Counter-Strike pro Ankit ‘V3nom’ Panth’s gaming memories date back to an internet cafe in Mumbai, where he first discovered the game that would change his life. Since that fateful day, V3nom has gone on to become one of India’s biggest esports stars as the face of Team Brutality and one of the first to take to Valorant’s pro scene.
Listen to the episode in full:
V3nom’s earliest gaming memories gave him a peek into a world that seemed impossibly distant due to one little word – money. First glimpsing a PC game on his father’s CRT monitor, young V3nom knew that owning his own gaming machine was an impossibility, so he sought out internet cafes where he would game hours away alongside like-minded individuals.
V3nom’s first pick could be none other than the game that has got him where he is today, Counter-Strike. CS was popular the world over but took off particularly in regions where games consoles were rare. Its relatively low system requirements meant that the game could run on almost any computer, making it uniquely accessible.
“It was very popular because it could run on any machine,” explains V3nom. “I remember kids coming back from school or college would do these clan matches where they would get their entire society to go to the internet cafe and start playing 5v5s, 4v4s and 3v3s. They would challenge each other to see who was the best Counter-Strike player.”
Fast forward around five years and V3nom had established himself as one of the world’s finest Counter-Strike players. For his first official tournament, V3nom had to travel to the city of Jalandhar. The pressure was on to perform as the prize money was needed to cover the cost of their flights, hotel and food. Luckily, they did win, securing their first CS payout – US$1,500.
“I called my mother and said, ‘mom, see, I won so much money!’ and I was expecting a reply where she would say, ‘oh, very nice.’ Instead, she was like, ‘where did you steal that money?!'”
Every gamer needs that game that they can just chill out with – and yes, that means pro gamers as well. For V3nom, that game is the top football title, FIFA. Given the iterative nature of the series, V3nom has chosen the latest edition as his top pick, which he has been enjoying on the PlayStation 5. After intense CS scrim sessions, V3nom likes to grab one of his team-mates or brother for a kickabout.
“I definitely [prefer to play with] my brother because he does what I say,” jokes V3nom.
V3nom’s love for the sport actually comes from real-life experiences playing in his youth. “When I was a kid, I loved playing football, but I couldn’t pursue that because I got an injury,” explains the esports professional. “So playing FIFA brings back those childhood memories where I’m playing with my friends… having a good time shooting goals and asking for penalties and all those sorts of things.”
Last but not least, V3nom highlights a relative newcomer on the esports scene – Riot Games’ hero-based first-person shooter, Valorant. After an illustrious career in Counter-Strike, V3nom has now taken his skills to the Valorant arena, competing on a professional level alongside his team-mates in M42 Esports. V3nom explains that the unique skills and abilities of Valorant’s agents set the game apart from other shooters, providing a fresh experience.
V3nom took to the game so quickly that he managed to reach the top rank – Immortal in its early beta period. Now, V3nom says he feels energised by the frequent changes and additions being made to the game as time goes on.
“For pro players, we have to go back to the drawing board, learn the entire new map and the new agent. What’s the meta going around? How can we use it in our strategy? I personally love it because that’s what brings that new flavour into the game. It doesn’t become stagnant.”