Opinion: What we’ve learned from the initial qualifier of North America’s First Strike | VALORANT NEWS

The First Strike North America – NSG Tournament – Open Qualifier is now finished. For many larger organizations, it’s been the first time in months we’ve seen their teams play. The meta has changed, new teams are in the mix, and a $100,000 prize pool is on the line. We learned a lot this week – let’s break it all down.

Moon Raccoons are here to stay

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the success of Moon Raccoons in the Renegades x NSG VALORANT Invitational was a fluke.

After all, just days after the event they lost one of their best players, Shawn “Shawn” O’Riley, to Gen.G Esports. Surely their success was fleeting.

But Moon Raccoons have continued to prove all the doubters wrong. It began with the weekend’s Nerd Street Gamers – Monthly October, where they beat the likes of beastcoast and Mamba Mode Gaming to reach the finals. They then followed it up with a great open qualifier run, coming one overtime away from reaching the First Strike North America – NSG Tournament – Closed Qualifier and knocking out 100 Thieves.

The likes of Aleksandar “ALEKSANDAR” Hinojosa and Zander “fiend” Bates are here to stay, and each has proven to be a duelist capable of hanging with the best. They don’t look quite as good as they did with Shawn, certainly, but Magno  “Pr0phie” Ramos has been an adequate replacement. At this point, it’s clear. Moon Raccoons have established themselves as one of the best unsigned teams in North America, and deserve to find an organization.

What on earth happened in Wedid’s trials?

The story of Matthew “Wedid” Suchan has got to be one of the weirdest in VALORANT right now.

He was picked up by Mamba Mode out of basically nowhere, and grew over many events with the team. It all culminated in the PULSE Series, where Wedid’s flexibility and map control put him in the spotlight as Mamba Mode took home first place.

Shortly after, Mamba Mode let Wedid go, and it seemed certain he would be headed to a large, rebuilding organization, such as Complexity or Dignitas.

But that never happened. Instead, we got rumours of trial after trial, but nothing working out. NRG Esports, the aforementioned Dignitas, but nothing ever came of it.

Then, Wedid joined Pretty Boyz, a roster which had routinely placed behind Mamba Mode during Wedid’s time with them. A roster that had tried, and failed, to find success against much weaker competition than the best in North America were giving.

And suddenly, Pretty Boyz, now XSET, are one of the hottest squads in North America. They won the NSG October Monthly against Moon Raccoons, and beat Immortals en route to qualifying for the NSG Tournament.

What actually went on during this man’s trials? He’s taken multiple rosters against the best in North America from nowhere, and lifted mediocre teams to success. XSET are a darkhorse to qualify for First Strike outright, and have a very good shot at achieving top 8 to at least secure themselves safety from the next open qualifier.

We’ll probably never know what happened, or why big teams rejected him. But it is quite clearly their loss.

Reyna’s rise

At the Pop Flash VALORANT Invitational, Reyna had a pick rate of 14.1%. At the Nerd Street Gamers – Monthly September, she had 30.9%. At the Renegades Invitational, she had 50%, and during the NSG Open Qualifier, 41.3%.

The advent of Reyna has been one of the most interesting meta storylines in recent months. For quite some time, she was hardly picked at all. Then, teams who had tremendous fraggers and could make the best use of her kit began picking her up: Cloud9 Blue with Tyson “TenZ” Ngo and Spacestation Gaming with Daniel “roca” Gustaferri are the best examples of this. And now, nearly every top-level team picks her as a duelist. She’s present on all maps, though she does find more playtime on Ascent and Haven than Split and Bind. And she’s helped teams like Gen.G climb to the top.

Spacestation’s IGL Adam “kaplan” Kaplan put out a fantastic pro meta tier list video recently, dissecting what makes each agent good and where they fit.

In regards to Reyna, he discussed that she and Jett are very similar: they each have the ability to disengage from fights, allowing them to take riskier positions on the map. Reyna has a lot more value on pistol rounds than Jett does, though Jett’s smokes against Reyna’s flashes somewhat make up for that. But ultimately, the great thing is that you can play both. Many teams, such as Moon Raccoons, Gen.G, and 100 Thieves, among others, have run this exact pair of duelists throughout much of the event. It’s interesting to see Reyna come to prevalence, and it is quite obvious that some teams have adapted well and some have not.

