The final tournament of the VALORANT Champions Tour 2022 season is in Istanbul, with teams all over the world fighting to get the Champions title. Here is another feature in the Champions Istanbul preview series, this time focusing on who made it out of NA. With OpTic Gaming‘s international performances this year, we’ll see if they can repeat as the best or if one of the other NA teams steps up.
Heading into Istanbul, OpTic Gaming have solidified themselves as a contender with their consistency in 2022. Their runs regionally have gotten them into both 2022 Masters, albeit in the second seed. However, getting extra experience in the group stages has led to two podium finishes at both Masters. The highlight was defeating LOUD at Stage 1 Masters, cementing the team as the best early on in 2022. They couldn’t manage the same finish in Copenhagen at Stage 2 Masters, for a multitude of reasons, according to NA caster and analyst Doug “EsportsDoug” Cortez.
“I think there were a couple of things at play that led to OpTic’s finish at Copenhagen,” EsportsDoug said. “At Stage 1 Masters, they set the meta and remained as the frontrunners. For Copenhagen, that innovation wasn’t there; they couldn’t dictate the pace. The volatility of the game just doesn’t lend to back-to-back titles like that, so whenever that does happen, it’s going to be rare.”
At the same time, even with a slight underperformance at Copenhagen, OpTic are by far the best team and deserved their number one seed into Istanbul. As EsportsDoug said, the volatility of VALORANT metas makes it tough for teams to remain at the top over a long time. So, a first and third place finish in the only two international tournaments in 2022 so far proves their skills.
“I still think they’re the frontrunners alongside Paper Rex and FPX,” VALORANT content creator Domenic from Off The Dome said. “If you go through their runs, they’ve beat the best to get to the top. Where they had little time to reset for Copenhagen, they have the break they needed from all the LCQs. OpTic, with their team on paper, should never lose a match with their talent.”
Of course, the talent Domenic speaks of includes Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker, Jimmy “Marved” Nguyen and Victor “Victor” Wong. All three of these players have shown off both regionally and internationally, helping lead the team to their success. Istanbul should be no different, with the extra time off this time giving them the rest they needed. Plus, with the teams inside their group, they seem to be in a great spot for Champions in Istanbul to get to the knockouts and on another deep run for NA.
The second seed from NA for Champions in Istanbul is XSET, a team known for its consistency. Much like OpTic, XSET are one of the most adaptable teams within the region. Where most NA teams over the past two seasons came and went, XSET stayed strong. Their issue focused around reaching international tournaments, which they finally did in Stage 2 Masters. Yet, at their first international LAN, they fell out in a tough fashion. After getting the first seed from NA, they lost their first two matches and were eliminated early on. Part of it was inexperience, but they also got some unfortunate matchups, according to NA caster and analyst Alex “Vansilli” Nguyen.
“Let’s take a step back here and look at the other NA teams that attended LAN this year so far,” Vansilli said. “The Guard beat OpTic at Stage 1 Challengers grand finals and XSET beat OpTic during the Stage 2 Challengers grand finals. Who did The Guard and XSET play as their first team in the playoffs? OpTic, the team that finished 1st and 3rd respectively in the last two Masters this year. If we continue to praise the consistency of OpTic at international events, we must give more credit to the potential of the other NA teams.”
That potential revolves around two players on XSET, players that the team fashions themselves around. Both Matthew “Cryocells” Panganiban and Zachary “zekken” Patrone have put together performances that rival the best, especially within their region. The rest of the team also had moments throughout the year stepping up against their opponents. Yet the focus put on Cryocells and zekken has led to different levels of success for the roster, working in some moments and not in others.
“XSET’s success is much more variable, and it all relies on the x-factors of Zekken and Cryocells,” Domenic said. “It’s good, but if the spark plugs don’t fire, then there are very clear holes in their team. I’m not sure what XSET can do, but I know they could go on a run.”
Heading into the group stages, XSET have arguably one of the closest groups skill-wise aside from Stage 2 Masters champions FunPlus Phoenix. If they can manage wins against XERXIA and KRÜ Esports, that could be the experience they need to go on a run.
Last but not least, we have the VCT 2022 NA LCQ victors — 100 Thieves. After a slow start to the year, the team constantly improved and reached a peak in the LCQ tournament. Where fans and analysts can judge teams from their previous performances, 100 Thieves are a true wild card.
“I’m nervously excited for this team. If you’re a 100 Thieves fan, you should be happy if they make it out of groups,” Vansilli said. “You’re hoping that DRX just continues to crumble during their international stage showings. On paper, 100 Thieves could go toe-to-toe with DRX, but the first LAN jitters are what make me nervous.”
Out of all the NA teams that have made it to Champions in Istanbul, 100 Thieves have the least amount of pressure on their shoulders. They don’t have the expectations to win it all like OpTic or the need to prove themselves like XSET. In both sports and esports, there are always teams in tournaments who are running on house money; we weren’t expected to make it this far in the first place, so why not just go as far as we can?
That doesn’t mean they didn’t deserve this spot. They stomped at the end of the NA LCQ against strong teams like FaZe Clan and The Guard. Peter “Asuna” Mazuryk continues to be one of the best talents in NA, while teammates Derrek “Derrek” Ha and Sean “bang” Bezerra have improved a lot since earlier on in 2022.
However, 100 Thieves are arguably in one of the toughest groups in the group stage. That alone will be a tough step to overcome, especially for their first international LAN with this roster.
“Their group is tough, facing teams that have more international experience than they do,” Domenic said. “I don’t think they’ll make it out of groups, but this will be a crucial experience for the roster. But they’re also insanely adaptable, so going forward, this roster will get better.”
Polish-Canadian game enthusiast. I've been entrenched in gaming for as long as I can remember, with my first game being Pokemon Yellow and my most played games being Borderlands 2 and Overwatch. I have a degree in Film Studies, but writing about esports just makes my job all the better.