Thirty years old. It’s an age regarded by traditional athletes as the catalyst of decline from their peak physical condition. For a professional esports player, it’s the startling indication of their retirement.
A vast amount of players usually undergo their esports careers for a handful of years, with their decision to retire happening within their mid-to-late-twenties. Once they reach that 30-year threshold, they would transition to something similar to an advisory role, staying within their game from a distance. There would be an analyst here, an assistant coach there, a director of player personnel some distance away, and a team founder over yonder. Few cross that age still as a player.
That distinction is reserved for a crop of people whose connection to the game they’re specialized in is every bit as renowned as it is spirited. Their performance may seem meager when compared to the brash young player who hogs the attention by popping heads ad nauseum, but with the game sense and knowledge they’ve refined after years of experience, their contribution to a team can be equal if not greater than their junior counterpart.
Such an audacious career transpired for Sebastian “Seb” Bucki, a 30-year-old former Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player who switched to recently Valorant in the fall of last year. While in CS for a decade across a litany of teams, he played alongside a crowd of people with whom he would follow in Valorant.
Does Matthew “Wardell” Wu, Michael “dapr” Gulino, or Skyler “Relyks” Weaver ring a bell? Believe it or not, they were all once teammates of Seb in his CS days, be it for a short or long amount of time.
Shortly after dropping CS:GO, Seb joined Andbox, a New York City-based esports organization owned by a prominent investment fund and was recently boosted by Kevin Durant, a global basketball superstar. Under their affiliation, Seb nearly rose to the forefront of the North American Valorant scene by capturing a set of invitational tournaments and being within a few wins shy of qualifying for Masters: Reykjavik, the first major international tournament hosted by the fledgling game.
Seb’s Beginning With CS
After spending most of his early life playing the original CS game and its subsequent 1.6 version, Seb started his career as a teenage amateur and slowly built a profile with wins in local circuits and impressive 5th-6th placements in ESEA events such as Invite Finals Season 8.
“I pretty much have been playing competitively for more than I’d like to admit, a little more than half my life, I guess you could say,” said Seb of his past. “ I started in the ESEA Main [division]. Eventually, I worked my way up into playing in the Invite Division in Season 11 [for 1.6].”
Considering his inexperience at that time, capturing tourneys and pocketing small patches of money for any green player was a stupendous achievement to fulfill, and as a result of achieving them, Seb developed an insatiable desire for competition and success. However, as CS transitioned to Global Offensive in late 2012, Seb’s career was unceremoniously brought to a standstill.
“I took a year or so of a hiatus at the time CS:GO came out because I couldn’t actually run the game. My computer was just unfortunately not that strong enough so I couldn’t really compete sadly. I don’t look at anything with regrets, but I definitely missed out on the initial transition to CS:GO.”
When Seb finally did receive a working desktop roughly three years after CS:GO’s launch, he promptly returned to competition, participating again in ESEA events through its Main Division with an “infamous” team in the underground NA scene: Bee’s Money Crew.
With a cast including Wardell, Jason “Neptune” Tran, Connor “CoNnOrRr93” Glover, and Phong “bee-1-os” Nguyên, the Crew won a string of second-tier events between late fall 2016 and spring 2017. Unlike his days as a glistening but hard-nosed amateur in the original CS, Seb soon consolidated a proper career in CS:GO as the success he gained with BMC, Ghost Gaming, and other teams meant he found enough economic security to quit his day-time job and funnel all his focus onto the game.
And yet with the riches Seb arduously earned, he couldn’t break the glass ceiling that separated him from the highest tier of domestic competition. He couldn’t qualify for a Major tournament. According to Liquipedia, from 2017 to 2020 which featured around 60 preliminary tournaments, the farthest Seb went was 2nd, just one spot shy of direct qualification.
“In CS, I definitely didn’t reach the personal goals that I’ve had. As anybody would dream, they would like to go to a Major. We played in Major qualifiers, Minor qualifiers, but unfortunately they never really went our way.”
As time wore on, it seemed that with each attempt Seb made to reach a Major, each subsequent failure left him more disillusioned with the extent of success he could realistically achieve in addition to his general track record as a journeyman veteran. While it is true his play hadn’t diminished to where he needed to ponder retirement, he still couldn’t break through to the top like some of his past teammates did.
Add to that with the general decline of the NA CS competitive scene and the scandals that wholly denigrated its reputation, Seb’s dilemma with the game he poured his life onto went from bad to worse, leaving him estranged as to whether he should continue playing at all.
“Looking at the big picture of it and just seeing how the NA [CS:GO] scene was. Realistically, you’d have to be in the top 1% to compete. A lot of organizations aren’t looking at teams anymore. There are certain rosters that are really good but struggled to find any organization that could support them. Of course, we do this job because we love it, but realistically, we’d had to have a financial backing for it.”
With those pressing circumstances considered, Seb’s doubt with CS:GO lingered until a new FPS title emerged in the summer of 2020 to quell them for good.
