Sayf of Team Liquid: “I’m only good because my team allows me to be good…Your front line is only as strong as your backline.”

Team Liquid finished the first day of the 2023 VCT EMEA League playoffs on a high note as they... Pedro | 23. May 2023

Team Liquid finished the first day of the 2023 VCT EMEA League playoffs on a high note as they took down Team Vitality 2-1 off a resounding comeback in Ascent. Sitting with an 11-9 deficit in the last map of the series, TL clawed their way back by winning the next four rounds to continue their run in the upper bracket and set up a date with Natus Vincere in the next round where a ticket to qualify for Masters: Tokyo is on the line.

Undoubtedly, TL wouldn’t have won this series without the help of their duelist Saif “Sayf” Jibraeel, who finished the affair by making an ace play in the penultimate round of Ascent. For the entire series, he led both teams in kills (63), ACS (274), and VLR rating (1.25). His performance against VIT added yet another chapter to his incredible form throughout the year, of which he ranks among the best in those aforementioned categories in the league.

Following the series against VIT, Fragster caught up with Sayf for an interview about how he made that ace play possible, the difficulties behind competing against his recent opponent, his current health, and more.

About Sayf’s ace…

Pedro Romero, Fragster: Thank you so much for taking the time to doing this interview, Sayf. Also, congrats on taking down Vitality, especially in those final two rounds. I want to start off exactly with that ace you made in that penultimate round in the series. What was going through your mind when you pulled that playoff?

Saif “Sayf” Jibraeel: I felt like I wanted to play Sova on rotation and I didn’t want to give them so much space. I felt like I kept giving Vitality so much space because of some ideas we had set before the game. We were talking about like, ‘We need to do XYZ in order for them to do this,’ and I was like, ‘Let me just play the game because, obviously, I can’t keep giving them so much map space without taking anything back myself.’

And so, I told Jamppi to rotate, I told Dom [soulcas] ‘if they call market, just fight. I’m going to be in B lobby and I’ll support you,’ and that’s how the set up went. As soon as I heard two people run and I heard someone step in mid, I said, ‘This is a B split, guys. We have fast rotation. We got a smoke in market,’ and I was perfectly set up to punish them coming to B lobby because they weren’t expecting me to be there because I’ve never shot there before and I’ve been playing passive the whole game. It ended up going in my favor obviously. I just set myself up for success basically in that ace round because, I mean, it was my call so I’m happy I did that call.

Sayf on facing Team Vitality

Fragster: I certainly did play out the way you wanted it to play out. I want to go in-depth as to the difficulties of facing off against Vitality. Certainly, they did show various difficulties to you and the rest of your teammates. How difficult was it to face off against Vitality with the preparation that they displayed in the series?

Sayf: I think they’re a very tough team. Obviously, if you don’t start off on a strong foot, it’s going to be really hard to win against them. We won, I think, all the pistols today. I’m not sure. We could have lost one so it was rough because it felt like, from the very beginning, they were very warm and that’s a hard opponent to play against. Meanwhile, we felt a bit cold and that’s fine. That’s completely fine. It’s just not fine when you’re in playoffs and you have to play an important game. Obviously, we all did our best. I think they’re very talented. I know they made Fnatic sweat as well when they were playing against them. Obviously, they’ve got something going and I do think they’re a very underrated team 100 percent.

Returning from sickness

Sayf and TL 2023 VCT EMEA playoffs

TL huddled together before their series against Vitality (Credit: Hara Amorós / Riot Games / LVP / lag.)

Fragster: I also want to catch an update as to your health. Obviously, you had to miss some games because of your health. How has that fared so far? Are you back up to 100% or is there anything close to that?

Sayf: Ever since I got sick, I’ve been feeling very weird when I’ve been playing. Even after I recovered, I felt like I was in a small slump myself. I wasn’t there yet technically. I didn’t feel so ready to play games and so on and so forth. But thankfully, I have people around me that are trying to teach me more healthy habits to support my immune system, for instance, and things like that.

That is just to make sure that I am protected in case I do get sick again. What I had was bronchitis. It’s basically a virus infection in the lung that spread to all my sinuses so it was very rough. Obviously, it was a bit shaky coming back, but just keeping good healthy habits has helped me maintain my health and I am feeling fine now. I really hope it doesn’t relapse. That’s all I’m asking. I really hope it doesn’t come back.

Fragster: From 0 to 10, where do you think you rank right now health-wise?

Sayf: At this moment in time, from zero to 10, I’m probably a seven.

Fragster: But it does feel like you played as a 10, to be honest.

Sayf: I mean, I always gotta bring my best foot forward regardless of how I’m feeling on the inside. What’s important is what I’m projecting on the outside.

Transitioning to duelist

Fragster: And it’s a continuation of the kind of performance you’ve been playing out so far this season. You rank on the top in individual statistics and is regarded as one of the best duelists within this league. What enabled you to flip that switch toward becoming one of the best players for the season? What has that difference been like for you?

Sayf: It was rough. I didn’t want to play duelist coming into the new season, I’ll be honest. I wanted to go back to playing flex-support or sentinel because that’s obviously what I enjoy doing myself because I know what utility the frontline needs. I’m very smart with what I do. I’m an active thinker. I know how rotations work and things like that. It’s just that, in some teams I come into, I feel the value I bring of being a duelist—because I understand what I need to do—is very, very big so transitioning to that felt pretty easy for me because I understand the task at hand and also—-thank Jesus—I’m mechanically gifted.

It’s a hard role to fulfill in the way I’m doing it because a certain team structure needs to be around you that enables you to play your role to the very best. I think we have a team structure that enables that. It’s also hard sometimes, but I do trust what we’re doing right now and I do trust that my transitioning has been very easy to thanks to Redgar and other people that are helping me in my role. I’m only good because my team allows me to be good. That’s what you should have on your next interview. That’s what I wanted to say. Your front line is only as strong as your backline. That’s what I call it.

Fragster: Have you been surprised yourself as to how you’ve been playing? Has that surprised you in any way, shape, or form?

Sayf: I am surprised actually. I didn’t think I had what it takes but I also told myself to just have some fun. Don’t make it so hard on yourself, don’t listen to people and don’t complicate it. You need to step up for your team is what went through my head. You need to be the greatest and if you go and go above and beyond and be the absolute best version you have ever been, then they will follow suit and you’re gonna see success.

That’s what I’m trying to project and that’s what I’m trying to be for them. I’m always trying to be very good in-game and doing these insane kills or whatever just so I can support them and tell them ‘If I can do it, you can follow suit. Let’s go further.’ I just want to be that for them so I think it’s just the emotions for my team and what I want them to be and what I want to be for them that has caused all of this. I don’t think in any other team I would have had it in me to be who I am.

On to NAVI

Fragster: It’s with that mindset that you are then going to take on NAVI in the next round of the playoffs with the chance to qualify for Masters: Tokyo on the line. What are your thoughts on facing off against NAVI given that it’s one of the major teams alongside TL within this league?

Sayf: It’s a tough matchup. They’re a strong team. I think I just need to trust the work that’s being done in the people around me and we’ll be able to overcome them. All the work that we’ve done through the regular season has led up to this moment and that’s what we need to do. NAVI is our final obstacle and let’s make sure it’s our final obstacle. That’s what I can say. That’s that.

Feature Image Credit: Hara Amorós / Riot Games / LVP / lag.