March Madness: Version1, Sentinels on brink of elimination in VCT playoffs

by Sage Datuin

If you come for the king, you better not miss.

That phrase summarizes what happened on Day 2 of the VALORANT Champions Tour North America Stage 1 playoffs, leaving viewers in awe and destroying many playoff pick ’ems.

Friday’s set of games between Luminosity and Version1, as well as The Guard versus Sentinels, shattered preconceived notions of all four teams in a day of shocking upsets.

Luminosity stun Version1 to send the favorites to the lower bracket

Luminosity entered the VCT NA Stage 1 playoffs as the fourth seed from Group A going up against Group B’s undefeated first seed Version1 in what many thought would be a one-sided affair for Version1.

Seen as the most lopsided upper bracket quarterfinal matchup, many pros and analysts alike had written Luminosity off as highly unlikely to be one of the two teams that would represent NA at Masters: Reykjavík.

Even Luminosity’s Will "dazzLe" Loafman understood this was the case going into their matchup against Version1.

“There is no reason for the top teams to think we will make it to Iceland,” Dazzle shared in a postmatch interview. “Nobody thinks we will win a series, but I’m sure we just ruined everybody’s pick’em bracket so get s--- on.”

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Version1 found themselves overpowered at times and playing by Luminosity’s rules as the VCT underdogs showcased a high level of play and preparation. And one of the biggest surprises of the match can be traced all the way back to the map vetoes, where Version1 opted to test out their Bind for the first time since Alexander "Zander" Dituri’s arrival to the team.

“We kept Bind hidden throughout VCT because we wanted to continue working on that map on our own, but felt like we put in the work in practice that we could be confident on it,” Zander said about the team’s map veto decision-making. “We felt that today would be our best opportunity to test if that was the case and it did not work out. It happens.”

With nothing left to do but mentally prepare to make their run to Masters through the lower bracket, all Version1 can do now is prepare for their first opponent in Sunday’s elimination match.

The Guard dismantle Sentinels in quick 2-0 series win

Throughout 2020 and the majority of 2021, Sentinels were a team with unparallelled skill, teamwork and confidence. They put together a dominant run in early 2021, capped by their victory in May at Masters: Reykjavík. For a few months last year, they were the best team in the world.

However, since that point, Sentinels have started to fall from their once untouchable throne, something that Shahzeb "ShahZaM" Khan had understood would eventually happen.

“I always told my team, even when we were on this dominant run, that this moment will not last forever, but we will always try our best.” ShahZam said.

This was a mentality and natural trajectory ShahZam understood from years of experience in esports, but lately, he has noticed a shift in mentality within the team.

“Right now, I am not even sure we are trying our best and it is disheartening. It feels like we are playing to not lose instead of win.” ShahZam said candidly. “We look lost and are no longer taking these duels that we used to win. Especially compared to last year, it is not the same.”

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On the other side, The Guard eagerly awaited this match against Sentinels because for them it was an opportunity to prove to people that this team was the real deal and a contender to represent NA at Masters.

“We had scrimmed them four or five times and saw that we could actually win against them consistently 13-5 or scorelines similar to that, but it was all about keeping the nerves in check to do that on stage.” The Guard’s Jonah "JonahP" Pulice admitted.

Friday’s series against The Guard put those worries at ease as Sentinels looked outpaced by The Guard’s constant pressure and teamwork en route to a 13-6 win on Bind followed by a dominant 13-1 showing to close out the series on Icebox.

In what many thought would be a close match, all ShahZam could do after the series was show respect.

“They're just a really good team,” ShahZam said. “They have really good teamwork, and they're playing with a lot of confidence which is why they are finding success.”

Sentinels and Version1 to face off in lower bracket

With Luminosity Gaming and The Guard moving forward to the upper bracket semifinals, that means Sentinels and Version1 will face each other in the lower bracket.

In a matchup that some expected to happen much later in the race for Masters qualification, the two teams who represented NA at last year’s Masters: Reykjavík are now set to compete for survival.

“Teams are getting better and the small details as a team are starting to matter more than individual decisions,” ShahZam said. “There is less room for error now, so going up against Version1, we just need to do our preparations and bounce back from today.”

Version1 will be facing pressure to maintain their excellent run atop the NA VALORANT scene early this year, while Sentinels are facing pressure to show that they are still one of the top teams in VALORANT. They will face off Sunday at 7 p.m. ET, and one of these two teams will be eliminated from contention for Masters: Reykjavík.

As for Luminosity and The Guard, they will battle each other for a spot in the upper bracket final. This unexpected matchup for a minimum top-three finish in the VCT NA playoffs will be played Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.

Lead photo credit: Riot Games

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