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M80 dephh Talks Return to Counter-Strike

After a rollercoaster year, former Valorant pro dephh talks to Esports Illustrated about his return to Counter-Strike, the transition from player to coach and much more

2023 has been a turbulent year for Rory "dephh" Jackson. After starting his fourth season as a professional VALORANT player on Sentinels, dephh split amicably with the organization towards the tail end of a disappointing 7th place finish in VALORANT Champions Tour: Americas.

Two months later, it was announced that dephh would be returning to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a game he competed in as a player from 2013-2019. However, dephh’s second foray into competitive CS:GO is not as a player, but as the head coach of a new M80 team that was formed around the time of his signing.

The majority of the year has been a rollercoaster for dephh, but by returning to his roots in CS:GO, the British veteran is aiming to reach new heights as a leader and a competitor.

SEN dephh

Sentinels’ 2023 roster looked damn good on paper. Canadian superstar and roster mainstay Tyson “TenZ” Ngo was built around with signings of Gustavo “sacy” Rossi and Bryan “pANcada” Luna, both of whom had just won VALORANT Champions 2022 with LOUD. US talents Zachary “zekken” Patrone and Hunter “SicK” Mims were also signed, with dephh rounding out the six-man squad as the In-game leader.

Despite a wealth of talent, Sentinels never put it together in 2023, but a myriad of factors contributed oto them falling short of expectations. SEN was eliminated in the first round of VCT 2023: LOCK//IN São Paulo by Fnatic (who would go on to win the tournament), but the roster was expected to have better results in VCT: Americas in the spring after having more time to build synergy.

Instead, SicK was suspended following his arrest less than a month before VCT: Americas. Former OpTic Gaming standout Jimmy "Marved" Nguyen was signed in his place, but a delay in acquiring his visa did not allow him to join the team until nearly a month after the start of VCT: Americas. TenZ, who continued to put up strong individual performances despite tumult in his personal life, was put on the injury list around the time of Marved’s arrival. Marved was a shot in the arm for SEN, but it was too little, too late for the team to make it into the post-season of Americas.

Despite the myriad of factors affecting SEN’s performance, dephh felt a level of responsibility for the results of the squad, which ultimately led to him splitting amicably with the org on May 12. “I'd say [my time on] Sentinels was probably one of the most turbulent times in my career so far,” dephh told Esports Illustrated in an exclusive interview. “I have the wife here in America now, and we live in another state, but with franchising, you need to be in Los Angeles. I think that definitely took a toll on me this year.”

It wasn’t just dephh’s mental either – at age 31, his skills as an IGL remained sharp, but he knew that, mechanically, his best days were behind him. “I was very honest with myself,” dephh explained. “I always said to all my coaches and the players I played with that if I felt that I personally was letting the team down mechanically in game, I'd step away.”

Dephh coaching whiteboard

Transitioning to Coaching

Following his departure from Sentinels, dephh took a short break from competing to contemplate his next move, and it wasn’t long before a plethora of opportunities sprung up for him to consider. The one that stood out to him, though, came in the form of contact from Donald "SyykoNT" Muir.

SyykoNT had worked with dephh on XSET in 2022 and was the head coach of Sentinels in 2023 before being removed from the position after SEN’s 2-5 start to VCT: Americas, but as a vice president of esports at M80, he presented a chance for dephh to return to CS:GO in a way that would best suit his leadership strengths.

“It just made a lot of sense. I know that I can go to coach this team, I know that management has my back, and I get to make decisions that I want to make. So it was it was kind of a no-brainer for me,” said dephh. “I definitely had some options to go play elsewhere in VALORANT or CS, but I think the way that the job turned up, and the fact that M80 were getting into CS at that time, it was just a no-brainer for me. I didn't really have to take long to decide that is probably best for me.”

Before getting into esports, dephh was a semi-pro footballer in the UK. He played for Nottingham Forest for six years, and the competitive experience he gleaned from that shaped him as a leader throughout his esports career, as well as his approach to coaching on M80. “I wanted to bring more traditional sports coaching to a team . . . the structure that they bring the way that they treat and talk to the players,” dephh explained.

‘I'd say I’m very old school in the way that I approach teams and how I think team should operate. And truly, I only the only time I am I feel happy and content is when the team I feel the team is operating – the players are meshing; the vibes are good; people are listening; people want to be there.”

Over his time in esports, however, dephh has learned that that a pure hard-nosed, traditional sports approach is not the only factor in leading a squad to victory. “When I played in CS, you could be a bit more harsh and treat it like a traditional sport, but I think I learned over the past few years that the team environment has to be in a good spot for teams to win,” explained the M80 head coach. “Even now in CS, when I’m watching these guys win finals, they’re mainly laughing and enjoying themselves . . . that's one of the main things for me as a coach: making sure that people are enjoying playing and they're working together.”

As a VALORANT IGL, leading his teammates is something that was on dephh’s mind. Doing so a a coach, however, has allowed himself to see his players in a new light and broadened his perspective on how to reach them in the right way to get the most out of his team – not just as competitors, but as people, too.

There's something about controlling emotions as a player compared to a coach,” dephh said. “As a coach, I can see, I can see my players do the things that I used to do when I was upset or something bothered me. I think it's all about the tone and the way that you choose to speak to individual players.”

Deph m80 valorant team

On the Horizon

Through M80’s first two months of CS:GO competition, they have competed in four qualifiers and two B-tier events for a total of six online tournaments. Throughout those competitions, M80 has finished in the top 2 four times and outside of the top 4 only once. It’s a solid start to a coaching career for dephh, and he isn’t planning on changing course anytime soon.

“My dad always messages me like, ‘Oh, I think you should be playing still,’ and it definitely is in the back of my mind,” dephh admitted. “But I've heard coaches before that still want to play and are coaching. I don't want to have one foot in the door want to go for it completely. That's the kind of guy I am.”

Since returning to CS:GO, dephh has enjoyed the open competitive circuit in contrast to the franchised system of VCT. The M80 head coach has a full slate re-immersing himself in the CS:GO scene, and while he hasn’t had much time to look ahead to Counter-Strike 2, he’s optimistic for the future of competitive CS: “I think VALORANT was better under the open circuit. I understand why they decided to go to the franchise route, but I think CS has proven over the years that new talent is bred under the open circuits and teams can come out of nowhere.”

In his first-ever head coaching position, dephh is looking to bring M80 to the forefront as one of those teams; a powerhouse with a sudden rise out of the open circuits into the elite throes of CS competition. “Just keep an eye on us,” dephh said confidently. “I think we've already had some really good results as a team that's only been together for a month.

I want to, hopefully, revive North American CS a little bit and give the fans something to cheer about.”