VCT Stage Two NA Challengers Finals Preview
It’s the final step before the big jump. The jump across the pond into an international environment. The jump back into a LAN environment for the first time. At the conclusion of the stage two NA Challengers Finals, two teams will earn their spot at Master Two in Reykjavík, Iceland.
A lot is on the line for these eight teams, aside from the honor of representing NA in the first international VALORANT event. A top finish at the Challenger Finals could cement a team’s place at the top of the region. And a trip to Iceland ensures the two teams a hefty load of VCT points pivotal to making Champions at the end of the year.
There’s a fascinating list of teams attending the NA Challengers Finals. In the place of some of the teams that competed at Masters One, we have a collection of late bloomers finally enjoying their time in the sun. There are also a handful of favorites, as well as some newcomers. There’s a lot to unpack, so there’s no use wasting any more time.
The winner of First Strike and stage two Challengers One, 100 Thieves, is considered a heavy favorite heading into the Challengers Finals. The only negative you could really attribute to the team is their VCT performance and Ethan’s level of experience, which could be seen in Challengers Three and Masters in stage one.
But Ethan is one of the best and most accomplished talents to come over to VALORANT from CS:GO, and it hasn’t taken him long to get acclimated. In stage two, he’s shifted over to Sage, and his fragging output combined with Sage’s support utility is a proficient combo. This has also allowed another former CS:GO winner, nitr0, to hop back on his familiar Omen. Ethan, nitr0, and Hiko all provide so much firepower that 100T can make the solo duelist composition with Asuna work. And, of course, steel is providing a plethora of utility on both Cypher and Killjoy. So far, the team hasn’t lost a single series in stage two and doesn’t look to be entertaining the idea of doing so.
Another team considered a favorite is Envy. Team Envy has been a consistent threat at the top of North America since adding crashies and Victor (food) in late September. Victor may have changed his name, but his presence in the server still changes the game. Over the past month, he’s been on fire with Phoenix, averaging an average combat score of over 300 and a KD rating of 1.72.
His output is surely not the sole reason for Team Envy’s success. FNS is one of the most capable in-game leaders in VALORANT, although he constantly refuses to give himself any credit. It’s hard to blame him when he’s getting reliable support from players like crashies, kaboose, and mummAy. And having a player like Victor in the middle of a hot streak is a welcome addition any day of the week.
The rumors of Sentinels’ demise are greatly exaggerated. A stumble at the final hurdle of the Challengers One open qualifiers affected several top NA teams, with Sentinels perhaps being the most shocking. That meant another open qualifier run for the team, with the catch that if they failed again, there would be no shot at Iceland and potentially no VCT points earned in stage two.
Thankfully for the team and fans of top-tier VALORANT, Sentinels showed the stuff that propelled it to a Masters One championship. TenZ and ShahZaM are doing an excellent job splitting Jett duties, but SicK is proving to be the real star of the show on both Sage and Phoenix. In the entirety of the 2021 VCT campaign, across three open qualifiers, three different Challengers events, and Masters, Sentinels only lost six series altogether.
With its contracted superstar playing for a different team altogether, Cloud9 Blue is playing its best VALORANT since its inception. With first dibs of the pieces of the disbanded CS:GO Colossus, Cloud9 supplemented its roster with NA CS talents Floppy and Xeppaa. Floppy has been inserted into the starting lineup, and similarly to Ethan with 100T, C9 handed him Omen to play with.
But unlike 100T, giving floppy Omen didn’t take the shadowy smoker away from anyone else. And the rest of the team has stepped up while the former CS still gets acclimated. C9 is zigging while the rest of NA zags, deciding not to use Jett in any of its comps and opting for a Reyna/Raze combo for duelists. With poiz and leaf taking on those two respectively, mitch holding it down with the sentinels, and Xeta popping off on Sova, the skies are clear and blue for Cloud9.
In the preview for Challengers Two, we talked about how NRG has relied on big performances from duelists Tex and ANDROID. Tex and ANDROID’s agent rotations are very versatile. ANDROID switches between Raze and Phoenix, while Tex can incorporate Jett, Raze, and even the battle Sage. At Challengers Two, NRG played well, but the entire team stepped up in their wins over Immortals, BBG, and Luminosity.
Daps was massive in the team’s series against Immortals, top-fragging across three maps while staying alive the most and constantly winning opening duels. s0m is really making the most of Astra in her early days and had a tremendous showing against LG. And everyone on NRG showed up for their dominant 2-0 win over BBG. The energy in the NRG camp is high, and it’ll need more strong team play against a higher caliber of competition.
V1 is one of the new kids on the block when it comes to esports, with only three divisions in VALORANT, Rocket League, and Call of Duty (as the Minnesota ROKKR). But the V1 players have plenty of experience, either in the early stages of VALORANT or from NA CS:GO. Vanity, Zellsis, and penny all come from NA CS, while effys was a pivotal part of the roster that later became Gen.G.
In Challengers One, the team rode the momentum of their upset over FaZe in the open qualifiers. Their subsequent wins over BBG and Cloud9 Blue secured their spot at the Challengers Finals. V1 is easily the team with the biggest question marks over it, after the surprising departure of PLAYER1 after Challengers One. The rumor based on a now-removed scrim clip is that Russian player Maxim “wippie” Shepelev will be stepping in. However, nothing has been confirmed yet.
Andbox is thriving in the midst of a honeymoon period after signing both mada and vice. The two players joined on trial contracts just before the start of stage two, and at Challengers Two, they proved their worth. Wins against Sentinels and TSM secured Andbox’s spot at the Final, and it even almost beat Sentinels again later on. In the team’s defense, TenZ dropped 30 on them on Split, and there’s not much that can be done about that.
It’s been the newest addition, mada, along with yay producing a ton of kills for Andbox in its Challengers Two wins. Mada has been cooking on Phoenix and Raze, while yay splits his duties between Jett and Sage. The team has a tough test in front of them at the Final, as they’re matched up with 100T in the first round. But Andbox has momentum on its side, and could easily be the the first team to beat 100T in this stage.
XSET, to its credit, has been a consistent presence in the VALORANT Champions Tour. However, its path has never been made easy, playing through the lower bracket in all three Challengers events they’ve participated in. On top of that, its showing at Masters One was less than ideal, with two 2-0 losses to FaZe and Gen.G.
But both FaZe and Gen.G are out of the running for Iceland already, and XSET is still here. The team is persistent, and they hold recent wins over some of the teams they’ll see in Challengers, like Envy, V1, and NRG. XSET even got to start its Finals run against NRG, and while the team does its best work in the lower bracket, they’d certainly like to hold off potential elimination as much as they can.