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Throughout all of VALORANT Champions Tour North America Stage 1 Challengers, Sentinels have been looking to prove that they’re worthy of being the best in the region again. The first two weeks saw shaky but ultimately successful outings from them as they defeated NRG Esports and Knights to make their overall match record 2-0.

NRG and Knights were both struggling teams, though, and Sentinels’ close games against them called their current form into question. OpTic Esports, Sentinels’ third opponent of the group stage, would be a different beast. Comprising of the roster that once played under the brand of Team Envy, OpTic automatically qualified to Challengers based on their performance in 2021, especially at VALORANT Champions.

Team Envy at VALORANT Champions 2021
OpTic Gaming is comprised of the roster who competed at Champions 2021 as Team Envy. | Provided by Riot Games

Notably, OpTic – then Envy – and Sentinels both didn’t make it out of the group stage at Champions. It was a disappointing result for both teams as they were considered favorites to make a deep playoffs run, and it was a blow to people’s perception of the North America region.

In Week 3 of VCT NA, Sentinels and OpTic faced off against each other in a match that meant a great deal to both teams. For Sentinels, a win would mean a higher chance of them being first seed in Group B; for OpTic, a win would prove that their Week 1 loss against Rise was just a bumpy start and not a true reflection of their strength.

Before the two teams squared off, community opinion was almost evenly divided in which team would take the match. In a Twitter poll asking fans who they thought would win, Sentinels won 51.4% of the vote.

As the first map, Bind, began, OpTic brought out the same composition they’d lost the map to Rise with. This season they’ve decided to have Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker, who normally plays Jett for the team, pivot over to playing Chamber. The setup allowed them to mount a stalwart defense, and Victor “Victor” Wong’s Raze proved dominant as Sentinels found themselves unable to break through at all. OpTic won 9 consecutive rounds before Sentinels even made a dent, and the second half was no different. Bind ended with a 13-2 scoreline in favor of OpTic.

“We’re really confident starting on either side in Bind, and we knew they would pick it because it’s a good map for them too,” OpTic In-Game Leader Pujan “FNS” Mehta said after the match. “They picked into their strength. Unlucky that they got destroyed on it.”

Even though OpTic managed to take a decisive victory on Sentinels’ map pick, Sentinels were eager to return the favor. Map 2, Fracture, saw Sentinels defending well in the first half. Jared “zombs” Gitlin had a standout performance on Viper as OpTic struggled on the attack, only racking up four round wins. They made a valiant effort at rallying back on their defense half and won six rounds there, but Sentinels ultimately proved too strong and the map ended with a 13-10 win for Sentinels.

Speaking about the map afterwards, FNS was unsatisfied with the way it turned out, particularly since it had been their map pick.

“We should’ve never lost Fracture,” he said. “That was a crazy loss for us. Very disappointing. I think we’re still rushing things a lot. We still have some problems we need to sort out for sure.”

The outcome of the match all came down to the third map, Icebox. It would be the first time Sentinels played Icebox in 2022.

OpTic had a strong start, going up 4-0 initially, but Sentinels were still able to make it close thanks to Operator heroics from Tyson “TenZ” Ngo. The first half ended at 7-5, and though it was in favor of OpTic, it felt like anyone’s game. Victor in particular had a memorable post-plant performance on one of OpTic’s attack rounds as he singlehandedly controlled Mid as KAY/O, forcing Sentinels players away from one of the site’s entry points and denying the retake.

As the second half began, OpTic won the first three rounds. Sentinels won the next three. They traded rounds again from there, and even as OpTic approached match point it was unclear who would ultimately prevail. But OpTic maintained their poise and were able to close it out, dealing Sentinels their first loss of the group stage.

Throughout the series, OpTic’s calculated play was both their strength and their weakness. Sentinels as a team are known for their adaptive playstyle and catching opponents off-guard, and sometimes OpTic floundered when trying to recover from their plans being disrupted. However, OpTic’s strategies and cohesive play paid off in the end. FNS still thinks they have room to improve, though.

“There are a lot of things [in our comms] that are so chaotic sometimes for no reason, when we should be a lot calmer,” he said. “These are things we need to sort out.”

FNS also pointed to OpTic coach Chet “Chet” Singh as being a “massive help,” and likely the reason why the team looks much more disciplined now than they did in 2021. Conversely, Sentinels have been without a coach since the start of the group stage. Ex-coach Shane “Rawkus” Flaherty announced his departure from the team during the series, after Sentinels lost Bind.

OpTic/Envy FNS at VALORANT Champions 2021
FNS at VALORANT Champions 2021. | Provided by Riot Games

The team formerly known as Envy may be playing under a new name now, but their desire to prove themselves and recover from their Champions 2021 performance is still the same. Next week they face off against Version1, who are, as of now, the only undefeated team in the group. It’s a challenge that OpTic are willing to face head on. After all, to be the best, you need to beat the best.

“[Version1 has] super versatile players, and I’m looking forward to playing them,” FNS said. “I’m excited to play them. I think they’re really good.”

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