The players had to go back home from the bootcamp following a COVID scare.
Towards the end of April, NRG announced a new addition to their Valorant roster. It was a familiar face for FPS fans of NRG, who recognized Ethan from the org’s Counter-Strike days. He replaced Android on the roster and the team has not looked back since.
NRG came into the NA Challengers 2 as a dark horse. The roster was still relatively new, fresh off a bootcamp. Their early group stage games did not go as planned as their matches were very one-sided and not in their favor.
But playoffs NRG was a different breed as they were challenging the best teams in North America. They ultimately lost to FaZe Clan, but the team still finished 4th in the NA VCT Challengers, just two months after the new roster’s formation.
When asked if he was satisfied with NRG’s performance, Ethan said he was proud of what the team has accomplished.
We started off the season pretty poorly losing three games in a row without even getting anywhere close to win a map. [...] Definitely happy with how we improved, but I wouldn't say satisfied"
"Maybe not satisfied, but definitely proud I'd say. I think at the start, we had an open qualifier run. It was pretty clean. We started off the season pretty poorly losing three games in a row without even getting anywhere close to win a map. Coming from that, we had a really good bootcamp and just in that one month, we improved a lot. Definitely happy with how we improved, but I wouldn't say satisfied."
NRG finished 4th in the Group stage, narrowly qualifying for the playoffs after a 2-1 win over The Guard. Starting in the lower bracket, NRG eliminated Ghost Gaming and Evil Geniuses to reach the top four.
How COVID affected NRG
It's [The COVID scare] just unfortunate, but I think we kind of rolled with the punches and we did as best as we could.
But just as the team seemed to be gaining momentum, they were hit by a COVID scare.
The decision to move everyone home following the COVID scare was not what the players were expecting. NRG were bootcamping at the Complexity facilities in Dallas and the players had to go back home after the COVID scare. For some players, like Ethan, who's in Texas, it was a short trip. But for others, it was a longer trip. For every player it was a disruption from their routine, which they had formed during the bootcamp over the past few weeks.
Could it be the case the series outcome would be different if they had continued with their bootcamp?
"I think we definitely played better as a team when we were together in person," Ethan said. "If we had enough time to get used to our setups again, we probably would have performed a little better. I don't know if we would have taken the win but we all got back home two days ago. So trying to readjust for everybody is obviously a bit difficult depending on where they live. It's just unfortunate, but I think we kind of rolled with the punches and we did as best as we could."
A gameplan gone wrong
The lower bracket semifinal match between NRG and FaZe saw both teams have commanding leads in the first half. The first map, Icebox, saw FaZe amass a 10-2 lead. While many viewers might have thought it was a done deal at that point, NRG were not giving up. They mounted the comeback, almost getting the map to Overtime.
Tex in particular shut down Babybay on multiple occasions, often catching him off with the OP on different areas of the map.
We definitely had a gameplan going in. Ended up not working the best we thought it would. And so we were kind of adjusting things on the fly mid-game. We just didn't get any steam. We started obviously warming up on defense. We were really confident on our defense. 2-10 is obviously not optimal but we came back from that before so we knew 2-10 is not the end.
FaZe barely won the first map after a surprise strat in the final round. NRG were much more confident in the second map, showing excellence both on the attack and the defense. But the final map was reminiscent of Icebox where FaZe seemed to be running away with the score.
If we had enough time to get used to our setups again, we probably would have performed a little better.
FaZe Babybay picked Kay/o on Ascent, an agent pick that surprised the broadcast panel. In the post-match interview, Babybay said he was the player to give the call to run Kay/O.
"People think I’m a one-trick or something. They don’t realize when you’re good at the game, you’re good at the game," FaZe Babybay said yesterday in the post-match interview.
The Kay/O pick was not a big surprise for NRG who have scrimmed FaZe Clan multiple times in the recent weeks. And they have been fairly successful in these scrims. Even though scrims don’t always translate to results, NRG had a decent idea of the FaZe composition they would face in the series
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But a top four finish at VCT NA Challengers 2 is not a small task. For a team that came into formation just two months ago, and thrust straight into the open qualifiers, the players have not had a proper break. The individual raw talent was always there on the team even before Ethan joined them, but now that the roster is complete, we can see a structure and better teamplay.
Teamplay and structure is what you need to get to the next level and I think that's kind of what we did when we bootcamped.
When asked what was the biggest improvement on the team in the past few months, Ethan was quick to reply.
"Definitely teamplay. The only thing that was really giving us success when I joined was a lot of individual performances. I knew joining everyone was capable of performing really well. And that happened. But there really wasn't any teamplay and structure. I think that's what you need to get to the next level and I think that's kind of what we did when we bootcamped. That and obviously everyone improved individually too. So all that helps us mainly improve. "
Thoughts on XSET vs FaZe
XSET has a lot more depth and tactics. I think they have a better sense of teamplay
FaZe Clan will next face XSET in the lower bracket finals. The winner of this match will reach the Challengers 2 grand finals, but more importantly, will receive an invitation to Masters 2 Copenhagen.
When asked about FaZe’s next match versus XSET, NRG was confident in XSET’s playstyle, which, he says, has a better sense of teamplay.
"I think XSET will run away with it for sure. XSET has a lot more depth and tactics. I think they have a better sense of teamplay, I think FaZe kind of relies on the same two people to carry them through it. In a Bo5, I think XSET's map pool is definitely better right now."
What’s next for NRG?
They are not going to Masters 2 Copenhagen, which will also feature a live audience on the final few days. But it’s not the end of the road for NRG. They will take a break for now, having being burnt out from the relentless bootcamp and practice. And then, it’s time to prepare for the LCQ.
"First thing, take a small break, We've been non-stop working 6-7 days a week for the last month. When we bootcamp everyone was putting in 12 hours +. We're pretty burnt out now," Ethan said about their preparations in the past month. "We're probably going to take some time off before practicing, probably bootcamping before LCQ. Seeing how the matchup works before."