Soak it in, North American fans. Soak it all in. Sentinels, the team who many coveted as the favourite for winning Masters: Reykjavik, have gone on to win the whole thing. There was no choke nor an underwhelming display that typified the NA teams in years past. It was the completion of a week-long stretch of superiority over the best teams Valorant had to offer from every corner of the globe, finishing with a perfect 9-0 overall record.
In this nascent FPS shooter’s inaugural international tournament, it was the team made up of former Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and other shooting platform players that was adorned with the honour of sitting on the game’s preeminent throne.
Though the road to the championship seemed easy on paper for the NA team to follow heading into the tournament, it was nevertheless littered with an array of difficulties that were propagated at the behest of their respective opponents.
They defeated Europe’s second seed Fnatic twice (the first time in the upper bracket quarterfinals and the second in the grand finals after the latter smoked through the lower bracket in an 8-1 run), Team Vikings (the best squad in Brazil), and NUTURN Gaming (the tournament’s dark horse which famously usurped Vision Strikers in the Korean finals prior to Iceland).
All these teams exhibited their own particular brand of Valorant in the tournament, but as it turned out, none managed to make it work against NA’s top side. Even while dealing with unsuspecting compositions such as allowing NUTURN to select Bind for Game 1 of the upper bracket finals, Sentinels could still direct a total counter to their opponents’ strategies and sink them to oblivion. As a result, those small amounts of rounds where the teams pushed back to Sentinels’ unforgiving march didn’t so much as wreck their form but scratched a pittance on its durable surface instead.
Even in those rare moments of adversity that looked as if their run of invincibility was falling flat on its face, such as during Fnatic’s 9-4 advantage in Bind for Game 2 in the grand finals, the team ended up unscathed regardless. An emphatic second half in that same map, capped off by an 8-1 Sentinels run which extended to overtime and ultimately ended in a 2-0 lead, completely derailed Fnatic’s hopes heading into the third game which drove the NA team ever so closer to the trophy.
“I think it comes down to all of us having trust in one another,” said Michael “dapr” Gulino in the winner’s press conference about the team’s composure during Game 2 in the finals. “In 2v2s and 3v3s, our comms are really tight. Whenever somebody says an idea, we just follow through with that and we all give great ideas and are on the same page, so it’s really easy to stay composed.”
It’s not too shabby for a team with “predictable” gameplay to do by overcoming adversity as the one they faced in that Sunday evening in Iceland, but as their IGL proclaimed in the pre-tournament press conference, “the team [he] saw on Masters 1 and the team [he] saw at regional finals is a different team from the team [he’ll] see here,” which was ultimately correct.
Moreover, it’s tough for Sentinels to waver when they have an exemplary lineup that performed to expectation in the week span of the tournament. But without question, Sentinels’ leading figure in Masters: Reykjavik had been Tyson “TenZ” Ngo, the former CSGO player who found his way into the team after arriving on loan in early March. Prior to joining Sentinels, some wondered if he could play up to par to the level his predecessor Jay “sinatraa” Won laid out, but those doubts quickly went to bed when they saw his play from Stage 1 Masters onwards.
And how about this young superstar? Per Liquipedia, By the end of the tournament, TenZ finished within the top 3 in a list of categories including ACS (Average Combat Score), kills per round, kill:death ratio, first kills per round, entry success rate, and econ rating. If there existed a tournament MVP award, TenZ would surely be the only discernible person in line to capture it.
Clearly, he has proven himself to be the best in not just the tournament but the entire world. Being the centre of everyone’s attention, one would think that such recognition could prompt TenZ into adopting a braggadocious demeanour like some of his other teammates have done from their end, but he stayed grounded and humble instead.
He was well aware of the special position he was in considering his temporary stay with the team through Cloud9’s loan so was only exuded gratitude for being regarded as one of Sentinels’ top players. But of course, that doesn’t mean his eyes haven’t been dead set on the future already.
“Obviously, it’d be a no-brainer that I want to compete with this team. This team is amazing. I have fun with them. I can trust all of them,” said TenZ in the post-match press conference. “They’re just the best team I’ve ever had. Really, I would stay if I could, and I really hope I [can], so I’m praying.”
Of course, the acknowledgement of his play doesn’t just come from pundits, analysts, and streamers. His teammates praised his contribution as well while the tournament wore on.
“TenZ is such an amazing player. He really surprised me when he stood in for us and how well rounded of a player he is,” Shahzeb “ShahZaM” Khan said in an interview after defeating NUTURN. “People compliment his mechanical skills, but as a teammate, he’s always open to criticism. Honestly, I’m just so impressed and we’re lucky to have gotten him.”
For the rest of the squad, they followed in the same tune as TenZ orchestrated, for each member had their own standout moments that displayed how deep the team were and how much it was really going to take to truly best them, teabagging included or not.
Per Jared “Zombs” Gitlin regarding a question whether there’s any team who can dethrone Sentinels: “I don’t know if it’s possible. I don’t think anything can. We’re just too good. We’re the best in each of our roles and we have the best teamwork in the game, so it’s going to take a lot. Teams are going to have to do a lot, but I don’t know if they can.”
The coronation of Sentinels in Iceland had been a long time coming since their formation in April 2020 that brought a quartet of former players from different titles such as Apex Legends, Overwatch, and CSGO together to try their next venture in Valorant. For some, specifically ShahZaM, Hunter “SicK” Mims, and dapr, whose origins resided in CSGO, reaching the position as the very best team in the scene was an unfathomable projection seeing as they wandered within a faltering NA scene. To Zombs’ credit, he made a name for himself as a player in Apex prior to joining Valorant, but in team-oriented games prior to Valorant, such as Overwatch, his play left much to be desired.
But to ascend to the forefront of Valorant is every bit as remarkable as it is momentous for Sentinels and NA. By way of ShahZaM’s hands-on leadership, TenZ’s MVP-level play, Zombs’ critical combination of utility usage and reliability in trade situations, and dapr’s adept flank watching and tendency to takeover games, Sentinels outlasted the nine other teams in Reykjavik to stand as the last one standing, with the coalescence of jubilation and vindication radiating them all.
Jubilation because they’ve fulfilled the promise of winning the championship and vindication because they bested their opposition with the strategies that seemed foolish to rely on from the outside spectators. Now they know what the Astra meta can bring to the table: championships.
“We made this team over a year ago now and there was a lot of doubt [about us back then],” ShahZaM said in reflection of his team’s journey to Iceland from its founding in the post-match interview. “A lot of people were saying we were washed and this and that but it got to a point where [we] didn’t let anyone else tell us what we can or can’t do. Don’t let others decide your future. We put the work in and it showed.”
Many changes in the game are set to happen between now and the next Masters event in Berlin, Germany. The game will be tweaked in forthcoming patches in accordance to the dominance Sentinels exerted, teams will be reshuffled as is tradition, and the aftertaste of Sentinels’ triumph in Iceland will wither away with time.
But for now, and only for now, the victors will enjoy their day of owning the indisputable label of best team in the world.
Soak it all in, Sentinels. You’ve earned that big hefty trophy. Drink as many White Claws as you want. Ain’t no one going to take it from you no matter how much they would like to.