The Storylines of First Strike North America
An in-depth look into the various storylines of First Strike North America, the largest VALORANT event to date.
VALORANT has seen incredible levels of interest and investment in North America, especially when compared to Europe. While a large portion of the professional player-base is composed of former pro Counter-Strike players, there is also a wide number of ex-Overwatch, PUBG, and Apex Legends players. With international LAN events being out of the question due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, it's impossible to say with one-hundred percent certainty which region is currently the strongest, but NA teams have proven to be very competitive against each other. VALORANT's development has been incredibly interesting to follow; familiar faces from various titles play alongside upcoming rookies in an ever-changing meta, with new maps and Agents being introduced.
Who will rise in First Strike: NA?@T1 @TSM @Envy @Immortals @Renegades @Sentinels @FaZeClan @100Thieves pic.twitter.com/AAP5L6w0iy— VALORANT Champions Tour (@ValorantEsports) December 1, 2020
With First Strike just around the corner, one team will be crowned as NA's champion. However, given the complicated rivalries within the scene, here are all the storylines going into First Strike North America.
As the highest-seeded team from the NSG Tournament, Team Envy has showcased incredible form in recent times. The squad is led by Pujan "FNS" Mehta, a former Counter-Strike veteran renowned for his very tactical approach to the game. Envy impressed many at Pop Flash, where the team placed second, falling at the hands of Sentinels. Since then, the Dallas-based organization parted ways with Adam "aKis" Kisseberth and Abdo "c4Lypso" Agha, bolstering its roster with the additions of former T1 players Victor "food" Wong and Austin "crashies" Roberts. While this roster was only formed quite recently, the squad seemingly has no weak links on paper. FNS is a fantastic leader, Anthony "mummAy" DiPaolo is an incredible Jett OPer, Jake "kaboose" McDonald and food are amazing Duelists, and crashies has been great on Sova.
All the teams attending First Strike are excellent, but Envy has a roster capable of winning it all. A victory at the largest VALORANT event yet would not only taste doubly sweet for food and crashies with their former team also present, but it would solidify Envy's position as a top VALORANT team.
100 Thieves is another team that made very significant changes to its roster in recent times. The Los Angeles-based organization entered the VALORANT scene by signing Spencer "Hiko" Martin as well as the core of Highground, a team composed of former PUBG players. Sadly, the squad failed to live up to the organization's expectations, and the roster was overhauled, with Hiko being the only remaining player. The veteran would be joined on the new-look 100T by two other Counter-Strike legends in the form of Nicholas "nitr0" Cannella and Joshua "steel" Nissan. The organization then completed its squad by signing the young duo of Peter "Asuna" Mazuryk and Quan "dicey" Tran, formerly of Immortals. While the team fell at the hands of Envy in the NSG Tournament, it still took out the favorites of TSM and Sentinels on its way to the Grand Finals. Having had further time to practice, there's no doubt that the Thieves will deal a lot of damage going into First Strike; Hiko is an FPS veteran, nitr0 is one of the most accomplished CS players in North America, steel is renowned for developing young talents, while Asuna and dicey were widely considered to be the best players on Immortals. With steel on the team, there's no telling just how excellent the young duo may become.
One thing is for certain, 100T is here to do damage, get revenge over Envy, and win it all.
Sentinels became a high-profile team since its inception, with former Overwatch League star Jay "sinatraa" Won headlining the roster. While it took a little while to get things going, Sentinels established itself as a top 2 team within North America during the summer, winning the PAX Arena Invitational and Pop Flash while also placing second at the FaZe Clan Invitational. The team quickly established a rivalry with TSM, which had essentially been the region's uncontested champion until that point. Sentinels has managed to challenge the meta time after time, with sinatraa being one of the first players to explore the viability of the Odin and Hunter "SicK" Mims managing to play Sage following unfavorable patches.
With teams improving very quickly in North America, Sentinels will be eager to establish itself as the best NA team; or outplace its rivals of TSM. However, it's worth mentioning that Shahzeeb "ShahZaM" Khan's father recently passed away. Despite this tragedy, the team captain will still be playing First Strike, but words can't quite place just how much a victory would mean to him personally.
