Ross “Value” Luppino’s 2018 was a roller coaster ride. The young AD Carry took a break from college to put it all on the line at the 2017 NA Scouting Grounds. After initially being drafted by Team Liquid, the organization was unable to finalize negotiations with Value.
Without a spot in the NA Academy League in Spring, Value kept his skills sharp until being presented with an opportunity to play in the Oceanic Pro League with Team Tectonic. Unfortunately, things did not go to plan for Team Tectonic, as the team was marred by internal issues and for Value specifically, player restrictions in the form of VISA problems.
The brief stint in the OPL put Value in a position to solo bootcamp in South Korea during the 2018 World Championship. With a full year of experience under his belt, Value looks to continue to improve and land a spot in the NA Academy League in 2019.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, Value. How are you doing?
I’m doing pretty good. Thank you for having me. I played in the Oceanic Pro League this summer, and now I’m enjoying Korean Solo Queue in the off-season.
Are you just doing a solo bootcamp in Korea right now?
Yeah, I went to OPL for the summer split and a big reason for that was that I would be able to go to Korea afterwards because I would have the funds to do so. Also, by being a professional player in a professional league, I can get a Riot sanctioned account and get some of the best practice I can while I’m here.
I missed the opportunity to get in the NA Academy League in 2018. It didn’t work out with Team Liquid after Scouting Grounds, and it’s hard to get on a team in the midst of the season. So my intention was to go for a year-long plan to get competitive experience and the means to bootcamp in Korea. It was so amazing to see Worlds live and play Solo Queue with all of the best players in the world while they were all here.
That’s a really solid multi-stage plan, actually! Did you get this planned around spring?
Before Scouting Grounds, I was full time, but I was planning on taking off school to go pro. When it didn’t work out, I took some basic online courses and I played Solo Queue and amateur league in Zenith Esports.
We went to Kansas and won a $20,000 tournament, but I still didn’t have any opportunities to play in Academy in summer. I was Challenger, but maybe I needed to be at the top of Challenger again to be picked up. When I get back to North America, that’s going to be something I do.
The best opportunity I had was to play in the Oceanic Pro League, and that’s when I mapped out that it would be a good step towards bootcamping in Korea during the World Championship. I did not foresee that going to the OPL would be as messy as it was, though. My team had a lot of internal issues and I didn’t get my work visa until Week 7 so I wasn’t able to play all that much. It didn’t go as well as expected, but even then, it was still worthwhile.
If I didn’t play in the OPL, my aim would have been to stay at home and try for the 2018 NA Scouting Grounds. But I thought getting some competitive experience in Australia and then going to Korea would be a better life experience than sitting in my apartment playing NA Solo Queue for a year.
You’ve got that right, you probably grew a lot more as a person than if you had stayed home, too. Did you find anything you learned in the 2017 NA Scouting Grounds that was helpful as a pro player?
Certainly. Playing at Scouting Grounds was a big confidence booster for my ability to play well under stage pressure At Scouting Grounds, over 20,000 people were watching the Finals and I had a really good performance there. I played very intuitively and fed off the energy, so going to Oceania where there is no live audience on stage and there’s a fraction of the audience on stream, I had almost no nerves going into the game. It felt like scrimming on stage.
In your experience playing in a minor region, are there improvements Riot can make to the second and third-tier leagues around the world?
I think it’s hard to do that with the population discrepancy. North America is a pretty small region in regards to its player base relative to its population, and Oceania is 1/10th the size of NA. I think they have some things in the works for next year that I’m not able to talk about, but we’ve already seen some Wildcard regions look decent at international events.
Some Turkish and CIS teams have been good. They’re also combining the Latin American leagues, which shows Riot is willing to make changes to strengthen regional infrastructure. I think they’re doing a good job with the growth of the smaller leagues, but you can only push it so far because you must have the natural means to support that. If you artificially inflate it, the bubble will eventually burst.
You really have to take your time developing a regional player-base, for sure. In that aspect, was your practice in Korea the best you’ve ever had?
