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Stepping into the arena for the final series of the year, neither Acend nor Gambit Esports knew that they were going to play a best-of-five series that would lock every VALORANT fan to their screens. With comeback losses and overtime wins, the gap between eternal glory and a silver medal grew bigger as the series further progressed.
With one last win in split, the master of Jett and the rest of the team got up in screams and cheers, went to the center of that stage and lifted the first ever VALORANT Champions trophy.
“He’s still very young and VALORANT is still such a young game, so it’s nice to see him grow as a player and into his role in our team as well,” Acend team manager Mark “Krimson” Senior said. “We’ve come a long way together as a roster this year, and I’m very proud of cNed’s progress and performance.”
There are many great stories to be told in esports. Some of them are very shocking, wholesome or horrifying. Achieving such a monumental success at the age of 19, Mehmet Yağız “cNed” İpek closed this chapter in his story as a different player than he was at the start, through his hard work and ambition.
Moving to the European scene and Don’t Even Ask
Many VALORANT fans know cNed from his success with Acend at VCT 2021, but that’s not where his story starts, nor where it ends. Though it’s not the first team he played on, BBL Esports is where cNed first made his mark on VALORANT history. After qualifying to Allied Esports Odyssey, his first B-Tier tournament, BBL failed to advance into playoffs. CNed left the team and started his European journey with nolpenki, a European team that was just five players and Laurynas “Nbs” Kisielius, their coach.
Nolpenki was an interesting team – one without an organization. Despite that, they achieved remarkable success with their ever changing roster. CNed was part of the last iteration of the team and, regardless of the small victories they achieved, they lost to FunPlus Phoenix in their first big tournament, First Strike Europe, and disbanded shortly after. After that, cNed was a stand-in for Futbolist for a while. He even won Elite International and Arko Men Valorant Tournament. Around the end of January, something happened that would change the course of this esport forever: cNed joined the newly-formed European team Don’t Even Ask and reunited with his old coach.
Little more than a year ago, a team called Don’t Even Ask won their first match in a dominant fashion, 13-1 and 13-8. Back then, it was just an LVP Rising Series match against another unknown team, Tale Quale, that ended swiftly. Now, they are the No. 1 team in the world, the first ever Champions winners, Acend.
“I would call the whole 2021 journey for cNed as one word: progress,” Nbs said. “CNed and everyone else in the team made insane progress individually and all together as a team, and I’m very proud of everyone for this.”
The successful roster stood by each other and rose to heights they couldn’t dream of individually, with cNed at the heart of it all. But, as that new team in LVP, they lost 2-0 against CrowCrowd. Thus, their run as Don’t Even Ask ended and Raise Your Edge Gaming was born from the ashes.
The first rebranding and Acend’s rise to the top
One part of the identity of an esports organization is their legacy. The collection of moments that impact our lives and many others, that make us cherish or denounce them. Those legacies take a very long time to be built, and even longer to be fixed in disastrous scenarios. But Raise Your Edge, in spite of their six-week tenure, made their mark in the one tournament they attended before rebranding again, Europe Stage 1 Challengers 3.
CNed’s efforts and skill did not go unnoticed in this tournament, and he was named the MVP. Having snatched the Masters ticket from this tournament, this roster was suddenly under the biggest spotlight of their VALORANT careers. They were ready to fight their way as high as they could hope under a new name, Acend.
There is no such thing as perfection in esports. Teams lose matches and tournaments, players have bad days, organizations mess up. But looking at Acend, their VCT run in 2021 comes close. That started with Stage 1 Masters. Only losing their initial series against Ninjas in Pyjamas, Acend added the first big trophy to their case after their 3-2 win in the finals against Team Heretics. This tournament only intensified the spotlights on Acend and cNed, who was the tournament MVP again with 295 kills on Jett. By then, they were in the running to be one of the best teams in Europe … and the world.
“It has been a pleasant experience throughout the year, cNed is a very humble and nice person,” Nbs said. “Everyone has their flaws, but he has been working and fixing them just like everyone else in the team. He is also hungry to beat the best and to be the best and it shows.”
