How Evil Geniuses went from out of playoffs to qualified for Masters and Champions

by Brian Bencomo

LOS ANGELES -- They weren’t supposed to be here. Evil Geniuses’ path to qualifying for VALORANT Masters Tokyo and Champions Los Angeles is one of the most unlikely you’ll ever see in esports.

After an unexpected victory by MIBR over 100 Thieves on Saturday propelled them into the VCT Americas playoffs, Evil Geniuses put to rest any doubts about whether they deserved to be in the playoffs. With two playoff series victories on Tuesday and Wednesday, EG secured spots in the two most important VALORANT tournaments this year.

“When we woke up that morning, none of us thought that MIBR was going to beat 100T,” Evil Geniuses head coach Christine “potter” Chi told Nerd Street after her team beat Cloud9 on Wednesday. “It was very much like ‘Our season's over. We just have LCQ. Let's prepare.’ We were kind of figuring out our schedule -- how many days off we're going to take before we come back for practice for LCQ -- that was kind of the energy.”

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When it looked like MIBR might actually beat 100 Thieves, the team started getting excited. Potter said Kelden "Boostio" Pupello was so excited he asked her to feel his heart, which she said was beating “fast as hell” as MIBR was on the verge of sending EG to the playoffs.

Once MIBR finished off their win on Saturday, it put EG into the VCT Americas playoffs as the sixth seed and set them up for a matchup with the more heavily favored NRG on Tuesday. After a 2-1 win that ended late on Tuesday night, EG had to prepare to face an even more heavily favored Cloud9 the next day. There was very little time to prep.

Yet, that didn’t seem to matter as Evil Geniuses absolutely dominated Cloud9, beating them 2-0 with map scores of 13-5 and 13-2. It was like a symbolic passing of the torch as Cloud9 surprised everyone with their dominant 8-1 regular season, and then Evil Geniuses one-upped them as they began to write their own Cinderella script in the playoffs.

EG’s victory over C9 happened so quickly that potter was still in shock after the match.

Photo credit: Stefan Wisnoski / Riot Games

“I think if this match was harder and closer, I would believe it a little bit more, but … it ended so fast and it felt so easy for us that I'm just like, ‘What the f--- just happened?’” she said. “We played incredibly today. It definitely didn't seem like we could do any wrong when we're in that sort of flow state. We played this match on stage and in the series like it was a scrim on a Tuesday at 3 o'clock, just a random online. We were comfortable as hell.”

This was the first time ever that EG beat C9 in a series in VALORANT. On a personal level, it also was the first time Boostio had ever beat Cloud9 in a series.

“Today was my first victory against Cloud9, and to do it to qualify to Masters Tokyo and Champs is unreal because they were my kryptonite,” he said.

Read more: Cloud9’s VALORANT team has exceeded expectations, but they’re not done yet

The victory also was a bit of revenge as EG had lost to Cloud9 way back in Week 1 of the regular season. It was a game potter felt the team should have won even though the team wasn’t playing at the level they are now.

“Our opening match to the split, we played vs. Cloud9 and we lost in that series, but we felt like we should have 2-0'd,” she said. “There was a lot of close rounds and I told the guys today that we’re a completely different team today than we were at that time -- we're a much better team, a much more decisive team. But regardless, we should have beat them. We all felt that way. So coming into this series, we were quite confident.”

Photo credit: Stefan Wisnoski / Riot Games

Evil Geniuses overcome the doubters

Evil Geniuses’ victory over Cloud9 has been the culmination of the team’s steady improvement over the course of the season. After starting 1-4 and looking like one of the worst teams in VCT Americas, EG won three of their last four games including victories over more favored teams like Sentinels and Leviatán.

It’s been a very satisfying season so far for potter who oversaw a roster rebuild in the offseason and who has been the target of criticism herself.

Read more: Christine “Potter” Chi is blazing a trail for women in the VALORANT Champions Tour

“Everything is working out how it should have,” potter said. “We focused a lot on our defaulting and fundamentals from December to January, and by this time, by playoffs time, we talked about where we should be as a team and what our rounds should look like, how much map control should we have on specific maps, things like this, and they're all happening. They're all happening exactly how we wanted … We're finally seeing the positives of those reps right now.”

It’s particularly satisfying given how this roster was built compared to some of the other more star-studded teams in VCT Americas.

“​​It's what esports is all about,” she said. “A team like EG almost has the organic feel -- there's no nepotism, there's no clout. It's not a team built off of fame and clout. It's not a superteam that's built out of the richest org. It's quite literally everyone had to work their asses off to make it here. … And if esports or Counter-Strike or VALORANT has shown us anything, it's that you can't just buy the best team. It doesn't work out that way.”

