Luken's outlandish road to Big Events
Luca "Luken" Nadotti quit playing Counter-Strike in 2013, shortly after Global Offensive's release, and has made incredible leaps since taking it back up in 2017 at the age of 20. As he prepares to play his first Big Event, we take a look at his journey to this point.
Turkey and Argentina faced off in the World Championships 2016 grand final on October 9 of that same year, and despite the Argentines eventually losing the best-of-three to the former Space Soldiers roster, Jonathan "JonY BoY" Muñoz and his team had already made history after upsetting a Danish side featuring the likes of Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander and Valdemar "valde" Bjørn Vangså in the semi-finals, putting a spotlight on a scene that had always been in the shadows. That performance eventually turned into an opportunity for some of those players to move to North America and play for Miami Flamingos and Gale Force, and although that project eventually lost steam and ended up in the return of No Tenemos Nada (Spanish for "We Have Nothing"), a tag used in similar fashion to the Golden Five's recurring use of AGAiN, that Argentine core from TWC, comprising JonY BoY, Matias "tutehen" Canale and Tomás "tomi" Guardia, has got back together in Spain and live under the x6tence banner, where they are joined by fellow countryman Nicolas "NikoM" Miozzi.
Far from any serious competitive play when JonY BoY and company were carving out a name for themselves in the lower rungs of the international ladder, one of the two players who have now become the highest hopes for Argentina, Ignacio "meyern" Meyer, was getting closer and closer to landing his first shot on a team. He got it the following year, in 2017, when he joined Keymotion, and despite a rough start, the youngster has since hoarded headlines—even getting a One for the future article written about him ahead of his Big Event debut with Isurus at DreamHack Masters Dallas earlier this year. The other half of the Argentine duo in Sharks and meyern's elder by five years is Luken, who hadn’t touched the game since his account got hacked shortly after its release, years before Argentina's semi-final run at TWC, and wouldn't pick it up until the following year.
It's no coincidence that Luken is now proving to be a gifted player, breaking through with equal parts natural talent and hard work, as he has shown a knack for competition from a young age, playing football in the youth ranks of River Plate and Excursionistas as a teenager around the same time he discovered Counter-Strike. Although he did not get to play the computer game competitively at the time, he did partake in pick-up games and scrimmages with friends, but a few months after Global Offensive’s release he quit the first-person shooter to take up League of Legends, managing to reach the national finals in his home country. Bored of the MOBA, he joined the youth squad of another football club, Ferro Carril Oeste, at the age of 17, but recurring ankle problems eventually kept him off the pitch.
Luken took a hiatus after his competitive ventures in sports and gaming to pursue higher education, focusing on his studies between 2014 and 2017. It wasn’t until he was done with school, remembering he had been a decent 1.6 player back in the day—even if just in amateur circles—, that he decided to give Counter-Strike another shot, although this time around he did things differently by jumping straight into competitive play after seeing a Facebook post from what would become his Ivyaert teammates. Luken’s natural talent immediately showed in pick-up and official games, attracting a lot of negative attention from players in both Brazil and Argentina, where echoes of him cheating started to make the rounds as he became better and better. Even meyern, the other rising star at the time, admitted to thinking that Luken was a cheater after playing some PUGs against him, stating that "he appeared out of nowhere and made being so good look too easy.” Quickly outgrowing his Ivyaert teammates, Luken recalls it being a trying time because personal growth went hand in hand with many more losses than victories.
“Everything comes with hard work and sacrifice,” says Luken, who was a good shooter when he started playing CS:GO but was far behind regarding the intricacies of competitive play. Not long after Ivyaert, he created a team with the likes of Guillermo "guishorro" Areco, Roberto "reversive" Themtham and tutehen, kept gaining experience and started to feel that he could grow into a solid player. Around that time, he was in contact with some of the best teams in the country, like Isurus, but no formal offers were made and his first big break at a local level came somewhat unexpectedly, when he and meyern teamed up with Nahuel "nhl" Herrera, Genaro "restikk" Hokama and Franco "xud" Baglione in Furious. The team was put together in a somewhat laid back fashion as a vehicle for the more dedicated players to keep competing until they got an offer to join a better team, but with Isurus leaving Argentina at the time to compete in Brazil, a void was left at the top of the national scene for Furious to fill.
