XSET go from consistent regional team to top seed at Stage 2 Masters
XSET Stage 2 Masters
Provided by XSET.

XSET go from consistent regional team to top seed at Stage 2 Masters

After more than a year of great regional performances, they've made it to Copenhagen

Back in the VALORANT Champions Tour 2022 Stage 1 Challengers tournament, North America’s XSET made it to the knockout stage, continuing their great form within the region. They faced OpTic Gaming first, losing to them in a close 2-1 series, sending them to the lower bracket. Losing in another close 2-1 series to Cloud9, they finished fourth place yet again. XSET would have to wait until Stage 2 Challengers for another shot at making it to Stage 2 Masters.

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Then, three months later, XSET topped their group in Stage 2 Challengers. Off the back of great teamwork and adversity through another loss to OpTic Gaming, XSET beat them in a rematch and qualified to Stage 2 Masters Copenhagen, getting the first seed. The team that had always just missed out was now at the top of NA, beating the Stage 1 Masters champions along the way.

“Knowing that we beat the team that beat us to get to Iceland was a big step,” said XSET coach Don “SyykoNT” Muir. “But, as much as qualifiers and playoffs were a ride, the time before that preparing for Stage 2 paid off. We practiced and took every game at a time, it helped a lot and we got it done.”

Another new NA team gets the first seed

This wasn’t the only time that an NA team made a surprise run to top their region; last stage, The Guard managed to steal the #1 seed from OpTic Gaming, making it to their first international LAN. However, in that LAN, The Guard sputtered out and couldn’t win a game in the knockouts. This time around, a more tenured team in XSET are confident that their bye to the knockouts won’t be a similar issue to what The Guard faced.

“It is something we think about a lot, but we’re going to do our best and put the trust in our coaching staff and analysts to get it right,” said XSET player Jordan “AYRIN” He. “Whether you’re in groups or playoffs, two losses still get you out. There’s nothing special that we’re going to change, everything that we’ve prepped for until now will help us for the future.”

Since North American VALORANT is so varied, with a huge swath of play styles, top teams like OpTic Gaming and XSET need to be able to adapt to a variety of strategies to win. When asked about how they intend to approach play styles they’ve never seen before internationally, XSET hardly seemed fazed.

“Certain regions have certain playstyles, so the teams within fit against playing against their region’s playstyles,” SyykoNT said. “Your average NA team might play slower and not be ready for something that another region plays. But, we feel that we can fight against those playstyles. For regions that play very aggressively, we had to deal with that against FaZe. Same with defensive playstyles and OpTic. Being able to adapt to those teams has gotten us to this point and hopefully will lead to success in Copenhagen.”

An early rematch

As much as international competition matters, there is some familiarity between XSET and their first opponent in Stage 2 Masters Copenhagen, to put it lightly. From the way the group stages panned out, OpTic Gaming are their first matchup in the knockouts. Considering that it took them two tries regionally to beat them, they’ll have their first shot in Stage 2 Masters. While OpTic were affected by a small COVID-19 outbreak during their regional tournament in their finals loss, their rematch will show how XSET have earned this chance.

“I think [OpTic’s COVID outbreak] definitely made the path to number 1 NA seed easier, but they still earned that spot with a great level up across the board,” said VALORANT caster and analyst Brennon “Bren” Hook. “I think Brendan ‘BcJ’ Jensen has been playing some of his best VALORANT in the playoffs. It’s definitely been a decisive factor for them doing so well. If they can keep their online playoff form and carry it into Copenhagen, a lot of people sleeping on this team are going to be rudely awakened.”

The road to a championship for XSET is daunting, especially for a team with no international LAN experience; not only do they face defending champs OpTic first, but other opponents such as Fnatic, DRX and FunPlus Phoenix all have their own incentive to win it all.

XSET’s first LAN aims to be a good one

However, this tournament already has shown that unexpected wins can lead to big changes. One example is the Stage 1 Masters second place team LOUD getting eliminated in the group stages. Even though this is XSET’s first international LAN, they believe they’ve prepared enough to win it all.

“We’ve made sure in the offseason to give them smaller LAN practices to get players out of their comfort zone and playing in a LAN environment,” SyykoNT said. “Plus, both Rory “dephh” Jackson and AYRIN have extensive LAN experience from their previous esports careers. Getting to Copenhagen earlier as the group teams did would help us settle in. But, with this situation, we get more time to watch teams’ gameplay in groups and keep our cards closer to our chest.”

XSET don’t believe in curses, as they have broken one and aim to break another at Stage 2 Masters Copenhagen. The curse that they could finish top four but never get higher is now a thing of the past. Now, the team has to break another. This one is a newer curse, the one of getting a bye from NA and settling into tough competition quickly. In the end, no matter what happens in this tournament, XSET have already broken a barrier of their own; now it’s time to see how high the ceiling really is.

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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.