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"It’s difficult to break out of it and it’s really difficult to get noticed."

Jake “Boaster” Howlett felt goosebumps as the crowd of 10,000 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive fans roared inside the SSE Arena in Wembley. With his camera in hand, standing inches away from his idols Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander and Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz as they prepared to walk on stage and secure their second Major title, nobody paid any attention to the then aspiring pro. 

Boaster watched as five Danish CS:GO titans lifted the game’s most illustrious trophy in London. It was 2018, Astralis had won their second Major and, even though it was one of the biggest and best esports events to have ever taken place in the UK, there was absolutely no home ground advantage for their teams and players. 

Connor “Sliggy” Blomfield and Jamie “Keita” Hall, two other ambitious brits, were also there. Everybody knows them now as the Team Liquid VALORANT maestro and the Complexity Counter-Strike coach, but not many remember that they were both observers at the FACEIT Major.

Fighting apathy in the UK

While going pro wasn’t their end goal, they knew all about the struggles of being from the UKCS community, and they understood why the odds were stacked against the likes of Boaster. The UK simply didn’t produce enough top-level players in comparison to other regions. It wasn’t for a lack of talent by any means, but the fundamental absence of structure paired with bad attitudes from players. This made it incredibly difficult for people like these three to succeed.

“There is a big mentality issue when it comes to UKCS,” Sliggy said. “We lost a lot of our old guards from CS Source and we didn’t really have a good foundation to build our scene on unlike some of the other countries. There was never really anyone to teach the younger players professionalism or how to have the right mentality and it just spiraled a little out of control.”

Sliggy described teams that would come in and do okay for six months before folding, to the point where that became synonymous with the UK’s reputation.

“I don’t blame people because the stigma is accurate to a degree,” Sliggy said. “It wasn’t the best place to be. It’s difficult to break out of it and it’s really difficult to get noticed. You have a few standouts, for sure, in terms of players who have managed to break out, and they deserve a lot of praise for it.

That’s why players like Owen “smooya” Butterfield and Rory “dephh” Jackson were practically celebrities — not solely because they were on the top of their game but because they cracked the code. They managed to break out of the UKCS scene. They were living Jake “Boaster” Howlett’s dream.

Boaster was 23-years-old at the time and, after dedicating five years of his life to competitive CS:GO, his biggest achievement was winning the ESL Premiership as a stand-in. He was barely getting paid from Counter-Strike, and with his savings running out fast, Boaster turned to content creation and streaming as a side gig so he could keep supporting his goals of going pro.

With a background in theatre, singing and dancing, making content came naturally to him. Then, through an online competition, he managed to catch FACEIT’s attention. One thing led to another and Boaster landed himself a once in a lifetime opportunity to vlog the London Major, mingling with the world’s best players backstage and living the dreams of every Counter-Strike fan. Unfortunately for him, that wasn’t his dream.

“It was so hype, but I was insanely jealous,” Boaster said. “I remember walking through and thinking I was just a nobody. Five years into my grind to go pro and I was still a nobody. My dreams and goals still felt so far away. I literally couldn’t focus on anything else in life except for going pro, nothing else interested me.”

Boaster likened the experience to that of a movie villain who pines for the hero’s wonderful life from the background. He was just a shadow on the wall — someone who just wanted to play on the big stage.

Sliggy takes control

While Boaster was busy following players around and making content, elsewhere in the arena, Sliggy had an even more important job. Sliggy was quickly becoming one of the most well-known CS:GO observers in the scene, and he too had landed a once in a lifetime opportunity as the lead observer for the Major.

At 29 years-old, Sliggy was mature, mild-mannered and a little bit old school. Anyone who has ever met Sliggy would tell you he is very competitive and has an extremely good work ethic. Things were no different back in 2018. And unlike Boaster, Sliggy said he was somewhat content at the time. His hard work was clearly paying off and he was heading in the right direction in life.

“It took three years of observing before I got my shot to observe a Major and the minors too,” he said. “I was so, so happy, it was honestly an event that I’d never forget, and to this day and I remember every single thing that happened.”

Sliggy even said a fan asked him to sign something for the first time, while he was hanging out with Smooya. In the moment, he said he had to look around to make sure the fan meant him and not someone else nearby.

Sliggy stopped observing altogether in 2020, not because he had given up on becoming the best, but because he saw a huge opportunity with VALORANT that would allow him to become the best in coaching. With everything moving online and a gap in the market to fill, Sliggy, along with five players from the UKCS scene, decided to form a VALORANT team under the name ‘fish123.’

In the space of 46 days, fish123 won nine tournaments, and four of the players eventually signed with Team Liquid (while Ardis “ardiis” Svarenieks became the star on G2). Sliggy attributed the team’s early success to their attitude and willingness to focus on work ethic, something that he said was lacking in the UKCS scene.

