Why all eyes are on Sentinels entering VCT Americas league
by Brian Bencomo
There is a lot of hype around Sentinels’ VALORANT team entering the first season of the VCT Americas league. That’s par for the course for a team that was very good very soon after the game’s release in 2020, won the first-ever global VALORANT tournament in 2021 and is still the home for one of the game’s biggest stars, Tyson “TenZ” Ngo.
Despite declining in 2022, the team was still responsible for bringing in some massive viewership numbers and made headlines with the signing of popular streamer Michael "shroud" Grzesiek as a player for a brief stint on the team and Tarik "tarik" Celik as a content creator.
Entering 2023, the team signed Gustavo “sacy” Rossi and Bryan “pANcada” Luna, two Brazilian superstars who won Champions with LOUD last year. Sentinels also brought in Zachary "zekken" Patrone and Rory “dephh” Jackson and coach Don “Syyko” Muir, who helped lead XSET to become one of the top North American teams last year. Sentinels are the only team in the Americas league with North American and Brazilian players, which should easily make them the most popular team in the league.
Sign up for VALORANT Lockdown 2!
For Syyko, joining Sentinels has been quite different from being on XSET because of the expectations that fans have for the team.
“I get a lot of interesting messages,” Syyko told Nerd Street. “Your typical, ‘you should be doing this’ or ‘you're such an idiot for doing this.’ But, I think for every one of those there's nine really supportive, amazing messages from fans that truly just love the brand and love the team and want to see the team succeed.”
Photo credit: Riot Games
A fresh approach for Sentinels in 2023
TenZ, who’s the only holdover on the roster from the last couple years, said Syyko has brought some much-needed structure to the team.
“It's definitely a new approach that I've never experienced in VALORANT,” he said. “I do like that structure, but obviously we're not super structured where it's like we can't adapt. I do think that we can definitely do some stuff on the fly.”
Unlike most other teams, Sentinels haven’t always had a coach. The team’s former in-game leader Shahzeb “ShahZaM” Khan was essentially the coach at first. Sentinels didn’t have a coach when they won Masters: Reykjavík, the first international VALORANT tournament. Shane "Rawkus" Flaherty coached the team later in 2021 and for part of 2022.
Read more: Dignitas connects with fans, finds tourney success at Nerd Street’s Localhost
It’s not just Syyko who is helping to bring the best out of the team now. TenZ said Syyko is the main voice and sets the structure, but he also explained the roles of the other two members of the coaching staff. He said Adam "kaplan" Kaplan is very involved in VOD reviews and analyzing individual rounds. Drew “DrewSpark” Spark-Whitworth is the one who analyzes all the data and will provide insight on the effectiveness of different strategies.
Syyko is used to working with zekken and dephh from their time together on XSET since 2021, but has a fresh perspective on TenZ, Sacy and pANcada. With regard to TenZ, he said the negative public narratives about him are wrong.
“I think we knew coming in that Tyson would be this exceptionally mechanically gifted player that we just kind of had to round out some motivation issues as well as some catching up to a more updated way of playing his role than he hasn't in past iterations of the roster,” Syyko said. “What we didn't expect is how good of a teammate he is, how impactful his positive attitude is on the rest of the players and how much that picks up everybody else's energy on the team.”
Photo credit: Riot Games
For his part, TenZ said he’s definitely motivated to win again this year. After finding a lot of success upon first joining Sentinels in 2021, last year was a down year for the team.
“I'm definitely -- I want to experience that winning sensation again,” he said. “I do think we have a really good roster built here with this current iteration.”
Read more: VCT Americas league 2023: Ranking all the teams
Two players who have experienced a lot of winning recently are Sacy and pANcada, who won Champions with LOUD to close out the 2022 VCT season. Syyko said both players have brought a great work ethic to the team.
“Sacy and pANcada, coming from LOUD who were just coming off their world championship are obviously tremendous players with a lot of experience winning, and not just winning, but the experience with the process that it takes and the hard work that it takes to become a winner,” Syyko said. “And that's something that I saw was really important coming into this and something that they could kind of impart into the young guys, and especially Sacy has been really good with that.”
At 25 years old with experience playing League of Legends and VALORANT professionally, Sacy is a veteran in esports. Alongside in-game leader dephh, the two are leaders on this team.
“It's kind of like we are trading experience, especially with dephh. And the two young guys, zekken and Tyson, they are learning a lot. And they’re kids, they learn fast, right!” Sacy said. “I think it's just a matter of time to show people our work in the server.”
Photo credit: Riot Games
Why communication is key for Sentinels
Time is what it will take to get the team on the same page as Sacy and pANcada adjust to being on an English-speaking roster rather than Portuguese.
“In the beginning, was hard especially because I didn't know the callouts for the maps,” Sacy said. “So I was needing to study every day. So ‘OK, on Ascent they call this, they call this or that.’ So after I got used to it, was better to give that for more opinions, more ideas during the round. I got used to it pretty fast.”
Read more: Christine “Potter” Chi is blazing a trail for women in the VALORANT Champions Tour
While Sacy was able to get up to speed fairly quickly, pANcada didn’t come into the team with as great of a mastery of English, so getting pANcada more fluent in English is one of the ways in which the team should improve over time when it comes to communication. Syyko said it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight, but every day his English has gotten better.
“His progress is exponential right now. He's working extremely hard with English coaches,” Syyko said. “So he comes in and practices with us all day and then at night he goes home and works, I think three or four nights a week with a Portuguese Brazil-based English coach who’s teaching him how to improve his English. So between the tutoring and just being with the team, especially like living with us in the hotel and the apartments, coming into the office, just the everyday conversation is drastically improving his language.”
Photo credit: Riot Games
A tough start to 2023
Between integrating players who were on three different teams last year and working through communication issues, Sentinels are a work in progress. Because this is Sentinels and because it has been a long offseason, the team’s losses have gotten magnified. Sentinels lost to The Guard and TSM, two Tier 2 teams, in an offseason tournament and lost their one and only match at LOCK//IN to Fnatic. Of course, Fnatic did end up winning LOCK//IN, so that was somewhat of a consolation for Syyko.
“I remember telling my teammates that [Fnatic] just looked so sharp, so well rounded. They're adapting to what we're doing so well that I would be extremely surprised that they didn't go to finals, and sure enough, they went to finals and won it all,” Syyko said.
Even though they only got to play one match, Syyko thinks LOCK//IN was still very helpful for Sentinels because of their exposure to all of the other VCT teams.
“I always say with those international events, the most valuable thing from the team aspect is being able to scrim all the other top teams that are there and just see what everybody else is doing and get different practice reacting to things that game plans that teams will throw at you from other regions that you don't get to experience or practice against at home. And that has helped our growth tremendously,” he said.
Read more: Why coach mCe can bring the best out of a Cloud9 VALORANT team that lost two stars
Things won’t get any easier for Sentinels once the Americas league begins on April 1. Sentinels will play in the very first match of the season against 100 Thieves, who are considered one of the top teams in the region. They also lost to Fnatic at LOCK//IN though.
After that game, Sentinels will have to face NRG, Leviatán and LOUD. They have the hardest schedule of any team to start the season as their first four opponents are projected to be the top four teams in the league by many observers.
If they lose all four games, the pressure and scrutiny on this team will only grow. But Syyko & Co. all know winning is a process and are used to being scrutinized. No matter how things go this inaugural season of VCT Americas, all eyes will be on Sentinels.
Lead photo credit: Riot Games