the past two weeks when I had never been below 80 or something like that in four years. It feels nice to have a proper detox, I came home and did not even turn my computer on, I just went straight to bed. That's really nice, I hadn't done that in a long time.
I want to move to America and just smash it. That's my goal. For me to grow the right way as a player, I need to grow as a person, too, and I literally don't know how to do my own washing, I don't know how to cook, I don't know how to do anything. The only way to grow up as a human is to live alone or with someone who also doesn't know what they're doing so you're forced to learn. And just to get out of my comfort zone because I lived in the same house for a long time with my mom and my crazy family. I want to have no distractions, no friends saying, 'Hey, bro, let's go get drunk,' or, 'Let's go do this'. Just me in a room smashing out CS like 12 hours a day. That's all I want to do for the next year or two.
How did negotiations with Chaos go?
I was meant to play with steel in Ghost, we have been interested in playing with each other for a while because I think he's a really good IGL. He always makes his AWPers play well, he had Skadoodle and Wardell and they're two very well-performing AWPers, so I thought, 'Hey, maybe he can get the best out of me.' The rest of the players on the team I didn't really know because cam changed his fucking name, that's hydrex, who used to play for Singularity, and he's really good. They also have this wippie guy, who has won FPL in North America a million times, so he has to be good. It was my goal to move over there and now I'll be living in Phoenix with the team. The negotiations were smooth, they asked what salary I wanted, I said, 'This', they said, 'Cool, but we can't do this, we can do that', so I said, 'Cool, let's do that', and kind of like that, really... Now I'm signed.
One thing about the team is that you won't be able to play the Major cycle. How do you feel about that?
Right now, in my career, I don't really mind not playing the Major because I don't think I'm the caliber of player who deserves to or can argue, 'Oh, I should be in Majors.' I can sit my time out and grind my way back up. With BIG I got a freebie, I joined a team that was already in the Major and then performed really well, I never really went through the cycle of qualifying myself. I would like to do that someday, although it can't be with steel, but as I see this team as a good building block for my career, whether it be choosing to stay with them—maybe it is possible to compete at the highest level with them, you never know what the future has—or maybe there are some player swaps or we all become top 20 players, I don't know, I'm not a fucking genie. But yeah, for me it's more of a building block for my own career to go over and play with some cool guys who are willing to work hard as well and follow my dream of being able to focus 100% on CS and see what I can prove.
Any personal goals for 2020 with this team?
To qualify for as many events we can as a team. I've always talked a lot of shit to my friends on teamspeak saying, 'Dude, if I played in NA I would qualify for every event, these guys suck,' so it's time to see if I can finally prove that. They have already qualified for WESG, which is really cool, but I'd love to make it to ESL One Cologne and play against BIG. That would be fucking amazing. That's my goal for 2020, to play against tabseN on LAN. I know he'll read this, he always reads my interviews to see how I've changed over the years. So yeah, I just want to play against Jarosz.
You spoke about personal growth during your time in BIG. What has the journey been like?
It may sound cheesy, but a couple weeks after I got kicked or left or whatever and I saw BIG do bad at the Major, and I saw that nobody wanted me because I literally had no offers from anyone, not even a message, I was just chilling and thinking and I remembered my grandad, who never saw me game and was a big figure in my life. He always used to tell me the generic 'treat people the way you want to be treated, this, that and the other'. He passed away when I was 12 or 13, I was pretty young, so I remembered it, but it didn't hit me that hard until I thought about it that one day.
I thought, 'If he saw the way I was acting online and the way I was treating people, he wouldn't be happy,' so I told myself, 'From this day, I change'! I walked downstairs and said to my mom, 'I'm a nice guy now,' and she started laughing, like, 'Owen, you're literally a piece of shit, what are you talking about?' [laughs], and I said, 'No, mom, I promise, I have to,' so day by day I've been minding my manners, saying 'please' and 'thank you' to every single person, taking the steps...
What also helped me was that during my time with BIG I started socializing. I went to a club for the first time and got drunk, and people may say that won't help, but when you're a gamer who has spent like four years locked away inside, and, like, I had friends in school or whatever, but I was just playing CS and never checked on my friends or did anything, so when I went out I would go and talk to them and introduce myself again. I could never go up and talk to someone at CS events if I knew them, I'd wait for them to come to me because I was too awkward, so yeah, I also started going to the gym and I've been getting way more confident as a person, and that's been my little day-by-day journey. Of course some days I've snapped and been a piece of shit again, like everyone does...
It's a process...
Yeah, and that's basically it, not the most interesting story...
Actually, I think it is. A lot of people will enjoy reading about the struggles a player goes through, I'm sure, especially when it comes to making personal growth outside of the server.
Yeah, we're all human... [laughs]