LOS ANGELES -- It has been a challenging week for Sentinels’ VALORANT team as they prepared to play two games during the VCT Americas league superweek.
Last weekend, their star player Tyson “TenZ” Ngo revealed he had a joint infection and played through it. The team lost Sunday, and later that night, Sentinels CEO Rob Moore tweeted out that the team was parting ways with head coach Don “Syyko” Muir. The sudden move sent shockwaves across social media.
On Monday, TenZ’s fiancée Kyedae “Kyedae” Shymko tweeted out that not only had TenZ played with a joint infection but he had just tested positive for COVID. The next day, Sentinels announced TenZ wouldn’t play during Week 4 of the VCT Americas league, and Jimmy “Marved” Nguyen would sub in for the team.
As a result of all this, Sentinels’ in-game leader Rory “dephh” Jackson faced increased pressure and stress this week to get the team ready to face LOUD, the best team in VCT Americas.
Sentinels after Syyko
Syyko waves to the crowd at VCT LOCK//IN. Photo credit: Riot Games
Losing Syyko, a coach dephh had worked with since 2021 at XSET, their previous team, was particularly hard.
“I received a Discord message. It wasn't in the plans,” dephh said. “No one really knew about it. It was a shock to all the team. I think there was obviously some differences there between our owner and head coach.”
Dephh didn’t go into detail, but only said there were differences between the team’s owner and now former head coach and that Moore let the team know that he understood that they might not agree and would be annoyed.
Dephh said it was “bittersweet” playing Friday without Syyko, especially because he was not only a head coach but a friend. He credited new head coach Adam "kaplan" Kaplan for getting the team prepared to face a tough opponent in LOUD.
At the same time Syyko was let go, Kaplan was elevated from assistant coach to head coach. As somebody who had been part of the coaching staff and was more of the strategic coach, it made the transition and quick turnaround this week easier.
Kaplan, right, talks to the team in between maps. Photo credit: Riot Games
Kaplan joined Sentinels in the offseason along with Syyko and the team’s analyst Drew "DrewSpark" Spark-Whitworth. Last year, Kaplan led Ghost Gaming to a strong season during North American VCT regional play, and the team won the Nerd Street Summer Championship.
“Kaplan is, in terms of his title, has stepped up, but he's pretty much doing the same role he was doing before,” dephh said. “He's always been one of the guys who’s heavier on strategy than he is about like team-bonding stuff. So yeah, he stepped up into that role, but he performs the same job that he's been doing, and he seems really good at it. And even today, during some of them timeouts, instead of talking about strategy was kind of like filling the void that Don had.”
That void that dephh is alluding to is Syyko being more of the emotional leader of the team. Since his days with XSET, Syyko has become known for his stage persona, wearing suits when other coaches wear jerseys, playing the villain and preaching patience for his teams.
“[Don] wasn't really a strategy guy, but he was more of a vibes kind of people guy,” dephh said. “So when your team loses that mid-season, it's difficult, for sure. It's as difficult as if you lost a player, you lose that part of your team that you can't get back straightaway.”
Marved played in his first VCT match on Friday since Champions last year. Photo credit: Riot Games
Sentinels received two big hits this week in losing both Syyko and TenZ. However, Sentinels perhaps are better prepared than most other teams to absorb that loss with a substitute like Marved waiting in the wings.
“Jimmy is probably the most plug-and-play player I have ever had on a team,” dephh said. “He just came in instantly and got it all -- he knows the setups. I feel like just his time on OpTic gave him so much knowledge, like he already knows what's happening.”
Marved, of course, was a key member of OpTic Gaming, who won Masters: Reykjavík and finished second at Champions last year. He didn’t get signed by any of the VCT teams in the offseason, though he has claimed he got offers but wanted to take a break before jumping back into competition this year. He got signed as a substitute by Sentinels in March. Friday’s game against LOUD was his first VCT competition since September.
“It's very hard in this game to stop playing and be out of there and then instantly come back into a meta and then understand it quickly,” he said. “And he just did it quickly. So I think that's just a testament to how good of a player he is. And obviously he's one of the best controllers in the world.”
Read more: The top 10 esports orgs in the world in 2023
With Marved playing controllers like Viper, Astra and Omen against LOUD, it allowed other players on the team to shift into their previous roles. Gustavo “Sacy” Rossi had been playing controllers this year, but against LOUD shifted to playing initiators Skye and Sova, which he had done so well last year. With TenZ out and Sacy on initiators, Zachary “zekken” Patrone was able to be Sentinels’ duelist on Jett. Bryan “pANcada” Luna played Killjoy, a sentinel, which he has been playing all season.
Sentinels huddle on stage ahead of their match against LOUD. Photo credit: Riot Games
“No one's really spoken on this much yet, but originally we had people in the right spots,” he said. “We had pANcada on smokes, and then we had Sacy on initiator."
Dephh explained that the role changes were made out of necessity based on how the meta was shaping up. However, dephh indicated roles might be changing going forward, especially after how well the team played against LOUD. Sacy looked particularly good as he had the best ACS and +/- of any of the Sentinels against LOUD.
“I think from today, you realize that when people go into their comfort zones again, where Sacy can get back and initiate, and then it seems like pANcada has fully picked up the sentinel role to be honest, and he actually prefers, it so he's fine, but I think getting people back into their comfort zones is what we're going to do for the rest of the season,” he said.
Extra scrutiny on dephh
Dephh has been under a brighter spotlight this year. Photo credit: Riot Games
The one exception on the team as far as performance Friday was dephh himself, who admitted he felt that he let the team down. He only had 26 kills against LOUD and died 24 more times than he got kills, which was by far the worst on the team.
As the team’s in-game leader, dephh has felt that the responsibilities of his role haven’t allowed him to focus as much on his individual performance. The myriad external issues surrounding Sentinels haven’t helped either.
“It's just the team has been so turbulent for me that because we we had to start our practice late because of the Brazilians’ visas, and then obviously having Tyson getting sick now and having to put Marved in like I feel like I'm a bit overwhelmed a bit over-stretched in the way … it definitely has a knock-on effect on my individual performance at times,” he said.
Being on a popular team like Sentinels, dephh knows his individual performance and in-game leading will be put under a microscope even more so than when he was with XSET, and he accepts that. It comes with the territory of being on one of the biggest brands in VALORANT and a team that is responsible for setting the highest viewership marks in VCT Americas this year.
Individual performance and scrutiny aside, dephh was proud of how well the team did Friday against LOUD despite the circumstances this week. Sentinels won the first map against LOUD decisively and were two rounds away in Map 2 from winning the map and taking the series. He said the team should be proud of themselves.
“I think all things considered -- we've only had in two and a half days practice pretty much -- we did a pretty damn good job. The coaching staff did a really nice job,” he said.
Sentinels marching forward
The toughest part of the season is now over for Sentinels. They could have started 0-4 as they played games against the four teams that were considered the strongest in the league but instead went 1-3.
The rest of their schedule is arguably easier, and the team has now had more time to gel and has been tested. Based on how the team looked against LOUD, it’s possible to see a silver lining to Sentinels’ season.
Sentinels will play next against MIBR on Sunday at 3 pm PT.
Lead photo credit: Riot Games