When Riot released the beta for Valorant, professional and casual gamers were immediately drawn to the tactical first-person shooter. Esports organizations began building rosters of Fortnite, CS: GO, and Overwatch professionals to dominate the new title. In addition to T1 picking up star-studded player talent, they also managed to acquire former Counter-Strike player and now coach, Daniel "fRoD" Montaner. ESTNN got the chance to sit down with fRoD and talk about everything from choosing Valorant as his next step to the mindset of training a top team in a new game.
From CS: Go to Valorant
What made you want to coach professional Valorant and why was T1 an attractive option for you?
"I was already coaching for a little over a year and a half in the Pro League in Counter-Strike and Braxton "Brax" Pierce was one of my players. I’ve known him for over 10 years, the same with Keven "AZK" Larivière. So when Won '"Wawa" Joon Choi, the GM, approached me to see if I wanted to join the project when I was just getting my foot in the door with Valorant as a whole, I jumped at the opportunity knowing that Brax and Kevin are there, Wawa is a really good guy and will help me build the team not just in my vision but also what T1’s vision is. For me, the question was more if I wanted to play in Valorant or coach in Valorant but knowing my mindset and grind was already in coaching I just transitioned to it a few months after Brax got in. I had this mindset and decided to stick with it."
Has that made training a little easier having worked with them for so long?
"It’s been really good, we’ve all been hard workers in the past so we aren’t strangers to that. The big thing is that this is a new game. There is a certain element of adding outside of practice play hours which is hard to make mandatory but is something we want to embody. As the game evolves, new agents and new maps come out we have to be aware of everything going on. Meta changes, agent changes, update patches, so many changes in Valorant. For us, the one thing that I say is that we are in our box and practice and achieve a goal. Outside of practice, we have to fine-tune ourselves individually to make sure we are the best individual coming into practice. From there on out we can try and maximize the team potential but without the individuals going out and maximizing what they can and practice for practice it's hard as a coach I try to lead by example and that's why I’m playing every day and streaming 3-4 hours before practice, use it as a warm-up to the warmup. Trying to be the sixth man for the guys, not on their level, but a coach in the sports sense of being a previous player and practicing and shooting hoops with the players."
Was there a big mentality switch getting CS: GO stars to play Valorant competitively?
"I would say that given the fact that we were coming into this trying to recruit talented players we had to keep our eyes out there. There is value in someone like me who coaches and plays the game as well and then Wawa who plays too. We have a lot of eyes on the floor to see who is out there and talent. I think we did a good job of scouting out players who are currently good like Austin "crashies" Roberts then picking someone from CS like food and giving him a tryout to see how he was at the game with the team and we committed to him and empowered him to become a better and stronger player. When ska was the final piece, even though we were talking to him and working on that for a little bit he came through in the end and confirmed he wanted to join. We all came from a strong work ethic in CS and previous teams, so for us, it's about seeing how much we can crank it up and spend time learning and improving on a day to day basis. It’s a constantly evolving game and it’s brand new so we have to stay on top of it."
A Fresh Competitive Scene
The T1 x Nerd Street Valorant Invitational was the first time the team played under the T1 name. What’s been your secret to keeping momentum and motivating the team?
"We are playing the game a lot and we have a lot of boots on the ground. Guys like myself and Victor "food" Wong that are playing a lot outside of practice so there's always new ideas that come into play. We pay attention and read a lot whether it be online -- Reddit or Twitter -- so we are always aware of changes. For example, if a developer said that Sage was going to be nerfed again, this is where I come in. The time we spend outside of the server in practice talking about ideas or how a new agent being introduced will affect the game. You know, if this new agent is an anchor-type, then it will replace other anchor type agents whether that be Cypher, Sage, or Sova. As long as we are having the right conversations regardless of if I’m right or wrong, at least the team is thinking. We are anticipating what meta changes may come because at the end of the day we’re practicing this week but we know that tournaments are happening the next week or week after. A new agent could come next week we don’t know yet, but if it does we have to be ready for it. For us, it’s about staying ahead of the curve and because we practice a lot we can always fit testing and tweaking into practice. Other than that, having comradery in the team allows us to criticize and critique each other while keeping good vibes."
Being prepared for the teams was something that AZK brought up in our interview. Unfortunately, T1 lost to Homeless but what did you guys learn from playing the unknown team?
