Update: XSET beat OpTic Gaming in the North America Stage 2 playoffs grand final to win the NA No. 1 seed at Masters: Copenhagen.
The score was 11-3 on Ascent against FaZe Clan as XSET entered the fifteenth round on the precipice of doing what they had never done in their two-year history -- qualify for an international VALORANT event.
With a collective dream to make Copenhagen, XSET didn’t get their 12th round win in the fifteenth round. Instead, FaZe Clan won their fourth round as they looked to mount a comeback. But even before the 13th round was set in stone and the postgame hugs and celebrations came, Copenhagen was a destination that XSET had already known was in their sights as a goal manifested months in advance.
“Before we even went into the series against OpTic, we said, we are going to Copenhagen, win or lose today,” Matthew "Cryocells" Panganiban shared following their loss to OpTic Gaming 3-1 in the upper bracket final. “Between FaZe Clan and NRG, we know this is our time to make Copenhagen.”
For fellow XSET teammate Jordan “Ayrin” He, Copenhagen holds such a special place in his heart that he has a picture of Copenhagen taped to his ceiling. A city that he spent four months in during his Master’s program, Copenhagen is Ayrin’s “favorite city in the world.” Now, Ayrin, who had already booked the ticket to Copenhagen long before the start of the VALORANT Champions Tour North America Stage 2, will make that trip to his favorite city with a team's that a true contender for the crown.
XSET take down rising FaZe Clan to secure first international event
Securing their spot at Masters: Copenhagen was no easy task for XSET, however, as they had to push aside a lot of naysayers and strong teams along their journey. One of the common doubts for XSET throughout each stage of this tournament was their ability to overcome the top teams in North America.
“It’s a very talked-about topic, but it’s quite annoying. When you are consistently placing fourth in one of the most competitive regions in the world, it isn’t easy right?” Ayrin said in response to XSET’s infamous fourth-place curse. “Yet, it can be viewed as easy when it is really hard to come out on top.”
Throughout Stage 2, XSET took down nearly every opponent in their way. They appeared to get even stronger as they stood one series away from Copenhagen. However, their final opponent would be a rising FaZe Clan lineup with two stars in Andrei “babybay” Francisty and Quan “dicey” Tran.
For FaZe Clan, their road to the lower bracket final was equally impressive. FaZe took down NRG in the lower bracket to move into a best-of-five series against XSET for NA’s final spot at Masters: Copenhagen. The winner would move forward into the grand final against OpTic Gaming with their spot at Masters secure, while the other would have to resort to the NA Last Chance Qualifier to try to go to Champions, the final international VALORANT tournament of the year.
XSET entered that deciding series after their loss against OpTic Gaming, feeling confident because of the work throughout 2022 done to stay strong after each game.
“We just mentally reset after a loss and just tell ourselves ‘let’s take the next one,’” Cryocells said. “Our team has a really good mentality, so we are able to do a hard reset after wins and losses.”
Crycocells' impact on XSET
Photo credit: Cody Gan / Nerd Street
Cryocells was the lone addition to XSET following the team’s fourth-place NA LCQ run in 2021 where he admitted that the pressure of being the new player was tough at first, but he felt more comfortable over time.
“I definitely felt the pressure going into my first season,” Cryocells told Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez in a postmatch interview, “But with enough reps and practice, I’ve just been slowly easing into it.”
Those early nerves went largely unnoticed though, as the young duelist made his mark on XSET early on and was the consistent X factor on the team even in their losses. Now, he has gotten better with experience, with his series against FaZe Clan being a showcase of his progress.
In that final match, Cryocells garnered 103 kills to just 60 deaths across four games. His average combat score of 278 stood alone and above everyone in the deciding series. It was a feeling that Cryocells had trouble describing.
“It doesn't feel real to me still,” Cryocells shared after beating FaZe Clan. “It feels like a dream to be honest.”
Yet, through all of his success, the young XSET player made sure to give thanks to all the people who supported the team.
“I just want to say thank you to all the fans who supported me all the way ever since I joined XSET,” Cryocells told Goldenboy. “I wouldn’t be here without you.”
After two years in VALORANT, the consistent North Americans have finally qualified for the organization’s first international event where they pose a strong chance to also represent the region at Champions if they can place 10th or higher in Copenhagen. For Ayrin, the confidence is at its highest with XSET because of the constant upward trajectory the team has taken to reach this point.
“Regardless of who was on XSET, we just kept getting better and better,” Ayrin shared after taking down 100 Thieves earlier in the playoffs. Now, we’ve gotten to a point where we think we can take it all the way.”
With a talented lineup of players, XSET have an opportunity to make those goals a reality in a couple of weeks.
For now, XSET will put thoughts of Copenhagen on the backburner just a little longer as they look to prepare for their series against the reigning Masters: Reykjavík champions, OpTic Gaming. Both teams will compete against one another in the grand final at 4 p.m. ET Sunday, and the winner will represent North America in Copenhagen as the No. 1 seed from the region.
Lead photo credit: Riot Games