POTM: Scream | Moving Past the One Tap

February 20 2021

Moving Past the One Tap

The headshot is a damn powerful symbol

The headshot has the power to carry meaning on its own. It needs no help from context for any heavy lifting. Even well outside the world of the FPS people understand what it means within the game’s setting, the precision and skill that it conveys.

Obviously, real world violence plays a role here but the term has been so gamified that most people - even those unfamiliar with games—usually detach the word from real life. It’s so detached at this point that describing a real life shooting with the term would sound deranged. It would be making a game of something far too serious.

That’s because, for years now, the FPS world worked the term into the cultural lexicon as the esports version of the slam dunk. Like the slam dunk, it’s a symbol that immediately conveys so many things that describing them almost takes away the mystique. Like a dunk, you know what the headshot means so well that you’ve likely got sounds, quotes, moments, and memes attached to it.

The headshot is a damn powerful symbol. Especially for Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom, Team Liquid’s star Valorant player.

“When I was younger I definitely was more into headshots. It was like an obsession for me.”

The word “obsession” doesn’t quite carry the full weight of ScreaM’s focus on aim during his rise in CS. In 2012, the first year where HLTV recorded his stats, 69.1% of the shots ScreaM hit were headshots. In 2013, the year that his career took off, he had upped that to 73.5%. At international LAN tournaments, that number went up to 74.8% - .547 headshots per round.

These numbers were unprecedented then and now. Hiko, 2nd highest in headshot rating in 2013, had .468 per round on 58.1 percent. That level of precision was part of what got ScreaM to 7th on HLTV’s player rankings in 2013—when he was only 19 years old.

“It’s also a little bit my personality, you know? I like when things are perfect.”

ScreaM’s raw ability to remove a skull from its shoulders inside the server came from constant aim practice. You can see as much just by searching YouTube, where his streamed practice sessions get over 100,000 views. In the video below, he pings the white dots on screens with individual taps of the rifle while casually talking to w0xic. On aim maps where he’s fully focused it’s often even more impressive.

“Most of the time, for me the game was a lot about aiming. It was like 90% aiming for me. You just get better at aiming and that’s it, you’re doing your job, you know? [...] I was totally focused on aiming, my practice was all about this. My warmups, my everything - I was trying to get better at this a lot.”

ScreaM poured that focus into the reticle in no small part because of his love for the perfect. Evident from everything he does, he is a person who likes to line things up as right as he can. He comes to events well-kept, looking sharp even during that stretch of adolescence where we’re normally messy and unconcerned. With English, he chafes more at not knowing the right word, quickly asking for the exact, precise term to complete the sentence.

When I find that right word, he’s instantly excited, swaps it right in place of the less precise word, then goes on to use it. Excitement aside, I get the feeling he’d rather be speaking French where he’s probably as precise as he wants to be.

In the world of the FPS, no sign or symbol radiates “perfection” like the headshot. Few things in all of esports match up to it. It’s one of the toughest, lowest-percentage shots and it’s nearly always the most damaging one.

In the language of the FPS—and even of esports—the headshot is the word for perfection.

So what was the young Belgian perfectionist who had become known for his headshots supposed to do? He had to master the one tap. Everyone did, indeed, talk about his one taps and there was a wider image there to maintain.

More than just image, there was symbol.

There was the language of the game and the sense that aim communicated something almost religious within. This is the way CS is supposed to play, to feel.

“In the end, I didn’t do that [one tapping] for that [image]. I did this because that’s how I enjoyed playing this game. It’s gonna be weird to say, but even though I knew I was gonna be better in another play style, I didn’t enjoy it as much as my own style. It was not me.”

When the symbols tell lies

Unfortunately, the feeling isn’t always the truth.

One tapping is not the way the FPS is supposed to be played. The headshot is not the ‘more perfect’. The more perfect was, is, will always be the consistent winning option. In Counter Strike, it matters every bit as much to control the spray of the rifle to let the bullets bleed from one target to the next as it does to finish a kill in a cursor’s touch. It matters just as much to hit the perfect utility angle, to make a successful entry, to gather information, to be complete.