Switching to Valorant
When Seb first viewed Valorant‘s game play upon its release on June 2nd, 2020 after the beta version, one thought crossed his mind.
“League of Legends in first-person,” Seb said. “You know, League of Legends characters with first-person shooter aspect.”
Truly, Valorant is a game that confounded much of what Seb knew about usual FPS titles. Not only did players have to work with new line of weapons, they also had to learn all the corresponding abilities and cooldowns for each of the game’s 13 agents. This was a trait of skill that not only demanded a quick trigger but a veritable understanding of every agent and their perks as well.
But in learning a new game, Seb realized the existence of a crucial opportunity to revitalize a crestfallen career: he can follow in the footsteps of other players and redirect his competitive focus to Valorant
“I think Valorant was kind of like a fresh start. It was able to get a lot of people to switch,” Seb said. “It’s bittersweet to see CS go the route the way it’s going, but on the sweet side, I guess it’s great timing for Valorant to get released because it gave a lot of opportunities and a lot of things to be grateful for such as continuing a career in esports.
“You see certain top players change by saying they’re a free agent or taking a break from CS and then all of a sudden they’re playing Valorant, which makes sense. If anything, it’s the smart choice to go for nowadays because Valorant is still such a new game and there are so many different options that will happen as far as new agents, new abilities, and new maps go.”
Although Valorant was championed by most as a fresh start for disparaged players of other titles, a mass load of players struggled to master its raw intricacies. But for others who garnered enough experience in different platforms to make the seamless transition, they fluidly adapted their skills to eventually stand out as viable prospects for the burgeoning esports environment. Seb was among that select field, and unlike his rough start in CS:GO, he wasted little time to make himself at home in Valorant.
“I stopped playing CS:GO at the end of August and officially switched around that time frame in August [or] September,” said Seb of his switch. “I think in this game, coming from CS has probably been the easiest transition compared to other players that did the switch to Valorant. The gun play is slightly different. There’s definitely more RNG (random number generator) than there ever was in CS. Compared to coming from Overwatch, Fortnite, Rainbow Six, CS is probably the easiest transition for its players to have for that game.”
Taking advantage of his adapted dexterity, Seb overtook the majority of the NA player pool and steadily rose up the solo-queue leader, reaching the rank of Radiant by Act 2 in the IGNITION saga.
“It was just [me] putting as many as hours as I could into the game and trying to catch up as quickly as I could,” said Seb.
As for Seb’s versatility for Valorant, he changed his playstyle to accommodate the need of maintaining his standing as a reputable contender. As the convention goes for players whose trademark brisk reactions and commendable gun plays gradually wither away with time, Seb opted for a utility role, at which his position would be most effective in thwarting the enemy by the usage of supportive abilities through his agent pool consisting Cypher, Omen, and Killjoy.
Amidst his rank climb, he met Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker and Bradley “ANDROID” Fodor, fellow former CS peers who started a rapport with him which then laid the foundation for a proper team. Sometime later in October, Seb joined Andbox as a member of their maiden Valorant squad. Contrary to the previous teams he aligned himself with, Andbox is a prominent New York esports organization that was founded by Sterling.VC, a venture arm of Sterling Equities which is a diversified group of companies that includes SportsNet NY. Andbox also owns esports franchises like the New York Excelsior from the Overwatch League and the New York Subliners from the Call of Duty League. Undoubtedly, it was a long road away from Team Singularity, Ghost Gaming, or the Bee’s Money Crew.
Seb started out as a nobody hidden within the trenches of a historically deficient scene. Serving an array of teams until he bluntly laid bare to a dying region, he switched games and soon became affiliated with a team whose owners included a sports conglomerate and counted on the financial support of an absolute basketball superstar. If a rags to riches story doesn’t use Seb’s journey as a benchmark, then it’s hard to comprehend what will.
To Andbox and Beyond
“Everything has been going really well. I switched to this game at the end of July or so and I was fortunate enough to start playing with yay and ANDROID. Everything just clicked and here we are.”
Seb after winning the Nerd Street Gamers x Renegades Invitational.
Fortunately for us, what can be understood about Seb’s long-winded career is the success he earned with Andbox with what little time he has spent thus far. Little less than three weeks into his venture, he helped them win the NSG x Renegades Invitational and $6,000 of the total prize pool, besting other established orgs like Cloud9, FaZe Clan, Immortals, and Renegades.
Later, Andbox won another invitational called the NSG November Monthly tournament for the same amount. Comparing his team winnings in both FPS titles as of November 2020, it took him roughly five years of CS to reach the same amount that he earned in Valorant in less than two months.
Even so, Andbox fell victim to occasional disappointment that sandwiched their triumphs. They failed to qualify for First Strike, the first Valorant major tournament organized by Riot Games. And then at the start of 2021, they failed to qualify for Masters 1.
