Free from the demands of school after he dropped out in November, Wardell developed a new routine that was much more fun than commuting to York. He’d wake up every morning and fire up Global Offensive on his computer, eyes glued to his screen and hands steady on his mouse and keyboard. He’d play for 12 to 14 hours a day, with occasional bathroom and food breaks. When he wasn’t battling opponents, he was studying YouTube videos posted by professional players, trying to pick up skills and strategies. “I didn’t know if I was good enough,” he says. “I just kept working hard.”
While traditional sports have established sorting and development systems such as school and club sports, few gaming organizations have any such systems in place. If they do have amateur programs, it’s usually only for major titles like League of Legends. This can make it hard for aspiring gamers to measure their talent, and can result in overconfidence in their skills, says Shane Talbot, director of esports at MLSE. Talbot paints a picture of friends playing video games together in their spare time, and one is noticeably better than the rest. This can potentially plant the idea of going pro, without a full understanding of what it takes. “If, all of a sudden, you’re just gaming for 12 hours a day because you have this perception that you’re going to be able to make millions of dollars doing it, there’s a risk of being disillusioned in that pursuit,” he says. “It’s pretty easy to say, ‘Hey, I’m the best in the servers, I’m the best among my friend group. I must be the best, right?’ But for people who know where to scout talent, it’s pretty easy to tell who has it and who doesn’t.”
In the eyes of Ghost Gaming, a North American gaming organization, Wardell and Bee’s Money Crew had it. They signed professional contracts in April 2017, becoming Ghost’s new Global Offensive team. Wardell’s studying and marathon playing had paid off, and writers and fans alike labelled him a star “AWPer” — in layman’s terms, he had a way with the game’s (virtual) bolt-action sniper rifle. Considered the second-best weapon in Global Offensive by many players, the AWP is easy to use in lower-ranked play but becomes more difficult when you start facing upper-echelon opponents. The transition wasn’t a problem for Wardell, who soon developed a reputation of eliminating enemies with a sneaky sniper shot. “I felt extremely happy that someone noticed my efforts,” he says of signing his first professional contract.