Lowkii at Epsilan 14. Photo credit: VaKarM.net
Théo " LoWkii " Téchené is a French player who has competed since Valorant's beta. He previously played in the French CSGO Tier 2 scene and is the assistant general manager of GamersOrigin, a French organization that has teams in League of Legends, Starcraft, Fortnite, and Street Fighter.
LoWkii has played with his L'institut L'institut Inactive mix since April, soon after Riot launched Valorant's closed beta. They've participated in many French and European tournaments, including the recent qualifiers for First Strike Europe. They made it to the playoffs of both qualifier weekends and finished one win away from qualifying for the main event in the second qualifier, where they were eliminated by Prodigy in a 2-1 match.
Ahead of First Strike playoffs, LoWkii gave us his predictions, spoke of his team, Sage, and his analysis of the game as a manager.
This interview has been translated from its original French.
What's your opinion on Europe's First Strike format?
If you take the format without looking at what has been done in other regions, it's tough but it's cool. I found it interesting, the story of open qualifying with the Play-In in Bo1 behind then the playoffs and a final phase in Bo3. I liked the idea that we had to go this route. But I imagine coming from CSGO, I'm also used to seeing that kind of qualifying and that plays into my appreciation. But overall, compared to what has been done elsewhere, it is frankly a shame. I'm going to say that I think the Bo1 format helped us with our performance where we beat some big teams, and although I think we could have won them in Bo3, this format gave us an advantage. But also no, the Bo1 format surprised all the European players who wondered why we did not have a format like that of CIS or Turkey, regions with teams that we meet in tournaments or in training. With the strings of Bo3 that we could see at home, we saw fewer surprises and better justification for some teams on their qualification because they had to beat Gambit, ForZe, or Sangal in Bo3s rather than Bo1s. In Europe, we have clearly seen more “hold ups” with rosters who deserved their place in the playoffs less. I find all of this very unfortunate that there was no agreement at that level so that these nearby regions could have a coherent format because I think coherent qualifiers could have been more interesting to follow.
Then, I find it silly not to have left access to certain groups of casters, like Dfuse.gg and 1pv in France, to follow the first rounds and support the teams of their country or region. For me it didn't seem like a huge workload to set up a form and select certain organizations, not taking everyone clearly by checking that they are serious people, but it would have brought visibility. Too bad. The two weekends with the Bo3s were fun to watch, but you don't feel like you've figured out what happened before. Teams like Guild or NIP were knocked out, but you couldn't see how. In a situation where the game is top notch, but still doesn't take off that much, it's a shame not to take advantage of this last year-end event to bring visibility to your stage.
The tournament administration's decisions in week one were also a bit sloppy, especially with regard to the concern in the Guild / G2 match, that it be resolved at the very last moment and not right after the match. Even at the Blast level, I was a bit disappointed as I find they are very good at what they do. The break in our last game against Prodigy did not come from one of the 10 players on the server, but from one of the observers who had spectator concerns. Subsequently they re-lobby, we had to join and indicate via the chat all the stuff we had, weapons, ultimate points etc. It also happens just after the pistol round on Bind, the last card of the match. I think player comfort should have prevailed over the spotters Blast could use in-game quite honestly, it wouldn't have taken the players out of the game and he would only have missed a camera angle.
How would you define L'institut's as a project and team?
L'institut is a mix that is older than Valorant. I created it as a base on CSGO at the end of my career where the goal was to play all the small French LANs that we weren't doing with our official teams. It was clearly a bunch of pals who aimed to beat established teams while having fun. So when Valorant came out, I was very interested in the game and wanted to bring this magic bus [the team's logo is a bus] back on it. The goal is always to participate in all tournaments as a mix and between friends. But with the impact we are currently having, we also have a bit of an objective to find new players and make them more known so they can show themselves in their best light. I think the setting is right for that, because we don't put pressure on each other, we play with friends and above all, we don't promise each other we'll stay together long term or become a true team. This is what I say to each of the players who join the adventure, the mix risks and will evolve a lot as it has already done with beyAz , for example, who plays with Sangal now or even players who are at FeaFeaFea and Opportunists. It's a bit of a challenge for Twenee1 and I to find players that we want to play with — who are not bad and who also want to play — each time. It allows them to play properly and quite quietly, I think, players can use this bus, which is solid enough to perform, to show themselves and potentially join another team afterwards. There is no idea of commitment, promises of stability, etc. Everything we do is only a bonus, we had never really done any training before the small preparation of a week that we had before First Strike, because it is an important event anyway and the first of this magnitude. The goal is still not to have any inconvenience, if anyone wants to step aside from the team, they can do so whenever they want. The goal remains to play with friends, have fun and try to beat established teams, which is still possible with Valorant, as not all of them are well prepared — except with FPX which I find really above.
Did your performance in First Strike match your expectations going in?
