From LAN cafés to the RMR, Bad News Eagles have a chance to make history
For the first time, an Albanian-Kosovar team is in a position to qualify for the Major. Will they be able to elevate their game?
The importance of making it to the Major for the first time is not lost on anyone who saw Raphael "exit" Lacerda’s post-game interview after MIBR beat Imperial to go 3-0 in the Americas RMR, as tears streamed down his face in the post-match interview on the official broadcast.
Now, the final set of teams in the European RMR's B group have the chance to reach the same heights, as several neophytes in the Major cycle’s final hurdle before the big event will be taking on some of the most established teams in the world. One of the sides coming in to challenge for a spot at the Major for the first time is the Albanian-Kosovar squad of Bad News Eagles, who have already pushed the boundaries by becoming the first team from their region to reach an RMR.
"We've already written history," Rigon "rigoN" Gashi told HLTV from the team’s bootcamp in Pristina, Kosovo, before the RMR tournaments got underway, "but we want to take it to the next level." Only two of the team’s players, Flatron "juanflatroo" Halimi and Dionis "sinnopsyy" Budeci, have had a similar experience from their participation at the StarLadder Berlin Asia Minor with FFAmix, but playing under the Kosovo banner adds a whole new meaning for the quintet. "Kosovo is a new country, so everyone is trying to put in effort to make the country more and more visible in the eyes of the international community," juanflatroo says.
Bad News Eagles, composed of five self-made players that carved their way in the FPL circuit, have had close ties with each other throughout the last years at the local level, playing events in Albania and Kosovo together while some of the players also tried their luck internationally. A proto-version of this team, with the core of juanflatroo, rigoN and sinnopsyy alongside Guy "anarkez" Trachtman and Filip "tudsoN" Tudev, known as m1x, started to make waves in late 2019 by qualifying to ECS Season 8. They left their mark on the tournament against some top teams, making their biggest impression in an upset victory against MOUZ.
"Everything was going on around the same time, we were playing FPL-C and in the meantime we started to qualify for ECS and FPL," juanflatroo recalls of those early days. "We were grinding all day long, everything happened in a really short amount of time. Me and sinnopsyy have been playing together forever, ever since we started playing CS. We won many regional tournaments, then we were the first two Albanians to qualify for FPL and after we qualified for FPL we met rigoN. That's when we made the m1x team and we did a lot of unexpected things, beating tier 1 and tier 2 teams."
The backgrounds of guys like juanflatroo and sinnopsyy will be relatable to anyone who has lobbied with Albanian players on FACEIT, where their voice comms will often reveal the fact that they’re playing from a LAN café. "It's always a meme, even in FPL we were playing our first days from a net café," juanflatroo says, laughingly. "Imagine, when I was pressing my mic button there were another ten voices in the background. If s1mple was streaming people would go crazy, asking 'where the fuck is this guy playing from? Is he at a club or is there a party going on?' It was crazy!"
As the Albanian duo got more established and started to earn some money through FPL, juanflatroo and sinnopsyy got their own rigs at home. The m1x lineup, meanwhile, was offered contracts to represent Secret, although rigoN’s inability to play full-time ended up in his removal from the roster. The Swiss-Albianian player then rebounded in c0ntact, but to no further success. "When I joined them it was already a sinking ship," he recalls. "The motivation was not there for some players. We had two tournaments left and tried to make the best of it, but after that we just decided to disband. It was a short project that didn't really work out."
Halfway through 2020 juanflatroo also left Secret, and by the end of the year sinnopsyy did as well when the organization halted its involvement in CS:GO. The two didn’t take long to link back up in BLINK, where a full Albanian-Kosovar team started to take shape. "Personally, I always had the dream of making an Albanian superteam. A team from the Balkan region that nobody would ever expect anything from. The only thing we lacked was visibility, so after we got the experience and the visibility in the higher scenes, gaining confidence, there was nothing that would stop us from showing ourselves at bigger events, playing against bigger teams.
"I always had this in mind, but what we needed was at least three more stable players that could fit into this higher scene. gxx- was actually in FPL, then SENER1 joined as well, so we were all gaining the necessary experience and confidence. When we were teamless, I didn't even want to think about joining another team. I said 'I think this is the moment, we have five Albanian FPL players,' and we were really getting along with each other. I just knew, inside of me, that something would click — we would make something out of it."
