The first major tournament in VALORANT’s lifespan is in the books, and after three days of explosive action, TSM emerged the North American champions. In a dream final against the home side, T1, Matthew “Wardell” Yu and his team won 3-0 final to secure the $25,000 grand prize at the T1 x Nerd Street Gamers Showdown.
There was a lot of action to keep up with during the three-day extravaganza, so here are the ten burning topics, questions and statements as we look back on the first North American Ignition Series event.
1. TSM are North America’s gold standard
While a bit obvious, this tournament solidified TSM as the region’s best team. When the five-stack began its VALORANT journey as unsponsored Mousespaz, they found success in the beta but seemed to be lagging behind the likes of T1 and Gen.G. Since getting picked up by TSM, the team has grinded online tournaments like no other, picking up trophy after trophy before finally putting it all together to win the first Ignition Series event. Several players on the team were offered individual spots on tier-one organizations before their TSM deal but declined due to believing that their team of five could achieve great things, and with this win, no one could deny they made the correct decision.
2. Wardell is ready to be the face of VALORANT
He’s loud, throws out one-liners at the speed of sound and is one of the most talented VALORANT players in the world. Wardell has all the makings of a player that can become one of the faces of the growing VALORANT esports scene, and as the centerpiece of TSM, a team that has seen Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg become one of the icons of League of Legends, he’s on the right organization to push his stardom to the next level. Along with an electric personality, his play matches up all the talk. Wardell secured 298 frags to only 176 deaths over the course of the tournament. This isn’t the peak for Wardell — it’s only the beginning.
3. Don’t forget Drone
Although Wardell was the story coming out of the event, it would be foolish to overlook Taylor “Drone” Johnson, TSM’s often-secondary carry that at times was the ace of the team during the tournament. When it comes to TSM, one of their main strengths is how well they entry and push the pace, and Drone is a large reason for that attribute, the American Phoenix main putting up a tournament-leading 56 first bloods to get the ball rolling for his squad. Beyond Drone, the entire team excelled throughout, every player from top to bottom playing their best on the final day of the event and bringing home the hardware.
4. T1 is still a great team, but they need to become even better
The home team, T1 were the favorites by many to win their namesake event. The debate with T1 and other teams in the region would always fall back on the words “raw talent,” highlighting the ridiculous amount of skill on the team’s starting roster. And though it still wouldn’t be a hot take to say they’re the most talented VALORANT team in the world in terms of pure mechanics, they were bested by TSM, a more coordinated, well-rounded side. Where TSM were decisive and confident in many of their attacking opportunities, looking equally as dangerous on offense as they were defense, T1’s slower-paced, sometimes overly cautious playstyle never found the right cracks in TSM’s armor to defeat them. There were often rounds in which T1 was fighting the clock more so than the team opposing them, rushing to plant the Spike or to initiate their entrance onto a site.
Keven “AZK” Larivière has been said to be the in-game leader for the team these days and although he’s one of the better players in North America, coordinating to a world-class level doesn’t happen overnight. T1 might have lost the first true battle for North American supremacy, but let’s be clear, there are many more battles to come before this war is over.
5. Hiko doesn’t need to be ‘freed.’ Give 100 Thieves time
As 100 Thieves made their debut as a starting-five in this tournament, all eyes were on Spencer “Hiko” Martin, the former Counter-Strike pro that has become VALORANT’s most-watched Twitch streamer. Fans wanted to see the man they learned VALORANT from and watched perform one-on-three clutches like they’re nothing on stream to get a championship in his first competition under the 100 Thieves banner, and to their dismay, the team only finished in a respectable 5th-6th place. During 100 Thieves matches, the message “#FREEHIKO” was spammed all over Twitch’s chatroom any time one of his teammates would slip up. Overall, Hiko had an impressive tournament, finishing at No. 3 in terms of Average Combat Score (255) and No. 4 in average kills-per-round, cementing himself as the top carry on this new 100 Thieves roster.
Although the team didn’t do as well as some Hiko fans would have hoped going in, I see a lot of promise in this starting five. TSM, T1 and other teams have practiced endlessly for months leading up into this tournament, whereas 100 Thieves had only a tiny fraction of that time to get ready. As aforementioned, TSM lagged behind the top teams in a similar position to 100 Thieves until they improved as they entered more tournaments. I believe the same will happen with the Thieves, who were inches away from topping teams such as FaZe Clan and Immortals, which would have snagged them a bronze medal in their first event together. It won’t be long until skeptical Hiko fans realize that a player like Zachary “Venerated” Roach and the rest of his 100 Thieves teammates are strong enough to contend against TSM and T1 in the future.
