Nearly three weeks before the start of the first split in the 2023 VCT North American Challengers season, where the best Tier-2 Valorant teams in the region fight to obtain a slot for the Americas League in 2024, its open qualifying tournament took place. It was there where 512 teams entered a gauntlet of matches squeezed within a few days to decide who would join the six invited rosters in the league.
Though the open qualifying phase saw a number of teams make waves through their performance like Break Thru (featuring ex-Ghost Gaming’s Brawk and aproto), The Nation (Matthew “WARDELL” Yu, Braxton “brax” PIerce, ex-CS player Jake “Stewie2k” Yip), and Dark Ratio (ex-100T member William “Will” Cheng), perhaps the lineup that generated the most hype and exhilaration was DSG, which is headed by famed content creator Jeremy “Disguised Toast” Wang.
After making a few rumblings about possibly entering the competitive Valorant scene, Toast finally pulled the trigger by announcing a team that will enter NA Challengers open qualifying, consisting of veteran IGL Joshua “steel” Nissan, three ex-Knights players in Damion “XXiF” Cook, Amgalan “Genghsta” Nemekhbayar, and Drake “Exalt” Branly, duelist Joseph “clear” Allen, and head coach Kyle “OCEAN” O’Brien.
For clear specifically, within the DSG lineup which boasts combined years of VCT experience, he is the only person who had yet to experience such high-level competition. He spent the greater part of his pro Valorant career, after officially switching from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in 2021, in the Tier-2 scene fighting his peers while also building a reputation as a stellar duelist that could be a great asset to a Tier-1 team.
Such diligence to his craft eventually earned him more than a few looks to where he looked to sign with a Tier-1 team before the 2023 season, but instead of taking that route, he chose to play with DSG for the NA Challengers open qualifying tournament. Despite the risk that accompanied his decision, such as possibly missing out on the chance of being in the VCT, clear’s gamble ended up being a fruitful one. Propped by a 1.38 VLR rating performance in Day 4 of qualifying, which saw him put up a team-leading 42/27/4 KDA against Oxygen Esports, clear helped Disguised qualify for NA Challengers. From humble beginnings, clear has finally arrived in the VCT.
WE MADE IT TO VCT CHALLENGERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
thanks to everyone who supported us
big thank you to @OCEAN_tK for being the mastermind behind the team
these players worked so hard for this – i watched them scrim everyday:@JoshNissan @ExaltVAL @XXiFtv @clearfps @genghsta
— DSG Toast (@DisguisedToast) January 13, 2023
Following DSG’s qualification to NA Challengers, Fragster interviewed clear on how he joined the team before the tournament, his transition to Valorant from CS, his view on the rest of the forthcoming competition, and more.
First reaction on NA Challengers qualification
Pedro Romero, Fragster: Has the thought of qualifying for NA Challengers finally set in for you after accomplishing it some time ago?
Joseph “clear” Allen: I think since the day it happened I’ve been pretty accepting of the fact that my team qualified that early on. The moment felt surreal but afterwards I really took it in for my what my team did so early on.
Were you surprised at all about qualifying for Challengers?
I think there was some surprising factors especially because of how we performed in a few series prior, but I know how strong my team can perform when we play our own game. As long as we don’t get in our own heads, we are one of the best.
GGS WE QUALIFIED WOOOOOOOOOOOO
— clear (@clearfps) January 13, 2023
Congratulations, @DisguisedToast! GGWP! 👏 pic.twitter.com/PKktdN2D9n
— Knights Arena (@KnightsArena) January 13, 2023
From CS to Valorant
Before competing in Valorant, you were, as you proclaimed, a semi-professional in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, playing in ESEA tournaments between 2019 and 2021 but coming up short in each attempt. What made it difficult for you to find success during your days in pro CS:GO?
I think I often handi-capped myself during my time in CSGO and ruined my own chances many times by choosing to play with friends over joining a new team. Success was hard for me back then because I never fully gave myself the chance to actually earn it.
From there, you transitioned to Valorant in 2021. Was it difficult for you to make that switch? If so, what made it so difficult for you specifically?
I think overall the transition to Valorant was overall easy for me, I picked up the game pretty fast when I made the transition. The hardest thing overall for me was genuinely just learning to play around all the utility and abilities in this game. I knew with given time, the transition would be very easy for me and most CS players.
Similar to how your time in CS:GO played out, you roamed in the Tier-2 scene in North American Valorant up until you joined DSG. How did you stay focused both in and out of the game while being in Tier-2 for a long time?
I was always able to keep myself focused because I believed my time would come soon. Especially when me and my friends created the team known as SQN. The performance and show we put on, proved we were ready to move forward in our career and pursue a further path. I knew my chance was always around the corner, so I just kept grinding and waited for it.
