The top NA roster rebels against the VALORANT meta - and pays the price
Cloud9 have been struggling recently, putting up a performance in the T1 x Nerd Street showdown that was a far cry from their earlier showings. On one hand, at the time they still only had one signed player, playing with 4 stand-ins in addition to Tenz, and it showed. Tenz regularly put up by far the best performance of his entire team, sometimes carrying with unbelievable numbers, dropping almost 40 kills while the rest of his team barely squeaked past 10. However, this isn’t new. In previous tournaments, Tenz has also put up monstrous performances, but his hard carrying used to actually net the team some wins. For some reason, it doesn’t anymore, and it probably has something to do with Sage.
For the longest time, since the beta, Sage has had a 100% pick rate in the top tier VALORANT tournaments. Although her most recent nerf has made her wall almost completely worthless in the early round, it is still the single most powerful ability in the game at zoning off certain areas of the map, especially in post-plant situations, for both attackers and defenders. There is a common misconception that her Resurrection is the most “broken” ability that makes her a must-pick hero, but as the only character that can create a literal physical barrier and one of only two that can physically slow other characters down, she currently provides not only the sheerest utility value of any agent but also the most unique utility value of any agent. She is and has always been up to now entirely irreplaceable.
It is only in the most recent couple of patches that this incredibly high pick rate has gone down a little, and that too only in certain edge cases. Most notably, some North American teams run a duelist-heavy comp on Ascent without a Sage. Cloud9 in the T1 Showdown didn’t play Sage even once, on any map, and just so happened to lose every single map until their final Group A game against Faze, where they pulled her out - on Ascent, the only map that other teams feel it is safe to go Sage-less on.
Nevertheless, this has worked out for C9. They picked up their only match win and their only two maps, playing her in the entire series, and one has to wonder if this was a last-minute adaptation. Having suffered significant losses to Together We Are Terrific and Prospects, teams that the past would indicate that C9 are favoured against, the transition to go back to Sage basics feels like the move of a team that realised their experiment has failed. Unfortunately, one win was not enough to send them through to the playoffs, and their journey ended there. But one has to wonder what they could have accomplished if they made the decision to adapt and play shinobi on Sage earlier in their tournament run.
Notably, in the past, Tenz has played Sage for C9, and been the carry at the same time. Due to the passive playstyle that Sage benefits from, it is rare that the Sage on any team has top-fragged, and indeed in the T1 tournament as well, across all teams, despite having an almost 100% pick rate, Sage has the lowest average combat score and the 3rd lowest average K/D/A. Tenz actually led the entire tournament in average combat score, outperforming stars who took their teams much further into the competition than Tenz could take C9.
However, even in their two Sage maps, they put shinobi on the agent instead. It is hard to say if this unlocked Tenz’s fragging potential, freeing him of the burden of the support role, since he instead played Jett and naturally fragged out with the Operator quite hard, or rather if C9 need to rely on Tenz’s constant presence on Sage, being the only player who has ever historically performed well in raw numbers while also providing the much-needed utility that Sage provides.
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As the meta develops in a game that is still relatively brand spanking new and more teams experiment, there is a decent chance that actually viable Sage-less compositions and even Sage counters appear on the horizon. However, with kooky, left-field compositions like C9’s Viper-based composition on Split that may as well have been lifted straight from Reddit, plenty of scrim time and thoughtful planning needs to go into the strategy before they can be played with success in tournaments.
This is not to say that C9 didn’t put in the work - they have proved in the past to be a competent, high-performing team, and perhaps this was just an experiment that didn’t work out. That happens. Only time will tell if their disappointing performance in the T1 Showdown is 100% Sage-related, or if there are deeper issues at hand.
Images via Riot Games