Damian ‘daps’ Steele has had a rough run of it in esports, and the Counter-Strike veteran is now plying his trade in Valorant. Making the VCT Masters in Iceland would be a huge crowning achievement; one that solidifies his place as one of NA’s best.
When daps joined the press room after NRG’s VCT Stage 2 Challengers Finals win against XSET, there was one word to really describe the feeling: relief.
The cordial leader was elated that his squad finally took down seemingly their Valorant kryptonite, who had the upper hand in their last two outings. The previous loss knocked them out of VCT Stage 2 Challengers 1, denying them instant qualification to the Finals.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, right?
“We should have beaten them in the last series but we always lose pistols to them somehow. They have some nerdy ass sh*t,” he told Dexerto.
“It’s definitely a really good feeling to get over a hump of not beating a team — just any team you don’t beat for a while, it shows improvement if you finally beat them. I think we’ve improved a lot over the last two weeks.”
Daps himself led by example, dropping 31 frags in the first map, Ascent. It was a close 15-13 affair, but his heroics on Killjoy holding down the fort set up the clean sweep. A swift 13-6 on Bind locked it away.
The secret sauce? A bit of action with old CS ally turned TSM rival Yassine ‘Subroza’ Taoufik — even if he’s ruining his sleep schedule a bit for it.
“I’m in a good state right now.
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“I haven’t been getting the best of sleep but I kind of feel more confident in my play as an individual. It’s not anything specific I’ve done, I guess I can attribute it to playing PUGs with Subroza until 6am a lot — I guess that’s helped!”
Building a new empire in Valorant
If there is one thing you can summarize daps’ Counter-Strike career with, you can’t go past his ability to find talent. He had a cunning eye, scouting out the likes of NAF, Brehze, CeRq. In Valorant, it’s much the same, although it’s a lot harder.
“We definitely based [recruitment] more on individual skill. I didn’t really know how Tex was before we tried him out. His comms are decent, but there’s a lot he could work on. Same with most people on the team,” he said.
“We went through a lot of players, and you know, sometimes it’s hard because it’s early in a game. You don’t really know who’s good yet, but you can base it off people’s communication and their overall awareness.”
NRG’s Valorant roster has hardly had the stability daps would have liked, but it’s no different to his time in CS:GO. After shuffling through dozens of players, “even more than people know about,” this core of Sam ‘s0m’ Oh and Daniel ‘eeiu’ Vucenovic has proven to be a solid one for the mastermind to build around.
The biggest issues the squad is having are with their communication — that one skill daps prioritizes over any other. Getting that down pat with Bradley ‘ANDROID’ Fodor and Ian ‘tex’ Botsch has come with its challenges, and the same goes for the other two young stars.
“You’d be surprised when I tell you eeiu actually has the second-best communication on the team, and he was an Advanced player in CS:GO. This guy didn’t even play MDL or anything, and he actually communicates a lot, micro-manages people at times.
“If you ask any IGL though, changing someone’s communication and making it better is probably one of the hardest things to do. It takes a year for someone’s comms to get better, so you have to harp on about it and be annoying so they keep on focusing on it.”
All roads lead to Iceland
Obviously, there’s one big thing looming over the head of NRG and daps, no matter how ready they are: the VCT Stage 2 Masters LAN in Iceland. That’s why they’re competing in the Challengers Final.
By making it through Day 1 with the win over XSET, they are now just three BO3s away from booking their ticket. Their path to success doesn’t rely on gimmicky tricks — daps has stripped back the game as much as possible to give his emerging team some breathing room.
“One thing we struggle with is cutting duelists and switching to Viper because most of our players are duelist centric. It’s harder for our team to throw in a Skye-Viper comp [one of the new Valorant metas] in the middle of a tournament and have it work.”
“That’s something we have to visit after this tournament when we have a month break to implement something cooler. Right now, we’re doing the basics.”
It’s also important to note that while daps has now been signed for six months, he still feels like he’s learning the game. He wasn’t like the Ghost Gaming CS:GO squad who basically got picked up by TSM as soon as Valorant launched.
Luckily, he’s had some familiar faces by his side like former Gen.G teammate s0m. Having someone reliable by your side — someone you’ve mentored up through the ranks into the top flight — has given daps just that little bit more to fight for.
“What happened with Gen.G in CS:GO was unfortunate because I wanted to do things with the Gen.G team that not necessarily everyone agreed with, but s0m did. When things fell apart he ended up coming with me,” he explained.
“It’s been a process to learn Valorant, because there’s been players who switched earlier than we did, and you’re always playing catch-up. Him and I trying to deal with learning the game and switching rosters has been a struggle, but we’re getting there, together.”
Daps was pretty blunt though when I asked about how NRG see themselves when lined up against Sentinels, 100 Thieves, Envy — the ilk that have dominated the Valorant scene as of late.
He is squashing the critics. In this Challengers Final, there’s an even playing field. Any team can beat each other, and NRG are hopeful they land on top in that shuffle.
“I’ll be honest, people may not rank us high because we don’t really do super gimmicky cool sh*t, but we’ve beaten most of the teams. We’ve beaten Sentinels and 100 Thieves at other times. We’ve beaten all of these teams in scrims before.”
“Pretty much anyone here right now can make it. I’m not going to say we are going to make it straight-up, but if we continue to play well, we can.”
NRG next play Cloud9 Blue in the VCT Stage 2 Challengers NA Finals on April 30.