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With Sentinels as the North American favorites going into VALORANT Champions Tour Stage 2 Masters: Reykjavik, all eyes are, of course, on stand-in superstar and fan-favorite Tyson “TenZ” Ngo. But while his performances have turned Sentinels from a top-tier team into one of the favorites for this event, credit also has to go to the brains of the roster: Shahzeb “ShahZaM” Khan.
ShahZaM is Sentinels’ in-game leader, analyst, Jett and Sova player, and Operator player. Despite some struggles in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and, more recently, real life, ShahZaM is prepared to move past them and hopefully peak at Masters.
ShahZaM, Sentinels’ jack of all trades
ShahZaM has taken on many roles since moving to VALORANT. Having worked with many notable IGLs in CS:GO, becoming the IGL for Sentinels was, in his own words, “the natural progression of my career.”
Unlike most of the other top teams going into Iceland, Sentinels don’t have a coach. Those responsibilities fall instead on ShahZaM. The 27-year-old has spent a lot of late nights and early mornings studying his opponents, learning their habits and coming up with counters.
“I remember we played T1 on Haven, and every time Skadoodle had an Op, he would peek Sewer,” ShahZaM said on an episode of Backchat. “That’s a tendency. If he’s gonna do it every time, then I make him not wanna do it. So the first round he could afford an Op, I had zombs Omen pre-flash him while I dashed across A lobby and killed him while he’s blind. For the rest of the half, Skadoodle was afraid to peek Sewer. I put him out of his comfort zone.”
It speaks to ShahZaM’s analytical skills to spot these tendencies and capitalize on them in the moment. When Sentinels make a play or rotation that seems to be ahead of their opponents, there’s a good chance ShahZaM was behind that call.
In his CS:GO days, ShahZaM played for several notable organizations such as Complexity, Cloud9, Misfits and OpTic, but he never quite managed to make his mark on the scene. VALORANT changed everything.
However, just as ShahZaM found himself becoming the crux of a top roster, he received crushing news. On Nov. 29, five days before Sentinels would take part in their first match of the First Strike event, ShahZaM found out his father had died.
Yesterday my Dad passed away. He was by the far the most selfless man I’ve ever known, and the greatest Dad I could have ever asked for. There are no words for the pain I’m feeling, I miss you so much.
— Shahzeb Khan (@ShahZaMk) November 30, 2020
ShahZam played anyway. His dad, he said in an interview with the VALORANT Champions Tour, would have wanted him to compete. And despite Sentinels falling short in the semifinal, the in-game leader played his heart out, falling only after an overtime loss to 100 Thieves in Game 1 and a close Game 3 on his team’s weakest map.
Since that moment, Sentinels continued to thrive under ShahZaM’s leadership. In the following 52 series, Sentinels have suffered just nine losses. He is considered as one the best IGLs in the scene, and his ability to adopt counter-strats on the fly will make him a crucial part of his team’s ability to adjust on LAN. If anyone can lead North America to its first-ever international VALORANT glory, ShahZaM is the man to do it.
Michael Kloos is a Dutch esports journalist and enthusiast with a particular like of Rocket League and VALORANT. He is also an avid fantasy/sci-fi reader and writer. He spends most of his time trying not to be in the real world.