After the unfortunate circumstances that have led to the premature end of #Brenlin, Paper Rex remain the only Southeast Asian representative in the upcoming VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT) 2021: Stage 3 Masters - Berlin.
Despite losing to Bren Esports 3-0 in the grand finals of the VCT 2021 SEA Stage 3 Challenger Playoffs, Paper Rex still successfully qualified for Berlin. The team is currently guaranteed a minimum of 225 Circuit Points in the SEA region, and a top 12 finish in the upcoming Masters will virtually seal Paper Rex’s qualification to VALORANT Champions 2021, a two-week long event which will feature the world’s 16 best VALORANT teams.
Paper Rex’s VALORANT team consists of Indonesian players Aaron “mindfreak” Leonhart, Jason “f0rsakeN” Susanto, Malaysian player Khalish “d4v41” Rusyaidee, Singaporean players Benedict “Benkai” Tan, Zhan Teng “shiba” Toh, as well as French coach Alexandre “Alecks” Salle. These names will be very familiar to people who watch (or used to watch) the competitive Counter-Strike: Global Strike scene in Southeast Asia: they were all former CS:GO competitive players.
Yahoo Esports Southeast Asia recently sat down with coach Alecks and in-game captain Benkai in order to talk about Paper Rex’s qualification for the upcoming Masters, their expectations in the Masters, and the strength of the region of Southeast Asia.
Paper Rex’s VALORANT roster started competing in VALORANT back in February after previously competing in CS:GO. Can you tell us about how the team adjusted to VALORANT from CS:GO? How long did the transition period take and what were some difficulties the team encountered during that transition?
Alecks: We switched from CS:GO like you said in February. I mean it’s quite difficult even though it’s a First Person Shooter (FPS) and it shares a bit of similarities with CS:GO. It’s a totally new game for most of us. There are things we have to relearn, and [there are] things we have to unlearn.
We were also thrown in the deep end, like within two weeks of switching, we were already playing tournaments, and strangely we managed to win our first one almost immediately. So, it gave us a lot of confidence. But after that, we started to hit all the difficult road bumps.
We started to argue with each other. We tried to go different directions in the ways we practised, and the ways we are learning. Everyone learns at a different pace, right?
Sometimes it’s difficult for people who are learning faster to accept that people are a little bit slow. We had to learn to be better teammates with regards to each other. I think the total adjustment period took us the better part of three months to get us to a decent level for the regional level where we are at now, [and it took] even longer for us to compete and win a tournament regionally.
Benkai: When we switched over to VALORANT from CS:GO in February, there was a very steep learning curve that we realised once we started practising with other teams.
There was a lot of understanding [of the game] which we had to catch up with, such as how the game should be played, and a lot of it — we couldn’t find them practising with Southeast Asian teams, so we looked forward to playing against the best at that time which was Korea, the region that was accessible to us.
And we took them as a stepping stone to bring our game up against the Southeast Asians, and the transition period ended up being longer than we thought it would be because we had to really work a lot harder than we did in CS:GO.
In CS:GO, we basically had a formula for how practices should go about, which had to be changed drastically for VALORANT because it was a completely different ballgame. Once we got a grip of how our VALORANT should be played, I think we started seeing the results.
How does it feel knowing that you will be in Germany to compete in one of the biggest VALORANT tournaments thus far?
Alecks: We are really happy that we can just travel out of the country because we have been in a lockdown for the better part of two years, I think?
Also, it’s our first big major tournament in VALORANT and we are looking forward to competing with the best in the world. We have done this before in CS:GO: we have travelled to various tournaments, and it’s always been a very, very fun experience.
I really enjoy just being able to play in a LAN environment, and this would be our first LAN as a team together in VALORANT.
Also, I haven’t seen some of my teammates before. I haven’t seen f0rsakeN... I haven’t seen Jason before. So, it’s good to finally meet him, and for all of us to be practising in the same room will be a very nice plus.
Benkai: I think for the entire team — we are just excited to get out of our countries because most of us have been stuck in quarantine or weren’t able to fly for the better part of two years.
So, for me personally, that was what I was looking forward to: mainly getting out of the country. But I’m also excited to see my other teammates which I haven’t seen in a while.
We have one Malaysian whom I’ve seen before and two Indonesians whom I’ve not seen before. I am looking forward to seeing them because the atmosphere in the team when we practise and stuff is very light and enjoyable, so I can only imagine how well we will bond together in real life when we actually get to meet.
I think that’s one of the main points that I am looking forward to when I get to Berlin.
How will you be preparing for Masters Berlin? Will you be treating it just like any other tournament you play in or are there specific preparations you will be making just for this tournament?
Alecks: To be honest, the preparations haven’t been going very well because there are a lot of visa issues we are running into. So, everyone’s actually out and about.
We can’t actually practise because we have to get our vaccines done, and there is a lot of stuff to print. We have to coordinate within three different countries but aside from that, I think we are going to go there, and when we finally reach there, we can finally practise with the European teams, American teams, and I think it will be a very good experience.
