Every day, Jordan “Ayrin” He wakes up to a picture of Copenhagen taped to the top of his ceiling and thought to himself, “This is where I’m going to be in a month.”
For Ayrin, Copenhagen holds a special place in his heart. A city that he spent four months in during his Master’s program, Copenhagen is Ayrin’s “favorite city in the world.”
Now, Ayrin is just one series away from making his manifestations and dreams a reality following a 2-0 victory over 100 Thieves.
XSET reaching new heights in 2022
Heralded for their consistency as the perennial fourth-place team in North America, XSET never has had that breakout performance to stand atop North American VALORANT. It’s something that has motivated Ayrin to constantly put in the work.
“It’s a very talked-about topic, but it’s quite annoying. When you are consistently placing fourth in one of the most competitive regions in the world, it isn’t easy right?” Ayrin said in response to a question about the fourth-place curse.
Rory “dephh” Jackson also shared his frustrations about others’ perceptions of the XSET. His pointed words were in response to a stellar interview with Nerd Street, in which he said XSET would be an easier opponent than FaZe Clan.
“It pissed me off to be honest,” Dephh said. “We get 100 Thieves fans telling us that [Matthew "Cryocells" Panganiban] and [Zachary "zekken" Patrone] carry us and then we have an interview saying that we have no heavy hitters. I think we played with a fury today to prove them wrong.”
Alongside OpTic Gaming, XSET are the only other team to qualify for every VALORANT Champions Tour North American playoffs stage. One of the beaming lights of consistency in a game with very little of it, XSET entered their match against 100 Thieves still underestimated by many. Even after finishing their group in first place with a 4-1 record, some questioned whether they had the “heavy hitters” to actually follow up on their group stage success.
However, through all these failures, XSET knew they had the talent and capabilities to eventually break past this “curse.”
“We always knew we could,” dephh said. “We would always barely lose 2-1 to OpTic or 2-1 to Cloud9, but this time, it feels nice to finally sit a team down two nil and make it to the top three.”
XSET’s eventual 2-0 began with a slow 1-6 start on Icebox as 100 Thieves had control on defense during the early part of the game. However, shortly after, XSET were able to salvage the first half on Icebox by bringing the score back to 6-6. One of the things that XSET credited for this comeback was the perfectly timed timeout.
“The team, coach, and analyst have been really good at calling timeouts,” Ayrin said. “That is something that we didn’t used to call a long time ago, as often, but now we make it a priority. In those timeouts, people speak how they want to speak, and it just makes things easier coming back into the game.”
Learning when to take a pause from the game to reset was something that took XSET time, but through constant practice in high-pressure situations, the team learned how to utilize these momentary pauses to their advantage.
“Sometimes it's not even about strategy,” dephh said about XSET’s timeouts. “At times it’s just about chilling and figuring out little things that we can do, and that instance was a really good time.”
After finishing the first half 6-6, XSET finished their comeback on Icebox, closing out the first map 13-10.
Then, on Ascent, XSET came into their own and took the first half 10-2.
With just three round wins left, XSET felt top-three was within their grasp, but aware of the volatility of VALORANT, they knew that they could not relax just yet.
“It is so exciting yet dangerous at the same time,” Ayrin said. “When the game is about to end, you tend to get super excited, and that can backfire. Anything can happen in this game.”
Yet, one thing that never entered Ayrin’s mind was a possible comeback from 100 Thieves, who had come back from 3-9 down twice against FaZe Clan in their previous match.
“Surprisingly, we didn’t care about that,” Ayrin confidently said. “There’s not many times we played an opponent that was able to crush us hard because we are always consistent.”
Surely enough, there was no comeback this time from 100 Thieves as XSET finally put the nail on the coffin of a strong series to push them over the top.
A product of hard work and talent
Although XSET can finally say that they are a top-three team in North America, the job is not finished according to dephh, who initially came to the postgame interview late because of an immediate VOD review of their series.
“We are doing six days a week, heavy server work so there’s no way we are going to stop slacking, and I think that shows in some of our performances recently,” dephh stated before explaining how much effort is put in. “We are known as one of the best scrim partners because we try every day. We get into arguments because we care about it that much. We have a really good system of how we prepare for maps, how we prepare for matches that it is a fine art in terms of how we prepare and practice.”
This constant effort is noted by their consistency through a number of constant meta changes in VALORANT. Ayrin, the longest-tenured member of XSET, having joined in 2020, had more to say about XSET’s work ethic to reach this point.
“It’s a ridiculous amount of work,” Ayrin said. “Regardless of who was on XSET, we just kept getting better and better. Now, we’ve gotten to a point where we think we can take it all the way because we are focused on the goal to make an international event.”
With a collectively shared goal to finally make it to their first international event paired with his daily manifestations of making a return to Copenhagen, XSET’s international aspirations are within grasp.
XSET’s upper bracket final match against OpTic Gaming will take place on Friday at 4 p.m. ET where both teams will compete for a spot at Masters: Copenhagen in July. The loser will still have one more chance to qualify for Copenhagen through the lower bracket final on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.
Lead photo credit: Nerd Street