Sentinels fail to adapt to the meta

Speaking of failing to adapt to the meta, we have Sentinels. Two-time Ignition Series champions, the Sentinels were knocked off their perch this week in quite dominant fashion by Gen.G. And it was very clear that one pick was absolutely tearing them apart: Shawn’s Reyna.

On Ascent, the map where he played her, Shawn posted 320 ACS and 2.2 KD. Repeatedly ducking in and out of fights, he scored multiple 3ks, 4ks, and clutches, while Sentinels seemingly didn’t know what to do.

This is the team that used to SET the meta. Their success came from being ahead of the curve, developing strategies like the Odin on Ascent or Hunter “SicK” Mims’s ultra-aggressive Sage play – unique to North America at the very least.. But it seems that, for the first time, Sentinels have truly fallen behind. They’ll have plenty of adjustments to make heading into the closed qualifier.

T1’s atrocious Split map

In T1’s quarterfinal match against Envy, the series was tied 1-1. Ascent had gone in T1’s favour and it looked as if Bind would, too, but Envy made the comeback happen. We moved on to the third map, Split. And T1’s display was one of the worst VALORANT showings I have ever seen.

Take a look at this clip – this was T1’s default that they played for all but one or two rounds of their attack. Ha “Spyder” Jung-woo lurks outside B Garage, waiting for something to happen. Braxton “Brax” Pierce does similarly on A. The remaining 3 members push up mid, gaining small amounts of ground, until the vast majority of the round has gone by. Unfortunately, the clip does not last for the full round, but this round ends with T1 taking A Heaven and making the absolutely ridiculous choice to rotate the spike from outside B to A with 25 seconds left and all 5 enemies remaining. Needless to say, T1 was easily cleaned up by Envy.

The worst part, though, was that this wasn’t a one-off: T1 did this practically their entire attacking side. Brax and Spyder lurked outside their sites, making nothing happen, while the remaining players pushed mid until they made a decision to attack a site with 30 seconds left. Now, I think this setup has its uses – against an overly aggressive opponent, for example. But Envy simply sat back and let T1 come at them, and cleaned them up when they had to rush due to the clock.

This absolutely cannot stay like this. It is inexcusable for a team with a coach and 4 tactical shooter veterans to play a map this uninspired and this statically. VALORANT is a more fluid and different game than Counter-Strike, and T1 is going to have to figure that out quickly if they want to avoid more embarrassment in the closed qualifier.

DON’T PATCH IN THE MIDDLE OF A MAJOR EVENT

It disappoints me to have to write about this, as I had hoped with Riot’s relatively good track record of dealing with this sort of thing in League of Legends, this wouldn’t come up. But during the event, Riot attempted to release a major game-changing patch.

The patch was to bring about major economy changes disincentivizing saving after a round, the new left-handed view model, and Killjoy changes rendering her kit mostly useless if not in a certain radius of her gadgets. On top of these meta-shifting changes, the patch ended up being riddled with bugs.

I don’t believe I need to explain why majorly changing the meta in the middle of the biggest VALORANT event yet is bad. But far worse is that Riot has done a reasonable job of this in League of Legends. Professional LoL games run on a “tournament” server, which is usually kept about a patch behind what is live to everyone else, though this sometimes changes, for example during playoffs or the World Championship, when the tournament server is kept to a single patch for the duration of the event. I’m not sure why a solution like this hasn’t been implemented in VALORANT; perhaps there’s technical issues the wider public is unaware of. But that solution would entirely stop this sort of thing from happening, and I believe it needs to be made a priority for Riot alongside spectator UI updates if they want to continue their strong support of the VALORANT esports scene.

Ultimately, Riot did revert the patch. But this sort of scenario should not be happening in the first place. Even after the revert, issues persisted due to the patch, such as 100 Thieves’ issue with being stuck on the left-handed view model because the option was no longer in the game.

The patch caused a major issue due to a bug, and would have completely altered the meta in one of the biggest VALORANT events yet. It’s safe to say this should have never happened, and I seriously hope I won’t have to cover this issue in the future.

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