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Counter Strike: Global Offensive

Meet malbsMd, who is putting Guatemalan CS on the world map

“I remember I was rehearsing a choreography for a school play, and a friend of mine messaged me saying HLTV had published a highlight of one of my plays,” Mario “⁠malbsMd⁠” Samayoa recalls. “At first I assumed he was joking, I didn’t even think they published highlights from open qualifiers, but then he sent me the link. I stopped rehearsing and stepped aside, not caring about what the teacher was saying anymore, and I watched it. I couldn’t believe it, I was so happy! I started getting a lot of notifications on my phone, a lot of people were tagging me and congratulating me. I disappeared [from the scene] after that, but the thought was already in my mind: ‘I want to become a professional and I can make it, so let’s give it a go.”

malbsMd was determined to be one of the best Counter-Strike players from a young age

The highlight came from an open qualifier match for The World Championships 2016 in which Guatemala took a 1-16 beating from Canada. The only round the Central American nation’s team could muster was an ace by the squad’s youngest member, malbsMd, who was 13 years old at the time and playing his first match featured on HLTV.

The Guatemalan youngster had only a couple of on-and-off years of experience playing the game and barely any competitive baggage when his ace against Canada was immortalized by Marcos “proutounz” Soares.

malbsMd‘s beginnings can be traced to his family’s modest household in Guatemala City’s Zona 5, a district adjacent to the city centre, but his big passion before Counter-Strike was football, which he would sometimes play with the other kids in the neighbourhood. He’d often have to stay home watching TV or playing in the courtyard by himself, though, as his parents didn’t want him to lose his way or be led astray out in the street.

“My story with Counter-Strike dates back to when I was seven years old,” malbsMd says. “At that time, my father worked from home and he sometimes played against bots in his downtime. I would watch him play every once in a while until one day, after playing football in the courtyard by myself, I went into his home office and he taught me how to play on the computer. He always told me I have an innate ability, but I didn’t really pay attention to that back then because for me it was purely for entertainment. I continued to play Counter-Strike until my father stopped working from home and moved to an office. I then had to quit for a few years until I was 11 or 12, when I got a computer to do my school work. I told myself: ‘Well, I guess I’ll download the game.’” At the same time, malbsMd’s priorities also shifted from the football pitch to Counter-Strike when lower back issues stopped his progression on the field, forcing him to give up on his sporting dreams.

As a naturally gifted Counter-Strike player, malbsMd ran into pushback from the local community early on when older players didn’t want to play with him, frustrated that they were getting beaten by a boy whose voice still hadn’t changed. He was called a cheater and banned from several public 1.6 servers, and the accusations persisted even when he started playing pick-up games regularly. And it wasn’t only online that he had to face adversity, as the gaming industry is still lagging in Guatemala and he had to put up with a lack of understanding from schoolmates and some of his extended family. “Gaming is often seen as a vice or a bad habit here,” he says. “It’s frowned upon.”

malbsMd delved deeper into the game in 2013 and discovered esports when he started to play CS:GO and realised that it was possible for one to become a professional player and make decent money. He asked his father, Mario, who had seen something special in his son since the very beginning and was always one of his biggest supporters, to sign him up on ESEA. After making sure it was safe, Mario Samayoa senior obliged, and malbsMd started to expand his horizons. All his parents asked in return was for him to do his part and keep his grades up in order to one day graduate from high school.

ESEA’s PUG system opened a path beyond the Guatemalan scene for malbsMd
(Photo courtesy of TeamOne)

The youngster finally made the full switch to CS:GO in 2015 after jumping back-and-forth between that game and 1.6 as many of his friends kept playing the older version because their computers weren’t powerful enough to run the new game. “I had 100 frames per second in 1.6 but only like 40 in CS:GO,” malbsMd says. “I played it because I liked the game, but my friends, who were in the same situation, didn’t make the change. I’d play CS:GO by myself and then return to 1.6 to play pick-up games or on public servers with them.”

malbsMd bought a GeForce GTX 750 Ti graphics card, although even then he barely broke the 100 frames per second mark, slowed down by a third-generation Intel processor. Facing more experienced players on ESEA made the grind feel like an uphill battle, but he eventually got enough recognition that he was called up to the Guatemalan national team by the more experienced players in the scene. It was then that he played The World Championships qualifiers in which he aced Canada, featuring players like Kory “⁠SEMPHIS⁠” Friesen, Damian “⁠daps⁠” Steele and Russel “⁠Twistzz⁠” Van Dulken.

After being eliminated from the tournament, malbsMd kept playing pick-up games on ESEA, and in 2017 other puggers from Latin America and North America started to acknowledge him more and more, to the point where they would send him messages of encouragement. During that period he also played several ESEA Open seasons with different Latin American teams and mixes, but he never managed to make it stick and ended up leaving after a short time.

