With eight of North America’s best VALORANT teams competing for two spots in the game’s first international LAN, which takes place next month in Iceland, the competition was destined to be fierce.
Some teams like Sentinels and 100 Thieves came in with high expectations. We even had them as No. 1 and No. 2 in our power rankings going into the tournament. Other teams like Version1 and Envy were out to prove they are the best of the best of the best.
For Envy, a consistent squad challenging top teams but without that marquee win, Iceland would be the perfect proving ground. For V1, a relatively new org in VALORANT that just switched up their roster a few weeks ago, getting to Iceland would be a huge step up.
Even with both teams taking different paths to this point, the journey through Challengers Finals has been oddly similar. Envy were sent down to the lower bracket by C9 Blue in the first round, while V1 were sent there by Sentinels. Both C9 Blue and Sentinels won the following matchups and will face off in the winner’s bracket tomorrow.
On Friday, both V1 and Envy turned up the heat. V1 swept NRG in dominant fashion while Envy took down one of the top teams in NA, beating 100 Thieves in a nail-biting third map with a score of 13-11.
“Every team in NA knows we can beat them,” said Austin “crashies” Roberts, fresh off an MVP performance against 100T with an absurd final map ACS of 267. “People don’t really like to give us the respect, but, trust me, we have a lot of teams that watch us, that steal the stuff that we do. It’s just a matter of time before people start giving us that respect.”
Despite an uncharacteristically poor game from Anthony “mummAy” DiPaolo in the final map, Envy still beat one of the best teams in NA.
“The thing about our team is anyone can pop off at any time,” crashies said. “So even if someone is playing bad, it’s not that big of a deal. We’ve all been doing this for a long time -- no one gets sad or emo when they are playing bad -- they just continue to be good teammates and we push through it.”
In an esport that has been hard to find consistency for most teams, the Envy squad has stayed near the top. One big difference for the team is that the roster has been the same since adding Victor “Victor” Wong and crashies in September. That lack of roster turnover has led to good communication, lots of confidence and, well, consistency.
“It is really really really hard to be consistent in this game,” Crashies continued. “There is randomness that comes along with it, especially as teams are just getting better and better while the meta is always changing. I’d credit Pujan “FNS” Mehta. The way he runs the team is really good, and the team is all one unit. I think that’s why we are consistent.”
With Version1 looming on the horizon, a team that hasn’t had time to find that consistency but is winning matches nonetheless, crashies is still feeling the adrenaline of taking down 100 Thieves.
“We just beat 100 Thieves, they’re a way better team than any other one we are going to face in the lower bracket,” he declared. “We’re looking forward to Version1, we played them recently and beat them 2-1 pretty easily, so they know what we are about. We should crush them, we should 2-0 tomorrow.”
With a 267 ACS it’s hard to blame crashies for being confident, but Version1’s path to this point hasn’t been easy either.
To qualify for Challengers Finals, V1 had to beat FaZe Clan, fresh off a runners-up finish in Stage 1 Masters.
Since then, V1 has proved that upset wasn’t as much of an upset as it first looked. That win over FaZe Clan gave V1 the chance to qualify through Challengers 1, which they did by beating C9 Blue to grab the fourth seed in this tournament.
Although V1 had strung together some great wins, the team deviated from Envy’s model of consistency when they replaced Kevin “PLAYER1” Champagne with Maxim “wippie” Shepelev ahead of this tournament.
“Picking up wippie, it wasn’t too hard to get acclimated with each other,” said Anthony “vanity” Malaspina, the in-game leader (IGL) of V1. “There is going to be an acclimation period with any new player, but a lot of us have a history with him in CS that helped us know what kind of a teammate he is.”
So far, the choice has worked great. Wippie came up with a few clutch plays in the win over NRG including the final round of each map.
“They know me from CS, so they know I’m a good player,” Wippie said. “When I tell them I can hold A by myself they trust me to do it. I wasn’t always this vocal on past teams, but since I know all these people I feel really comfortable to make calls and know my teammates will listen to me.”
When making the call to pick up wippie, his communication was a big selling point to the rest of the V1 squad.
“Swapping Wippie and Player1 opens up our gameplan a lot more,” vanity said. “Wippie is a lot more vocal, if he sees an opening, he’ll just take it. He’ll make solo plays. Player1 isn’t that same type of player. The way I like to IGL, I like to have players that are self-sufficient. That benefits the entire team because I can’t tell everyone how to play. That leads to people cracking under pressure.”
There is no right or wrong when it comes to roster changes. Too many variables are in play. While Envy has found consistency where few other teams have, Version1 may have made the right pivot to get them a trip to Iceland.
Unfortunately the interviews with V1 were done before crashies declared a sweep next round. Vanity’s approach to the coming match was a bit more measured.
“We are taking it one step at a time,” vanity said. “We want to show up, make sure we do what we are supposed to do, what we’ve been doing in practice and what we’ve been doing in the tournament so far. If we do that, I think we have a chance to make a run at Iceland.”
Only two more wins stand in each team’s way but only one of these lower bracket rockets will get the chance to take on the loser of Sentinels and C9 Blue tomorrow. When they do, a chance to represent NA in the first ever international VALORANT tournament will be on the line.
Lead image credit: Riot Games