Yeah, it was definitely 0 to 100 really quick. In Oceania, I would queue in the morning and it would be a thirty-minute queue. In Korea, it was only a couple minutes for a queue. My Diamond games in Korea were of higher quality than the best matches available on the Oceanic server.
Solo Queue and competitive play are two very different games when it comes to playing optimally. There are different things that are necessary in order to climb, and you rely more on individual plays rather than worrying about vocal communication.
Did you run into any pros in Solo Queue?
Yeah, both Korean players from the LCK as well as international players at Worlds. Even though I was low Master Tier, a lot of those players were in Master or I was close enough to where I could get into games with them. Many Worlds Players were my ELO hanging out in the Diamond 1 - Master Tier range, so I encountered over half of the most notable players from around the world.
Jackeylove played off-role when I saw him, so I never got to play directly against him. The next highest placing AD Carry was Rekkles, and I queue’d into him about five times. The two players I was the most excited to lane against were Teddy and Viper because I admire their skills a lot.
That’s such an awesome experience. I’ve noticed there are other NA Academy players over there, have you been hanging out with them or just staying solo and grinding?
I haven’t been talking to many people because I’ve been so focused on playing. My schedule is: wake up, eat, play, take a break and eat again, play again, go home, shower, sleep. With the exception of going to the Worlds events, that’s been my schedule since I got here. I went to Gwangju for Semifinals and Incheon for Grand Finals, so I took a couple of days off during those weekends.
I didn’t meet up with anyone, but I talked to a handful of Western players in client. There’s some commonality there and you can hit it off because mostly everyone else is speaking Korean or Chinese on the server.
Well, it sounds like you’ve made the most out of your 2018. Where will we see Value in 2019?
We should expect to see Value in Academy before we know it! That’s my goal, and I’m pretty persistent when it comes to accomplishing my goals. However, there are some variables that are not fully within my control, so I have to do the best as I can to influence those variables positively. At the end of the day, there’s a finite amount of spots, and a team has to see that it is worthwhile to pick me up and fill that spot.
I’m just trying to improve as much as possible and convey what I can bring to an organization. I’ve been so focused on Korea I haven’t planned much past the present, but now that I’m headed home I’m starting to map out what I want to do.
I’m going to be playing Solo Queue and trying to get my MMR up on my accounts so when Season 9 starts, I will be ready to grind and place towards the top of the ladder.
I’ll be taking things one step at a time, but if I don’t get on an Academy team, I‘m going to be very active in Solo Queue to show everyone I’m still here. Some people may have forgotten about me to some degree because I’ve been gone for so long, and if they’re not actively following me, they may not know where I’ve been. They might think I went back to school or something.
I want to show not only that I still have my game, but that I’ve improved immensely in the past year. I’m going to try to prepare myself in this off-season to be in a good spot for 2019.
Sounds like you’re taking all the right steps, Value. Is there anything you’d like to say to close out the interview?
I’ve been feeling really happy pursuing this dream of trying to go pro. From the outside perspective, it may seem like a bit of a rejection that I didn’t get picked up in Academy and I went to Oceania and joined a team with a lot of issues. But I’ve grown so much through the experience. I especially learned how to be resilient despite losing and focus on developing.
Through all of this, I’ve become so much stronger of a player and person. The climb through this journey has been making me really happy and motivated to get up every day and do what I love. When I was in college, I didn’t have this same level of energy because I felt like I was doing something that wasn’t authentic to myself. I was doing it because my parents wanted me to and because society wants you to take the safe route.
I put in work towards achieving my goals every day and it feels great. When I was in school, I wasn’t doing half as much work nor was I delighted to do it. So I’m really appreciative of esports and all the people in it who make it possible. Without the community effort, esports wouldn’t exist. The only reason it’s growing is because it has so many passionate fans and viewers and people in the industry who really prop it up with their hard work.
I’m really grateful to be in the scene, and I plan on it for many more years to come. You will be seeing me on the big stage, but I can’t put a definite time on it because things have to fall into place, but I’ll get my break. Now that I’m doing what I really love, I feel like no one can stop me.
Nick Geracie is a freelance esports journalist in Los Angeles, CA. You can follow him on twitter here.