“It’s only up from here. It can’t get worse than last year,” Zekken on Sentinels’ mentality heading into VCT Americas Kickoff cover image

“It’s only up from here. It can’t get worse than last year,” Zekken on Sentinels’ mentality heading into VCT Americas Kickoff

Esports.gg caught up with Sentinels’ star Duelist, Zekken, following a win against NRG that punched the team’s ticket to Masters Madrid.

Zachary "Zekken" Patrone and Sentinels are headed to Masters Madrid. They took down NRG with a one-sided third map going in their favor. It marks the first non-invite international VALORANT LAN in hundreds of days for many of the players.

Following the match, we talked with the SEN Duelist. He was elated, to put it simply. Read on for his thoughts about qualifying to Madrid and how Sentinels has managed to bounce back from an unsuccessful 2023.

Zekken talks about his return to international VALORANT, his growth as a player, and more

(Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)
(Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)

"They talked about the last time Sentinels was at a non-invite international event. Let’s talk about you specifically. Champions 2022 was the last non-invite international VCT event you competed in.

"It’s been 536 days (as of the match against NRG) since XSET was eliminated by the FPX team that is now NAVI. You were sent to the Lower Bracket there by OpTic Gaming, the NRG core you just defeated. And now neither of them are going to Madrid. Can I just get your thoughts on that fact?"

Zekken: "I mean, I've got nothing against any of those guys from the NAVI team or NRG team <laughs>. I'm just very happy, very excited to be going. It's been a while, so really excited."

"How badly did you want to get back to the international VALORANT stage?"

Zekken: "Real bad. I've missed it so much, and having to watch from the sidelines last year was definitely tough. We didn't have the best performance, but I'm just really excited to get back, man. I missed it so much. It was so fun, playing Copenhagen and Champs in 2022. I can't wait to do it again."

"And were you discouraged at all, that it didn’t happen last season?"

Zekken: "My mentality going into this year is like, 'It's only up from here. It can't get worse than last year.' Hopefully we won't have the team blow up in the middle of the season like last time <laughs>. We show a lot more potential with the roster this year. And we feel really confident going into a lot of these matches, compared to last year, too. So, it's definitely been on the uptick."

(Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)
(Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)

"Well, much of the team from last year is still in place. Of course, we’ve got new additions, including IGL johnqt. It feels like the team is as in sync as can be this year. Tell me about his calling and how he keeps you guys going through these matches."

Zekken: "Whenever I get asked about johnqt, it's always the same thing. He's a very calm and collected caller, and I think that's his best attribute. Even if we're down, even if things aren't necessarily going our way, he keeps cool, keeps collected, and keeps us in it. And when we're up big, he keeps us calm.

"Like, we're up 11:1 at the half on Split there. He is like, 'Hey, keep it calm, keep it cool. It's not over yet. We got only two more rounds, but we just have to keep doing what we're doing and not overheat too much.' It was just him saying things like that. It's really helpful and keeps me calm."

"I’d like to ask about TenZ now. He mentioned to me just how easy it is to set you up in the role he now plays. And how you’re just an overall insane player. As the Duelist on Sentinels, how easy is it to collaborate with a supportive teammate who once played that style?"

Zekken: "It's really nice. Him having played Duelist before, he knows what a Duelist would probably like and how a Duelist would like to be set up. And I think me and him, just kind of think about the game the same way, too.

"So, it helps us to have a lot of synergy. We played a long time together already, but I feel like our synergy's always been good, even when it was a new team. Just because we think about the game the same way. It's really nice to be able to play alongside him. He's a great player and a great teammate."

"Alright, we’re seeing a lot of new players in this league, in Challengers, across all of VALORANT really. You’re still one of the youngest players in the game, but have years more experience at this level. What has your growth been like, not just as a player, but as a person?"

Zekken: "It's just been a lot of work. I've been playing Tier 3, Tier 2 tournaments since 2020. I'm very lucky to have been able to play at a pretty high level for a long time. I think 2022 is when I first was able to break into Tier 1 VALORANT. Being able to play at international events and things like that.

"But I think, just a lot of playing, a lot of experience over the years. Oh, Jesus, it's years now? Over the years <laughs>? It's helped me to be a more calm player and a more calm person. To take things day by day, and try and control what I can control."

When I was 16, going to these international events, it was always so big to me. Like, 'Oh my God, I might never do this again. This is so crazy. It's so much.' And I would get over overwhelmed really easily, but I think as time has gone on, I'm a lot more calm about it. I don't get overwhelmed as much. I'm able to kind of chill out a bit more, and it helps me to play well."

"And now about the growth of Sentinels. It’s been a rollercoaster. What would you say has been the lowest low and the highest high since you joined?"

Zekken: "The lowest low, for me, is when we lost to LEV in the LCQ last year. That was the end of our season, and there's a video clip somewhere out there of me crying after. I took that loss really hard. That one was really tough for me.

"And I think, since then, it's been on the up and up. We've gotten a lot better as a team. We've grown a lot, and I would say this moment right now, might be probably the best we've had with this new roster. We're just feeling good."

(Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)
(Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)

"Let’s finish with the competition. It came down to Split, a map that has always been synonymous with Sentinels. What about that map gave you and the rest of the team the capability to simply dominate NRG?"

Zekken: "Split is just a map that we have a lot of reps on, and a lot of match reps, too. I think we played it, correct me if I'm wrong, like six or seven times throughout just this tournament alone. Last year, it was a map that we played a good amount, too. And even on XSET, that was a map that I personally was playing a lot.

"So, I think it's just a thing we have a lot of experience on. We know a lot of good reactions, like people can whip out a crazy comp, or do stuff kind of different. But we still have a good idea of how to react and how we want play our game. And I think it's just a map that we're really confident on."

"Well, Sentinels made it through the Group of Death, but in reality, the Group of Death is alive and well. The Grand Final is a rematch against LOUD, another team from that Group. The maps were close in their 2:0 victory at the start of the Kickoff tournament. What’s the approach going against an always dangerous LOUD team yet again?"

Zekken: "They're a tough team to go up against. Obviously, Saadhak is constantly innovating, and those guys are just really strong players individually, too. I think we're going to be a bit more ready this time. We're going to come into the match a lot more confidence than we did the last one.

"I think our biggest mistake going into the very first match against LOUD was that we didn't come in confident. We didn't come in firing on all on all cylinders. I think we're going to do a better job in the rematch, trying to do that, but obviously, they're a really tough team to go up against. It's going to be a good match."

(Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)
(Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)

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