The Middle-East qualifier for ZOWIE eXTREMESLAND 2019 concluded with YaLLa Esports securing a slot for the main event, to be held in Shanghai from 14th-17th November.
The Dubai based team has a diverse line-up, with players from both Middle-East and Africa and began their journey to Shanghai via the Lebanese qualifier. AFK Gaming spoke with Anis "Kheops" Mokrani - Rifler (Entry Fragger) and Bilal "Dead" Oubari - Rifler to learn more about the team and their experience with competitive CS:GO in the region.
The conversation that followed took us on a journey about their organization, their experience through the Middle-East qualifier and what to look forward to at the main event in Shanghai.
Congratulations on qualifying for the main event. Tell us a bit about your journey through the Middle East qualifier.
Kheops - Hello! Thanks for having us. Our journey to Shanghai started with a bootcamp in Lebanon, where all of us met each other for the first time to practice as a team. The bootcamp helped us understand each others' playstyles better and attain a basic level of teamwork, making it possible for us to qualify through the Lebanese qualifier. We flew down here to attend the Middle-East qualifier and here we are, finishing as the runners-up and making our way to Shanghai to attend the main event.
Although sadly, we were a man short at this qualifier as Adal ‘Remind’ Guarmassi, our Tunisian player couldn’t make it here due to visa issues. But it was kind enough of Elie ‘Joker’ Bassil to play as our stand-in. Here's a shoutout to him for doing this.
With the maximum amount of supporters here at the venue, how does it feel to play away from home? Especially going up against teams like NASR and Demise.
Kheops - We had a lot of support and it felt really good. Whenever you play, especially when away from home, having so many people cheering for you really gives you a huge mental boost.
Going up against NASR, Demise or any other team didn’t really scare us all that much. We have played against these players and teams before and even won a fair number of times. When playing with a significant ping disadvantage we lost to NASR with a score of ‘16-12’, so we knew that if we had the same ping and a stable competitive environment, we could give them a good fight.
YaLLa Esports receiving the runners up trophy from the organizers
Tell us a bit about your YaLLa Esports as an organization?
Kheops - YaLLa Esports is a Dubai based esports organization which fields rosters under multiple titles like, Rainbow Six: Siege, CS:GO, League of Legends, Fortnite, Hearthstone, Clash Royale, etc.
All the players playing for YaLLa Esports' CS:GO line-up are not from the Middle-East region. The roster consists of players from across the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. The two players from North Africa are, Adel "Remind" Guermassi from Tunisia and me, Anis "Kheops" Mokrani from Algeria, while the other three players are from the Middle East, Bilal "Dead" Oubari along with Bilal "Senpaii" Chehab from Lebanon, and Omar "-3ARK00Z" Shukri from Jordan.
When did you guys actually become a part of YaLLa Esports?
Kheops - The current CS:GO line-up came into existence after Klaus “Klasu” Kajetski, founder of YaLLa Esports cracked a deal with 'Devil', our team manager. YaLLa Esports wanted to step into CS:GO, and Devil helped them arrange a team.
He knew each one of us so he approached us and once everyone agreed the team was formed. Three months ago the partnership came into fruition and we have been playing together since.
Before YaLLa Esports did you guys play for different organizations or teams?
Kheops - Remind and I played for an Algerian team called Limitless for about two years, Dead played for RUSH Middle-East for a year, and -3ARK00Z played for Fate Esports, other than that it was players shifting around and playing in mixed squads for short durations.
What advantage do you guys have now that you are a part of a well-structured esports organization?
Kheops - First of all we now have the necessary hardware, one of the essentials to play the game and get good at it. The equipment provided is top-notch which helps us refine our game without facing any barriers. Then comes the opportunity to bootcamp in Lebanon which wouldn’t have been possible without the organization's support.
Dead - Even now when travelling to Dubai, the organization came forward and covered our expenses including the visa and flight tickets, making it possible for us to attend the qualifier, which in turn helped us make our way to Shanghai.
YaLLa Esports after the prize distribution ceremony
Have you guys always competed within the Middle East region or outside of it as well?
Kheops - I can’t speak for all my teammates but for me and remind, as we have always stuck together playing for the same team, we have competed in the EU region, playing various online tournaments and qualifiers. We have also played in the African region at ESL Africa. Infact, this is actually our first time playing in the Middle-East region. Since we don’t have a lot of tournaments going around in the region, we keep switching between them as and when a tournament pops up.
Is this the biggest Middle-East tournament you guys have participated in?