Thankfully, the team’s form recovered thanks to the inclusion of Adam “mada” Pampuch and Daniel “vice” Kim to the lineup. With their contribution, Andbox rallied back in Stage 2 with a runners-up finish at the NSG Monthly March tourney and fourth place in Challengers 2, defeating Sentinels and TSM, of which the former team included one of Seb’s ex-CS teammates Shahzeb “ShahZaM” Khan (was a stand-in for Team Singularity in CS), to qualify for Challengers Finals, a regional qualifier that decided NA’s two representatives for Masters: Reykjavik, Valorant’s first major international tournament.
Seb and appearing in a Major. Could this duo meet at last under a different game?
To Masters: Reykjavik…Perhaps?
Hopes were high within the Andbox camp as they looked to do what was previously unthinkable just a few months ago: reach the pinnacle of Valorant’s competition. Although they had a crop of stellar teams standing in their way and weren’t generally expected to orchestrate a far run in the bracket, Seb personally exuded a strong resolve to prove the doubters wrong with the style of game that took his team to this point.
“We were pretty confident. There wasn’t really that much pressure on us just because we were happy to get where we were. We were pretty satisfied from qualifying and beating the teams that we did.”
But going into Challengers Finals, one of the key aspects that determined the competition heading into it was the presence of Astra, an agent whose effectiveness dictated good map awareness through her stunning abilities, and as the meta showed, using Astra was seen as a necessity if teams wanted to compete.
However, Andbox turned out to be the only team that didn’t use her at all in the event. When asked about Andbox’s rationale in not using Astra, Seb highlighted their preference of comfort with their usual agents as opposed to her.
“We just felt more comfortable as a team and the current agents we were using would benefit us more,” Seb said. “It wasn’t necessarily that we didn’t like her or that we didn’t think that she was good…pretty much any time you play with Astra, it’s a lot slower and sometimes it’s kind of boring. We just felt more comfortable with the current agents that everyone was playing with.”
With the agents they did play, Andbox’s two series in Challengers Finals were exceedingly close. Against 100 Thieves in the upper bracket quarterfinals, the teams were tied in the first half of both maps, but on both occasions, they allowed 100T to run away with the lead on account of individual fights.
“A lot of the things came down to close 1v1 situations, and in this game, there’s not that many rounds to play. If you win an eco round, the momentum can shift so quickly. It’s just that one or two important rounds that you lose changes the entire game,” Seb said in reflection of Challengers Finals. “It’s not like CS. You can’t really have throwaway rounds and unfortunately, if it comes down to two or three 1v1s and you don’t win them, that could literally lose the map for you.”
Against Version1 in the lower bracket, despite losing their selected map in Game 1, Andbox took it to the full distance for a third game in Split. In that deciding juncture, the team rallied back from a 10-7 deficit to tie it up off three consecutive round wins. Both exchanged the next pair of rounds before V1 snagged the win for a 13-11 final, eliminating Andbox from reaching Masters: Reykjavik. Once again, Seb’s hopes for a Major appearance was dashed.
“I know the first map was a little rough because we couldn’t get our footing at all,” Seb explained regarding the V1 series. “Again, one or two rounds that were really important came down to either small but critical mistakes or [one] big mistake, but we felt more so that we beat ourselves.than anything else.
“It just wasn’t going our way. There wasn’t necessarily a bad atmosphere or anything. There were things we did that just weren’t clicking….Our expectations were to go as far as we can, but unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the place we wanted [to be in].”
Nevertheless, besides the disappointing exit from Challengers Finals, Seb was content with the performance his team displayed. Even in losing, he identified instances of future growth.
“We definitely learned from our mistakes. It’s unfortunate to lose, but we can’t learn anything if you always win. Looking at the bigger picture, it was still nice to see where we got from our recent roster addition.”
With that hopeful outlook, Seb directs his focus for Berlin, Germany, the site for Masters Stage 3. Helped by a reshaped roster with the signing of Noah “jcStani” Smith, former member of Immortals, Seb is anxious to show the rest of NA what Andbox will throw to the table.
“b0i was a great teammate, and I will definitely miss playing with him. Any team will be lucky to pick him up, [but] I’m excited to play with jcStani and looking forward to seeing what we can do together.”
Seb grew up with next to nothing in his pockets when he started his esports career. After earning a self-sufficient career within the medium after years of work, he still couldn’t crack that Top 1% echelon of NA CS which included the allure of Majors.
But with his fierce diligence that spanned two games for a decade and turned him into a respected competitor, he distinguished himself as one of NA Valorant’s dependable leaders.
Managing a roster as one of the region’s oldest pro players, Seb will continue to tackle Valorant in nearly the same way he did as a CS rookie: outwit opponents, execute effective utilization techniques, and lead teams to victory. Seb’s story is already a tale that befits the most heralded of epics, but it is not yet over.
“We’re over a year into it and I can’t imagine what the game will be like in, say, three years,” Seb said. “How many agents and how many different maps [will have premiered by then]? Overall, it is really exciting to be a part of a new generation.”