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In late 2022, while MAD Lions was competing in European VALORANT, the well-known underground NA roster of DarkZero Esports was coming to an end, even with Challengers on the horizon. Despite getting a big tournament win at the Knights Gauntlet 2022: Championship, DarkZero Esports was done a month later. When that happened, one of the players knew that he wanted to shape that moment into a positive one. He helped by keeping the roster together and forming their own team: Dark Ratio.

“That little time period from DarkZero dropping us to forming Dark Ratio led to a lot of practice,” Adam “Ange” Milian said. “We started to pull together some more success and finally saw the fruits of our labor.”

The rise of Dark Ratio

Dark Ratio quickly shot up the ranks in the NA VALORANT scene, even outdoing some of their former results. They won three tournaments as 2022 went on, including the Knights Arena Monthly Gauntlet for July. There were some roster moves, but the core of Ange, Anthony “ZexRow” Colandro and Justin “Trick” Sears stuck around.

As the news involving the Challengers circuit for 2023 came around, the team went all in. They made some big pickups after losing some key players, most notably former TSM player Taylor “drone” Johnson and former 100 Thieves duelist William “Will” Cheng.

It wasn’t the smoothest ride, losing to The Nation in their first game of the Open Qualifier. But, they fought through the lower bracket and defeated The Nation in a rematch to secure their spot in NA Challengers for 2023. They just squeaked in, securing the final spot in the NA Challengers scene alongside Oxygen Esports. Despite the new additions, the roster all melded together relatively quickly, leading to success.

“My transition to this team was pretty seamless; I learned quickly what I needed to help improve on the team,” former Cloud9 White coach Jornen “MoonChopper” Nishiyama said. “Things like structure and guidance were key, essentially how to operate the team at a higher level with the resources we had.”

However, they soon got a big resource boost after qualifying. After some discussions, the Dark Ratio roster got picked up by OverActive Media and rebranded to MAD Lions for NA Challengers. Some of the Canadian players, including Will and Ange, got to play at the OverActive Media facility in Toronto, Canada and use their staff and equipment. This same place is the headquarters for teams such as the Toronto Defiant and Toronto Ultra, from the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League respectively.

“Now, becoming MAD Lions, the situation is different,” MoonChopper said. “Now I can help them get access to staff and resources that they didn’t have. With that, they can potentially reach a higher plane than before.”

From 100 Thieves to MAD Lions

Not all of MAD Lions’ roster is new to competing at the Challengers level. For example, their big-name signing helped 100 Thieves make it through the NA LCQ in 2022 to reach Champions. Now, Will is trying to not only help MAD Lions succeed in NA Challengers but also prove himself.

Will MAD Lions NA Challengers Champions 100 Thieves
Will, playing for 100 Thieves at Champions 2022. | Provided by Riot Games.

“It’s almost like a redemption year for me, to prove to myself and others that I can compete at a top-tier level,” Will said. “I want to prove that I didn’t fluke my way onto a good team last year. For MAD Lions, we’re going to have to take baby steps, focusing on just our group for now. We just have to slowly improve and see how it goes from there.”

Getting released by 100 Thieves wasn’t easy for Will, as he threw a looking-for-team post on Twitter and hoped for the best. Luckily enough, thanks to drone, he got into some scrims alongside his current roster and joined up in early January. One of the best feelings was that sense of earning his way back into the limelight, and he did just that with their open qualifier run.

A slow start for 2023

So far, MAD Lions have played two matches in the NA Challengers Split 1. Their group housed some powerful teams, including M80, The Guard and TSM. Their first game was against TSM, a team that proved their worth at the Ludwig x Tarik Invitational. Despite the loss, the team kept the series close. While the team took the positives from that loss, their next game against the popular team Disguised was a quick 2-0 loss. Despite the losses, MoonChopper learned more about the team and what to take to improve in the future.

“The biggest positive so far is that we know we’re good against,” MoonChopper said. “It’s all about how we face up since we face up better against the more structured teams. I feel like our preparations against a team like TSM are easier just from the footage available, in comparison to a new team like Disguised. But, we need to fix our weaknesses against those more chaotic teams.”

Now, MAD Lions’ next two matchups are against the top two in their group: M80 and The Guard. Fans might not have the most confidence after their first two matches, but it’s a grind to qualify for Ascension. Despite their lower bracket qualification to get in, now it’s time for the MAD Lions roster to do what they do best: use their mechanical skill and surprise some teams along the way.

“I’d say we’re one of the more mechanically-heavy teams in the league right now,” Ange said. “We’ve been building our strategies a lot when we’ve played together, and we’ll take the mistakes we’ve learnt and show what we’re made of.”

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