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NRG Hoping For a Bounce-Back – VCT Americas Stage 2 Preview

Zakaria Almughrabi

Stage 2 of the VCT 2024 season has already begun in most regions, with the Americas kicking off this past weekend. Last Stage, we saw the likes of G2 Esports and 100 Thieves usurp our expected favorites, notably the defending VCT Masters champs Sentinels and prospective super team NRG. Going into VCT Americas Stage 2, NRG had made significant changes in hopes of saving their season.

NRG VCT Americas Stage 2

Image Credit Riot Games | Colin Young-Wolff

Issues for NRG

At the start of 2024, NRG decided to replace longtime in-game leader Pujan “FNS” Mehta and Controller player Sam “s0m” Oh. Cutting such an established duo that brought consistent success had to have a huge upside, and NRG thought they had one.

They stretched to sign the Champs MVP and biggest rising star in VALORANT, Max “Demon1” Mazanov. NRG also snatched up Ethan “Ethan” Arnold from Evil Geniuses’ title winning roster. With the hottest Jett and the best support player in the world, surely NRG had a super team.

The reality was much more disappointing. With FNS gone, NRG was forced to find a new in-game leader. Their solution was to have Ethan do it. While Ethan certainly has a breadth of experience in tac shooters, he had never IGL’ed a team before, either in CS:GO or VALORANT. On top of that, NRG had to assimilate this new calling and player set with their established duo of Victor “Victor” Wong and Austin “crashies” Roberts.

All of this combined for a team far less than the sum of its parts. NRG struggled to pull things together, dropping maps to teams much more on paper. To make matters worse, the squad’s Agent allocation was troublesome, to say the least.

With Jett falling out of the meta and Victor having to split Raze’s time with Demon1, we had cases of two players taking turns playing an Agent in a series. Sometimes, Demon1 was even relegated to playing Brimstone. The Sentinel role also clashed somewhat, with Victor and Jimmy “Marved” Nguyen sometimes playing Cipher.

Back to Their Roots

The result was a failure for NRG. They finished 3rd-4th in Kickoff and missed VCT Madrid, then fell even further in Stage 1. Their 3-3 record was good for 7th place, with a lost tiebreaker and a complete miss from the Playoffs. In the series against 100T that eliminated them, we once again saw issues with role allocation. Ethan played smokes in map one, and Demon1 played them in map two; neither player is a Controller main.

To make it clear, the players that were part of this 3-3 “disaster” are not bad; they didn’t even play badly most of the time. The team was just not set up for success. With role issues and a brand-new in-game leader, they simply had problems that couldn’t be solved efficiently. It’s just mismanaged team building, the reason every super team in every sport or esport fails. NRG needed to fix this roster before their 2024 got totally wasted. And where did that bring them? Back to him.

On May 30, NRG announced that they re-signed FNS and s0m back to their main lineup. This was a bit of an open secret, as they had been dropping hints and talking about how they were coming back.

So now, NRG has a dedicated Controller player in s0m, an IGL who plays Sentinel, and a second Controller in FNS. Now to decide who stays and who goes. Victor is the only true entry player on the squad, so he’s in. Ethan was picked up recently and was forced to IGL. When playing dedicated utility, he’s still one of the best out there; he stays. For their last starter spot, NRG chose crashies, likely for his flexibility and established tenure alongside Victor. That left Demon1 on the bench.

The End Result

Not many people predicted that a prospect as hot as Demon1 off of winning Champions MVP would be sitting on the bench half a year later. Though, he’s not entirely out of the picture. NRG still has him rostered as an active sub, and Demon1 himself has said that he’s a “sixth man.” There’s a chance he gets play time on maps where the Operator is oppressive or if Ethan/crashies have an overlapping Agent for a map.

Until we see how common that is, though, NRG’s roster is set; with FNS back at the helm, NRG should have a more consistent team identity. Ethan should be able to slot in much more nicely alongside the FNS/s0m and Victor/crashies duos, supporting both with his best gameplay.

Since the Stage 1 records are carrying over into VCT Americas Stage 2, NRG has an uphill climb. It’s not too steep, though. They just need top six overall to qualify for Playoffs and get a crack at qualifying for their first VCT Masters event of the year. Though FNS and co likely won’t be satisfied just with that.

This is a core that has dominated Americas numerous times. Though the competition has risen recently, NRG is still as significant a threat as any for title contention. The biggest question is how quickly FNS and s0m can shake off the rust and integrate the team fully. With such an experienced roster and coach behind them, if any team can do it, it’s NRG.

VCT Americas Stage 2 begins on June 22. NRG’s anticipated first matchup is on June 23 against Sentinels.