March 17, 2022
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Since early February, VALORANT fans have been delivered a stream of action coming from Riot Games’ own Champions Tour circuits, and now, as we head to the end of March, one of the most interesting regions is also reaching its climax. The North American VCT Stage 1 Challengers series will be entering in its playoffs stage this weekend, and every match here will be key for the participant teams.

There still some time before the first match of the playoffs kick off, and we’ll be taking a look at the eight teams taking part in this stage of the event. As always, we’ll also have a handy viewer guide for you. This means that you’ll be able know exactly when to tune in, and what’s on the line. So, here’s everything you need to know about the North American VCT 2022 Stage 1 Challengers!

TOURNAMENT DETAILS

The Champions Tour playoffs will be kicking off this Thursday, March 17th. The opening match of the stage will see Cloud9 facing off Knights at 8 PM UTC, followed by OpTic Gaming and XSET afterwards. All games at the playoffs are going to be best-of-three series but the losers’ finals and grand-finals, which are BO5. All matches are being played offline, by the way.

As for the playoffs format, this will be a double-elimination stage featuring eight teams which qualified from the group stage. The top two teams at the end of the tournament will advance to the VCT Stage 1 Masters. Of course, $200.000 are also in play, and the tournament winner will be taking $50.000 as prize money. All teams who have taken part in the tournament will be receiving circuit points, too.

Finally, you’ll be able to watch all games through Riot’s official channels on Twitch and YouTube. Now, before we head to the storylines, take a look at the playoffs’ schedule.

UNBEATABLE – CLOUD9

Cloud9’s VALORANT roster has been looking incredibly this year. Not only they have won Knights’ VALORAMPAGE, but they have been undefeated so far in 2022. The best part of this is that Cloud9 is not only getting the results, but they are also doing so while looking incredibly dominant on the server.

For one, Nathan “leaf” Orf has been an incredibly duelist for the squad. His individual level is beyond impressive, and his impact for this roster is giving Cloud9 a serious advantage on the server. However, he isn’t the only one. Son “xeta” Seon-ho, for example, has also been causing a lot of impact for this squad.

So, Cloud9 is coming to the playoffs with serious expectations. With SENTINELS not looking so hot and 100 Thieves out of contention, the only team that should be a threat to them on paper is Version1. Even so – and while V1 is an incredible team – Cloud9 simply looks unbeatable at times. Cloud9 are the favorites to take first place in this Champions Tour, and this roster doesn’t give reasons for us to doubt them.

SO CLOSE, YET SO FAR – LUMINOSITY GAMING

During the whole Champions Tour, Luminosity Gaming has been quite an interesting team to watch. Sure, they haven’t been considered favorites by anyone, and they’ve only reached the playoffs by beating 100 Thieves and Evil Geniuses – the two weakest teams in their group – but they have often show good signs in their matches.

As shown in their last two games in the circuit, when they faced Cloud9 and XSET, they got beaten without winning a map, but they got close. As a specific example, they had a really good game on Bind against Cloud9. This was thanks to Adam “mada” Pampuch, which stepped up in a big way to almost take the series to a third map.

However, this is the issue with Luminosity. If their players were to play at the level they were expected to play at, this Luminosity would be one of the most promising squads in North America. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Luminosity simply are too inconsistent to be considered real contender, even though Tanner “TiGG” Spanu has been improving lately.

At the end of the day, not much is expected from Luminosity at the Champions Tour’s playoffs stage. They will be facing Version1 in their first game of the stage, and unless they can surprise everyone and pull a massive upset, they should be preparing for the lower-bracket.

BREAKING THROUGH AVERAGENESS – KNIGHTS

Knights is a team that, much like Luminosity Gaming, managed to reach the playoffs by beating the bottom two squads in their group. However, while Luminosity is a team that shows a lot of unrealized potential, Knights is a team that of course shows potential, but mostly is a team has performed in an average way. Joseph “ban” Seungmin Oh has definitely been improving, but he’s an outlier in this roster.

Still, one can’t sleep on Knights, especially now as they have brought in Amgalan “Genghsta” Nemekhbayar. The player still is adapting and Knights is a developing roster after all, but they have shown solid performances already which gives fans a glimpse of hope of them doing more than just finishing last at the playoffs. We can’t forget that this is one of the teams that qualified for the Champions Tour through the open qualifiers, and they did very well then.

Knights is a team that has been doing what’s expected of them, and at times showing that they can do more. With Genghsta around, they certainly are aiming to improve their averageness, but it might be too early just yet to see what is the floor and ceiling for this roster. For now, they will remain as an underdog.

THE PERFECT OPPORTUNITY – OPTIC GAMING

OpTic Gaming – the previous roster which played under the EnVy banner – has always been a strong squad. However, they have shown time after time that they can be a real contender, and it seems that they are closer than ever to breaking through and becoming the squad they always wanted to be.

This is much thanks to Pujan “FNS” Mehta, OpTic’s in-game leader. Pujan has been slowly improving his calling and individual performances, and as shown so far at the Champions Tour, he has been actually crucial for this team. While he might not pop off at the scoreboard, he definitely is having plenty of impact kills and clutches. Victor “Victor” Wong has also been quite the star lately, and his performance with Raze has been impressive.

