What happened to North America in VCT Champions 2021?

When the first VALORANT international tournament was held in Reykjavik and Sentinels won it, North America established itself as one of the strongest regions in the professional VALORANT scene. Sentinels was unstoppable and Version1 wasn’t that bad, finding themselves a place between KR and EU representatives. However, since that day, NA’s success in VALORANT has been degrading.

First, the best NA team lost their first series against G2 Esports in the Masters Berlin group stage after a long time. Then, Team Envy got stomped by Gambit Esports in the Masters Berlin grand finals. Most recently, Sentinels and Team Envy were eliminated from Champions 2021 in group stage, and Cloud9 in quarterfinals. First, let’s have a look at where NA’s success comes from, and then find out what happened to change that.

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2021 started out great for NA

Image via Riot Games

This is a story that every VALORANT esports fan knows about. Sentinels, after adding TenZ to their roster, dominates every single tournament, domestic or international, and wins Masters Reykjavik in the end. Although that was a good sign for Sentinels, for some, the alarms started  ringing for North America.

Most people started to consider NA as a one team region as none other could match Sentinel’s level or challenge them. Before Masters Berlin, Sentinels had an incredibly long run without any loss, and most of it came from domestic qualifiers. At Masters Berlin, those who thought NA was a one team region would be proved wrong. However, Sentinels would lose the best team in the world title as well.

After defeating G2 “not so easily” in their first match, SEN lost to them in the second round, letting G2 capture the first place. However, other groups saw 100 Thieves advance to playoffs over Gambit and Team Envy over relatively the easiest group. Which could mean that NA doesn’t have one team that was carrying them. Team Envy then eliminated Sentinels 2-0 in the quarterfinals, establishing a new era in VALORANT.

In the end, NA’s remaining teams played the semifinals and Envy defeated 100T, only to be bested by Gambit in the finals. There wasn’t any need to be pessimistic about the outcome as 100T did defeat Acend on the way and defeating SEN was a great achievement for NA teams too. Only problem was EMEA finally caught up with NA and it was a matter of time before they took over VALORANT too, just like how they did in LoL. Although VALORANT is an FPS game, the fan bases are close and “NA going back to airport” memes were already imported from League.

Champions 2021 disappointment

No one could see foresee what was about to happen in Champions 2021. Two of the NA’s best teams were eliminated in groups and Cloud9 Blue, who came here from Last Chance, couldn't survive more than quarterfinals.

Honestly, there isn’t too much to analyze here. That could come as controversial, but hear me out. Envy loses against Acend in Group A, 13-8 and 13-11. Look at these stats from vlr.gg, from a series they lost 2-0.

I don’t think that looks too bad. Similar patterns happened in NV vs X10, SEN vs KRÜ, FNC vs C9 and TL vs C9. Call me delusional, call me a hopeless romantic, I don’t care. I think what NA missed was outstanding performances from their superstars.

Look at the finals. zeek and starxo impress everyone to help their team win against Gambit, with cNed already being in the team. Derke carries the Cloud9 series with 74 kills, the closest number being 57. Even when ShahZaM finally goes out there and pulls Sentinels with him, KRÜ wins two maps 13-11 to defeat Sentinels. How is that not unfortunate?

At Sentinels vs Team Liquid, SEN won Bind 13-2 to lose the decider 13-10. I don’t think the disappointment at Champions 2021 could be explained by “NA bad” because if NA plays bad, why did these series go so close? I think NA’s carries TenZ, ShahZaM, yay and more, they were exhausted, and X10 Crit and KRÜ Esports had so much more to prove.

What NA lacked was motivation, and it was probably affected after being so close in Berlin and not being able to manage to win it. Getting surpassed by the EU. Think about it, most of these players transitioned from CS:GO. They might not have the possibility of “letting it go”. Psychologically, they might be thinking that they should be the best. When I look at European teams, I don’t see that stress. They are having fun. I believe that’s the key.

The break between Masters Berlin and Champions also looked like it affected NA teams more than others. Hopefully, next year, there won't be breaks that are so long. It affects FPS players more than MOBA players.

Image via Riot Games

What could the next year bring to NA?

In conclusion, my honest feeling about NA is that they are still a very strong region and they will continue to challenge the best in VALORANT. There will be a long break again after Champions 2021. They have great Jett players, they have incredible secondary carries. I still believe that in 2022, it won’t be so easy for EMEA to keep their throne.

NA will come back stronger and they will be the number one challenger for any championship.

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