The pace has been set. Team Launch has launched off as the Valorant team to beat in Oceania after taking home the first Ignition Series event, the Oceanic Valorant Open. For Fergus “Ferg” Stephenson, it’s not the first time he’s been at the top of the region in a game, but this time, he wants to make an impact globally.
Team Launch went into the Oceanic Valorant Open as favourites. It was hard to discount them, with over 30 years of FPS experience at the top level between the five members.
Ollie “DickStacy” Tierney is one of the few OCE CS:GO pros to ever attend a major. Tyler “tucks” Reilly and Matthew “Texta” O’Rourke probably would have made it there, had it not been for their VAC bans. Travis “wizard” Richardson is back from a hiatus, and Ferg needs no introduction for his 15-year-long palmares.
When Team Launch took to Future Earth for the first time back in the beta tournaments, and in the early community cups, there was something special about them. They weren’t just heavy fraggers — although they were doing a lot of that. They had a read of the game like no other team in Australia.
By the time OVO came around, the gap between them and the rest of the pack was noticeable — and ultimately insurmountable. They took down EXO Clan in the final in a swift 2-0, a team many had high hopes for as the first roster to sign to an organization in the region.
Ferg has already been at the top. He was one of the best CS 1.6 players in the region. When Valve made the transition to Global Offensive in 2012, he cemented himself as a tactical mastermind of one of the best teams in the region, the Chiefs. Now, he’s already writing himself down in the history books in Valorant with Launch.
“Yeah it was a great feeling [to win OVO],” he told Snowball Esports. “Obviously for myself I haven’t been competing as a player for a while now. I was playing a little bit with the former Skyfire team [MC Esports and i sleep], but nothing too overly serious.
“Valorant came around and I wanted to give it a red hot crack, and it’s sort of like reliving my glory days by taking out the first Nationals in Australia.”
“It’s a feeling that I haven’t had for a while, so it was really good. We were all obviously ecstatic, but we also set ourselves the expectations and goals to take [the OVO] out, and any future ones that come about. We really want to dominate the scene.”Fergus “Ferg” Stephenson
Those days, on face value, might be well over for the 31-year-old. While Counter-Strike has its fair share of older pros, the physical and mental toll of an FPS title is almost unlike any other esport. Ferg’s experiences outside of the server — as a coach, and as a mentor to the next generation of stars like Tucks and Texta — helped him get back into it, despite the obvious disadvantages.
“With age you lose certain things like reflexes, but fortunately in Valorant — as much as you can see these flashy highlights with these high-level aim stars like ScreaM who make the game look so easy, I think in the competitive environment it’s a lot different,” he said.
“When people play a disciplined level of Valorant, you don’t see so much of the aim stars just because when you’re outside of the ranked atmosphere, you’re doing things as a team, and it makes things hard for people if they are trying to be aim stars.
“I’m not really too worried about my age being a detriment to my gameplay overall. There’s definitely people out there who are far sharper than myself and can aim incredibly well, but I think the knowledge that I can apply to the game and the fundamentals that I’ve grown across Counter-Strike will always give me an edge ahead of everyone else.”
It helps when you’ve got a super team of stars behind you too. Sure, it’s easy to look at the accolades of Team Launch in CS:GO and just assume they can sit on their laurels and win everything on offer. But, the team has bigger aspirations than just one tournament at the start of the game’s lifespan. Launch is here to build a dynasty.
“We started off with a pretty stern discussion amongst the group about our expectations and our goals, where we saw ourselves, and what we expect from an organization should everything align. Everyone was on the same page when we kicked it off.
“We’ve shown that we can be at the highest level in Australia and we’ve shown that we can perform overseas [in CS:GO] and turn some heads, so we’re entirely confident in ourselves.
“The commitment to practice and preparation for tournaments kicked in straight away. We aren’t under any salary, so we’re putting in 6-7 hour days in practice alone, and then outside of that we are also putting the hours in to learn the game. It’s a big commitment for the team, so it’s obviously a project that we are pursuing.”
It’s important to note that Valorant is still in its infancy. The game was only released in Australia officially in May. Teams are still ironing out what Agents work well were, and even how the game works — down to its core.
Overseas in Europe and North America, two similar, but distinctly different metas have emerged. While some core picks — Sage, Cypher, Sova — span the Atlantic, NA favours a more frag-heavy duelist approach, with EU focusing more on utility.
Oceania has always followed in the steed of titans in this regard. However, with Valorant, teams in the region have had the chance to develop their own meta and playstyle. Without international play to test it out it’ll be impossible to tell what is the best, but teams aren’t necessarily using international play as a crutch.
“What we’ve found from what we are playing against is a lot of the American meta — TSM compositions, Sentinels compositions, whatever it might be. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are copying everything from their playbook, other teams just see it as ‘well if they’re running that composition, there’s obviously good value in it,’ and then they’re making their own creation alongside it,” Ferg said.
“I followed mainly EU myself over North America because I feel like they see the game a little bit differently and their comps are quite interesting. Obviously G2 run a very unique composition compared to most teams [heavy focus on Breach]. You can’t really copy everyone. It’s quite interesting.
“We’re developing our own meta in OCE. Even though our compositions can reflect that of another team’s, we don’t go and copy any strats. We’ve adopted our own playstyle given it’s a brand new game. We’ve created our own strategies, we’ve created our own defaults, everything is from scratch. We get some inspiration from other regions, but that really depends on whether they run a similar comp to what we run.”
Ferg does say one team has emerged from the pack as the clear front runners in Valorant, and it’s Europe’s Kings G2 Esports.
“In terms of consistency across competitions, they’ve shown that they are the most dominant team in the world. I’d definitely love to square off against them. No disrespect to the American scene, but I don’t think their meta makes too much sense. It looks like NA teams like Cloud9 are trying to adopt a more G2-esque meta. It’d be nice to play against the current best team in the world at the moment.”
However, before Launch has the chance to face off against the world’s best, they have to readjust their sights. First off, there’s no international competition — yet. Between now and then, Launch have a throne to defend.
Their first major challenge is coming up with Oceania’s second Ignition Series event, Rise of Valour. Launch aren’t too worried about defending their title pe say, but they want to make sure they come out of the next event a more experienced team, having been better off for taking risks and experimenting when other teams might just go through the motions.
“Aside from having to defend the title — which is already a big task in itself — I think a big thing for us is exploring the depth of compositions. We might make some slight alterations based on how we felt [after OVO]. We’ve already been experimenting leading up to the second week of OVO, where we had been practicing role swaps.”
“A lot of our stuff is things we’ve thought of ourselves, and thinking about why we run certain compositions. We will probably do something similar heading into Rise of Valour — see what might be better value in certain areas and look back at what we’ve done in the past and see what might need a change up.”