With the death of Michael Valore’s dream of being in the Marines came the birth of a new dream as a pro player of the hit mobile game Vainglory. The World Championship winner is best known as “FlashX” and currently works as a manager for esports group Team SoloMid (TSM).
Valore spoke to Heavy.com as part of a larger article about Vainglory’s path to esports success with the new 5V5 mode and later followed up via email for this very article. Here’s everything you need to know about Valore’s road to success.
1. How FlashX Became a Pro Player
Valore told Heavy.com that while in elementary school a friend introduced him to Warcraft 3. He fell in love with the game as he and his friend took turns playing it and then bought the game for himself. One day he got bored and browsed through all the custom games and saw that the most played one was Defense of the Ancients (DOTA). He hopped into the game and was infatuated by the pairing of strategy and skill.
As he was studying biology in college, he picked up DOTA 2 and found himself good enough to go pro. But the second his skills in DOTA 2 grew his grades would drop. And then when he brought his grades back up, his DOTA 2 skills would drop. Rather than keeping up with this balancing act he decided to focus on school.
Valore planned on joining the Marines after college, spending over a year training himself to the highest level of fitness he ever achieved. However, a prior soccer injury to his ankle was so severe – way more severe than Valore knew at the time – that it disqualified him from enlisting in any armed services. Valore was devastated. “I was so sure that enlisting was my calling after college and having all of that wiped away in an instant was heartbreaking,” he told Heavy.com.
He spent the next four months at the campus gym riding on the stationary bike for three to four hours a day. He wanted to maintain the level of fitness he worked so hard to obtain and the bike was one of the few cardio-aerobic activities that didn’t cause any stress on his ankle as it continued to heal while keeping his heart rate up. After growing bored of the exercise after two days, he decided to start playing Vainglory on his iPad while pedaling. He first heard of the game when he watched the 2014 Apple Keynote where the game was announced. He told Heavy.com that he fell in love with the game and all that time playing it while on the bike naturally built up his skills.
He then joined a team that ended up winning a tournament that qualified them to go to the World Championships in Seoul, South Korea. However, the team’s expectations were not high. One of the teammates was 14 years old and was forbidden by his parents to make the six week commitment for the tournament so the team had to use a substitute player, ShinKaigan, who didn’t have a lot of experience in competitive play. Plus the team have never been to a live tournament before and they were in a foreign country where people spoke very little English. However they happened to live with the reigning champions from North America who were also competing and spent over eight hours a day for six weeks straight training with them. All that hard work paid off as they won the Championship.
TSM then reached out to Valore and expressed interest in the mobile esports scene and signing their team. Valore told Heavy.com that signing with them was a no brainer.
He watched The International for DOTA 2 and was impressed by how people actually attended the competition in person and how it bridged the gap between professional sports and esports. “After watching The International, it really was an absolute dream to be able to play esports professionally,” Valore told Heavy.com. “I’m incredibly grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had up to this point and I’m very lucky to say that I love my job.”
2. Here’s How To Be an Effective Pro Player According to FlashX
If you’re looking into going pro, Valore said that the best thing you can do is emulate the pros. A lot of pro players are very active in content creation on Twitch or YouTube including Valore himself so be sure to seek out that content. He also said that the more you play the better you get.
But it goes beyond just looking at pro plays or practicing. Valore also said that a key part of being a pro player is learning to both give and take constructive criticism. He said that many people get easily offended or don’t understand how to communicate in a way that helps a team. He feels that this is especially important for Vainglory in particular which is transitioning from 3V3 to the more involved 5V5 as players will have to adapt to the increased depth, strategy, and complexity.
He said that people don’t really understand how hard it is to be a professional esports athlete unless they’ve worked very closely in the scene. “The time commitment and stress are easily overlooked and ignored by people who simply think we ‘just play video games for a living,'” he said. “Playing professionally is a lot more than that and I’ve learned that only by simply being a part of it.” He recalls that early tournaments were a lot more casual but once they got signed by TSM they understood that they have a reputation to uphold and they must stop at nothing to continue that legacy into Vainglory. “That journey hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows, but I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished thus far,” he said.
3. Why He Loves Vainglory & Why He’s Excited for 5V5
Valore said that the mechanical skill cap in Vainglory dwarfs some of its biggest competitors. He admitted that he may be a bit biased as a pro Vainglory player but he insisted that if you asked anyone objectively they could attest to that. He said that other MOBAs are very reliant on joystick controls and there’s only so much you can do with them. But the touch screen controls elevate the skill cap much further than other games. He also appreciates that the developers are very receptive of feedback. He said that in terms of graphics, touch control, and overall level of strategy, “Vainglory right now does not have any competition.”
He was very excited about the prospect of 5V5 for Vainglory. He said that success in 3V3 was very dependent on mechanics, that is, having faster reflexes and better positioning than other players. But with 5V5 and the addition of two extra lanes and two extra heroes on each team, you need to be much more mindful of the strategy and depth that mode offers.
His favorite hero in Vainglory is Ardan. He was playing as Ardan when he made the game winning play in VIPLS2 and always found his kit to be fun.
4. Here’s One of His Favorite Pro Players
When asked if he had any esports players he especially admires other than the ones on his team, Valore said that he admires TSM League of Legends player Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg. He never really followed League of Legends but upon joining TSM he decided to follow the scene more closely. When he found out about Bjerg he was very impressed by him.
Valore told Heavy.com that one of the quotes he tells his team all the time is “Victory requires payment in advance” and while he doesn’t know where the quote came from he does know that Bjergsen embodies that quote. In fact, the quote is part of Bjerg’s bio on his Twitter page.
“Both from behind the scenes as well as the Legends Rising YouTube series, Bjergsen has always led by example and has continually been successful and I think it’s because he lives to fulfill that quote and inspire all of those around him,” said Valore.
5. He’s Transitioning from Being a Player to a Coach
Valore is actually in the process of transitioning away from being a pro player to being a coach and a manager for TSM. While he admitted that he’s not the most mechanically skilled player and hasn’t been known for outplaying others, he does excel in leadership, communication, and strategy. He translates that into his team’s plays so that they can take on the opposing team on the macro level rather than the micro. “I think TSM will still be able to benefit from these assets whether I’m the one physically in the game or not and I look forward to the challenge of developing many of these quickly emerging young stars,” he said.
He also said that his experience with old-school 5V5 MOBAs will help him coach the young stars. Many pro players are in their teens and grew up with touch screens while Valore didn’t get his mobile device until sophomore year in college. For many young MOBA players, Vainglory was their first one and 3V3 was all they’ve ever known so a lot of the strategy of 5V5 will be new to them. He believes that being in that leadership role will help younger players achieve their potential a lot quicker and at a higher skill cap.