“I was called up to play for Jaguar’s Venezualan division,” malbsMd says, giving one example of how things went south for him during that time. “And one day we were getting beaten really bad so we started to get into a fight with one player in the middle of the match. The atmosphere became toxic and I told them I wouldn’t play anymore and left before the match even ended. The team’s owner said I had made a mistake, that it would affect my career and that he thought I wouldn’t make it far. I thanked him for giving me that opportunity and left.”

malbsMd then took a step back and stopped playing on teams for a while, looking inward instead of outward and focusing on his individual play. During his time off, he worked on becoming a faster aimer, making his crosshair placement better, and he never took his sights off of becoming a professional, continuing to play eight hours a day to ensure that his nascent reputation as a solid pugger remained intact.

Jaguar then reached out again to malbsMd in mid-2018 despite the unpleasant manner in which they had parted ways. “They knew I’d had problems in the Venezuelan team,” malbsMd says, “but I wouldn’t be going back there, they wanted me to join the main squad this time around, with many known players in the region.” After accepting the offer, he and his new teammates went on to win ESEA Open and were promoted to the Main division, in which they were eliminated in the first round of playoffs the following season.

The Guatemalan youngster outgrew the pace of his teammates and played for a season in an ESEA Advanced team, Geostorm, before climbing another rung of the ladder to play ESEA MDL with Forty Six and 2 in 2019, but it all happened too quickly for him. “It didn’t go well with Forty Six and 2, it was my worst ESEA season,” malbsMd recalls, “I didn’t have enough experience and it shook my motivation. I started doubting myself, if I could become a professional, and I remained without a team for a while after that.”

Javier “⁠cruzN⁠” Cruz, one of the players malbsMd had looked up to earlier in his career and his bombsite partner in Forty Six and 2 and in the Guatemalan national squad, started talking about reigniting Vault, one of the region’s best teams, with history in MDL, and that’s how they both ended up joining a core of Colombian players in FULL SEND.

The squad quickly became a powerhouse in Latin America, winning ESL LA League Season 3 Northern Cone and qualifying for the tournament’s LAN finals in Brazil, where they beat W7M before losing the final to Isurus. “We were a bit sad because we wanted to win the whole thing,” malbsMd says. “But we were incredibly happy to have qualified for ESL Pro League Season 9.”

malbsMd reached new heights by qualifying for ESL Pro League with FULL SEND
(Leonardo Sang/BBL Esports)

FULL SEND were then picked up by Infinity ahead of their Pro League debut, malbsMd’s biggest challenge up until then. “We traveled to California to play the ESL Pro League Latin America group stage against DETONA, Isurus and Denial,” malbsMd recalls. “We beat Denial and qualified for the second round, so we got to play against Cloud9, Ghost and eUnited. That was my first time playing big international teams on LAN and we knew it would be very hard to win a single map, but we were very excited to play against the likes of steel, Golden and koosta.”

But what had started out as an exciting growing experience that fell in line with Infinity’s expectations of not being able to punch above their weight quickly turned sour on their last game day in California after having lost 0-2 to Ghost and Cloud9. Infinity lost by the same scoreline to eUnited, but on the first map of the series, the Latin American squad suffered an embarrassing 0-16 defeat on Dust2. “I had never in my life lost a map without scoring a single round,” malbsMd says. “It crushed me emotionally. I started to think that everybody was going to see me as a terrible player, someone that didn’t belong there. I started to feel really, really bad. I felt trapped and I had no desire to keep playing. We lost and lost and lost at that event. When we left the studio on the last day and went back to the hotel, my teammates went downstairs for a smoke and I stayed in the room by myself.”

Alone in his Los Angeles hotel room and invaded by a feeling of dread regarding his prospects of making the big leagues, malbsMd turned to Alejandra, a girl he had been flirting with back home, telling her what had happened and how distraught he was because of it. “She started sending me messages saying that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, telling me she knew that I was good and that I needed to give myself another chance,” he says. “She made me feel much better, and when I traveled back to Guatemala the following day, we met up and I formally asked her out—we’ve been together ever since.”

Infinity had a second chance to make an impression on the international stage at the following ESL Pro League, where they went up against Isurus, DETONA and Sharks in the Latin American group stage, but this time around they were unable to win a single match and were eliminated in last place. “I played really well in our last match against Sharks, but we still lost,” malbsMd remembers. “That’s when I started to think that I had to move on from that team. I was feeling like they were holding me back and the atmosphere was also becoming increasingly toxic—we were fighting over every little thing. I told them I didn’t want to play there anymore and asked to be benched.”

malbsMd at CLUTCH LA League Season 5 Finals in São Paulo
(Photo courtesy of CLUTCH)

malbsMd got an offer to join the likes of Skyler “⁠Relyks⁠” Weaver and Michael “⁠dapr⁠” Gulino in Singularity as they saw huge potential in him and the organization was ready to buy him out from his contract with Infinity, but before a deal could be struck, ESL changes the rules of the game in Pro League as the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc around the world. Singularity got cut from the league, which prompted the Danish organization to drop their North American team.

