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Shahzeb “ShahZaM” Khan is more than ready to add another Masters trophy to Sentinels’ collection, after leading his team to a first-seed qualification for VALORANT Champions Tour Stage 2 Masters: Reykjavik; the game’s first international LAN. After achieving victory at the North America Stage 1 Masters in March, Reykjavik seemed to be an inevitability in Sentinels’ future.

“We’ve set our mind to win,” ShahZaM said. “I feel like we have been the most consistent team in North America over the last 10 months, and so I feel like anything other than winning Masters is going to be a disappointment.”

The road to Reykjavik

However, after the reigning champions were eliminated by Built by Gamers in the Stage 2: Challengers 1 Open Qualifiers — disallowing them the opportunity to immediately defend their title — Sentinels made a vow to their fans to return even stronger in Challengers 2. Keeping to their promise, the team dominated in the second Open Qualifiers in April and plowed their way through the lower bracket to sweep Cloud9 Blue in the Challengers 2 final.

Hunter “SicK” Mims recalls his team’s determination and grit throughout their journey to qualify for the Challengers Finals with a sense of both pride and relief.

“It was like we had our backs against the wall,” SicK said. “There were so many moments where we could have been done, and none of this would have happened.”

Sentinels took their future into their own hands and once again showcased regional command in the NA Stage 2 Challengers Finals. With this they earned the region’s top seed in Masters 2. While members of the team said that they are ready to cement themselves in Iceland as one of the top teams in the world, SicK is still appreciative of Sentinels’ growth on their winding road to Reykjavik. They walked a tightrope on the way to their rewarding victories.

Representing NA

The Stage 2 Challengers Finals victors will represent North America in Iceland alongside Version1; the runner-up and dark horse of the tournament. One of the newer teams in NA, Version1, announced its roster in February. They had rapidly become a force to be reckoned with after knocking FaZe Clan out of the Stage 2 Challengers 1 Open Qualifiers; ultimately placing fourth and qualifying for Challengers Finals.

While the team was often underestimated in contrast to regional heavyweights in May’s Challenger Finals, after falling to the losers bracket following a 1-2 defeat against Sentinels, Version1 eliminated Andbox, NRG, Team Envy and Cloud9 Blue in rapid succession. This booked their tickets to Iceland as NA’s second seed.

Adapting masterfully to a new meta and showcasing the full capabilities of VALORANT’s newest agent, Astra, helped differentiate Version1’s gameplay. They charged towards Masters qualification. However, in-game leader Anthony “vanity” Malaspina attributes his team’s success to the players’ synergy and belief in one another.

“We’re all playing with confidence and listening to each other,” vanity said. “That’s not as easy as it sounds. Some teams struggle from people not completely buying into the system. And I think everyone on our team has bought into what we have in place. That benefits us a lot.”

Vanity’s teammate Erik “penny” Penny agrees that their team culture and structure has helped the roster stun competitors on their journey to Reykjavik, albeit not to Version1’s surprise.

“I think even though we were called underdogs, I felt like from our practice and just the vibe of our team, we knew that we were better than a lot of these teams and we could beat really any one of [them],” penny said.

NA vs. the world

Penny’s confidence in his team will be vital when Version1 and Sentinels face unfamiliar territory as the two North American representatives at Masters: Reykjavík. Eager to face the best in the world, vanity stated that he’s excited to compete against former rivals from his CS:GO days. At the same time, he recognizes the overall value of international competition for VALORANT esports.

“Competing against other regions are always the most exciting games you can get,” vanity said. “Just the playstyles meshing and seeing which meta is actually the strongest is going to be the most interesting part about international play consistently throughout this game, because I think regions view the games completely differently.”

More than anything else, vanity said that he wants to test his mettle against the representatives from Brazil. This is due to his familiarity with some of the regions’ competitors. SicK, on the other hand, has his sights set on the European qualifiers of Team Liquid and Fnatic. The latter may even be Sentinels’ first opponent of the tournament; that is if the EU second seed is able to defeat Latin America’s KRÜ Esports. In the classic battle between NA and EU, SicK said he wants to achieve a major regional victory.

“Europe is considered equal to or better than us,” SicK said. “Overcoming them would be a huge win for North America in general. I think we’re going to give it our all to beat the Europeans, for sure.”

Being aware of Brazil

ShahZaM is aware of the importance of performing well against Europe. But, like vanity, his history competing against Brazilian teams in CS:GO — along with an overall understanding of the region’s differences — keeps him absolutely aware of the threat that Team Vikings and Sharks Esports could pose to Sentinels’ potential second Masters victory.

“They’re hyper aggressive,” ShahZaM explained. “Brazil is definitely very strong and I’m sure they’re going to come with a lot to prove. I don’t want to underestimate anyone.”

Defining the VALORANT winner’s mentality

As Version1 and Sentinels look toward their opponents, the two teams have taken some time to sharpen each others’ skills. Vanity shared that the NA teams scrimmed against one another ahead of their flights to Iceland. And, both team’s in-game leaders are aligned on what they see as the key differentiating factor that will separate the eventual champions from the rest of the world — adaptation.

“I think that the team that adapts the best is going to win the tournament,” vanity said. “Just because you can do all the prep in the world, but until you’ve actually played against some of these teams, you’re not actually sure how to react to it.”

Additionally, vanity says North American teams can exploit that skill. Many players are good at reacting on the fly. ShahZam agreed, stressing the importance of taking games one team at a time.

“The best team is going to have to constantly evolve within the tournament,” he said. “We’re going to have to play differently versus one team compared to another. That’s the best thing you could do in a game like this with all these unique agents, compositions and play styles.”

The future of LAN VALORANT

Sentinels and Version1 remain focused on their preparations ahead of Stage 2 Masters: Reykjavik. The North American representatives share an obvious sense of gratitude, excitement and hope ahead of VALORANT’s first international LAN. Version1’s Jordan “Zellsis” Montemurro notes how valuable this opportunity is for Version1, especially the ability to compete at a LAN once more.

“We’re one of the teams to represent NA, so it feels great to be one of the two teams to do that. I didn’t expect LANs to come back so soon, so to have one for VALORANT right away and us being part of it, it’s a surreal feeling, to go and play in Iceland as well.”

Although ShahZaM’s focus remains on bringing Sentinels another Masters championship, the in-game leader allowed a moment to remember this event’s meaning to VALORANT as a whole.

“This is still just the beginning,” he said. “This is going to kickstart actual international play. Teams are only going to get more and more aggressive, and they’re only going to get better. I expect VALORANT to get way more intense and competitive.”

“I’m excited for the future.”

Stage 2 Masters: Reykjavik takes place from May 24-30, where both Sentinels and Version1 will compete.