Acend announced their formal entry to the Game Changers scene when they signed UNtapped during the 2022 season. Though UNtapped failed to qualify for Series 2, the org weren’t dissuaded in the slightest. Seeing enormous potential in the squad after their 5th-6th place finish in Series 1, Acend acquired them ahead of Series 3 and rechristened them Acend Rising.
From there, Acend Rising picked up right where UNtapped left off by finishing in 5th-6th place in Series 3 to solidify themselves as a top European GC team. Soon enough, the team would surpass their previous benchmark by finishing Top 3 in the 2023 Series 1 playoffs.
While Acend Rising’s placements in GC were accomplished thanks to the collective effort of the team, one can’t ignore the contribution of its controller-turned-sentinel player Amy "amy" Lai who helped them get to this point. For the 2023 Series 1 group stage, the 18-year-old Dutch-Chinese player ranked third overall in VLR rating, K:D rating and ADR. This also followed her open qualifying MVP award-winning performance, which named her as the best individual player in that phase. Such a string of showings has prompted fans and analysts to view amy as the region’s best sentinels and one of the best players overall.
Before the start of GC EMEA Series 2, amy talked to BLIX for an interview about how she started gaming, the progression of her Valorant career, Acend Rising’s showing in the 2023 season, and more.
amy's competitive origins
Pedro Romero, BLIX: I want to start this interview by covering your origins. When did you start gaming and what kind of games did you play in the beginning?
Amy “amy” Lai: When I was around five years old, I played Call of Duty 2 with my brother on his old laptop. It’s an FPS game and there also was multiplayer which I thought was really cool. I played the game a couple times so I remember it vaguely. I also remember playing a game called Unreal Tournament when I was a bit older, maybe eight years old. It’s also an FPS game and I enjoyed the game a lot.
BLIX: What were the games that you played during your childhood? Was it always FPS games?
amy: My mom gave me her old laptop when I was like 9-10 years old. Around that time I used to play Sims 4 and Minecraft. I played Minecraft with my classmates. During that time, my brother got a gaming PC and I used to just sit next to him and watch him play video games. He played Battlefield 4, another FPS game which I started playing eventually too. I was pretty good at it even though I was like 10 years old. Later on, he started playing CS:GO and I watched him play it but I always thought it was super boring so I kept playing Battlefield 4 on and off until I was like 13. After that, I quit gaming cause I wasn’t really interested anymore.
BLIX: What prompted you to start playing Valorant and start a pro career in that game?
amy: I saw some streamer playing Valorant on my Tiktok and it looked pretty interesting. During that time, I still had online school so I had a lot of extra time at home and I opened up my brother’s PC and downloaded it. The first agent I played was Sage and I was super confused all the time. I got stuck on a Cypher trip and got stunned. I didn’t know what was happening at all and ended up placing Bronze 3.
Right when I started playing Valorant, the first-ever international tournament was happening so I watched that and tried to learn from it. I also used to watch Valorant agent explanation vids. After that, Boaster was streaming and I tried to learn from his streams because he explains a lot during his streams.
Eventually, I joined his Discord to learn more. I never used his Discord [that much] but a couple months later there was a tournament hosted there and I just applied for it because I was bored. I was Platinum during that time but I was playing really well in the tournament and people told me I was better than Plat and that I have the potential to go pro, which I didn't really believe in.
BLIX: Your Liquipedia page states that your favorite agents are Jett, Reyna and Skye. These agents contradict the usual agents you’ve been playing recently like Killjoy. Were you always a duelist player since the start of your career? And if so, why did you choose duelist as your first role?
amy: I don't know why it says on Liquipedia that those are my favorite agents, I never really played Jett. I only played some Reyna and Skye but I wouldn’t call those my favorite agents. I started playing as a Controller main. When I started playing Valorant, Astra just came out and she was really OP, but most people didn’t want to learn or play her so I took my chance. I was basically an Astra/Reyna/Sage main in the beginning. Right now, I would say my favorite agents are Killjoy, Cypher and Chamber. [NOTE: Her list of favorite agents has since been changed to Killjoy and Cypher.]
"I was Platinum during that time but I was playing really well in the tournament and people told me I was better than Plat and that I have the potential to go pro, which I didn't really believe in."
BLIX: Who is your favorite player in pro Valorant and what about them made you want to follow them?
amy: My favorite pro player is also one of my best friends, Sayf from Liquid. I learn from him everyday and he is an amazing person to be around. He is super smart and I think he sees the game differently than a lot of people which makes him stand out from other players.
Family, school and Valorant
BLIX: Making a decision as big as this doesn’t always sit well with parents or anyone surrounding a player, so how did your family react to your pro Valorant aspirations? Were they always supportive or was there a time in which that wasn’t the case?
amy: In the beginning, they didn’t support it since they have a really negative feeling towards gaming because it affects studies. They wanted me to stay in school and go to university after but they saw how much it meant for me and what I achieved and could achieve. Especially after seeing Game Changers Champions last year they understood me more. My brother was always supporting me since he knows about pro gaming and he was the one that brought me to FPS games in the first place.
BLIX: Another thing that’s taken in to focus regarding your career is how that might conflict with your obligations such as school. How have you managed to find a balance between your Valorant career and your studies?
amy: For me, it was pretty hard having school from 9:00 till 16:00, and then practicing from 17:00 till 22:00. I felt really burned out during that time, especially since I'm the type of person that wants to be the best in anything I do, which was hard cause I didn’t have much time for school after practice. The hardest thing was having tournaments during exams. We usually have like eight exams in one week, which is already stressful, but having tournaments on top of that was even more stressful for me.
