Kévin “Ex6TenZ” Droolans has cemented his place in Counter-Strike history. The Belgian player has enjoyed a competitive career which spans 15 years across Counter-Strike: Source and Global Offensive, where he notably helped VeryGames become one of the best teams in the world.
With a dip in performance in recent years, it appeared Ex6TenZ was permanently hanging up his competitive skills when he announced his retirement in February 2020. Like many players however, he’s decided to transition to Valorant - which has become fertile ground for CS players looking for a fresh start.
At age 30, having signed with Ninjas in Pyjamas’ Valorant roster in December, Ex6TenZ will make his debut with the squad at Red Bull Home Ground. This event is different from other Valorant tournaments, with teams choosing a map as their home turf at the start of each match which, if they’re beaten on, could lead to a dramatically swift loss.
Ahead of the tournament, we spoke with Ex6TenZ about adapting to the Ninjas in Pyjamas’ roster, adjusting to Valorant, and why he ditched his retirement plans.
Ex6Tenz has over 15 years experience in Counter-Strike (Picture: Dreamhack)
You’ve been with Ninjas in Pyjamas about three weeks now, how has scrims been going and generally adapting to the team?
I’m very satisfied with the way we deal with practise. The first day we didn’t play actually, we just spoke about tactics and the approach we had to have. We took our time, we went through a lot of stuff like communication, principle of games.
I just wanted to improve the game IQ in general of the team, so we didn’t play just to win, we play to improve and I think our improvement is really good. After everyday we could see the difference, so the preparation went really well.
When you retired from CS:GO last year you said you wanted to move into coaching within that scene. What spurred the switch to Valorant?
Basically I wanted to go coach, I planned that. The first thing is I just wanted to take my time. I was kind of burned out on CS:GO and I just needed to rest.
What happened is the lack of competition, it was insane for me. I just needed some emotion, some sensation, you know? To be honest I played table football at really high level just to find that competition feeling again. And after one year without playing CS:GO too much, Valorant came out, I tried it and I felt the game was really good. I felt the tactical side was even better, bigger than CS:GO, so why not try it?
On CS:GO I think people will remember I was not doing so good, and I want people to remember me on Valorant. So it’s just a new challenge, I want to do something good on Valorant.
We see a lot of CS:GO players move to Valorant now, is it that fresh start mentality which is a big driving factor?
It is. I mean for me, I can take advantage of my experience from CS and not do the same mistakes. I felt it was really interesting in that way. It’s not about money or whatever, for me it’s writing another beautiful story and not doing the same mistakes. Like trying to improve my approach in general; working in a better way, maybe working more and resting more sometimes.
It’s common to see esports players retire in their late twenties due to declining reflexes which come with age, do you still feel like you can compete with the best?
I really think so, otherwise I would not be here. I’m not here to just play, I’m here to be the number one team. I feel like I can still compete and I’m in shape. I always took care of my shape and health, I’m always doing sport etc.
Maybe I need to rest a little bit more. In the past, I remember when I was in my twenties, I was playing maybe 12 hours or 14 hours in a row without problem, now it’s different. I think I can still be [on a] number one team.
Do you think it’s a misconception within esports then that pro players are often seen as past their prime in their thirties?
It’s really difficult to say. I think in the past, people were just saying, “okay after 25 we cannot play anymore," then "after 28 it’s finished”. Then we see their are really good players in CS:GO in the top three teams [in their thirties], for example Cédric “RpK” Guipouy or Patrik “f0rest” Lindberg.
I think maybe in ten years, it’s going to be like 35 or 40. I think it’s going to increase every year.
Was there a big learning curve in adapting to Valorant? Or does your skillset from CS:GO largely translate?
I think in the macro it’s kind of the same. The way you control the map, the way you sync if you want to play good as a team, the key principles are the same as Valorant. But then, everyone’s abilities are different etc. The macro is the same but the micro is another world, so I can use my experience but still I have to learn every detail.
Valorant esports looks set for a big 2021 (Picture: Riot Games)
For Home Ground specifically, did it take a while to decide as a team which map you see as your best?
I think we feel comfortable on every map. It’s really hard to know right now what is our best map so, we’re just going to do it on feelings and after like maybe 10 official [matches] we can figure out what is our best maps. [We’ll find out] In officials, because in practise and official matches, it’s not the same I think.
We feel comfortable on every map so maybe we can adapt on enemies.
What do you want to achieve in Valorant? Are you looking to carve the kind of legacy you have in Counter-Strike?
For sure to be number one. It would be insane to be a number one team. I was between first and second for like five years on CS. If I can be number one team for one or two years on Valorant, that would be really nice for me. That’s my goal to be a number one team for a long time.
Having the same legacy that I had in CS, it’s going to be really difficult I think but that’s possible and I’ll do everything I can to do it.
Being between first and second place for five years, if I can do it in Valorant at 30 years old *laughs*, that’s really nice. I’ll always try to be number one for a long time, but then we’ll see how much time.
Red Bull Home Ground is available to stream on the Red Bull Twitch channel.