It’s safe to say Valorant’s first international LAN was a success. Millions of viewers got to watch the world’s regions collide. Every region had their own style when it came to picking agents and playing each map, and some unexpected teams beat out major regions. NUTURN, Korea’s sole representative, had a great run through Masters until their matchup against Fnatic. The 2-1 set that decided who would get themselves out of the loser’s bracket wound up going Fnatic’s way, but both teams had a great showing. That makes it all the more surprising that Fnatic fell 3-0 to Sentinels in their Finals clash.
With their 3-0 victory, Sentinels managed to make it through Valorant Masters without dropping a map.
Despite favored teams like Version1 and Team Liquid getting knocked out earlier than expected, Sentinels never failed to bring back even the worst rounds. Expectations for Sentinels’ performance were high going in, but they managed to live up to those high expectations. What separates Sentinels from the rest of the world, and how are they playing so much better than everyone else?
Making it look easy
The easiest answer as to why Sentinels perform so well is their raw mechanical skill. It’s a little hard to lose with TenZ on your team. He was #1 in K/D with a 1.48 ratio across the entire tournament, the most kills per round on average, and a ridiculous 19 first bloods to 2 first deaths in their BO5 against Fnatic.TenZ is just that good.
That isn’t to say, however, that it feels like the rest of Sentinels are dragging their feet. Even ShahZaM, a rare case of the coach being a main rostered player, doesn’t show the kind of weakness that’s usually associated with putting the brains on the team.
ShahZaM has no problem clutching rounds when the chips are down. While raw mechanics are important, it’s a little hard to take that and apply it to your own gameplay. “Just click heads” is easy enough to say, but it takes time and practice. Many Valorant pros have been in and around the competitive scenes for other shooters like CS:GO, Overwatch, and Paladins for years. The muscle memory is there for a lot of these players. Fortunately, Sentinel’s strategy isn’t all about raw skill, and the coach being one of the main players on the roster may have something to do with Sentinel’s incredible coordination.
Using every tool in the box
Valorant is a very fluid game. Momentum shifts rapidly, and there’s more to winning a match than winning individual rounds. For instance, the clip of ShahZaM nearly clutching that round against Fnatic has more going on than meets the eye.
As DDK, one of the commentators for this set, pointed out, ShahZaM only had one knife going into this play. This means that, if ShahZaM missed Magnum with that headshot, he probably would have died. However, ShahZaM gave himself the best chance of success he could possibly have by using Updraft in combination with the window up top to see whether or not someone would be waiting in Heaven.
Sure, going for a knife headshot is still risky, but ShahZaM does his best to put himself in a scenario where he has three 1v1s rather than a 1v3.
The moment ShahZaM took out Magnum, it was a pure 1v1. Derke tried to take down ShahZaM, but he didn’t want to extend into the sightline of SicK, Sentinels’ other remaining player. This is where sightlines matter. If ShahZaM overextended here, he would have been killed by either Boaster who was waiting in Heaven or Derke who was defending the site.
ShahZaM’s patience followed by calculated aggression made this play happen.
ShahZaM’s positioning headed into A site adds another layer of complexity to this (almost) round-winning play. Sure, he wasn’t able to catch Mistic in the corner like he wanted to, but the more important win here for Sentinels is how much attention ShahZaM was able to draw.
Using Updraft to go up and over the wall into A site not only made ShahZaM a harder target to hit, but it was a way for him to take an advantage over anyone on the other side. Jett’s ultimate doesn’t suffer from the same accuracy penalty that all of Valorant’s other weapons do, so being in the air is nothing but an advantage for ShahZaM here. He also drew attention to himself, allowing SicK to get past the sightline Mistic was holding down and cut beneath Boaster’s view from Heaven.
ShahZaM’s overwhelming presence enabled SicK to take down Boaster, the final remaining member of Fnatic. SicK knew he didn’t have time to defuse, but he did have just enough time to save the Vandal for next round. Sentinels didn’t win this round, but they did stop Fnatic from snowballing a massive economic lead.
