XSET Coach SyykoNT: “Mental preparation is just as important as in-game strategy” cover image

XSET Coach SyykoNT: “Mental preparation is just as important as in-game strategy”

We sat down with XSET VALORANT coach SyykoNT shares his thoughts on the team and their preparations for the upcoming Challengers Playoffs.

The North American VALORANT esports scene has a number of outstanding teams. Undoubtedly, 100 Thieves and Sentinels have been dominating the scene so far, trading blows and trophies between them. The latter might have had the upper hand with their recent MSI 2021 victory, the first-ever international VALORANT event without dropping a map. They were finally toppled by none other than XSET.

During the first round of qualifiers for Challenger Finals, XSET were able to take down Sentinels, ending a 17 game winning streak. Both Bryce “PureR” Lovell and Brendan “BcJ” Jensen were instrumental in their team's performance, proving the roster's incredible skyhigh potential. However, the individual behind all of this deserves just as much praise as the player's themselves. It is none other than Don "SyykoNT" Muir, XSET VALORANT coach since November 2020.

We got the chance to sit down with SyykoNT and get his thoughts on the team, their preparations for the upcoming North America Challengers Playoffs, the hurdles they overcame to get here, and the current state of VALORANT esports. Let's dive straight in.

Question: First of all, congratulations on the massive Stage 3: Challengers 1 2nd place finish and taking down Sentinels after their 4-month no-loss streak. At the time, the roster had just welcomed Zekken and Dephh. Considering you had these new players on the team, what were your realistic expectations going into the tournament?

SyykoNT: Going into this event we knew we had a record of being the only team to qualify for the Challenger Playoffs stage first try each time, and we wanted to keep that record going. However, having just benched Thwifo and acquired Zekken 3 practice-days before the event, which pushed role/agent changes for 3 players, we knew we needed to temper our expectations a bit. This allowed us to go into the tournament with a nothing-to-lose mindset. Zach (Zekken) slotted into the role and environment extremely fast, and our flex players are fast learners with deep agent pools, so we were able to adapt much quicker than initially expected and make a powerful run through Open Qual and Challenger 1.

Question: Sentinels might be the monster in NA everyone wants to overcome. You have did it once but failed to do it again in the final. You kind of now have the keys and showed everyone they are beatable. What is your opinion on Sentinels and your own roster on their potential to take them down again if you face each other again in Challengers Playoffs?

SyykoNT: Sentinels are definitely the team to beat in NA. They not only win, but do it consistently and convincingly. Getting to play them in Stage 3 Challenger 1 was a great test for our new roster. Beating them in Semi Finals, which is the match that qualified us to Stage 3 Challenger Playoffs, was a massive win for this team and showed the potential this lineup holds. Our biggest goal moving forward is developing consistency at that level. We look forward to another matchup with SEN in Challenger Playoffs, and have been putting in hard work to be prepared for anything they throw at us.

Question: How important is the mental preparation for tournaments as big as Challengers Playoffs? Walk me through the process of getting the players mentally prepared for several days of high-intensity games at the top level.

SyykoNT: Mental preparation is just as important as in-game strategy. I put a lot of focus on maintaining the practice environment, and mental fortitude plays as much a part as mechanics and communication in what we look at when making roster changes. We practice hard, many more hours per week than most teams. We strive to prepare for any match eventuality including the mental strain of lengthy tournaments and coming back from round or map deficits.

Question: You have been a coach at XSET almost since November 2020. This is interesting in its own right as we have seen multiple tier 1 organizations change coaches after unsatisfactory results or after a few roster changes. What do you think contributed to your longevity as XSET’s VALORANT manager?

SyykoNT: I’ve been Coaching the squad since late September when we were still Pretty Boyz, with an official signing to the org coming in November. Since that time, we have had a pretty consistent trend upwards in terms of our performance. I credit my longevity at XSET to the system I have built, the great personalities we have on the roster, as well as the amazing management team at XSET including our COO Marco Mereu who has been an incredible mentor during my time here. Marco and I have been able to build and develop a squad who continue making progress and punching above our weight.