ScreaM always knew this. For his own part, even in his early career he pushed himself to be multi-dimensional.

"I didn't play my best this year, I felt really inconsistent. I'm not really proud of myself,” he wrote in an interview with HLTV in 2013, about his 7th place ranking, “I have to step up this year and I will do everything for that. I didn't try to improve myself enough, I only played a lot of deathmatch for my skill, but that isn't enough and I have to do more to be more helpful.”

It wasn’t that ScreaM was complacent or clouded in his CS days either. He always had a few good elements to his play. Writing for HLTV’s 2013 player rankings, Petar Milovanovic noted that ScreaM was one of the game’s best clutchers, winning more 1v1 clutches and landing top 3 in 1v2 clutches.

Though ScreaM was working on multiple facets of the game, the aiming still came first for him in those early days. It was still a crucial part of his early rise, a crucial part of his clutches, and most importantly, a crucial symbol of raw FPS skill. Like countless promising players in countless sports, ScreaM had to learn the hard way that these symbols will lie to you.

These symbols take on so much meaning that some of it is bound to be false and some of it is simply much more situational than observers and even players realize. In the FGC and the Smash community you see something similar with 0-to-deaths.

In fighting games the 0-to-death is just about the most perfect thing you can do—dispatching the opponent off one opening. The problem is, many 0-to-deaths aren’t all together that practical. Sometimes they rely on so many tight inputs that it falls apart too easily under pressure. Other times they rely on the opponent missing a defensive cue or falling for a slow, unsafe opening hit that most top level players can avoid and punish.

Sure, the 0-to-death looks sexy and it’ll get the crowd behind you, but that limited practice time might’ve been better spent on more practical combos, techniques, and situations.

Many players get intoxicated with these symbols and the allure only deepens when you’ve got numbers and percentages to put next to it. In NBA basketball, we see this all the time with blocks.

Similarly flashy, similarly perfect, a lot of blocks garner a lot of attention but it’s not the statistic that makes for a defensive player of the year. Those statistics are more often rebounds, and the plus/minus. More important than all that are things you have to eye test, like play calling, seeing through feints and pick and rolls, and holding firm at the 3 point line and the rim.

While high block players like Hassan Whiteside or Myles Turner are often still great defenders, there are holes in their defense that the block numbers can hide. Similarly, ScreaM was a great fragger and overall strong player, he just had holes in his game.

Come 2016, ScreaM would better understand where those holes in his gameplay were and how to fill them. 2014 and 2015 saw a dip in performance for the superstar, who just couldn’t find the big wins on his new teams. At times, roster shuffles had even left teamless, despite his insane ability to frag.

2016 was the revival year where he joined G2 and rejoined his old teammate Shox to form what would be called the deadly duo. “That’s when I was the best in CS, I think. Even though my aim was not the best, I felt the best at that time. I was less focused on aiming at that time, you know?”

For ScreaM, it wasn’t just a matter of headshotting less or stepping away from the aim maps. It was also a matter of learning the game, finding the positions he excelled at, and a team that trusted him to play those positions.

“In the beginning of my career [...], I was a little bit more passive as well because obviously I didn’t know a lot about competitive. I had to learn so, they put me [as] like an anchor, a little bit of a lurker. Then it changed a little bit from time to time and I was more into the attacker group. That’s where I felt the best, for sure man. When I’m into the action but not first. Just being able to have freedom, you know? Freedom to do moves when I wanna do them.”

“I was more having a good vision of the game because I had good responsibilities in the team. When you give someone these positions to rotate and stuff like this, it’s a big responsibility. I took it and I enjoyed it.”

While not necessarily as successful as his 2013 team VeryGames, that 2016 G2 lineup would put in work, much of which came from the deadly duo. ScreaM in particular looked revitalized and shot back into the top 10 at 9th. He still held the best headshot percentage but even more importantly, his kills, average damage per round (ADR), and KAST all improved.

By 2016, ScreaM knew that all the holes that headshots hid and he patched a lot of them up. But there is a gap between knowing and feeling. A gap that is very hard to bridge.

