There’s only so much room at the top of the mountain, and in the North American VALORANT realm, it’s already getting crowded. Heading into First Strike, the undeniable favorites and voted “most likely to appear in a Grand Finals together” were Team SoloMid and Sentinels, who took turns dishing haymakers to each other in Ignition Series. But when TSM arrived at the First Strike Grand Finals, their familiar partner wasn’t waiting for another dance, and 100 Thieves shocked the system with an impressive 3-1 victory. Now, a three-headed monster sits atop the mountain peak.
As we approach the VALORANT Champions Tour it’s very likely we’ll start seeing changes for teams hovering just below the top echelon. The best talent across the region will no longer be split amongst several teams, and TSM, Sentinels, and 100T will likely soon have to contend with some highly dangerous superteams, as prominent organizations will look to shell out some real money to avoid being left behind.
New Year, New Look for Teams That Missed First Strike
The first prominent team to make a change has been Cloud9, and this should come as little surprise. The organization is synonymous with winning and competing at the highest level across all of esports; multiple LCS titles in League of Legends, the only North American winner of a CS:GO major, its Overwatch League franchise the London Spitfire won the first OWL championship, and it’s been a prevalent fixture in other titles like Rocket League, Dota 2, and Rainbow Six.
Six years and a number of roster changes apart, @Cloud9 take their first #LCS title in the franchise era. Million-dollar buyouts and years of player development came down to one of the most dominant seasons in LCS history.
— Jacob Wolf (@JacobWolf) April 19, 2020
Their mens North American VALORANT roster, Cloud9 Blue, earned the unfortunate distinction of being the only team to lose in both quarterfinals of the qualifiers; at the NSG tournament to Renegades, and at the UMG tournament to T1, both in 2-0 fashion. There’s no way Cloud9 are going to settle for results like this going forward into Tours, so they’ve gone ahead and parted ways with shinobi, and this is motivated by two primary reasons. One, an organization of this caliber isn’t going to be interested in settling for mediocre results if the opportunity to build something world class is there. Recently in CS:GO, they ditched an NA roster that struggled to place high even in their own region, for a wild experiment with a much higher ceiling in their “Colossus.” They’re not afraid to roll the dice.
Secondly, they can’t afford to waste the unreal output that TenZ is giving them currently. Over the past couple of months, his combat score and kill averages are some of the highest in the entire world, and far surpass other big names in North America. Surrounding him with a better team will be key to maximizing his performances and keeping him happy, as him seeking a new environment would be a deathknell to their competitive plans. Most importantly, they need a dedicated in-game leader to refine TenZ’s play; as good as his numbers are, his aggressiveness gets him killed early in rounds way too often. However, it’s been reported that they are interested in the services of leaf, formerly of Chaos Esports Club’s CS:GO team.
C9 aren’t the only ones looking to make changes. NRG trialed former Gen.G player effys, then decided to go with shanks, and have recently added another NA CS nomad in Infinite to their CS:GO veteran core of daps and s0m. Gen.G in the meantime, have moved PLAYER1 to the bench. Immortals still have to fill the huge void left by diceyxz and Asuna, which is no small task, and clearly jmoh wasn’t the answer looking at his stats at First Strike as well as his current position on the bench. Equinox, once considered a top ten roster in NA under the China Nguyen banner, have stalled since joining the brand new organization, and will be looking to swap in some new talent after releasing Dcop on December 21st.
So there are no shortage of teams looking to catapult themselves up into at least a contending spot in North America, let alone the elite pantheon occupied by TSM, Sentinels, and 100 Thieves. But where will these teams get the talent?
One Game’s Loss is Another Game’s Gain
If more and more organizations continue to pull out of North American Counter-Strike and invest in North American VALORANT, then the tier-two CS players will follow. We’re already seeing it with Chaos EC, with leaf being reportedly targeted by Cloud9. It wouldn’t be surprising to see more players from that roster alone make the transition; all the other members of the team have declared that they’re open to offers in VALORANT, and they’ve got a ton of momentum after winning both of their final events at DreamHack and IEM Beijing. In a video with TheScore, vanity stated that the offers they’d received for VALORANT were considerably more substantial than the ones for CS:GO. He’s also indicated that something might already be in the works, using the good ol’ esports Twitter standard.
While the players on teams like Gen.G and ex-New England Whalers haven’t come out and said they’d be interested in pursuing VALORANT, if a credible offer doesn’t come within Counter-Strike, they’d eventually have to consider changing course if this trend continues. A handful of the Gen.G. players including autimatic said they’d prefer to stay in Counter-Strike, and would consider a move across the pond to Europe, but there are only so many players spots available in the top tier of EU CS, and more and more North American organizations are eyeing a future in VALORANT.
And unless Overwatch 2 is the catalyst for a stagnant and struggling tier two Overwatch scene to be reborn, VALORANT will continue to peel away the core foundation of the future of Overwatch League. VALORANT snagged a number of former pros throughout the spring and summer; former MVP sinatraa is a star on Sentinels along with zombs, and the FaZe Clan roster is almost entirely made up of former OWL pros. These players have helped erase the stigma that Overwatch players wouldn’t be able to “hang” in VALORANT against the CS pros, and organizations will value players who have been willing to grind through a tumultuous amateur scene.
It’s Quiet Right Now, and Some Teams Will Stay That Way
With a plethora of poachings and signings on the horizon following the holiday break, numerous teams will be making money moves, but not all of them. TSM, Sentinels, and 100 Thieves are expected to stay the same, as they’ve each carved out their own duelist-support mix that allows their smart players to make opportunities for their stars.
For Sentinels, the CS:GO veterans in ShahZaM and dapr play a supporting role for their flashy duelists in sinatraa and SicK. The same can be said for TSM’s veterans hazed and cutler, but they have added variability in their three-man duelist combo in WARDELL, Subroza, and drone. The second iteration of 100 Thieves can already be considered a success, with nitr0 adapting to VALORANT exceedingly well on Omen, diceyxz and Asuna out-dueling their opponents, and a fine cocktail of clutch plays and smart utility from savvy supports in Hiko and steel.
And the last #VALORANT Regional Ranking update for this year comes in with changes in NA and Asia, and minor ones in EU after the First Strike Series. We can't wait for the competitive scene in 2021! pic.twitter.com/X7Eh3AECUw
— THESPIKE.GG (@THESPIKEGG) December 23, 2020
T1 are still working out the kinks with the second iteration of their roster, similarly to what 100 Thieves did, and DaZeD has already said that while there’s still much for them to work on, the difference has been night-and-day in terms of their development, and that they have the organization’s support. The indication from BABYBAY is that the FaZe roster will stay intact, and that their only change will in all likelihood be bringing in a coach with a CS:GO background. Envy is still on the rise, and likely will keep their team the same.
That being said, there’s really no telling what’s going to happen in the upper tier of North American VALORANT. When he spoke to hazed after First Strike, he said that more and more “veteran players are going to be snatched up” by the bigger organizations, and that it would likely be “a year or two” until we see more top-tier players that don’t come from other titles. If more and more players from other competitive titles become more open to pursuing VALORANT, the January before Champions Tour begins could really get wild.