TenZ reflects on Sentinels’ season and his new role on players association
by Brian Bencomo
Sentinels’ VCT Americas season began with a thrilling 14-12 overtime win to beat 100 Thieves, and it ended with an even more unbelievable 19-17 overtime win to take down FURIA. The overtime victories bookended what’s been a season filled with twists and turns. Sentinels’ 2023 season was anything but boring.
They weren’t good enough to qualify for the playoffs and won’t go to Tokyo for Masters. However, they’ll still have a shot to qualify for VCT Champions via the Americas Last Chance Qualifier.
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The LCQ is still over a month away though so they won’t be able to carry over any momentum from their two victories to end the season. They will, however, have time to continue practicing what has worked and find their identity.
Sentinels’ identity crisis
“We've definitely shaken up the roles,” Sentinels star Tyson “TenZ” Ngo said. “But I think we found kind of what suits us best at the moment and we're going to be continuing to play and improve for the future.”
Role issues have been a challenge for Sentinels all season. TenZ said when the roster was initially formed in the offseason with him, Rory “dephh” Jackson, Zachary “zekken” Patrone, Gustavo “Sacy” Rossi and Bryan “pANcada” Luna, it hinged in part on one particular agent.
Photo credit: Riot Games
“I'm assuming that we picked this five because we're assuming that like Chamber’s gonna be in the meta, so I play Chamber, and so it makes sense, I'd be op Chamber, zekken would be the entry duelist, pANcada would be like smokes, Sacy would be initiator,” he said.
Of course, Chamber got nerfed, and TenZ admitted it shook things up for Sentinels (and other teams too).
“We tried juggling pANcada he was playing smokes -- he went to sentinel. Sacy tried smokes for a little bit … he was really good at it too, but I just think that overall we just needed to find out our concrete identity as a team,” TenZ said.
Rolling with the punches
The team struggled to find that identity amid a series of changes that happened following Week 3 of the season. The first of these changes was the abrupt dismissal of head coach Don “Syyko” Muir by Sentinels CEO Rob Moore. It was a move that TenZ acknowledged “came out of nowhere.”
That same week, TenZ himself took a step back from the team because he tested positive for COVID the day after the team’s Week 3 match against Leviatán. Plus, he needed time to heal from a hand injury (which he says is good now).
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With TenZ out, another star took his place in Jimzo “Marved” Nguyen, who appeared to fix the role issues that had plagued Sentinels.
Following Sentinels’ first game with Marved, the team’s in-game leader dephh told Nerd Street that getting players in the right roles would be a priority the rest of the season.
“I think getting people back into their comfort zones is what we're going to do for the rest of the season,” he said at the time.
Sentinels lost that first game with Marved, but it was against LOUD, far and away one the top teams in the league. More importantly, Sentinels were competitive, Marved looked amazing as the team’s controller, and Sacy looked great back on the role he was known for, initiator.
That LOUD loss was followed by a victory over MIBR but then consecutive losses against Evil Geniuses and Cloud9. The team didn’t appear very competitive in either game and had a record of 2-5 with two weeks to go.
That’s when the next change happened as TenZ returned, and the team’s in-game leader dephh was out. With dephh no longer calling the shots in-game, the team’s identity has morphed again over the past two games as the team has adjusted to a calling style led by Marved.
Photo credit: Riot Games
“I think one thing that we're able to discover right now because Rory was a lot more like micromanaging where he would tell us where to go, and he would direct people and we're like kind of a chess piece on the board,” TenZ said. “Whereas Marved, he'd call like initial defaults, he might call a place where we're gonna end, but we're able to chip in our voices.”
TenZ admitted he liked what Marved has brought to the table with his calling style.
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“I think we're able to find our voice in the team a lot easier because it's not as like a hectic or loud communication,” he said. “Marved is really like a chill guy, he keeps the atmosphere really calm and chill, so it's been really nice to just kind of have that environment and we're able to just be collectively really calm and play our best.”
At their best, Sentinels have looked competitive with the best teams in the league, but they’ll have to wait a while to see whether their new identity will be good enough for them to compete internationally beyond VCT Americas.
TenZ’s new role
In the meantime, TenZ will have a chance to adjust to his new role. No, TenZ isn’t moving away from being a duelist and his signature Jett. Over the past week, it was revealed that TenZ would be Sentinels’ player representative in the Americas VALORANT Players Association.
The AVPA tweeted out the list of team reps and members of the executive committee and said it would “announce new initiatives for the betterment of all players in the VALORANT scene” in the coming weeks. With the VCT Americas 2023 season pretty much over, it’s unclear what kind of impact the organization can have for players this season, but TenZ thinks the organization will be highly beneficial for players in future seasons.
“I think that's really important because, quite frankly, a lot of time in esports a lot of orgs can kind of … they can take advantage of a younger talent. Like paying them less in like messier contracts, for example,” he said. “But the players association will definitely make sure they get an agent before they sign and they're always there to talk about certain issues, like maybe a player has a certain issue with how an org is treating them.”
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He looked back on his time with Cloud9 and acknowledged he signed an unfavorable contract with that organization because he was so young (18), didn’t have an agent and just wanted to play. However, he still praised them because of how they treated him after he was signed.
“They treated me amazing when I was there,” he said. “All my meals were provided, I had a house to stay in, internet, like I didn't have anything to worry about really just competing.”
He said he’s experienced the same good treatment with Sentinels, underscoring how important it is for orgs to treat their players well because of the impact it has on their mental state.
Photo credit: Riot Games
“I think it's really good that the orgs treat the players they have right so players can be happy, and if you're happy, you'll play better,” he said.
Another thing that makes TenZ happy is the fact he got to play in front of an audience this year in VCT Americas. After 2+ years of mostly online VALORANT play, he appreciated the change to offline play this year.
“It's a lot better than playing online in my opinion,” he said. “I think that having the crowd, having the LAN atmosphere definitely improves my mental state where I'm excited to compete.”
Fans of the ever popular TenZ and Sentinels will next get a chance to see them compete after the conclusion of the VCT Americas playoffs and Masters: Tokyo.
Lead photo credit: Riot Games