Let’s set the stage. XSET just beat Rise to move one match away from guaranteeing a top-four finish in Stage 3 Challengers 1, and thus a spot at Challengers Playoffs. The problem? They needed to beat Sentinels, the best team in the world and undefeated in VCT for months including not dropping a map through all of Stage 2 Masters, VALORANT’s first international LAN.
XSET won the first map, a great start, but Sentinels came back to take map two. With a bounce to the lower bracket looming, Brandon “BcJ” Jensen popped off.
“My team sets me up to win those clutches,” BcJ said on Nerd Street’s Esports Meta podcast. “I play a more aggressive, fragging Sova so you see more output from my role. My team expects me to frag and clutch, so that’s what I do.”
He’s being modest. In the closeout game against the best team in the world, BcJ top fragged and racked up an insane 320 ACS. He played Sage in the closeout game, but the first two featured his more aggressive Sova. Over the three games, his 274 ACS was higher than any individual player managed to reach against Sentinels through all of Iceland.
“It’s important for me to show what I can do against the best teams,” BcJ said. “I don’t really come from a CS background, and some of these guys have crazy CS experience. They’ve been at LAN, they’ve played a 5v5 shooter on stage before. My background comes from Apex, a battle royale. Sure, I’ve played on stage, I’ve played in the X Games and been to Poland. I’ve been on the big stage, but not in a 5v5 shooter.”
BcJ goes in-depth on what XSET did against Sentinels, why they have an advantage in Challengers Playoffs over the next group of qualifiers and more on Esports Meta:
BcJ’s transition from Apex Legends to VALORANT
Most pros come from Counter-Strike, but Apex Legends has also proved to be a quality feeder into the top level of VALORANT as well. Sentinels’ Jared “zombs” Gitlin also was a former Apex pro.
“Apex definitely helped with my ability usage and teamwork,” BcJ said. “Apex comes down to a microsecond. You have to be on the same page as your teammates. If you’re in a tense fight in Apex, it's down to the seconds. If you make a mistake in those seconds, your whole game is lost. You just wasted 30 minutes sitting in a building to lose. You have to be really precise.”
Apex, more than other battle royales, has shown consistency at the top levels. Fortnite, especially in a mode like solos, has a huge amount of randomness (RNG) dictating the game. While RNG will always be present in every BR, the consistent success of teams in Apex shows a game with a high skill ceiling featuring a handful of teams clearly above the rest.
“The biggest thing for me to note to newcomers to battle royale esports is that the same five teams have been playing the same exact way for nearly a year,” BcJ said. “They’re still the best and no one else is even close. It’s so complex that only five teams are able to be top tier. In comparison, in VALORANT, I’d say about eight teams are top tier in North America.”
XSET’s consistency in VCT
With the performance in Stage 3 Challengers 1, XSET made it clear they are in that tier as well. The team’s history speaks to their consistency throughout VCT. Only four teams managed to qualify for both Stage 1 Masters and Stage 2 Challengers Finals in North America. They were Sentinels, Envy, 100 Thieves and XSET. Coincidentally -- or perhaps not -- those were also the same four teams to qualify for NA’s Stage 3 Challengers Playoffs. And they will all head into Challengers Playoffs with the advantage of having watched the other teams compete in Challengers 2.
“We qualified in the first open qualifier as well [in Stage 2],” BcJ said. “It’s such a huge advantage, it’s actually really sick for these four teams. You get to watch all these other teams compete in the open qualifier, compete in Challengers, you get to watch everything go down. You can steal things, plan to counter things and meanwhile nobody knows what you are doing.”
That advantage is even larger in Stage 3. KAY/O was banned during Challengers 1, so the team hasn’t shown how it will use the new agent. Or, according to a tweet from IGL Rory “dephh” Jackson, maybe not use him.
But even that tweet could be intentionally put out to make other teams think they aren’t using him. The advantage of both information and secrecy is on the side of XSET. At Challengers Playoffs, we’ll finally see their plan.
“Every match we played in [Stage 2] Challengers Finals was really close,” BcJ continued. “A few rounds go our way and maybe we win those maps. Any map we lost, it was tight.”
Unfortunately for XSET, a few of those rounds didn’t go the right way and both of the team’s appearances at the biggest stage in NA ended in early exits. It was 2-0, 2-0 for XSET at Stage 1 Masters, losing to FaZe Clan and Gen.G, two teams that would go on to finish second and third, respectively. Then in Stage 2’s Challengers Finals, they lost 2-0, 2-1 to NRG and Envy.
Many of those lost maps were close, but regardless, a record of 1-8 in those two tournaments showed a need for change. That’s why XSET brought in dephh and Zachary “zekken” Patrone, a flexible young fragger, to change their fortunes.
Now, after qualifying for the team’s third straight pinnacle event in NA, qualifying isn’t just enough. They want to reach Berlin, the international stage, and give themselves a pretty decent shot at making VALORANT Champions at the end of the year.
Lead image credit: XSET