On June 4, VALORANT's worldwide release date, 100 Thieves entered the game's esports scene with the signing of Counter-Strike veteran Spencer "Hiko" Martin as captain. Three weeks later, the team finalized its starting roster, adding former PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds professionals Keane "Valliate" Alonso, Diondre "YaBoiDre" Bond, Zachary "Venerated" Roach and Alfred "Pride" Choi.
Less than two months later, those four former PUBG players were gone. Alongside the removal of a majority of the starting five, 100T also announced the signing of Nicholas "nitr0" Cannella, famed in-game leader and all-around talent for Team Liquid's Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team that reached HLTV's world rankings No. 1 position in the summer of 2019.
How did one of the first pro VALORANT teams crumble seemingly overnight? I spoke to peers around the North American VALORANT scene over the past two weeks to figure out what they thought went wrong with the original 100 Thieves roster and what, if anything, they could have done to salvage the situation.
One of the main reasons Hiko gave for joining 100 Thieves on stream and in interviews was the freedom he believed he would have in creating the roster. He was positioned as team captain and was in talks with the organization to eventually move from Michigan to the team's home base in Los Angeles once the COVID-19 pandemic showed signs of improvement.
While allowing Hiko to assemble the team he thought was best to contend for championships appeared to be the earnest plan from 100T, there was one small issue: Riot Games' Ignition Series events. Riot, in partnership with tournament organizers, was holding the first true VALORANT tournaments to kick off the game's competitive scene. 100 Thieves had been invited to the inaugural North American tournament, T1 x Nerd Street Gamers Showdown, but that put them in a precarious position.
They could either decline and give Hiko time to build out the perfect roster -- while missing out on making a first impression as other teams began monopolizing the fandom market -- or compile what they believed was the best roster available to compete in the tournament. They chose the latter.
100T signed the core of Highgrounds, a team coming from the world of battle royale game PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, and paired them with Hiko in hopes of building a team that could compete right away. Although 100T also allegedly looked into Tyler "Ska "Latham before he signed with former teammates Braxton "Brax" Pierce and Keven "AZK" Larivière on T1, they went for a core of a team with a lack of pro experience in tactical first-person shooters but a higher potential ceiling than most once settled into the game.
At the time, along with their fifth member, Jaden "Vegas" James, Highgrounds were one of the best teams in North America when it came to scrimmages and playing against other top NA teams. From talking to players who played against Highgrounds in practice during the closed beta phase of the game the team's overall chemistry and mechanical talent outweighed their inexperience compared to teams with years of pro-Counter-Strike experience.
Although it wasn't what Hiko had hoped for when he signed with 100T in terms of carefully building his perfect roster, there was no apparent disconnect between the players. They liked each other, but at the end of the day, the construction of the original 100 Thieves roster was what it was -- an arranged marriage. Sometimes arranged marriages work out, and the two sides fall in love.
Other times, they do not.
Their first tournament together went as well as the organization and the team could have hoped, with 100 Thieves making it out of the group stages and into the double-elimination playoff bracket. There, they fell to the lower bracket after a close 2-1 defeat to FaZe Clan and then beat Together we are terrific (now Envy) before their ultimate exit of the tournament in an overtime, single-map loss to Immortals, during which the team threw away an outnumbered advantage.
That became the story of 100 Thieves. On any given game, one (or two) of the players of the lineup could come alive and take over a match, but the squad's overall cohesion and consistency found them lagging behind the rest of the improving teams in North America. One of the main points brought up by rivals, when asked why 100 Thieves didn't succeed more than they did, was the issue with moving parts and Hiko's ongoing internet issues.
During the team's time together, Hiko's internet connection became a cause of concern for the team, limiting the overall practice schedule. As Hiko worked to fix his connection troubles, members of the team were already making the move to the 100T home base in Los Angeles. Venerated, Valliate and YaBoiDre all moved in July, with Pride, a Canadian, planning to move at a later date.
