VALORANT Champions Group Stage Preview
It’s finally here. After months of waiting, the best teams from around the globe are once again taking the stage. VALORANT Champions kicks off its Group Stage tomorrow as 16 teams battle for the biggest title the game has yet seen.
The Group Stage is packed with enticing matchups both old and new. Seven days of double-elimination action will decide the eight teams moving on to the single-elim playoff bracket. To help you prepare, we’re breaking down every group and making our picks for who will get out with their championship hopes alive.
This is an excellent place to start when it comes to the Group Stage because every team in Group A has attended at least one international event this year. It’s been a while since X10 graced the stage at Reykjavik, but the memories of Masters Berlin are fresh for the other three squads.
After their Grand Finals appearance last time, Envy enter the Group Stage as the presumptive favorites here. It’s hard to find a team with more raw talent than the American squad. It all starts with the duo of Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker and Austin “crashies” Roberts, but their firepower extends top to bottom. Anything less than first in the group would be a disappointment.
That doesn’t mean Envy won’t have competition. Vivo Keyd, X10, and Acend both bring plenty of stars in their own right. Mehmet Yağız “cNed” İpek and Olavo “heat” Marcelo are both top 5 Jett players worldwide, and Patiphan “Patiphan” Chaiwong is no slouch either. Every single match in this group is going to feature Jett play at the highest level. What will make the difference is the supporting cast around those star duelists.
That’s the area where X10 will likely fall behind their competition. Acend and Vivo Keyd both have talent that has been forged in more competitive regions. At the same time, they also have lingering questions after they failed to reach their potential at Masters Berlin.
Vivo Keyd must also deal with the addition of Leonardo “mwzera” Serrati to the roster. He’s undeniably a huge step up mechanically for them in the Initiator role, but he’s new to it and his teammates. The potential is there for either Vivo Keyd or X10 to pull an upset, but Acend are starting from a higher floor after their quarterfinal showing in Berlin.
Our Picks: Envy and Acend
On paper, this is the easiest group to pick. Sentinels are still Sentinels even if they aren’t miles ahead of the field. Masters Berlin showed revealed some chinks in the armor, but it would be shocking to see them miss out on playoffs. A bounce-back feels imminent, but don’t pencil them in as the first seed just yet.
Of all the teams coming into Champions, Liquid have undoubtedly shown the best recent form. Granted, many of these teams qualified on points earned earlier in the year and haven’t played a big event in months. That being said, Liquid crushed the EMEA Last Chance Qualifier to make it here. Then, they prevailed over a stacked EMEA field at the Red Bull Home Ground tournament, including wins over Fnatic and Acend.
All of this is to say that Liquid are actually probably the favorite to top this group. Without knowing Sentinels’ form at the moment, it’s impossible to say for sure, but Liquid are hot at the right time. Either way, neither of those two should really have any trouble making it out of the group.
At the same time, anything can happen in a single best of three, and that’s all it will take for either KRÜ Esports or Furia to make it out of the group. Furia is definitely the longshot here. They’re clearly Brazil’s third-best team, and the region hasn’t exactly impressed at past international events.
Anyone rooting for the underdog will have better luck pinning their hopes on KRÜ. They’re a familiar face at this point having attended both Masters Reykjavik and Berlin. Every time we see them, they look a little more prepared for international competition. A single win at Reykjavik gave way to a playoff appearance in Berlin. This time around, their group is much harder, but they have a superstar in Angelo “keznit” Mori and the experience to be dangerous.
Our Picks: Team Liquid and Sentinels
Depending on how you look at it, this could be the most interesting group of the tournament or the most boring. Outside of Gambit, there isn’t exactly a tremendous amount of star power. There isn’t a second team from NA or EU, and that leaves the group wide open.
All signs point to an easy group for Gambit. The defending champs are among the tournament favorites, and there’s no team here that should, realistically, be able to knock them off. No one has the firepower to match players like Ayaz “nAts” Akhmetshin, Timofey “Chronicle” Khromov, and Bogdan “Sheydos” Naumov. Even a second seed here would be cause for concern.
Beyond that, all three teams have a legitimate shot at getting out. On paper, Vikings are Brazil’s top seed, but they got most of their points in the first half of the year. Since then, they finished fourth in Brazil, missed out on Masters Berlin, and haven’t played an official match since. They have talented players in Gustavo “Sacy” Rossi and Gabriel “sutecas” Dias, but we really have no way to measure them until they take the stage.
At least our other two teams both qualified for Masters Berlin. Unfortunately, Team Secret was unable to travel to the event, so we never saw them play against top competition. The Filipino squad makes for a great story, but the signs aren’t exactly promising. They’ve played domestically but finished outside of the podium even against that weaker competition.
That leaves us with Crazy Racoon, the darlings of Japanese VALORANT. By virtue of making both Masters LANs and coming from a minor region, they’ve endeared themselves to the community. The fan favorites live up to their name with all kinds of wild strategies that really shouldn’t work but often do. They claimed Japan’s first win at a major tournament in Berlin, so maybe they can do the impossible and get out of groups here.
Our Picks: Gambit and Crazy Raccoon
Where do we even begin with this group? Perhaps it’s Vision Strikers, the only team to take a map off Gambit during the playoffs of Masters Berlin. It could be Cloud9, the NA LQC winners who’ve hit their stride at the perfect time. Maybe we even start with Fnatic, the EU hopefuls looking to recapture the form that made them runners-up in Reykjavik.
Actually, let’s make it FULL SENSE, the team that no one saw coming in the APAC LCQ, the team that improbably upset the field full of Korean talent, the team that might just steal everyone’s hearts at Champions. Led by the fearless Jett of Chanawin “JohnOlsen” Nakchain and the brilliant calling of Kititkawin “PTC” Rattanasukol, FULL SENSE are ready to make some noise in this group.
They’ll have to contend with the most competitive group in the tournament top to bottom, with elite mechanical players at every turn. Vision Strikers should be the favorites, but that’s no guarantee. They started slow against Paper Rex at Masters Berlin, and a similar showing against FULL SENSE could actually push them to the lower bracket. Even if that happens, their adaptability and experience should get them through the groups.
Cloud9 are the other major player here. Like FULL SENSE, they got here by winning LCQ with spectacular Jett play from Nathan “leaf” Orf and innovative use of KAY/O’s ability canceling utility. With Anthony “vanity” Malaspina at the helm, they have a veteran IGL to lead a group of young talents to a possible playoff berth.
Fnatic are the team with the most to prove here. After starting the year hot and making a deep run in Reykjavik, they’ve fallen off hard. They flopped while trying to qualify for Berlin, not even making it to Challengers Playoffs and they haven’t even been able to punch back into the top tier of EU VALORANT. The talent is there in players like Nikita “Derke” Sirmitev and Martin “Magnum” Peňkov, but they just haven’t been able to keep up as a team.
Our Picks: Vision Strikers and Cloud9