6. FaZe Clan with a perfect tournament
It’s weird to say that a team that finished fourth had a “perfect” tournament, but I stand by that statement when talking about FaZe. The team announced Jason “JasonR” Ruchelski as the roster’s captain, but he didn’t play in the tournament since his signing was recent and the first player the organization had signed, former Overwatch League standout Corey “Corey” Nigra, was already practicing with his own lineup of players. Thus, JasonR sat on the sidelines during the Ignition Series competition and Corey’s practiced squad topped their opening stage group and narrowly missed a top-three podium position after a hard fought loss to Immortals.
Overall, you couldn’t ask for a better outcome for FaZe management. Corey looked like the ace you signed him to be, the team performed well enough that there is a strong case to sign various members from this trial lineup, and maybe most reassuring, they didn’t do so well that JasonR would feel like he was messing up something untouchable. JasonR and Corey are a fantastic foundation to build around and if FaZe picked up three of the four remaining players from the competition to fill out the remaining starting-five, it could be the start of something scary. The one player I think is a must-sign for FaZe is Jimmy “Marved” Nguyen, who found himself as the backbone of the team while piloting the Brimstone, consistent and adaptable throughout, doing a little bit of everything to get FaZe farther in the bracket.
7. Cloud9 with a non-perfect tournament
Ouch. It’s one thing to be like Gen.G, a favorite that underachieved by stumbling in the bracket stage, but it’s a whole other headache when you’re a favorite and don’t even make it out of the group stages. C9 won a marquee beta tournament and even made a recent online final where they fell to TSM, so at worst, it felt like Tyson “TenZ” Ngo and friends would get overpowered in the quarterfinals or in a matchup with T1 or TSM. That didn’t happen. Right out of the gate, C9 dropped four straight games to amateur teams, including one in which TenZ dropped 39 frags and the team still somehow lost.
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Although the team took an irrelevant series against FaZe at the end of groups to save face, it was a mess of an event for an organization that wants to be a contender in VALORANT. They arguably have the best player, mechanically, in the world with TenZ, who is the only player that can enter a pro tournament against practiced pro teams with the expectation of putting up over 30 kills in a game. Even with the horrid results, TenZ was the only player in the entire event that averaged over 300 Average Combat Score and over a kill per round, highlighting something everything already knew: TenZ is great, but he can’t do it alone.
Skyler “Relyks” Weaver was recently signed as the second official player on the C9 roster and has had some strong games of his own, but consistency is sparse on the roster, outside of their talisman TenZ. Wardell can have a game where he puts up less than 10 kills and watches as the rest of his teammates rise to the occasion, still blowing out some of the best teams in the world. For TenZ, it almost feels like he needs to put up 20-plus every single game for his team to have a legitimate chance of going far in a tournament.
This was the section where I was going to talk either about how Terrific we are Together deserves to be picked up by a tier-one organization, how Immortals is a superstar team on the rise, or how Sentinels can now finally be respected. In the end, I decided to pick none of those options and instead want to highlight how Jay “Sinatraa” Won keeps buying the Odin in every game he plays and routinely finds himself shooting through terrain to blow up the opposing team. Sentinels are a funky team and were relatively impressive this tournament, and Sinatraa, with his Sova arrows and Odin bullet spam, has become one of the joys of watching the Sentinels. Keep up bringing the thunder, Sinatraa.
9. Ninja: Actually good
Tyler “Ninja” Blevins is easy for esports fans to dismiss. He’s Ninja. He’s the Fortnite guy with the colorful hair who has headbands sold at your nearest mall and is the face of video gaming to many people in North America. So when it was announced Ninja was going to be in this tournament, especially following the announcement of his streaming platform Mixer dissolving and making him a free agent, die-hard esports fans were ready to make fun of him for getting rolled over by professional teams.
And sure, Team Ninja went 0-6 and didn’t win a map during the tournament, but through all of it, Ninja actually did well. He was aggressive on Omen and confident in taking duels with the most skilled players in North America, even pulling off an Ace in his team’s game against T1. No, Ninja is almost assuredly not going to go pro in VALORANT — it would make zero financial sense — but he obviously has a love for the game and enjoys getting better at it. There were tons of eyes hoping to see Ninja fall on his face, but he did the opposite, showcasing that though he might never be a TenZ or Wardell, he has what it takes to play on the same field as those guys.
10. VALORANT needs a better spectator mode
Per usual, this is the part of my VALORANT tournament roundup where I ask VALORANT to fix their shoddy spectator mode. The developers know it’s bad. The fans know it’s bad. The players know it’s bad. VALORANT is a fun esport to watch at its highest level and the game has nowhere reached its peak of what it can be as a competitive game, but it isn’t going to climb any higher without a better spectator mode. Once that happens, we can start talking about what’s next for VALORANT esports and how it can grow into being considered a tier-one competitive title. Until then, as always, I’ll save a section at the end to complain about it.