Moon Racoons are here to show North American VALORANT what they’re all about.
VALORANT is buzzing with anticipation with First Strike right around the corner, and with its North American qualifiers underway, some teams have begun to make a name for themselves. With strong showings at the Nerd Street Gamers x Renegades Invitational, Moon Raccoons have been quietly climbing the North American VALORANT ladder.
GGRecon spoke with Moon Raccoons coach Gannon "RaptorZ" Nelson shortly after their nail-biting loss to 100 Thieves in the Nerd Street Gamers Open Qualifier ahead of First Strike North America. RaptorZ gave some insight into the inner workings of the team, what their goals are moving forward into the UMG Qualifier, and his thoughts on why exactly Overwatch players are transitioning over so well.
Welcome the PUBG legend to our starting roster!
Going all the way back to 2016, you were one of the earlier coaches in North American Overwatch. From that experience, what are some of the tools or lessons that you’ve learned that you have had to call upon now in VALORANT?
A lot of what I use from my Overwatch experience is to help create a strong communication structure, play structure, and optimising ability usage/understanding. Overwatch is a very intense coordination game with the number of team fights each match will have. As a result, you need a clear structure of how calls should be, who calls what, but at the same time, having flexibility for players to make adjustments when needed. VALORANT being like Counter-Strike, is slower than Overwatch, but with the need to combo abilities and pace strategies around those abilities, communication is critical to keep the players on the same page to execute our goals.
Where do you personally feel like you’ve grown the most as a coach over the last four years?
The biggest thing I learned is how to help with match pressure. Throughout my time with Gladiators Legion and Complexity, we consistently had great [practice] results, but we always fell short in playoffs. In my last Season with Legion, the season we qualified for The Gauntlet, I learned a lot about how important the focus on family, teamwork, in conjunction with goals and loving the game we play is. After Gladiators dropped Legion, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my time there and comparing it to the teams I had watched in [Dota 2] the years past like Team Liquid and OG.
What I learned I had carried over to Moon Raccoons was our structure and values; playing because we love VALORANT. We want to get better and beat other teams, and most importantly, we want to have fun as a team doing it. If you lose touch of why you get on every day, it's easy to lose sight of your goals, your focuses, and how to improve. So with Moon Raccoons, I want to focus hard every day keeping the environment centred on loving gaming and VALORANT, while still focusing on our goals to improve.
Our goal is not only to be playing against the best teams but beating them and show everyone what we are about.
— Gannon "RaptorZ" Nelson
Moon Racoons teeter and have breached vlr.gg’s top ten rankings in North America in the past but with your performance against 100 Thieves you’ve established yourselves as a team not to take lightly. Could talk a bit about what it means to you and the team to be taking some of North America’s top teams so close?
It means a lot right now. We are all on this team because we love VALORANT and want to be the best team at it. Having close matches with these teams after we have good scrims results versus multiple top sponsored teams has really empowered us. To the players, it has been a confidence boost since we know we can do it scrims but now matches too. For me, it has been a focus of facilitating that confidence while keeping a strong focus on nothing has changed. We still play VALORANT because we love the game, and we got here because we have fun improving and playing the best game possible each round.
Recently you and your team placed fourth at the Nerd Street Gamers x Renegades Invitational. First, does it feel any different knowing you’re going up against sponsored teams and being able to beat them? Is there a sense of validation that, in a way, motivates you?
The results from NSG x Renegades for us was a moment where what we had been saying and working on crystalised. We had been having great scrim results versus many sponsored teams, but being able to play our game during those matches feels really good. I would be lying if I said it did not motivate us, but our goals are to be the best team, and these wins are just part of that path. So we have taken these wins and close matches as a reason to focus harder on having more fun, learning more, and being the best team at VALORANT we can be every day.
You and Moon Racoons were one of a few teams that were able to take the eventual winners of the Nerd Street Gamers x Renegades Invitational, Andbox, to their limits. Could you talk a bit about the map you did take off them? What exactly went down behind the scenes on Haven that lead to your victory?
The match with Andbox has a bit of history for us now. At the NSG x Renegades Invitational, our match [against] them was the third time we had met. In the qualifiers, they had us 2-0 in our first meeting and had actually won Haven 13-5. When we met in the finals we focused really hard on playing our game on Haven and making them conform to it. As a result, we 2-0’d them, with haven being a dominant end where we won 13-4. So when we met in the main event on Haven—it was our map. While they beat this first time our first meeting, we knew our game plan and style on the map was better. So a big factor to that map going to us is the history and it being a map we have been able to play our game.
