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The end of 2021 and the start of 2022 could not have been more different for European team Acend. They concluded 2021 with a great run to become the first-ever VALORANT Champions victors. That made it all the more surprising when the team started off with anything less than dominance. However, many internal changes led to the roster missing 2022 Stage 1 playoffs, and then two key players left Acend before Stage 2 began.

Yet, with two new players on the roster and two wins at the VALORANT Champions Tour Europe, Middle East and Africa 2022 Stage 2 Challengers under their belt, Acend have retooled themselves to compete against their region’s best. The changes from Stage 1 Challengers to Stage 2 Challengers include the departures of Santeri “BONECOLD” Sassi and Vladyslav “Kiles” Shvets. Their new signings are Vakaris “vakk” Bebravičius and Ondřej “MONSTEERR” Petrů.

Two new players join the champions

Even with their two wins to start off Stage 2 Challengers, Acend are still building synergy with their new roster — especially after a rocky start in their match against FOKUS. In that series, the team lost on Bind, a map that they had one of the top winning percentages on in 2021. That alone showed that Acend was different in 2022.

Even with the core of Aleksander “zeek” Zygmunt, Mehmet Yağız “cNed” İpek and Patryk “starxo” Kopczyński, the coordination wasn’t fully there. However, Acend fought back on Ascent and Icebox to win it all, with their new teammates helping lead the charge.

“There’s still a lot to learn, as we’ve only been together a month on this new Acend roster,” vakk said. “Every team has something to improve on, and even though we’re playing well, we still have a lot to get better at. For example, I want to win in scrims the same way or better as in official games. I want to bring that same mindset and gameplay to the officials as an IGL.”

While fans expected Zeek to step up as in-game leader after BONECOLD left, vakk has transitioned into the role instead. Thanks to the familiarity he built with his teammates while playing for nolpenki alongside zeek, cNed and coach Laurynas “Nbs” Kisielius, vakk earned the reins of a top team. But, considering Acend’s previous success, pressure initially came with the responsibility.

“Honestly, I felt a bit of pressure in the first official [match] against OG LDN UTD, ever since the boot camp and IGL’ing for the roster,” said vakk. “Taking that full responsibility to call big names like zeek and starxo was a lot, but over time that pressure disappeared very quickly. Individually, I don’t feel pressure because I know it’ll take time to adapt to becoming Acend’s IGL. Having such a talented team to work with helps a lot, because I know I can count on them.”

Whereas vakk has that understanding and familiarity with the roster, MONSTEERR is a truly new addition. His time in the European VALORANT scene led to some lower-tier success, but this signing puts him at the top tier for the first time in his career. But now that he has two wins under his belt, he is starting to get accustomed to his new environment.

“For me, it’s not surprising that MONSTEERR finally got a spot in a Tier 1 org,” said caster Krystian “TERP” Terpiński. “From the start of VALORANT, MONSTEERR was a great talent, all the way from First Strike. He only lost to zeek, vakk and cNed back then, so he now he’s here with them.”

TERP has followed Acend’s roster and players since their origins and has observed the team’s many iterations. Analysts like TERP agreed that Acend’s previous focus was on enabling talent like cNed and zeek to win maps. Yet, players on the team and outside sources agree that these players are now bringing mechanical skill to the roster.

“It’s fresher for us right now. We have even more firepower now with vakk and MONSTEERR,” zeek said. “The winning atmosphere and honeymoon period where everyone wants to play and win is a great feeling.”

A break leads to improved results

That honeymoon period could not have come at a better time for zeek in particular. Zeek didn’t have the best time, mentally, at Stage 1 Challengers, missing a game to take a needed break. Along with the team missing playoffs, he got some time to relax and reset. 

“I think the break was really, really needed for me,” zeek said. “It showed in that first match, especially since we boot camped and met everyone in person. I was just sorting out my life in that break, needing time off to relax outside of the game. Now that I’m back, I know I can reach new heights and do better than in previous tournaments.”

It showed in his first match back, finishing atop the lobby against OG LDN UTD. After playing FOKUS, it seemed Acend could win consistently with their new roster. However, their future schedule for Stage 2 Challengers is not easy.

The team lost for the first time to Fnatic, and tough opponents like G2 Esports and FunPlus Phoenix are coming for them soon. Luckily enough, Acend hold the final spot in their group, so winning one series will qualify them for the playoffs.

While the roster is re-tooled, there still are some kinks in the machine that won Champions last year. Expectations for the short-term are reasonable, but the team still has a good opportunity to compete for defending their title soon.

“For me, the new roster is looking energetic. Everyone is bringing something to the table,” TERP said. “I don’t expect them to win Stage 2 Challengers, but they should qualify for Copenhagen. With Nbs’ notoriety to make teams work out, they could reach the top 3 or 4 in the region.”