As teams begin to take the final turns in their VALORANT Champions Tour journey, it has become evident that some contenders are going to run out of gas several stops before their envisioned destination. In North America, one of the deepest and most-watched VALORANT regions, several teams broke out and impressed during the Stage Three: Challengers One qualifiers earlier in the month.
The qualifiers were littered with upsets and close calls at the expense of teams considered the best, and now numerous rosters have only one shot left of even having a chance of making it to the next Challengers event, let alone the next Masters event in Berlin. There are four spots at Challengers Two that will be determined via open qualifier and more than four capable teams, meaning someone’s VCT run is going to end very early. TSM, FaZe Clan, T1, Luminosity, Andbox, Cloud9 Blue, NRG, Immortals and DarkZero are all teams that have qualified for Challengers events in the past, and they’ll be competing against each other and an entire open qualifier field for just four spots at Challengers Two.
But before these teams fight for their VCT lives in the Challengers Two open qualifiers, we first must look back at Challengers One and its winners and losers.
After consistent appearances in Challengers events across both VCT stages, the XSET VALORANT roster finally got their elusive landmark victory against a consensus top team. In fact, they got two.
There’s only been a small handful of teams to have never lost in a VCT open qualifier throughout the whole year. Even Sentinels aren’t on that shortlist. XSET are a surprising name on that list, but they’ve reached every Challengers event they qualified for, even taking second at Stage Two: Challengers One. But at the final regional event for each stage (Masters One and Stage Two: Challengers Finals), they were smoked, being eliminated first after back-to-back losses. And throughout all of it, they’d always been dominated whenever they met Sentinels.
But that finally changed in the Challengers One upper bracket. Not only did they deliver a stunning victory over Sentinels, but they did so by beating them on Haven, a map Sentinels hadn’t lost in 14 straight tries. Even with their NA Challengers playoffs spot ensured, they beat 100 Thieves as well and again stole their opponent’s pick of Haven. In the grand finals, they stole Haven one more time for Sentinels, and despite losing the rematch series 3-1, were competitive in every map. Their greatest test remains ahead of them at the Challengers playoffs.
During VCT, TSM have fallen off the track numerous times but kept any massive changes to a minimum, with there still being an opportunity to make a late run. One hot streak through just one event can change a team’s outlook at the end of the year. Just look at FaZe Clan. Even though they were absent during the entire Stage Two and are on the cusp of missing out on Stage Three, their hot streak through Stage One: Challengers Three and Masters One has put them in a spot where they will likely make the Last Chance Qualifier for Champions.
The same cannot currently be said for TSM, who have zero VCT points and will be done for the year completely if they fall short in the next open qualifier. For a team considered one of the best in NA at the end of 2020, this inaugural VCT campaign has been arguably the most disappointing for any team based solely off initial expectations. They’ve only reached two Challengers events through open qualifiers, and both of those came later in the stage after several top were already qualified.
Now with just one opportunity left, they’ve made half of a roster move, moving drone to the bench. On stream, Subroza said the team was overloaded at the duelist role, and while that’s a sound reason, TSM are still without a fifth coming up on a week away from the start of the open qualifier. If they fall short again and their VCT run ends early with no points, it wouldn’t be surprising if this team is completely blown up before 2022.
Winners: Kansas City Pioneers
The steady growth of tier-two competitiveness has been a welcome sign at the start of Stage Three. Seeing top teams sweat and struggle and sometimes fail to get past teams with less experience and smaller org representation is a good thing for the scene. Eventually the well of former CS:GO pros will run dry, so seeing new competitors in their first pro game taking it to experienced pros from other titles is great for NA VALORANT’s long-term health.
In late June, the Pioneers signed the FPL-C roster, a team of players left off out other groups in the months beforehand—rejects from Dignitas, Immortals, Team Serenity, Luminosity, and others. There was no tremendous fanfare as a small city-based org signed a VALORANT roster. Their announcement on YouTube has less than 1,000 views, and their Twitter post has less than 1,000 likes. If you ask someone who KCP is, 99 percent of people would tell you it’s the player on the Lakers.
But look at them now: They beat Immortals in the open qualifier and made it to Challengers One, where they beat Version1. They were competitive in three of the four maps they played against two of the best teams in North America, Sentinels and Envy. Now they’re two wins away from the Challengers playoffs, which alone might be enough VCT points to sneak into the Last Chance qualifier.
Losers: FaZe Clan
FaZe are not looking too hot right now, but their one saving grace is that they’re not in as nearly a daunting position as TSM or T1. That being said, their results in Stage Two and Stage Three have been a letdown given what they accomplished in Stage One. Their hot streak from Challengers Three through Masters One saw them Smeag through everyone not named Sentinels, earning them an important 70 VCT points in the process.
Their Stage Two results aren’t too heinous in hindsight, given they lost only to Version1 at the start of their run to Reykjavík, and to an underperforming but still underrated T1 team. Even their Stage Three loss to DarkZero isn’t something to fret over. That roster has made a Challengers event before, and FaZe dominated their map win while DZ narrowly won both of theirs.
If FaZe don’t make Challengers Two in the last open qualifier, it won’t be the end of the world. Their VCT points from Stage One should be enough for the Last Chance Qualifier. But with so much time before then and with teams that have made a Challengers event not allowed to participate in non-VCT events, that’s a lot of time for a roster that needs testing to go untested.