The favorite and the underdog. NA’s representatives for the first international VALORANT LAN came from two entirely different paths. Sentinels have been consistently on top of NA since last year, and Version1 signed a VALORANT team just three months ago.
Version1, a relatively new esports organization that backs the Minnesota ROKKR in the Call of Duty League and a strong Rocket League team, didn’t come into Challengers Finals with the legacy of Cloud9 or the consistency of Envy or the star power and rabid fan base of 100 Thieves, but they leave with something none of those orgs’ VALORANT teams can boast: a trip to Iceland.
“Honestly, it hasn’t completely hit me yet,” said Anthony “vanity” Malaspina, Version1’s in-game leader (IGL) minutes after closing out Map 3 against C9 Blue. “It probably won’t hit me until later, if we’re being completely honest, I’m probably not going to sleep tonight. I’m really proud of what our teammates have been able to accomplish in our short time competing together.”
And the time has been short. The team, formerly an amateur squad known as NeverDone, was picked up in February. It was the official transition to VALORANT for some of the players. The team didn’t qualify for Stage 1 Masters. In April, they had to beat FaZe Clan, a top-five team by anyone’s mark at the time, to qualify for the tournament that allowed them to qualify for this tournament that allowed them to qualify for Iceland. It’s been a journey.
Over the past month, Version1 have beat NRG, Andbox, FaZe, Envy and now C9 Blue twice. At first, these matches were being called upsets, now it looks like V1 might just be that good.
“Yeah, people have been doubting or skeptical about the wins we are pulling out and that makes them upsets for sure,” Jordan “Zellsis” Montemurro said. “We’ve pulled out a lot of dubs and I think we are right there, but I don’t blame people if they don’t think we are consistently a contender. I say we are here to stay, but we just went through a roster transition [adding Maxim “Wippie” Shepelev for Keven “PLAYER1” Champagne] we’ve only had two weeks of practice [with Wippie] and we could use some more practice. But it feels nice to get these wins to see people start believing in us.”
The last thing any NA VALORANT team wants to hear is that V1 have another level they think they can reach. Even with quite a few wins, when Envy beat 100 Thieves to set up the V1 matchup, Envy player Austin “crashies” Roberts had some strong predictions for the match. V1 were listening.
“That article man, he lost after he said that, it was over,” vanity said through laughs. “I’m not losing to someone who says that. Honestly, it was complete shade. [Envy] chokes in every tournament. Every big tournament these guys have failed to show up. I knew it was going to happen again and it did happen again.”
While the banter was flying, it was all just banter.
“I have nothing but respect for those guys,” vanity continued. “But, if you’re going to talk s---, you better show up that day. I think we proved we are better than them, at least for now.”
Crashies wasn’t so sure after his match.
“We made some mistakes, and honestly they were not the better team throughout the whole series,” crashies said. “We played ourselves. We made some dumb mistakes and made them look good. As a team, I feel like we are way better than they are.”
The series went down to the absolute wire with scores of 13-10, 12-14 and 13-10 over the three maps. So there’s no question it could have gone either way but, at the end of the day, a win is a win. If there were still haters following the Envy match, they got awfully quiet when V1 went back to back against top-tier teams in another three-map marathon with Cloud9 Blue, undoubtedly one of the top teams in VALORANT right now.
“Version1 has really well-called attack sides,” said Mitch “Mitch” Semago, C9’s IGL after the match. “They fake a lot. They make us poorly rotate, so we are kinda guessing half the time. So yeah their attack sides are really good, and then their Viper on defense is just really strong, it's hard to play against.”
V1’s final map against C9 came down to Split, a map C9 had just beaten Sentinels on 13-1. Despite that success on the map earlier in the day, V1 handled it easily, taking the map 13-7 with the pressure on. Version1’s match against Sentinels tomorrow won’t be easy by any means, but V1 earned the chance to take a breather after three days of backs-against-the-wall lower bracket VALORANT madness. Iceland awaits, no matter the result against Sentinels.
“It’s honestly a humbling experience,” Zellsis said. “To be one of the two teams going to a LAN with COVID going on, I didn’t even expect there to be a LAN so soon. To switch to VALORANT, to make the first international LAN for NA, being one of the teams, it’s a surreal feeling. Along with Sentinels, we’re playing tomorrow and we are opponents, but I hope as a region we can go to Iceland together and show off NA as a whole, pull out some wins and maybe even get the dub at the end.”
The unique circumstances from COVID have elevated the honor around making Masters: Iceland. It will be the first time any VALORANT team will be able to make the claim of being the best team in the world.
“When I switched games, I had to make teams from the ground up,” Zellsis continued. “Only having a few people who believed in me, it feels good to get this win for those people. For my fans and for the team’s fans, to be here now, it’s unreal. It’s unreal. It’s a stepping stone, but it’s unreal, it feels nice.”
Vanity played for eUnited among other teams when he played CS:GO. Photo credit: DreamHack
“It’s definitely insane to be one of the two teams representing NA in Iceland, especially at the first international LAN,” vanity added. “Having the region behind us, I wouldn’t call it pressure. Although I thrive under pressure, all my teammates perform under pressure, I mean, I think we just showed that as we qualified for Iceland. It’s not something I will take for granted, hopefully we can put up a good showing.”
Version1 are still establishing the org’s name in the minds of many esports fans, but that’s the beauty of international competition -- team and player fandoms become secondary to the region as a whole. Success for NA teams in Iceland is a positive for every single NA-based VALORANT team.
“Everybody supports each other, that’s how it should be,” Zellsis said. “The one thing I really learned in the past year, switching to VALORANT, humbling myself, it’s all love. Life is about love. Supporting each other as humans and lifting each other up. I want everyone to support everyone whether they are a Sentinels fan, an Envy fan, an Andbox fan or a 100 Thieves fan. Everyone supports everyone, that’s how it should be.”
Whether or not people started the day a fan of V1, at this point, it’s hard not to be. When Iceland rolls around, V1 aren’t likely to be considered the underdog anymore. But even if they are, V1 feel more than comfortable proving people wrong.
Lead Image credit: Nerd Street Gamers