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The only thing VALORANT teams and fans in Europe, the Middle East and Africa seem to care about is VCT Masters 3 Berlin. As with any sport, fans seldom care about the teams that don’t make it to the top. But one unlikely roster managed to capture the hearts of European VALORANT fans despite not reaching the biggest tournament of the year so far: TENSTAR.

On the surface, TENSTAR’s journey at VCT Stage 3 is the ultimate underdog story. The newly formed org, consisting of five lesser-known players, seemingly came out of nowhere and took down Team Heretics, Team BDS and Rix.GG. They went on to finish top four at Challengers 2 after defying all expectations. Some likened their run to SUMN FC’s back at First Strike; where a similar British core managed to unexpectedly beat well-performing teams and make their name as a result of it. But TENSTAR’s rise is so much more than just an underdog story; their success paints a very bright picture for the future of VALORANT.

UK boys making all the noise

For the longest time, the UK has been the laughingstock of esports. But, because of VALORANT, that’s starting to change. Players who were stuck in the UK Counter-Strike: Global Offensive scene have finally been given opportunities to elevate themselves and make it to the top in VALORANT.

TENSTAR are proving that this isn’t just something Team Liquid and Fnatic players have managed to achieve. In fact, TENSTAR’s Russel “Russ” Mendes said that UK in-game leader Jake “Boaster” Howlett, who plays for Fnatic, was a big motivation for him to keep grinding. 

This might sound cheesy, but Boaster was one of my motivations,” he said. “At the start, he even asked me to trial for SUMN FC and seeing all the success he got from the grind really kept me motivated. Seeing someone that came from the same scene as you do so well makes you feel like it’s achievable and something you can do too.”

Role models like Boaster were so rare in other FPS games in the UK, and the fact that players from the UK VALORANT scene are able to draw inspiration from the likes of Fnatic and Liquid means a healthy hierarchy and pathway is already developing, something that was really lacking in other titles such as CS:GO.

Thirty percent of the players who reached the Challengers 2 Main Event were from the UK.. This made the UK the highest represented region at the event, beating out traditionally strong FPS regions like France, Finland and Sweden. And, out of the 12 players representing the UK, nine of them made it to the top four, and four of them came from TENSTAR. 

“Some people probably didn’t like to be from the UK in CS, but now in VALORANT it’s not like that,” Russ said. “We have so much talent, and people should be scared of us. If there is ever a World Cup of VALORANT, everyone should be looking out for us because we have so much firepower.”

The grind pays off

One of the biggest issues that the UK CS:GO scene faced was that many people gave up or plateaued. This is because they didn’t have the opportunities to elevate their careers, which also resulted in some bad habits and attitudes developing from some players and teams.

However, it seems to have gone the opposite way for VALORANT; lesser-known players have opportunities to establish themselves and be at the top of the scene if they grind hard enough. 

Calum “KRAY” Knight, who has been playing on an unsigned team alongside Russ, Jack “Br0die” Emmott and Tramaine “stanley” Stanley spoke to this.

“The opportunities in VALORANT have been great and tournaments like VCT really motivates you to keep with the grind,” KRAY said. “I’ve been playing with some of these guys for a long time, and we knew we were good. We just needed to be able to show up at officials and high-pressure situations.

The level we are playing at is so much higher in terms of exposure compared to what we experienced in CS. We wouldn’t be playing against a Liquid or a Fnatic or any of those big orgs. When you get to play against them, people get to learn more about you and see you play and do well. So it’s been great to see people liking us and supporting us too.”

Despite coming up short of Masters 3, TENSTAR’s players felt a sense of success and a degree of gratefulness that the system VALORANT currently has, alongside their own determination and work ethic, given them a chance to play against some of the best in Europe.

I got the opportunity to at least try my best to get into this tournament, and I’m super proud of it,” Niko “polvi” Polvinen, TENSTAR’s only non-UK player, said. “It’s been my biggest accomplishment so far. … I’d say we achieved our goals. I was super sad to lose to Fnatic, but having taken a few days away from it, I can’t be unhappy about the success we got.”

Furthermore, even though TENSTAR is a much smaller organization compared to some teams they played against and even beat, the players proved that the biggest orgs aren’t necessarily the best teams. They expressed that they have everything they need to set themselves up for success, despite having fewer resources.

Russ shared some insight as to why the unsigned Tarren Mill roster decided to go with TENSTAR for VCT.

“I’m 23 and it feels like I’m getting old as a pro player. I have bills to pay you know?” he said. “We did have other offers. They were good but we needed something stable, which is the main reason we chose TENSTAR. They’re a new org and we really liked them. The expectations also rise when you go to much bigger orgs because they want results and that’s a lot of pressure.”

Polvi, who came from the Finnish scene, added, “I know the UK scene had a lot of potentials, and I wanted to try an international roster too, especially seeing the likes of Bonecold succeed in an international team. I’m honestly super proud of my team and love being on this roster. I’ve learned so much from playing with them and it makes me more motivated.”

Mental health

Some players have been vocal when it comes to the issues of mental health in esports. Polvi was one of the latest ones to share his own personal story. After ending their run at VCT Stage 3, polvi posted a TwitLonger detailing some of the bullying he endured over the years that led to depression. Polvi also spoke about how tough his teenage years were. He said he would pretend to be sick from school just so that he didn’t have to face his bullies. 

“I didn’t have a lot of friends who were doing the same things as me and I wasn’t really into what they were into too,” he said. “I just wanted to play video games because it made me happy. My mum used to take my PC away from me because I used to skip school to play video games.

“My mom didn’t really know or understand esports, but I told her I wanted to become professional and I could do it. I remember winning like $50 from Black Squad, and I told my mum that I won money from playing, and I think she started to understand it from there. She’s very supportive now, and she’s always asking about it.”

Polvi felt like he didn’t have the best support system when it came to gaming and dealing with a lot of the bullying he faced throughout his life but it became very apparent that those things have dramatically improved for him since being with the roster on TENSTAR — especially as they got better and better in tournaments they were competing in. 

“Back in the days, I used to be super down, but after being with lads and competing with them, I’ve been super happy,” he said. “I haven’t even thought about doing bad things to myself now. I think my mental has been really great these days. My career right now, and the team I’m currently on, has a big impact on how I’m feeling. I think it has a lot to do with me being happier now.”

Signing to an org and being on an esports team isn’t just about competition, and while the results of VCT Stage 3 is the most success all of the players on TENSTAR have ever had, their friendship and the support system they built is one of the biggest wins for this team and the scene.

“Polvi has spoken to me about some of the hardships he faced in the past,” Russ said. “I feel for him a lot but he never shows that those things get to him. He’s always so positive, happy and focused. I love him and he brings so much good vibes to our team.

“There won’t be any roster changes coming up; this is a long-term project,” Russ continued. “We are like a family which is another thing I like about TENSTAR. We have really good chemistry with not just the players but the org too. The players are super close and great friends. That’s not something you can just change and buy.”

What we learned from TENSTAR’s success

As Russ said, TENSTAR aren’t looking to make any roster changes. The team have been through a lot of ups and downs and they are determined to stick together for the future.

TENSTAR’s run at VCT Stage 3 is much more than an underdog story. They’re living proof that VALORANT isn’t just getting insanely competitive but that the UK scene is in a healthy place and is on the right track to produce even more talent. They are right on the coattails of Fnatic and Team Liquid. And the tight family unit they have built will be a force to be reckoned with when they’re back competing again and no doubt among EU’s best.