The Storylines of First Strike Europe
With First Strike, the biggest VALORANT event to date, just around the corner, here are the storylines going into the Riot Games-organized tournament.
First Strike is the first VALORANT tournament series organized by Riot Games, and though there's certainly a lot of money on the line, the tournament's main purpose is to crown the best team in each region. With international events being off the table due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, it's unclear what region is currently the strongest in VALORANT; thus, establishing yourself locally becomes doubly important.
The qualified teams for the First Strike EU Main Event 🔥 pic.twitter.com/Y7iTEJdolM— VALORANT Champions Tour EMEA (@valesports_emea) November 26, 2020
VALORANT certainly hasn't gained the same levels of traction in Europe compared to North America, but the continent still houses incredible talents. Though it might be disappointing that Guild Esports and Ninjas in Pyjamas failed to qualify, First Strike Europe still has eight of the best teams in attendance; four signed and four unsigned. Though everyone hopes to win the title, each team has a different story going into the event.
G2 Esports has been the dominant force within Europe, winning every single event it has attended and barely dropping any maps along the way. Captained by Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas, G2 is formed of former Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players, with each looking like the best at their roles. Patryk "paTiTek" Fabrowski is arguably the best Omen player in Europe, Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi locks down sites as Cypher or Killjoy, Ardis "ardiis" Svarenieks dominates on Sova, David "Davidp" Prins was the region's best Sage player before moving on to Breach, and mixwell usually plays Jett, though he has also been playing Raze in recent times. Given that G2 hasn't been challenged very much thus far, we haven't seen too many looks from the squad. With Icebox being introduced in the map pool and Skye now allowed in competitive play, teams could look to capitalize on these new changes to upset G2, but that's still a tall order.
At the end of the day, G2 looked to create a superteam by getting a good mix of firepower and experience, and for all intents and purposes, it has. They are the unofficial kings of Europe, and First Strike is the final step to the throne, so anything less than dominant victories would be a disappointment.
While G2 is currently the dominant force within Europe, the kings of old were non-other than fish123. The majority-British roster had a meteoric rise, winning every event it attended during the Closed Beta but lost its superstar ardiis to G2 following the official launch in April. Still, the team quickly bounced back, signing a deal with Team Liquid and picking up the legendary Belgian CS player Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom, otherwise known as the Headshot Machine. While Liquid certainly hasn't looked terrible, the team has failed to replicate the same level of results it had during the Beta, which makes sense considering that the scene has only gotten more competitive.
Liquid can certainly outclass most teams, but it always struggles when facing G2, with the only exception being the Best in the West showmatch, where the team beat G2 3-0. While a showmatch shouldn't hold too much weight, as no one is taking it too seriously, the result should still give Liquid some confidence; G2 can bleed. There's no doubt that Liquid is a great team, but the players will be looking to put an end to the third-place finishes and finally reclaim the throne that once theirs.
There's no denying that G2 is the heavy favorite going into First Strike, but if any team can knock it off its pedestal, it's FunPlus Phoenix. The roster is perhaps the most balanced in Europe, as it holds great fraggers in Andrey "Shao" Kiprsky and Pontus "Zyppan" Eek, solid supportive players in Tobias "ShadoW" Flodström and Johan "Meddo" Lundborg, and an amazing leader in Kirill "ANGE1" Karasiow. ANGE1 is one of the most veteran leaders to have leaped over to VALORANT, and his experience scouting and developing talents has certainly come in handy.
FPX is the only team to have beaten G2 in a real Bo3 thus far, and ANGE1's strategical approach to the game is partially to thank for that. It feels as though FPX has only gotten stronger with time, and the team is looking poised to toppling the tournament's favorites.
SUMN FC is one of the four organization-less teams going into First Strike, but where results are concerned, it's also the best. The squad, led by Jake "Boaster" Howlett, managed to beat the likes of Entropiq Bravo, Valorando, need more DM, and eXiLe eSports to qualify for First Strike, and also recently won epic31 Online over the Turkish side of Oxygen Esports. While SUMN FC may have limited experience versus the "tier 1" teams such as G2 or FPX, the organization-less team has been on an upwards trajectory since its inception, boasting an incredibly high winrate of 87.5%. Asides from Boaster, who mainly plays Breach, the team possesses one of the best European Raze players in Domagoj "doma" Fancev, a very experienced Sentinel player in Kostas "tsack" Theodoropoulos, a great OPer in Muhammad "Moe40" Hariff, and a solid Omen player in James "Mistic" Orfila.
While there's no doubt the SUMN FC will turn heads going into First Strike, their objective is ultimately to upset as many teams as possible and attract the attention of potential sponsors by showcasing that they can dance toe to toe with the best.
