nAts and Redgar's unlikely journey to Liquid

December 08 2022

nAts and Redgar's unlikely journey to Liquid

When asked about his history with gaming, Redgar’s story—which runs through his entire personal history, starting from when he was 3 years old—takes several minutes to tell.

“Now my turn?” his teammate nAts says afterwards. “I was a kid. I played CS. After that I played Valorant.”

He does end up elaborating (and being just as verbose). Still, that rapport and good humor have made nAts and Redgar an especially well-liked duo in the Valorant scene globally.

They first rose to international fame as part of Gambit Esports, which was, at one time, the best Valorant team in the world. With VCT franchising on the horizon and rosters full of top-tier talent being picked apart as a result, it seems incredible that a pair like nAts and Redgar should get to stick together.
But Valorant is a game of second chances, after all. nAts and Redgar know that better than anyone.

One last chance

Both origin stories begin in a place that will be very familiar to anyone with an older sibling.

“I watched how my brother would play games a lot and I saw he was playing Counter-Strike: Source,” Redgar said. “So I started to play, and I started to win in it, and I really liked that.”

“I don’t remember when I started playing, but I remember it was similar to [Redgar],” nAts said. “My older brother was playing all the different games and then I started to play also.”

According to Redgar, he began dreaming of being a pro player when he was 14 years old. But Counter-Strike lost its luster after a while and he turned to MOBA games instead.

When Counter-Strike: Global Offensive came out in 2012, Redgar resolved to try again. CS:GO was what ultimately reignited his passion for competitive gaming and drove him to turn his dream into a reality.

“I wanted to try again,” Redgar said. “I remember the first time my college won a tournament. You know how sometimes in an athlete’s interview they talk about the moments they’ll never forget in the game? It was the same for me when I played in the university cup. I had a clutch with a Deagle, 1 versus 3, and after that I really started to play the game with more passion.”

nAts, on the other hand, already had experience with professional competition by the time he learned about pro gaming.

“When I heard about CS:GO I also learned what esports meant,” he said. “That you could compete on the pro level, you’re not just playing for fun—it was like a professional sport. I got interested in that because I loved to play games and I was also training in professional tennis. I already had that thing where I wanted to compete against everyone, and I just said to myself, ‘I want to try.’”

Both players started in CS:GO with big aspirations, and though they learned more about the realities of pro gaming in the process, neither of their careers panned out the way they would’ve liked. Redgar even ended up quitting the game for “three or four years” to fulfill his university obligations, and it seemed like his dream of pro gaming would slip away yet again. Then he heard about a new game Riot Games was developing.

“It was called Project A,” Redgar said, referencing the working title Riot gave to the game before it was officially called Valorant. “I thought, ‘I can try it. I can give myself one last chance. If I can be a pro in this game, I will continue grinding it.’”

While Redgar was making the decision to try one last time, nAts was facing a similar predicament. Becoming a full-fledged pro in CS:GO seemed out of reach for him, so what would come next?

“When Valorant released, I had already wasted a lot of time and achieved nothing,” he said. “So I said to myself, ‘if I’m not going to achieve something in CS, after exams will be the deadline. I will be finished with all of that and just go to study law.’ And after that I just started playing.”

It turned out to be the right decision for both of them. nAts was able to join Gambit as part of its original roster, which did well, but not exceptionally. A few months later, the team signed Redgar, whose leadership both in and out of game proved to be exactly what they needed to rise to the top. Soon enough, the chance that nAts and Redgar had taken on Valorant—the one they’d both expected to be their very last—had flowered into a world of possibilities.

Even now, looking back on the tumultuous last two years, nAts is still shocked that it worked out the way it did.

“I gave myself a second chance with Valorant, and… to be honest, I don’t even know what happened,” he said. “I don’t know why I gave myself a second chance. It feels so lucky because I was 100% sure that if I didn’t get anything by that deadline, I would be finished.”

nAts is very frank about the things that had to work out in order for him to get to where he is now. He even acknowledges that when it came to professional success, he didn’t actually hit the post-exam deadline he set for himself. Or, at least, he doesn’t think he did. He just kept going anyway.

“I think maybe I forgot about it,” nAts said. “When somebody asks me how I became a pro, I always say it was luck. Because I didn’t have to be here. It was a deadline that I didn’t complete. But I’m here.”

Building a team

When the Valorant scene was first taking shape in 2020, the best players were the ones who, in nAts’ words, “could shoot.” That was the philosophy behind the first Gambit Esports roster: five players who were very individually skilled. They had a good run early on, winning minor tournaments and finishing in the semifinals of First Strike CIS. But as other teams began developing strategically, Gambit realized that they needed to pull together as a cohesive unit, too.

