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VALORANT Champions 2021 is nearly here and it should be unlike anything seen before in Riot Games’ tactical shooter. Teams have been training non-stop for months, holding boot camps all over the world — from Serbia and the Philippines to around the tournament venue in Berlin — in preparation for the biggest tournament of the year.
The Russian powerhouse, Gambit Esports are still favored to take the championship trophy, but so much has changed since they won VALORANT Champions Tour Stage 3 Masters Berlin in September. Some teams have shuffled their rosters while others have added new coaches. A couple of the 16 teams competing at Champions have never even been to an international event. They’ll have their work cut out for them when they play teams like Envy, Sentinels and Team Liquid.
1. Gambit Esports
There is a reason Gambit won Masters 3, and they are coming into VCT Champions as the team to beat. After a phenomenal performance at Masters 3, the kings of the Commonwealth of Independent States are back to defend their title and have a great chance in doing so. Despite an underwhelming showing at Red Bull Home Ground back in early November, where they were most likely testing strategies and pushing boundaries, Gambit are still coming into this event as one of the strongest teams in the entire tournament.
Their star player, Ayaz “nAts” Akhmetshin, is still one of the best Sentinel players in the world, thriving on a roster where his teammates have almost no weaknesses. Gambit have been grinding hard at boot camp while working on becoming more unpredictable, which will no doubt add another layer to their already menacing gameplay. All eyes will be on Gambit as they have one of the slightly less challenging groups. They will be expected to make at least quarterfinals on their journey to defend their international title.
– Yinsu Collins
This could be the tournament where Envy finally break out of their shell. The team is talented, finishing within the top four at several tournaments this year. Those results include their second place finish at Masters 3, as well as winning the North American Stage 1 Challengers 2 tournament against Sentinels. They have, however, struggled to win tournaments since then.
Envy’s performances against South American teams like Vivo Keyd and KRÜ Esports were great, although their last journey to Berlin was also full of North American opponents. The likelihood that they’ll face more NA teams like 100 Thieves or Sentinels in the elimination round may be less likely this time around.
Envy is in Group A along with X10 CRIT, Acend and Vivo Keyd, which shouldn’t be a problem for them. Anything goes afterwards.
– Michael Czarnowski
3. Team Liquid
Unlike some teams that have been “saving strats” in anticipation of Champions, Team Liquid have been giving everything they’ve got in recent tournaments. They won the Europe, Middle East and Africa Last Chance Qualifiers, beating out tough competition to secure the coveted spot at Champions.
Even in non-VCT events, like the Red Bull Home Ground, it was no holds barred for anyone that tried to compete with Liquid. That’s not to say the team won’t have anything new to show at Champions — it just means that unlike your Fnatics and your Sentinels, we know Liquid are in good form. In fact, they haven’t dropped a single series since adding Nabil “Nivera” Benrlitom, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, to the roster in late Sept.
There’s no question that this is a team that’s in contention for the trophy. Let’s just hope they can withstand a little adversity as they go head-to-head with the best VALORANT teams in the world.
– Coby Zucker
4. Vision Strikers
Vision Strikers have been the best Korean VALORANT team for well over a year now. Barring a few stumbles that prevented them from making it to VCT Stage 2 Masters Reykjavík, Vision Strikers have clearly been ahead of the pack in their region through all of 2021 and are looking to make a statement in Champions. With experienced captain Kim “stax” Gu-taek at the helm, the team’s disciplined, patient plays are what sets them apart from the other teams at Champions.
They swept through the group stage in Stage 3 Masters Berlin but fell to eventual champions Gambit Esports in the quarterfinals. Now, Vision Strikers will look to prove they can make it far on an international stage, too.
– Bonnie Qu
Once the king of global VALORANT, Sentinels head into the final tournament of the year fifth on Upcomer’s VALORANT Champions power rankings. They fell multiple times at Masters 3 Berlin and should be looking to bounce back when they open Champions with their first match against FURIA Esports. Sentinels are still one of the best teams in the league, but they are no long able to rely on Tyson “TenZ” Ngo to carry them to success like he did in Iceland. The North American squad has added a new coach in Shane “Rawkus” Flaherty, which will hopefully mean team synergy and strategy were a priority in the lead up to their second trip to Berlin.
– Aron Garst
Acend have the potential to go far at Champions. As one of the teams that has faced Stage 3 Masters champions Gambit Esports the most, Mehmet Yağız “cNed” İpek and company could win it all as long as they top their European rivals. That isn’t an easy task, but their results in previous tournaments show Acend can go on a run.
The team’s recent win over Gambit at the Red Bull Home Ground tournament is just one example of them coming out on top. The whole team performed well, with Patryk “starxo” Kopczyński helping lead a 13-0 map win on Bind to eliminate Gambit.
This team might be poised to defeat Gambit if they get the chance, but beating other teams from all over the world is where Acend needs to surprise. They’ll have to start with Vivo Keyd in Group A.
Despite coming in second at Masters 2 Reykjavík, many consider Fnatic to be an underdog heading into Champions. The team has not shown a lot since then, even though Fnatic believe they can take it all.
Still, to count out Fnatic entirely would be a mistake. One good-but-not-quite-enough performance against Team Liquid saw them just miss out on EMEA Stage 3 playoffs, but they still qualified for Champions with Gambit’s victory at Masters 3. That makes it difficult to judge a team like Fnatic, who have shown signs of both brilliance and weakness.
