The upper bracket final of the VALORANT Champions Tour North America Stage 2 playoffs between reigning Masters: Reykjavík champions OpTic Gaming and the consistent XSET took place Friday. Both teams battled back-and-forth to decide the first North American representative at VCT Masters: Copenhagen.
XSET held the initial advantage over OpTic Gaming when they won the first map on Haven. On Icebox and Ascent, XSET continued to play well against OpTic Gaming. However, OpTic’s adaptations and second-half heroics were the difference as the team ultimately won the next three games to close out the series 3-1.
OpTic Gaming are the first North American team to qualify for Masters: Copenhagen. Now, their sights are set on continued improvements, a relentless mentality that has stuck with them since Reykjavík.
Taking a step back to move multiple steps forward
OpTic Gaming were less dominant early in the year than they are now. For Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker, he credited a lot of OpTic’s current successes to those steps to fix the fundamentals and adjust to a new meta in the game.
“Last group stage was more about us experimenting a new meta,” yay said. “I was still trying to figure out how to incorporate Chamber and we were still trying to figure out how to incorporate Neon and other agents.”
Photo credit: Riot Games
He detailed how the team spent those first few months of the year testing out a number of different strategies, all while doing VOD review on how other teams were playing and what they were doing.
“We had not built a foundation yet, but we really wanted to take that step back just to reinvent ourselves in 2022,” yay said. “That’s why heading into this group stage, everything just felt a bit easier for us because we took that time already to reinvent.”
That reinvention has manifested itself into the team having more avenues to play through apart from yay. Now, the team has five different players who can carry the team.
Little time to rest as OpTic Gaming continues to put in work
While they had a lot of time in between their heartbreaking season-ending loss to X10 CRIT at Champions 2021 to the start of the North America Challengers Stage 1, OpTic have had few breaks since then.
“To be honest, right after we won Reykjavík, we only were able to take a week off,” yay said.
Yet, even with their tightly packed schedules, yay put extra emphasis on the importance of what a break, even just one week, could do to propel someone forward.
“It’s important to take breaks though because you need to mentally reset after giving everything your all. You need that time to do some self reflection for yourself. If you don’t do that, then in the long run, you will experience burnout.”
Photo credit: Riot Games
For yay, he took that small amount of time to reset and reflect. He talked about doing things to dissociate himself from VALORANT for a bit before mentally preparing himself for the next goal for the team, Copenhagen.
In the playoffs, OpTic Gaming once again looked unstoppable. Even after dealing with two positive COVID-19 results heading into their match against XSET, OpTic appeared to be five steps ahead of XSET as the series went on. For yay, it’s all about his mentality that places less priority on wins and more on improvement.
“I try not to focus on the results,” yay said even before qualifying for Masters: Copenhagen. “It would be nice to make Copenhagen, but what matters to me is that we are improving day by day.”
Humbled, yay understands that every team has their own set of strengths. Even though he finds himself in a position as the team to beat in VALORANT, he understands that winning is not a guarantee and that every game needs to be treated with the same level of respect or else it can be your achilles heel.
“You can’t really underestimate anybody in this game because a lot of people can have a really good series or they have really unique stuff that you have never played against before,” yay said. “You have to always give it your best effort and prepare as best as humanly possible because upsets are a real thing in this game.”
This was something that XSET’s Matthew “Cryocells” Panganiban noticed when playing against them.
“We learned a lot from that series,” Cryocells said. “We hate losing and we are sad, but we are happy with how we performed. They were just really good. They are the reigning world champions for a reason, and we should be proud of ourselves because they definitely gave it their all too.”
Photo credit: Cody Gan / Nerd Street
Though OpTic Gaming finds themselves as the No. 1 team in the world, their road to this point has not been a smooth ride. There have been moments where they have been taken down. Yet, those losses only motivate the team to continue pushing forward because their ultimate goals start from the process.
“There is no team that is going to consistently win,” yay said. “Every team is going to have some rough losses or bad tournaments, but as long as you keep growing and improving, that is all that matters. You should always be on your toes and trying out new stuff. Otherwise, that could cost you if an agent turns out to be good and you start to fall behind everyone else who experimented.”
The progression and the pursuit of growth never stops for OpTic Gaming, and they will have a day to prepare for the grand final as they await the winner of XSET vs. FaZe Clan in the lower bracket final, which will take place Saturday at 4 p.m. ET. The grand final will take place Sunday at 4 p.m. ET.
Lead photo credit: Riot Games