TSM’s Matthew “Wardell” Yu talks with esports.gg about his philosophy on pro gaming, training his left hand for the future, and switching to professional Valorant.
TSM VALORANT is one of the most popular lineups in all of VALORANT. Originally a group of five former CS:GO players playing under the banner MouseSpaz, the team was eventually picked up by TSM in May 2020. Now, they are one of the leaders in VALORANT content creation. However, while the TSM squad excels in streaming and content, their competitive year in 2021 has been lacking. In this interview, we speak to TSM Wardell to talk about his earlier years in esports, his breakout year on TSM, and how his decision to drop out of school and pursue esports is how he found happiness.
I want to talk about this year for you in general with TSM because it feels like a real breakout year for you. Talk to me about this year for you and what it’s been like to experience success like this.
TSM Wardell: It's been super fun. I remember like it'd been yesterday when I first started streaming and getting my first subscribers. Looking back on how many subscribers on Twitch I had in a year, I now get in two days. I just feel very grateful for having this opportunity to move over to VALORANT and understand what makes me happy in life.
When you first left CS:GO, how was your relationship with pro play before entering VALORANT? Was there ever a possibility of placing your focus on streaming and youtube?
TSM Wardell: I knew it's something that I really wanted to do because there are not many teams looking for players during COVID because they did not have funds to support a team. So when I saw VALORANT and how it is run by Riot Games who are so invested in esports, I knew I needed to make my mark in this game. I remember playing in a Flashpoint tournament and knowing that I would be making this switch to VALORANT. Honestly, I just have a lot of faith in this game honestly.
You played League of Legends extensively before as well right?
TSM Wardell: Yeah, I used to be Diamond III and I wanted to go pro in League of Legends at first. That changed over time when I realized that in League of Legends, I don’t have as much control over the game like I do in FPS. Even if I were winning in lane, it would get frustrating to know I could lose a game because other lanes were losing. I wanted to play a game where you can do more and carry an entire team on your back. That's how I went over to Counter Strike because I knew that was possible.
What was the reason you wanted to do League of Legends instead of going down the path of FPS?
TSM Wardell: I didn't know there was a pro scene in Counter Strike at the time. When I thought of esports, the only thing I would think about was League of Legends and TSM. I gave that a shot before putting my efforts all into CS:GO. Through time, I found myself gradually getting better at the game and doing everything I could to get better. I remember saving up to get a better monitor to improve my game just a little extra.
What were those early years of CSGO like for you. As you were chasing this dream of becoming a pro player, what challenges did you face?
TSM Wardell: it's very tough. When you are trying to become pro, you have to climb the ranks from the bottom to the top. For me, it was all gradual improvements once I finally qualified for the Premier League. I went from the bottom to the top. From there, I qualified for ESL Pro League and then qualified for ESC. Once I was here, I knew I had the ability to do something great.
But, it’s really weird. Once I qualified for these events, I got owned. All that excitement in qualifying for these Leagues with Tier One CS:GO teams went away as I kept losing. You get farmed because of this giant skill disparity between the top and bottom of the North American scene. Throughout my first two years as a pro CS:GO player, game after game, I was just getting stomped by better players and teams. Eventually, I started to learn all that stuff, but it takes a long time to learn how to play the game. It sounds weird, but I realized there is so much more to CS:GO then I previously thought.
Was there ever a time where you thought about leaving esports during that period?
TSM Wardell: I definitely quit Counter-Strike multiple times if I am being honest. I remember early on, I was playing with names like Twistzz before they were big and watching them get picked up by good teams. I was frustrated that all my teammates were moving up and I was just stuck. As a result, I quit and went to college. But throughout college, I knew I still wanted to compete in CS:GO even if it wasn't full-time.
When in CS:GO do you feel like you really found a breakthrough in gaming to make esports a full-time career? After quitting, you came back after just months. What sparked that?
TSM Wardell: When I was going to school, I was really thinking about happiness in general. As I was in school, I was just reflecting on what life meant to me and what I wanted. I am torn between two paths. There is this path of school that is so much more stable. There is consistency, good pay and the path is built for you. Then there is this gaming path filled with real lows but that small chance for happiness.
