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Questions to be answered in VCT Stage 2

Scott Robertson

“Questions that need answering.” That’s the reason Gandalf gave Frodo for leaving after discovering Bilbo’s ring. Upon realizing the true nature of the relic, our heroes set forth on a journey that would culminate in what amounted to a wrestling match with Smeagol on an active volcano. The culmination of the second stage of the VALORANT Champions Tour may end similarly to the iconic story of Lord of the Rings. With the strongest around the world fighting it out around an active(?) volcano.

VCT Masters Stage 2

The second stage of VCT will culminate in an international LAN in Iceland. Image via Riot Games.

But before we reach the finale, several more acts in the early saga of VALORANT esports need to be written. This will be done so during VCT stage 2. However, like Gandalf, we need the answers to some questions before the final battle.

Will the rest of North America have an answer to FaZe’s Smeag style?

Smeagol’s story in Lord of the Rings is, fittingly, the aptest description for FaZe Clan’s VALORANT roster. They share a lot of similarities. They’re both quietly slinking in the shadows for the first act (First Strike and Challengers 1) and largely aren’t considered a threat. But as the story progresses, they become more dangerous and threatening, mostly because others keep underestimating them. Finally, they reach the top of the mountain but fall at the very end after getting just a taste of the ultimate power. Does this mean TenZ is Gandalf riding in on the eagles? Perhaps, but this comparison has gone on long enough.

For those unaware, the playstyle of FaZe’s VALORANT team is known as Smeag style. This refers to a loose, unpredictable style of VALORANT purposely meant to derail players with CS:GO instincts. It’s also referred to as the “anti-CS” style by their coach Thomas “Trippy” Schappy. While Sentinels finally figured it out, no one else in the field had an answer.

Despite its extensive CS:GO background, Sentinels was unphased by the FaZe aggression. FaZe had outdueled opponents who tried to match their aggression and punished those who played too passive. Shahzeb “ShahZaM” Khan and Sentinels found the sweet spot in the middle. For FaZe, it’s not about hoping that other teams didn’t learn. It’s by altering its formula so that what they could’ve learned is now useless.

As the late great pro wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper used to say, “Just when they think they got the answers, I change the questions.” To answer the question posed above, we’ll see how FaZe changes their style, if at all. If they don’t, they may not even reach the base of the volcano.

Will Sentinels continue to dominate in the age of TenZ?

We’re bringing back the Gandalf-TenZ comparison to point out one thing. As important as someone like Gandalf is, it takes an entire fellowship to achieve victory. This is exactly what we saw from Sentinels at Masters One.

By its own admission, Sentinels came into Masters with little to no expectations. Dapr himself said he thought they’d go 0-2. But in a dire circumstance, the team showed what really made them great and turned a proving ground into a championship-worthy performance.

ShahZaM showed off his versatility and willingness to be a team player, opting to play off his main agent Jett while having some great games on Sova. SicK showed off his diverse agent portfolio, playing as Phoenix, Sage, and Sova, and keeping pace with his fellow duelist in TenZ. Dapr and zombs provided sound solid support play from their sentinel and smoker positions, respectively. Even flashy, productive duelists like SicK and TenZ can’t make plays without that support.

Most importantly, Sentinels’ level of play and success has relit the competitive fire under TenZ. Nothing is more addicting than winning, and he wasn’t doing a lot of that with Cloud9 Blue. Sentinels has said that plugging in TenZ anywhere would improve the team, but it’s clear there’s no better fit for him than Sentinels.

What teams that missed Masters will break out? Who will falter yet again?

It’s never fun to be outside looking in, especially when you were expecting all eyes on you once inside. With only two phases of the VALORANT Champions Tour left, and with Masters 2 being an international event, there are fewer opportunities left to earn points. So these teams need to get it together in VCT Stage 2 and do so fast.

The most attention on any team that missed Masters One is certainly on TSM. A consensus top-three team and in the conversation for the best in NA before phase one, they fumbled at the goal line on separate occasions during Challengers 2 and 3. Rumors and reports point towards an all-but-official addition of Braxton “brax” Pierce as a sixth-man following his departure from T1. With the addition comes a catch; less excuses for TSM if it continues to stumble at the final hurdle.

T1 has already jumped on the sixth-man train, signing former Overwatch star and hitscan DPS machine Lee “ANS” Seon-chang. While ANS is unlikely to be a pivotal part of T1’s VCT Stage 2 run, the rest of the team has too much talent and experience to miss out on another Masters event.

NRG may have lost Shanks but brought in even more unreal firepower with Ian “tex” Botsch, fresh off his departure from Equinox. While Equinox underperformed as a whole, tex was an absolute standout, and joining NRG  is a clear upgrade for him. He and Bradley “ANDROID” Fodor could be a dominant duelist duo and have a favorable group of teams to match up against in the Challengers 1 open qualifier.

Who will use Astra the best?

The first Challengers event of the second stage of the VALORANT Champions Tour will be played on the newest patch, Patch 2.06, released on March 30th. This means buffed versions of Yoru and Viper, but more importantly, it will mean Astra will be live.

The out-of-this-world agent made her competitive debut this past weekend at the first VCT Game Changers event. Cloud9 used her in its wins over Dignitas, Moon Raccoons Black, and CLG Red, with katsumi utilizing her extensively. In the nine maps played with her over the Game Changers qualifier and main event, she posted an impressive 1.57 KD and perfectly used her abilities in combination with her teammates.

Following their Masters run, Immortals said Astra would become an “essential agent” going forward. Both NaturE and Kehmicals said that she was broken and would be used on almost every map. “Whoever can work around her utility the best will have a huge advantage,” Kehmicals told Hotspawn.

Both Immortals and XSET have said they would be utilizing her. The most intriguing team that should be seriously considering Astra should be 100 Thieves. This is a team in the midst of figuring out their agent composition and was the first to properly utilize Killjoy way back at First Strike. 100 Thieves has a track record of being the first to make the most of a new agent, and a wealth of tactical experience between all their CS:GO veterans.

VCT Stage 2 begins officially in North America on April 1st with open qualifiers.