Team Secret’s VALORANT squad has more than a little experience with championship tournaments. Their trip to VALORANT Champions isn’t coach Gilbert “Gibo” Sales Jr’s first inaugural appearance at a Riot Games event.
He was at the first Worlds in 2011 — it was the first time he flew on a plane.
“It feels like it’s destiny to be in Riot’s inaugural tournaments,” Gibo said with a laugh. “I also feel so old.”
Team Secret player Jessie “JessieVash” Cristy Cuyco also attended the first Dota 2 International in 2011, giving this team of Filipino veterans a different type of competitive understanding that they’ve been dying to use on the international VALORANT stage.
Team Secret is finally making it to the global arena
Now, they head over 6,200 miles from their home in the Philippines to Berlin to compete in the last major VALORANT tournament of the year. Even after parting ways with Southeast Asian organization Bren Esports, the Jayvee “DubsteP” Paguirigan-led squad kept their circuit points to qualify.
“I guess having the underdog effect coming into the tournament would give us a small advantage of what’s about to come,” DubsteP said.
Team Secret was one of the best teams in the APAC region in the lead up to Masters 3. They had a 75% series win rate in VCT and other third-party APAC events. Although most of the team believes that the Southeast Asian region has a lot of parity.
“Everything in Southeast Asia is a coin flip,” DubsteP said “Nobody’s better by a gap, I assume everyone is on the same level.”
When push came to shove regarding international travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bren Esports wasn’t able to make the trip to Berlin for Masters 3. They had to watch the tournament from home.
“I did have a watch party for the whole event,” DubsteP said. “I was there watching each and every game with my teammates and wondering what would happen if we were there to compete as well. There were so many “what ifs” going on in my mind at that time.”
They experienced the tournament through fellow Southeast Asian team Paper Rex.
“Watching Paper Rex was heartbreaking for us,” DubsteP said. Paper Rex fell to both Vision Strikers and SuperMassive Blaze before getting knocked out of the tournament. “I expected SMB to win but I didn’t think it would be that close,” DubsteP said during an episode of Showstopper.
Moving to Team Secret from Bren Esports is a reset in more ways than one. The Filipino squad hasn’t played much since the change and they haven’t performed well when they have. Berlin will be their first LAN, the first chance to show off their new strategies and the first chance they’ll get to play against teams like Gambit Esports.
“Moving to Team Secret was kind of overwhelming,” DubsteP said. “Team Secret has an even greater support towards the players but it is expected from a world class banner. Life was okay since we haven’t been in a bootcamp.”
Southeast Asian teams like Team Secret don’t have a lot of experience going up against other international talent. They haven’t played Gambit, unless you count the five Koreans on F4Q changing their display names to the Russian Champions.
There is no solidified Southeast Asian play style in VALORANT and while some teams rely on individual pop-offs, Team Secret is more about strict teamwork. The team is much older — DubsteP is 29 and JessieVash is 31 — compared to other teams.
“[Secret] really relies on each other as a team much more,” said APAC VALORANT commentator Franco “Ilustrado” Bernardino. “They’re much older players so they tend to rely on team play and good decision making instead of individual players popping off. So if they were to shine in Berlin, that’s how they’re going to do it.”
Team work makes the dream work
Paper Rex made a lasting impression in Berlin, both with some of their strategies and Benkai’s antics. A lot of teams are running their Icebox strategy in APAC scrimmages now, according to Ilustrado.
“It’s kind of just whatever works,” Ilustrado said of how Team Secret will make an impact like Paper Rex. “I think everyone has come to expect a lot of individually skilled players in SEA but really good strats and team play is what will help them shine. More of that.”
Team Secret will need to shake off their nerves heading into the competition – they haven’t been in as many live matches as other teams going into Champions – but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been putting in the work to prepare.
You can watch DubsteP and company compete in Group C with Gambit Esports, Team Vikings and Crazy Raccoon on Dec. 1 at VALORANT Champions. All the action will be streamed on the VALORANT Twitch and YouTube channels.