While SUMN FC may be the best unsigned team in terms of results, nolpenki certainly contests for the title of the best unsigned team on paper. The roster was formed around team captain Vakaris "vakk" Bebravičius and Turkish OPer Mehmet Yağız "cNed" İpek, with Aron "xajdish" Fredriksson, Jesse "JESMUND" Terävä, and Aleksander "zeek" Zygmunt rounding out the roster. Though the old nolpenki roster was all-Lithuanian, vakk decided to keep the alias alive while bringing in international players. As one of the most versatile players in Europe, vakk has played a lot of Breach, Phoenix, and Reyna in recent times, though there's a good chance we'll be seeing some Skye in First Strike. As one of the best Jett OPers this side of the Atlantic, cNed has been able to pick up his signature agent coming into nolpenki.
Clarification tweet— Team nolpenki (@nolpenki) November 6, 2020
nolpenki is NOT an organization. We are just a group of people playing and improving together, trying to conquer the Valorant world
And yes, we are looking for an organization
While the team may still be young, all things considered, the international mix was able to upset Guild in the qualification process, and more upsets are definitely on the table. Much like SUMN FC, nolpenki will be looking to upset as many teams as possible and prove that the win versus Guild wasn't a fluke. With FPX being their first opponent, nolpenki will need to hit the ground running going into First Strike.
Prodigy Agency is a leading esports player agency, and many of its players have played under the Prodigy moniker in VALORANT while looking for a home. The last iteration of Prodigy is now playing under the tag of Orgless to avoid confusion and solidify their intent on finding an organization to represent. The team is captained by former pro100 coach Daniil "pipsoN" Meshcheryakov and boasts some rather high-profile players, such as French CS icon Vincent "Happy" Cervoni and former nolpenki player Ričardas "Boo" Lukaševičius. The roster is rounded out by the Finnish pair of Niki "delezyh" Sutinen and Aaro "hoody" Peltokangas, who, namely, stepped down from HAVU Gaming's CS roster earlier this year to pursue opportunities in VALORANT, transitioning to the sniping role on Jett. The team is also still relatively new but still managed to beat the likes of need more DM, Rix.GG, FeaFeaFea, and L'institut in recent time.
🚨Our prodigies @Happy1 @pipsoN_CSGO @DievasBoo @hoodyCSGO @delezyhCSGO will now play as @OrglessV 🚨— Prodigy Agency (@ProdigyAgencyGG) November 25, 2020
We are not an organization and will never be.
As we represent players from different teams and the game is growing, it's time to say goodbye to the tag Prodigy!
Scheduled to square off against G2 in the first round, all eyes will be on Orgless to see if the team can pull off the upset of the century.
The final unsigned team in First Strike, Purple Cobras seemingly came out of left field, beating Ninjas in Pyjamas and need more DM in the qualifiers. The Purple Cobras alias has been around since the Closed Beta, though Liam "fanCy" Ebanks and Logi "Hugstar" Baldursson are the only members hailing from the first roster. The French duo of Ouali "M4CHINA" Manset and Romain "VlaDéDé" Mieudonnet joined in September, while Marc "Honeybee" Begley rounded out the roster in early November. The British-French-Icelandic mixture is perhaps an unknown quantity going into First Strike, but most of the players have backgrounds in other esports titles. The team has had decent placings in recent times, winning the Rix.GG Cup and placing third at epic31 Online.
LETS GOOOOO COBRAS🏆— Purple Cobras (@PurpleCobrasVAL) November 22, 2020
We Qualify for the #FirstStrikeEU Main Event beating @NeedMoreDM 2-1 in a nail-biting series which went the full distance.
Great performance from everyone and a huge thanks to everyone who came out to support us on the stream your energy was felt🔥
While the Jett OPer is a dying breed, M4CHINA is keeping the dream alive for Purple Cobras, and Hugstar is proving to be a phenomenal Raze player, so firepower-wise, the team should be able to go pound for pound with nearly everyone at First Strike. Every unsigned team at the event is looking to prove itself, but Purple Cobras really has nothing to lose, given that so many people have already written them off.
Team Heretics may just be the dark horse of First Strike Europe. The roster is composed of Prodigy players, and while the agency doesn't create teams, it only signs exceptional players, or prodigies, if you will. Heretics possesses well-versed Counter-Strike players in Christian "loWel" Garcia Antoran and Žygimantas "nukkye" Chmieliauskas, who both played together under ANGE1's leadership in HellRaisers, as well as Auni "AvovA" Chahade, who played in the lower echelons of the Danish CS:GO scene. Heretics rounded out its roster with Melih "pAura" Karaduran, who established himself as arguably the best Cypher player in Europe very early on, and Dustyn "nieSoW" Durnas, who tends to fill the gaps for the team. Compared to G2, FPX, or Liquid, Heretics has minimal experience, but the team has dominated the various LVP tournaments and recently won GameGune22 over Giants Gaming.
Heretics certainly has the making of a world-class team: loWel has a very deep agent pool and is a great fit to lead Heretics, nukkye was one of the most valuable free agents in CS:GO and has dominated as Raze and Jett, pAura is a phenomenal Cypher and Killjoy player, nieSoW is very mechanically gifted, and AvovA is, well, Danish, which is always a bonus considering the country's dominance in CS:GO. Everyone is looking towards FPX or Liquid to dethrone G2, but Heretics may very well surprise the nations going into First Strike.