When VALORANT esports events started popping up last year, XSET was largely unknown. Many of the teams that esports fans were familiar with started announcing rosters and entering tournaments. Household names such as Sentinels, Cloud9, TSM, Immortals and Envy were considered to be among the top teams going into the NA Valorant Champions Tour.
XSET, on the other hand, was fairly unknown prior to the start of the VCT. The organization was founded in July 2020 and added teams in Rocket League and PUBG Mobile before jumping into VALORANT. Seven months later, their VALORANT team has made a successful run through Challengers and is among the first four teams to qualify for the first Masters event in the VCT. Their recent success as well their commitment to diversity have ensured that the organization is no longer unknown.
XSET was created with diversity in mind
XSET was founded by former FaZe Clan executives Greg Selkoe, Clinton Sparks, Will Eddins and Framerate founder Marco Mereu. Immediately after XSET’s founding, they set out to establish some values that they felt other esports organizations had neglected.
The culture behind XSET is one of the most refreshing to see in the esports space. On their website on the “About Us” page, it says “The world’s most diverse, innovative, socially conscious pop-gaming and esports ‘SET’ ever assembled.”
In a culture that can be toxic to groups such as people of color, women, the LGBTQ+ community and more, XSET has stepped in to create an organization that works to be inclusive.
“I felt like a lot of the organizations that existed right now in esports were to some degree, kinda stuck in the Southern California culture bubble … I felt the audience today in gaming is a lot more inclusive and diverse. It’s changed very rapidly over the last couple of years. There wasn’t really an org out there … that was really appealing towards a wider demographic of gamers,” said COO and co-founder Mereu. “We thought we could do a better job, and that’s why we started XSET.”
Early on, XSET addressed the issue of a lack of women in esports by adding several women to their roster of athletes, streamers and personalities. Minna Stess, a teenage skateboarding prodigy set to appear in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, Ashley “AshleyBTW” Morales, who is well known for being incredible at Fortnite and VALORANT, Erin Ashley Simon, a veteran multimedia personality, host and consultant, all joined XSET during the org’s first few months.
XSET signed an all-female CS:GO team, too. When asked about plans for other female esports teams, Mereu said that “it’s up in the air right now,” but XSET plans to add more female creators.
Lately, XSET has spent Black History Month championing Black content creators every day by sharing their profiles and broadcasting the achievements of Black people in the esports and gaming industry.
XSET creates a VALORANT team
Coming off of a victory at Nerd Street Gamers’ monthly October VALORANT tournament, Pretty Boyz, a team made up of Bryce “PureR” Lovell, Zander “thwifo” Kim, Jordan “AYRIN” He, Brandon “Brando” Parker, Matthew “Wedid” Suchan and coach Don “SyykoNT” Muir were all picked up by XSET ahead of the First Strike tournament.
Although XSET failed to make it out of the group stage at First Strike, the team has come barreling through the top tier of competition in the VALORANT Champions Tour. They placed fourth in the first Challengers open qualifier, earning themselves a $5,000 prize and a massive boost to their profile. They beat established orgs such as NRG and Team Envy before ultimately losing to Sentinels.
Now in the middle of the second Challengers closed qualifier, operated by Nerd Street Gamers, they’ll face Sentinels today in the lower bracket. Even if they lose, their spot in next month’s Masters tournament is already assured.
“We are always preparing, watching VODs, watching for tendencies and just working as hard as we can to develop our game and flush out our protocols and systems as best as we can, with the idea being no matter who we are going up against we’ll be prepared because we work the hardest,” XSET coach SyykoNT told Nerd Street.
The team has risen above expectations very quickly, but they still face stiff challenges from teams like Sentinels, TSM and 100 Thieves. Although they lost to Sentinels in their opening match of the second Challengers closed qualifier, they’ll have a chance for some revenge today.
“It’s good to match up against [teams like these] and see where our weaknesses lie so we can go back and say, ‘OK this is what we have to improve upon next time we see them,’” SyykoNT said.
AYRIN, who comes from a smaller esports title Crossfire, has noted their vast improvement since the team was put together. There are sometimes growing pains when teams are first put together, but one advantage that XSET has is their initial camaraderie.
“I think the amazing thing about the team and how we got to this point is that it’s been very gradual. You see a lot of teams come out of nowhere and they do good in a tournament or two, and they’re able to show up once or twice,” AYRIN said. “I would say looking back now, we were really bad when we first started compared to now. But every week and every month that we play, we just get better and better.”
The ‘X’ factor
It’s no surprise that media outlets were skeptical around the time that XSET released its VALORANT roster. The players were fairly unknown and had come from games such Fortnite, Apex and Crossfire, so it was hard to determine how well they would match up against top teams that were filled with former CS:GO pros.
“I knew that we’d be able to build a really exciting organization just because of the people that were involved,” Mereu said. “We just have a team that I feel has great chemistry, a lot of confidence, and they work really hard.”
Although fans might not always see the interactions behind the scenes outside of streams, it is clear that this team of players has very good chemistry, genuinely like each other and are the same people in front of the camera as they are away from it.
“Everyone on the team has their own fan base that is growing, and to say the least, that feels amazing,” AYRIN said of XSET’s growing fan base. “I would say it’s really not that difficult or hard [to attract a fan base] when you’re being genuine and you’re doing what you do and you’re a good person. Everyone is just who they are outside of the game.”
AYRIN pointed out that fellow teammate Wedid’s fan base is growing quickly because he’s a likable person.
“Wedid is getting a lot of traction because he’s just a really funny guy, he’s always positive, and it’s not hard for him, and I really respect that.” AYRIN said.
Mereu echoed AYRIN, while also pointing out how talented his players are.
“I’m not surprised we have fans, we have very likable players. A lot of the players on this roster are some of the more popular ones in VALORANT right now because they have good personalities, not to mention they’re absolutely cracked.” Mereu said.
When players are signed to teams like TSM, 100 Thieves or Cloud9, they automatically gain the following of a large number of fans through their loyalty to these well-established orgs. XSET had a challenge coming out the gate because they didn’t have a well-known and long-standing org to back them. The fact that they are growing so quickly is a testament to the people on their roster and their skill.
“It feels good knowing that we’re with a new org, and we’re building a new fan base. It’s just that much more rewarding knowing that we’re working for and earning these fans through being genuine in our personalities and our performance in competition,” SyykoNT said.
After qualifying for Masters, XSET has surely earned a lot more fans.
Lead image credit: XSET