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When VALORANT burst onto the scene back in June, the hype surrounding Riot Games’ new shooter was palpable. Many players across the esports landscape had the game on their radars and while some went back to the titles they came from, many from the professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Overwatch arenas stuck around to join VALORANT’s burgeoning competitive scene.

During First Strike North America, the first major tournament in the game’s history, VENN sat down with top VALORANT players to find out what enticed them about the title and why they made the jump to an untested new landscape.

A vast majority of the players currently sitting at the top of VALORANT’s competitive scene got their professional start in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The game used to sport a thriving competitive community in North America, but in recent years the scene has declined to near-irrelevance.

“It’s not something that’s going to thrive, and I’ve known this for a couple of years now,” James “hazed” Cobb of Team SoloMid tells VENN of the current CS:GO esports scene. “In my heart CS will always be number one, it is the number one game for me, but in terms of making a living it’s just not good anymore.”

Many of Cobb’s fellow CS:GO veterans also sense the competitive environment’s decline, making the jump to VALORANT very simple. “Honestly I’d been playing CS:GO for ten years and the meta was getting stale towards the end of my career,” Cobb’s TSM teammate Stephen “reltuc” Cutler says. “I saw this new game and thought, if I’m going to jump, I’d better jump early.”

Spencer “Hiko” Martin of 100 Thieves echoes the sentiment. “CS:GO in North America is kind of dead right now, you pretty much have to be in Europe to be a top tier CS team,” he says.

That decline, as Andrew “ShoT_UP” Orlowski of Immortals describes, held some players back from achieving their true potential. “Back in the time I played CS I didn’t think I got the opportunities I deserved, and that caused me to lose motivation,” he says. “I stopped caring as much, I stopped playing as much, and that’s why I quit.”

VALORANT, meanwhile, quickly made up for the CS:GO scene’s shortcomings. “When I finally did start playing VALORANT,” Orlowski continues, “I saw the potential to get those opportunities I should have gotten in CS:GO, and that’s why I started playing.”

The question then becomes simple: what’s pulling these CS:GO players to Riot’s new shooter? For some it’s how easy it is to take that CS background and bring it to VALORANT. The two games are structurally very similar, as most players attest, and that tactical shooter background gives the migrating Counter-Strike pros a major advantage right from the jump.

Some players also feel that VALORANT takes more skill than CS:GO, “more brain and coordination” as Martin puts it. “You have agents with unique abilities, new maps, the opposing team is running different agents, you have to dodge Ultimates, et cetera,” he says. “There’s so much more to learn.”

Others, like Anthony “mummAy” DiPaolo of Team Envy, simply prefer how modern the game feels. “What attracted me to VALORANT was the freshness,” DiPaolo says. “There’s so much freedom in the game, I can log into a server and find something new every single day.”

Similarly, former Overwatch pros are leaving Blizzard’s team-based shooter behind for a new start in VALORANT — for many of the same reasons. Corey “corey” Nigra, formerly of the Overwatch League’s Washington Justice and now of FaZe Clan, is one such case.

“I left because my role was getting really stale, it was tanks and healers running the show,” Nigra says. “I want to fight, I want to take little 1v1s, and that’s just not how that game is anymore. It’s more strategic and tactical rather than individual flair.”

Former Houston Outlaw Shane “Rawkus” Flaherty echoes his FaZe teammate Nigra’s desire for individual success. “Overwatch is more of a team game, where here you can showcase yourself individually. One player can pop off hard and carry the entire team and I think that’s really enticing to everyone,” says Flaherty.

Perhaps the biggest get for VALORANT from Overwatch League was Sentinels’ Jay “sinatraa” Won, who retired from OWL while playing for the defending champion San Francisco Shock and being the defending OWL MVP. That success, partially, is what made Won want to make the jump to this new game, although he admits his fire for Overwatch had also diminished.

“It was around the time I was losing interest in Overwatch that VALORANT popped up,” Won says. “I knew it was something I wanted to play, but I also didn’t want to let my Overwatch teammates down by just collecting a paycheck without having the passion for the game, so switching made sense.”

While the reasons given by former Overwatch pros mirror their CS:GO counterparts, the experience in the beginning for these OWL expats was much different. The learning curve in the transition from Overwatch to VALORANT is much more strenuous, for while Overwatch players are more familiar with character-specific abilities, the main structure of a VALORANT match is more catered to the CS:GO skillset, and that led to some hard lessons.

“I’m still going through a learning curve,” Nigra says. “I’m not where I want to be right now. If I put a bunch of hours into CS:GO I’d probably have some small nitpicky things that would help me in VALORANT, but I can’t.”

Ultimately, however, Overwatch players coming into VALORANT are at a severe disadvantage simply because of how differently the games play, Nigra says. “In Overwatch you can run around and shoot, there’s no standing still, no setups, no defaults. If you played CS beforehand you have a huge advantage, you have experience in the types of strategies VALORANT uses. Overwatch isn’t a tactical shooter, VALORANT and CS:GO are,” he says.

After making the decision to try out the new shooter on the block, the path to the top of the competitive food chain was clear. Some, like Spencer “Hiko” Martin, were personally invited by Riot to try the game. “Riot reached out and invited me to the alpha test, and immediately this game is really fun and I’m going to make the switch,” he says.

Others, like Cobb, brought some friends along for the ride, competing in lower circuit tournaments before Team SoloMid came calling. “I didn’t start playing with the intention of going pro or switching from CS, I wanted to play for fun,” Cobb describes. “After playing a while and entering tournaments I hit up [TSM teammate Stephen] reltuC [Cutler], who suggested we make a team and I agreed. Eventually [TSM player Matthew] Wardell [Yu] and [TSM player Taylor] Drone [Johnson] joined us in a kind of perfect storm, with people and friendships coming together in the right place at the right time, and TSM eventually brought us all in.”

The most unique story to professional VALORANT, however, belongs to Andrew “ShoT_UP” Orlowski, who was recruited by a friend while in a precarious position. “I had no plans to go pro in VALORANT until I got a SnapChat from [Immortals teammate Jason] neptune [Tran] while I was sitting on the toilet,” Orlowski says, laughing. “The message simply said, do you want to play for Immortals? We talked after that and the rest is history.”

With the 2021 Champions Tour — the first ever season-long competition for VALORANT — on the horizon, there may be more players migrating from other games to Riot’s new tactical shooter. Where they’ll end up, and more importantly where the games they’re coming from will end up, is unknown, but if the VALORANT First Strike North America’s 300,000 peak concurrent viewers are any indication, the esports landscape could be in for a big change.


Photo courtesy of Riot Games