It didn’t come easy for the newly-founded team, who were now playing under the BLINK banner. The team’s experience was for the most part from the European lower tiers and FPL, but little by little, things started to click, as juanflatroo had believed. "We reached top 38, but there was still something missing," he remembers. "We needed another star player, so to say, so that we could step up our game." That’s when they thought about their former teammate rigoN, and immediately the former m1x and Secret player was brought into the fold in lieu of Kujtim "gulito" Durmishi. "As soon as we started, everything worked out," juanflatroo says. "We just stepped up our game and were beating tier one and tier two teams, and practice was going very well."
Talking about rigoN’s addition, juanflatroo is quick to note that Switzerland is not a country known for its Counter-Strike talent. "I'll ask you one question, is there another CS:GO pro player from Switzerland?" he posits. "But then there's rigoN, and what made him is the Albanian blood, man," he adds, laughing. "He goes crazy about winning. He tilts, he's angry — he's the typical Albanian. If he was only Swiss he would just be like 'oh, OK, nice, we're going to the next round now.' He wouldn't be this guy, it's the Albanian blood that made him."
Bad News Eagles were among the first teams to qualify for the Europe RMR through the second open qualifier, and despite not having an organization they managed able to flourish without backing thanks to the deep roots and connections that the five players and the coach nourished. "We've known each other for a long time, flatroo, sinnopsy, gxx- and SENER1, they all had contact from before, from FPL-C," rigoN says. juanflatroo agrees, adding that "it's a small country and we played a lot with each other."
"You want to know the main reason we have good chemistry?" rigoN interjects. "It's because we don't just join the server thinking ‘oh, I have to go to work and play with those guys.’ We're friends outside of the game, as well, we're like brothers." juanflatroo once again weaves into the conversation, closing out the topic. "Yeah, that made us step up our game a lot," he says. "It helped us a lot to become more consistent and enjoy the game overall."
The team broke the first goal they set for themselves in late 2021, which was to make it past the top 30 threshold in HLTV’s team ranking, after which they nearly broke another big barrier, the top 20, peaking just short at number 21 in February 2022. "The individuals were all there," juanflatroo says about their early expectations. "All we needed was a bit of time to structure the team and get along with each other. We never doubted that we could go that far, to be honest, we always had it in mind and were pretty confident that we could come up and fuck up some tier one and tier two teams.
"Everything was working out. The chemistry we have, I could say that we have the best chemistry in any team from tier one to tier ten," juanflatroo says. "No doubt about it. We really get along with each other, we have a good time and I think that is the biggest asset we have as a team."
Since then, Bad News Eagles have dipped down to the 41st place in the ranking, but that has had more to do with their schedule rather than their prowess, as the team didn’t have much to play after securing spots at the RMR and the BLAST Premier Spring Showdown. "We don't have any games on HLTV since we don't get invited to some tournaments," rigoN says, "but I think top 30 is even a bit low for us. I think we can make top 20 easily, to be honest."
The grind has never stopped for Bad News Eagles, regardless of the flow of official matches, as they have made it to where they are by putting in hours not only as a team, but also individually. Even before getting together, the Albanians used their FPL regimen over the years not only to become hard shooters, but also confident players — which is why the team now spends their evenings after practice queuing up on FACEIT’s top league.
"We put in a lot of individual hours playing FPL until the morning, basically we were just playing CS and sleeping, that was it, and that helped a lot. Playing around big names, getting rid of the fear and being comfortable with them, that motivated us a lot," juanflatroo says. "So we became a lot more confident getting on the server for tournaments. If I'm playing against s1mple and ZywOo on FPL, why can't I dominate here, too?"
Despite their confidence, Bad News Eagles aren’t blind to the pitfalls of being a team reliant on experience from FPL and the second row of European competition. "The reason we can keep going against the tier two teams, and maybe even tier ones, is that when you hear our names, and I don't want to be arrogant or anything, but from the tier two scene we have the most firepower in our players," rigoN says. "The only thing we need to practice is how to play structured Counter-Strike."
