Achievement and doubt
That icon on your screen hovers in front of you. The yellow star fixed to the center of your screen, and with it; the tale of your hard-fought journey to reach this stage. You are now IMMORTAL.
With this achievement, you start entertaining thoughts of streaming, or maybe even going pro, but you cast those thoughts aside.
Who would even watch your streams? And going pro– where would you even start?
As you may have imagined, going pro in any of today’s competitive eSports can be a very challenging task. There are tons of obstacles on the journey ahead, and many more hurdles just out of your vision.
But you’re in luck, today’s video will serve as your guide on the difficult task of going pro. I’ll be covering how you can progress from a no-name player to a Tier1 competitor with step-by-step instructions that’ll light your path forward. I’ll be focusing primarily on Valorant, but much of this video’s learning material can be easily applied to other eSports games.
So you might be asking, “Who are you to guide us? What qualifies you to help us?” Well despite my years of teaching and coaching esports, I didn’t want to tackle this topic alone; I want to bring in the first-hand wisdom of a Pro Valorant player DerrekOW of RISE GAMING.
I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Derrek, talking about his journey from a student to a Pro-Overwatch player on a T3 team to then making a full transition to a Pro-Valorant player on a T1 team. For those of you who don’t know, RISE gaming has defeated the likes of FaZe Clan, Cloud9 Blue, and 100 Thieves– coming in 2nd place at LCQ and ranking above teams like Gen.G, Version1 and Luminosity.
In today’s video, we will be covering how to actually join a Tier 3 team, and from there, your journey to Tier 2 and 1. At each stage, there are mistakes that cause most to get stuck or fall off. So without the roadmap, we’re about to share, you might end up stuck in the same place for years. But if you’re ready to learn, then it might just help you become a pro esports player.
Making it Onto a Tier 3 Team
1) Reaching a High Rank
So where does your journey to becoming a pro really start?
Well if you want to make it onto a tier 3 team then one thing is clear, you need to prove yourself in ranked.
If you’re already radiant or high immortal, which you really should be if you want to pursue this first of all
You’re not gonna get on a T1 team off the bat if you’re like plat/diamond/immortal you have to work your way up. Everyone works their way, so you gotta start from the bottom and build that experience.
Reaching a high rank in Valorant is the MOST basic form of credibility you can leverage to let people know that you’re a prospective pro player.
So how do you climb the ranked ladder and make it to the top 1% in ranked? Well, it should come as no surprise that perseverance can make or break your career. We’ve discussed in our “How to Join a Pro Gaming Team” video how you need to pump the hours into practice, but we’ve also talked about how you can’t just dump time in without any deeper thought. As Derrek says…
Okay so, autopiloting ranked is basically just you queue up, you just go about the game, you don;’t think about anything, you’re just playing in the moment, right? You lose like 5-13 and you’re like “yeah whatever” and then you just queue up again, 6-13, and then queue up again and like you keep losing. And then playing to actually improve is, putting yourself in spots where you can play off your team, you communicate util. Even if no one else is doing it, just communicate because it helps you become a better player. Asking for your teammate’s util and not just communicating your own util.
Remember, quality over quantity. Playing just to play won’t lead to improvement, and it’s when you can commit hours of your time to practice off the server that you’ll improve by leaps and bounds.
You need to want to improve if you really want to see yourself climb the ranks. The mentality of “If I play enough, I’ll get better” can work in the lower ranks, but that’s because you’re still learning the fundamentals of the game. For basic things, repetition CAN be the best way to learn, but if you want to be competitive at the highest levels of play, that’s no longer an option. You’re not picking up fundamentals anymore. You’re refining your current skill set, and when there’s no more room for improvement*,* you have to innovate and redefine the meta. It’s not enough to simply be good, you have to be inventive.
And in line with that mentality of intentionality, you need to start reviewing your games. You can’t just sit through recordings and mindlessly stare at your screen. As with playing ranked games, you need to be intentional with the way you go over your vods.
I don’t watch my own ranked games, but I watch back my own scrimms. As a team you should do it, but personally I do watch back my own scrims, like if there was a certain round where I was like “why did I do that” or “was this good that I droned right after they broke my dart?” or something like that I would always remember the round, like I write the round down. I’ll just go to that specific round and come to the conclusion “oh that was good” or “maybe I shouldn’t’ do that”. It’s not like I watch over the whole game, it’s more like specific rounds that I feel like I could learn something.
Keep track of your rounds and take note of moments where you didn’t know what to do or moments, when you felt like you, could have made a better play. Then go back and watch your vods with an emphasis on those specific rounds.
A proper mindset is the foundation of your honing career. You need to closely follow what Derrek and I have detailed out for you above. If you can steel your mind to take on this ‘winning mentality’, you’ll have laid a solid foundation for you to climb to the top– otherwise, you’ll end up languishing and stagnating in the same place with no improvement in sight.
