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Not a First Strike Fluke: 100T Are Best in NA

Lawrence "Malystryx" Phillips

100 Thieves put to bed any doubt that their previous success in qualifiers was “a fluke” with a thunderous and incredibly convincing victory at Riot Games’ $100,000 First Strike: North America.  The finale of the event was between two regional giants of VALORANT at the moment, the tried and tested TSM versus the explosive 100 Thieves roster assembled by Spencer “Hiko” Martin and Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella that recently finished 2nd at the Nerd Street Gamers Tournament in October to qualify for First Strike.

First Strike

100 Thieves had their own winner’s ceremony in LA after taking 1st at First Strike: NA (Photo courtesy 100Thieves)

Compared to the European First Strike event, the American region’s playoffs were far more stacked and attracted a much wider viewership as one would expect. The EU Grand Finals between Team Heretics and SUMN FC peaked at around 30,000 viewers, a number dwarfed by the NA Grand Finals which amassed over 75,000 viewers on the official mainstream plus an additional 130,000 viewers across TSM’s Myth and Ninja’s casual viewing parties.

Road to the Finals: TSM’s Subroza labels victory “NSFW”

TSM got their playoffs underway in formidable style with a demolition of Renegades that was so gruesome TSM’s Subroza tweeted “NSFW” after the 13-1 opening game. It was quite a game for TSM and also for Wardell, whose K/D in the first game on Ascent was an insane 6.33 from 19 kills and just three deaths.  Unfortunately for Renegades they did not recover and the second game was a 13-5 defeat on Bind, sending TSM effortlessly into the semi-finals. It was an unusual map pick for TSM given their lack of play time on Bind but an indication of their level of confidence in their ability.

TSM’s semifinal match was against heavyweight Team Envy, winners of the NSG Tournament in October and a team widely considered America’s best. On the First Strike battlefield however, Team Envy were outmatched and outclassed by TSM. The best Team Envy could muster was a few rounds here and there at the start of both Ascent and Split but they were never close to threatening their opponent. TSM’s Taylor “drone” Johnson preyed on a lacklustre Team Envy as Phoenix in game one with team-mate Stephen “Cutler” Cutler’s Sova Shock Darts on point.

“He (Phoenix) synergizes well with pretty much any agent,” drone told Hotspawn. “And it’s because I fit so well with him, so they try to get me on him whenever possible.”

Meanwhile on Split in game two, TSM’s Subroza racked up a better K/D ratio than both of Envy’s biggest performers combined. It was a fearsome display of skill and TSM waltzed into the Grand Finals on a real high.

Road to the Finals: 100 Thieves coming in clutch

100 Thieves started off slow in their quarter-final match T1 going 3-9 down as Attackers on Haven, a map statistically the most balanced for both sides. However, when it came time for the swap 100T’s nitr0 took down three in the pistol round as Omen before going on to secure 16 kills in seven rounds to put his team in the lead. In the second half 100T ended up winning 10 of the 11 rounds to take game one, 13-10 the final scoreline. On Bind in game two it was much the same story with nitr0 leading the charge with an incredibly convincing 17-7 K/D Defense side Omen. 100T’s series against T1 ended in a 2-0 victory with two 13-10 matches, but it was their semi-final encounter with Sentinels that best showcased what the roster was capable of.

“It’s absolutely wild. We came into this thinking would 100 Thieves be able to come together in a way that would allow them to even get close to the finals,” said analyst Riv on stream. “At the beginning of this series I said Sentinels is a team that has been together and has done great work, 100 Thieves is a team that’s coming together and there is a lot of potential to see… and I think they came together very big for this series versus Sentinels.”

The semifinal versus Sentinels was a landmark performance for 100T’s Asuna, who stamped his mark on the series with the best ACS and ADR rating despite playing three different agents; Reyna, Phoenix and Raze. Asuna’s reflexes to dodge flashes and pull off some incredible flick shots were sublime throughout the series, and 100T just delivered when it came to clutching rounds in 1 v 1 or 1 v 2 situations. 100T’s skills under pressure led to a 2-1 victory, with Hiko’s signature Sova making the plays in the all important third game on Bind. The way the playoff bracket was set-up, TSM versus Sentinels would have been the most predictable Grand Finals, but Hiko’s 100T had other plans.

A masterclass in VALORANT by both sides

While the First Strike EU Grand Finals had started off with both teams picking up wins on their rival’s weakest maps, the NA region was competitive right from the beginning. TSM’s Myth, who was streaming a viewing party, was on the edge of his seat as were the thousands watching. In game one on Split, TSM took an early 4-0 lead as Defense but 100T kept clawing their way back to draw level, finally taking the lead for the first and only time in the penultimate round of regular play.

It was a thrilling start to the Grand Finals and was truly representative of the abundance of skill on offer in the NA region at the moment. TSM’s Drone was a standout player on Phoenix, locking down A site on Defense with a 2.3 K/D that had given TSM the 7-5 lead before the swap. Game one went all the way to 12-12 with players from both sides taking turns to dazzle, but it was 100T who ultimately ran away with the 15-13 win.

In game two, TSM’s Drone and Cutler made hookah a quasi impenetrable fortress, but just like in their match versus Sentinels, 100T were simply too prolific in the clutch situations to stop, Hiko in particular. Analyst Velly was critical of TSM’s approach to defense in game two, saying they had paid the price for being overly aggressive. However, it could not take away from just how ruthless and efficient 100T were playing, proving just what a well rounded team they now were. 100T’s just edged TSM in game two with a 13-11 scoreline with the next map to be Ascent, a 100T favorite.

In game three TSM took the fight to 100 Thieves with a great round on defense to lead 7-5.  After switching to attack they played for picks and expertly baited out 100T for frags. TSM’s slow and control-based playstyle worked well for them on Ascent, and it was game three that saw TSM’s Hazed finally perk up after spending a good majority of the event on the sidelines. Along with Subroza, Hazed dominated the B site, and despite TSM losing both pistol rounds they took the game 13-7.

The series sadly ended after the 4th game despite hopes for a 5th, and rather fittingly it was Hiko’s Sova who delivered a 2.67 K/D to finish off TSM. Hiko was 6-0 after just two rounds and his shock darts haunted TSM, consistently landing on multiple enemies. Asuna once again impressed as Raze, with the commentators stunned by his double kill close range with a Stinger to help secure a Thrifty win in round seven.

100T’s took game four with a convincing 13-7, crowning them champions of First Strike: North America. For the organisation it was a colossal achievement considering they had to change the roster just two months ago in a bid to improve their chances of success.

“It feels so good,” said Hiko post-victory. “When I think back to our first iteration and a lot of the first tournaments we were playing in as 100 Thieves, they were pretty rough. I was always kind of worried about losing the first couple of  months of time. A lot of these teams, TSM and Sentinels, they’ve been teams pretty much since the beta. We’ve been playing catch up ever since we signed the new roster, and to win after we put in so many hours… so much hard work. It just feels so good to be the grand champions.”

With 100 Thieves crowned champions of North America, it marks the end of Riot Games’ First Strike. In First Strike: Europe, Team Heretics took down the unsigned SUMN FC to take first place having already defeated both Team Liquid and G2 Esports earlier in the playoffs.  Meanwhile in First Strike: South Korea, Vision Strikers took a straight 3-0 win over TNL Esports.

Riot Games assured fans in a pre-produced video shown post-NA Grand Finals that this is just the beginning, and  the North American First Strike event was proof that the region could become the leaders worldwide once offline events return.