After five months of qualifiers, Cloud9 Blue came out on top in Nerd Street’s VALORANT Summer Championship. The 32-team field was composed of some of the best unsigned teams, big orgs with new rosters and everyone in-between. The group stage brought the weekend field down to 16 teams who battled it out in a single elimination tournament.
Vanity fits seamlessly into C9 Blue
After leading Version1 to a surprise qualification for Stage 2 Masters: Reykjavík, Anthony “vanity” Malaspina cemented himself as one of the best in-game leaders (IGLs) in VALORANT. After both V1 and C9 Blue struggled in Stage 3 following a strong Stage 2, the top IGL joined C9. It seemed to work well.
Summer Champs was VALORANT fans’ first opportunity to see the new roster perform, and they put on a show. Vanity slid into the IGL role, but Mitch “mitch” Semago, the previous IGL, stayed on the starting roster moving over to a duelist. Michael “poiz” Possis was the odd man out. The new team of Mitch, Vanity, Nathan “xeaf” Orf, Erick “Xeppaa” Bach and Son “Xeta” Seon-Ho looked back in Stage 2 form at Summer Champs.
With Rise unable to play this weekend after their IGL Kevin “Poised” Ngo sprained his wrist, C9 Blue were the only team in Summer Champs to be locked into a spot in the VALORANT Champions Tour’s Last Chance Qualifier for North America. For all the other teams, their VCT journey is over for the year. LCQ takes place Oct. 12-17, so this was C9 Blue’s last chance to play a high-level tournament with the new roster between now and then.
NRG look strong en route to a runner-up finish
At the end of Summer Champs, the final battle came down to two of the most well-known organizations in the field. NRG haven’t had the same level of success that C9 Blue have been able to find, but they’ve had moments of great play through VCT. The team’s peak was reaching Stage 2 Challengers Finals where they were eliminated after losses to C9 Blue and V1.
That performance made them one of just four teams who earned some VCT circuit points in NA but not enough to qualify for LCQ. At Summer Champs, NRG’s path to the final didn’t come that easy either. They dropped a map to popular unsigned squad Teal Seam in the first round before rebounding from a monster game from Bradley “ANDROID” Fodor to close it out.
They took down Complexity in the quarterfinals relatively easily. NRG won 2-0 including a 13-2 stomping on Icebox. The semifinal matchup was a fun one to watch though.
NRG took on Squirtle Squad. With popular content creator Peter “Governor” No, former LG player Joseph “ban” Seungmin Oh and former Fortnite pro Harrison “psalm” Chang, Squirtle Squad’s roster was thrown together but certainly fun to watch. Squirtle Squad took the first map, NRG took the second and both were close. Then NRG, in a trend of anticlimactic third maps, just ran them over 13-1. ANDROID and Ian “tex” Botsch were again the main standouts for NRG.
The final didn’t go NRG’s way at all. They started by picking Haven then promptly lost the map 13-2. Then C9 Blue took Breeze 13-5 for their map pick. NRG were able to grab one win on Split, but C9 Blue’s dominance on the first two maps was too much to overcome, as they took the win 3-1.
Squirtle Squad’s interesting roster construction takes them to the semifinals
Squirtle Squad have been a mainstay in Nerd Street tournaments for months, but not with this particular roster. Two players on the team were added specifically for Summer Champs. One performed fantastic, the other, not so much.
Ban was all set to play in VCT’s Stage 3 Challengers Playoffs with LG. He was added alongside the team’s new IGL, Will “dazzLe” Loafman, in July. Then longtime player Kaleb “moose” Jayne broke his wrist. To fill that spot, LG brought in Tanner “TiGG” Spanu as a stand-in who played fantastically in Challengers 2. So when Moose came back, it was ban, not TiGG, who was moved to the bench.
It was a tough break for ban who hardly had a chance to showcase himself on the new roster. He remains part of the bench for LG who qualified for LCQ, but it seems unlikely he will be added back to the starting roster. He showed in this tournament he still has plenty to offer.