2) Getting onto a Tier 3 Team
Value of Weeklies
Once you’ve reached high Immortal, you’re ready to tackle the Tier 3 scene.
For some reason, many players tend to discount the Tier 3 scene, and instead, they think that they’ll get picked up by a top tier org. But unless you’re an up-and-coming monster, that’s not going to happen.
For you, the Tier 3 scene is where you’ll prove yourself. Getting into this scene will require a lot of manual work to find teammates, and enter tons of weeklies. But this is where you’ll show the world that you CAN compete in an organized competitive setting, that you’re willing to put in the work and grind your way to the top.
If you find people in ranked that you enjoyed playing with and you know they have a team, ask them “is there a spot on your team” or like play weeklies with them. A big thing that I did as soon as the Valorant beta came out (and I feel like all my peers did too) was like, if there was a weekly, you were in it. It didn’t matter. I did VCS weeklies, BoomTV weeklies, I think I was doing 2-3 weeklies a week. And you might say that the experience you get from those tournaments was negligible, but it’s just putting your name out there. Let’s say you go through the entire tournament dropping like 300 acs throughout the entire thing, people will eventually catch on. They’ll say “hey he’s kind of decent at these weeklies, we should just give him a shot, you know?” It helps if you can get an audio clip of Shroud saying something nice about you.
So, you can also look into Discord servers for high-elo players looking for teammates to play with in these weekly tournaments. Trying out for small-time teams, or building your own can be a great way to jumpstart your network and start racking up the tournament experience.
Value of Scrims
But there’s also another BIG reason why you really should not discount weekly tournaments, and joining tier 3 teams and that’s scrims.
Valorant is a completely different game in a team setting vs ranked. That’s because all 10 people are trying to win. You’re not getting like three people with no comms, people who are just running it down on defense when you’re supposed to be defending, they’re just pushing and pushing. In scrimms, you have 5 people vs 5 people actually trying to win the game as a team. As soon as you can, start scrimming and building that experience to play off your team and playing for your team
There’s a reason why not all of the top-rated ranked players will get scouted into a Tier-1 team, and that’s because the game itself is a completely different beast at the highest levels. You’re no longer playing into a mishmash of ill-fitting parts, the higher up you go, the smoother and more well-oiled the teams will be. We talked about this in our “How to Join a Pro Gaming Team” video with Overwatch coach KDG.
When you’re on a consistent team, you’ll begin to develop a team-first mindset, communication skills and real strategies! And just as important, you’ll be playing against other teams doing the same. The result is an optimal environment for improvement, one where you can start to learn what separates good players from pros.
Going Tier 2
Ok, so let’s say you’ve been grinding in the Tier 3 scene for some time now. You’ve amassed a network of highly skilled players, your socials have a small following, and your T3 team has been finding consistent success in weeklies. What now?
Well, at this point, there’s an organic transition from Tier 3 to Tier 2. You can’t control when a headhunter will reach out to you and have you try out for their Tier 2 or Tier 1 team. The jump from T3 to T2 and T2 to T1 is natural. If your performance is turning heads, people will look into you. So it’s at this point that you just have to keep grinding and start networking. And according to Derrek, one of the best ways you can network is to just ask questions whenever you get the chance.
Also there was this kid, I went to the NSG Fullerton Lan in January or February. There was this kid after every game, he would ask me and my teammates for advice. He would ask my IGL, Kevin “POISED”, he was like ‘how did you get started as IGL’ he would ask a bunch of questions. He would ask how I got my start and stuff like that. Actively asking questions to pros and I don’t know about other pros, but I’m sure that most of them would be happy to talk about how they came to be. Don’t be scared to ask for advice.
When established players see that you’re driven, have results, and are a good teammate they’ll start whispering your name into their coach’s ears.
But as you grind the tier 2 tournaments it’s also key that you keep honing a strategic mind. One of the best ways to gauge this is to compare your thoughts against an established pro’s.
For example, Derrek would watch Steel and Sean Gares whenever they’d do commentary on a VCT match. He’d turn off their audio, narrate to himself what’s going on in the game, then go back and listen to their audio and see how much of his thoughts matched up with theirs. This is how you can hone your game sense and macro play and begin to understand the game at a Tier 1 level.
Going Tier 1
Of course, as your knowledge, skills and experience grow, eventually an opportunity will come your way…
for me personally, when I was on PUGSTARS, the team I played against T1 on ,the one I got the Shroud clip from, we were already consistently kind of winning a bunch of weeklies, VCS’s and I already kind of had my name out there as a “top Sova” I don’t like saying that, but I was like getting scouted a little bit, and I feel like getting my name out there since beta really helped. Once I did well against T1 and like I kind of cemented myself as someone who could kind of compete at the top, I got hit by RISE. It was actually my IGL that hit me up first, it was “poised” he was just like “hey, are you pursuing anything else? Do you wanna come play for RISE? Cuz we need a sova.” So I said ‘sure’ and then literally I got handed a contract two days after. I didn’t even trial. There was no trial phase, I just got bumped in.