The two rising stars were labeled "onliners" at the time, a hazing ritual that has been seen on all levels of play and that has been felt by a myriad of new players taking over and pushing more established players to the background, but the moniker didn’t stick long as they were able to shed it posthaste by winning the two LANs they played together before splitting, Musimundo Gaming Week 2018 and La Liga PRO 2018. Validating himself and his team in a one-sentence post-match interview on stage, Luken said that “the onliners took it all because the bitches are talking" before taking a step forward for photographers to capture him and his team holding their first place cheque.
Furious had become the best team in Argentina by then, but a bigger fish in the sea came along and meyern was off to Brazil to compete with Isurus. Outpacing most of his teammates on most of his teams, Luken often dealt with frustration and ended up impulsively taking roles outside of his job description to try and make his sides better, filling whatever gaps needed to be filled or he wanted to fill. In a sort of self-serving sacrifice, Luken has played as an entry fragger, AWPer, in-game leader, support/trader and lurker. He has taken over people’s roles out of necessity at times, but also somewhat forcefully, not trusting teammates to do due diligence and become better, to the detriment of his own game. This jumping back and forth could have been damaging to a developing player, but Luken eventually came out the other end having learned how to break the mold and adapt to different situations. He says: "The best teams in the world don’t need that much structure, they need to be unpredictable and everyone needs to know how to do everything."
After making it into the WESG 2018 World Finals: Five players to watch list we put together ahead of the event in Chongqing, China, where Furious came in 9-16th place (with Nahuel "Straka" Vazquez and guishorro in lieu of meyern and Maximiliano "max" Gonzalez), Luken went on to become one of the founding members of 9z, where he played for three months. During Luken’s time there, coach Germán "Hellpa" Morath observed just how plugged into the game the 22-year-old is, going as far as to state that he has "incredible knowledge for the short amount of time he has been playing, very good memory retention and knows how to read and process situations very quickly, reacting well to both information on the map and from his teammates."
Hellpa also pointed to issues regarding frustration, something he said they had to work on as Luken could easily get annoyed when losing, although the Argentine coach noted that it could stem from him not having enough freedom and at the same time having to be the leading figure in the team. He also stated that Luken needs to learn how to get into the right mindset and not let having to play in a more structured environment get into his head even if it hurts his ability to play to his full potential. "It’s important that he learns to get into a state in which he can have as much fun playing reined into a team structure as he does when he's playing for fun in FPL," the coach explains.
"Frustration is fine, getting angry is fine, as long as it keeps you wanting to learn more and get better, but you always have to move forward with a positive attitude,” says Luken, giving a hint into the balancing act between adding fuel to his competitive fire and the mindset he needs to keep it under control. And although he is a natural competitor, he also has a lighthearted approach to the game, which can be seen when he entertains viewers on his stream. As a player who dedicates the greater part of his life to the game and treats it like a job, he has done a good job at growing a decent following by broadcasting his antics on FPL.
In addition to entertaining content and FPL play, Luken’s impulsivity takes a life of its own through a Twitch chat command that lets viewers know how many times he changes his resolution. Elevating it to a meme, the Argentine player then takes time to jokingly explain the positives and negatives of each different setting to his followers. "What’s good about 1024x768 stretched? +30 on pistol rounds, +70 movement, +60 Ferrari peek, -40 vision, and it’s great for retakes. On the other hand, 1280x960 has +100 Ferrari [Editor's Note: he even goes so far as to call it Bugatti], +70 AWP, +60 vision, and +80 movement, but if you don’t get kills quickly you’re done," he says, laughing. Hellpa described it as a bank of settings in Luken’s mind that he has memorized and uses depending on how he’s feeling. If he’s not feeling it with the settings he’s currently using? He changes.
Luken’s need to change and tinker, be it in-game roles or resolution settings, follows the pattern of a curious mind that, as Hellpa put it, can retain a lot of information and adjust to different situations in chameleonic fashion. His many hours spent playing pick-up games may help keep his mechanics sharp, but as his former coach explains, Luken also uses them to gain knowledge—not only about himself and his place in the game, but about how rivals play. "We'd go to tournaments and he'd say, ‘this guy usually plays this position and covers this way, that guy usually plays that other position and tends to move a certain way or flank around the map at a certain time, etc.’, so he’s learning about the players and then remembering all of their habits and patterns." After departing 9z, he has kept in contact with the coach, often messaging him with new insights as he constantly evolves.
