In the first week of VCT North American Challengers Stage 2 Open Qualifiers, NRG, Faze Clan, Luminosity Gaming and TSM qualify for the closed qualifiers.
The playing field among North American tier two teams has strengthened. The morale boost of North America's Challengers Stage 1 runner-ups, Optic Gaming, winning Masters Reykjavík has passed over to varying teams. Many new look rosters entered the fray and made noise this past weekend in a bid to qualify for the VCT NA Challenger Stage 2 Closed Qualifiers.
Sentinels, Version1 and 100 Thieves miss the cut
In surprising fashion, three former VCT NA Masters qualifiers missed the cut. Sentinels, Version1, and 100 Thieves, all teams who played in the stage 1 closed qualifiers, lost in tight matches and missed qualifying. Moreover, these teams were all dealing with new roster fluctuation, playing with stand-ins, and having to gel and adjust on the fly.
However, a number of the qualifying teams were dealing with similar circumstances and performed admirably. NRG, FaZe and TSM all made sizable roster changes in the recent months, some changes coming as soon as a few weeks prior, and still made it through.
It was a weekend headline by quickly assembled rosters making their way through the frequent and rapid VCT scheduling.
VCT NA Challengers Stage 2 Qualifier: NRG Esports
In no uncertain terms, NRG General Manager Jaime Cohenca saw an opportunity to upgrade the Flex position by replacing Bradley "ANDROID" Fodor with the highly regarded, former 100 Thieves player Ethan Arnold and took the chance. Android wasn't the reason NRG failed to make it out of groups at the first closed qualifier, but it's rare for a player of Ethan's caliber to hit the open market and NRG moved quickly to acquire his talent.
And in his first event with NRG, he proved his value in a more defined role rather than the ever changing agent carousel of 100 Thieves.
In a bracket run where NRG didn't drop a single map, Ethan ran predominantly the Kay-O and Skye, creating massive space for his teammates Sam "s0m" Oh and even finished with a 100% KAST on Bind against the Pittsburgh Knights.
The team went on to qualify over a Version1 roster missing Maxim "wippie" Shepelev due to visa issues. Despite no wippie, V1 were formidable with Matthew "WARDELL" Yu playing the Chamber role and mainly using the Operator. NRG took two come from behind map wins away from V1 to send them to losers and get back to another closed qualifier.
VCT NA Challengers Stage 2 Qualifier: Faze Clan
It's been an extended period of time since FaZe Clan was relevant in the VALORANT space. Thankfully for them, Faze was able to poach (no pun intended) members of the former Rise roster that saw bouts of success and push them to their first closed qualifiers.
Adding Phat "supaman" Le, Kevin "poised" ngo, and Jake "poach" Brumleve from Rise to empower explosive playmakers Andrej "babybay" Francisty and Quan "dicey" Tran worked to great effect. The team ended the weekend going 4-0.
In fact, Faze was pushed by every team they faced in the bracket, but dicey and babybay continued to put up dominant performances in response. In four official matches, the duo combined to go +135 in kill/death ratio and +32 in opening duels. The rest of the team was negative in every single map, playing in support of the duel oriented mindset of babybay and dicey.
Faze was confidently swinging into fights, unafraid to go off contact with dicey on Chamber and babybay on Jett. In fact, babybay has had a huge year in terms of ACS, but the addition of the Rise players has seemingly given him more confidence to take duels with better teammates setting him up for kills. In terms of sheer firepower, few teams in North America boast a duo as scary as dicey and babybay.
Lower bracket Qualifier: TSM
The return of TSM turns out to be the surprise qualifier of week one. The late departure of Wardell marked a new era of TSM VALORANT, and they responded swiftly by signing the talented Johann "seven" Hernandez and former GenG Anthony "gMd" Guimond. seven has been an interesting case study.
gMd has previously played for three different teams since the start of 2022 (100 Thieves, T1), but finding his spot on the Chamber with TSM. On the other hand, gMd is a known quantity who provided major value in the server, but was stuck floundering on a GenG roster going nowhere.
The signing of these two activated their game plan and gave the likes of Corey "corey" Nigra more space to operate on the Raze. Despite coming out of the lower bracket, this is the most promising VCT Challengers run for TSM since August of 2021. The loss of Wardell hasn't stifled them at all, but opened up more of the play book, becoming less reliant on their Operator main to find kills.
Lower bracket Qualifier: Luminosity Gaming
Back-to-back qualifications for one of the more solid tier two North American teams. After the shocking upset over Version1 during the Stage 1 playoffs, expectations were a bit higher for LG heading into stage 2. The team experienced some difficulty against TSM, but rattled off wins against Sentinels and V1 in the lower bracket to find the last qualifying spot.
As for the teams that missed qualifying in the NA Challengers Stage 2 Open Qualifiers, they'll get a shot at redemption starting on Thursday May 5th.