VALORANT Player Of The Year: How nAts Reinvented The Game
When the dust settles from the first-ever season on VALORANT esports, the names in the headlines will be those like Tyson "TenZ" Ngo and Mehmet "cNed" Yağız İpek - arguably the best two Operator players on the planet - but redefining the game one Cypher cage at a time is Ayaz "nAts" Akhmetshin, and his role in developing VALORANT sees him take the crown as our player of the year.
Since VALORANT hit our screens, the immediate go-to agent is Jett, and understandably so. With a sleek design that oozes silk into their gameplay, the finesse and uniqueness behind blowing a game wide open through a Bladestorm is undeniably attractive.
However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and there's a certain elegance and artistry about seeing another role blossom and become one of the most feared and poisonous compositions in the game.
The First Sentinel
Often operating on Cypher or Viper, nAts found comfort in the smoke of the sentinels, whilst everyone was revelling over the early dominance of the North American Sentinels - learning the crafty mechanics of a role that relies on knowledge and creativity. Whilst Sentinels began laying the foundations for global dominance during Stage 1 and the Stage 2 Masters: Reykjavik, nAts, and his Gambit Esports teammates were crafting something beyond what had been seen before, taking away from the sheer Counter-Strike-esque raw talent and truly harnessing VALORANT's differences.
It was the slippery nature of a sentinel role that first attracted nAts to the likes of Cypher and Viper, allowing for solo plays to be made in a completely new nature. Whilst Jett mains would fly about the map going Gung-ho, nAts revelled in the crevices of the maps, using smokes and utility to invent plays and flanks, or simply lurk in the shadows to pick off players looking to replicate his own successes.
"I like to annoy my opponents. That’s why I’m playing Cypher," nAts told GGRecon following a victory in Berlin. "I love to make new things and maybe that’s why I like Viper too. I just love my role, staying on-site and killing my enemy, I just like to annoy my opponents.
"Sometimes I am saying to my teammates to leave me alone on site, I can do everything."
Despite not making huge waves during the first two Stages of the VCT tour, Gambit and nAts took to the platform in Berlin, where the world would finally get a glimpse of what he has to offer.
Reinventing VALORANT In Berlin
Gambit Esports lost out on the chance to take to the stage in Masters 2, narrowly losing out to Fnatic in the EMEA Finals, but came back with a vengeance in Stage 3.
Making a lower-bracket run in the EMEA qualifiers to come out in pole position, Gambit took no time making themselves comfortable at LAN, taking games off Crazy Racoon and taking the experienced 100 Thieves to their maximum in the group stage. But it was the playoffs where nAts' true ability shone.
Even against the utmost speculative sides in Vision Strikers - renowned for the similarly eccentric playstyle - nAts' habit of utilising the abilities was unrivalled, picking up an array of double kills including one that ended the first game in a convincing 13-2 fashion, before continuing to rack up a team-high 53 kills in the series. It was menacing yet cohesive, like batman blowing sucker punches from the dark before hiding in the shadows and disappearing out of existence.
Maybe it was more like Bane, "You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, moulded by it," as nobody could locate nAts as he proved to be a dark knight of his own in the semi-finals versus G2 Esports too. Yet again outscoring the rest of his team, nAts' counter to the frightening Jett meta was evident, shutting down the highly-rated Cista "Keloqz" Wassim at every opportunity.
With all eyes on his unparalleled tactics and one-of-a-kind approach to the game, Team Envy awaited in the final, fresh off the back of a heated win over NA rivals 100 Thieves. At the heel of their new marksman Jaccob "yay" Whiteaker - another hot Jett main with a nasty Operator - Envy could have been the antidote to Gambit's venom. But not on nAts' watch.
This time with a huge helping hand from teammate Timofey "chronicle" Khromov, nAts continued to cause mayhem and confusion, and the pair worked in tandem to take a jaw-dropping 142 kills between them in a three-match clean sweep. Even with Nikita "d3ffo" Sudakov on Jett, the pair threw away the playbook that every team had been mastering, re-writing the meta in a single showcase. As arguably the most influential performance that VALORANT has ever seen in its early history, Gambit Esports were crowned Stage 3 Masters winners, and their nAts-centric stylistics were applauded.
Replicating in 2022?
Gambit is far from done in their building too, and as many lesser-known teams and players are looking to mould their own new craze, the CIS team have been open to just how much more they have to offer as a collective.
Following their success at the Stage 3 Masters: Berlin, captain Igor "Redgar" Vlasov told fans that the team was only at 60% of what they envisioned - with more invention yet to be seen. The enthusiastic IGL also targetted the Red Bull Home Ground #2 as a playground for an experiment, showcasing a handful of their wackiness just before the pinnacle event of the year. Albeit falling in the quarterfinals, much to the hands of a cNed masterclass, Gambit was ready to show everyone at Champions that they mean business, and the target on their backs was being dropped in the depths of Viper's pit.
Conclusion following Champions...
Uniqueness, innovation, and success, balled into a single Panda-loving sentinel. The future is bright for nAts, and he's already changed VALORANT for the better...