Balancing work, school or both while grinding amateur esports events is common for players trying to get their shot at the top level, but rarely does it work out as poetically as it did for Shawn “Shawn” O’Riley. The 19-year-old entry fragger for Gen.G was working at McDonalds when he was approached by the organization.
“I was trialing with Gen.G and I texted my boss at the time ‘don’t schedule me, I can’t come into work today,’” Shawn said. “That turned into ‘Gen.G still wants me to trial, I can’t come in this week.’ Gen.G gave me an offer, so I told my boss I wasn’t coming back.”
Funny enough, he never really stopped getting paid by McDonalds. One of Gen.G’s biggest sponsors is the Golden Arches. So directly or indirectly, McDonalds money was still finding its way into Shawn’s pockets. But, naturally, having the logo added to his Twitch and Twitter banners is a lot nicer than actually working a McD’s drive-through for eight hours a day.
“I was giving it my all so I wouldn’t have to work in fast food anymore. It was actually ruining me,” Shawn said. “When Gen.G came, I said, ‘this is my time, this is where I give it my all and hopefully I get away from this place.’”
Shawn’s McDonalds journey has quickly become a copypasta in VALORANT chats.
Only a few months removed from that job, Shawn says he hasn’t had a lot of time to reflect on his former life. While Karen-filled customer interactions might have caused him plenty of headaches, there was a camaraderie that comes with teammates in those types of jobs.
“I worked the window, I worked the front counter, I was on grill, sometimes even on fries,” Shawn said. “The one thing that kept me there though was the staff -- I was friends with all of them. That made the work environment ten times better. Also, if anyone ever goes to those places, don’t be rude to those guys. The amount of customers that yelled at me for the dumbest stuff, I don’t even want to go into it, that stuff is crazy.”
Working with the public is stressful no matter the company. Doing that, then going home to grind out high-level ranked or amateur tournaments creates a pretty demanding schedule. Shawn would work a shift he called “half-manager” then go home and grind out tournaments for teams like Big Pizza, Team Serenity and, eventually, as a stand-in for Moon Raccoons at the Nerd Street Gamers x Renegades Invitational.
While most Tier 1 VALORANT players can trace their roots back to competing in Counter-Strike, Overwatch or other titles, Shawn is one of the few VALORANT pros without organized competitive experience in any other title.
“I’m basically just a VALORANT pro,” he said. “I have a lot of hours playing CS from when I was 14 or 15 years old, but I was broke and I couldn’t get into ESEA, which was the big thing at the time. So I played a lot of CS, but I was unknown in the scene. That’s just where I learned a lot of things coming into VALORANT.”
Standing in for Moon Racoons, the team had to beat out Renegades and Ninja’s Time In squad to make it out of groups. In the first round, Moon Raccoons beat Gen.G 2-0. Clearly the org saw something they liked, and they weren’t alone.
“I remember going into my Twitter DMs and seeing that all these people had messaged me,” Shawn said. “I’d click on their Twitter profile and be like, ‘who is this?’ And it would be the coach for this team or that team. It was insane, it was honestly mind blowing.”
Once Shawn joined Gen.G in late 2020, the team went on a nice run. At Stage 1 Masters, Gen.G looked like one of the best teams in North America, pushing to a third-place finish overall. But much like FaZe Clan, who finished second in that same tournament, the quick turnaround to Masters 2 qualifiers also caused issues for Gen.G. With VCT Stage 3 not starting until after Masters Reykjavík is over, it’s the first extended break from top-level VALORANT competitions for Shawn and Gen.G in a while.
“When you’re competing in the Tier 2 scene, there are a lot of tournaments, of course, but they weren’t as exhausting as the ones I’m playing now,” Shawn said. “It’s because of the level of team, the level of the players. It’s been a wild ride [since I was picked up]. There isn’t a lot of time to relax or breathe.”
Having open qualifiers is important for esports in their early stages. While the quick turnaround for Gen.G didn’t work in their favor between Stage 1 and Stage 2, being able to showcase his abilities against other Tier 1 teams is the entire reason Shawn was picked up in the first place.
“VALORANT esports has a really healthy ecosystem,” he said. “It isn’t being gate kept. If you look at a game like CS, it feels like it's impossible to go pro in that game. There are so many opportunities to face off against other Tier 1 teams and get known -- that’s super healthy. All the little tourneys, like [Pittsburgh Knights Before Christmas that Gen.G won] and you guys, NSG. I used to play in all your 10Ks. Those were basically my starting point for competitive esports, I think it's a really good esports scene.”
As one of the few VALORANT-specific pros from the game’s first year, Shawn has a love for this game and not just because it helped him escape drive-through Karens at McDonalds, although that was definitely nice. With Gen.G and the rest of VALORANT esports likely going to hit a rostermania period between Stage 2 and 3 maybe more teams should look at the retail workers around them. The next Shawn might be there, waiting to get their shot.
Lead image credit: Gen.G