In a few days, G2 Esports and their roster of Jacob "valyn" Batio, Jonah "JonahP" Pulice, Michael "neT" Bernet, Trent "trent" Cairns and Nathan “leaf” Orf will make their debut on the big stage of VCT Americas, one of Riot Games’ four top-tier VALORANT esports leagues.
Being on the big stage or even at Riot Games Arena is nothing new for valyn. G2’s in-game leader has competed at international events before and was at the Riot Games Arena last year for a few games as broadcast talent. Speaking to him during VCT media day at the arena, valyn described his mindset as zen-like heading into this weekend.
“I'm feeling pretty calm about it,” valyn said. “I really just want to go out and I want to perform and I want to show the world that G2 and all my teammates that I've played with for so long, have deserved to play at this level.”
JoshRT also has visited the arena before. He recalled sitting in the audience last year to watch some games, and is appreciative he’ll be on the other side now.
“I feel grateful for this opportunity,” JoshRT said. “I went through the grind of Challengers, and just going through that just made me appreciate this moment even more.”
G2 and The Guard’s convergence at VCT Americas
Photo credit: Riot Brazil
G2 Esports’ upcoming debut at VCT Americas has been a long time coming -- both for the organization and the players.
Despite being a Europe-based esports organization, G2 has had global ambitions and a desire to gain a stronger foothold in North America for years. G2 reportedly applied to be one of the inaugural partner teams for VCT Americas when the league kicked off last year. However, their attempt was unsuccessful, reportedly due to the behavior and comments of their disgraced former CEO Carlos “ocelote” Rodriguez. Their next move was to field a North American VALORANT team in the Tier 2 VCT Challengers league in 2023. That team failed to qualify for ascension into VCT Americas this year.
Just like G2, The Guard’s application to join VCT Americas as a partner team was unsuccessful, and the org fielded a team in the Challengers league last year. That team, consisting of valyn, JonahP, neT, trent and Ian "tex" Botsch, won ascension into VCT Americas for this year. However, the org decided not to accept the invitation to join the league as The Guard suddenly sought to exit esports entirely. For a group of players that had competed at the highest level in 2022 when the VCT was an open circuit and who had poured so much hard work into gaining entrance to the top-tier VCT Americas league, Riot revealing the news on Aug. 29 was a gut punch.
“My team woke up to the news that we weren't going to be a part of VCT Americas,” valyn recalled. “Instantly, I kind of felt like my heart dropped a little bit because I was just thinking like, ‘Yo, did I just waste my whole year? Did everything leading up to this moment not actually matter? Am I gonna have to play in Challengers again?’”
Valyn said he had been playing in Challengers with a chip on his shoulder, eager to prove that he deserved to be in the top-tier VCT Americas. The next few days were stressful times for valyn.
“Maybe I can get picked up to another VCT team if my team ends up not getting a slot,” he remembered thinking. “So I'm like, ‘damn, maybe I can try to get back in by getting onto another team, and hopefully my teammates as well, because I want to see everyone in. And so there's just a lot of like ifs and buts and like, ‘oh, what's next for me?’”
Photo credit: Riot Brazil
JoshRT was initially a little more optimistic about the situation.
“It definitely sucked, but I knew it was a moment of opportunity because at least we went out on a win,” he said. “So our value and our perceived value and stock was really high at that moment.”
JoshRT took advantage of the opportunity and made a pitch on X to Ben Affleck and Elon Musk (both were at VALORANT Champions the previous month) to purchase the roster.
Things suddenly looked brighter in a few days after Riot announced on Sept. 1 that they were allowing the players to seek an org to take The Guard’s slot.
“The public support of like, ‘Yo, what's happening to The Guard? Why would you guys make this decision?’ There was a lot of Twitter [support] for us. And that honestly was the reason why they ended up changing the decision to ‘OK, let's let them field another org to represent,’ and once we got that news, it was like a whole opposite 180 of emotions,” valyn said. “Like this roller coaster of winning and then feeling like the world is out to get you because nothing is going your way and then back to like, ‘oh my god … we have the opportunity to like all the power's in our favor, all the orgs want us now,’ and it's just like this roller coaster of emotions.”
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That’s when the offers started flying around, according to JoshRT. And the team got a ton of offers. Valyn confirmed FlyQuest was among the leading contenders, and he revealed that Dignitas also was interested in the roster. For the most part though, he said he didn’t know who all the interested orgs were because the team’s agent was handling the influx of offers and only updated them periodically. For his part, valyn really wanted to play for G2.
“As a CS fanboy growing up, getting on G2 is so prestigious,” he said. “And then I was like, ‘bro, this is insane, let's go to G2 right now!”
Photo credit: Riot Games
A couple weeks later, G2 announced they had picked up everybody except for tex (they would later sign leaf instead) and the team began getting ready for the upcoming season. Both valyn and JoshRT gushed about how supportive G2 has been as an organization.