Renegades' presence at First Strike is perhaps one of the most surprising, especially considering that the likes of Cloud9 Blue, Gen.G Esports, and NRG Esports failed to qualify. For what it's worth, their presence is exactly why First Strike had no invites, and all attending teams had to battle their way through the open qualifiers. With Renegades being a considerably large organization, the team has been rather underwhelming thus far, having been unable to make waves at any Ignition Series events. Making it to First Strike is already a great accomplishment for a team of Renegades' stature, and any upsets versus future opponents would be more than welcome.
With TSM being their initial matchup, Alexander "retrQ" Kadan and co. will need a little bit of luck on their side in order to make it deeper in the event.
While fish123 dominated VALORANT's Closed Beta in Europe, mouseSpaz did the same across the pond, winning six out of the nine events it attended. The team quickly got signed by TSM and continued on its campaign of glory, picking up further gold medals along the way. By the time the Ignition Series events started happening, however, TSM had begun losing its grasp over the NA scene, with Sentinels leaping to the occasion and contesting for titles. While the rivalry between the two teams lead to debates about who was better, TSM currently has the highest prize earnings of any team in North America. A lot of TSM's success can be attributed to Matthew "Wardell" Yu, who was arguably one of the best Jett OPers in the world, but TSM's players have been competitive all around the board. Yassine "Subroza" Taoufik has been a godlike Duelist, and Taylor "drone" Johnson has been incredibly impressive in VALORANT thus far, considering he only played in the lower echelons of NA's CS scene. It's also worth mentioning that TSM's success wouldn't be possible without the experienced duo of Stephen "reltuC" Cutler and James "hazed" Cobb. The fact that TSM hasn't made any roster changes since the mouseSpaz days can attest to that.
With the growing number of competitive teams, TSM's reign has diminished in the region. Winning First Strike would only seem fitting for such a storied roster.
FaZe Clan is another surprising team to see at First Strike, considering how unimpressive the team had been thus far. FaZe was initially meant to be captained by Jason "jasonR" Ruchelski, but the Canadian never even played a map before parting ways with the organization. FaZe had to field stand-ins for the FaZe Clan Invitational but only completed its roster a few months later. The team is now composed nearly entirely of former Overwatch players, with the exception being Jimmy "Marved" Nguyen. Having failed to secure any significant placings prior to First Strike, the team is a bit of an unknown quantity. During the UGM Tournament, however, FaZe bested Andbox, NRG, Cloud9 Blue, and a new-look T1, so it's not as though it had an easy path to the main event.
Considering FaZe's stature as an organization, it's hard to think that it would settle for anything less than championship material, so a deep run at First Strike would certainly be a step in the right direction.
T1 was the first organization to enter the professional VALORANT landscape, signing former Counter-Strike pro Braxton "brax" Pierce even before the release of the Closed Beta. Joined by his former teammates Keven "AZK" Larivière and Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham, as well as the aforementioned duo of food and crashies, brax had a great first showing at the T1 x Nerd Street Gamers Showdown, placing second at the first notable VALORANT event. Sadly, it seems as though that was all the success T1 was going to get, considering that that roster never made it further than a quarterfinal. T1 consequently benched food and crashies, as AZK, brax, and Skadoodle reunited with their former iBUYPOWER teammate Sam "DaZeD" Marine. T1 finalized its roster with Korean former OWL pro Ha "Spyder" Jeong-woo and finally made it to a semifinal in the UMG Tournament.
T1 certainly didn't live up to the hype in the past, but with a dedicated in-game leader in DaZeD, there's a good chance the team could become a threat once more.
In the early days of the competitive VALORANT scene, Immortals arguably became a top 4 team, but that was mostly thanks to the addition of dicey, who became a consistent second star alongside Asuna. However, the organization lost both of its young prodigies to 100T and Yannick "KOLER" Blanchette to NRG in October. Where many might have folded, Immortals decided to rebuild, picking up another young CS star in Jason "neptune" Tran alongside Jason "jmoh" Mohandessi and Andrew "ShoT_UP" Orlowski. While Immortals still has a long way to go before being considered a top contender again, the team is certainly on the rise. ShoT_UP has proven to be an incredibly impactful Jett player, leading his team to a second-place finish at the Renegades x NSG Invitational. In its path to qualification, Immortals beat the likes of Dignitas, Pittsburgh Knights, and Luminosity Gaming, and while those might not be the best teams in NA, they're far from being the worst.
Realistically, Immortals has a tough first-round matchup versus the fiery-looking Envy, but the team is here to prove that it's still top-notch even without Asuna and dicey.