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Almost one year ago to the day, in late November 2020, Riot Games announced the VALORANT Champions Tour. In spite of the game being in its infancy, Thanamethk “Crws” Mahatthananuyut met with the CEO of X10 Esports — a Thai organization that has since merged with Brunei-based CRIT Esports to become X10 Crit — to discuss expectations.

Crws and his CEO were of the same mind. There was one and only one goal: Make Champions.

“One year later,” Crws said, “we’re here.”

After only a year of competitive VALORANT, X10 have already made their mark on the scene. They won Southeast Asia Stage 1 Masters. They attended Stage 2 Masters Reykjavík, the game’s first ever international offline event. And now, X10 are preparing for Champions, with Patiphan “Patiphan” Chaiwong ready to take the VALORANT world by storm again. A former professional Overwatch player, Patiphan’s aggressive playstyle and out-of-game antics at Reykjavík drew the attention of fans from around the world.

X10 became one of the first teams to lock in their slot at Champions based on the amount of circuit points they accrued in VALORANT Champions Tour events throughout the year. Since Patiphan returned to the roster in September after recovering from a wrist injury, they’ve been scrimming and scrimming and, oh yeah, scrimming. In their only official matches since confirming Champions, X10 decided to hide their playbook.

“I’ve been playing smokes because we didn’t use any of our strats we are going to use in Champions,” Crws, who typically plays Initiator agents like Skye and Breach, said. “So I just played whatever I wanted.”

Crws joked about the situation, but his team’s spot is a coveted position, to be able to hide their playstyle from competitors for so long. No such benefit is afforded to others like X10’s fellow Thai team, FULL SENSE. They were forced to put everything they had into the Asia-Pacific Last Chance Qualifier, where they beat out well-known teams like Paper Rex, NUTURN Gaming and F4Q to book their trip to Berlin.

Crws valorant
Crws at Stage 2 Masters Reykjavík. | Provided by Riot Games

Between X10 and FULL SENSE, a total of 10 Thai players will be at Champions.

“I’m really happy for both teams being able to attend and represent Thailand,” Crws said. “After FULL SENSE won LCQ, I think our fanbase for Thailand itself has increased a lot. For Thailand it was a big leap. We had 10K [viewers] for just an in-house tournament of Thai teams.”

But it’s not FULL SENSE that X10 have their eyes on. It’s Team Envy, X10’s first opponent of Champions 2021.

Envy and Acend await in Group A

X10 drew Group A with Envy, Keyd Stars and Acend.

“My initial reaction is … it’s pretty doable,” Crws said of his team’s chance to make it through to playoffs. “It’s a pretty tough group, but it’s Champions; there’s not an easy team in this tournament.”

Like at Masters 2 in Reykjavík, Crws feels the key to his team performing at their highest level is confidence. The high-profile nature of the North American and the European VALORANT regions means that the faces of the players on Acend and Envy have been plastered across YouTube and Twitch. These are teams on the tip of people’s tongues when they discuss Tier 1 VALORANT, and that can have an impact on their opponents.

“I don’t see how they play where it’s like a ‘wow’ to us,” Crws said. “It’s normal. When some of the teams from smaller regions play against them, it feels like they’re not putting out what they usually do. They’re scared of the names they’re playing against. It’s something mental.”

Say one thing for Crws, Patiphan & Co.: They’ve never looked scared. As the most trite saying in sports goes, they play their own game. Their in-game leader, Itthirit “foxz” Ngamsaard, calls a slow, methodical style. They take their time, clear their corners and then execute. Even against Envy, who finished second at Stage 3 Masters Berlin, Crws feels X10 have a shot.

“If we’re able to put our confidence up there and show that we’re here to play, I think we can actually beat them,” Crws said. “They’re not as hard as what everyone thinks.”

An Overwatch star leads the way

Of course, X10 also have their Champions wildcard: Their star Duelist, Patiphan. In spite of their measured playstyle, foxz lets the former Overwatch pro do his own thing from time to time. If it works, more power to him. If it fails repeatedly, it’s back to a more systematic approach.

But Patiphan isn’t the only star player in Group A. The four teams each boast some of the most lauded Duelists in all of competitive VALORANT. Alongside Patiphan, there’s Envy’s Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker, Keyd Stars’ Olavo “heat” Marcelo and Acend’s Mehmet Yağız “cNed” İpek. The story of the group will be the head-to-heads between these four players, who each boast wildly different playstyles.

Patiphan at Stage 2 Masters Reykjavík. | Provided by Riot Games.

Patiphan and heat are the explosive Duelists we’ve come to know and love. They both play a volatile Jett and make excellent use of movement abilities on their agents. Then there’s cNed, who Crws views as the best overall Operator-user in all of professional VALORANT. Even still, he feels that it’s yay who will present the biggest challenge to X10.

“I’d keep yay on top of the four of them,” Crws said. “It’s scarier to play against yay because we actually don’t know how he’s going to play.”

X10 aim higher for Champions

Crws has achieved the goal he and X10’s CEO set out at the outset of the year. They’ve made Champions. But there’s work still to be done.

“Our goal is to actually get into the finals,” Crws said. “We really need to prove that we deserve to be here, no matter what everyone did in the past, or who won the Masters, or who thinks they’re going to win. We just need to prove that we can beat a lot of teams here.”

To reach the finals, X10 will face the stiffest competition the game has to offer. In particular, Crws has his eyes on Sentinels, Vision Strikers, and Gambit Esports — who won Stage 3 Masters Berlin — as the three strongest teams at the event. Of the three, it’s Gambit that Crws wants to face up against the most.

“I’ve been watching them even before they got into Berlin,” he said. “How they play is just so iconic. Their strats are just so easy to read, but not easy to read. You know they’re going to hold their default to 15 seconds, so why can’t anyone stop it?”

The competition at the event will be undoubtedly fierce, but to Crws, Champions is an opportunity. A chance to prove that X10 can compete with the best of them.

“All I can say is I’m really proud,” Crws said. “Of myself. Of my team. As a Thai player as well, I’m really proud I’m going to represent our country. It may not be as big as the Olympics or whatever, but this will show that people from our country can actually compete at the highest level.”