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By Lucas Westhaver
Nathan Lee, better-known by his handle 'Cain', is a force to be reckoned with in the Valorant community. As one of the five members of SFU Esports Association Squad A, Cain and his teammates just brought home the gold in the TeamMETA College Conference on November 23rd. It's the latest in a string of accomplishments by SFU's exceptional team - as well as for Cain himself, whose aspirations are backed up by an all-time high ranking as the 18th top player in North America.
We sat down with Cain to discuss Valorant, the journey into professional Esports, and his bold ambitions for the future.
Valorant is played by two teams of five, with each player represented by a unique 'hero' with their own abilities and strengths. Teams alternate between being on the offensive and defensive: each side attempts to either plant a 45-second bomb (the Spike) in one of the opposing team's Bomb Sites, or prevent their opponents from doing so for 100 seconds. Rounds can also be won if the entire opposing team is downed: this aggressive dispatching of opponents is where Cain earned his reputation with the Agents, Skye and Sova.
Cain was introduced to competitive gaming by Counter Strike: Global Offensive. The fourth sequel to the original Counter Strike, which was developed at SFU, CS:GO is structurally and mechanically similar to Valorant - so similar that Cain found his experiences playing collegiate-league CS:GO translated into a competitive edge when Valorant released in June, 2020.
Following intense scrimmaging at the semi-professional Tier 2 level, Cain finished the first Act of Episode 3 at rank 'Radiant 26' - the 26th best player in North America, and well within the top 0.5% of players worldwide. That level of performance led to exposure, which resulted in opportunity - which is how Cain found himself on Squad A.
Cain characterized the busy life of an Esports pro:
"A weekly schedule is Monday to Friday scrimmage matches from about 3-7PM, and then either independent practice and skills-training, or team VOD reviews for the rest of the night."
Weekends are dominated by tournaments which, depending on the team's performance, often turn into day-long events. On top of that, there's the region based ranked play that directly contributes to global standing. That leaves little time for homework, but Cain is also a proud member of SFU’s Beedie School of Business in his second year, with a prospective major in Finance on the horizon.
Cain's ultimate goal is to join one of the roughly 25 full-time, salaried Valorant teams worldwide, which can offer up to ten-thousand dollars per month for star players, but can go up to much more. At SFU, Cain's focus is on boosting his profile in hopes of qualifying for that top echelon of play. To wrap up, we asked what SFU can do to support Cain and his fellow Esports athletes:
"I think the best way to support athletes would be to increase networking, so we can get more exposure within local communities and increase name-recognition, though I acknowledge this is a process. Content creators and professionals want to gain recognition for their achievements - to have evidence that the time they're putting in is paying off. Perhaps a news piece would be a good start!"