FEATURE

Exxyy on Avant’s early First Strike exit: “We straight up played out of fear”

Avant managed to make the Valorant First Strike Oceania Finals despite losing a core member of the team in Spesh.

When Avant entered the Oceanic professional Valorant scene, they picked a star-studded roster consisting of Lewis “WAT” Watson, Eric “Exxyy” Do, Joshua “Lakers” Puopolo, Byron “Spesh” Rowlinson and Bernard “m4jor” Chau to represent them. 

The ex-Control roster, at that point, had reached the semi-finals of the Order Oceanic Open and the future looked immensely bright for the roster to go on and achieve bigger things. However, it’s been a rocky road ever since.

To understand their beginnings, current playing form, and future aspirations, I reached out to Exxyy. As a player, he dabbled quite a bit in competitive Counter-Strike before taking a break and resuming his career with Valorant.

A new beginning in Valorant

“M4jor & I were friends for a long time as we played a lot of games together. I hadn’t played for so long that I didn’t really have friends in the scene anymore. So, when Valorant came out, I approached him with an offer to make a team together,” he told Snowball.

“I have known WAT since 2014, we made our first amateur CS:GO team together and he was looking for a team around the same time. I instantly messaged him and told him I was planning to make a return and if he wanted to join us. M4jor then approached Lakers and Spesh to complete the team.”

The formation of the ex-Control roster would go on to dominate Group B of the Order Oceanic Open. They went on to have a nearly flawless run, beating Gvng 13-0 and clean sweeping a best-of-three against Pants Down. 

While they fell short against Team Launch, they had already guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. They did manage to dispatch the old Dire Wolves roster in the quarterfinals too, before falling short to EXO Clan in the semis ⁠— not an uncommon occurrence by any stretch.

“After the first Ignition Series, in which we did pretty well, we were looking for organizations to represent. We had a common link with one of the managers at Avant and told them about us possibly representing them and they instantly got in touch with us,” he said.

The roster would go on to participate in the first Rise of Valour tournament, putting up a formidable run in the Play-In stages while beating Dire Wolves, RipNTear, McTeam and Notick (now Wildcard). They would however, fall short on day 2, being beaten by Kanga Esports and officially ending their run.

With a 3rd place finish in LPL Challenger and 5th-6th spot at the MEX Invitational, the roster had been at the forefront of the ever-changing meta, and Exxyy believes his team had evolved. 

“We weren’t really coordinated as a team at the start. It was basically fast rushes onto a site to catch our opponents off guard. During the Jett-Operator meta, we were shuffling between m4jor, WAT and Lakers until it eventually got stuck on Lakers,” he said. 

“The more recent meta of not playing sentinels on certain maps is quite interesting. I genuinely don’t like playing Cypher, it’s an agent that was thrusted on to me. When m4jor asked Lakers and Spesh to join the team, he told them that I was the best Cypher ever. Until that point, I had never played Cypher and I had to go unlock him and practice really hard to back m4jor’s statement.

This would come as a surprise to many as Exxyy at this point looks extremely comfortable on the agent and is a natural at it. The most recent meta of retakes however, is one Exxyy has strong opinions on.

“I believe it is good to a certain degree, especially against teams that execute onto a site. When you are facing opponents that split and pick, default, gather information methodically and go to sections of the site based on what happens, it gets really hard to retake. As a personal view, retakes work when your team is exceptionally coordinated,” he said.

The introduction of Australian eco-warrior Skye into the agent list opened new avenues and opportunities for teams. It coincided with the period during which the agent Breach also received a number of buffs, moving Oceanic Valorant to a meta which favoured flash-based agents.

Exxyy previously himself has lauded praise on the agent and has an immaculate ranked record on it (currently at nineteen wins and one loss). He also happens to be only the second Oceanic player to pull out the agent during First Strike, and he’s surprised the agent isn’t being picked more.

“Her ability to gather information with her flashes risk-free is pretty strong. Information is king in this game and you can clear so much with just her flashes. I genuinely like the individual plays you can make with the agent,” he said.

