The Guard face their future as a rookie team at Stage 1 Masters
The Guard Masters 1
Provided by The Guard.

The Guard face their future as a rookie team at Stage 1 Masters

The rapid climb from upstart to top dogs at Reykjavík

In one of the most surprising stories in the short history of the VALORANT Champions Tour, rookie team The Guard have not only qualified for VCT 2022 Stage 1 Masters, but they did it while finishing number one in North America.

Recommended Videos

Going from creation to the open qualifiers to becoming the best in NA only took the team five months, with their current roster only coming together in January of 2022. But now, after beating OpTic Gaming 3-2 in the VCT 2022 Stage 1 Challengers 1 grand final, they’re poised to put NA back on the international VALORANT map.

But how did The Guard reach such lofty heights so fast? Do VALORANT analysts attribute the team’s success to a focus on coordination, good team spirit or top talent? According to both in-game leader Jacob “valyn” Batio and controller/sentinel Michael “neT” Bernet, the moment all three of those qualities came together happened during Challengers 1.

“I think it was when we beat XSET 2-1,” said neT. “After losing to them in the open qualifiers, beating them the second time around reassured us that if we work well and play together we can do anything.”

From open qualifiers to the top of NA

As the tournament progressed, The Guard went on to face tougher opposition. After beating the team that knocked them down in the open qualifier, they lost a close match to Cloud9 before the elimination stage started. And just when they faced adversity after a new patch, they bounced back by sweeping both Sentinels and Luminosity Gaming. Then, after hitting another bump in the road during a sweep at the hands of OpTic Gaming, they took revenge against C9 and squeaked by OpTic in their rematch to win it all. Valyn said that moment seemed like a dream come true.

“Going to Masters 1 is surreal, it still hasn’t hit me yet,” valyn said. “Knowing our dedication and grinding got us this far is great, getting the rewards of our four months of scrims. I’ve always dreamed of facing off against the best, and finally reaching it, my soul is complete. Now, instead of playing random online tournaments, it feels much more real.”

That dedication showed most clearly during Challengers 1 in how The Guard learned after a loss. Heading into Masters 1, The Guard have yet to lose two VCT matches in a row to any opponent. Adaptability is key in the team’s strategies, even when they dip in form during a match.

“I think their coaching has been amazing so far,” said analyst Alex “Vansilli” Nguyen. “For a team that focuses a lot on the IGL and mCe working together, the system always works well for The Guard.”

Vansilli commended the reputation head coach Matthew “mCe” Elmore earned while working with Gen.G and coaching collegiate players. He also called the way mCe adapted his style to fit The Guard’s new roster a huge success.

A rookie team’s first major LAN event

mCe is also one of the few people on the team that brings LAN experience, alongside former Overwatch League player Ha “Sayaplayer” Jung-woo. Both will need to share that experience with rookie teammates like Trent “trent” Cairns since a format change for Stage 1 Masters means The Guard won’t have as many opportunities to feel out their opponents.

Sayaplayer The Guard
Sayaplayer is one of the few members of The Guard with LAN experience due to his time in the Overwatch League. | Provided by The Guard.

At Masters, the No. 1 seed in NA earned an automatic spot in the playoffs, skipping the group stage entirely. While this guarantees an easier path to the top for most teams, rookies like The Guard are a bit more cautious about the opportunity.

“I think skipping groups is a double-edged sword,” valyn said. “Regardless, I think we will still do well, but getting that tad bit of true LAN experience before heading into playoffs wouldn’t hurt.”

Vansilli raised a good point about the subject, though. Whether a team is competing in the group stage or the playoffs, the margin for error is about the same.

“From the outside looking in, a playoff team can only lose twice before getting eliminated,” Vansilli said. “But, if you’re going to have to play groups, if you lose twice you’re still out. The pressure is about the same, and now The Guard doesn’t have to play against top competition as early on. From a performance coach’s perspective, you don’t have to go through that gauntlet.”

Keeping confidence high

Despite their hesitation, neT and valyn said they are still confident in their ability to perform. Even if it’s the first LAN for many on the team, neT said The Guard can beat any team internationally, just like they did in NA.

“There’s no crowd, so I don’t think nerves will be a really bad thing,” neT said. “Anyone who we will face, we feel confident that we can beat.”

For valyn, beating up on North American teams simply isn’t enough. He’s chomping at the bit for an opportunity to prove himself against the best in the whole world.

“I want to face some of the best teams from 2021 that are coming back to international play,” valyn said. “But, even past that, I want to face everyone. Watching opponents play on stream and playing against them are two different things, and I can’t wait to play against them.”

With results from Stage 1 Masters coming in, The Guard will face OpTic Gaming in a best-of-NA rematch in the quarterfinals. One will send the other to the lower bracket, but one will continue on their path to greatness.

Image of Michael Czar
Michael Czar
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.