More importantly, OpTic has been improving all areas of their game. Their map pool is looking solid and players also seem much more comfortable with their agent pool. Their results show that these improvements are working well, as they managed to take a map off from Version1 before crumbling down against the favorites.

The thing with OpTic is – they are getting there. This team is improving both as a squad and individually, and while they still are underdogs against the likes Cloud9, The Guard and Version1, they could very well take on the rest of the circuit with good chances. Still, in order to have a full measurement of what OpTic can really do, we have to wait until their game against XSET. Only them we’ll see how FNS and this team performs when stakes are at their highest.

NOT THE SAME – SENTINELS

At some point last year, SENTINELS was looking like the best team in VALORANT. Right now, though, they simply aren’t that team anymore. Now, SENTINELS’ players are still the same from back then, but this roster simply is too disorganized right now. From weird decision-making to questionable agent assignment, this team simply has lost the throne and is far away from it.

To make matters worse for SENTINELS, their issues aren’t only about tactics or executes. Tyson “TenZ” Ngo has been playing on a level that is way below his own standard, and Shahzeb “ShahZaM” Khan is starting to face some inconsistency, too. Hunter “SicK” Mims isn’t being able to deliver his star performances, either. This roster could compensate this if they played as a unit – but they don’t. So, SENTINELS have fallen beyond their opponents tactically, doesn’t excel individual and doesn’t play as a team.

Nonetheless, the Champions Tour could make for the perfect stage for SENTINELS to show that they still are a strong squad. Yet, they seem to be so deep in their own issues that even beating the likes of OpTic and XSET might be too much for them right now. It’s unfortunate, but it’s SENTINELS reality right now.

GOING ABOVE AND BEYOND AND NOT LOOKING BACK – THE GUARD

When The Guard entered VALORANT last year, they were seen as a roster with potential. However, no one expected them to do as well as they have done this year. The team has only been defeated once in this tournament, by Cloud9. More impressively, in 2022, The Guard has only been defeated four times. At the same time, they’ve managed to get wins against the likes of FaZe Clan, Knights and XSET.

Now, The Guard is heading to their biggest challenge yet: the Champions Tour playoffs. However, more than just a challenge, this the perfect opportunity for them. The Guard can breakthrough here, and show that they are real contenders. Jacob “valyn” Batio seems to be keen on doing just that, and it’ll be difficult to stop this roster of doing so. Trent “trent” Cairns has been incredible so far, and Ha “Sayaplayer” Jung-woo isn’t too far behind either.

No one’s expecting The Guard to beat Cloud9 or Version1 just yet, but there’s a real possibility that this team reaches top four here. This is a team with players that never represented an organization before and they suddenly are one of the best in the VCT of their region. Whether their success is due to Matthew “mCe” Elmore coaching or valyn leadership – or both – this roster is going places, and their journey at the top starts now.

LOOKING FOR A REMATCH – VERSION1

Version1 came to the North American Champions Tour with one objective: qualify for the Masters. This roster doesn’t have to prove themselves anymore, and they certainly are more than just a roster full of potential. V1 is the real deal. Their place among the world rankings might be debatable, they clearly are one of the best teams in NA.

In any case, Version1 performed very well at the tournament’s group stage, and now they are facing higher stakes. Yet, it’s hard to see them falling to any other team in competition but one, Cloud9. The favorites to win this event didn’t drop a map back when they faced V1, and C9 left Alexander “Zander” Dituri outplayed back then. For V1, they are coming to the playoffs aiming at their rematch with Cloud9. If they can take down the Anthony “vanity” Malaspina’s roster, they definitely would be in contention for the place of best team in North America – but that’s a big if.

Until Version1 faces Cloud9, though, they remain as one of the best squads in NA. Furthermore, they could definitely be among the best ten teams in VALORANT. V1’s future is bright, sure. But the most important thing here is that they, along with C9, are the favorites to qualify for VCT Masters.

THE QUESTION MARK – XSET

XSET is a very interesting squad right now. Their map pool has been very well developed, Matthew “Cryocells” Panganiban keeps delivering individually, and the roster as a whole just seems to be able to challenge every team in North America. The British veteran Rory “dephh” Jackson is definitely putting a lot of effort in this team, and it shows.

However, XSET is coming to the playoffs of the Champions Tour with an objective not too different than OpTic’s. XSET will be fighting to prove that they are one of the best squads in their region. And their chances are good. OpTic, their first opponent, will already be a real challenge. If XSET can beat them, then they’ll already be on the right track. Of course, beating Cloud9 might be a tad too far-fetched still, but it’s in no way impossible.

Still, even if XSET gets beaten by Cloud9, they should be able to dominated the lower-bracket. Again, Cryocells is looking so good lately, and if Zachary “zekken” Patrone can bring his best game, then XSET shouldn’t have any issues here besides the absolute favorites. Who knows, maybe even one of them is in for a surprise when they inevitable face XSET.

THE VCT NA STAGE 1 PLAYOFFS START SOON

In less than a day, we’ll be watching the first game of the North American Champions Tour playoffs going live. In order to keep up with everything VALORANT and esports, make sure to follow us here.

@mjunior