The space between knowing and feeling

“If you have to spray down the enemy, then you have to do it. You can’t miss these occasions because of course, when you play like this [focusing on headshots] you’re gonna fail a lot. The gap of failure you have is really small compared to someone who’s gonna play normal.”

This is now 2021 ScreaM speaking. He’s all the more clear-headed and after playing professional level CS for over a decade, he knows what a consistent approach to an FPS looks like. He knows that every one tap carries risk and the headshot machine is a fine-tuned one, susceptible to breaking down.

“When you’re on fire it’s gonna be the best game style, but when you’re not on fire, when you’re not gonna hit these shots... Then you’re gonna lose some rounds for your team. That’s where I learned a lot of things as well.”

Despite all his experience and knowledge, ScreaM fell into a rut after leaving G2. The rut came from that gap between knowing and feeling. He knew the way the game ought to be played but the feeling, the love for that kind of game, wasn’t there.

“Even though I could be even more efficient, it was not me. So I didn’t enjoy the game so much In CS, that was a really big thing. I couldn’t enjoy the game without playing in the way I wanted to play.”

“For me it’s a very big difference, man. I know I have been the best when I have the most pleasure in playing the game. I was very confident in myself and I knew my teammates were really confident in me as well.”

Towards the end of his tenure in CS, ScreaM struggled to find his place. He not only found trouble in playing the game he wanted to play but also in finding a team that put him in his best positions. It’s not only an observation he’s made to me and several interviewers, but one that famous CS analysts like Thorin have noted as well. ScreaM has had his moments shoehorned into supportive styles that simply don’t fit for someone who comes to life in duels and aim battles.

“There have been some big leaders in CS who could use their players well, but not many I think. Not many. It’s difficult, you know?” ScreaM stresses, sympathetic to most struggles in the FPS world after a decade of ups and downs. “It’s difficult to use everybody perfectly. Some people are always gonna have to sacrifice a little bit. ”

Anyone who has earnestly watched Team Liquid—really, any top CS team—knows that this is one of the principal problems of CS. Most big orgs can find 5 aim gods. Many can find two aim gods who can lurk and enty, an in-game leader, a support, and a versatile player. Few can find all that and then find a way to plug them together so that they consistently beat every top team trying to do the same.

By 2020, ScreaM was on the frontlines of those team struggles until he fell out entirely. That year, he couldn’t find a strong team and mostly pivoted to streaming. In his interview on TILTS, he notes that by the end he didn’t feel he was a CS pro moving to Valorant, moreso just another player starting in a new game.

That sense of novelty was not bad—far from it. The novelty might have been the thing to finally bridge the gap between knowing and feeling.

New game, new life

Did Valorant help you get a fresh eye on your own game as an FPS player?

“For sure! For sure, Bro. I know that if I go back to CS I know that I can do better than I did because I evolved as a person, as a player, as a vision—you know—the vision I have of every aspect of the game.”

When you sit 10 years in something it’s hard to see outside of it. A hard reset and brand new scenery can, in the right moment, change a person. A new scene in particular lets the veterans escape old reputations and remold themselves

“My goal is to be complete. Maybe get—why not?—some operator in my game. Get [to be] the most complete player I can be because I missed out a little bit on this in CS. I could have been more complete, I was a little bit too focused on my aiming.”

Valorant’s competitive scene hasn’t been around for too long but ScreaM’s evolution is already apparent in the stats. Looking for damage? ScreaM has 180.9 ADR in the past 90 days - 3rd in the world, 1st in EU. It’s an improvement to his all-time stat at 165.1

Looking for entry kills? ScreaM has .24 first kills per round in the past 90 days - 9th worldwide and 3rd in EU. This is an even bigger improvement from his start in the game, where he had .18 per round. His average combat score (ACS) rose from 269.4 all time to 290.5 in the past 3 months.

And yes, the one taps are still online. He’s second in the world all-time at 36% (only behind Luminosity’s star fragger Aproto). The headshots are the one stat where ScreaM sunk - by one percentage point (35%) and one place (EG’s Aleksandar rises to 2nd).

