Over 600,000 concurrent viewers watched the first match of the VALORANT Champions Tour North America Last Chance Qualifier. Michael "shroud" Grzesiek joining Sentinels certainly led to a huge bump in viewership for The Guard vs. Sentinels. A tournament featuring eight of the most closely matched VALORANT teams in recent history also probably helped keep viewership high even into the second match between FaZe Clan and Evil Geniuses. That narrative of closely matched teams surpassed expectations as the opening day saw a pair of best-of-three series go the distance and then some.
With just one slot left to represent North America at VCT Champions 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey, it was a story of happiness for The Guard and despair for Sentinels after Thursday’s barnburner.
Progress for Sentinels, but disappointing results
The opening match of the NA LCQ on Thursday saw No. 3 seed The Guard take on No. 8 seed Sentinels, with both teams looking for redemption.
For Sentinels, it was bittersweet feelings after an incredibly close series.
“It was a super close series, but I was pretty happy with our preparation and all the practice we put in with this roster,” in-game leader Shahzeb "ShahZaM" Khan told Nerd Street after the game. “I feel like we had enough to win the game, but we just misplaced some timings. It’s unfortunate, but it was also our first match as a team.”
Photo credit: Riot Games
In early July Sentinels revealed a pair of changes to their lineup going into the Last Chance Qualifier. With less than a month to prepare, it was all about nailing down the basics for this new iteration of Sentinels.
“We established a base of how we wanted to play as a team, how we wanted to approach certain maps and just catch up on the meta,” ShahZam said. “It’s a short turnaround, so it was definitely a lot to cover in a short amount of time.”
Sentinels’ 2022 has been a stark contrast from the team’s successes throughout 2021, when the team was the perennial frontrunner throughout most of the year. After experiencing their own batch of roster issues throughout Stage 2 of the 2022 VCT season, the LCQ is their final opportunity to make a return to the international stage. Still, even with a short amount of time, it is a moment ShahZam is grateful for because of the circumstances throughout 2022.
“It was unlucky and frustrating,” ShahZam said. “Things just weren’t going our way. We couldn’t even get five players in the server together. Combine that with the outside noise around us, it just felt like we didn’t get a true shot to show what we could do. This is our opportunity to come back, actually practice as a team and perform.”
Although the Sentinels have dropped down to the lower bracket, their quest toward VCT Champions 2022 is still alive and well. Now, the only thing left to do is to evaluate their mistakes and continue treating every opponent the same.
“There are some really good teams at this tournament so we shouldn’t underestimate anyone,” ShahZam said. “I think we just need to focus on cleaning up the mistakes we made in this match and make those adjustments throughout the tournament.”
Momentous bounce back for The Guard
As for The Guard, it was nothing but happiness after being on the positive side of a close series. For The Guard’s IGL Jacob “valyn” Batio it was the composure they kept through the high pressures of the Sentinels series that resulted in a wave of positive emotions.
“I’m not as proud about the win, but what I am most proud about is the way we handled the pressure because that match was insanely close,” Valyn said after the game. “Nobody was really freaking out. The whole time, we were keeping it cool and nobody was freaking out, which is huge.”
It was a marked turnaround for The Guard, who cooled down considerably following their exciting start to the 2022 season. Earlier this year they went from being rookies to going to Reykjavik, competing at the first international VALORANT event of the year.
Valyn remembered the highs of making the initial run to the team’s first international event in Iceland. He explained the amazing feeling going into his first international tournament and the confidence to dismiss all the naysayers due to the team’s lack of experience. He also remembered how it all came crashing down following their loss to OpTic Gaming in Map 3 of their series in Reyjavík.
“We remember losing that 10-4 lead against OpTic and how it killed us mentally going into the next match,” valyn said. “We got really nervous. We weren’t really having fun, and it felt like we were scared the whole time.”
Instead of “having fun,” competing became centered around results. Every match became tense, until now. Even overtime against Sentinels didn’t faze them.
Photo credit: Riot Games
“We’re not too focused on the end result, which I feel like was a big thing for us when we were struggling,” valyn said. “Even when we were 12-12 in overtime, we were laughing and having so much fun. It’s been a great time again playing the game again.”
That shifted mentality will be an added bonus as they move forward in the upper bracket, where their next opponent will be the winner of the match between Cloud9 and Shopify Rebellion. The Guard are confident about facing either opponent, but valyn did have a preference toward one.
“They’re both very good and both could easily win the tournament, but for us, I’d rather play Shopify Rebellion,” valyn said. “I am confident we can beat both, but with Cloud9 it’s kind of like a toss up to us, whereas we have a good track record against Shopify.”
Their match against either Cloud9 and Shopify Rebellion will take place Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.
As for Sentinels, they will play against the loser of Cloud9 vs. Shopify Rebellion. That match will take place Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.
Lead photo credit: Riot Games