"Even if they were unknown to some people, for us they were known because guys like Harrison "Psalm" Chang are competing in both Fortnite and Val. Rory "dephh" Jackson and Leonardo "Laski" Arroyo have been playing in Valorant since beta. What caught us off guard is how well they played and how much they adapted against us. When we started getting a good feel and figuring out what we could use against them, they started switching it up. They showed that they had veteran players and veteran minds on their team. Them playing fearlessly and us having an off day led to something that was not a pleasant ending for us. Unfortunately, the tournament was single-elimination, so if you lose against one team you are out. It is what it is and you learn from it. We lost on Friday so Saturday was not a day off because we didn’t earn that day off. We made sure everyone was watching all the matches and I did a VOD review. I wrote a novel basically going through bit by bit criticizing every single round to try and improve on it. On Sunday, it was back to watching the games and practicing and streaming a lot. Now, we’ve cranked up the practice schedule to be more efficient and to add in more practice time. Obviously, some people are upset but we want everyone to know that no one is more upset than us as a squad. We let a lot of people down by that performance so we want to do a better job next time."
Going forward, what is your training mentality like?
"We want to be a really dominant team and we want to achieve greatness, that's our goal. How we get there is going to be a difficult path and it's all about how we get there. No one can be perfect but we want to strive towards perfection. It's all about being hardworking and being critical to each other. The saying goes, a wise man knows that he knows nothing. You have to be wise and be a learner all the time. If you want to be the best, you have to learn from other players, learn new techniques, watch streams, be a student, a lot goes into it. We all as a squad just need to do a little more and hold each other accountable to achieve that level of greatness across the board."
Are there any teams you learned a lot from during the PaxArena Valorant Invitational?
"Yes and no, every team has their own special trades. Good players on good teams always have good ideas and you can pick up things. TSM you can pick up sniping skills and aggressive plays and then with Cloud9 you have Tyson "TenZ" Ngo on Jett. We are always picking up little things but at the end of the day, I want to create our own identity and forge our own path. Even though we may take ideas, I want them to be made our own and not anticipate anything and play our game. Setting the tone is something we did a poor job of against Homeless but we were trying. We were very aggressive and we tried to push them. They just made a lot of good plays and we made some poor decisions on some rounds that cost us but we are just trying to not be static."
What are your thoughts on the current map design and pool?
"I like all the maps. My own gripe is that there aren't enough. If you think about it, the grand finals are a BO5 but there are 4 maps. In some games, we have a BO3 with 4 maps, but if each team gets one ban, there are only two maps left. I like all the maps. I think they feel great but the game just needs more maps. We don’t have the ability to really not like a map, we have to be good on all maps. They will have more of them, we just need them to come out and everything will be so much better. In a BO5 final, seeing the same maps feels weird to watch. Teams have best maps and worst maps and that builds storylines."
The Future of Valorant Esports
What are your thoughts on the current structure of the Ignition Series Tournaments?
"I think it’s really good, I think it's nice that other TOs and organizations are hosting these events. Organically it is happening which is great and then Riot is assisting. I can only hope they continue to do stuff like this in the future and have more of these types of tournaments. It's really hard for an esport to grow without the assistance of the developer and it's comforting to know that the dev has the esports scene in mind from Day 0."
"My opinion on some of these Ignition Series events is that there could be some more uniformity in the tournaments. When it comes to scheduling or bracket structure, the ones that we played longer in were double elimination best of 3 tournaments. The single-elimination is fine, kind of sucks but there are always growing pains so I just hope they learn and adapt. People are very critical of Val but they are doing a great job with what’s available. There aren’t any spectator tools and only two slots in the match, it’s difficult to be a coach right now. We don’t get to watch our teams play live all the time there is a lot of visualization and with two-minute delays, it's very difficult. We manage and we work hard to do a better job but I think it's going great."
"I'm curious to see how it's going to look when Riot Games steps up and provides the structure, the tournaments, the LANs, even the prize pool. The prize money will get crazy once Riot gets more involved and the game starts growing. I’m just fortunate in that I haven't really seen many other games that come out with this many tournaments and this type of structure. It’s only been 2 months since the game came out and the game was very competitive at the beta. T1 picked me up as a coach during the beta and teams have been going all-in on this. I like the fact that the developer is doing what they can to match it. I’m really anxious to see what they have in store for the future."
The future of T1 Valorant is bright. The team has already seen success at their debut tournament, and have the foundation necessary to achieve greatness. FRoD's capability to push his players and encourage them to succeed individually, as well as a group, speaks volumes. T1 does not have any tournaments scheduled yet but expect them to show up ready to sweep the competition.