That is a noticeable dip from the levels he maintained in CS, where he consistently was a few percentage points above the next aimer. But this is a good sign, not a bad one. It’s the tangible proof that ScreaM’s vision of the FPS really has changed. It’s in no small part because the feeling has changed.

“I don’t like to play passive on Valorant—I don’t know why. I need to do stuff, I need to do something. [...] I like to take aggressive duels in this game, it’s fun. I like to dash in where people don’t expect it as well. There’s always this tiny timing where you can dash in and the [other] guy gets surprised.”

In a new game and a new setting, ScreaM feels emboldened to get aggressive. That’s in part because the game enables his style. On both his signature agents, Jett and Reyna, ScreaM has more insurance behind him when he takes a duel. If things go wrong, Jett gives him a dash to reposition and Reyna gives him a leer to help clear corners and moments of intangibility after the kill.

In their match against Guild Esports at Red Bull Home Ground, you can see that mobility in action. Here, ScreaM sneaks up to peak around a corner in A Lobby. Outnumbered 2 to 1, he follows Yacine’s crouch, gets the headshot, then immediately dashes to reposition.

This reposition not only prevents him from getting traded out, it forces Bonkar into a bad spot where he’s vulnerable to a wall-bang and needs to swing out and take a fight. Even better, the reposition allows Soulcas to get into position to trade Bonkar out for ScreaM just in case ScreaM loses the duel.

The difference in pace is one of the biggest, with Valorant’s larger maps often making rotations take longer but the agent abilities often forcing faster peeks, sudden swings, and rapid entries.

“CS is way less chaotic. How do I say this? There’s not much going on, man. It’s easier to dodge flashes, it’s a lot about aim.” Inside the chaos of Valorant, ScreaM sees the value of utility more clearly. “When I played Valorant, I don’t know man, I realized I was using my utility in a wrong way in CS.”

This was a long-held criticism for ScreaM. His feature-length CS frag movies don’t want for headshots but don’t show many big utility plays. In Valorant, ScreaM is much more the smoke criminal, placing utility cleverly and moving off of it decisively.

ScreaM’s insane entry onto the A-site above is a pinnacle example of his new style. He opens with a classic Jett entry combo—throw a smoke and dash into it. Alone, this combo is good but has its vulnerabilities. ScreaM stits in place a bit after her dash and can get sprayed down, especially if the Jett doesn’t move after the dash.

This entry becomes a quintessential ScreaM play because he headshots Yacine from inside his own smoke, with no vision. If you slow down the video as he enters the smoke, you can see that ScreaM turns to check Yacine’s positions as he’s dashing. He remembers Yacine’s position then nails the shot as he’s sidestepping inside the smoke. Yacine can counter this play but only by being just as swift as ScreaM is in tagging the position, firing on it, and sidestepping.

Truthfully, it’s a bit wild that ScreaM is such a natural fit to Valorant. The man is known for his aim and he’s one of the first to say that in Valorant, aim is neither as difficult nor as important as in CS. A lot of people would imagine that’s a curse for ScreaM, arguably the most accurate FPS player of all time and yet, it’s a blessing as well because it frees his focus off the micro and onto macro.

“You don’t have to focus as much on aiming. There’s a lot of times where I don’t even warmup in Valorant. I just play one game and after a few rounds it’s okay. In CS you need an actual warmup because it’s so much harder to win a duel in CS than in Valorant. It’s a big difference in the game and yeah, you have to focus a little bit less on aiming for sure [in Valorant], so it helps you get better at the other parts [of the game].”

Mind over Micro

Do you feel like you’re more macro focused now, in Valorant?

“Yeah. You need to think about so much stuff that you’re forced to. Even if you don’t want to, you have to do it. It forces me to stay focused. If I’m not focused on the game I know that I’m probably gonna lose it. You have to be aware, you have to be aware of everything, man.”

In 2013 or 2016, it would have been wild to imagine that ScreaM’s macro would be on level with his micro but in Valorant that might be the case. Although still mechanically gifted, ScreaM’s style in Valorant carries just as much veteran wisdom as it does inhuman aim talent.

