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There are already plenty of North American teams vying to stand out during the VALORANT Champions Tour for 2022, but a brand new challenger is entering the arena this season. Using both new prospects and proven esports talents, The Guard are aiming to make a mark in their first year together for VCT 2022.
A fresh start
With a proven coach and a very intriguing roster, former Gen.G coach Matthew “mCe” Elmore said they know their potential is what will make them the ones to cheer for in 2022.
“This roster’s potential is great to oversee,” mCe said. “They haven’t had much to prove themselves yet, besides Sayaplayer and psalm. JonahP and valyn have experience together but still have so much to prove, and I want to help them learn and mold them into great players.”
MCe joined The Guard after they had already started constructing their roster. The American core of Harrison “psalm” Chang, Michael “neT” Bernet and Jacob “valyn” Batio was already in place. But he had a say in the final two players to join the roster. That’s where former T1 player Ha “Sayaplayer” Jung-woo came into the picture, due to the team’s need for a Jett AWP player.
“I was very comfortable with choosing Sayaplayer after facing him and watching him play on T1,” mCe said. “The other aspect was waiting to see out the buyout for JonahP, since other teams wanted him before I joined The Guard. I thought that if we can get JonahP, he would be a great piece for the team.”
Mixing experience and new talent
So, the final two members were former Overwatch League competitor Sayaplayer and former Immortals VALORANT player Jonah “JonahP” Pulice. These two talents got to play with each other for the first time offline at the Nerd Street Gamers: Frag Valorant Major in Fullerton, California. They ultimately lost in the quarterfinals.
— The Guard (@TheGuard) December 19, 2021
There were moments of brilliance from the players, but the roster is still very new to each other. The only two players who had played with each other before competitively were psalm and neT, for orgless team Squirtle Squad. But despite the lack of familiarity, for psalm, this opportunity to work with a young roster on The Guard for VCT 2022 was something he couldn’t pass up.
“It’s exciting, especially because I had a long break from playing in the tier 1 scene,” psalm said. “Now to enter the fray with a more amateur level team and have a young group of guys who are hungry, it’s going to be exciting to grind it out.”
Psalm’s experience in esports includes Fortnite and Heroes of the Storm; he was one of the original players who moved from Fortnite to VALORANT. While the games themselves don’t have a lot of overlap mechanically, the mental aspect of esports is something psalm knows how to tackle.
“I bring a level head, which we need for this younger roster,” psalm said. “I bring stability in terms of mental health, and to help take losses well. Strategy is key, and I want to make sure outside of the game that everything’s good.”
Adaptation and positivity
While psalm keeps everything level, Sayaplayer said his priority is to fan the flames that keep the team’s desire to win burning. That kind of environment will help the team improve as they spend more time together.
“It’s a positive environment and I want to keep the passion for the game high,” Sayaplayer said. “The most important thing for me is the atmosphere and passion.”
That hunger, above all else, is what defines this roster beyond their potential. In being the underdogs, The Guard’s players said they know they can take their talents and compete against NA’s best in VCT 2022. Sayaplayer is quick to talk about his teammates and how underrated they are.
“I think valyn and Jonah are underrated,” Sayaplayer said. “But Jonah especially is a really smart player and mechanically gifted. With more experience, he’s gonna be better than so many players in NA.”
The praise that a mechanically gifted player like Sayaplayer gives to his teammates is nothing to take lightly. With the experience and aiming skills he brought over from Overwatch to VALORANT, Sayaplayer had to adapt to learn a new game alongside playing with majority English-speaking rosters.
During his time in Overwatch, he worked with majority Korean rosters. The Guard and T1 were not only his first VALORANT teams but his first foray into mainly English communication. Now, thanks to Korean manager Seo “Seowulf” Myungjun and esports experience in America, Sayaplayer communicates in English with his new teammates on The Guard. The new roster experience for him even brought some funny moments to light.
“People at Fullerton went up to Seowulf and thought he was Saya, which was pretty funny,” mCe said. “They are about the same height and look similar, so Seowulf had to push the autographs away with a little embarrassment.”
Even with the start of the team looking bright, Sayaplayer’s communication issue came up right away for both mCe and Saya when he joined the roster. When bringing it up, Saya didn’t brush it off and recognized it as something he still has to work around.
“For me, honestly, it is tough,” Sayaplayer said. “If I was better at English, I could explain stuff better and help with decision making more. But the language barrier still makes it hard for me. I speak English as much as I can, though, and I’ve gotten better.”
Even with that barrier in the way, mCe said he knew what he was getting when he helped sign Sayaplayer to his roster. According to him, Sayaplayer’s communication is nowhere near a problem with this team, in either speaking or understanding.
“Saya’s understanding level is super, super good,” said mCe. “He doesn’t think his English is good, but it’s enough. I thought originally it might be a problem, but I’ve enjoyed working with him so far.”
Now that the team can start working through those sorts of problems, it’s just a matter of proving their own expectations right. The 2022 season is around the corner. That means it’s time to see whether this mixture of veteran talent and young potential can make their goals a reality.
“I have high standards for players, and if they can reach that I’m happy,” said mCe. “We’ve only scrimmed with these guys for under a month now, so we have time to develop and improve.”
Polish-Canadian game enthusiast. I've been entrenched in gaming for as long as I can remember, with my first game being Pokemon Yellow and my most played games being Borderlands 2 and Overwatch. I have a degree in Film Studies, but writing about esports just makes my job all the better.