According to Jake “Boaster” Howlett, Fnatic added new depth to their playbook, though it stands to reason that the other teams have done the same.
– Michael Kloos
Cloud9 were the favorites to progress to Champions in the NA Last Chance Qualifiers and they delivered on those expectations. An early loss to Rise only seemed to drive them to play even better as they stormed through the rest of the tournament and won the finals rematch with a 3-0 scoreline.
The strong leadership from Anthony “vanity” Malaspina combined with raw talent from youngster Nathan “leaf” Orf will be their biggest asset heading into Champions. It will be the team’s first appearance in an international tournament and it seems like they’re ready to take on anyone that comes their way. They’ll have to get past Vision Strikers and Fnatic to make it out of their group, though.
9. KRÜ Esports
KRÜ Esports will be attending their third international LAN tournament this year. We saw dramatic improvement from this team in between Masters Reykjavík and Masters Berlin. They may not be the flashiest with their playstyle, like South Korea or Japan are, but Latin America is still the heart and soul of FPS esports.
Still, there isn’t a ton of hope for LATAM at Champions due to the caliber of talent from the other major regions. In terms of skill alone, we have seen North America and EMEA rise above the rest. It’s the reason why each region won an international LAN while LATAM has failed to place higher than top eight at any Masters event prior.
– Danny Appleford
10. Vivo Keyd
Fans last saw Vivo at Masters Berlin, where they failed to make it out of the group stage, but impressed nonetheless because of their star performer Olavo “heat” Marcelo. The Brazilian Jett main was a phenomenon at the German tournament and is now joined by another top duelist from the region in Leonardo “mwzera” Serrati. The former Gamelanders Blue player was one of the best Brazilian players back before the VCT era and just missed out on Champions contention in the South American Last Chance Qualifier. His team bowed out in the quarterfinals to FURIA. He was then loaned to Vivo for this event.
Vivo are easily the best Brazilian team at the event, mostly thanks to their powerful site hits and individual aim. They support their star player well, and with another in the mix, they should be primed for at least a decent performance at the tournament.
– Declan McLaughlin
11. FURIA Esports
FURIA are a big question mark heading into Champions. The Brazilian team is headed to their first international LAN after taking care of Australs in the South American Last Chance Qualifier. They have no experience going up against teams like Gambit Esports, Sentinels or Envy. It’s just unlucky that their first match of the tournament will be against TenZ and company.
This Brazilian team could be a wildcard for other teams as well. It’s the reason they’re higher up in our VALORANT Champions power rankings. They may not have experience against other top teams, but those teams have no experience against them. We’ll see if that will be an asset or a liability for FURIA.
12. Crazy Raccoon
The only Japanese representative at Champions has a lot to prove. While they improved in between their appearances at tournaments in Iceland and Germany, they’ve yet to put much of a show on outside crushing Havan Liberty 2-0 in Berlin. Crazy Raccoon have a bit of a layup with their first match against Team Vikings, but the real test will come soon after if they win. Gambit are in the same group, so Crazy Raccoon have to go through the Russians if they want to find success at Champions. Here’s hoping Yusuke “neth” Matsuda and the rest of the team have shaped up since their last trip to Berlin.
13. FULL SENSE
FULL SENSE are going to be a dark horse coming into Champions. Despite not having a sponsor or any backing, the team made it out of the Asian Pacific Last Chance Qualifiers quite unexpectedly, beating Northeption in the grand final with a 3-2 scoreline. Flex player extraordinaire Kititkawin “PTC” Rattanasukol, whose versatility was a big part of that LCQ victory, will be the FULL SENSE player to look out for.
The team is expected to struggle when it comes to Champions — and being in the same group as Vision Strikers and Fnatic won’t do them any favors – but they could pull off a few surprise map wins at the very least.
14. Team Secret
This will be Team Secret’s time to shine on the international stage since they weren’t able to make it to Berlin for Masters 3 due to COVID-19 related travel issues. The Filipino squad doesn’t have much experience against top teams from around the world, but their team is made up of players who have been competing for years. That experience could give them a leg up over other teams in their group.
Paper Rex, who represented the region at Masters 3, weren’t able to get far. Team Secret will need to pull out all the stops if they want to go home with some victories under their belts.
15. X10 Crit
Like most of the teams that didn’t participate in Last Chance Qualifiers or Masters Berlin, X10’s form is a large question mark. They’ve been scrimmaging like crazy against most of the APAC teams, but their results are skewed by the fact that they were hiding strategies (some of them even role-swapped for the fun of it). They found out early they would be heading to Champions and they’ve kept their strats close to their chest since then. Still, fans shouldn’t expect them to be vastly better or worse than SEA counterparts in FULL SENSE and Team Secret.
Everything depends on how the team performs in their first match against Envy. Even if they lose, they better make a serious dent in the NA squad if they want to build confidence and have a shot at getting out of groups through the lower bracket.
16. Team Vikings
Team Vikings haven’t been promising in recent performances. We last saw them internationally at Masters Reykjavík, and while they were able to place sixth overall, they weren’t able to return to the international stage at Berlin. Team Vikings placed fourth overall, below teams like Vivo Keyd, Havan Liberty and FURIA in qualification for Masters 3.
Since it’s been a while since Team Vikings have competed against teams outside of Brazil, it would have been hard to put them high on our VALORANT Champions power rankings. These Brazilians have a lot to prove when they compete at Champions.