Meet the Renegades, the grassroots Paladins team that met on Facebook

The Paladins Premier League Fall Finals kicks off today with several of the world’s top teams competing for a chunk of the $50,000 prize pool.

One of these teams is Team Renegades, playing today against G2 Esports. Renegades are unique in the esports scene because they met on Paladin’s Facebook group, an official space run by Hi-Rez Studios that was created due to a huge Facebook presence for the game.

Renegades is a success story for Hi-Rez’s commitment to a grassroots community, a team that formed using their systems to help amateurs compete at a top level, and now are one of the strongest teams in North America. 

Justin ‘Vandy’ Cheung started an amateur team called WildStyle in 2016 and the team competed, without much success, in several smaller tournaments in the scene. The team ground to a halt, although when Cheung heard about the Paladins Global Series he decided to give it another shot and recruited a team of talented amateurs from the game’s Facebook group.

This rookie team emerged from the second phase of the Paladin’s Global Series as victors, but now competing under the Renegades banner.

It’s an interesting route, since many esport fans and young contenders are struggling to find a way to stand out from the crowd. This is a problem that is especially true of games with a niche audience like Paladins, where the best way to get involved in professional play is to get matched against a pro player in the game’s competitive mode and hope you made enough of an impact to get picked up. This method relies on a lot of luck in terms of matchmaking, opponents and your teammates. However, four of the Renegades’ six players were found on Facebook without any competitive experience..

Hi-Rez got involved with Facebook when it saw that a huge chunk of its community was engaging with the game through the social network, with a large community-run scene (one group has over 30,000 users) that was managed, informally by the community, on the service. Hi-Rez stepped in and made an official group for people to use. This group now has regular broadcasts and livestreams from the Paladins Global Series, in addition to an active discussion board where people advertise themselves to potential pro teams, or scout for player for fresh new teams.

The team entered the PGS Facebook group, and then the PGS official Discord, catching the attention of pro organisations with a series of strong performances highlighted on Hi-Rez’s official channels and access to important members of the community through Hi-Rez’s official community Discord. Professional outfits were watching the Discord and Facebook Group for up and coming talent in the game, which meant the roster was quickly picked up as part of Renegades plans for Paladins.

Since the Renegades formed, there’s been a slight personnel change. Vandy, the original Wildstyle founder, now functions as the team’s coach and substitute. His replacement is Zach ‘ShadeeyShades’ Gilbert, an experienced player. The rest of the team, Joshua ‘Stormtroopey’ Veillon, Georges ‘Lokii’ Chalhoub, team captain Dylan ‘Cliku’ Mohne and Loc ‘Ethereall’ Nguyen have no previous competitive experience, but seem to be doing just fine.

“I began gaming at a young age, primarily sticking to console with titles such as Call of Duty and Halo,” said Gilbert. “I made the swap when I was 16 to PC gaming where I played my first competitive FPS Natural Selection 2 (NS2). I played on various teams but never really accomplished much, but participated in some small community tournaments.”

It was the Natural Selection 2 community that told him about Paladins, and got him involved. “Players such as Bitey (Chris Mohn) and Awry (Steve Michalec), who I teamed with for over a year on Team Eager/Denial eSports, were players who came from NS2. I spent a lot of time in Paladins participating in many tournaments and winning some of the online ones under Team Eager. I recently took a break from the game, when I returned I was fortunate to find a spot on Renegades.”

With Renegades’ involvement and the roster change, the team is now a legitimate esports team in every sense of the word, salaried players in Paladin’s growing competitive scene.

“As surprising as it may sound,” Chalhoub says, “I actually had no competitive background in esports before Paladins. I came into this game with the desire to compete, and so I built my play style to be team dependent from the beginning, and this is why I can say I’m probably the kind of DPS that gives his team openings and chances to engage or do otherwise.”

Meanwhile, Vellon came from playing years of Team Fortress 2 as the Heavy, whirring his chaingun and stomping pub players. “One day as a joke I decided to play Paladins and I immediately fell in love with it,” said Vellon. “I found out about a really OP card that no one had really experimented with and became really good with it. That was acrobatics pip. In a matter of 3 weeks I climbed to top 50 in the world with close to zero struggle.”

Vellon was then noticed by several big figures in the Paladin’s community, and soon afterwards he was picked up as a support for Wildstyle.

Mohne meanwhile attends college at Iowa State University, playing alongside his studies. “I had no competitive experience coming into Paladins besides being a pub stomper in other games I played prior. I don’t really have a particular play style but what makes me unique is my game sense.”

The final member of the team is Nguyen, who is Vietnamese but has lived in the US for most of his life. He’s another full time student who primarily plays Dirty Bomb and Paladins. Nguyen was browsing Steam’s free-to-play section when he found Paladins for the first time.

“When I started the game, it was mostly just a hobby and a form of entertainment. Gradually, however, I started noticing that I was able to compete at the highest of levels and wanted to push myself into the competitive scene, trying out for various teams and participating in many tournaments.”

Nguyen is Renegades’ tank, and describes his playstyle as reactive, moving from place to place to try and put himself between his team and the bad men with guns.

It’s unusual for a team of relative unknowns to have entered the scene and risen to the very top of it within such a short amount of time, but Paladins’ competitive community is growing at a rapid pace, which means Renegades came in at the right time, with the right amount of talent, to make a real impact.

Whether or not they clutch a victory at the Paladins’ Premier League Fall Finals or not, they’ve shown themselves to be a talented and interesting addition to a scene that’s going to need iconic players as it grows bigger.

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