XSET’s resilience and more takeaways from Winter Champs

by Brian Bencomo

Nerd Street’s VALORANT Winter Champs 2022 are over. Months of competition starting in October, with 15 open qualifiers, two Regional LANs and a Last Chance Qualifier all led to 24 teams competing in the finals this week. XSET were crowned winter champs with a 2-0 victory in the grand final over Knights. From XSET’s resilience to Reformed taking the competition by storm, here are some takeaways from the Winter Champs Finals.

XSET’s resilience

A lot of analysts have pointed to XSET as the team most likely to break through into that top four VALORANT teams in North America that currently includes Cloud9, Envy, Sentinels and 100 Thieves. They followed up a smooth run in the first VALORANT Champions Tour open qualifier with an impressive run through the Nerd Street Winter Champs Finals.

They bounced back from a loss to The Guard in group play to beat NRG Esports in the quarterfinals, Reformed in the semifinals and Knights in the grand final. They capped off the 2-0 victory over Knights with a comeback on Map 2 where they were down 12-7. They won five straight rounds on defense and then took two in overtime to win 14-12.

In a postmatch broadcast interview, Zachary “zekken” Patrone explained what the team was thinking at that point.

“When we were in that timeout we were just saying to ourselves, we’re down 7-12, just have some fun, enjoy it,” zekken said. “If we lose we go to a Map 3 where we’re confident on.”

They certainly did have fun to close out a long day for both teams who played three matches on Wednesday and showed a lot of resilience in that comeback.

XSET’s new addition since the end of the 2021 VCT season, Matthew “Cryocells” Panganiban, popped off in the finals. His 277.4 ACS was second-best among all players, and his KD of 1.53 was the best

Who are Reformed?!?

After Reformed took down Built by Gamers and Renegades on the second day of group play, many people on social media were wondering who they were. And they made a statement when they took down VCT qualifier Version1 in the quarterfinals and took a map from XSET in the semifinals. Reformed are nowhere to be found on the Winter Champs leaderboard, and they didn’t qualify via the Winter Champs Last Chance Qualifier, so who are they?

The answer lies with The Mafia. Seriously. The Mafia were the ninth team on the Winter Champs leaderboard but were not in the finals this week. While The Mafia appear to have disbanded, two of their players are now on this Reformed team, Justin “Jerk” Milani and Malice. Austin “renz” Dickman was on a Cloud9 Academy team that competed in several of the Winter Champs open qualifiers. Rhett “Khemicals” Lynch is a former Immortals players who competed with both SoaR and YFP Gaming in a couple of Winter Champs open qualifiers. Abdo “c4Lypso” Agha rounds out the squad. He is a former Rise player and, according to VLR.gg, his most recent games before joining Reformed were last July with an unsigned team known as Benchwarmers in Nerd Street’s Summer Champs.

Reformed first came together to compete in the second VCT open qualifier. They made it into the top 32 of the 128-team bracket before losing to Rise and Radiance. With a respectable showing there and a top-four finish at Winter Champs, this appears to be a promising roster that should only get better the more they play together.

The Guard are for real

The Guard recently have emerged as one of the best up-and-coming teams in North American VALORANT. They were one of four teams that qualified for the VCT Stage 1 Challengers main event via the first open qualifier. They also reached the quarterfinals of the Nerd Street Winter Championship Finals. A loss to the Knights, a fellow VCT main event team, ended their run, but they also pulled off an impressive victory over XSET during group play.


They won a 19-17 overtime map that included a ridiculous 1v4 clutch by Trent in one round, and won the second map easily, 13-4. We’ll see The Guard face XSET again in the VCT main event, and we’ll also see how they match up against Cloud9 and 100 Thieves.

Don’t sleep on the Knights

Looking at how the playoff bracket set up for the Winter Champs Finals, a lot of people might have predicted The Guard vs. XSET or maybe even Akrew vs. XSET in the grand final. Instead, it was Knights vs. XSET. Since the start of 2022, the Knights have quietly built up a solid track record. From qualifying for the VCT main event to reaching the Winter Champs grand final, the Knights should not be underestimated.

Over the past few weeks they have lost only to XSET, NRG (twice) and The Guard. Of course, they got their revenge on The Guard in the Winter Champs quarterfinals, and they have also beaten the Pioneers, Soniqs, Built by Gamers Akrew and TSM in 2022.

Akrew continue to prove themselves

Although Akrew did not qualify for the VCT main event or reach the Winter Champs grand final, they’re right there among the top Tier 2 teams in North America. They were the best team across all the Winter Champs qualifiers and ended up finishing top four. They beat Renegades and Reformed, a new team that looks like it will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming months if the roster stays together.


VCT main event preview

The Winter Champs Finals also gave us a bit of a preview of some of the teams that will be competing in the VCT main event over the next couple of months. Five of the eight playoff teams were teams that have qualified for the main event. Another two main event teams -- Luminosity Gaming and Evil Geniuses -- were eliminated in group play. In fact, the only main event teams that didn’t compete in Winter Champs were the four invited teams and Rise.

Unsurprisingly, the grand final was between XSET and Knights, who are both main event teams. They won’t be in the same VCT group, so we won’t get to see a rematch unless they meet in the VCT playoffs. The other VCT matchups we saw in the playoffs were XSET-NRG (won by XSET), Knights-The Guard (won by Knights).

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