The VALORANT Champions Tour Challengers Playoffs effectively finalized the top 12 or so teams in North American VALORANT. From this point on, besides events like Nerd Street’s Summer Champs, the Last Chance Qualifier gauntlet will narrow into focusing on only the top teams.
Besides Envy, 100 Thieves and Sentinels who will battle it out at Stage 3 Masters: Berlin, the best of the rest will be focused on the Last Chance Qualifier. If one of the three NA teams wins Berlin, all three of those teams will be locked into VALORANT Champions. Considering Sentinel's dominance at Stage 2 Masters, it’s actually the most likely scenario when factoring in the talent of 100T and Envy as well.
With that top three off and running, the Last Chance Qualifier will fit into an interesting middle ground: all great teams but none of the absolute best. After Challengers Playoffs, a new team has slid into the top five NA teams and would arguably be the favorite at LCQ. That would be XSET, who finished fourth at Challengers Playoffs, beating Luminosity Gaming and Rise while just narrowly losing to 100 Thieves and Envy.
“We know in our heads we are better than these guys, we have shown we can compete with them,” said XSET’s Brendan “BcJ” Jensen after losing to Envy to narrowly miss Berlin. “Almost none of the [teams we lost to] are going to be at LCQ. We just need to clean up some mistakes and we will take more confidence going into that tournament.”
The main difference was experience. 100T and Sentinels are two of the longest running rosters in NA. Envy made two changes but the main trio of Pujan “FNS” Mehta, Austin “crashies” Roberts and Victor “Victor” Wong has been together for nearly a year. And that’s just in VALORANT. CS also brings those teams experience XSET just doesn’t have yet.
“All the top teams have experienced CS players who have been in big games,” XSET’s Bryce “PureR” Lovell said after the loss. “We can’t say the same about our team. We’re different types of players with different skill sets and less experience.”
XSET’s backgrounds are more of a mixed bag. BcJ was a former professional Apex Legends player. Jordan “Ayrin” He played Crossfire. PureR had a CS experience but never broke through in that game. Zachary “Zekken” Patrone, the team’s new duelist, is a 16-year-old up-and-coming player who is one of the few pure VALORANT pros without a professional background in another title. What the team needed was a leader, one with real CS experience, whom they found in Rory “dephh” Jackson.
So although Envy also made changes in Stage 3, those were about finding the right pieces to add into FNS’ system. XSET have been adapting to an entirely new system under dephh.
“When I first joined the team, I was pretty nervous,” dephh said. “Coming into a core of players who have been playing together is difficult. They’ve already built friendships. But they’ve welcomed me into the team and tried hard to adapt to the way I like to play. With a bit more time we are going to be competing with the best teams in the world.”
Dephh was formerly the IGL at Ghost Gaming. He was added to XSET in June. A few weeks later, XSET beat Sentinels in an upper bracket matchup at Stage 3 Challengers 1. It’s Sentinels only loss between now and April 22nd. Shortly after adding dephh, XSET added Zekken as well.
“We’ve experienced less together than some of these other teams,” dephh continued. “This game is less about strategy and more about protocols. For a team that’s been together a month-and-a-half, we got to experience more situations and got practice against the best teams in the world.”
The idea of protocols over set strategy is one also echoed by other leading IGLs like FNS and Sentinels’ Shahzeb “ShahZam” Khan. But it's a mindset that relies on tons of repetition as teams get to see situations play out over and over and over. For XSET, the games against top-tier teams had a common theme. 13-11.
In the upper bracket, XSET lost both maps 13-11 to 100T. Down in the lower bracket, XSET dropped the first map 13-11, which was clearly demoralizing as they lost 13-7 on the second map. On the cusp of overtime, XSET just couldn’t quite get there.
“We feel our ceiling is much higher than we showed today,” BcJ said. “This is our first real run together. We made so many mistakes and were still a one round difference from overtime. We made multiple round losing mistakes and we probably end up winning the series if we just fixed those simple mistakes. A little more time under our belt, a little more time under dephh’s leadership, we’re going to show you all a better team than we are right now.”
So who all will be in LCQ? It will be an eight-team tournament featuring the teams that finish third-10th in VCT circuit points. The one caveat is that if an NA team wins Berlin, NA would receive one extra slot in VALORANT Champions meaning the top three teams in circuit points would all make it in automatically. So in that scenario, LCQ becomes the fourth-11th teams in circuit points. That 11th team who is praying for an NA win to still have a shot is TSM.
The top three teams are the teams in Berlin. Version1 are fourth, FaZe Clan are fifth, XSET are sixth, LG are seventh and C9 Blue, Gen.G and Rise are tied for eighth-10th. The last team at LCQ will either be TSM with an NA win or the team that performs worse in Berlin between 100T and Envy if NA doesn’t win.
All the LCQ teams have big questions around them. V1 lost Anthony “vanity” Malaspina to C9 Blue and have been MIA lately. FaZe haven’t been dominant since Stage 1. LG lost quickly in Challengers Playoffs. C9 Blue are adding Vanity, which, to be fair, is definitely an upgrade. Gen.G just lost the team’s coach, and Rise surprised a lot of people with a good performance at Challengers Playoffs. It's just going to be an uphill battle for the team recently considered Tier 2.
XSET are the only team that can boast great results recently against top-tier teams (they also beat 100T at Challengers 1), a clear reason why their team will be improved at LCQ and guaranteed consistency up until that tournament. Some of the other teams have already started to make roster moves, and that will likely continue between now and LCQ.
“From the teams remaining in last chance, we’re the best team there,” said PureR. “We just needed the XP boost. We need to get better at feeling the game, feeling the pressure and just playing in the moment.”
Both VLR and TheSpike have XSET as the fourth-best team in NA, only trailing the Berlin squads. So long as an NA team wins Berlin, XSET should enter LCQ as the overall favorite. For a team used to being the underdog, that will be a change, but XSET have earned the right to play as the top dog for once.
Lead image credit: XSET