Paper Rex’s Journey to VCT Masters Berlin: Carrying the Baton for SEA Valorant Esports
From being just another Valorant team to representing the entire SEA region at Berlin.
Valorant’s expansion in the Southeast Asia (SEA) region has been swift and successful. Since its release in June 2020 the game has given . One such former CS:GO team from SEA that switched to Valorant only to make it huge is Paper Rex, who will be competing in the upcoming VCT 2021: Stage 3 Masters - Berlin.
Their journey has not been easy though, as they've lost, learned, persevered, and kept on grinding from one Valorant Champions Tour (VCT) qualifier to the next, finally making it through to one of the biggest stages that the game has to offer.
At the VCT 2021: Stage 3 Masters - Berlin, Paper Rex will be going up against some of the best Valorant teams from around the world. The squad fields a strong and diverse Southeast Asian roster:
Benedict “Benkai” TanRusyaidee - IGL
Khalish “d4v41” Rusyaidee
Jason “f0rsakeN” Susanto
Aaron “mindfreak” Leonhart
Zhan “shiba” Teng Toh
Alexandre “alecks” Sallé - Coach
AFK Gaming had a chance to catch a conversation with the Paper Rex Valorant team where we learned about their journey through the different VCT tournaments, their drastic lineup change at the start of the year, how they managed to grow exponentially in the last six months, and their expectations heading to Berlin.
A rocky start to Paper Rex’s journey
Paper Rex entered competitive Valorant in July 2020, establishing itself as one of the early adopters. Back then, the Singaporean organization had started off its journey with a completely different roster, composed of former Counter-Strike players that had moved over to the new tactical shooter.
At that point in time, Riot Games had not publicly revealed its esports plans for the game. However, to test the waters, they had announced the ‘Valorant - Ignition Series’, a series of regional tournaments organized by multiple third-party organizers in partnership with Riot Games to build a competitive ecosystem for the game.
Paper Rex participated in many of these tournaments alongside other local third-party competitions. But despite being one of the first to join the Asian Valorant esports scene, the Singaporean organization did not achieve the success that many expected from them.
They tried to make the initial lineup work, making no changes for about four months. But after a continued slump, Paper Rex began to make some key changes. Multiple roster shuffles were made but to no avail, the only positive result in 2020 that came their way was a runner-up finish at The Gym Singapore Invitational.
Nikhil "nikH" Hathiramani - Co-Founder & CEO of Paper Rex commented on these changes stating that despite all these players being very talented individuals, they did not have the right attitude, not just towards the game and training, but in life per se.
The 2021 season started off with Riot Games announcing the Valorant Champions Tour for the entire calendar year, where the champions from multiple regions would make their way to the Valorant Champions 2021. This was perceived by many as a massive opportunity for teams like Paper Rex, who could legitimize themselves with strong performances on the main stage.
Unfortunately, in January 2021, Paper Rex crashed and burned in its first attempt, failing to make it through the VCT 2021: Malaysia & Singapore (MYSG) Stage 1 Challengers 1 - Qualifier. This forced the organization to reconsider its approach, once again undergoing a roster shuffle.
“It really comes down to the pool of players that we have here (SEA), developing some ‘bad habits’ that they have gotten used to from their Counter-Strike days,” explains nikH, “Some of the players that were with us would not qualify to work any full-time job! Habits like coming late, (lack of) discipline, not communicating with your upper management, and an overall poor approach towards professionalism.”
This was followed by Paper Rex making a shocking move that would change the fortunes of the team, while eventually making them sole representatives from the Southeast Asian region at the Berlin Masters.
Transition from CS:GO to Valorant - A tough pill to swallow for Paper Rex
On 8th Feb 2021, Paper Rex announced its departure from competitive CS:GO barely a year after its inception, during which it managed to secure a runner-up finish at ESEA Season 35: Open Division - Asia-Pacific while also winning the eXTREMESLAND Festival 2020: Southeast Asia.
Bidding farewell to CS:GO, Paper Rex transferred its entire roster over to compete in Valorant professionally. Immediately, things turned around for the team as its mixed Southeast Asian roster started to show promise right from the first performance at VCT 2021: MYSG Stage 1 Challengers 2 - Qualifier.
Paper Rex made its way through to the main tournament where it ended up attaining a fourth position finish. Their new lineup had quickly achieved much more than what previous iterations failed to deliver in several months.
Speaking about this transition, Nikhil outright said that the transition from CS:GO to Valorant was not at all easy, “The players required time, they needed to put in the effort to learn a whole new game, they needed to get rid of habits from their old game (CS:GO).”
For the first time in the VCT, Paper Rex did not have to play the qualifiers, directly competing in the VCT 2021: MYSG Stage 1 Challengers 3. The team once again took a fourth position finish, as it failed to make it to the VCT 2021: Southeast Asia Stage 1 Masters. Despite not making it to the first VCT Masters tournament, the team’s morale remained steady and the players started working hard for the next one.