In another impeccable entry against Guild, ScreaM does win an out-and-out aim battle against Yacine and follow with an updraft headshot right after. However, he sets it all up by calling Guild’s play out with clever utility.

Guild looks to set up at least a trade on ScreaM as Yacine peeks out about as Bonkar rotates over to ScreaM’s flank. There’s an Omen smoke covering ScreaM’s flank but it’s about to fade, and as it fades Bonkar and Yacine could pincer ScreaM. However, ScreaM puts his own smoke inside Omen’s as it’s close to fading, this way he stays safe after the initial kill. Knowing Bonkar has eyes on the smoked out intersection, ScreaM jumps over the smoke, takes Bonkar by surprise and breaks the round open.

At both Home Ground and Champions Tour Stage 1, ScreaM had the third highest first kills per round because of entries like these. To ScreaM, plays like these aren’t just key to his present success but to the future of competitive Valorant.

“In this game you have so many combos. Bro, when people learn all of them it’s gonna be chaotic. It’s gonna be really hard to handle.”

“This is the perfect example of the tactical part of Valorant,” ScreaM says of the combos and interplays of abilities. “The team that’s gonna be able to use the combo in the perfect way and to know,” ScreaM repeats and punches into the word, “to know every combo in the game, and to have a perfect mastery of this… Bro, that’s gonna be the best team in the world for sure. Whoever is in this team - it could be anyone, honestly.”

ScreaM wants Liquid to be that team and you can feel it as the synergy builds and the maps become less about using Jett knives to 1v5 and more about using and countering abilities.

G2 and Team Liquid’s matchup on Icebox demonstrates as much, the round above being a battle of abilities. Mixwell uses Jett’s smokes to wall off ScreaM and gain ground. Soulcas uses Raze’s satchel boost to hop over utility and get a surprise rocket-jump double kill.

Then ScreaM shuts the round out by creeping around to Pyth and killing him right as he starts up Viper’s ultimate. Knowing that ec1s is rotating around to flank the last two G2 members, ScreaM places both smokes just to delay the action. By the time ScreaM taps the defuse, ec1s is in position to handle Mixwell.

For Scream, the interplay of abilities is the symbolic, beautiful thing about Valorant—not the headshot.

“Everyone can be really decent at aiming in this game [...] especially pro players. Winning a duel is not the most difficult thing to do. The most difficult thing to do is to have a good read of the game—because it’s so random, anything can happen. [...] Right now, I don’t think anywhere, any team is handling the tactical part as it should be.”

“In my opinion you can really destroy everybody if you have the perfect strategy. There’s no team right now like this. The Astralis of Valorant is gonna come for sure and it’s gonna be really beautiful to see.”

Strong Tailwinds

ScreaM knows that the path to that strategic mastery is a long one that TL has only started to walk.

“We’ve been working a lot on basics because we’ve been missing these things a lot. Right now we’ve got way better and now we need to work on our tactical part. To outplay people with our moves and our combos, that’s gonna be the next step. ”

Looking back at TL’s rough showing at First Strike, the improvement is obvious and team-wide. For ScreaM’s part, he’s gradually become much more efficient. His average econ rating (AER) has steadily increased from 67.1 all time to 96.7 in Champion’s Tour Stage 1—highest in the tournament.

The AER comes with an asterisk in that it measures how much damage you do against how much money you spend. A Jett player like ScreaM benefits a lot here because he can buy a cheaper gun like a Sheriff then use Jett’s ult as his actual weapon. However, this is also a genuine value Jett has in the economy of the game and part of why she gets picked.

ScreaM’s efficiency also comes from the fact that his damage output has gone up, which stems from the team playing much more cohesively. Take ScreaM’s bizarre entry and rotation against Guild below.

ScreaM enters by placing a smoke and then hovering above it, scoping out a lot of information without revealing too much himself. He ultimately gets his team into the A site but at the cost of a lot of his health. Down to 9 HP, it would be hard for him to help hold the site, so he rotates around through the middle of the map and hits from a side-entrance that Guild isn’t prepared to cover.

