One year later, it’s not just former CS:GO pros excelling in VALORANT

One year later, it’s not just former CS:GO pros excelling in VALORANT

by Mitch Reames

VALORANT’s Stage 2 Masters was as much a celebration of the game itself as it was a heated competition between the best of the best. VALORANT has been publicly available for one year now and the game’s esports scene is blossoming in countries around the world. Masters Reykjavík was a celebration of that, but it was also a celebration of the melting pot of different esports influences that have convened with VALORANT.

Most top VALORANT players are former CS:GO pros. That makes sense. But when looking around the 10 teams at Masters, tons of other esports start popping up. Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom, the CS:GO phenom was the headliner for a talented group of former CS:GO pros, and then there’s Byeon “Munchkin” Sang-beom who played for the Boston Uprising in the Overwatch League leading Japan’s Crazy Raccoon.

Read more: Here are the biggest moments from VALORANT’s first year

How about Team Vikings’ Gustavo “Sacy” Rossi, a former League of Legends player who competed in the top league in Brazil? It wasn’t just random regions either, the final saw a matchup between Fnatic’s Domagoj “Doma” Fancev who played Fortnite before VALORANT and Sentinels’ Jared “zombs” Gitlin who was playing Apex Legends for Sentinels prior to making the switch.

Zombs played Apex Legends for Sentinels before making the switch to VALORANT. Photo credit: Riot Games

During VALORANT’s first year, so much focus has been on what players did in other esports, but recently we’ve started to see the creation and success of true VALORANT pros. Top players who don’t have a notable history in any other esport title.

In fact, the runners-up at Stage 2 Masters were filled with those players. Jake “Boaster” Howlett, Fnatic’s IGL and oldest player by five years at the age of 25 was a Tier 2 CS:GO player. But Doma and James “Mistic” Orfila came from Fortnite. Nikita “Derke” Sirmitev was an up-and-coming CS:GO player, and Martin “Magnum” Penkov (pictured at the top of this story) is a relatively unknown pure-VALORANT player (who also apparently has 10,000 hours in Rust).

“We’re a fresh new team, we have players that don’t have that big FPS, tactical shooter background,” said Jacob “mini” Harris, Fnatic’s coach after the loss to Sentinels in the Stage 2 Masters finals.

“We can look back at this loss and be proud,” Boaster said. “Be proud of yourselves boys, because this was our first LAN, there’s many more to come and we will get our revenge.”

Doma, left and Mistic, right, both played Fortnite before jumping to VALORANT. Photo credit: Riot Games

When it came to rounding out the roster with Derke and Magnum, CS:GO veteran Olof “Olofmeister” Kajber Gustafsson was in the conversation. If it was the first six months of VALORANT esports, he likely would have been the pickup. Instead, Fnatic went with a true VALORANT player in Magnum, who was known as one of the best sentinel players in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Clearly the decision worked. Even with the lack of LAN experience, Fnatic proved a history of high level competition in other esports isn’t crucial to success in VALORANT.

Some teams in Europe have had to get more creative with building out rosters because there wasn’t a mass migration of CS:GO talent to VALORANT like there was in North America. Still, teams are recognizing that these are two different games and relying on CS:GO relationships isn’t the best way to guarantee success. Among the top tier of teams in NA, a handful of players can be considered true VALORANT pros, and about half were found by Immortals.

Munchkin used to play for the Overwatch League's Boston Uprising. Photo credit: Riot Games

“[At the start of VALORANT] no one really knew what was good and what was bad,” said Michael “Packing10” Szklanny, Immortals head coach and general manager. “That’s why everyone was always importing those CS:GO players because at least they had the tactical shooter fundamentals. If they have those, then they can be successful in the game no matter what, it doesn’t matter how they use abilities or how they think, but we wanted to try to be ahead of the curve on that. We wanted to teach players how to play VALORANT and not CS:GO.”

Read more: Immortals coach Packing10 on his ever-changing roster: ‘Synergy is a myth’

Immortals implemented open tryouts with the goal of identifying top players. That’s how Immortals found Peter “Asuna” Mazuryk and Quan “Dicey” Tran who were then sold to 100 Thieves. They also found Noah “jcStani” Smith (now with Andbox), Nicholas “NaturE” Garrison (now with Gen.G), Joseph “Bjor” Bjorklund (now with Built by Gamers) and Yannick “KOLER” Blanchette (who went to NRG after Immortals and most recently trialed for Ghost Gaming).

Those are just the players that went to other teams. Immortals’ current roster features Amgalan “Genghsta” Nemekhbayar, Rhett “Kehmicals” Lynch and Daniel “Rossy” Abedrabbo, all of whom don’t have any notable CS history. These players weren’t entirely unknowns in esports before Immortals, but they certainly weren’t considered top-tier players before Immortals either.

“Going into VALORANT, we told our boss, “hey, listen, every other team is just going to be a CS:GO friendship circle,” Packing10 recounted. “We didn’t want to see that happen here. We said, ‘just give us an opportunity, we promise we will make a roster that is worth it.’”

Immortals have been a consistently good, but not great, team in a competitive NA field. Even without a tournament win in VCT so far, Immortals have been competitive throughout Stage 1 and 2. More impressive is how many solid players have made their way through Immortals, with some, like Asuna, becoming burgeoning stars in the esport.

As VALORANT diverges into its own esport outside the shadow of CS:GO, more teams are looking for true VALORANT pros. Among the top 10 teams in NA, Immortals and Gen.G have the majority of VALORANT players without backgrounds in other games.

Read more: How VALORANT helped Gen.G’s Shawn escape the McDonalds drive through

“I’m basically just a VALORANT pro,” said Shawn “Shawn” O’Riley, a player for Gen.G. “I have a lot of hours playing CS from when I was 14 or 15 years old, but I was broke and I couldn’t get into ESEA which was the big thing at the time. So I played a lot of CS, but I was unknown in the scene. That’s just where I learned a lot of things coming into VALORANT.”

Many VALORANT players have had some association with CS in the past that transferred to VALORANT. Still, more and more players are coming out who have never played CS professionally, and there’s something to be said for a blank slate in a game like VALORANT. Hey, it’s worked well for Fnatic.

Lead image credit: Riot Games

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