Sentinels, Version1 show NA better than EU in VALORANT, for now

by Mitch Reames

North America is officially good at a major esport. In front of over 700,000 viewers online at VALORANT’s first international LAN, Sentinels took down Fnatic and Version1 beat Team Liquid to ensure two NA teams advanced to the upper bracket semifinals at Masters: Reykjavík.

Going into the tournament, no one really knew what region was dominant, but the majority of predictions went toward Europe, with Brazil and Korea also getting some love. Plenty of NA fans were hopeful, especially for Sentinels, but with NA’s CS:GO scene struggling and another poor performance for NA at the League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational, optimism in the region was understandably low.

Well throw that out the window now. NA optimism is at an all-time high as the region moves to 3-0 at Masters with upper bracket runs continuing on Thursday.

“Originally I thought EU had the advantage,” Tyson “TenZ” Ngo said after he topped the scoreboard during Sentinels 2-0 victory over Fnatic. “But after seeing Version1 play Liquid and playing Fnatic, it wasn’t as impressive as the legacy is told. The narrative that EU is better than NA has been passed through CS. [VALORANT] is a brand new game and NA has produced a lot of hard-working individuals and made some fantastic teams.”

Read more: ScreaM on loss to Version1: 'They totally changed their comp'

Across esports, NA relevancy is fleeting. In League of Legends, Dota and Starcraft, NA players aren’t usually among the top. In the Overwatch League, despite most teams being based in NA, most rosters are composed of imports. In CS:GO, the NA scene has been described as “in the toilet” by former players.

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Besides Call of Duty, which is only really played fervently in North America, Rocket League is probably the other title where NA can make a true claim to being the best. While it’s only a few games in, now that claim can be made in VALORANT as well.

“Europe and NA are on a very close level,” Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom said following Team Liquid’s 2-1 loss to Version1. “NA and Europe are playing at a very high level. We will see at the end of this event who is the best.”

Photo credit: Riot Games

As the No. 1 seed from NA, Sentinels were favored against Fnatic as the No. 2 seed from EU. But Version1 were the No. 2 seed from NA and surprised a lot of people with the run through NA Challengers Finals to get the invite to Iceland. It’s V1’s win over Team Liquid, the most popular choice to win the whole tournament, that really turned heads. Especially because the team had to replace Maxim “wippie” Shepelev with Jamal “jammyz” Bangash a few weeks before the tournament due to a conflict with Wippie’s student visa.

“We have a stand-in here and we just took down one of the teams that people were calling a favorite to win,” Version1’s IGL Anthony “vanity” Malaspina said after the match. “It’s going to come down to who adapts the best throughout the tournament. There was no competition prior to this, so no one really knows what region is dominant. We don’t know what playstyles are going to work against who, it’s going to be really fun to watch play out.”

Especially in the unique situation of having not had any international competition, being fluid to adapt to other playstyles seems like it will be a common theme.

Read more: Fnatic’s Magnum on first Masters game: 'I felt more comfortable on stage than at home'

“Sentinels played their game, they definitely read into us a bit,” said Fnatic’s Martin “Magnum” Peňkov after the match. “They’re very adaptive, they’ve all got individual skill. On a different day, we feel like we could have won that 2-0. We didn’t feel like Sentinels played as differently as we expected them to.”

Is a team playing their game or are they being adaptive? Is there a big difference in playstyles between the two regions or isn’t there? After talking to players on all four NA and EU teams, these questions had various answers depending on the team or player speaking.

Vanity saw similarities.

“I think there’s a huge misconception with how the regions play the game,” vanity said. “Both Europe and North America play pretty much the exact same game style, the Europeans just do it a tad slower.”

ScreaM disagreed.

“The current meta, with Astra and Viper, it’s really tough to play against,” ScreaM said. “There’s not many teams that play like [V1], they kinda surprised us with their playstyle ... we analyzed [V1], but then the team came up with another comp. They totally changed their comp, we prepared for another comp.”

While V1 and Liquid’s stars disagreed, Fnatic and Sentinels were on pretty much the same page.

“NA plays kind of the same [as EU],” Nikita “Derke” Sirmitev said. “They rely more on individual plays, something we have struggled with.”

“EU and NA have similar styles,” TenZ said. “NA is doing more duelist stuff. That overly tactical gameplay that EU is trying to produce with things like zero-duelist comps isn’t as effective as they might think. It might sound good on paper, but it isn’t as good because individuals can pop-off. The impact a duelist like a Phoenix or a Jett has is really important.”

Ultimately there are going to be some disagreements when the entirety of two regions’ rivalry is based on two matchups. At the end of Masters: Reykjavik, we’ll get a clearer answer based on whoever wins the entire tournament, and whatever region that team comes from will be deemed the best. Years from now, even that winner will be forgotten, and the internet will remember whoever is crowned official world champion this fall.

But after years of NA falling down the esports totem poll, two upper bracket NA wins in VALORANT’s first international LAN over teams from EU feel like the first big wins the region has had since the 2019 Overwatch World Cup. It has been a long two years.

Lead image credit: Riot Games

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