The former Singularity players asked if Infinity would let malbsMd play with them as a stand-in, but the Costa Rican organization denied the request and said that unless their financial demands were met, he had to remain on the sidelines. The Guatemalan rifler also got an offer from the top Spanish-speaking team in Latin America, Isurus, but this time around it was malbsMd who turned it down because he wasn’t willing to move to Brazil at the time as he was still in school and focusing on trying to make it in North America.

Without other options on the table, malbsMd started to play with Infinity again until the end of his contract, which he decided not to renew. “I had a fight with sam_A and our friendship kind of ended then,” malbsMd reflects. “I remained a free agent for a couple of weeks until one day I was in the shower and I heard a Twitter notification ring out of my phone, which I found odd.”

On the other end, typing direct messages, was none other than Pedro “⁠Maluk3⁠” Campos. TeamOne had just lost Alencar “⁠trk⁠” Rossato to MIBR, and the coronavirus pandemic was making it impossible for the team to get a Brazilian player to their house in Las Vegas. Bruno “⁠b4rtiN⁠” Câmara and Matheus “⁠pesadelo⁠” Panisset had recently played a Rank S pick-up game with malbsMd and had liked what they had seen, so following their recommendation, TeamOne decided to ask the Guatemalan player to stand in for them. “I told them that my only problem was that I didn’t speak Portuguese,” malbsMd says. “But Maluk3 told me not to worry, that we would speak ‘Portuñol,’ a mix of Portuguese and Spanish.”

Things started off smoothly despite the language barrier, and just weeks into malbsMd’s time as a stand-in, the team were already toying with the idea of offering him a permanent spot, secretly using this time as a trial period. “I fit in really well from the first match,” malbsMd says. “I joined the team not knowing a single word of Portuguese, but I began to pay attention and I started to associate different words. A lot of people were amazed by how I went from not speaking any Portuguese to being able to communicate and even write a bit in just a couple of months.”

malbsMd is held in high esteem by Maluk3, who describes his Guatemalan teammate as “a calm player with good aim who learns quickly and doesn’t pose problems for anyone.” TeamOne ended the year with several good runs after the newcomer’s arrival, including a 3rd-4th place finish in DreamHack Open Summer North America, first place in ESEA MDL Season 35 and a second-place finish in DreamHack Masters Winter, the last event of the year, in which malbsMd posted a 1.18 rating, the second-highest overall.

malbsMd is keeping his head down and remains modest while reaching for new heights in 2021, although his humble beginnings and unassuming character don’t stop him from dreaming big. The youngster hopes to blaze a trail that will motivate and inspire other Guatemalan gamers to follow in his footsteps. “Ever since I started this journey I had one goal, which is reaching a Major and playing at the most prestigious events while representing Guatemala as best as I can,” he says. “To be an example for people in my country also trying to become professional gamers. I want to be someone people can look up to and I want to motivate them to keep fighting. I also want the world to see that there can be talented players from Guatemala.”

malbsMd wants to be a beacon for other Guatemalan players to dream large
(Photo courtesy of TeamOne)

But right now the 18-year-old is focused on what’s immediately in front of him, the IEM Katowice Play-In, for which TeamOne is preparing from their bootcamp facility in Poland. Much like a boxer moving up weight classes, malbsMd is still adjusting to a new level of competition. “We’ve been scrimming against top-tier teams and it’s not like in North America, where I’m comfortable enough to peek anyone” he says. “Here, I’m still afraid that this or that player will be on the other side just waiting to shoot me in the face, although our preparation is incredible— I’ve never prepared like this for anything in my life. We wake up at nine and by ten we’re already doing review sessions. We start scrimming at noon, take a break, and then scrim again in the afternoon until seven or eight. We practice about ten hours every day.”

malbsMd is eager to prove his worth as an important contributor for TeamOne in order to reach his goal of playing a Major, but he’s aware of the challenges that lie ahead. “I’m very comfortable and very happy to have finally been able to meet the guys [in person], they’re good people, good teammates and good friends,” he says. “I never thought I’d be here now, playing against the best teams in the world, and I’m very proud of myself for fulfilling this dream. I’m going to be playing against the teams I used to watch on stream from home, which is a challenge that makes me a bit nervous, but I also know that I’m ready for it and I want to prove that I have what it takes to make it as a top tier player.”

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