From India’s first Apex Predator to one of the top upcoming esports organizations, LevelZero Esports has been leaving its mark from games like FIFA to Super Smash Bros.
Sportskeeda Esports’ Suryadeepto Sengupta got a chance to sit down for an exclusive interview with Mr. Verma and learn more about his early days, the Indian Gaming Community, and LevelZero Esports.
Here is an excerpt of the conversation
Q. So Shrey, tell us a bit about yourself; what’s life like outside LevelZero?
Shrey: Hi Suryadeepto, life has been really amazing. There are always ups and downs, but that's how life is. I grind in life like I do in esports, and trust me, it's sweaty, but in the end, it's all worth it. Family and friends have played a vital part in keeping me sane. There's also this Suzuki Hayabusa that I am after. Hopefully get it soon.
Q. You used to play Call of Duty and Overwatch professionally; what was the experience like? Can you talk us through some of the fondest memories during those days?
Shrey: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was where I started, to be honest. From not being very good at esports, we became a top team in Eastern India. In my prime, we beat the best teams here. Honestly, we became so good that the best team in eastern India back then engaged with the admins to disqualify us at a LAN event because they were afraid we would beat them with four players in a 5v5 game. One of our players caught the flu and couldn't attend the finals.
Overwatch happened when I had lost all connection to esports. Life was about my Masters’s degree and Ph.D. Then came this game. It was so addictive that I had to go out and buy an Alienware solely to grind the competitive game. Got placed in gold and grinded my way to low-mid Grandmaster over two years.
I formed a great Collegiate team with students from the University of Leeds, University of Manchester, and the University of Huddersfield. We were a great TIER C team. We beat almost all our equals consistently and won a couple of LANs in the UK.
Overwatch Contenders trials were our goal till the pressure of Ph.D. kicked in, and I couldn't really balance it very well. Looking back, I should have given Overwatch a bit more time, but Overwatch 2 is probably coming out soon? Right Blizzard? Please Blizzard?
Q. What was the idea behind LevelZero, and how has the organization grown over the years?
Shrey: The idea behind LevelZero Esports came when I realized that I was more into games than anything else, and I felt that I had lost my shot at Overwatch as a player. I still thought I could do stuff for the growth of the industry in the subcontinent.
That was the year when Apex Legends released, and I saw my brother with his two buddies go big in that game. They became the first predators from the region, a feat no one else could achieve at that point. This fuelled it, and I decided to help my brother and his buddies in whatever way possible.
Soon, I realized there were a lot more like them in need of recognition and a platform to perform. That was it. That was when LevelZero started.
2020 had been a game-changing year for us. So many titles, so many podium finishes in so many games. Big sponsors, big players, big tournaments, everything was so great and all that we had hoped for.
Our PUBG team came 2nd in the LOC Lenovo LAN in December 2019, and our first Rainbow 6 Siege team came third in the first-ever ESL India Rainbow 6 Siege LAN, which happened simultaneously. It was big.
The year 2020 followed with similar and better achievements from our Rainbow 6 Siege squad, CS: GO team, and the Apex Legends Team. Towards the end of the year, our FIFA players started to pick up the pace and did what we expected them to do. We signed the best Super Smash Bros. player from the region, and he is a beast at what he does, so it is great having him in our ranks.
Q. Tell us a bit about all the different esports rosters of LevelZero.
Shrey: We are taking things slow and being budget-friendly as of 2021. We have made a Valorant roster that switched from Apex. We have a top-eight ESL FIFA player, and the Smash Champion Lionheart. Though we love the idea of exploring other titles, we have become a bit picky recently.
Q. How was the experience like when Lionheart won the KO Fight Night back in October?
Shrey: As I said, he is a beast at Smash and I am a big fan. We just hope he keeps doing wonderful things for us and keeps making India and the region proud.
KO fight night is one of the biggest tournaments in the game that the country has witnessed. With all the top-notch players involved in the tournament, it made things even spicier. Lionheart has made everyone around him very proud.
Q. Tell us a bit about painkiller’s journey through ESL India.
Shrey: That dude is a bit of a grinder himself. He failed to qualify for the ESL finals in cups two and four, losing to different opponents in the finals.
He bounced back, winning the fifth cup, and made it to the finals, where he finished top eight. If he keeps up with these kinds of performances, he might be the best FIFA player in our region eventually.
Q. Walk us through the LevelZero Valorant squad? How does the teamwork happen? Who gives the in-game callouts?
Shrey: The squad is an anti-CS squad with literally less than 200 hours combined between four players. Paddox, however, has a bit of CS playtime, but that's not sufficient.
Since the game is closer to CS: GO in mechanics, our players had to grind it a bit more than other players playing at the highest level. Our players had to get acquainted with mechanics, get accustomed to the game, focus on stats, and everything else.
To compete at the highest level, we still need some time, but I have all the faith in this squad, and I believe with few minor changes in the squad, we can compete with the former CS: GO professionals.
We are working on teamwork at the moment, where players start to trust each other blindly and focus more on in-game callouts than anything else. The philosophy right now is to sustain a play-work culture that is healthy for management and the players.