After a successful Stage 1 that ended with a Masters victory, Acend’s performance in Stage 2 was below expectations. They missed both of their chances of attending the Stage 2 Masters in Reykjavík and the $600,000 prize pool it came with. But that was not the end of their story; there was another stage before the end of the year – and this time they were more than ready to earn their spot in Berlin to compete in the second international LAN event of the year.
Berlin and Champions – The best Jett in the world
During his 2021 run, CNed was continuing to solidify the name he made for himself as the best Jett player and Operator user in the world.
“There’s no doubt he’s a master of Jett and, in my opinion, the best Operator player in the world right now,” Krimson said.
Throughout his career on Acend (including DEA and RYE), cNed has played as Jett 113 times out of the 144 matches he played. The MVP-level performance he’s shown in the tournaments before is just what made them one of the favorites for their first offline international tournament, Masters 3.
Coming into this big tournament, people could see how much the Acend squad had grown since the old days of Don’t Even Ask and Raise Your Edge.
“At the start of 2021, it was a bit rough but very exciting at the same time. New team, new environment, everyone had to adapt, including cNed,” Nbs said. “Throughout the year, people got more comfortable and then our results became better and better as well.”
It’s not the lights or the sounds that make an esports event great, even though they are the most noticeable features. It’s the players and the plays, the spirit of the teams and the fans.
With the addition of Aleksander “zeek” Zygmunt to the roster and the hype of being on the ground for an international tournament for the first time, Acend stepped into the ring ready to fight. They made it to the quarterfinals, only to be knocked out by 100 Thieves. A disappointing blow to the second-best team of Europe, this unfortunate situation only intensified their hunger for the big prize – the first ever VALORANT Champions trophy.
Acend and Fnatic qualified to participate in Champions with the VCT Circuit points they accumulated over the year, whereas Team Liquid joined them through the Last Chance Qualifier. Finishing 2-0 in their group, Acend went on to beat Team Secret in the quarterfinals and Team Liquid in the semifinals, both in dominant 2-0 series. It all came down to the first and second best teams of Europe – Acend versus Gambit. Both teams put on a show, pushing the series to a full five maps.
A comeback win in Breeze for Gambit, a close win in Ascent for Acend, a dominant win in Fracture for the team in red and an overtime win in Icebox for the team in purple. The script couldn’t have been written with more excitement and thrills. It was like witnessing the greatness of VALORANT in one series. After one more 13-8 win on split, Acend put the final touch on their masterpiece of 2021. All that was left for cNed, and the rest of the team, was to lift the trophy up.
Expectations and troubles of the new year
“It’s crazy looking back over the year really,” Krimson said. “We spent a lot of time building the team that we felt could have really great chemistry and a good work ethic. But, back then, I think none of us expected to be winning the World Championship.”
Throughout all their successes, cohesion and growth as a team in last year, Acend had their fair share of struggles as well, both during their run and the offseason. According to Nbs, “There are struggles behind the scenes for every team and we are no exception. It is all about being able to acknowledge and address those issues.”
CNed was the name people talked about most on Acend during the offseason, both for the questions regarding his involvement in the Twitch Bit issues and his free agency, as he was rumored to be in talks with 100 Thieves and other organizations. But, as Nbs said, they addressed these issues and cNed re-signed with Acend for 2022.
This is not the full story of cNed. It’s maybe the first chapter of it; he’s a very young player that keeps climbing despite being on the summit, In the midst of people trying to claim his spot as either the best Jett in the world or the best Operator player in the world, Expectations are higher for him than ever before.
“I expect cNed to keep his motivation and hunger and never stop trying to be the best,” Nbs said. “I hope us, as a team, can keep showing good progress and bring good results to our fans, friends and organization. And for myself, I just want to see my team succeed, nothing else.”
Acend are one day away from returning to the stage to compete in EMEA Challengers. The bar they have set for themselves is high, but cNed and the rest of the roster have shown us that they have more than enough potential to reach and grab their second Champions title.