Potter and EG have trusted in-game leader Boostio since he joined the team in September 2021, and they have been patient with younger players Alexander "jawgemo" Mor and Corbin "C0M" Lee, who both joined EG last year.

Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

“I'm just so excited for jawgemo, Boostio and Corbin,” potter said. “These three have been getting doubted along with me for the past three years. So seeing what kind of players they are today, versus who they were when I first picked them up, it's really f---ing cool.”

C0M was candid in an interview with Esports Illustrated about how he felt about overcoming the doubters, calling it “by far the happiest moment” of his career.

Unleashing the demon

The player who has been getting the most attention though has been their Jett main, Max "Demon1" Mazanov. He’s a 20-year-old rising star who has backed up his trash talk with unbelievable plays in-game.

Demon1’s legend has only grown over the past week as he made good on his promise to shave his head if MIBR beat 100 Thieves and then put up monstrous numbers against NRG.

Boostio (who admitted he told Demon1 he would shave his head too if the team qualified for Tokyo) called him one of the “top three” best mechanical players in the world.

Photo credit: Stefan Wisnoski / Riot Games

“I don't think there's many people better than him at getting frags, and if you have someone [like him] on your team, it really makes it easy as an IGL like me to tell him where to go to hit his picks, and he will always give me what I need,” Boostio said.

Demon1 wasn’t originally part of EG’s plans when the team added two prominent veterans in Ethan "Ethan" Arnold and Brendan "BcJ" Jensen late last year to round out the starting roster. Potter said Demon1 got signed after applying through EG’s open call for tryouts as the team sought to put together a 10-man roster. He came from an unsigned team called sqn 2.0 that competed for months in the usual Nerd Street and Knights Tier 2 tournaments.

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“Clearly, from Day 1, just by the eye test. You're just like, holy s---, this guy is nuts. Then we incorporated him into the tryouts to check out his comms, check out how he vibes with teammates, and starting in December, I knew that he was going to be our Jett main,” potter said.

Photo credit: Tina Jo / Riot Games

However, he didn’t join the roster immediately. Potter said she felt there wasn’t enough time to integrate him into the starting roster in time for VCT LOCK//IN in February, which is why he didn’t join the roster until Week 2 of the regular season in April.

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Unfortunately, because he is still in the process of getting his passport, EG wasn’t able to secure a visa for him to travel to Japan for Masters Tokyo. Demon1 was noticeably upset after EG’s match against Cloud9, but potter said she’s been encouraging him by saying he’ll get to play at Champions.

“It's a two for one. We're gonna go to Tokyo and do our best, but honestly, for Max, it's Champions that he's gonna want to focus on,” she said. “It sucks that he can't go to Japan, but Champions is it, right? Yeah, it sucks. It's easy for me to say and he is really sad about it, but yeah, that's just what we've been telling him is that, we got Champions.”

Photo credit: Stefan Wisnoski / Riot Games

As for who will be filling in for Demon1 in Tokyo, potter said the team has been training a backup Jett from their reserve roster. She didn’t reveal who this player was, but given Brendan "BcJ" Jensen was benched in favor of Demon1, it’ll likely be one of Jeffrey "Reformed" Lu, Vincent "Apotheon" Le or Kyle "ScrewFace" Jensen.

“The Jett that we have is gonna -- he's gonna be hungry. He's gonna want to prove himself,” potter said. “He's been wanting to be Jett for like, two years. He's hungry as hell. He's young, and he's gifted. So we're going to do our best to set him up just like we do with Demon1.”

What’s next for EG?

Evil Geniuses will face LOUD next in the playoffs upper bracket final. Both teams have qualified for Tokyo, but the winner will move on to the grand final as they attempt to become the first champions of VCT Americas.

Read more: The top 10 esports orgs in the world in 2023

EG lost to LOUD earlier this season. They did surprise many by taking the first map against the Brazilian juggernauts, but they quickly became an object of derision after LOUD beat them 13-0 in the final map of the series. Despite the result, Boostio is confident about the rematch.

“We kind of showed hints of greatness against them when we played against them,” he said. “13-3 on Split, 13-10 I think on Haven, and then we got the infamous 0-13. So I think we're very excited. I think we've improved so much since then, that it's going to be a really hard fought battle. It'll be very fun to see what happens.”

Photo credit: Robert Paul / Riot Games

As for the teams they might face in Tokyo, both Boostio and potter are excited to face Fnatic.

“Fnatic’s the best team in the world, Derke is my favorite player in the world, and Boaster is also a very good IGL who I respect a lot. So I think Fnatic, all the way,” Boostio said.

For potter, she just loves the intrigue of NA vs. EU, which is why she’s looking forward to facing Fnatic.

“Fnatic. Bring it on! Let's go Boaster!”

Lead photo credit: Stefan Wisnoski / Riot Games

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