Considering the bracket that we had, we are necessarily a little disappointed because we said to ourselves that we could easily have made it to the main event. Despite that, as we talked about before, we play with friends and have not prepared as much as possible, we were lucky on the play-In brackets. We had good teams anyway, but we avoided being forced to play against G2, FPX, or Team Liquid. So yes, we have a few regrets, especially regarding the last match against Prodigy. Overall, we are still very happy with what we produced in the tournament, we didn't initially think that we would be the team that was going to make the French-speaking fans the most excited. It was great playing teams, which may not be top individually, but you have to respect when playing as a team. I am thinking here of Giants or BIG for example, who have worked together for a long time, who go to bootcamp and who train every day. And clearly showing up in Bo1s and succeeding in getting them out of the tournament is a pleasure. We also think we have a hasty playstyle that works well in such formats. Afterwards, even though we thought we could have reached the last phase of the tournament we have remained lucid. L'institut is not a team that is in the European top eight. We are still happy and proud of the course even if there are regrets against Prodigy and Team Heretics. On the latter, we had to play in 4G with Twenee, we had a bad match and unfortunately we lost 13-11.
In conclusion, as I said, I came out generally happy, and reassured about our game, but also about the state of the European scene. I learned a lot of things, about how we have to play certain games, how to manage the players; it's a really good experience for me.
You were just talking about the state of the scene. What do you think of the overall results of French players in First Strike?
The overall results are pretty sad to be honest. I'll start with the first one I can think of is Crea with NiP who unfortunately fell in the match against Purple Cobras. The second disappointment was Opportunists, I saw them put on a great performance honestly, and although they did not qualify, they at least had some interesting games. This was the case in the first week with two straight wins against eSuba which caused quite a bit of concern for many teams during qualifying. They fell against FPX, but hey, it's FPX who are the better team for me by far. During the second week, they were less lucky, they played less well and were taken out by Vasta. I spoke to them after the event and told them that overall the result was okay, but that there was room for them with the fact that many other teams that did not hold their ranks. Wallax's contribution is going to turn things upside down for them and for the better in terms of their structure, I think they will be ready for next year and that is what matters.
I was very disappointed in FeaFeaFea because this is a team that I manage and I know what they are capable of. They had a lot of complications, whether in play or even on the side and it slowed them down. The first week was bad followed by a much more encouraging second week for them, but they were clearly not at their normal level.
Both M4china and Vladédé qualified with their team [Purple Cobras] and that's honestly good. They may not be the best individually in the game. Happy also qualified for the main event, I like him a lot, but he stole my qualification (laughs).
We also saw Warthox get a good result by making it to the playoffs in the second week and NWA who failed in the last game before playoffs. The last of which I note a bad result, it's Souldazz, I know them all very well, they are all quite strong and quite complete and when they are in their day they can be very good. But there they lost to teams they had to beat.
To conclude on this, I think that the French speakers have choked the tournament a bit, there was a way to see more teams go to the two playoffs. But I think I know where it came from, there hasn't been a big shuffle yet, everyone is still playing with their friends or just the first team they joined. It was a big test event for the stage, a lot of them crashed and will be wondering. You have to think more about the place a player should take in a team, the roles and positions to adopt, etc.
To come back to that last Bo3 against Prodigy, what did you miss and what is your analysis of the game? And especially your preparation for Split?
We arrived well prepared for the game, I had seen a lot of their demos, I knew how they played, their game is easy to read, I think. So we worked well on the match ahead of time, especially Split even though we might not have played it if it hadn't been picked first. I knew they were going to want to start on defense so we were going to be able to control the pace early on in our attack. I had analyzed their last match on Split against Team Liquid and it was scary how bad they looked on it, not that they could block us on the contrary, but because their composition was really not viable on the map given the current meta. So everything went well on it.
Afterwards, our performance on Ascent was a big disappointment, I know we had plenty of individual and collective skills to beat them 2-0, I'm sure. The map was tight two or three rounds changed the momentum and the outcome of the game itself. We really miss it when we could have put a wall in their defense as we usually do on the map, but here we did not succeed.
And then we played on Bind, this is the map we had the least preparation on, so we still had a chance to win thanks to Split, but we started a little defeatist. That same day, we had two little practice games on it because we suspected they were going to pick it, but we clearly couldn't catch up. We started on attack and since we didn't have a special setup in place we decided to play it with grit. So I imposed a lot of rhythm on the map and in the tactics of the game, I used Jett even more aggressively than usual by running all over the place and in any way with movements that I hadn't ever even done before, not even in ranked, but that worked because I was in the zone, I think. So we went ahead 9-3, it was quite unexpected and then the classic: players think they have the game already won and it's a bit of a descent into hell. The lack of experience on our team must have contributed to that too — although Prodigy could use the same excuse with Hoody or Delezyh I think — I think for us it certainly played a role. We could not find the solutions on the server and individually there were hiccups. Big regrets on the full series, especially with Ascent, but I'm still very happy with our tournament performance.
Predictions for the European finals?