“After First Strike we decided that it was a bit hard to play without an IGL,” nAts said. “We had five people who were just shooting. We had some idea of how to play individually but we didn’t have the kind of person who was going to be the leader of the team, who was going to make important calls. So after some testing we decided to take Redgar.”

Redgar joined Gambit in January 2021. For him, coming into a team of players who were all a few years younger than him and all had different ideas of how to approach the game was a bit daunting at first.

“I was a little bit scared that I couldn’t handle the guys because I didn’t have a background as an IGL,” he said. “It was my first experience with being a captain and using my leadership skills to make us a great team.”

It was a learning process for everyone, and Redgar’s confidence as a leader developed alongside the team’s improvement. He started off with a lighter touch, giving his teammates more leeway at first.

“When we started to play, I gave them some freedom because they didn’t know me and I didn’t know them,” he said. “But after I felt like they trusted me more, after we won our first tournament in the CIS region, I started to be more strict. I told them their mistakes and asked them to take more responsibility and play with more passion, because I’m a hard worker. I know [nAts] is a hard worker too, and that’s one of the reasons why I like to work with him.”

Even as Gambit began racking up wins and rising in the ranks of the CIS region, Redgar kept reminding his teammates not to become complacent and continued to be strict with them. He believed it would help them to “evolve faster” if they stayed vigilant and focused, through victories and failures alike. And a big failure came along shortly to test the team’s resolve—when they failed to qualify to Stage 2 Masters: Reykjavík, the first ever international VALORANT LAN.

“When we lost the chance to go to Masters 2, personally, I started to work harder,” Redgar said. “As a team we worked really hard, and we made it to Berlin.”

The road to Stage 3 Masters: Berlin wasn’t an easy one by any means. In the Challengers playoffs that would determine their qualification, Gambit was knocked down to the loser’s bracket by Acend. What then followed was a series of close games that all came down to the wire, all of which included at least one overtime win (including a comeback on TL and their future teammates). But in the moments that counted, Gambit always stepped up, and they took it all the way this time. They claimed first place in EMEA Stage 3 and set their sights on the real prize.

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(nAts hugging the trademark panda he brings on stage. Perhaps it's what powered him up through EMEA Stage 3... Photo courtesy of Valorant Champions Tour on Flickr.)

When Masters: Berlin came along, Gambit was determined to write a different story for themselves. They went on to have an uneven group stage, where they suffered a bad loss to 100 Thieves, including one map they lost after being up 11-3. Still, the mentality that Redgar had helped cultivate kept the team from being too affected by it.

“That kind of loss against 100 Thieves, from 11-3—it’s like a joke,” nAts says. “At that point it’s like, we don’t even know how to play the game. But in my mind it has to happen, because without losing, you can’t be a good player. It’s all about that experience.”

“Losing the game on LAN feels much worse than losing in an online format,” Redgar said. “Losing to 100 Thieves was painful for me and all my teammates, but I think we continued to become much better as a team because we were finding out the mistakes. I saw the fire in the guys’ eyes. I saw how we wanted this so bad.”

Of all the things that Gambit achieved during Masters: Berlin, one feat in particular has been immortalized as part of Valorant history. In their semifinals game against European rivals G2 Esports, Gambit pulled off the first 13-0 map in VCT LAN history. Every player stepped up to make that map happen, but the one that most have singled out as being the most impressive was nAts. That tournament, and that map in particular, established him as a player to watch and solidified his reputation as one of the top prospects in the EMEA region.

All the hard work that Gambit had put into improving through 2021 paid off. In Berlin, eight months after Redgar joined the team, Gambit lifted Valorant’s second international trophy and were crowned best team in the world.

“Only after an hour [did] I realize we were really champions,” nAts said of the experience. “It brings you confidence because you understand that it’s possible, that you did it once and you can do it one more time. And after that, you want to keep doing it. You want to win one more and then more after that.”

Joining Team Liquid

Due to restrictions on Russian organizations implemented by Riot in 2022, the Gambit roster left the organization and formed their own amateur team named M3 Champions (after, of course, the tournament they had won). With franchising just around the corner, there was some talk about trying to get picked up by a franchised team together, but they knew it was going to be difficult.

“We knew that if we didn’t qualify for [Champions 2022], it was gonna be tough for us to continue to play as five together,” Redgar said. “If we qualified it was all going to be good, but we didn’t qualify. So we spoke with each other and said, ‘let’s still try to be together and see if someone’s interested in us, but if someone wants to go their separate way, everyone should just accept that.’ We were prepared for that kind of situation. That’s esports, right? It’s hard to be together if you’re not showing results.”