For a while, I was on this school path studying Kinesiology to become a gym teacher. I looked at the degree navigator to become a gym teacher and saw how much schooling it was going to take. I saw I would need to do four years of undergraduate and two extra years to become a teacher. So, I sat there thinking about how that is six years of my life that I will never get back. It did not sound very nice.
"Then, I think about gaming. There is so much risk in gaming, but I feel genuine happiness thinking about the idea of it as my life. The dream of being able to be happy every day of my life. That motivated me to take this risk and drop out of school. I told my mom I dropped out and she gave me the typical Asian parent treatment when I dropped out. In the end, it’s about what I want my life to look like."
You speak very highly about gaming. What specifically made you so sure that you would be happy every single day following this career path?
TSM Wardell: You make friends online that you could never make when you're in real life. In-person, you cannot meet somebody from across the world and build a friendship with them. People find their future wife online, they build a whole life because of online life. In all honesty, I enjoy online life much more than life itself. I just feel like I can be myself when I am online.
I noticed in your streams, you are very outgoing, but more reserved in person. It seems like you really shine and find comfort through esports.
TSM Wardell: Yeah, this is honestly just who I am. If you take somebody out of their comfort zone when they spend most of their day at home at the computer, it is like that. Most of my time is just spent at home, so that is the self I feel really confident about because I know my identity when I am at the computer. I'm just being myself on Twitch, I don't really like talking to people in real life because making eye contact makes me feel uncomfortable. It is a personal insecurity of mine. But, through Twitch you are just typing. You don't have to look at anybody's face. You don't have to overthink anything else but what you are reading and can just focus on the conversation. It is all just perfect for me.
I feel awkward during certain situations, but I don’t want to be somebody that I am not. If I try to put on this personality that I am on stream 24/7, people will be able to see right through me. The person I showcase on stream is 100% percent how I feel each time. I want people to see who I really am and I do not want to give off the wrong impression.
I really enjoy that perspective you share about how Twitch chat is just words. Does this mindset help you gain confidence to be yourself even if you encounter hate comments?
TSM Wardell: The haters are usually people who are not focusing on themselves and are jealous of what you are doing. They want to be in your position but are not. So they will do anything to bring you down because it gives them power.
Still, it’s all weird. People always talk about how the haters are just haters and for the most part it does not affect me. Though it definitely gets to your head sometimes, you just need to do your best to let that thought pass.
People that hate on you are living their life in negativity while your primary focus is set on becoming better. Wanting to always learn and become better as a person is how I am able to push past negative comments and let them pass.
Does it also help to be a part of a team in VALORANT? It appears that a lot of you guys are just really close as friends outside of the game, too.
TSM Wardell: Yeah, definitely. Having that family relationship makes the everyday grind extremely fun. I wake up for scrims excited because my teammates are like my family here.
It makes you continuously want to grind more and push through tough periods as a team.
What was that feeling like when you finally were able to qualify for the Challengers playoffs after spending most of the year underperforming?
TSM Wardell: To be honest, it was just relief because of the expectations placed on us by ourselves and the community. Whenever I win, I never feel extremely satisfied, I just feel a sense of relief because of the high standards I set for myself. This applies to anything I do. I just want to be my best self and I find it can be really tough to just be happy sometimes. That being said, I do not get to this part of my life where I feel happy waking up without these high standards.
So what is next for you moving forward?
TSM Wardell: I'm definitely going to try practicing my left hand. I want to get really good on my left hand because that is my dominant hand. There are barely any left-handed pros, but the ones that are left-handed have amazing aim. My aim is terrible because my right arm is so much weaker. My goal is to get good with both hands in the future. I want my stream to never know which hand I am using and maybe even transition to my dominant hand one day.
Do you have any final words to your fans and TSM supporters?
TSM Wardell: Thanks for all the support and I am really sorry for disappointing you guys. I know it can be really hard to support us when we are not meeting the expectations we had for this team. Still, it is really amazing to see the fans still stick with us through all of these hardships. It means a lot to me personally so thank you. Thank you for sticking with this team.