For me, I believe FPX very clearly is the favorite and have been saying so since the competition was announced. They are by far the best team in Europe today. In terms of individuality, they have nothing to envy in G2, in collective terms, they largely overlook everyone, they are a year ahead of the game. They play several compositions on each map and they have setups for almost all situations. They may not blow out the competition, but I don't see many people who will counter them. I was disappointed with what G2 was able to offer in qualifying. I find it mind-boggling to see that they started their match against Guild without knowing how to play the pistol round, and generally their map control is rough and they don't seem to have a game plan. They rely on their communication and it can work especially given their skill and all, a bit like what Fnatic proposed in 2014, but you can't get to First Strike without having prepared anything. Some will tell me that they don't want to reveal too much ahead of the main event, but you need your best game plans to try and get out of the qualifiers when you lose to other teams like Guild…
In terms of teams to follow and that I have been following for a long time, I like SUMN FC, I think they're strong, I really like their people and their communication, too. I find they are deep on strategy, much like what FPX does albeit on a smaller scale. I think it's all or nothing for Nolpenki because they rely completely on their strength: their aim. They can go tormenting Team Liquid or G2 Esports as they fight a bit with the same style of play. I also find strength in Team Heretics, they all have a good individual level, but in their match against Team Finest, I saw them come out with some very interesting strategies on Bind. They really seem to have worked hard.
What did you think of the play shown by other regions?
I follow everything, at least as much as possible, beit Turkey, CIS, Brazil, Japan, Korea, and of course North America. It was really cool to follow, there were a lot of surprises everywhere and it shows that the level is still rising and that everyone is more or less at the same point. Next year will be very interesting with real competitions which will bring together all regions. But in my opinion it also showed that Europe is above the rest. For me, FPX can play and beat any team in the world on LAN right now. Behind Europe, I can clearly see Japan emerging and then behind the United States. I find them very good individually, but their teamplay isn't at the same level. In terms of team building, strategy, thinking, game plan, character and ability use, I find them lagging behind. For example, I don't understand how you can see Reyna appear in important games, her kit is bad and there are so many other much better possibilities.
You're one of the few people who still uses Sage often at top level. Do you think a team should always have her in their lineup? And what are the strengths to using her?
I think it's really interesting to talk about Sage, because the character isn't played anymore and as a result people don't adapt properly to counter her anymore. I find, like everyone else, that Riot is very nervous about her, unfortunately. But since they haven't released a patch yet, the character remains interesting, I quite honestly think a team has every interest in reconsidering Sage. It's not for nothing that a LoWel, for example, still uses her or that many people use her on Split, her spells are still disturbing for the opponents. Now that we have a meta where Jett and Raze go very fast on sites, the wall can be very interesting to break the explosiveness of the team for example. The character has become viable again because she is less played and surprises enemies. We had the problem on Ascent where in attack, I was starting to have to repeat the same pushes and the same actions and the same in defense where we lacked the possibility to slow down the enemies outside the site played by Cypher. I started training with her once a day and got back to my ability on her that I had when I played her a lot during beta, and noticed these new strengths we're talking about. I'm not going to say everything either, but I might just start playing her again...
Shifting from LoWkii the player to LoWkii the general manager, how do you see the game for an organization like GamersOrigin?
For organizations now, it's not that simple, the game is very enjoyable and works very well at the esport level. The excitement is there too, the spectator mode is okay, there is not much to fault about the game clearly. Riot is behind Valorant — to work with them in LFL [the French League of Legends league], I can say that it is a pleasure, it is by far the most professional, competent, involved, fair publisher, etc. You can give them a lot of adjectives that go in this direction. All this makes an organization want to get into the game — but it's not that simple, the scene is young, it was quickly taken over by people from CSGO who quickly raised salaries. The involvement of the teams followed as well, especially in North America where almost all the big organizations took the game by storm. And you can see what happens, T1 is struggling, 100T took a long time to get going. European organizations like GamersOrigin want to jump into the game, but everything is already expensive in the game if you want to have a team that is at the top and you're not going to be sure the team will be at the top either. Everyone, in any case, is following the game with great interest, everyone was also waiting for information from Riot, which was given recently when they announced the Valorant Champions Tour to us during a meeting. First Strike meanwhile made it possible to judge the teams and for some organizations to consider their options. The final phase will have an insane importance at this level because four of the eight teams in Europe's main event aren't under contract at the moment.
What do you expect from the next level of competitions offered by Riot?
I was expecting a not-too-closed format for this first year, but I'm looking forward to transitioning to a real circuit next year with this Valorant Champions Tour, I can't wait to see that and play qualifying. This is the best that can be done to let the stage, the players, and the organizations grow in the game.
Do you want to add anything or talk about a subject that we have not covered here?
I encourage French-speaking viewers to follow our French and Belgian players for this last part of First Strike, whether at Purple Cobras, G2, Team Liquid, or even Prodigy. I hope people will be on the streams to show that the community is on the move and people are really interested in the game.
A last word ?
Thank you already for the interview, I hope it was interesting, thank you to VLR and you for doing all this work for the community. I really like the media, I use it very often and I already have my habits!