Two weeks into the VALORANT Champions Tour Europe, Middle East and Africa Champions league the competing teams have settled into their respective spots on the table. With only one round robin played, teams that move to the top early have a massive advantage to those left at the bottom. The results so far have been somewhat surprising compared to early predictions, with FunPlus Phoenix and Guild Esports topping Group A and B, respectively.
Natus Vincere, who compete in Group A with their Commonwealth of Independent States compatriots FPX and Gambit Esports, are 1-1 in the group stage so far. They, along with the rest of Group A outside of FPX and Berlin International Gaming, sit at a .500 record. This includes Team Liquid and Gambit, who many slotted in as the two favorites to take the top two seeds into the playoff stage.
According to BIG’s Nico “Obnoks” Garczarczyk in Week 1 of competition, teams are fighting for the best seed, but TL and Gambit are a step above the competition, in contrast to the current state of the league in Week 2.
“Every team is strong right?” Obnoks said. “We saw that Liquid and Gambit had the best results in the last year, so it’s normal that they have the best seat. Under it it’s hard, every team is on a solid level,”
But with Gambit’s recent loss against FPX, and Liquid’s opening loss to Gambit, the group seems more wide open than normal.
“For Liquid, I don’t know, their playstyle is like really different from others,” LDN UTD’s Jett player Lukas “feqew” Petrauskas said in Week 2. “They don’t play duelists anymore for some reason. That’s why we’re not scared of them that much. And for Gambit I don’t know, they look good still. But [Friday’s] match against FPX showed a lot of weakness that we can exploit.”
Feqew said that LDN UTD is not afraid of any team in their group, and that they are more focused on the individual in-game leaders they are playing against. That line of thinking is also a new wrinkle in the league format in the VCT. Without the former double elimination tournament structure, teams have the time to analyze their opponents more in depth and know who they are going to play on a consistent basis.
“If something doesn’t work, yeah, we might change it up. But in general, we prepare for the other team, how they play how well they do. What’s their trigger? You know, all that stuff,” feqew said.
Stylistic matchups are also a consideration. Some teams across the group stage tend to be more passive, while others are more aggressive. Those clashes of styles create interesting tape to analyze. Innovation is also another lens to look at the group stage, as is the route Liquid have taken with their no Duelist compositions on some maps, or picking Neon in their Sunday matchup.
Now we’re talking pic.twitter.com/yBYrciPwou
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Teams also have more wiggle room to save strategies, a practice that could bite them in a tournament scenario, with an early loss, or force them to show all their cards in early on and shorten their playbook come the later rounds.
“To be honest, we have some good strategies we didn’t show before,” NAVI’s Denis “dinkzj” Tkachev said after their loss to Liquid in VCT Week 2. “So we are ready for for every enemy I think.”
NAVI are in a unique position in Group A of the VCT Challengers league according to dinkzj. The team is familiar with most of its group opponents, thanks to Group A housing two other CIS region teams, and their participation in VCT in 2021. But, that familiarity goes both ways.
“This group is unpredictable.” dinkzj said. “I think every team has a good chance for top three.”
In Week 3, the gap in records should start to show as the league’s round robin continues to play out. With the odd number of matches, even teams close in strength will be edged out in 3-2 to 2-3 fashion. With as close as NAVI thinks their competition is to them in the new VCT Challengers league, results will move one team over the others.