We are going to go there and treat it as more like a learning trip with regards to practice, but of course I’m going to do a lot of preparations on the other teams. I am going to watch how they play, and try to come up with a game plan that we all agree on.
And yeah, hopefully we can come up with something that’s going to help us win.
Benkai: For this VCT, we are pretty much treating it like any other tournament because I don’t think having the pressure of “this is the biggest VALORANT tournament yet” is going to be healthy for the team.
As the in-game leader, I am also in charge of preparing everyone, and keeping their mental states in check.
I feel like this is going to be one of my objectives when we actually get there, and that is to actually put them in a mental state where they think that this is just any other tournament which we had played before.
Are there any teams or players in particular that you are looking forward to facing in Masters Berlin?
Alecks: I am a coach, so I just want to watch but for my boys, I think they want to play against whoever they think is the best, like Sentinels, I think they want to try and see what the differences are.
They want to play against the European teams Gambit Esports and Acend. They want to try and play against all the top Jett players in the world, just to see whether they can match up [against them].
I want to play against everyone so that we can get as much experience as we can. But for them, I think they have specific targets. Not me though.
Benkai: The most obvious answer would be Sentinels because they are the best in the world right now, and these are the guys that the people in my team idolise because they have the biggest Twitch livestreams.
So, when we see them play, we are just star struck by how good they are. It’s only a dream for some people to be able to play against them. [There are also] players like TenZ, and some Europeans like cNed; they are known as the best Duelist players in the world.
Obviously, my teammates and I would like to play against them.
How do you think Southeast Asia as a whole stacks up against other regions in VALORANT?
Alecks: I guess since we can only compare with the Korean region — I think aside from the top Korean teams, we are close in level.
Obviously, we haven’t managed to look at how we stand against the Europeans, the Americans, and the rest of the world but X10 Esports have gone to Iceland and I think they did a decent job.
They beat the Japanese, they came close against the Brazilian team. So, just judging by that, we are not that far off, I think.
Benkai: As a region, Southeast Asia in my opinion, still has a lot to learn. It’s very evident when we practise against the Koreans, and maybe not the Japanese because honestly speaking, the Japanese are on the same level as Southeast Asia, if not a bit lower.
But in terms of comparing people in the region, Southeast Asia is still behind Korea, and I probably don’t think that we are ready at all for the rest of the world.
It’s still a learning process, and I feel like with Riot Games giving us more slots to these events, it will help us grow as a whole.
Do you have a specific goal in mind for Masters Berlin or are you coming into the tournament with the mindset of just testing your strength against international competition?
Alecks: We have been to CS:GO tournaments overseas before, and we never really managed to do well there, like we would usually crash out in the group stage.
So, this tournament is a fresh start, and I hope we can go a little bit further. I hope that we can come out of the group stage and finish in the top eight. It’s going to be a tall task but that’s the goal.
Benkai: For me personally, I would like to get out of the group stage. I think that will be a pretty good achievement in itself.
I honestly don’t expect us to go that far like 3rd or 4th place. I was expecting more of a 5 - 8th place minimum, and I’ll be satisfied with a 9th -12th finish.
I do want to get there just to have the experience of having my team playing against the best in the world.
I think it will be pretty encouraging for the team to see that we can play against the rest, and all we have to do is just put in the effort that’s required after the tournament, and we shouldn’t get complacent after just getting a lacklustre result.
Do you think Singapore has enough talented FPS players to be able to compete meaningfully against other players or teams in the world?
Alecks: Of course. Our only problem in Singapore is the National Service (NS) because I think it’s two years of their prime.
So, it’s a bit difficult for them to overcome sometimes, and then after that they have to step into university, whereas if you live in Europe, and you don’t have to do NS, you can just keep practising.
That’s one reason maybe why we don’t stand out as much for any games, let alone FPS. I mean if anything, we have proven that in CS:GO. Singaporean teams had travelled to Europe to play, and now we have done it in VALORANT. So yeah, I think Singapore has quite a lot of talent.
Benkai: Right now in my honest opinion, no because if we did, we would have had more people already doing it. As you can see, even though Paper Rex did qualify for Berlin, there are only two Singaporeans in the team. Alex, our coach, is French...
In terms of other FPS players, I don’t think Singapore has nearly enough of them, and basically it’s just because a lot of them are immature in their mentality when it comes to taking this as a profession.
A lot of them, most of the time, get complacent after they find different ways of having success in Singapore as a FPS talent, as compared to what my teammates and I are doing.
In terms of other FPS games, I am not really sure. I know Rainbow Six Siege is doing decently well in Singapore, but in terms of VALORANT and CS:GO, I don’t think the players right now have the right mentality to really make it.
I can’t say I can blame them because in Singapore, having this as a job is very taboo. Not a lot of parents will agree, and support their children in having this as a job. I can’t say I can blame them either.