Could you talk about the team dynamic of Moon Raccoons? Who on the team is doing the shot-calling or is it more shared across the team?
The team dynamic is the main focus on Moon Raccoons. As I said earlier our focus is on all of us having the same goals; not caring about results but playing good VALORANT, playing to win and not afraid to lose; Having fun in every scrim and match. We really emphasize the reminder that we are here because we love gaming and have fun getting better.
Within games and matches, we have a dynamic calling system with a strong central caller. Rebo is our IGL and Captain, he has an amazing brain for VALORANT, and also is a strong leader working with his teammates to push himself and them to new growth points. Aleksandar has been a stand out in his performances, insane with his clutches, but also is a critical part in keeping the environment focused but loose. Fiend is our [Operator] and has been playing lights out as well with a legendary clutch to prove it; along with Aleks too, Fiend has been instrumental in keeping people focused while having fun. Temperature has been a backbone of the team in terms of clutch potential, brains, and being hilarious in and out of the game. Lastly recently joining, Pr0phie has been an insane addition to the team. He has slotted right in the atmosphere and been laughing with us while slaying with us.
As far as shot-calling, the main voice is Rebo however we emphasise that it's a team game and as such Rebo is always listening for teammate additions or adjustments. Strategy and tactics are a group effort through hours of server time and review.
Your run through the Nerd Street Gamers Qualifiers for First Strike, unfortunately, came to an end recently in a nail-biting loss to 100 Thieves. Going the distance and with two overtime rounds against a team of their calibre says a lot about you and your team’s potential. Could you talk a little about some of the reactions during the match and the atmosphere after the results were locked in?
It was electric and unforgettable during the match. Although we didn’t beat 100 Thieves in the series, the players put everything on the table for themselves and teammates to win every round we did. The energy after a few plays I will never forget. The first clutch from Fiend on our eco attacking round was legendary and as he closed out that round the volume from the players was monstrous. At the time I was muted listening, I was screaming myself off-mic clapping harder than I ever had before. Later on, in the same map, Aleksandar had another insane clutch on attacking side left in a 1v3 on B site. Again after this play, the hype was unbelievable, and I couldn't help but scream in excitement from what was happening. So when we had lost the atmosphere went to bittersweet.
We knew we had the play that day to win, and in some cases had given them rounds that were ours to lose. But we went out on our terms swinging as hard as we could, so we quickly focused on that and the next goals to get better; after all, we only had a couple of days before NSG and First strike with pr0phie to practice. So with that little time and the amount of fun we had playing together, learning, and improving at VALORANT, we knew then we were going to keep doing the same and beat whoever challenges us for that spot to go to the closed qualifier.
One thing that was apparent was that both Moon Raccoons and 100 Thieves placed a lot of emphasis on pushing through Showers on Bind during each team’s attacking rounds. Could you talk a little about the thought process on that?
The biggest reason for bathroom’s when taking A site is the angles that have you to fight as you come out, from bathrooms you are more easily able to isolate angles and clear them one-by-one. Another big benefit is the ability to wrap u-haul/back site; you can isolate members on the site from backup and get easier kills on those isolated members. The reason for this is rotators are now smoked out defender spawn/Heaven, allowing players to clear those isolated angles, which constricts the players on site. The end result is rotators are unable to help the site players, and the site players are stuck in u-haul and cleared from both sides. Lastly, having a look to take A site from short/u-haul side and bathrooms is important to keep the look on the attacking side fresh.
Obviously, your journey isn’t over just yet, next month you have one more opportunity to qualify through the UMG Tournament next month. Looking ahead, what are some of the thing you guys are going to be working on to make sure you land on your feet?
Our goals and focuses remain the same. Our road to qualifying is through honing our understanding of clutch and mid-round decision making, adding more strategies + setups, and having fun playing VALORANT. After all for us having fun playing VALORANT is getting better and beating our opponents, we make a big point to remember that. As a result, practice will be the same with new focuses; if we can keep true to that we will continue to grow as we have; which a big focus before is not growing as much as possible each day/practice/scrim or whatever. For us, it is about improving on a few simple goals each day so we can always grow even if it is only 1%.
Last but not least, you guys are on the cutting room floor of North America and are so close to really making a Moon Raccoons a part of VALORANT esports history. What would it mean to you and the team to qualify for the First Strike?
It would mean a lot, as it is the main event for tier-one teams before the end of the year. Our goal is not only to be playing against the best teams but beating them and show everyone what we are about. So if—and when we make it—for us it will be about showing how important the values we have are and why we stand by them every day in practice and matches.
Images via Riot Games