Dead - Yes, so far this is the biggest tournament that we have been a part of here in the Middle East and it has turned out to be really great for us. Hope that more such events take place in the region and we are able to compete in them.
Do you guys have a coach along with you or are you guys playing without one?
Kheops - Our coach Nuno "Vegetable" Gaspar is from Portugal and sadly couldn’t make it for the qualifier. So right now we are handling things by ourself. But if by any chance he could make it to the event it would have been really great.
Note: YaLLa Esports has announced a new coach ahead of the ZOWIE eXTREMESLAND CS:GO Asia 2019 main event.
How is the Counter-Strike scene in the Middle East different from that in Africa? Would you call it an upgrade?
Kheops - The scene is definitely not an upgrade, but is more or less the same actually. Both the regions don’t have properly structured teams, with the exception being NASR Esports. Most of the teams are mixes playing for short durations, so it's pretty much the same.
Has the pressure of playing on a big stage in front of a crowd ever got to you at a LAN?
Dead - This pressure gets to us in a positive manner, instead of making us nervous and becoming an unnecessary load on us, it energizes us and makes us play to our very limits, so as to win and give back to the crowd that's supporting us.
Kheops - Me and remind have previously played in the African ESL which is a really big stage. We can’t exactly say that we are used to this but it is not something that surprises us or makes us uncomfortable. We embrace the situation and take in all the love that our supporters have to give.
Bilal "Dead" Oubari (left) and Anis "Kheops" Mokrani (right)
Have you guys ever been to China before? What is it that you guys look forward to?
Kheops - We have not been to China before, this will be our first time travelling there. In the beginning, we were quite nervous about qualifying, but now that we have qualified, reflecting back on our performance we can say we did quite well.
We look forward to just working hard and keeping our focus on the game. We still have a lot to prove to all our fans and our family members. We intend to just keep our head in the game and give it our best shot.
Is in-game decision making in YaLLa Esports primarily the captain's responsibility?
Dead - No, if he is the captain it doesn’t mean that he is the owner or the leader, who gets to order us around for every single thing. Instead for every decision that we take, we discuss it together as a team. It doesn’t matter if he is the captain, he shouldn’t take all the responsibility but instead, we should all be responsible. Also, he is the best captain that I have ever played with till now.
Do you guys have your own unique playstyle or do you take inspiration from other teams?
Kheops - No, we are not trying to copy any kind of playstyle. We try to make our own playstyle, this is actually what Senpaii is responsible for and we trust his strategies. To be completely honest, he has been doing a fantastic job at it till now.
What defines your team, the one-star player leading the team or teamwork?
Dead - It is mostly teamwork, everyone has their moment. Just yesterday we witnessed Dead having one his best games ever. We saw remind playing great as well, so everyone has their moments every now and then, but it is always teamwork that gets us through. We are not relying on an individual player to carry us or to perform for us in every game.
Have you guys ever played against any team from the Asian or Oceania region?
Dead - No, we have never had a chance to play against teams from those regions but we are certainly looking forward to it. The chance of Grayhound or Tyloo being present in Shanghai for the main event has us excited and we will be working hard for a victory.
In a lot of developing regions, there is a stigma against esports or gaming in general. Have you ever had to face any of these issues from the society or your family members?
Kheops - It's different for everyone. If I speak for myself, all I had to do was get good grades, and as long as my grades were up to the mark and I was doing well in my education, there were never any restrictions that I faced when it came to gaming.
But we have had problems related to obtaining visas in the past, so it is hard. It is still difficult to get visas for some countries, even after qualifying for them through the regional qualifiers.
We always have to trim down the reality and camouflage our responses. I mean, no CS:GO player can say that “I am going to participate in a gaming tournament where I will be playing as a Terrorist or a Counter-Terrorist”. You really have to tone it down during the visa interview.
Do you think now that you are a part of a formal organization like YaLLa Esports that it will become easier for you to obtain a visa?
Kheops - Yeah of course. As YaLLa Esports is based in Dubai, it became easy for us to obtain visas for this particular qualifier. In fact, it took me less than 24 hours to get a visa from Algeria, which is really helpful, and I guess it will help us in obtaining visas to other countries in a much more efficient manner as well.
With this, our conversation came to an end, and YaLLa Esports seems focussed on doing their best in Shanghai. Demise and YaLLa Esports have both qualified for the ZOWIE eXTREMESLAND CS:GO Asia 2019 main event via the Middle East qualifier. They will be flying to Shanghai, China to compete against 14 other teams for a total prize pool of USD 100,000 from the 14th to 17th of November, 2019.
The two qualifying teams: Demise (left) and YaLLa Esports (right)