Rising VALORANT Stars to Watch at VCT NA Challengers
New challengers have emerged in the North American VALORANT scene. Some of the stars of NA that made a name for themselves at First Strike have taken a temporary back seat. Both grand finalists in Team SoloMid and 100 Thieves both failed to qualify for the first VALORANT Champions Tour Challengers weekends. There are, however, some familiar faces in rosters like Sentinels, Team Envy, and Immortals.
But for fans who haven’t watched every VALORANT tournament, some of these players and teams may not seem familiar. Over half of the field at Challengers 1 consists of teams that didn’t play in the First Strike main event. XSET, AndBox, NRG, Luminosity, and Gen.G are all making their debuts at an official Riot-organized event.
Any esport lives or dies by the stars it creates in its early days. Because of the closer connections that fans have with players because of outlets like YouTube or Twitch, fans are often more loyal to the player than the teams. Here’s a look at some of the players poised to break into stardom at the VCT Challengers 1 event.
Approaching First Strike, the Gen.G roster of French-Canadians was looking like a contender. They had a collection of trophies to their name already from smaller events, and as competition was increasing, they were still able to make deep runs at tournaments. However, at both the NSG and the UMG qualifying tournaments, they fell short of booking their ticket to First Strike while debuting their new duelist. Despite all his efforts, Shawn “shawn” O’Riley was forced to watch First Strike from home.
Criticize him for his uncreative in-game name all you want, but don’t you dare question his in-game production. Following the failure to make First Strike, Shawn’s production slowly started increasing at each event. He averaged a 213.2 average combat score at the JBL Quantum Cup, but Gen.G were again bounced by FaZe Clan. Then he stepped it up to 260.8 at the Knights Before Christmas tournament, reserving his best performances for the playoffs. Then came these past qualifiers for the Challengers 1 event, and Shawn exploded.
He posted an average combat score of 336.1, a KD of 1.67, and an average damage per round number of 196.1. All of those numbers led the entire field of players, as his heroics led Gen.G to qualifying victories over Pittsburgh Knights and Renegades. He had 59 kills in two maps against the Knights, and 50 kills in two maps against Renegades. Something has unlocked in Shawn, and the rest of the teams at Challengers should be concerned whether he’s playing Raze, Reyna, or Phoenix.
Luminosity Aproto and Thief
Luminosity arrived late to the VALORANT party, and immediately looked in the mirror and decided it needed to change. They dropped two of the original starting five in just a month, and have since dropped two replacements. Heading into 2021, with a plethora of big events on the horizon, they had to shore up their ranks with two stand-ins. In their three events since adding YaBoiDre and Moose, Luminosity has looked like a whole new team, but it’s the duo of Aproto and Thief that have been the difference makers.
Alex “aproto” Protopapas and Brady “thief” Dever have been the leading duo for Luminosity since the roster’s inception, and have both been pivotal in their recent string of successes. Thief placed top-five in ACS at the NSG x Complexity event, and the whole roster turned up for their run at the NSG Winter Championship. They outlasted Sentinels in a grueling five-map series to capture gold. Aproto saved his best for the VCT Challengers qualifiers, posting an ACS of 288.6, highest behind only Shawn. That score came with a ludicrous headshot percentage of 43%, behind only Evil Geniuses’ clawdia at 45%.
With this duo firing on all cylinders, and with the stand-ins producing at the level they’re at, LG are poised to make a deep run at Challengers. Special shoutout to YaBoiDre as well, who rebounded from being dropped off the underperforming first version of the 100 Thieves roster. Here’s hoping he stays with Luminosity long-term.
A long-time veteran of NA CS, Bradley “ANDROID” Fodor played under Complexity and Envy while competing in CS:GO. However, he never was able to break out into the upper echelon of tier-one Counter-Strike. But since transitioning to VALORANT, ANDROID has emerged as a viable triple-agent duelist threat with star potential all over him. Andbox have been reaping the rewards of this ideal fit since acquiring him in November.
At the NSG November monthly tournament, ANDROID was lights out in the semifinals and grand finals against Sedated and Mamba Mode Gaming, respectively. He averaged an ACS of 324.5, and looked dangerous on Phoenix, Reyna, and Raze. Andbox finished third at the NSG Winter Championship as well, with ANDROID posting an ACS of 250.6 across the whole tournament (4th overall).
He posted similar numbers in the VCT Challengers qualifier, and was lent a helping hand in a breakout performance from Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker, another NA CS vet. ANDROID’s performance alone is good enough to help the team make a deep run, and Andbox are only more dangerous the more help he gets.
XSET is new to both esports and VALORANT. They were officially founded just in July 2020, and entered the competitive VALORANT scene in October. After some early underwhelming results in their struggles at the First Strike qualifiers, XSET made an official change just weeks before the Challengers open qualifier. At the NSG x Complexity Invitational, they subbed in Brendan “BcJ” Jensen, a former Apex Legends player for T1. He immediately made an impact on the team, as his Omen and Sova play helped the team defeat Built By Gamers, Renegades, and Luminosity twice to win the Invitational.
Not only is BcJ an excellent contributor of both kills and clutches, but he’s bringing out the best out of all his teammates in must win games. Against Cloud9 White, Jordan “AYRIN” He and Matthew “Wedid” Suchan were the heavy hitters on Raze and Omen, while Bryce “PureR” Lovell was an entry fiend with a +8 first kill/first death differential. And in their marathon series against TSM, XSET survived the Wardell show with a PureR/AYRIN duelist showcase on map one, and a surprise Viper carry from Wedid on the final map. BcJ himself had a massive clutch in map three’s overtime.
BcJ’s overall stats may not impress like the other entires on this list, but his presence alone has transformed XSET from underperformers to overachievers.
Persistence has paid off for NRG’s new duelist. Back in August, Ryan “Shanks” Ngo trialed for Dignitas with a strong showing at Pop Flash. But at the end of September, Shanks and Kevin “poised” Ngo were both dropped by DIG, and allegedly due to match-fixing in their CS:GO days. The day they were released, several former CS:GO pros and current VALORANT pros took to Twitter to call out or meme on anyone who fixed matches.
Since then, there hasn’t been any official ruling involving shanks’ participation in match-fixing, so he continued to grind. Alongside some notable veterans of CS:GO, shanks has had high expectations, and so far he hasn’t been a letdown for NRG. They won their first tournament officially together, the NSG Monthly for December, with Shanks playing very well. But in their Challengers qualification match against Gen.G was when he really stepped up. He notched a 354 ACS, a +19 KD differential, and averaging nearly 200 points of damage per round on Jett.
Despite nearly having the competitive door shut in his face, Shanks stayed focused on the goal. Now he has a chance, along with all these other players, to break into stardom at the first NA Challengers weekend.
*All stats courtesy of VLR.gg.