Question: How have you adapted the tactics of your plan over the course of what is almost a year now with the new maps and agents coming into play regularly?

SyykoNT: I strive to jump on top of each new meta shift as soon as it happens. Whenever there is a balancing patch, or a new map or agent is introduced, we immediately begin preparing to play both with and against these changes. Riot Games have shown they are willing to make changes often, and with a tactical game this early in its lifespan, playstyle metas shift and evolve rapidly as well. Teams who don’t adapt to these changes quick enough fall behind in subsequent tournaments. It falls on me as a coach to stay on top of these changes and prepare my team as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

Question: The roster your started with at XSET is slightly different than where we are at now. Do you think longevity with one team without changing the core players proves more successful than reactionary roster swaps following bad results?

SyykoNT: There is always benefit to the chemistry and playbook depth established by keeping a core together for a long time. At XSET we do our best to ensure that a roster change is the last option we pursue. Too many teams make these reactionary roster changes after tournaments, and it makes it very difficult to see what the true potential of any given roster lineup is if you are not giving them time to achieve that potential.

Question: Speaking of core players, Wedid was definitely one of the staple names in the XSET VALORANT roster, what was the process behind taking the decision to bench or was it more of a personal thing from his side to explore new grounds?

SyykoNT: Matt (Wedid) is a great player and incredible personality. He is someone who brought raw energy and positivity to our practice and match environments. Matt was a great piece of our roster for a good 6 months, but we unfortunately struggled to find a role in my system that he thrived in, and we had been struggling to find success as a team in the Challenger Playoffs stages. The team felt it was time, after exhausting several other options, to make a roster change and bring in a dedicated IGL with experience in the role. Matt was moved to the bench to make room for this move. He is still a great friend of mine, and I hope he will thrive and find his stride over at NRG in JoshRT’s system.

Question: Going into Challengers Playoffs, tell me one team and one player to look out for and the reason behind it?

SyykoNT: ENVY is always a team I have my eye on going into these big events, and with their recent acquisition of Yayster this is doubly true. ENVY always seem to have what it takes to bring it all home. If things go as planned and we manage to punch our ticket to Berlin, I expect to see FNS & co on the plane ride with us.

Question: Do you have any special preparations for each team in the Challengers Playoffs or do you usually stick to your own gameplay plan regardless of opponent?

SyykoNT: I put in a lot of time individually preparing for each opponent, and as a team we are very aware of how each of our enemies prefers to play each map. It’s important to strike a balance of counterstrategy and playing our comfort zone. We put a lot of hours each week into being prepared for any situation a team may put us in, which helps to keep the players comfortable in each map against any opponent.

Question: What do you think of the state of VALORANT and its esports scene so far?

SyykoNT: I love the current state of Valorant esports. There are a lot of wonderful personalities in the scene, and the players, coaches, and broadcast talent I’ve made friends with along the way have been fantastic. I’m also consistently blown away by the support and communication we receive from Riot Games – they are a company who truly care about their competitive esport ecosystem and take active measures to ensure it thrives. The current VCT format is exciting (and very well managed in NA by Josie at NSG). I do look forward to a franchised league down the line though.

Question: What would you want to see more or less of in VALORANT as a whole?

SyykoNT: There are some small changes I’d love to see to the Valorant gameplay, such as less randomized spray patterns on rifles and possibly even a MR15 format for matches. I would also enjoy having more input as a coach during matches in the ability to speak to the team during pre-round time or being able to stand behind the team on stage at events. But the #1 desire I have is more National and International LAN events. COVID has really turned the world on its head this past year, and with the recent surge of Delta variant sweeping the globe, getting back to “Normal” seems to keep getting pushed back. But hopefully by next year we can see more of these in-person events, even if we must keep the teams in a COVID-safe bubble. Nothing beats competing on the LAN stage!

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