It was an awkward situation for all involved. The team would fail to match their debut results, failing to make it out of the group stage in either the PAX Arena Invitational and the FaZe Clan Invitational. In the 15 official matches the team would play together before disbanding and the organization deciding to go in a different direction, they only won four matches, with two of those coming against Tyler "Ninja" Blevins and his amateur team.
As I talked to more people, from managers to players to coaches, the common thread that popped up was that the four PUBG players on the team had potential -- with many singling out Venerated -- but that they needed to learn how to play a game with such a similar gunplay style to Counter-Strike and all the layers that come with playing a professional tactical shooter at the highest level.
They needed practice.
They needed someone to teach them.
They needed more time, but as often happens in esports, time is a team's greatest enemy.
Hiko signed with 100T as a streamer and a professional player, believing he would have a chance to build a team instead of teaching one. At 30, Hiko is still regarded by his peers as a clutch machine and one of the better players in North America, but he's not a teenager a team can slowly build around for the next three years. 100 Thieves signed him with an immediate goal of competing.
Nitr0's retirement from Counter-Strike and his behind-the-scenes plan to jump to VALORANT was an opening that 100 Thieves couldn't afford to miss. Numerous organizations reached out to Counter-Strike star to make him a centerpiece of their starting five, and though 100 Thieves weren't the front-runner at the beginning of the sweepstakes, they made sure they were the front-runners by the end of it. Not only did they offer the in-game leader a contract he couldn't refuse financially, they also offered something few other teams could offer -- a chance, with Hiko, to build the 100 Thieves starting five.
This is a world that revolves around video games, and as any player has at one point or another, 100T selected the "Start Over" button and reset the game. Instead of investing the time needed to bring the original roster up to their full potential, 100 Thieves went the opposite direction, rolling the clock back to June 4, when Hiko talked about how excited he was to be a part of the organization and how he would have a big part in putting together the team.
From all indications, it seems like 100 Thieves and their brain trust are committed to the approach this time around. The team pulled out of the $10,000 Pittsburgh Knight Gauntlet Series tournament and was uninvited from the fourth and final Ignition Series tournament, Pop Flash, with Hiko and nitr0 already beginning their search for their future teammates and the timeline of the team's creation possibly not coming until the end of 2020.
"VALORANT is a huge priority for 100 Thieves," said John Robinson, 100 Thieves president and COO. "We thought our initial roster was going to be competitive and the whole team put in a lot of effort to make it work but unfortunately we didn't get the results we wanted. Moving forward we're really excited to build around Hiko and Nitr0 and our goal is a championship roster. The ecosystem is still very young so we aren't in a rush but we won't be satisfied until we make that happen."
For the former Thieves, it all goes back to that pesky villain that remains undefeated -- time. Although a reunion with their former teammate Vegas -- the fifth man from their original roster who did not sign with 100T -- would have been the simplest option, it's no longer possible. Vegas has signed with Beastcoast, alongside a slew of other up-and-coming talents, including Hayden "Elevate" Krueger, a player on a six-month loan from the Thieves.
If given enough room to breathe and hours to practice, the consensus feeling among their peers is that the former 100 Thieves players can become a top-tier team in North America, far surpassing the results they put up in their short time with the organization. One rival said that when compared to practicing against Highgrounds and 100 Thieves, the all-PUBG team seemed tougher to play against -- and the team got worse once under the 100T umbrella.
For the Thieves themselves, it's a mulligan for a risky decision that failed to pay off. Luckily for them, where a decision like this could have stymied or even blown up smaller organizations, they have the resources to get a second chance. Signing nitr0, the biggest name to move to VALORANT along with Sentinels ace Jay "sinatraa" Won from Overwatch, and letting the team's two superstar players have a large voice in the roster construction, will camouflage the awkward divorce that became of the original 100 Thieves roster.
100 Thieves get a second chance at a first impression.
If they fail this time, with the large contracts given to Hiko and nitr0, there won't be any more do-overs.