A large shuffle in the Latin American scene was brewing before Luken decided to make a move, with several teams, such as DETONA, W7M, Isurus or TeamOne, probing his interest, and although he was reticent to leave 9z at first, he finally got an offer he couldn’t refuse when his former teammate meyern—a player he had publicly said he would like to reunite with — got him a spot in Sharks. "We were going to get a Brazilian fifth," recalls meyern, “but it fell through so I told them we should get Luken, and after watching some demos they agreed to bring him on." Despite Brazilians and Argentines playing together often on Gamers Club and competing in the same tournaments, players from both countries don’t tend to mesh, although there have been players like NikoM who have tried going down that road in the past.
One of the reasons, if not the main reason, for Brazilian and Argentine players to not mix more is communication, something Luken considered a problem early on in the team’s life as the language barrier plays a big part in making a fluid transition and any Spanish-speaking player who wants to join a Portuguese-speaking team will have to go through an adaptation process. To try to minimize damage when joining their Brazilian teammates, Luken and meyern started playing a lot of positions together, but time eventually proved that it would be better for them to jump straight into the deep end and become better at communicating in Portuguese to not be shackled by language in the server. Luckily, Sharks' Brazilian players are a calm bunch, as are the two Argentines, and language issues are slowly but surely becoming a thing of the past, with meyern going so far as to say that in a month or two it won’t even be a talking point anymore.
Other than opening the door to a whole new world for Luken, who has had the chance to practice against top sides in Europe and is playing some of the most prestigious leagues in North America, this move has also had an effect on the player on a personal level. Luken is now the new guy, surrounded by players who have already been away from Latin America and have played at Big Events before. He is no longer expected to be the center of attention or fill the gaps left by other teammates, and can now focus fully on himself and his role in the team. "Luken has the virtue of being able to play any role because he has played them all at different moments of his career, but his most comfortable and best roles are lurking and supporting," says Hellpa. Those are exactly the roles he has in Sharks, in which he is taking the spots that used to be covered by Renato "nak" Nakano.
Being able to concentrate all of his attention on himself has furthered Luken's growth, controlling his aggression and helping him become a more passive player in the process—something that could perhaps be traced back to his need to carry and put out fires in the past as opposed to his new situation. Being one more player on the team is something for which he is grateful, not only because of his newfound freedom from pressure but also because he is learning from more experienced teammates who also allow him to express his views and opinions as an equal in a calm environment.
Adaptation in the server hasn’t always been the easiest for Luken, who was shocked to find the depth and quality of mid and lower-tier European teams during his time bootcamping there, sharing that the first days in Portugal were very hard on him because those teams were more skilled than he was expecting. "The 80th ranked team in the world could do things you wouldn't even believe, so the first two or three days I was very sluggish and it was very hard. The more I played the more I got used to it and the more agile I became,” he recalls. "It's like you become infected by the way everyone plays there and I eventually played pretty well the last few days." He doesn't complain about his new home, though, stating that, when he moved to North America, "it calmed down a bit because there aren't as many teams, but there are good teams like Liquid, EG, FURIA, etc., so you can still learn much quicker than you ever could in countries like Argentina or Brazil."
Argentina has struggled to foster a relevant scene, overshadowed by their larger Portuguese-speaking neighbors with a rich Counter-Strike tradition, but they are slowly but surely making progress, and although the hallmarks of underdeveloped scenes are there—such as it being hard to keep teams together due to a lack of resources and fiery personalities, or the best teams trying their luck beyond their borders—, there is a generation of players who have made and are making a difference in the hearts and minds of players and fans alike. Despite x6tence's sluggish start and struggles against domestic opposition in Iberia or Nicolás "Noktse" Dávila having to juggle Isurus' lineup to the best of his abilities when all the top talents have moved on to new pastures, their trailblazing has opened the way for the likes of meyern and Luken to quietly become Argentina’s flag bearers and put the next brick in the foundations.
Both meyern and Luken come from very different backgrounds and have followed different paths, but together they have helped each other get past the awkward stage of early LAN success at the local level and overcome the title of onliners in the process of building the best team playing in Argentina. Although they separated momentarily to follow their own journeys, they linked up again to keep writing their country's history—even if it's by making an unlikely pact with three Brazilians to provide the extra firepower needed for both parties to have a go at the best teams in North America.
Sharks got their foot in the door thanks to good LAN performances against inferior opposition in the Latin American ESL Pro League Season 10 group stage, which earned them a spot in the finals, and good online performances against superior opposition that qualified them for the upcoming ECS Season 8 Finals. And it will be there, in Arlington, Texas, less than an hour's drive from his and his teammates' home away from home, that at the age of 22 and with only two years of CS:GO under his belt, Luken will be standing in front of Astralis, the best team in the world, in the opening match of his first-ever Big Event.