BLIX: Out of curiosity, are you currently attending college? If so, which school is it and which major are you pursuing and why?
amy: Right now I’m taking a break from school so I can fully focus on my Valorant career so I can bring out the best version of myself. I always wanted to go to med school and I’m still planning to eventually go to med school, but we will see what the future brings.
BLIX: Your first pro team was UNtapped which went from February to June 2022. In it, you played alongside mediKa, aNNja, Samsi and B3AUTIFUL. How was that team formed?
amy: I met mediKa through a friend of mine and played some ranked games with her. She saw the potential in me and asked if I wanted to trial for her team. Eventually, me, Samsi and b3autiful got out of the trials. B3autiful knew aNNja that time and got her on the team too as duelist.
BLIX: Going back to that 2022 GC EMEA Series 1. Not much was expected from UNtapped as it was one of the many orgless teams but the team manufactured a deep lower bracket run to finish 5-6th. How do you look back at that team’s showing in that event?
amy: I think we did pretty good especially since the team was made like four days before the tournament. I also had zero team experience in tournaments and it was all really new for me. My internet and PC were also super bad during that time. I was still playing with my brother’s first gaming PC and had bad FPS and my internet used to spike to 1000 ping every two seconds. It was super hard to play but it was still a good experience and I was surprised we made it pretty far.
BLIX: Were there any nerves on your end about competing for the first time ever? How did you work around your debut?
amy: I had a lot of nerves cause I felt like I needed to prove myself for my parents and show them I was good enough, which was super hard since both my PC and internet were so bad. But most of the nerves didn’t make a difference since I was lagging super bad every second anyway.
amy’s 2023 season so far
BLIX: From then, the team was signed by Acend to be its Game Changers team in June 2022. How was the team contacted by the org at that time
amy: I’m not sure if I remember it correctly but I’m pretty sure our Acend manager [Krimson] talked to the agent of mediKa and Jade [Jade "jademwah" Duffy].
BLIX: Up until the end of the 2022 season, you played as a controller but you switched to sentinel for the 2023 season. What prompted the role switch for you?
amy: I am always open to switching roles, to whatever the team needs or thinks is better. My coach thought I would be better as a sentinel since I’m pretty disciplined and I was already lurking well on smokers. Me and Lateu tried testing switched roles since we had a lot of time during the off-season and it turned out to be really good for us in the end.
BLIX: How have you adapted to the role switch? Has it been a difficult process? Why or why not?
amy: Basically, I never played Cypher or Killjoy ever before I switched roles so it was super new for me to play around my utility like that. It just took me some time to learn the agents, but basically, lurking is still the same except you have more util and info, meaning cam, trip, and turret info, to play around.
BLIX: Even though you underwent a role switch, you were one of the best players in all of EMEA for the 2023 GC Series 1 event. How did the rest of the team, which welcomed schnellÆ Ayşe Ergül, jademwah and Lateu by that point, enable you to play so well?
amy: One of the reasons I play so good is because I know my team trusts me, which makes me feel good. Also, we worked just really hard during the off-season to understand and play the game better and I think my coach and teammates helped me a lot during the time switching roles to whatever support I needed.
BLIX: The same excellent display can be said for the team as a whole also. Acend Rising went 7-0 in the group stage and finished 3rd overall despite losing twice to G2 Gozen in the playoffs. About those losses to G2 though, what made it difficult for this team to overcome them in the playoffs?
amy: I think we weren’t playing our game sadly during those games. Our communication was also really bad. It could’ve been the nerves that affected it but we definitely didn’t show our potential at all during those games.
BLIX: Looking at your contribution, you were named the Series 1 Open Qualifier MVP by the VCT EMEA GC broadcast. How did you react to the news of that award?
amy: It’s always nice to get MVP, but I don’t care that much since I know I still have tons to improve and to learn. But it’s nice to see your hard work showing off. I don't care about MVPs, I just want to win games.
BLIX: Following Series 1, the team brought in Joliinaa and speedowka from Alliance Coven and Guild X as their newest members. How have you adapted to playing with those two new players in the leadup to Series 2?
amy: It’s always different getting two new players with different personalities and playstyles. We just worked hard the past two weeks we had together, had a lot of practice and I think we improved a lot since the beginning. It is also nice we have new faces in the team and help us with stuff we were struggling as a team with before like having energy and hype during games.
BLIX: What is the best single word that describes you as a player and why?
amy: I couldn’t think one of myself so I asked my teammates and they said: smart, consistent and reliable. The one I think that fits me the most is consistent. I think I’m not only consistent gameplay wise but also with my mood, comms and energy during games.
BLIX: As of now, what do you think your favorite moment in your career? It can be a match, individual play, or whichever.
amy: Hard to say. I think one of my favorite moments was playing on Project Queens LAN and winning it even though I wasn’t playing with my full team due to visa issues. I was playing Raze and it was an absolute disaster, I couldn’t satchel at all and never played duelist in a team before, but It was still a really fun experience playing on LAN with a crowd and winning it.
BLIX: With Acend continuing to improve from its formation to now, what does the team need to focus on in order to win the domestic title, qualify for the GC Championship, and contend for the world title?
amy: We still have a lot to improve on as a team, since we are not together for long with our five. Being consistent with our comms and also our gameplay, even when there are nerves, is gonna be the way we will win games. And also always improving our gameplay and game knowledge.