Hometown Heroes: Sayf

April 28 2023

TLR 2043

One of the greatest things about esports is its capability to bring together people from all kinds of different backgrounds. With that in mind, we’ve created Hometown Heroes, an article series spotlighting this phenomenon through each member of the Team Liquid VALORANT roster.

This week’s entry features our dynamic duelist Saif “Sayf” Jibraeel, who was born in Iraq and grew up in Sweden, where his family still lives. In the inaugural Hometown Heroes, Sayf tells us about his upbringing, his favorite foods growing up, and that one time he faced off with a moose.

What makes the places where you grew up unique?

I really don’t know. They’re just places, right? For me, a place is just a place. I don’t think too much about where I am, because I’m used to being everywhere.

You lived in many places growing up, including Iraq, Jordan, Dubai, and then Sweden. What was it like to move around so much?

I lived in Dubai for a year because we didn’t know if we were going to move to Sweden after the application process. I even applied to a prestigious school in Dubai — as a kid, I did an entrance exam. And I failed Arabic, which is fucking funny. Because I spoke Arabic. I don’t know how I failed Arabic. But I passed everything else. I did live for a year in Dubai — and before that I lived in Jordan for a few years, actually, I think three or four.

What was it like to go to school when VALORANT came out in 2020?

I’m a very goal-oriented person, and my primary goal was to finish school. I actually played in Guild [Esports] for a whole school year, but I wasn’t stressed about it because I always put school first. That was my plan. That’s the only thing I have to fall back on. I didn’t want to overinvest in esports, even if I’m good enough. I would rather finish high school and then settle down.

I actually even enrolled in uni after I finished high school; I was in uni for a month. And then I was like, nah! This is actually a lot more than high school. Never mind. And then I left.

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What would you do for fun while you were growing up?

We’d play football during [school] breaktime and then after school we’d go back to my apartment, since it was close, and we would play Left 4 Dead on my Xbox. And eat ice cream — you’re not allowed to eat ice cream on normal days, but we would eat it on normal days anyway because Mom was friendly. It’s supposed to be that we could only eat it on the weekend; we call it fredagsmys (“cozy Fridays”).

What were your favorite foods that you ate growing up?

I like cheesecakes with red jelly on top, and then you have a vanilla layer under it, and biscuit on the bottom. That’s insane. Or something we call lafat khamira in Arabic. It’s like dough that you roll into something that looks like a croissant, and it’s filled with cheese.

If someone were to visit Stockholm, where would you tell them to go?

I’d say go to Gröna Lund or Gamla stan. Gröna Lund is an amusement park, and Gamla stan is the old city. You see buildings from way back, and they haven’t changed. There’s even a street in Gamla stan where a cannonball had been shot and it’s still there. They didn’t fix it. That’s cool. We also have a museum, the Gustav Vasa Museum — he was a Swedish king and he had a big ship that’s still intact in the museum. Those three things. Otherwise, I don’t know; Sweden’s not that interesting for me, to be honest. But then again, I live there, so.

I like nature a lot more. I don’t like going into the city, because I don’t live inside the city, I live outside of it. There we have trees and animals and deers. I’ve run into a moose before.

What was your encounter with the moose like?

My encounter with the moose was rather terrifying, because they’re giant. They’re very big, and it was super scary because I didn’t know if it would charge at me or do something else.

The best thing to do when you see a moose is nothing.

Yes, exactly. They’re scary.

Were there ever any events or celebrations you particularly looked forward to?

Yeah, I looked forward to Easter and Christmas. My mom goes out of her way to make everything very festive, so when it’s Christmas she usually converts the whole house — like, even the furniture changes to wooden stuff with Christmas things on it. The whole garden starts lighting up and everything. She’s very theme-oriented; she likes the idea of presents and being with family and togetherness on these big holidays.

We’re Christian, and we’re religious at that. It’s not like we’re just Christian on paper. On Easter we say qam almasih — “The Lord has risen” in Arabic. So we’re very cultural, and I do look forward to Easter and Christmas because then everyone’s together and we eat good food. The whole family tree comes, like my whole dad’s side of the family that lives nearby. Everyone sees each other and catches up.

What do you usually do during your free days or during the off-season?

I play Age of Empires IV and League of Legends with my friends. I just went back to meet my family again and say hi to them. Oh, and my cat, as well. I had to go back and say hi to her and make sure she remembers Dad, which she does. I don’t do anything out of the ordinary, to be honest. I’m not a big outside person either — I don’t like drinking and going to pubs and things like that. I just like chilling inside.

[Sayf’s adorable cat, Zoe]

How many people do you have in your immediate family?

I have one brother, one mom, one dad, and one kitty kitty cat cat.

What’s it been like living in both Utrecht and Berlin?

The Alienware facility in the Netherlands is very nice. But I think I like the fact that in Berlin I’m living with the boys a lot more, being closer with my team. I find that rather appealing because in the Netherlands you get your own flat, and it’s not the same thing as hanging out with the guys every day. You see them, you do laundry next to them… it’s a lot more of a bonding experience in Berlin, which is great. If you’re gonna get closer to your teammates and get to know them more, the intricate details of their private life, it kind of opens up a lot more vulnerabilities between each other.

Writer // Bonnie Qu
Graphics // Felipe Braga