North American VALORANT has a new champion in town.
In the first major VALORANT tournament officially sanctioned by Riot Games, the odds-on favourites were traded in for an underdog with limitless potential. Proving their road here was no fluke, 100 Thieves confidently emerged over TSM as North America’s First Strike champions. However, ironically enough, both teams were very familiar with each other before stepping into the grand final.
First meeting in the Nerd Street Gamers (NSG) Closed Qualifiers, 100 Thieves confidently beat TSM 2-0 to secure their seed at First Strike. In a vacuum, it looks like a one-off event, but after such a convincing finals performance, we know that to be false. When we view both of their matches through the timeless lens of hindsight, what sets 100 Thieves apart in both their bouts?
On the outset, we already can see adjustments have been made to TSM’s agent roster since the NSG Closed Qualifiers. TSM opted to move Yassine "Subroza" Taoufik off of Omen and onto Raze and Reyna. Similarly, James "hazed" Cobb moved from picks like Killjoy and Cypher to Omen, who better fits the team’s triple-duelist strategies. However, this leaves them without the information that a Sentinel pick typically grants you; this forces their hand in a number of ways.
Playing without a Killjoy or a Cypher forces TSM to play more with their face. Scouting becomes much more difficult to do without the ability to use something like Spy Cam, Alarm Bot, or Turret. This better positions TSM to be much more direct and rigid with their engagements on offence.
The defence is hesitant and slower to rotate due to lack of information. To better explain, think of the map and vision in terms of League of Legends, for example. If you have a ward placed down in a brush, you’re much more aware of the enemies movements through that general area. Without that ward and the vision it grants you, you’re forced to make plays into the uncertainty that is the fog of war.
100 Thieves, on the other hand still is operating with the same compositions generally, other than having Joshua "steel" Nissan move from Killjoy over to Cypher on Haven. This could be a result of TSM being more focused on their triple-duelist setups. Having Trip Wires to either thwart or force the enemy to match with a resource of their own is a fantastic way to gain a posture advantage over a composition that needs every bit of utility to break into a site. Compositional differences set aside, the two teams showcased entirely different styles from one another.
The young duo of Quan "dicey" Tran and Peter "Asuna" Mazuryk is easily one of the most striking features of the team. The pair can oftentimes be found playing aggressive defences, double-peeking into hotly contested positions. On defence, they act as a spearhead to divide the map and hamstring direct pushes. If 100 Thieves feels like TSM is going for a slow, mid-control focused play, they send Dicey and Asuna towards Catwalk to aggressively peek right off the line. If they sniff out a B-Main push, the duo ends up opting for a poke through that same position.
Again, this echoes itself during the grand finals in First Strike. Steel’s two attack dogs throw themselves down Long-B, trade, and gather information on which way TSM is leaning on the map. Now, to be fair to them, this isn’t something they always do—but it’s a play in their book, something TSM and other would-be rivals have to keep in mind. That is what makes them so dangerous. The ability to shift into so many different gears, to be able to bring so many different plays to the table—that is what sets 100 Thieves apart from their peers.
Now contrasting that, Matthew "Wardell" Yu is often the lone defender taking aggressive duels off the line. Take for example round five on Ascent during the NSG Closed Qualifiers or round twenty-four in the same set on Haven.
These aggressive peeks early on to posture for map control and early picks are a double-edged sword. While they can be incredibly beneficial if they land, they can cost TSM some early Operator drops as well as Wardell some first deaths. For instance, during their NSG Closed Qualifiers match against 100 Thieves, Wardell died first seven times on Haven—the average on that map was approximately three first deaths.
You can’t ignore nor can you dock Wardell for being so Operator focused, when you put up the stats he does it’s hard not to put the weapon in his hands. However, this playstyle also makes it difficult for the team to make use of Jett as an entry tool.
Another aspect of 100 Thieves’ game that was reflected throughout both sets was steel’s unorthodox positioning with Killjoy. Even after Hazed attempts to check Wine with one of his Swarm Grenades, steel stays the course and holds his position. After a poke through B-Main and the doors shut deny access to the chokepoints towards the middle of the map. 100 Thieves have effectively boxed themselves out of mid-control and have boarded up the two direct approaches onto both objectives—dicey controlling B-Main and steel with his Wine position.
Even during First Strike, steel found small openings where he’s able to both plant seeds of doubt and uncertainty all the while being able to give his team a pseudo-lurking option on defence. Again, 100 Thieves showcases a depth that not many teams this early on in VALORANT can keep up with. Teams might have one or two set executes but will always return to a default rollout that can be abused. 100 Thieves and steel, on the other hand, pack a truly lucid presence of mind and a deep playbook to call upon at a moments notice.
Both matches showcase two incredibly talented teams who deserve to be in the positions they are; however, one of them was slightly more rigid and one-dimensional in their planning. Playing foil to that, 100 Thieves does it all—they are the team with the complete playstyle. They take both a more modern approach to exactly how Jett fits within their gameplan but can move dicey back on the Operator when they see fit. Both Asuna and dicey both do a great job in both sets being proactive on defence to control the tempo and direction of the game. They are the ones to move back and forth between playing more for off-site retakes and fighting for the real estate on the site itself.
Depth, firepower, and experience are what 100 Thieves bring to the table, and they wielded these three attributes to topple TSM to become North America’s First Strike champions. If one setup didn’t work, a call would be made to move to the secondary, then the tertiary—and in that way, so much credit for this victory has to go to steel. Not only was he a weapon in these matches, but the team was well prepared and well lead throughout both sets.
While some teams lean heavily on their aim and raw skill, 100 Thieves has a more methodical look—all the while still bringing world-class talent to the table.
It’s hard to believe that we were all waiting with bated breath for the 100 Thieves, and it’s equally as baffling that this same team had been middling just months prior. North America may have started as a two-horse race, but if 100 Thieves continues to perform, and more importantly improve, at the speed they’ve shown thus far, we may have to start talking about repeat titles.
Images via Riot Games