Helping Bad News Eagles cover strategy is Klesti "stikle-" Kola, the team’s 23-year-old coach, a humble skipper and a talented player himself who now spends hours on end reviewing demos and working the tactical aspect of the game. When asked about him, both rigoN and juanflatroo jump in unison, laughing as they say that "he's the first coach ever to have 4,000 elo on FACEIT!" At this point in the conversation, over half an hour in, Genc "gxx-" Kolgeci chimes in for the first time, jokingly adding that "he’s boosted, anyways."
Most of stikle-’s duties come down to reading opponents and coming up with strategies, which he excels at according to his players. "Even though he never had international experience, he comes up with a lot of stuff and you wouldn't be able to tell that he doesn't have that experience if you didn't know him," juanflatroo says. "You'd think that he has a lot of experience playing with tier one and tier two teams. Getting strats and analyzing everything, he spends a lot of time on it. He also watches other coaches, how they coach and give ideas — he does a really good job."
Bad News Eagles spent weeks polishing their strat book with the RMR in their sights. They worked and stayed sharp from their bootcamp location in Pristina, where they were set up in a house — which they playfully call 'Pablo Escobar’s mansion' —, by fans that have now become fast friends. "We want to give a shoutout to the guys that let us stay here, for their support," juanflatroo says, "because it's these individuals who gave us this house to bootcamp in." Meanwhile, the orgless team is also getting help from the Albanian electronics retailer and tournament sponsor gjirafa50, whose gjirafa50 Masters League they came runners up in last November after losing the grand final to forZe.
Fans giving Bad News Eagles a place to bootcamp is a strong showing of the following this team has garnered in the region and the emotions they stir in their fans. "It's a big deal for the people here in Kosovo and Albania, because they've never seen someone do something as big as we've done," juanflatroo says. "There's a lot of emotions going on for everyone here who watches CS and has watched us from the beginning. We have a lot of support and a lot of people watch us. There's like 20,000-30,000 viewers in Kosovo and Albania that watch us, or even more because people watch us four or five people on a single PC. It's something new and exciting."
In a region where LAN cafés are still in vogue and gaming is rapidly growing, Bad News Eagles has become a North star. "Tier one teams, we could only see them in our dreams, but now there’s an Albanian-Kosovar team that is actually playing against them and facing them," juanflatroo says, "so there's a new excitement, you know? Everyone is going crazy about it. It's a big deal."
Despite the waves being made across the region, juanflatroo is confident in himself and downplays the possible jitters that could arise going into the RMR despite the team’s limited LAN experience, particularly against the sort of opposition they will be facing in Bucharest. "The way we grew up, we grew up in internet cafés. We were pretty much playing for fun in internet cafés, playing daily and becoming better at it. Climbing the leagues and everything, it was never a thing to have a professional life from esports."
That ethos may somewhat remain, but long gone are the days of the net café, and future contracts from organizations will be tied to their fairings at the upcoming RMR and ensuing BLAST Premier Spring Showdown. "If we get a spot at the Major we'll probably get something big," rigoN says, "so it's all in for us at the RMR."
Bad News Eagles look back upon their beginnings fondly. "It's been years since I've gone to a net café," juanflatroo says. "Sometimes I miss them, to be honest. Screaming around, drinking and smoking. Sometimes I miss it, because it's fun, it's crazy people and you just have a lot of fun." But now the Bad News Eagles are at the doors of something greater, and from the fun and chaotic environment of their beginnings, the Albanian-Kosovar players are now working on becoming much more focused.
"Discipline, discipline, discipline," juanflatroo asserts. "Discipline is what we need and then we can probably be a top-tier team. We're slowly building it up, but we need a lot more discipline. Like being strict in practice, because sometimes we joke around. We need to be more strict about it."
These five players and their elo racking coach have already made history for Albania and Kosovo just by their mere presence at the RMR, but they now have a chance to keep writing their piece in the history books and the opportunity to do so is not lost on them. "If we qualify for the main event it's going to be a big thing for us," gxx- says, "for our country and the Albanian community, so we can finally be put on the map."
"It's going to be a life changer for every one of us," rigoN concludes.