CS:GO Weekly: steel leaves Counter-Strike for VALORANT

Alex Maxwell/Dreamhack Open Atlanta

On Monday, longtime Counter-Strike veteran Joshua "steel" Nissan retired.

Once one of the best pros in the game, steel's career came to a screeching halt when he, along with three teammates, were permanently banned in early 2015 by Valve, the developer of Counter-Strike, for fixing an August 2014 match.

Like many others, steel is leaving Counter-Strike: Global Offensive for a future in VALORANT. He has signed with Prodigy -- the agency that has represented a number of top players making that switch, including Nicholas "nitr0" Cannella, Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas Colocho and Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom -- and will look to start anew in a title without any restrictions. Steel is the last of the players formerly of iBUYPOWER to make the move to VALORANT.

"I'm currently still under contract with Chaos [Esports Club]," steel said. "I've transitioned, I guess, onto the CS bench for now. I'm going to be streaming VALORANT in the meantime but weighing the options for future transitions as we speak, so a different team in VALORANT might be on the table really soon."

Behind him, steel leaves a complex legacy. Often praised as one of North American Counter-Strike's most brilliant minds, the spectre of match-fixing has followed him -- even as he rehabilitated his image and found competitive success in Counter-Strike after the fact. It's the first Google search result for his name, often the first thing brought up by people who want to work with him, and has made him the center of ridicule any time he gets into social media beef with anyone.

It has been tough dealing with people who automatically place judgment on him, he said. But it also changed who he is.

"To kind of completely judge me off of that, I felt like it has kind of [em]bittered me or made me more bitter towards the world or see things in a more pessimistic view," steel said. "Eventually, I got to a good place where I want to be as a person, and I don't know if the circumstances that occurred to me were a catalyst for what was gonna happen eventually, or if I was going to become this person anyways or if it just developed naturally or what. I don't know."

The past few years have been a roller-coaster for steel. When Overwatch released in 2016, he made the jump to that game and for a brief period of time played professionally for teams like Splyce. His former teammate Keven "AZK" Larivière made the same switch, but before long, both found themselves back in Counter-Strike. It's what made them tick.

More recently, steel helped build teams to top North American status in Counter-Strike, even with the limitation that he cannot participate in Valve-designated major events. Chaos Esports Club, the team he leaves behind with retirement, has broken into the Top 20 of HLTV's rankings globally -- with steel the veteran of the squad, mentoring players like rising star Nathan "leaf" Orf.

"[Working with steel,] I'd say fixing bad tendencies, being a better player in all kinds of ways and refining and fixing mistakes are the big things," leaf told ESPN. "On previous teams, I would do things without thinking if they were good and bad, so being called out for the things you do wrong and the things you do right definitely helps you get better quicker."

Entering VALORANT gives steel new opportunities, both in the obvious way of competing without restriction but also in the not so obvious ways, like being able to fulfill his goals. Some may view his career as rightfully ended after the match-fixing ban, but when he confirmed retirement rumors on Monday, the reception from top Counter-Strike industry figures was warm.

"Steel did way more good for NA CS:GO than the bad he did with the fixed match, and it's not even close," Counter-Strike analyst Duncan "Thorin" Shields said on Twitter. "If there were any justice Valve would be listening, but we know how that one goes ..."

More: Chaos Esports, a leaf rising in the NA CS scene | Nitr0 leaves Counter-Strike a legend, on to VALORANT

Pinpointing his crowning accomplishment in Counter-Strike is difficult, steel said. He played for top teams in Counter-Strike: Source, such as Team Dynamic, and even helped pioneer professional Global Offensive observing shortly after its release in 2013 at the RaidCall EMS One Fall Season. He remained on top through two games, first with Dynamic in Source and then iBUYPOWER in Global Offensive within North America.

"I was able to bring like two different groups of relatively unknown talent into the top 20, and that would probably be like one of the bigger accomplishments," steel said. "Winning a huge event like an ESL One Cologne on LAN in Germany in a stadium would've been nice, but obviously with certain limitations, you kind of have to take what you can get."

Ahead of him lies an open field. Three of his former iBUYPOWER teammates are members of T1, which began as one of North America's top VALORANT teams but has struggled to maintain that momentum as the scene has developed; one of those team members, Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham was recently benched. Familiar faces like nitr0 and Spencer "Hiko" Martin are at the core of rosters like 100 Thieves, and even more organizations are looking to get into VALORANT. A talent like steel at the helm could prove fruitful.

He hopes to find an organization, much like Chaos, that's willing to listen to input and make decisions like relocation, housing and workspace infrastructure key to their success.

"Being able to put together a team of players that with a long-term outlook in mind, obviously where we need to have like some sort of long-term success, would be the most ideal, and doing it for an organization that kind of notices their players, treats them well and has open communication [is important]," steel said.