Eventually, individual offers from franchised teams started rolling in. Redgar spoke to nAts about the offers that he was receiving and found out that both of them had received an offer from Team Liquid.

“I asked him, ‘if we have an offer to play together, do you want to play with me?’” Redgar said. “Because I felt like if he’s okay with being in my team, it’s going to be good, and we can win titles.”

“I remember you asked me about that,” nAts recalled. “I said, ‘yeah, of course.’”

“I was confident about being in the same team as [nAts] because I know how he works,” Redgar said. “When I spoke with [Head Coach] eMIL about how he sees the game, I knew that we had kind of similar views on it. So I really liked the situation and I knew that Team Liquid is an organization that always wants to win. My goal right now is to win tournaments, and not only one—to let everyone know that we’re the best of the best. I think we can do this.”

When it comes to nAts, he’s still expressing disbelief that he even made it this far, and that he now gets to play for such an established organization.

“It feels like a dream for a lot of players to represent Liquid,” he said. “And for me, I’m super happy that Liquid is in front of my name now.”

nAts and Redgar may be in a new team now, but the same drive that took them all the way in Berlin is still there. Going into 2023, both of them are confident in the capabilities of their team and happy with the tools that they’ve been given.

“At first I was thinking that maybe my English wasn’t gonna be good enough to talk with my teammates,” nAts said. “But when I realized I could easily talk with everybody I started feeling much better about myself and the atmosphere in the team. All of them have shown they are very, very good players. I hope we will show something good on the international stage if we work hard, because we have a good roster and good organization, so right now everything is on us.”

“I can see everyone really wants to win, and that’s the best thing in my opinion,” Redgar said. “When you see that your boys have the same passion, that they’re really trusting you and we’re all seeing things in the same way—we know what we have to do to win. So I think if we can keep it up we can get good results on the international stage. But it all depends on us.”

Into a new era

2023 is going to be a year of change for Valorant esports. With the introduction of franchised leagues, the competition has leveled up in all aspects, and nAts and Redgar are fully prepared to level up alongside it.

“I think franchising is going to be good because we’re going to have more international tournaments so the level of play is going to increase really fast,” Redgar said. “All the players will be evolving faster, so we have to evolve faster as well.”

For nAts, the most exciting part of franchising is the opportunity to play on stage more consistently. Esports may run online, but the beating heart of the industry is live events, something that the VCT promises to provide much more regularly in 2023.

“I really like to play on stage,” nAts said. “It’s a really different feeling from playing from home. I haven’t played on stage with viewers yet, but on stage, when you see the openness—it’s a different experience. You can see how every player is feeling.”

Next year, nAts and Redgar are looking forward to playing against everyone—although there are a few teams they have their sights set on in particular. There are some old grudges that need settling, after all.

“I like to pay back the teams that won against us,” Redgar said. “We couldn’t get revenge against 100 Thieves because we didn’t play against them, but Fnatic, we played two times and we lost to them two times. The last time we lost in overtime and it was sad, so I really want to play against them because this is the only team that didn’t feel our revenge. Even though Chronicle, who used to play with us, is with them—he’s on Fnatic now. He should feel that too.”

“He will lose the game for them,” nAts joked. “So he can also say Fnatic finally lost.”

“We’re gonna say, ‘can you do a favor for us?’” Redgar said. “And he’ll say, ‘yeah, they deserve that.’”

Revenge can’t be taken in haste, of course; Team Liquid is still figuring out its identity and what it wants to be, as a new roster going into a new age. With a duo like nAts and Redgar at the center, though, fans have been given a big reason to hope.

And Redgar and nAts have delivered on much more distant hopes than this one. Knowing about all the false starts and disappointments of their early careers, it feels even more unlikely that nAts and Redgar made it to where they are today. In a timeline very close to ours, perhaps neither of them ever pursued esports at all. But the fact is that they’re here, and the Valorant scene wouldn’t be what it is without them. They’re hoping to be as much an integral part of Liquid’s identity.

“I’m really happy that Team Liquid fans have accepted me,” nAts said. “That kind of support makes every player more confident because you see that behind you are thousands of people who will support you, even if you lose 13-0. So I just want to say thank you. I really appreciate that my fans keep supporting me, and I love every one of you.”

“I want to say thank you to all the fans from different regions,” Redgar said. “Thank you for supporting us, and I hope that you will continue to support not only us but also our friends that are playing on the same field. And just remember that if we’re 8-3 and we lose the last round, it’s because we’re dodging the 9-3 curse so we can win the map. So don’t be afraid even if we start losing. It’s part of the plan.”

Writer // Bonnie Qu
Graphics // Zack Kiesewetter