After Luminosity Gaming took a quick 2-0 lead in the best of five finals for Nerd Street Gamers’ Valorant Winter Championship, the series came back to 2-2. Game 5 came down to the wire with LG taking the final map 13-10. For Diondre “YaBoiDre” Bond and the rest of the LG roster, fighting back from the brink of elimination characterized their tournament, and for YaBoiDre, his Valorant career.
A brutal grind of a tournament saw Luminosity Gaming scrape by opponent after opponent before facing off against Sentinels in the finals. Sentinels, led by former Overwatch League MVP Jay “sinatraa” Won, were both the fan favorites and the popular prediction to win.
While Sentinels had largely cruised into the finals, LG had not. Following their opening match loss, every series LG played lasted the full three games.
LG didn’t boast nearly the same pedigree, either. The team was playing with two stand-ins on their roster. For YaBoiDre and Kaleb “Moose” Jayne, this tournament was a proving ground. In YaBoiDre’s case, it was his second chance to represent a major org after a brief stint with 100 Thieves over the summer.
“After 100 Thieves decided to cut us, I didn’t know what to do,” YaBoiDre said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is really s—ty, I might just not want to play this game anymore.’ It felt like my reputation was ruined after that, a lot of the fans hated me for some reason.”
Coming out of the PUBG world, YaBoiDrei and the three other squad members who were picked up — and subsequently dropped — by 100 Thieves didn’t have the same pedigree as a lot of other players flocking to VALORANT. Most players came from the CS:GO competitive scene, including the fifth member of that 100 Thieves team, renowned CS veteran Spencer “Hiko” Martin.
In less than two months, after four tournaments without a finish on the podium, the four were cut to make room for a new roster eventually consisting of Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella, Joshua “steel” Nissan, Peter “Asuna” Mazuryk and Quan “dicey” Tran. 100 Thieves became three old school CS:GO pros and two young standouts in Asuna and Dicey.
“I definitely think there is some bias towards CS players,” YaBoiDre said. “I don’t think there’s nearly as much as there was in the beginning though. In the beginning, everyone thought only CS players were going to be able to compete as pros. There’s still a little bit of bias, but a lot of the top teams, Sentinels, TSM, 100 Thieves, they’re mostly CS players, so the bias isn’t for nothing.”
In a new esport, many of the early storylines revolve around what games and accomplishments players achieved before Valorant. Sentinel’s sinatraa was the star of the OWL. TSM’s Wardell was an accomplished CS:GO player. Team Ninja was, of course, several Fortnite players.
With VALORANT’s similarities to CS:GO, the jump a former PUBG pro has to make to be great at Valorant is a bit larger than the jump a CS:GO player made, but the gap has started to close over the past several months.
“I definitely think I am way better now than I was before, and I definitely can handle any player in the game right now,” YaBoiDre said, feeling rightfully confident a few days after beating some of the best teams in the game at the Winter Championship. “When I first started, I wasn’t on that level yet. I’m pretty excited for the future, I want to iron out my mistakes and I’ll be way better than I am right now.”
YaBoiDre showed just how good he is during the Winter Championship finals. After switching to Raze for Game 2, YaBoiDre finished with a positive K/D in three of the final four games. In the deciding Game 5, he led LG with 20 kills.
As for the future, YaBoiDre has a bright one. The Valorant Champions Tour, with the first stage set to be produced and operated by Nerd Street Gamers, is the next major series of events. It will be a true gauntlet to determine the best team for the first time in VALORANT esports. Since he joined LG as a substitute, YaBoiDre has excelled in two Nerd Street tournaments, with LG finishing third in the Complexity x NSG Invitational prior to the Winter Championship. While his future team is currently undecided, and LG declined to comment when asked if this young standout would get an official contract, his recent success with LG won’t keep him a free agent long.
Image credit: Riot Games