What easily could’ve been a 0 damage round turns into another headshot. It pads the AER but more importantly, plays like these actually utilize ScreaM’s talents as a duelist, something he’s struggled with for years.

“It’s been a big struggle in CS to actually have a good use. Right now, I have the freedom I need and it’s a good feeling.”

This is all part of what ScreaM means when he talks about having freedom. His team provides him the freedom for this rotation both by trusting him to make it and also by buying time, looking at the right angles, and landing their shots. That mix of trust and follow-up is what made ScreaM love that 2016 G2 team and what makes him love Team Liquid now.

G2 was an ideal home for ScreaM in that he played alongside former teammates who trusted him with that responsibility. Shox and ScreaM had already helped to unlock each other’s potential in 2013 and came in with a tacit understanding of the other’s strengths. The team trusted ScreaM and Shox to create openings together.

As ScreaM finds new peaks in a new game, he’s never truthfully that far from his old heights. As you could see the skeleton of CS inside Valorant, you could also see the skeleton of that old 2016 G2 inside this Team Liquid. Even down to the deadly duo.

Only this time, it’s Soulcas instead of Shox and it’s often ScreaM that holds the weight of cracking the games open. The Soulcas and ScreaM pairing was part of what made Icebox so tough for G2’s Valorant team to manage.

The two players worked cleanly in tandem on Icebox’s A site especially, one drawing the pressure that gave the other freedom to move. These days, because his reputation precedes him and because his agent has so much mobility, ScreaM usually lays the bait and Soulcas makes the catch.

Perhaps sensings those old similarities, ScreaM earnestly feels that this lineup is the return to a top team that he’s been waiting for.

“There’s changes to do but I’m pretty confident it’s gonna come. Right now my biggest hope is to get better with Liquid. To get at this level where I’m feeling very, very confident in us winning tournaments. I know we can do it right now, but we don’t have this attitude, this 100% we’re sure we can do it.

Some of that uncertainty resonates in the server as well. Team Liquid’s losses—even going back to First Strike—weren’t one-sided affairs. After First Strike, they almost feel the results of nerves, tension, and shakiness.

The team’s attacks against FPX faltered as they just didn’t push fast enough and claim enough ground. Even with the faulty attacking, they had clean chances to close FPX out on both maps. They simply grew shaky after they planted the spike (bomb) on the site and opted into duels instead of playing around the spike timer and forcing the defender to come forward for the defuse.

These are moments where—outside of ScreaM—the team’s wider inexperience shows. ScreaM is liable to drop a clutch as well but that veteran presence of mind shows more clearly in his play. His biggest play at Home Ground came from that game sense, clearing Ardiis first before turning to prevent the defuse.

“I know my teammates respect me a lot. That’s a big thing. [...] I have this feeling I can bring a lot to the team. [...] Maybe I can bring even more than I have been bringing so far. Maybe I can take an even bigger position in the team [...] on the vocal [comms]. That’s something I wanna try to do in the future.”

ScreaM says, pointing possibly to the next peak for him to reach, the next skill for him to learn in the long journey to completion.

“Have a bigger responsibility. I have the biggest experience in the team, I sometimes have the better understanding of the game. So it makes sense if I would be calling more.”

Regardless of what materializes, ScreaM’s move to Valorant is something to behold. It’s one of the more interesting personal player storylines in esports right now and it’s rich with angles. Many of which even these five thousand and some words couldn’t cover.

There’s a tremendous deal of “future” worked into that narrative - of the old headshot machine rejecting old symbols of mechanics and LAN dominance, replacing them with symbols of depth and wisdom. All within a brand new esport.

And then there’s a tremendous deal of “past” too. The 10 year career of a CS veteran revitalizing - and in some ways repeating - now in Valorant. The lessons of one of the world’s longest standing esports coming back into play for one of its more iconic players.

Then, there’s always the present, always the goal to finally win a tournament.

Aside from Winning, what gives you the greatest feeling playing Valorant?

“Beside winning, eh? I don’t really know what winning is like for now, but I know it’s gonna come.” ScreaM chuckles. “I know it’s gonna come soon.”

Check In to Liquid+ Here