“When we first got picked up and we started practice, we were actually in the Red Bull facility in Santa Monica, so that was pretty sick,” valyn recalled. “They have those ties to let us play in Red Bull and that was my first glimpse of like G2's insane because, dude, I'm literally in the facility of Red Bull practicing VALORANT, like that was so insane.”
“They're excellent,” JoshRT said. “They know how to treat their esports teams very well in terms of performance. Just in December, we went to Berlin for a bootcamp, they already have a facility there. They're very performance-minded in terms of supporting the coach. All the coaches had a workshop that we can attend and learn more about our craft … I’m grateful that they're able to support us in our endeavor here.”
Valyn was ecstatic to meet G2 CS players Nikola "NiKo" Kovač and Ilya "m0NESY" Osipov when the team was in Berlin, and he was blown away by their treatment there.
“The staff, everyone was so -- they were so welcoming and nice,” he said. “It just felt very natural, especially coming from Guard before the massive layoffs. It felt like a family; We had a large working staff, and I saw them every day -- the content people, the social people and everyone. And being able to walk into that environment is something I value a lot just because you know, human interaction -- I want to talk to people and see people, and I think G2 has that same vibe.
“But on top of that, like the competitive support for us in terms of, ‘hey, we need some PCs sent out, we need chairs, we need whatever,’ they’re always like, ‘yes, we got you, we got you guys covered.’ And there's really no bad things, there's no excuses. They've put their 100% effort into … wanting us to succeed.”
Inside track on success?
Photo credit: Riot Brazil
G2 has set their players up for success, but Valyn & Co.'s successful track record also indicates they should be very competitive. Before the top tier of North American VALORANT was sealed off last year to a select group of teams, valyn, neT, trent and JonahP were on one of the best NA teams in 2022. The Guard won the first stage of the North American VCT league and were one of two NA teams to qualify for the international tournament Master Reykjavík. During the offseason ahead of the 2023 season, The Guard beat VCT teams T1 and Sentinels.
Can G2 be one of the top teams in VCT Americas? Valyn and JoshRT are, of course, confident, but not cocky about their prospects.
“I don't underestimate any team in this league,” JoshRT said. “And I think they all have the potential to make big runs, and especially in a moment where the meta shifted underneath our feet, two weeks leading into kickoff. No favorite is an absolute big favorite. No underdog is an absolute big underdog. I think everybody can beat each other.”
G2 will initially face KRÜ Esports, who made a late run last year to reach Champions, and Evil Geniuses, the VALORANT world champs.
“KRÜ, they had that big LCQ run and they're largely the same team. They're very talented with the duelists led by keznit. They're a formidable opponent,” JoshRT said “And then with EG, yeah, they lost four players, but they still have jawgemo -- super, super talented and underrated duelist I would say if they're running duelists, I'm just kind of just going by last year's results. And they still have the head coach. They have a team full of players that want to prove themselves badly, right?”
Photo credit: Riot Brazil
If G2 beat KRÜ, they would then face Evil Geniuses, whom valyn thinks will have a big advantage in getting to bypass the first match. They can just watch G2 and KRÜ play without having to show any of their maps and gameplay. However, valyn does think there’s an advantage in being in the smaller of the three groups for the VCT Americas Kickoff tournament, and he expects G2 to make it out of the group.
“I definitely see it as an advantage being in a three-man group versus four just because there's less preparation that you need going into it because there's just a fewer number of teams, right? And we only have two opponents, and from there, I think that like obviously, I always take it one match at a time.”
While G2’s focus is on their group opponents, there are certainly other teams valyn and JoshRT are looking forward to facing later this year.
“I had three in mind: NRG, Lev and Loud,” JoshRT said. “NRG being the quote unquote superteam, and for good reason; they have the most experienced players that have won -- all of them, right? Two recent champs and three Major winners, right? And a very experienced coach that's been through nearly all like the Majors in VALORANT. You got Lev that also made a superteam combining different players from different regions, which is also interesting, and also my ex-player is on that team, tex. And LOUD who has always been the best Brazilian team, and I just want to see if I could beat LOUD.”
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Valyn also is eager to face LOUD.
“A team that I've always enjoyed watching in VCT or just internationally has been LOUD, he said. “I think they they're so innovative with their comps and even their play pattern or play structure that it's very unique and honestly just very cool to watch and being able to play against that and put my tactic and tactics against theirs and see -- those are the fun games to me, when it's difficult when it it doesn't feel so cookie cutter so like everyone does their unique playstyle, and I just love watching those guys play, and I want to be able to play against them and hopefully beat them.”
If G2 get out of their group, they might face LOUD in the playoffs. Otherwise they’ll face them either in stage 1 or stage 2 of the season. G2 starts their VCT Americas season Sunday at 2 p.m. PT against KRÜ Esports.
Lead photo credit: G2 Esports