“So when we decided to go into VALORANT, I told the boys that we had to do it properly and fully commit,” Sliggy said. “None of that traditional UKCS mentality, but that we’d give it our all and be professionals about it. We had a good schedule, playing six days a week, and being on the same page led to those great results.”

While this recipe for success was clear to Sliggy, his co-observer at the FACEIT Major, Keita, put it to work in a different way.

Keita’s opportunities abroad

Keita knew he wanted to be a CS:GO coach in 2017, and from the second he realized that, he made it his absolute priority to try and make that happen.

He started coaching and observing at the same time. But even though his focus was always on coaching, observing paid him more money, and Keita said that wasn’t something he could turn down in esports. That helped him become the first of the three to finally break out of the UK scene.

Not long after the FACEIT event, he was approached by compLexity Gaming, a North American org which had one of the best UK players, dephh, on the team at the time — someone Keita already had a great relationship with. He said he believes that opportunity is one of the reasons he was able to accelerate his coaching career.

Keita was a popular figure in the UKCS community, but it wasn’t all luck and connections that got him to where he is either. Boaster admitted he isn’t surprised whatsoever with all of Keita’s achievements.

“I’ve always liked him, and whenever I had problems or wanted to talk about CS, Keita was one of the people I’d go to,” he said. “I’ve always respected him because he’s so smart and a nice person. I was sad because he had retired already and I never got the chance to play with him.”

Keita is still the Head Coach of compLexity and helped the team bring home a major trophy at the BLAST Premier: Spring 2020 European Finals.

Boaster goes all in

Both Keita and Sliggy were self-aware, and over time learned the secret of breaking out of the UK scene. It took a lot longer for Boaster. Since he wanted to become a pro player instead of a coach or observer, he encountered very alarming but common issues.

“I always thought to myself that if I was from the Danish or Swedish scene I probably would have gone pro in CS:GO,” he said. “I managed to reach near the top of the UK scene and there was nowhere else to go really.”

According to Boaster, players had to wait for a team from another scene to pick them up. While that happened for some, the rest had to keep waiting.

“Even if you’re a top team, why would you pick a UK player up when you can pick up a Danish player, you know?” Boaster said. “Don’t get me wrong — I made mistakes, too, and bad choices. I also tried to learn Swedish for a bit, hoping maybe if I could speak it I could go there.”

Even though Boaster was very ingrained in the UKCS community, Keita said he isn’t a typical UK player with a bad mentality. In fact Keita feels that Boaster is the exact opposite.

“Boaster is one of those people that I thought would always make it as a Counter-Strike player just because he literally had the best attitude ever,” Keita said. “He was just always extremely, highly motivated every single day. He’d be doing his routine, which is super important and kind of made him stand out from the rest of the UK players.”

As it turned out, it took Boaster six years to finally get picked up by a tier one organization, and it wasn’t in Counter Strike. In 2019, as he was running low on savings, he took up a job with Excel Esports as their vlogger. This meant he had to give up Counter Strike competitively.

Spending so much time with the League of Legends team, however, inspired him to take the game more seriously. So, in a span of six months, Boaster went from Bronze to Diamond and eventually made it as a substitute for the Excel LEC team. Despite the improvement, the chances of him actually playing League professionally were extremely low, and the release of VALORANT in 2020 prompted Boaster to quit his job and pursue the game full time. Armed with £9000 in savings, Boaster ended up building his own team and eventually got picked up by Fnatic after seven months of grinding.

“I thought VALORANT was great when it first came out because it was a fresh start,” he said. “CS:GO can sometimes be impossible to break into because it’s been around for so many years, it’s already established.”

Major success

Boaster, Keita and Sliggy all share a similar attitude when it comes to being proactive and working hard to achieve their goals. It’s no coincidence that three years on from the FACEIT Major, all of them are successful in their fields.

“I’m just so happy for all of us for getting to where we are,” Sliggy said. “I’ve always felt that Boaster and Keita are capable of doing big things because they had such great work ethic, and now seeing where they’re at really just goes to confirm what I’ve always thought which is that hard work pays off.”

Not everyone can play for Fnatic or coach for organizations like Team Liquid and compLexity, but seeing a handful of other British players at the top level in VALORANT and Counter-Strike paints a hopeful picture that the scene is changing for the better.

“Now that I’ve made it, I know I’m going to be a pro for a long time,” Boaster said. “Even if I get kicked or fired, I’m still going to keep playing and keep trying. That’s the only thing I want to do. I’ll never be able forget how it felt to be looking up at the stage at the Major and watching Astralis lift the trophy. That’s going to be me one day, and I won’t stop until I make that happen.”

George Geddes contributed to this story.

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