Avant’s journey in First Strike

When Riot announced First Strike, Avant went in ready to give it their all and achieve what the players clearly were capable of. Despite their start being marred with seeding controversies where the team was placed 25th, Exxyy said they initially failed to notice.

“We didn’t really notice it at the start but then we got matched with Waterbottle for our first game and that got me thinking. I thought it was a mistake. We went ahead and messaged the admins about it, but they said seeding was done according to the information they had. 

“It was weird considering we were an invited team and we later found out it was done based on the second day results of the Rise of Valour tourney. The day one results, where we finished fourth, didn’t matter to them,” he said.

Avant, who were missing Exxyy on the first day, overcame an opening round loss against Waterbottle by qualifying for the top 16 with wins against SLO, Bliss, and Overt. They would go on to carry this rich vein of form into the next stage, sitting on top of Group C by beating both Gravitas and Funcrew. 

They entered the quarterfinals on a hot-streak and in a best-of-three against Legacy Esports, they were inches away from another semi-final spot. They held formidable leads on both Ascent and Haven, with half-time leads of 9-3 and 8-4. Their opponents had different plans however, putting on a show and mounting an immense comeback under pressure.

“One of the biggest reasons we didn’t close out the maps was because we straight up played out of fear. Our mentality at that point was to stick to what we were doing as we clearly had a commanding lead. The fear of throwing forced us into playing too textbook,” he said.

“As a player you have a certain checklist of things you have to do every round to help your team progress through the round. So, you don’t want to be the player who takes it upon himself to do something different and risk getting caught out.”

As we all know now, Legacy managed to knock out Avant and progress onto the next stages, leaving Exxyy and his team-mates licking their wounds as they aim to reset for next year. 

Legacy themselves were knocked out by favorites EXO Clan, whose dominant run in the tournament saw them crowned regional champions and the best in Oceania. Exxyy was immensely impressed by EXO, labelling the roster as “easily the most committed out of anyone in this region.”

“In my perspective, it’s EXO and Order for an easy top two. Dire Wolves, Legacy, Mindfreak, Wildcard, and us can all beat each other at any given time. There’s a lot of competition between these teams and the difference is pretty minimal on any given day. I personally believe we can come back much stronger, but time will tell.” 

The future

While their performances have been above average, the roster has been struggling with team issues behind the scenes. 

“Spesh quit Valorant around a month ago, so we haven’t really been practicing with him. He used to be our IGL and now he was basically showing up just for officials. It’s really hard to work around a situation such as that, where a player is really rusty and struggling to keep up. 

“We can’t really blame him, as life does get in the way but that definitely made the situation harder for us in terms of what direction we were approaching games,” he said.

Having your in-game shot caller barely playing the game meant Avant had to evolve towards a different path if they were to progress in First Strike. 

“Our current IGL is WAT and it’s been a learning experience for him. He struggles to focus on his own game while calling which is a problem synonymous with IGL’ing. Again, it is not a fault of his, but we are working as well as we can with our current circumstances and sometimes that gets tough.”

Despite the rough situation they find themselves in, Exxyy is upbeat about his roster’s future and their past performances. 

“We are happy that we made the top eight, considering our past few performances and how people viewed us as a top-tier team. Top four was really within our reach and on another day, it would have happened,” he said.

“From this point on, we can only get stronger. Imagine us with a stable fifth, we can only improve from here. We are currently trialling for someone to replace Spesh and we will move ahead from there.”

With professional Oceanic Valorant pretty much coming to an end for the rollercoaster of a year 2020 has been, it will be interesting to see how Exxyy and his current roster fare. A team as talented as them have the self-belief to match and it looks like 2021 is the year where they could possibly go the proverbial distance.

PhotographySupplied
ProducerJosh Swift
Sherry Philips
A European soccer aficionado, Sherry "hjper" Philips is trying to reignite his love for writing for the umpteenth time. He dipped his feet in the CS:GO scene for over 7 years, but now mainly focuses on Valorant and the stories that come with it.