Sentinels didn’t drop a map in VALORANT’s first international event. Heading back home, almost every team has made roster moves. But are they all playing for second place?
It's been a tumultuous offseason in North America ahead of VCT Stage 3. Nearly every team has made roster moves in an attempt to reach the top. There is, however, one problem. No one can touch Sentinels. They're North America's best and it's not close.
Sentinels dominated the region since mid-2020, and now have won the first ever international VALORANT event without dropping a map. They've played on LAN against other regions and have gotten the opportunity to learn and improve. It's a monumental task to dethrone them.
As things currently stand, North America will send 3 teams to Masters Berlin. Which teams are favourites to make an appearance? Which teams could surprise? And can any of them upset the behemoth at the top of the region?
The clear favourites to win North America in VCT Stage 3
Sentinels won VCT Stage 1. Sentinels conquered both North America and the world in Stage 2. Tyson "TenZ" Ngo is the superstar duelist. Hunter "SicK" Mims is the flex god. Michael "dapr" Gulino and Jared "zombs" Gitlin are the supports that the team can't do without. And Shahzeb "ShahZaM" Khan is the IGL, coach, theory crafter, and everything in between.
It is going to take a monstrous effort to dethrone SEN in Stage 3. And frankly, I don't see it happening. With SEN coming into this as one of only two teams with LAN and international experience, they should be a lock for Berlin, and it would come as a shock if they don't go as the #1 seed.
Contenders: Can they catch SEN?
Version1 impressed in Iceland. They defeated Europe's first seed, Team Liquid, in a very close series, and would go on to place 5th-6th. They showed promise, and will be looking to establish themselves as a long-term contender in NA.
They'll be without Jordan "Zellsis" Montemurro for Challengers 1; ex-Luminosity player Brady "thief" Dever is reported to be filling in. thief is a very good duelist when he's on, and should work well with the roster. With international and LAN experience now under the team's belt, expect a Challengers 1 appearance even without Zellsis in the lineup.
With all the attention on Sentinels and V1, it's easy to forget just how close Cloud9 came to qualifying for Iceland. They took a map off Sentinels in the upper finals, and did the same thing to V1 in the lowers. Without winning either match, though, they were the last team eliminated from Iceland contention.
C9 are heavily rumoured to be using Erick "Xeppaa" Bach in place of Michael "poiz" Possis for VCT Stage 3. Xeppaa was an up-and-comer in Counter-Strike, and should bring a lot to this roster. C9 have been only trending up for the last few months: if that continues, they'll look great for a Berlin spot.
One of NA's most consistent squads, 100 Thieves looked a bit out of sorts in Stage 2 Challengers Finals. Despite coming in as the #1 seed, they'd fall to Envy in the lower bracket, going out in 5th-6th.
100T had their big breakthrough at First Strike. Since then, they've been solidly one of North America's best teams, but haven't pulled off another big win in the same way. They still have a good shot at Berlin, and it would be surprising to see them place 7th or lower. But they also have some work to do if they want to break past the surging V1 and C9 and put their name out there again.
Envy are in a similar situation to 100T. Solidly one of the best in the region, they haven't made a big final in a long time. Unlike 100T, though, Envy are reportedly making roster moves, bringing in Jimmy "Marved" Nguyen from FaZe Clan to replace Jake "kaboose" McDonald.
Role-wise, it makes sense for Envy. They'd been struggling to fill the smokes spot, something Marved can do while still bringing fragging power. Stage 2 was lackluster from him, though, as FaZe failed to make a single Challengers event. If things come together, than he could certainly be the spark this team needs. If things don't, it could be another top 5-6, call it a day for Envy.
Dark horses for VCT Stage 3
FaZe Clan have gone from one of North America's best teams to one of its worst. In Stage 1, they were dynamite, running over teams with their aggression. In Stage 2, though, teams had them figured out, and they failed to even progress past an open qualifier. For Stage 3, they've made a change. As mentioned, Marved has left for Envy, and in his place Hunter "BabyJ" Schline has reportedly been brought in.
FaZe are just in a weird spot. On one hand, it's the core of the roster that finished second in NA. On the other hand. it's the core of the roster that failed to make a closed qualifier. BabyJ is a very good pickup, and they still have some of the best players in North America. It's just a question of whether or not it will come together.
It would have been fair to call Andbox one of NA's more promising teams at the end of Stage 2. They beat Sentinels and made it to Challengers Finals in a nice upset run. The experience of someone like Daniel "vice" Kim was working out well with their younger players, such as duelist Adam "mada" Pampuch. Then they made one of the best additions of the offseason.
Noah "jcStani" Smith is a massive pickup. Formerly of Immortals, he's incredibly flexible, having played everything from duelist to sentinel, and having been an IGL. He was the backbone of an IMT lineup that consistently impressed, despite the new players always coming around him. Andbox are on an upswing and have made some great offseason moves, this team could easily move into Contenders territory.
Gen.G, like FaZe, had a disappointing Stage 2 after placing third in Stage 1. Also like FaZe, they've made a roster move for VCT Stage 3: Nicholas "NaturE" Garrison has replaced Danny "HUYNH" Huynh.
The big question here is roles. NaturE is a support player and IGL, while HUYNH was the team's Jett player. But if that is worked out, Gen.G have a ton of potential. Some of North America's most promising young talents, players like Shawn "Shawn" O'Riley, feature on this lineup. This team can easily contest the Contenders, and should be in the mix for a Berlin spot.
It's felt for a while like XSET are the team on the cusp of a breakthrough, but they've never actually had it. The potential was always there - we saw that in Stage 2, for instance, when they came in to Challengers Finals as the second seed after a great Challengers 1 run. However, it's now twice in a row that they've fallen out 7th-8th, and changes were needed.
To that end, XSET released fan favourite Matthew "Wedid" Suchan, who has since found his way to NRG. In his place, ex-Dignitas IGL Rory "dephh" Jackson and ex-Noble duelist Zachary "zekken" Patrone have been signed.
Dephh takes the IGL duties off Brendan "BcJ" Jensen, and brings significant experience into a roster that lacked it. zekken, meanwhile, has been shouted out for a long time as a future superstar, but was always too young to play VCT. Having recently turned 16, he'll have plenty of eyes on him to see if he is the real deal.
North America's open qualifiers begin July 1st
North American VALORANT will be returning on July 1st, with the first open qualifiers. There are some great games set: Luminosity should face Cloud9 White in the second round, while 100T-TSM, Andbox-Gen.G, XSET-FaZe, NRG-Immortals, and C9B-Rise are all potential later round matchups. Sentinels and Version1 have a bye to a later stage of the bracket.