Against NRG he led the team in ACS, playing as Reyna and Sage. Through every game in the bracket stage, he was either first or second in ACS. LG clearly believed he was worthy of a spot on a great roster, and now he’s one of the best free agents in the game today.
The other new addition to Squirtle Squad was Governor. He’s a super popular content creator signed to Built By Gamers, but there’s a reason he’s not on BBG’s main roster. It was awesome to see him play in a big tournament, and he actually popped off here and there.
But the last map against NRG was brutal, he had a 1/13 kill-death ratio on Skye for a 34 ACS. No shame in underperforming against a strong team in NRG but anytime double-digit ACS is in play, you know something went really wrong. Still, he’s almost at 100,000 subscribers on YouTube and that’s a milestone he can absolutely take to the bank.
The final guy I have to shout out on Squirtle Squad is a longstanding member of the team, but I’m surprised no org has taken another shot on him yet. It’s psalm. He was once a Heroes of the Storm player, then he went to Fortnite where he finished second in the Fortnite World Cup. Since switching to VALORANT, he played for Dignitas, but after the roster disbanded in March, it’s been all Squirtle Squad.
As a player with success in three pretty different esports now, he offers a level of veteran presence and adaptability that the right team could really use. In Summer Champs, he was clearly one of Squirtle Squad’s best players and looked to be a talented Sova even against top competition.
Evil Geniuses also change up the roster to find success
In the other semifinal, it was the battle of two new rosters. C9 Blue added vanity while EG moved Christine “Potter” Chi to head coach, putting Kelden "Boostio" Pupello on the main roster.
Potter clearly has a great mind for FPS but unfortunately her stats just weren’t up to the level EG needed to be at. With her in a head coach role and Claudia “Clawdia” Che moving to CLG Red, the once mixed-gender roster is no more.
The new team impressed at Summer Champs. To reach the semifinals, they had to go through Built By Gamers and Kansas City Pioneers, two pretty tough opponents. The 2-0 win over KCP is especially impressive given KCP’s upstart run during Stage 3 Challengers, which included a win over V1 at Challengers 1.
Boostio looked like a strong addition on Jett, but it was Daniel “roca” Gustaferri’s Reyna that really set the tone for EG. Roca, along with Mike “Pho” Panza and Brandon “BRANTED” Ballard, were new additions to EG in June. The legacy esports org has high standards for its teams, but until now, EG haven’t been able to have any meaningful success. This new roster shows the potential to change that. Between now and the next year of VCT, we could see a much different level from this EG squad.
Andbox and DarkZero disappoint
Both Andbox and DarkZero Esports missed the bracket stage, a pretty surprising result as both were considered teams that could potentially make a deep run in the tournament. Both teams could be prime targets for roster moves as we look toward the offseason. For Andbox, it’s a certainty, for DarkZero, the former Kooky Koalas roster really needed at least a bracket showing here to prove they have what it takes next time VCT rolls around.
The CIS player on 150 ping was impressive
Immortals’ Emil “EmilShe1n” Mamedov proved himself as a player to watch. Competing from the CIS region (Eastern Europe/Russia) with about 150 ping, EmilShe1n’s Killjoy was one of the tougher challenges for C9 Blue. It wasn’t enough to push Immortals, a team still looking for an identity beyond that of a feeder club to other major teams, to make a deep run. But it would be cool to see EmilShe1n on a normal level of ping against other NA teams.
Across the board, unsigned teams lose to signed ones
Summer Champs was a platform for some unsigned teams to really make a name for themselves. But when it came time for an unsigned squad to play a major org, the results were almost all in favor of the org. Teal Seam was able to beat Andbox and take a map off NRG.
Squirtle Squad, even as a semifinalist, benefitted from an easier draw. They only had to beat Team Basilisk and Serenity Black to make the semis. Even then, the team's best player was ban who is technically still on LG’s roster.
EZ5 and OOKERS, the two other unsigned teams to make the 16-team bracket, both were eliminated in the first round. It’s easy to see all the unsigned talent out there, but tournaments like this are a reminder that orgs are pretty good at scouting talent, and when push comes to shove, the team with an org like NRG or EG behind it will often be pretty damn good.
Lead image credit: Cloud9