NA is having their best moment right now after defeating both of the EU teams. How did you train to reach the aim and skills that you have now?
ShahZaM: It’s been a constant grind from when we started the team last year. When we built the team, we wanted to have people who were fully committed to the game. People coming from other games have one foot in and one foot out the door. We wanted to build a team with people with two feet in the door and start early on, put the work in, and kind of replicate how NiP dominated CS:GO early. That’s something I really wanted to work on in Valorant.
Up until now, despite winning, we make sure to not get complacent through all the Ignition series, First Strike, Stage 1, and now here. In the practice room, we’re constantly talking about the game, figuring new things out, and reinventing ourselves.
Coming in as the first seed from NA and beating the second seed of EU, what do you think of the difference between the two regions and the hyped-up rivalry?
ShahZaM: The rivalry is always exciting, obviously. Both regions are really good, you know? When we got here during the quarantine, we got to experience scrimming with the European teams and I’d say, honestly, the regions are pretty similar in styles. They might run different comps–with EU using Skye more and stuff–but their approach to the game is pretty similar compared to the other regions. Both are really strong.
I really think that there’s no definite answer to whether NA or EU is better right now. You can’t judge that off of just one or two games. You really have to see that over time with all the teams that are representing. It’s really about who has a [better] protocol set, who shows up on the day as well, good comps, everything. There are too many factors to really decide which region is stronger.
Contrary to most of the other teams who hold the pressure of representing their region proudly in Masters 2, Sentinels have been regarded as the quintessential team to beat. That said, how does the team handle that expectation of generating success?
ShahZaM: There’s definitely pressure there but we’re no strangers to it. In NA, we were the favourites for every tournament we played in this year, I would say, and we still managed to produce results.
Coming into an international tournament, it’s a little bit different, you know? You can’t expect the scale of the teams and the depth of their strategies and stuff, so we don’t let it get to our heads. We focus on playing the games map-by-map, round-by-round and so far it’s worked pretty well. I would definitely say it’s the first tournament in my career where we’re considered the favourites to win [it] and probably one of the most experienced, so it’s an exciting change.
Seeing as you defeated Fnatic and Team Vikings en route to the upper bracket finals, what were the differences in playstyle that you saw between the two? Which posed a greater difficulty against you?
ShahZaM: Our Fnatic games were extremely close. I think that they’re an amazing team. They had a lot of thought behind things they did. I think… They threw many fakes. I feel like we might’ve had some reads on some rounds, but on other rounds, they were really good at causing rotates which you don’t see a lot in NA, to be honest. I can see why they made it this far.
Brazil as well, during the preparation, they were insane in scrims and you could tell individually they have some really talented players and have good ideas behind the things they do. I think if they could implement a bit of a slower playstyle, a bit more like playing for info and denying info, they’re going to be a scary team. I can understand from interviews where they say Brazil is really aggressive and I was watching their old games within their regional finals. It was a lot of duels early and not a lot of info play, so we took advantage of that and our rotations.
Starting off on Icebox, Team Vikings looked to have started at equal footing with Sentinels. What enabled your team to eventually pull away to your favor?
ShahZaM: Oh man, it was very much back and forth. I feel like we knew exactly what they were going to do and it wasn’t very different from the prep I did, but they’re just so talented that they were getting away with some kills. I feel like we made some bad peeks and we have the tendency to start off slow, make some misplays, and take some bad fights that we should be more disciplined about before we tightened up our gameplay. Once again, we reset and said ‘We made it a decent half. Let’s be more disciplined in the second half and stick to the game plan’ and that’s what we did.
Michael “Dapr” Gulino has mentioned he teabags opponents to get into their heads. As a team, are there any other coordinated actions that you do to get into your opponents’ heads?
ShahZaM: I think dapr is the king of that. Teabagging, knifing people, toying them with surf cam and stuff. To me, I like to get into their heads by my tactics in the game. If I have a hard read on a team, I’m gonna make it obvious to them that I know what they’re doing so that they’re in their own heads and can’t play their own game. They know that I did my homework and put them in an uncomfortable spot so that’s kind of my mind games.
How did the team prepare for the match against Team Vikings? Do you think they’re on the same level as EU and NA teams?
ShahZaM: They definitely have the potential to be there. I don’t think you can say it by one match. I think they can still make a run in the lowers, but it’s difficult to say until the teams play more and more against each other. They have good ideas behind the stuff they do. I think their Icebox comp is a little out of meta with the way everyone else is playing it, and so I feel like that was the biggest advantage we had there. But with our preparation, we kind of stuck to the way we approach any game. I do my preparations, I come up with game plans, and before every game, I just present to the team like ‘This the comp they run and what they tend to do. This is how we’re going to approach it for this match.’
Now that Sentinels beat EU and Brazil, is that enough to say that NA is the strongest region in the tournament?
ShahZaM: Of the tournament, I don’t know if there’s a definite case yet. The tournament is not over. Teams can adapt. We lost games within NA in which I feel the region has a diverse playing style, too. We lost games in NA and then we had to earn how to counter these teams and bounce back. Then the next time we play them, we can implement the counter. EU is still capable of doing that.
I don’t think it’s fair yet to say there’s a definite strong region. It’s more so us making a statement that all the people saying ‘EU is light years ahead of us’ is not true at all. People need to respect NA as a region. This isn’t CSGO or whatever esport. NA is extremely strong and we’re here to prove it.
We’ve seen all teams play at least once in Reykjavik. Who do you feel is the biggest threat to winning Masters 2 and why?
ShahZaM: Version1 with obviously the regional matchup. We’ve played against each other a ton, we’ve practised each other a ton, and we know each other really well. I think those regional matchups are close regardless of whatever skill level.
The EU teams are still in it. They’re still really strong especially in practice too. We can’t count anyone out.
NUTURN, we played a practice match against them and they played completely different from EU, NA, and Brazil. If you don’t know how to play against it, if you don’t come up with a game plan, you’re going to be in for a rough match. It’s anyone’s game.
I’d expect to play another EU team again soon.
Regarding what you said about this being the first time in your career going into an international tournament where you’re the favourites, how different of an experience is that for you in comparison to your past LANs where you’ve been overlooked as an underdog?
ShahZaM: It’s different in the same that when you’re the underdog, you have no pressure on you and people play with nothing to lose. People play loose and stuff, but when the pressure is on you, you definitely feel pressure to perform, but if you can channel that into confidence, you’ll feel good. With these guys on my team, we go into any match and I feel so confident that we can win it. Despite going down some rounds, losing half badly or throwing away rounds where we should’ve won, I still feel that we can win and that’s an amazing feeling.
For V1, they’re on a bit of a hot streak in which they won two straight series in Masters 2, but you guys have won the last two matches against them. After seeing their performance so far, do you think they might give you some trouble in that NA regional matchup?
ShahZaM: It’s tough to say. I think they implemented Jamal “jammyz” Bangash really well. I think the first time we played them we actually lost to them on Ascent before we came up with a game plan to counter it. I’ll still feel confident considering we dominated them pretty well in the grand finals [of NA Challengers Stage 2], but once again, I don’t think I’m going to switch the way I prepare for V1 vs FNC, TL, or other teams. I’m going to do the same prep. We’re going to do the same game plan and take it as seriously as we can because we want to be the ones that win it all.
Below is the video interview, brought to you by Gamezo in partnership with Disrupt Gaming VALORANT.