arki: "Players keep getting younger and we get older, but we see ourselves at our best right now"
Omar "arki" Chakkor and his Portuguese teammates are some of the most veteran players at the RMRs, with an average age of 28.6 years old, but the Iberian team feels as good as ever.
The Portuguese core of SAW did not have an easy start to the tournament, being immediately put up against BIG in their opening match. It was not long until they were thrown into the 0-1 pool by the Germans. Not ones to go down without a fight, SAW were then paired up with Unique and they didn't fail to get back on track to join the pool of teams with a 1-1 record, taking their first win of the RMR on Ancient 16-6.
The 32-year old was happy to explain how SAW are tackling this event, their changes in the coaching staff, bringing on Rui "vts" Soares after Ricardo "AIm" Almeida stepped down, as well as their unusual decision to not organize a boot camp before embarking on their road to the Major to conserve energy and travel to Bucharest in full force.
Let's talk about your opening matches, you had some trouble against BIG, who were favorites, but were able to bounce back well against Unique.
We were well prepared and had a good mindset, but we had a couple of sound issues early on against BIG and then we were forcing and playing close rounds on the terrorist side of Ancient, which is hard, so we got a bit frustrated early on and we were playing worse instead of better as the match went on. It was hard to get into it, we were really never in it. We started the second pistol round OK, but then we died one by one, it got a bit out of control and we didn't look like our usual selves.
If we would have been able to break BIG's economy a single time on the terrorist side and would have won that CT pistol it could have been much closer, which is how we usually do on Ancient because it's a good map for us. But it couldn't be, they're a great team and they then went on to smash Outsiders, so they've played really well and syrsoN was very solid with the AWP.
Then we talked a bit, realized that it's better that this happens in our first match and against a good opponent than later, and we were in a much better place going into the second match. We've played Unique a couple of times, once was in a Pinnacle Cup in which they beat us on one map and then we won the other two, and then we played them in the RMR's open qualifier, where we won 16-4 or something like that.
So Unique is a team that we more or less know, and when we play or practice against them we usually do pretty well. I think they play with more respect towards us than we do towards them, so it was a good team to face. They play based on their aim a lot, while we're very secure in our positions and don't risk too much, so it works well for us.
As a curiosity, you guys are the oldest team at the event and the RMRs as a whole, 28.6 years old on average. What's it like being the oldest guys here?
We don't really feel anything because it's been a while now since we've been the oldest guys around. I've been playing since 2005 and most of the guys from my time don't play anymore, or play more for fun. I've been doing this my whole life, so I'm quite used to it. It's true that players keep getting younger and we get older, but we see ourselves at our best right now. We still learn from every match, every tournament, and we're not a team that gets stuck. We're good at adapting to the metas changing and I don't think it's too bad.
How do you keep your motivation through time and metas?
I really can't tell you, this is just my life. I don't know how to live without competing, ever since I was kid I've been playing CS. Since before there were salaries, when you had to pay out of pocket to go play on LAN. Everything I know is Counter-Strike and I love to compete, so I just don't lose my motivation and it's the same with all of my teammates. They've all been playing a long time and they're just like the first day or even better. This is what we love, what we're passionate about, and we'll probably still love it at 50 — I don't see it changing if it hasn't already. [laughs]
Except for a short period of time, you've been with this team for a long time, particularly rmn and MUTiRiS.
Yeah, I was already with rmn and MUT in Giants, before SAW, so it's been more than three years. Two years with SAW and more than three with the two of them. It's a long time. When you make a team, problems come up. Sometimes you solve them, other times you don't know how to solve them... And so when I was benched, nobody really wanted to kick me, but we just got to a point in which we didn't know how to solve our problems.
We talked about some ideas but in the end we decided to change things up to see if new blood, motivation, whatever, would help because we were at the point in which when we solved one problem, we created two new ones. Keeping a team together can be hard at times, but after that they saw that maybe the problem was something else, so we talked a bit and it's been going really well since I came back. We've made a lot of progress.
The other change was AIm, your previous coach, who is no longer with you.
Yeah, and nobody wanted to kick him out, he decided to leave himself. It was kind of a similar situation as it was with me, the team was going through some frustration and he didn't know how to fix it. He kind of blamed himself for it so he decided to step aside. After that we weren't really looking for a coach that would come in and tell us what to do because there aren't many experienced coaches in Iberia. There's bladE, and that's about it. Other guys like cr0n0s and Feldman are coming up, but at the time we didn't really have many options.