How were you first approached about joining DSG for the NA Challengers open qualifying phase?
I was reached out to by the head coach Ocean around the end of November.
Were you aware of Disguised Toast and his prior content before being contacted to join his team?
I always knew Toast and the brand he has created over the last few years because I always would watch the videos he uploaded.
Blessed to have this opportunity ❤️ https://t.co/RiG6CoIEgX
— clear (@clearfps) January 9, 2023
From playing in Tier-2 teams for your entire career, you were put into a team that featured experienced pros like steel, Exalt, Ghengsta, and XXiF, all of whom have played in VCT-caliber teams. Did you feel any pressure in assimilating with the rest of the team despite the difference in competitive experience?
There was no immediate or really any pressure at all that I felt, I’ve always known my ability as a player and competitor to succeed. Even though they had much more experience, I really didn’t feel that far behind the rest of them.
Ocean, XXiF, Genghsta, and Exalt were already familiar with each other due to their past stint with Knights last season. How did you integrate yourself with the rest of the team as it already had an established core when you joined?
At first, I took it slow and slowly put the pieces together, but over time we just clicked super fast. The team environment is genuinely one of the funniest environments that I have played with, and I think is one of the biggest factors that made easy so easy for me to vibe in.
DSG’s preparations before the tournament
What was the team’s confidence like prior to the start of NA Challengers open qualifying?
Going into the open qualifiers, we had heavy expectations of qualifying early on. We always knew our potential as a team when we are clicking. I can say for myself that I never once had a worry about not qualifying, it simply was not a thought in my head all throughout. Overall as a team, we were super confident.
Steel mentioned in a post-game interview after DSG qualified how the team implemented its structure by having long days of practice and integrating attributes to its strategy. What adjustments did you and the team make in terms of preparation in the leadup to Challengers open qualifying?
There were many adjustments made throughout the upcoming week of challengers, such as communication, setups, and overall improving the “strategic book”. The biggest factor was just the pure dedication across the whole roster though to me, multiple days and weeks of scrimming 10 hours a day every day.
Another thing he mentioned was how the team didn’t have sufficient time to prepare for open qualifiers. How much of an obstacle did that dynamic play into the team’s showing in the ensuing tournament?
I think if we had even more time, the results would have been even more of a stomp. It forced us to grind and grind more than most teams were in my opinion. Almost every day out of the week, we were putting up to 10-11 hours of practice including heavy VOD review sessions afterward. I wouldn’t say it limited us but it was slightly more difficult and tiring upon the players.
What a powerful start on Map 2 from Disguised! @clearfps takes down four to win the pistol round! 😤
📺 https://t.co/Bh8OriB0Pj pic.twitter.com/rthF7EDZic
— Knights Arena (@KnightsArena) January 13, 2023
Toast mentioned how you received an offer to join a Tier-1 organization on one of his streams but declined it to play with his team. What was the thought process behind making that decision? And how long did it take for you to reach that decision of staying with DSG?
I just thought about all the positives this team brings, with brand recognition as well as a solid chance to prove myself as a player alongside a great IGL in Steel. I knew I could be developed as a player so much better here than in any other team/org. It was a pretty quick decision overall, I knew in my mind it was a risk but I just went with it and hoped for the best.
The game experienced an array of changes in its patches throughout the offseason for the agents, the biggest of which seeing the end of Chamber as the pro scene’s go-to pick. As the team’s duelist, what’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the pro scene with respect to the recent changes?
I think Chamber has to the biggest shift to the pro scene, causing many teams to overall change their entire comps because simply an agent is not good anymore. It’s also a huge shift in players because many players had to learn new agents overall.
Looking at the rest of the competition
What do you make of the massive attention you’ve been getting so far as a member of DSG?
I think the whole situation is surreal and almost as if I’m living in a fever dream. I talked to Toast and many of my teammates about the whole situation and how it just feels unreal. The constant love across all my social media is something I’ll forever be grateful for. This is an opportunity I’ll never forget.
not even a year ago I posted my first LFT ad, to see where I am now is crazy. how fast life can move 🥲 https://t.co/RpQystlgXz
— clear (@clearfps) January 19, 2023
Which team are you most looking forward to facing in Challengers?
I personally wanna play The Guard the most in Challengers! They just seem to me as the most put-together team, and I think it’d be a fun match-up.
Which duelist do you personally want to face also?
I can’t think of a single duelist at the moment. All of the duelists in Challengers are super good and I think it’ll just be a fun couple of months overall.
Where do you think you stack up against the rest of NA’s duelists? Do you think you’re the best so far?
Amongst all the duelists in NA, I think I am slowly starting to build a good portfolio for myself. I personally see myself as one of the top duelists in Challengers and will have a fun time proving it over the next few months.