The Guard spoke after the win about overcoming the lack of LAN experience, which teams they want to face in Iceland, and not succumbing to the pressure of the moment against OpTic Gaming
The Guard entered VCT Challengers Stage: 1 as the inexperienced team, with a recently assembled roster, and no experience against North America’s giants. After outlasting OpTic in a marathon, five map Grand Final for a chance to skip out on playoffs at Reykjavik, The Guard are no longer the peppy upstarts but legitimate contenders.
The run to a North American online title was nothing short of remarkable from The Guard. With wins against all of the former NA Masters qualifiers, three teams with exponentially more experience. The Guard weren’t fazed and, in fact, took their game to another level against OpTic.
“People think ‘oh they don't have experience, they're going to fold under pressure,' but people said that about us in open qualifiers too,” said The Guard valyn in the post-match press conference. “To win this whole thing is proof that under pressure, we still perform.”
The Rising Talent of The Guard
Even when facing monumental talent in the form of Optic’s Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker, The Guard stepped up individually. Ha “Sayaplayer” Jeong-woo is the catalyst to The Guard’s game plan. Moreover, he’s starting to show enormous improvement in his play. On low-buys alone, Sayaplayer has proven his ability to contain teams with just a Marshall. The Guard hampered any OpTic momentum on anti-eco rounds with many rounds due to Saya's aggressiveness.
"Fixing anti-Eco's, I guess, because we lose them a lot. That's like the main focus” said Pujan “FNS” Meht. “We’re generally good on gun rounds, just like the Eco's need to be fixed and that's about it”
Furthermore, the most raw talent player in North American Valorant, Trent Cairns, continues to gain experience and improve. In the biggest match of his young career, trent comes through with the highest damage numbers throughout the series and out-duels the explosive OpTic riflers. After the win, he reflected on an unseasoned Guard team being a surprising qualifier.
“This is all like a dream almost” said trent. “From joining this team two months ago, to being in the position we are in now and for me having no former experience before now, is almost unheard of”
The radiating confidence from The Guard
In the press conference, The Guard took time to reflect on the win but they didn’t dwell. It’s a team that recognizes their lack of experience on LAN and in a studio setting, but doesn’t necessarily think that will hinder their play. In fact, the team sees their journey up to this point as a learning experience for Reykjavik. After all, The Guard have complied an impressive list of wins in a short period of time and continue to show steady, quantifiable improvement
“We have a special group of guys that no matter what we go into,” said The Guard Valyn post-game. “No matter any kind of environment, we can thrive and I think being on LAN might even buff us up because we're a very momentum team and being on stage, having all the lights on us, you never know.”
Importantly, The Guard are a team who have shown the ability to remain confident and learn from their losses. The confidence in Jacob “valyn” Batio’s statement is a shared sentiment around the organization. As coach Matthew “mCe” Elmore commented, the team relished the opportunities to get matches and repetitions with strong teams from all regions.
"It’s kinda a double edged sword,” said mCe on The Guard receiving a pass to the playoffs in Iceland. “It’s like you do progress past groups to playoffs, but at the same time, you don't get the group experience or the “easier matches” on LAN to start to get used to everything."
Looking Ahead to Iceland
Clearly, it’s a team that understands the daunting task ahead, but after eliminating Cloud9, Sentinels and beating OpTic in Grand Finals, there’s a deserved air of self-assuredness among the group. It’s a team with long term goals in mind, including sending a statement to FunPlus Phoenix’s Kirill “ANGE1” arasiow for disrespecting the region. Despite the comment being years old, Michael “neT” Bernet remembers.
“Ange1 said a long time ago at the beginning of the game that if an NA team ever played an EU team we wouldn't get more than four rounds while winning both pistols so…can’t wait to prove him wrong”
And, neither can the North American fan base huffing the copium with a vision of grandeur for a Guard Masters run. The VALORANT Champions Tour 2022: Stage 1 Masters - Reykjavík event starts on April 10th, where The Guard have received a pass through the group stages into the playoffs.