Considering this was a heavy eco round for Sentinels and they were able to wipe a fully-equipped Fnatic, it’s hard to view this round as a loss for Sentinels.
Intelligently played rounds like this indicate Sentinel’s ability to view the big picture. Winning rounds is important, but Sentinels aren’t afraid to take as much away from their opponent as possible even in rounds that are borderline unwinnable. They take calculated risks where other teams may opt to cut their losses and save.
A big first for NA
Not only did Sentinels make themselves the first team to take first place at a Riot-sanctioned international event, but NA’s Valorant teams have broken the stigma that comes along with NA as a region. Across most esports, North American teams have been the most aggressive teams on the international stage. Regions like Korea and Europe are commonly known for their patience and intelligent macro play, but Sentinels have no problem taking slow rounds and using every tool they have to gain information.
This clip from Match 2 of the Grand Finals shows Sentinels using TenZ’s incredible dueling potential as a tool to stall the round. TenZ waited in a small nook behind the Viper wall, allowing himself to deny Fnatic’s entry onto B site.
After clutching out a single kill, TenZ used Dismiss to make himself temporarily invulnerable and head through the teleporter. Sentinels’ call to keep Fnatic busy at the choke on B won them the round due to Fnatic completely running out of time to make a play happen.
Just because a team is filled to the brim with ambitious fraggers and mechanically gifted players doesn’t mean that they’ll always want to force fights. Winning the round and keeping your econ in check matters above all else, and the enemy team doesn’t have to die in order for a round to be won.
Finding a role
Sentinels’ most notable trait is their adaptability. In every clip, Sentinels’ success comes from their ability to pick an Agent and play to their biggest strengths. ShahZaM fills whatever role his team needs. He doesn’t mind playing a utility role, but he can do very well on a Duelist if need be. In stark contrast, TenZ will always be playing a more aggressive agent. Sentinels identifying their strengths and working around them plays an important role in their overall strength as a team. The same is true in any game of Valorant: supporting your team is just as important as getting kills, and it’s ok to play a more supportive role.
For someone watching Valorant pro play and trying to figure out how to improve, this is probably the biggest lesson you could learn. Being an entry fragger and topping the scoreboard is a coveted role when it comes to a game like Valorant, but those kinds of players need proper support. It’s ok to prefer an Agent like Viper or Astra, and the supportive role is one very few solo queue players can pull off. It might not be as flashy as playing an entry fragger like Reyna, Jett, or Raze, but it’s ok not to be a flashy player. A lack of mechanical skill can be more than made up for by intelligent play and positioning.
Mechanics come with time, but deeper game knowledge is the kind of thing pros teach us. ShahZaM paved the way for SicK to get onto Split’s B site and salvage Sentinels’ economy. TenZ’s play on Bind wouldn’t have worked without dapr’s well-placed Viper wall. These players know how to work with each other, and that level of cooperation shows in every match Sentinels play.
Sentinels took a 3-0 victory over Fnatic, but it wasn’t as one-sided as it might sound. The overall scores for the three rounds were 16-14, 13-11, and 14-12. Fnatic put up a damn good fight, and one of their plays against TenZ shows how close these two teams were.
The solution to fighting a hard carry player like TenZ is sometimes just to not fight him at all. Fnatic perfectly stalled this round and made it impossible for TenZ to find the big clutch he was looking for. Rather than risking their necks and their weapons to fight him, Fnatic opted to completely cut out the risk factor by using Viper’s smoke to play around the spike. Sentinels may be the best, but Fnatic didn’t make it easy for Sentinels to get their hands on the trophy. It never felt like Fnatic were out of the tournament until they lost the final round of Game 3.
Figuring out how to improve at Valorant isn’t exactly a linear path. It can feel suffocating to be repeatedly outgunned by your opponent. However, these pro players have more than mechanics on their side. By watching how a team like Sentinels work around each other and make use of every tool they have, you can also learn a bit about how to give yourself an edge over the competition.
*Header: Sentinels photo courtesy of Riot Games.