The game, to a great extent, is a point-and-shoot like CS, so the individual skills of all five players have to be nurtured as well while not compromising on team bonding. This is an issue we are working on, and we will come up with a fix soon.
In the game, callouts are done by Karzemo and Paddox in most cases.
Q. Tell us a bit about the new LevelZero Bootcamp.
Shrey: The Bootcamp is situated in South Kolkata, where, as we speak, our Valorant squad has just shown up and is working on its strengths and weaknesses. It is a full-fledged set up for players to live, play, and relax. Will give you a tour someday or maybe make a video of the same soon.
Q. Where do you wanna see LevelZero in the next five years?
Shrey: We see LevelZero at the very top soon and with a lot of events and a lot more titles under our belt. All of this will come with the love and support from the community. We have got in the past, and we intend to get this from them in the present and the future.
Q. Do you have any future plans to host more tournaments, such as the Valorant community tournament back in May?
Shrey: There are talks of hosting one soon. There are a lot of roadblocks along the way. Along with Gamorg, we are trying to come up with something attractive, a one-of-a-kind event for esports and gaming enthusiasts.
Q. While you were at Huddersfield, England, did you have a chance to interact with the European esports community?
Shrey: I was an active member of the Overwatch pro community. Some of the contender players like Lukie and KAAS are still good friends with me. However, India still needs to do a lot of groundwork for people to take us seriously worldwide, at least in the PC department.
In mobile, we are very well established, and that's almost all that the European community thinks of us as. I don't think is completely false, but a lot of talented players and organizations have come up. Money has been splashed for the development of PC esports in recent times, and I see our country go nowhere but up.
Q. How do you feel like the Indian gaming community sets itself apart from other foreign gaming communities?
Shrey: As I said, we are a country where talents started getting recognized only after the boom of mobile esports, and that is where we are different. With the power of social media on our side and the population, we can easily channel the audience and player base from mobile esports to PC esports without compromising on the talent we have in the former.
We will always have great talent in the Mobile esports department, just like when you compare Cricket to football in our country. Mobile esports is definitely like cricket, where we can hardly go wrong.
We can easily compare football to PC and Cricket to the mobile platform. The entire world is crazy about football, with over 4 billion fans, while cricket is next to it with 2.5 billion, and most of the fans are from the subcontinent. This is exactly the same as the mobile esports department, where most of the fans and players are from the subcontinent and few other parts of Asia. PC has its base worldwide, just like football.
Cricket, just like mobile esports, will always be great for our country, but we do need to focus and work on football and PC esports because there's a lot of raw talent in both. We just need better infrastructure throughout to consistently push the talented and the passionate.
Q. Within the last few years, mobile gaming has had a substantial rise in popularity at the global level. Do you think professional mobile esports has sustainability, or is it temporary due to mobile device accessibility?
Shrey: The talent that our country has is no fluke. My way of thinking is simple, we got an opportunity, and we found a way to excel in it. Good for the gamers and great for the country.
I just hope we don't screw this up in any way possible, and the same for the PC esports department. We will get chances in the future. I can assure you that we just need to be ready and not screw it up.
Q. LevelZero has a very strong Call of Duty mobile roster as well as a PUBGm roster, which was disbanded following the ban of PUBG Mobile in the country. Do you plan to introduce new rosters for mobile games such as Free Fire?
Shrey: At the moment, we want the long-term sustainability of the organization more than anything else, so a lot of thought is being put in before jumping into any venture. I am always looking out for exciting things. As for Free Fire, you never know.
Q. What are your thoughts on the multiple amazing tournaments being organized by different organizers?
Shrey: They are doing a great job. The production of a few of them is amazing, and I feel some do need to step up their casting department but overall, it's worth the watch. When we do get a chance to do the same, we just hope we maintain the standard and then work to be better.
Q. Before Valorant, the majority of Indian esports used to be focused on CS: GO. The focus has shifted to Valorant. Any thoughts on that?
Shrey: Valorant is great. I am not the best at it, but it's great. I have never played CS: GO, so I don’t really enjoy the shooting mechanics the game has with all the spread, crouching, shift walk, and holding angles. I love the abilities, though.
CS: GO had a huge base, and Riot is doing a great job with Valorant with good marketing and quick hotfixes to bugs. If a game is better and relates to your memories, people will go and play it. However, to stick with it will require a long-term commitment for content from Riot, which I think they already know and are working in the right direction for the same.
Q. How do you think the Indian esports community will evolve in the upcoming years?
Shrey: It's through people like you, Suryadeepto, and organizations like Sportskeeda. You are doing a commendable job in getting the news out there about our scene and making us visible to people across borders.
While the players work hard in achieving their goals, I am sure the people behind the scenes work equally hard. We all need to work together; the players, the brands, the organizations, and the press. We all need to make esports in our region a venture that generations will speak of.
Q. What are the 3 suggestions you will give to an aspiring esports player?
Shrey: Okay, let me bullet this out for you.
- Grind ranked
- Be vocal about your interests in esports to people around and those who matter. Don’t care about anyone else.
- Grind more ranked.