Unlike many of his more experienced peers in Valorant, Zachary “zekken” Patrone did not have a background in competitive CS:GO.

While Valorant is the first game the 17-year-old went pro in, he’s already established himself as a world-class player capable of competing with the very best.

With a coveted spot on Sentinels, one of the 10 partnered organizations in the Americas league, Zekken has carved out a space for himself in the top-tier of Valorant in just two short years.

But when he first picked up Riot’s shooter in 2020, he originally placed in Silver 1, he told Tarik “tarik” Celik in an interview.

Zekken placed in Silver 1 when he first started Valorant

Valorant Champions 2022 zekken
Credit: Riot Games

It’s no surprise then that he firmly believes that hard work trumps talent any day. “I would say hard work beats talent,” he said. “Just because of my case — I was Silver.”

Today, zekken has already made a name for himself as one of the brightest spots on the XSET roster that came from behind to become arguably the second-best team in North America. At Valorant Champions 2022, they also showed up against some of the strongest international competition, taking down FunPlus Phoenix and Fnatic.

As the latest addition to Sentinels, the youngster now finds himself on a team that has been the face of Valorant since the earliest days of the game. There are lofty expectations to live up to, but zekken appears more than confident.

“I think with the roster that I’m aware of, fans should get excited,” he told tarik. “We’re going to be really, really good.”

Zekken received Counter-Strike as a present for Christmas when he was nine, kickstarting his journey into esports and gaming. But his first encounter with esports came with Super Smash Brothers when he was around 12.

“I went to a Super Smash Brothers tournament at a college in my area and I got destroyed,” he said. “But it was a fun time and there was also a college Overwatch tournament that was playing on a side stage. That was my first experience getting to watch esports live, and that’s kind of what really got me into it.”

However, the Sentinels player only played Counter-Strike casually. As it turns out, he never even reached the top rank of Global Elite. He peaked at Legendary Eagle Master, but he nevertheless hit FACEIT Level 10, which some believe provides a better and more competitive environment than regular matchmaking.

He got into Valorant when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. “My entire school went online and that’s when Valorant came out,” he said. “That’s pretty much how I got into it. I just five-stacked with my friends a ton.”

Looking ahead to VCT 2023, zekken already knows who he’s most looking forward to beating. “I would say NRG just because they have the OpTic core,” he said.

“We’ve always been rivals for a while, but also like way back in the day I trialed for Envy and they said no to me. So I’m always going to have the chip on my shoulder.”

Sentinels will make their international debut in February at the 30-team kickoff tournament in São Paulo, Brazil.

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