Sentinels are headed to IceLAN. The winners of North America’s Stage 1 Masters cemented themselves as the best team in NA once again this weekend. After beating C9 Blue on Saturday at Challengers Finals, Sentinels will get the chance to claim the crown of best in the world.
“No offense to any other teams but we’ve been arguably the best team in NA since beta,” said Michael “dapr” Gulino a few minutes after locking up the spot in IceLAN. “We’ve been fighting for the top spot for nearly a year at this point, I feel like us representing NA gives us the best shot internationally.”
At this point, it’s impossible to argue that point. There’s nothing guaranteed in VALORANT esports. Even winning the Stage 1 Masters didn’t give Sentinels an automatic bid. Sentinels’ Masters finals opponents, FaZe Clan, failed to qualify for Challengers Finals. In an esport that has been marked with inconsistency, Sentinels have remained on the top of the esport for months, even when going through roster turnover as Jay “Sinatraa” Won was replaced on loan by Tyson “TenZ” Ngo in March.
“It was a random thing that happened, being thrown into the Sentinels roster on loan,” TenZ said after beating his former C9 team. “I’ve been loaned out for a while now, but so far we’ve won two tournaments, we’re in the grand finals for this tournament plus we just qualified for Iceland. It’s crazy.”
Formerly a core part of C9’s VALORANT roster, TenZ retired in January to pursue content creation. That only lasted a few short months before Sentinels came calling. In a twist of fate, C9 and Sentinels keep meeting up at crucial spots. First it was the grand finals of Challengers 2 with a sizable payday on the line, now it was in a heated upper bracket matchup with a bid in the first international VALORANT LAN as the prize.
“We beat them in Challengers 2, so we had confidence we could beat them again in this matchup,” TenZ said. “They played quite well, especially on Split, their comp was pretty insane, I couldn’t do anything on that map.”
Split, the second map of the matchup, was a 13-1 drubbing in favor of C9. It was the most dominant performance any team has had on one map against Sentinels in VALORANT’s history. Despite that blowout, Sentinels rebounded on Map 3.
“The guys on Sentinels, they’ve been in these situations a lot, they’ve been to a lot of finals,” TenZ said. “There are some new players like [C9’s] Michael “poiz” Possis who are completely new to the competitive scene so they might feel a little bit pressured. With my team, it's been there, done that, we’re going into Map 3 with a fresh mindset.”
On Sunday, Sentinels will play one of C9 Blue, Envy or Version1 in the grand finals, but their ticket to Iceland is locked in.
“At the moment, I’m celebrating the win,” dapr said. “When we get to Iceland that pressure will probably start mounting, but right now I don’t feel any pressure at all. But when the time comes, it's all about preparing. I truly believe we can be the best team in the world -- if we’re not right now -- so we just have to go out and prove that.”
Although Stage 1 Masters was the biggest stage in VALORANT up until that point, there’s no question that the sequel represents another level. It’s the first time all regions will get together, the first chapter in the universal esports debate of regional supremacy. While plenty of people will happily offer opinions as to which region is the most talented, no one will actually know until the games in Iceland take place.
“Seeing how all these regions stack up against each other, it’s going to be super exciting to play,” dapr continued. “For me, I love to play against the structure that other teams bring. Certain teams in NA like to play structured, and historically we do well against those teams. I feel like a lot of teams in Europe and Korea play really structured, so I’m excited to see if we can keep up our history against that playstyle.”
Those different playstyles that developed over the last year of regionalized events will be a fascinating and unique storyline to watch in Iceland. Each region brings in its own individual storylines as teams get together for the first time. Following Iceland, those localized storylines will give way to the new story of global VALORANT esports for the first time.
“We’re all so excited to compete in the first international VALORANT event,” said TenZ. “We’re coming into that event with a lot of confidence because Sentinels has been, by far, the most dominant team in NA for the longest time. Oh, and I’m excited to play with 5 ping instead of 60 for the first time.”
The necessary ping of online events was on clear display during the C9 match. With the score 6-9 in Sentinels’ favor on the third map, C9’s Mitch “Mitch” Semago was defusing a spike. He missed it by just .02 seconds. That defuse, which would have made the score 7-9, was a crucial swing in the final map. If it was on LAN, a lower ping might have made a huge difference.
From how the LAN connection affects playstyles to regional rivalries going global, there will be no shortage of things to watch in Iceland. As Sentinels wait to learn what other NA team will be joining them on the plane ride, the team can rest easy knowing NA’s best will be representing the region.
Lead image credit: Arctic Invitational