Watching the first year of the VALORANT Champions Tour hasn’t been particularly suspenseful for North American fans. Sentinels just win (usually). Now, with Stage 3 Masters: Berlin starting Friday, Sentinels are back against international competition for the second time. Their first run at Stage 2 Masters was more of a mitten than a gauntlet. Sentinels didn’t drop a single map over the tournament, eventually beating Fnatic in the final 3-0.
Once they came back to NA, they continued to just win. First it was Challengers 1 and then it was Challengers Playoffs. Sentinels have lost three games total since Tyson “TenZ” Ngo joined the team before Stage 1 Masters. They’ve only faltered during the Stage 2 Challengers 1 open qualifier. That was single elimination so, over the past six months and playing in the biggest tournaments in VALORANT history, Sentinels have not lost a double-elimination tournament.
That’s to say, they’re pretty good.
“We just want to make NA proud in an esport,” TenZ said after locking in a spot in Berlin at Challengers Playoffs. “We want to create a dynasty. CS players all remember the Astralis era. It’s always cool to have something in the history book with your team, and that’s what we are trying to create.”
Read more: How TenZ became the biggest star in VALORANT
With their dominant performance in VALORANT’s first international tournament, Sentinels already have a slice of history.
“I don’t think any other team is going to win a LAN in VALORANT without dropping a map anytime soon,” Michael “dapr” Gulino said. “So we’re going to have that record. Any record like that, I’m happy to break it. That’s just me as a competitor. But our goal is just to win and anything that comes along with winning, that’s great.”
Winning hasn’t been much of an issue lately. But avoiding the pressure that comes with constantly winning is a difficult challenge. Part of the way Sentinels are continuing to stay on top is staying hungry but appreciating the moments -- and the NA support.
“I was never really that great at CS, to be the spearhead of VALORANT when it's growing up, it’s amazing,” dapr said. “We’re all getting a lot more supporters, we’re putting NA on the map winning the first international LAN. I just hope we keep doing well at the international competitions for NA.”
NA’s struggles in esports at-large have been well-documented. The NA CS:GO scene had clearly fallen behind pre-VALORANT, the region has never won a League of Legends World Championship, and even in games like Rocket League where NA has some of the best players, EU has still won the majority of international championships. The field will get tougher in Berlin, but Sentinels remain the odds-on favorites.
“When people think of competitive VALORANT, we want people to think of Sentinels,” Jared “zombs” Gitlin said. “Every other team is trying to get to our level, trying to pass us, trying to beat us. Every other team wants to be our team.”
Sentinels have proven themselves as the best team in the world. The only question remaining is how long that reign will last. Berlin, and eventually Champions, will be the test of whether Sentinels are VALORANT’s first international champion or the game’s first dynasty. Berlin is naturally important, but Champions is the trophy that will be elevated when people reflect on the first year of VALORANT esports.
“When they first announced the VCT circuit, we made it our goal to qualify and win the first big international event which was Iceland,” IGL Shahzeb “ShahZaM” Khan said. “After that, the ultimate goal was Champions. That’s the Worlds. These Masters tournaments feel like majors, but I’ve never played in a game where there’s a world tournament like League of Legends Worlds, on that scale. There’s nothing I want to win more than Champions.”
Sentinels will be playing from a unique spot in Berlin. Only two teams in the 15-team field are locked into spots at VALORANT Champions already, Sentinels and KRÜ Esports from Latin America. So every other team will need to place highly in this event, often beating out the other representative from their region to qualify.
For Sentinels, the motivation takes on a grander focus. Sometimes a dynasty is something you just know when you see it. Astralis winning three straight CS:GO majors is clearly a dynasty. Ninjas in Pyjamas and Fnatic had a dual-dynasty as well for their runs in 2013-15 which saw the two teams meet in the grand finals of majors three times.
But sometimes a dynasty can be defined by a clear accomplishment like the League of Legends Grand Slam. This is a title given to a team that wins its regional spring split finals, the Mid-Season Invitational, the summer split finals and League of Legends Worlds. It’s never been accomplished in a decade of LoL esports. Four times teams have come close, winning 3/4 of the events in a year.
The VALORANT Grand Slam would then be a team that wins all three Masters and VCT Champions.
“[Winning the VALORANT Grand Slam] that would be the ultimate goal,” ShahZam said. “That would be absolutely insane. It’s been a year of us winning tournaments, I don’t want to get complacent, and it’s not going to be easy, but the dream would be to dominate the whole year. It would be crazy to be considered like a team like Astralis, Fnatic, NiP, the best teams in CS history.”
Now, it's tough to say whether a VALORANT Grand Slam will become something with the same history as League of Legends as the format could change. If VALORANT’s were to be accomplished in the first year, that would be even more remarkable, especially if the years go by and no one can match Sentinel's dominance.
Still, Sentinels have two intense international LANs to go. It’s a fun thought exercise, but both tournaments will be Sentinels’ biggest challenge yet. It’s difficult to write history as it happens, but with the creation of a new esport, that’s the unique opportunity Sentinels have. So far, Sentinels have dominated the first pages in the story of VALORANT esports. At Berlin and Champions, they will try to keep the writer’s block at bay and crank out a few more chapters.
Lead photo credit: Riot Games