And just like that, Derrek went from being on a Tier 3 team to a Tier 1 team. You can almost never predict when something like this will happen, but when it does, you can be sure to look back at all the hard work you put in. You can also do your part to maximize the odds of these opportunities. Esports today is more than just being able to play at a top level. You may have noticed, but networking and branding play a HUGE role.
A lot of it is connections and who you know. Not to say that you can’t make it without connections, but it’s a lot harder and it’s even harder if you like burn bridges. You know, one toxic game with a streamer that knows everybody and you just end up wrecking your name for the rest of your career.
You need more than just skill, you need to be likable and generally known to be someone you’d want on your team. According to Derrek, many trials end up falling through because someone recognizes the prospect as a toxic player who is difficult to play with.
Personal Brand – Content Creation
But another great method for getting recognized is by building a presence and brand online.
So do you feel like just being a part of that content grind for a while was kind of just the saving grace and that that networking beforehand was key for you?
Yeah I feel like it was, I feel like that’s kind of what you have to do in eSports, especially to build longevity in your career like you can be a player but you should also build a brand for yourself. That money isn’t going to be there as a player your entire life. Try to stream and build a brand
You see, before becoming a pro in Valorant, Derrek was an aspiring pro Overwatch player. He was a top 500 player in NA and a small-time streamer, so although he didn’t have a huge following, he had some connections he could lean on when he came to Valorant. It took him a year in Overwatch to try and go pro, while in valorant, he was able to join a team that would pay for all of his tournament fees right from the get-go.
He was hard stuck at the Tier 3 level in Overwatch partly due to his lack of network and credibility, but not in Valorant. And the difference was having those years of brand-building and networking behind him.
Going All In
So now that you’ve got this blueprint, the road is lit and it’s all rainbows and sunshines, right? Wrong, you’re going to face hardship. It’s going to be a tough road because reaching the top of any field is a difficult task. That’s why you need to steel your mindset, put your head down, and get to work.
For a while you were both trying to become a pro and also in school, right?
That was for my first year of Overwatch, and yeah that was really rough. I had 12-13 credits and I also had a day job, I worked at a tea shop and then I also streamed. My schedule would be like 11am to like 5pm would be school, 7pm to midnight would be the teashop, and then I would go home and stream for like 3 hours. So I wouldn’t sleep until 3am.
Yeah, I don’t know how I did it.
Derrek had his struggles, he ended up quitting his job at the tea shop once his streaming career started to gain a bit of steam. However, although his stream was growing, he one day hit a plateau and wasn’t making as much money. Even though quitting his job gave him more time to stream, he ended up having to really depend on gifted subs and donations to keep himself afloat.
So then the question is, how do you know when to go all-in, and when is it too early?
13:05 I think that you should go all-in once you finally secure either a team that you truly believe will take you to the top, even if you’re not getting paid. There are certain players I’ve heard of who did school and had a dayjob and still played pro, a few CSGO pros I think. And then they only quit once they “made it” made it, you know once they got signed and were getting paid. Obviously in my case, I didn’t do that. I said ‘screw it’ whatever works, works, and I feel like that was really risky and it ended up working for me, but I don’t think you should normally do that. Listen to your parents, stay in school, do it on the side, and if you’re good enough and if you have talent, maybe convince them to take a year off school or after you graduate high school take a year off and really put your head down and pursue it.
In essence, do it on the side and balance your ambitions with your other, everyday tasks. A lot of people seem to have delusions of grandeur, that as long as they go all-in, they’ll succeed and make it to the top. This is unfortunately a very risky plan, and like Derrek said, it doesn’t work out for most people.
So it should now be clear; you can’t just blindly go in and expect to go pro overnight. If you’re serious and committed to that goal of making as a pro, you have to consider all of the things we’ve discussed up until this point. Derrek endured a journey spanning over multiple years before he got picked up by RISE. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through the same hardships. Follow this roadmap and learn how you can accelerate your climb to the tier 1 scene.
And of course, there will never be a moment in your career where you’ll feel like you’ve reached the absolute pinnacle of skill. If that day ever comes, you need to take a look in the mirror and be real with yourself. These highly competitive games are always evolving, characters are being introduced, things are getting patched, and players are always innovating. If you don’t keep up with the meta, you will fall behind.
So take everything Derrek shared with you and review it over and over again until it sinks in. The map we’re giving you will help you avoid pitfalls and obstacles that’ll delay your rise to the top, so take all of this to heart and start striving for the pinnacle of your potential.