Paper Rex Valorant’s Training Regimen
Benkai (the team’s in-game leader or IGL) shared that Paper Rex’s practice sessions start out pretty late in the afternoon at around 2:00 PM daily. The players begin with some individual warm-up that consists of aim training for about an hour. This is followed by a session of demo reviewing and theory crafting that lasts for a few hours. All theories are then put to test during the scrims that the team generally schedules for 7:00 PM, giving them enough time to grab some dinner in between.
Scrims were mostly played against experienced and proven Valorant lineups from other regions which helped in building up the confidence of the roster, allowing it to scale to greater heights within the SEA region.
Benkai said that, “Generally the scrims are played against teams from Asia - from regions like China, Japan, and Korea. We do not really play SEA teams too often.”
Steady climb to the top of SEA Valorant esports
This new style of training seemed to have paid off in VCT Stage 2 as Paper Rex made it all the way to the top - VCT 2021: Southeast Asia Stage 2 Challengers Finals. The journey was hard, but the team showcased sublime form as they won almost all the regional Challenger events to establish themselves as the best team in the Malaysia and Singapore region.
By now, Paper Rex had evolved into a much more stable squad. Although the team could not make it to Reykjavík, they cemented themselves as the best Valorant team from the MY-SG region, despite abruptly parting ways with Retla who was handed a one-year ban by Riot Games in April 2021.
Strength through diversity
Before the start of VCT Stage 3, Paper Rex made a change as their long-standing member Tommy was replaced by Zhan “shiba” Teng Toh. However, this seemed to have no effect on their performance, as once again, the mixed roster comfortably made their way to the Southeast Asia Playoffs.
A cohesive team dynamic emerged, helping them become a better unit. “Everyone on this team is just like a bunch of trolls who gel well together and have great team chemistry. Most of the time we are just joking around with each other, so I think it promotes a lot of team bonding,” said Benkai.
This trait helped Paper Rex put on quite the show at the VCT 2021: Southeast Asia Stage 3 Challengers Playoffs, where they won four matches on the trot to secure a slot in the grand finals. Unfortunately, they could not secure the final series against Bren Esports, a team that shiba acknowledges has managed to give them the toughest competition in the VCT.
“This is the first time that I have made it to the regional finals. In my case, it was the old roster of Paper Rex that was giving me a lot of problems, I couldn’t beat them,” joked shiba, as he went on to answer a bit more seriously, “I think Bren was actually one of the teams that I didn’t really want to face because I have played them in scrims, and I never really got to play well against them, so I kind of have a mental block.”
This problem was partially resolved during the upper bracket finals of the playoffs when Paper Rex had handed Bren a ‘2-1’ defeat, before going down to them in the grand finals. But that boost of confidence was enough for shiba and the rest of the roster, as they made their way to VCT 2021: Stage 3 Masters - Berlin.
Becoming the first Valorant team from the Malaysia and Singapore region to compete at an international level, Paper Rex, according to Benkai, is the perfect team to represent the SEA region in Berlin because of its diversity.
“We are a pretty good representation of SEA as a whole because our lineup consists of two Singaporeans, one Malaysian, and two Indonesians,” states Benkai. Elaborating on this, he said, “We are the only team in the entire Southeast Asian scene that has a blend of all nationalities. It is nice to see such diversity and how we are able to make it work better than the other teams.”
To Berlin and beyond
The journey ahead is definitely not an easy one for Paper Rex who is the only representative from SEA following Bren Esports’ unavailability to participate in the tournament, due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions.
Additionally, Paper Rex finds itself up against teams like Vision Strikers, SuperMassive Blaze, and Acend, as part of ‘Group-A’. Shiba admits that they need to be prepared as they are going against international teams and though their first goal is to make it out of the group stage, they know the competition that lies ahead is going to be challenging and are taking things one step at a time.
Benkai affirmed that not much is going to change in terms of how they approach this tournament, “I don’t think it is anything different or special as compared to playing another team from SEA”. The team’s coach, alecks shared a similar opinion, admitting that the top teams do everything fairly better than them at this point in time, be it their movement, aim, or just the understanding of the current Valorant meta.
Having resolved all travel related issues that some of the players like d4v41 had faced, Paper Rex has now reached Berlin as they await the start of the LAN tournament, all players looking forward to their scrim matches.
The journey has been hard, but Paper Rex has trudged through flawlessly achieving a new high with every passing VCT Stage. Their hard work and commitment has outshined the competition that they faced along the way.
NikH’s message to Paper Rex’s fans was clear, “For us as an organization, the people that have stuck with us from the Counter-Strike days, since we formed, especially to those people, thank you a lot because your undying support means a lot.”
Paper Rex is carrying the weight and hope of the entire SEA scene on its shoulders, heading to Berlin. Whether they crumble under the pressure or take it in their stride and use that as a motivation against the best Valorant teams in the world, is what will define their history this season.
With the eyes of the world upon them, can Paper Rex make Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the rest of the SEA region proud in VCT Masters 2021: Berlin? We will find out on 11th September at 18:30 (IST) when they make their debut on the big stage against the Korean top-seeds, Vision Strikers.
: Parts of this interview have been edited for brevity.