Staring at the bracket for any VALORANT tournament is a daunting task for any pick ’em enthusiast. But for the upcoming North American VCT Last Chance Qualifier, or NA LCQ, it feels like an even more impossible task this time around.
Last year, following Cloud9’s acquisition of in-game leader vanity and pairing him with former teammates leaf and Xeppaa, the boys in blue felt like a safe pick at the NA LCQ to make it to Champions 2021. That safe bet paid off since C9 went on an impressive lower bracket run culminating in a dominant revenge win over Rise to reach Champions, where they ended up going further than any other NA team.
But this year, that clear and present favorite is nowhere to be found. No one in NA, other than the already Champions-bound OpTic and XSET, has shown clear consistency across both stages this year, and many of the teams competing in the LCQ this year look drastically different now than they did in Stage Two.
It’s impossible to pick a favorite; you’re better off flipping a coin for each matchup in your pick ’em rather than attempting to meticulously predict each result. So rather than ranking teams or picking a favorite, let’s take a brief look at each team and see what went wrong this year and how they could wipe all that away with a win at the NA LCQ.
- What went wrong: The Guard exceeded expectations in Stage One but failed to recover from their international wake-up call at Masters Reykjavik during Stage Two. Whether it was due to a lack of confidence or a lack of preparation, they were not the same team in Stage Two.
- Why they could win: If The Guard bring back their teamplay and cohesiveness from Stage One and can get the same level of playmaking from Sayaplayer and trent as they did then, there’s no one in the bracket capable of stopping them.
- What went wrong: FaZe didn’t find the winning formula for its roster until Stage Two, and even then, they struggled to close out in the second halves of maps where they led big, especially in playoffs. They also had their momentum done in by problems at their facility during the NA grand final.
- Why they could win: Even with their second-half struggles, FaZe were one of the most brilliant first-half teams in the entire region, propelled by terrific performances by the dynamic duo of dicey and babybay. If they can avoid letting teams back into the map despite leading at halftime, they have the potential to run some teams over.
- What went wrong: NRG’s biggest challenge has been inconsistency, something that’s especially hard to deal with when making a significant roster change between stages. During both stages, NRG looked terrific in qualifiers but stumbled against the top performers during the main event.
- Why they could win: NRG have improved significantly since Ethan arrived, with eeiu and s0m progressing the most from role players to foundational members of a winning team. NRG have also shown incredible resiliency. They were down 1-3 in the Stage Two main event but rallied with three straight wins over The Guard, Ghost, and EG to reach the LCQ.
- What went wrong: The former Luminosity players have been good but not great. In eight matches against teams that finished top four in their respective stage, the Shopify roster has lost seven of those. The results against the top teams in their region just haven’t materialized.
- Why they could win: Apart from XSET and OpTic, the Shopify roster is the only NA team this year to reach their regional playoffs in both stages. They did better in Stage Two thanks to a terrific main event performance from Jett/Chamber main bdog, and if he or someone like mada or dazzLe can step up in the LCQ, then the Shopify players will have a chance to finally win the big one. The players should have added motivation too since they’ll be playing to prove they belong in the league next year with Shopify Rebellion not participating as an organization.
- What went wrong: The unexpected departure of both renowned Sova player Xeta and coach Autumn threw off the cohesion of C9, leading to their worst overall performance across an event or stage since Vanity joined.
- Why they could win: Any team would struggle from such a vital part of the roster suddenly exiting, especially if it occurred in the middle of the stage. In recent weeks, however, C9 have been re-tuning while actively competing in tier-two events, with the trio of Xeppaa, leaf, and mitch all playing above the level they were at during Stage Two. With time to now get curry acclimated, it wouldn’t be a shock to see C9 get back to their winning ways.
- What went wrong: 100T slammed the reset button two weeks after its first new roster of 2022 debuted in Stage One, following an ugly 13-0 loss on Ascent to The Guard during their 0-2 start. With their stand-ins, they ended up missing the playoffs as a whole in Stage One.
- Why they could win: The unconfident and non-cohesive 100T from Stage One is gone. The organization brought in new leadership in GM ddk and coach Sean Gares and rebuilt around flex superstar Asuna with a young, hungry core of players. Much like The Guard, a Champions trip for this young group would be ahead of schedule, but the 100T players have proven they can hang with the best.
- What went wrong: Like several names on this list, EG had a lackluster Stage One performance and arguably had the worst of anyone: 0-5 in groups and only two total maps won. The disappointing result led to the team swapping out Pho and YaBoiDre for C0M and Apotheon.
- Why they could win: But again, like others on this list, EG saw a resurgence in Stage Two thanks to their new additions. C0M was one of the most impactful initiators in Stage Two and he set up duelist jawgemo for a breakout performance in the main event. Like 100T, it’s not Champions or bust for such a young group, but they showed the most improvement of any team between Stage One and Stage Two.
- What went wrong: Where to begin? After an early exit in playoffs in Stage One, Sentinels cratered in Stage Two. The team lost SicK for extended time, lost TenZ one week to COVID, newest addition Kanpeki really struggled to make any sort of impact, and the stand-ins in Dani and Rawkus just couldn’t produce on the level that was needed.
- Why they could win: This team is without a doubt the biggest wildcard just via the addition of shroud, one of the biggest streamers in the world and a capable FPS player with competitive experience but one who’s never competed in professional VALORANT. But Sentinels hit a home run in picking up an excellent flex option in Zellsis. We know what the trio of dapr, TenZ, and ShahZaM can do when they’re clicking, and if shroud lives up to expectations, maybe the wildcard roster can resurrect the Sentinels dynasty.
The NA LCQ begins on Thursday, Aug. 4 with the opening match between The Guard and Sentinels at 3pm CT, followed by FaZe vs. EG.