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The theme for 2022’s VALORANT Champions Tour Masters 1 has been nightmares, presumably as a tie-in the the reveal of the game’s latest Agent, Fade. VCT’s video team have been going wild with this motif, shooting plenty of videos focused on putting the competitors into horror movie-esque situations and asking them about their greatest fears in each team’s introductory videos. Some, like DRX’s Kim “stax” Gu-taek, cited more mundane fears like bugs. But in ZETA DIVISION’s feature, Koji “Laz” Ushida dropped something a bit more existential.

“It’s frightening how little time I have left to compete at this level, given my age,” he said. The ZETA DIVISION player is 26-years old; he’ll be 27 in November.

There’s a common trend in esports that most professionals in any game will retire some time in their mid-to-late twenties. This is largely due to the conception that as these players age, they begin to lose the mechanical skills that allow them to compete at such a high level.  There are exceptions to this rule – such as Street Fighter player Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi (36) and Nicholas “NICKMERCS” Kolcheff (31) – but by and large, esports athletes tend to adhere to this trend, regardless of its veracity.

In an interview with Launcher, Dr. Caitlin McGee, co-owner of esports medicine group 1HP, stated that the belief that esports athletes are only competitively viable through their early twenties is “baloney.”

“Yes, there is research that shows us how reaction time changes over time and one of the things that affects reaction time eventually is age,” she said in the Launcher interview. “However, the age at which you start to see substantial decline in reaction time is much older than mid 20s.”

With ZETA DIVISION now securing at least a top three spot at 2022 VCT Masters 1 – in no small part thanks to Laz – it would seem the proof of that is evident. They have a 100% win rate on Fracture for this event (3-0), and if they can overcome OpTic, they’ll be heading to the grand finals of the whole tournament. If the team’s performance continues like this, Laz’s career may not be as short-lived as he feared.

“I understand that a lot of the players that I looked up to coming here have been retiring because they cannot keep up with the scene, so I don’t think I can get away with not being one of them,” Laz said in a press conference after the PRX match via a translator. “But because we’re in the top three now, it looks like I’m bringing back the teenage spirit of getting into the top scene again, so I don’t know about that.”