VALORANT Champions Tour Series Of The Year 2021: 100 Thieves Vs Acend
VALORANT esports' inaugural year has gone down a treat, learning from their cousins at League of Legends and building on the craft that is Counter-Strike to produce a scintillating debut. The VALORANT Champions Tour ebbed and flowed through the coronavirus pandemic, with Stage 1 being played online, but a return to live-action saw Riot Games produce the first-ever series of VCT LANs, and they didn't disappoint.
Gathering teams from around the world for the first time, it was the tale as old as time that proven to be the main competition: Europe versus North America, as the likes of Korea and South America fell just short of making a real impact in Stage 2 and 3.
North America and the might Sentinels roster drew first blood through a flawless run at the Stage 2 Masters, but after a wobble in Stage 3 against G2 Esports, a new champion was set to be throned and both Acend and 100 Thieves both had their eyes on the throne.
100 Thieves had built a team revolving around CS:GO experience, with the likes of Joshua "Steel" Nissan, Nicholas "nitr0" Cannella, and Spencer "Hiko" Martin being renowned for their LAN presence and championship-winning careers. Combined with some upcoming prodigies, the 100 Thieves roster was feared going into Stage 3 as the "LAN team", notorious for across-the-stage antics and the mental capacity to become victorious when the other team is visible from over their screens.
A stunning win versus the highly-rated Gambit Esports in the group stage proved that 100 Thieves were what people made them out to be, whilst a further thrashing of Crazy Racoon showed that their ruthlessness was not to be under-estimated. With an eye on the throne, Acend came as the first hurdle, and game experience was their tool to prevail.
More Than A One-Man Army
On the flip-side, Acend came charging into Stage 3 with no LAN experience in the roster, rallied behind their star man Mehmet Yağız "cNed" İpek. As arguably one of the best individual players in the world, the Turkish OPer had yet to prove himself on the world stage, despite his reputation for being Acend's focal point.
However, the fresh organisation was determined to rid themselves of the stigma that they were reliant on cNed to continue his carry-capabilities and showcase that they were growing as a team unit. Despite a heavy Jett dominated style of play that initiated cNed, the captain Santeri "BONECOLD" Sassi and rowdy Vladyslav "Kiles" Shvets had begun to exert their skill in Stage 3, growing in stature. With back-to-back wins over SuperMassive Blaze to earn themselves a place in the Quarterfinals, Acend was faced with the biggest game of their careers versus 100 Thieves, and the chance to prove they truly have what it takes to dine with the greats.
100 Thieves poised with the proven veterans, Acend hungry with fearless quality, the Quarterfinals match-up was one of the spiciest to match ups on paper, and it proved to live up to its expectations, and more...
Kicking off on Acend's choice of map, Ascent, the two teams began trading blow for blow. Patryk "starxo" Kopczyński started the strongest for Acend on Viper, whilst the opposing Skye was proving to be just as meddlesome in the hands of 100 Thieves' Ethan "Ethan" Arnold. With the game tied at 6-6 at the halfway stage, 100 Thieves came into their attack rounds with unrelenting pressure, taking the pistol rounds before taking the lead 9-7. However, Acend slowly recovered with strong buys and money management, and a few moments of magic from cNed inspired a cruising run in the latter stages to not lose another round. Taking the game 9-13, Acend drew first blood.
Taking to the second map, 100 Thieves' choice playground of Haven was kicked off with a simplistic 4-0 advantage, being rather uncharacteristic by winning the opening duels with the eco-buys. Despite a slight fight-back from Acend, 100 Thieves' patience and game management saw them keep their opponents at arms length, failing to unsettle their own nerves. Fending off Jett's dashes with ease, 100 Thieves won 13-8, levelling up the tie.
Cue one of the biggest collapses in VALORANT history... Breeze was the arena, and a brutal defence saw Acend dominate the game to earn a 10-4 differential, leaving 100 Thieves looking bleak. But the LAN masters were unphased. Acend needed just three rounds to finish off the Thieves, but they stole a further three rounds back to sprinkle some fear into the cracked rookies. If nerves were ever going to play a factor, Acend's next two rounds left them on match point at 12-7, giving them at least five opportunities on defence to close the game out. But they chose to bite their nails, rather than chomp their way through to the final four.
A 100 Thieves tactical timeout came as a stroke of genius. Removing the momentum and allowing Acend time to think, and overthink, their approach, was another example of why 100 Thieves' experience was crucial to their run, and here, Acend began to crumble. With just a regular buy and a Bladestorm in the hands of nitr0, the vets began to launch an assault on the Turkish org, needing to go a flawless seven rounds to take the victory. Having lost 12 rounds to reach seven, they couldn't afford to lose a single one in their next seven.
Peter "Asuna" Mazuryk started the comeback off with a clean performance on the OP, picking two players off in the first of their flawless run, taking bomb sites with ease before holding off any advancing players on the re-take. Round after round, 100 Thieves clawed back, piling the pressure on Acend, whose camp could hear a pin drop in Berlin. 100 Thieves ripped through to 12-12 without even a scratch, moving into overtime. With Asuna and nitr0 at the helm, the first overtime round saw Acend make a huge fumble by failing to spot either player getting aggressive, who subsequently shut down their push in a matter of seconds. On match point, with Acend trembling in their boots, 100 Thieves pulled the pace down to a walk, allowing Acend to walk into their open arms with impatience, ticking off one player at a time until just their hero, cNed, was left to fall on his sword.
It was Acend's own downfall and 100 Thieves' management, but the VCT Stage 3 Masters was the first showing of the pressures of LAN, and the veterans made no mistake in using their advantages to become victorious.
Ultimately, it proved to be Acend's perfect lesson, though. Whilst the defeat stung, they learned. Next time around, Acend wouldn't be so naive, and a World Championship trophy-lift at Champions would prove the last laugh.