The Guard, NRG, Version1, and XSET conquer VCT’s first North American open qualifier of 2022

Four teams are moving on.

Image via Riot Games

Four VALORANT teams battled their way through the first open qualifier this weekend to earn their spot in the group stage of VCT Stage One Challengers. Version1, XSET, The Guard, and NRG Esports will be accompanied by Sentinels, 100 Thieves, Cloud9, and Envy, who all received direct invites to the event.

V1 entered the 128-team bracket as the first seed. The team breezed through day one, only surrendering seven rounds across two series. On day two, they encountered a Complexity squad who were riding high off a victory over SoaR. But V1 quickly dispatched off the team, winning 13-2 and 13-7. 

They then faced a hot-handed Akrew roster, who have recently risen up the ranks in the NA VALORANT scene. The trio of Jordan “Zellsis” Montemurro, Alexander “zander” Dituri, and Loic “effys” Sauvageau all posted 30 or more kills during the series, leading V1 to a decisive 2-0 victory.

Only one obstacle stood between V1 and qualification: Rise. A team that proved their worth over the past few months, Rise shocked the scene with their incredible run at the NA LCQ. They entered the open qualifier as one of the favorites. V1 didn’t falter, though. They dismantled Rise 13-4 and 13-5, resulting in their qualification for the group stage. 

XSET were the second team to qualify for the group stage. XSET breezed through day one of the qualifiers but were put to the test on day two. On day two, they encountered a Radiance squad who play a unique style of VALORANT. Ascent was the first map, a map that XSET only has a 50-percent win rate on since July 2021. XSET ended up losing 13-8 after a poor attacking half left them with an 8-4 deficit. 

Heading into Breeze, where Radiance is known for their zero duelist composition, it was set to be a brawl. The map ended in a nail-biting fashion, with XSET squeaking out the map victory, winning six consecutive attacking rounds. The final map was Icebox, which proved to be a stomp for the side of XSET. British in-game leader Rory “dephh” posted 26 kills on Chamber, leading the team to a 2-1 series victory.

Up next for the team was NRG. XSET and NRG have historically been close contenders—and this series was no different. On the back of youngsters Zachary “zekken” Patrone and Matthew “Cryocells” Panganiban, XSET narrowly beat NRG 13-9 and 13-11. 

The last hurdle for XSET was The Guard, who were coming off massive victories against the likes of FaZe and Luminosity. The Guard proved to be no match for a hot-handed XSET squad, however. XSET easily beat The Guard 13-3 and 13-6, with the whole team recording positive KDAs.

The Guard entered the open qualifier with question marks surrounding the potential of its roster. The team recently signed Trent Cairns to a trial contract in place of founding member Harrison “psalm” Chang. 

The Guard easily got through the first day of the qualifier, setting up a date with FaZe to begin day two. The series began on Haven, The Guard’s map pick. It was dead even at the midway point, but the team ran away with it in the second half, winning seven rounds on defense and picking up the map victory. 

Map two, Ascent, was a wake-up call for The Guard, though. They lost in convincing fashion, barely scraping together a round. But the team quickly rebounded in map three, with Jacob “valyn” Batio recording 25 kills on Split and claiming the series win.

The Guard still had a tough hill to climb when they faced a revamped Luminosity roster. The matchup proved to be a difficult one for The Guard. They managed to narrowly beat Luminosity 17-15 and 13-10, though.

Following their victory over Luminosity, they faced a Knights team who had just upset TSM. Maps one and two were a back-and-forth battle, with each team winning their map choice. This set the stage for map three. The Guard came out of the gates swinging on Haven, posting 10 rounds on the attacking side. The Guard capitalized on their impressive attacking half and closed out the map 13-3. 

Despite their amazing run thus far, XSET sent The Guard to the lower bracket in a decisive 2-0 manner. The Guard, however, didn’t let their loss against XSET define their tournament run. They stood one match away from qualifying for the group stage. There, they faced an Akrew team who was riding high off a massive victory against TSM. 

The Guard dominated Akrew, with four players dropping 30 or more kills in the series. With a 2-0 victory over Akrew, The Guard qualified for the group stage, where they’ll battle it out against several other teams for a chance at qualifying for the main event. 

The last team to qualify was NRG. Coming into the tournament, they were written off by fans. NRG were considered to be a team that possessed firepower but were lacking when it comes to tactics. NRG saw no problems up until day two during their match against Andbox, though. The team narrowly beat out Andbox, 13-11 and 14-12, behind a monster performance from Daniel “eeiu” Vucenovic. 

Up next, NRG faced tournament-favorite XSET, ultimately falling 2-0 to be sent to the lower bracket. The lower bracket proved no challenge for NRG, however. They breezed through the likes of Pioneers, Knights, and Rise, only dropping one map en route to qualifying for the group stage. 

V1, XSET, The Guard, and NRG will all advance to the group stage, where they’ll face a few other teams in the hopes of qualifying for the main event. The action will kick off on Feb. 11.