We knew that vts was good because of his time in SAW's academy team. He's not very intrusive, he doesn't try to force his ideas, he just helps with what he can and has adapted to us really well. He also thinks a lot like us about the game, and he's very calm. AIm was a bit more explosive and that caused a bit of conflict. Not real conflict, we were always good, but just some moments of panic. We're happy now and we're making progress. Slowly, but it's progress all the same, which is what matters.
You guys have all been through your fair share of LANs, something that a lot of younger guys here don't have. Are you pretty calm and comfortable?
We're from a time in which everything was played on LAN, and we like it more than playing from home. You can play a practice match or a really important tournament at home and it all kind of feels the same. You know you should be motivated, but you don't have the perception that you're playing something big, so we just love being out here together, and in the same conditions as everyone else which is super important. When we get here we forget about anything outside of our monitor, even at events with a crowd.
As you say, a lot of the kids here are playing their first LANs, especially after COVID and everything. It's not really a problem here in the studio because it feels like a bootcamp, but the second they go on a stage and can't hear anything but shouting... they'll freak out a bit, it's very exciting to be in that situation.
How much have you talked about your chances here? Obviously you want to qualify, but how do you see yourselves compared to the rest of the field?
Obviously our objective is to go through, no matter how or against who, although we know it's going to be very hard. The truth is we haven't really talked much about it, we just did our work and we came here knowing that we'll start with some best-of-ones in which we can try and upset. Since we can't prepare because the matches are drawn depending on previous scores in the tournament, we're just here to play match to match. We did prepare against BIG, but we barely talked about Unique and we just played our game without over complicating anything. We won't die if we don't make it through, but we came here to win.
You're up against fnatic next, how do you feel about facing them?
I like it, I like it. Out of the teams that are here, they're a good team to go up against. From the top teams, they're a good one for us. We've played them several times and they're not like facing NAVI when they're unstoppable. It's a team that's going to be hard, but within reach.
Have you bootcamped or done anything particular in preparation for the RMR?
We didn't bootcamp because sometimes if we bootcamp too hard we get a bit tired. We don't get as much sleep, things get a bit harder. We were practicing well at home, so we prioritized coming here fully energized. Imagine you get here after a bootcamp, then the first few days you don't get that much rest and you're not at 100%. That would just be really bad.
Since we were working well from home we decided to keep it going and not prepare anything special other than to broaden our map pool. We used to have problems with a couple of maps that now we even feel confident enough to pick ourselves, so we've greased the team well for the coming tournaments and I think in that sense we've come here pretty happy with our preparation.
SAW is a team that we've seen have peaks and valleys at times, even if just because of the amount of time you've been together. Where do you see yourselves now, is it a sweet spot?
I think we're at our best right now, especially because of what I just said about the map pool. Now we can play a series against good teams. Before it was true that we had three good maps, but the other team always won their map pick. That was really bad for us, because we'd always lose at least one map and then we could win our pick and the decider, but now we're much stronger in that sense. It depends a lot on the tournament and who we play, but I'd say we're at our best.
We're not in our peak in the ranking, but if we have a good tournament here we could be right back up there. The truth is that we spent a long time in the top 30, although we're out of it now, but I think that if we keep playing tournaments and so on this can be our best moment.
Is there much planned ahead?
We always have things to play, we even turn stuff down. Since we have so much and it changes so often, I don't even look at it unless it's something really big. Our manager Marinhas just asks us, or lets us know of any conflicts, and we kind of plan as we go, but if we want to there's always something to play. We're very happy in that sense, but it's true that in the past we did sometimes play too many tournaments, so if we made it far in any of them it got to a point in which we basically just had one day off per month and it led to some burnout. But we're better about it now.
It also got to a point in which we barely practiced, we just played tournaments, which was cool, but after four tournaments everyone knew what you were doing and if you didn't adapt to them knowing it became harder and harder. So now we're at a good point in terms of tournament readiness.
To close things out, tell me a bit about the chemistry of a team that has been together for so long, especially the core of you, rmn and MUTiRiS.
It's really good, and it always has been. We've been together so long that we know how we're going to react to just about any situation, it doesn't matter if in the game our out of it. We can also be very direct with each other, so it's not hard to solve problems. You know how hard you can push someone or not, which is good because we can talk about anything.
We've even gotten mad at times and had some heated arguments when we're really into the game, but we also know that five minutes later we'll be best friends again, so the team in that sense is perfect. We've never had a serious problem and we've been together for over three years. That's hard to achieve, having such a stable team is a big challenge.