The PAX Arena Invitational brought the heat this past weekend
The North American VALORANT scene has been white-hot with densely packed tournaments featuring the ever-growing roster of impressive teams. However, with that kind of heat, comes change, some of which is frankly surprising given the past resumes of some of these teams. With Sentinels taking the win and Cloud9 stabilising at second, it’s hard to argue that there isn’t a power vacuum in North American VALORANT at the moment. With that said, here are the four most important things we learned at VALORANT’s PAX Arena Invitational, leading the pack sits a dominant North American team that now looks painfully mortal.
TSM Called Into Question
After their disappointing performances during the Pulse Invitational and more recently at the PAX Arena Invitational, it’s difficult to call TSM the best team in North America at the moment.
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Stephen "reltuC" Cutler and James "hazed" Cobb specifically didn’t have a strong showing at the PAX Arena Invitational with the former having some hidden gem performances in the group stages. Historically speaking, both have been more supportive players that haven’t been super impactful, especially on the teams attacking rounds. Not to disrespect them individually, but when teams like Sentinels and Cloud9 have players that can have star player performances outside the usual suspects of Tyson "TenZ" Ngo or Jay "sinatraa" Won, TSM that largely relies on Matthew "Wardell" Yu, Matthew "Wardell" Yu and Taylor "drone" Johnson will be outgunned by rosters with more firepower.
None of this is to say that TSM can’t regain its leading position, but it’s difficult to consider them in a league of their own at the moment. However, this all begs the question - if not them, then who?
As for their map standings, their Ascent, which has been criticised in the past, has improved, but now Bind has come to bite them specifically during this event. The team dropped Bind against Homeless, 100Thieves, and Sentinels in the playoffs. With two weak maps in their pool, things do not look good for TSM going forward. However, there is a new North America VALORANT squad that has entered the fold.
Homeless is the new prospect in town, a contender that nearly dismantled both of the established top teams in the region. What seemed to be a pickup team full of solid amateur players has easily turned into the next team in North American VALORANT that could be called up by a big-time organisation. Homeless battled through the group of death this weekend, advancing out of Group A as the second seed over Built By Gamers, formerly Code7, and 100Thieves.
However, their infamy was gained in the playoffs. Not only did this team take a map off of TSM in the group stage, but they also beat T1 in the first round of the playoffs 2-0. This convincing victory for Homeless is a statement win and spells disaster for a team like T1, an organisation that has come into the VALORANT space and made a name for itself with a number of tournaments and by acquiring not only their aforementioned team but an academy team as well.
Both Rory "dephh" Jackson and Harrison "psalm" Chang recently came off strong showings as stand-ins for FaZe Clan during the T1 x Nerd Street Gamers invitational. However, psalm has been chipping away at the North American weekly events since the beta with China Nguyen. These two standout players are quickly making a name for themselves even if Homeless doesn’t find a home. Rest assured they, at the very least, will find some shelter, which could be more likely than you think with the trend of organisations looking to slowly build out their rosters with individuals rather than pulling the trigger on a whole team. These two easily could be the pieces needed for Cloud9 to finally earn their first big tournament victory.
Sentinels Show Up Big
With few data points on their VALORANT resume, it has been difficult to judge exactly where Sentinels sit within the North American space at large. However, with this victory and their road to said championship, we have to give credit where credit is due. Sentinels are a top team currently. Their road to the top started by besting Cloud9, ironically enough, in the group stages to take the top seed out of Group C. Sentinels then goes on to defeat Gen.G Esports, TSM, and Cloud9 to take home the PAX Arena Invitational title. If that isn’t impressive then it’s hard to define what is.
Hunter "SicK" Mims and Jay "sinatraa" Won both had stand out performances, with the latter being the consistent star across the tournament as a whole. That said, everyone on Sentinels had impressive performances in their own right.
What stood out was their unique take on Ascent, specifically using the architecture of the map to their advantage and denying B executes entirely by threatening to spray down their opponents through the wall. The only other team that has done this well or has shown a big propensity to explore this area of the game was the now-defunct European roster, HypHypHyp.
Sage Finally Locked In
It seems we’ve finally come to a consensus when it comes to Sage in the popular debate around VALORANT and which compositions to use and where. Sage was used nearly exclusively throughout the entire playoff bracket.
TSM, Team Envy, T1, Homeless, and Immortals all featured Sage-less compositions with Ascent being the common factor in most matches. This could be due to how difficult it is for her to find use out of her wall specifically on offence. Sage is unable to use her wall to abuse sightlines in the large middle area of the map because of the defence advantage of high ground on Catwalk. This threat alone negates most passageways, and because of that, teams have been experimenting with other composition types. Two that have lead the pack, on Ascent specifically, are double smoke compositions that feature both Omen and Brimstone and compositions that favour more entry fragging utility like Pheonix, Breach, and Reyna.
While she has seen consistent tweaks since the games beta, Sage still is a staple pick. She not only stifles pushes with her Slow Orbs, but her Barrier Orb is still a bit of a problem. You can use it on offence to deny sightlines for a fast plant, you can slam the door on the attacking team’s face on defence, Barrier Orb does it all. On top of that, just picking Sage allows your team to peek aggressively for information seeing how she can heal off the residual damage you might take.
While being unique and having pocket picks is something that should be applauded, it’s a tough ask to rotate out Sage in this current climate.
Images via Riot Games