Fionn's Fire Take: North America's top VALORANT teams are losing — and that's a good thing
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North American VALORANT might have had its own version of the Red Wedding Friday when a slew of the region’s most popular and decorated teams crumbled in the VALORANT Champions Tour Stage 3 qualifiers. Following months of speculation, roster shuffling, and headline-grabbing moves, like ducks in a row, they fell in the Round of 32.

Immortals downed by the Kansas City Pioneers.

A finalist from the previous stage, FaZe Clan, upended by DarkZero Esports.

NRG shell-shocked in a sweep loss against the unsigned amateur side of VIRTUOSO.

And maybe most notable of all, TSM, the region’s former top team, fell to the upstart Noble organization. The squad came together for the first time to practice together in Los Angeles, anchored by their shiny new signing of teenage phenom Sean “bang” Bezerra, and bowed out in abrupt fashion. A date with 100 Thieves, a meeting between two of the more famed sides in North American VALORANT, erased away in a matter of hours.

It was a massacre of the top names in North America, and left in their place were IDs that a casual fan couldn’t pick out of a lineup if their lives depended on it. An assortment of anime avatars, minute followings and only minor, weekly tournaments accredited to their name as accolades. It was swift and, for some teams, entirely in the shadows. Some upsets occurred off-stream for only the players inside to truly know what and how everything went wrong.

The kneejerk response from some of the community on social media was to grab the freshly sharpened pitchforks. Burn it all down. Everything is tainted. This team shouldn’t have done this, and that team shouldn’t have picked up that player. Even in the matches that weren’t viewable, the first thought of some was to panic, as if not only were TSM or NRG failing, but North America VALORANT collapsing inwards.

First off, let’s breathe.

Take a deep breath, make sure your Wardell “Op Academy” tanktop isn’t ripped out of frustration, and exhale.

It’s a single best-of-three in the first of two qualifiers to make a main-event with the top three teams advancing onwards to Berlin for the next international Masters. Even if it feels like the walls are closing in on your favorite team that tripped up in the opening qualifier, there’s a second chance a few short weeks away.

North American VALORANT
Sentinels lift the Masters 2 trophy. | Provided by Riot Games

Sentinels, the undisputed best team in the world who didn’t drop a single map at the inaugural VALORANT Masters tournament in Iceland, almost didn’t even make it to the competition.

They dropped out of the first qualifier for Iceland by the hands of Built By Gamers in a shocking 2-0 loss. Then, after making it through on their second chance to make the main-event qualifier, they lost their first series to Andbox. This defeat forced them to fight from the lower bracket to make Iceland, and Sentinels almost went out in back-to-back matches, needing to stage a comeback versus T1 to propel them towards their eventual qualification.

A single best-of-three loss online with a new roster, which all the upset teams came into the tournament carrying, shouldn’t result in doomsday scenarios.

Instead of zeroing in on the hurdler who came up short, we should be focusing and heralding the talent that prevailed over these established organizations.

Noble is a team that had to juggle its roster when its young gun ace, Zachary “Zekken” Patrone, left for a chance to join a surging side on XSET. What would have been an easy excuse for the up-and-coming organization to bomb out the qualifiers turned into a rallying cry for them. A ragtag team of youngsters from a variety of gaming backgrounds, including Fortnite with emerging talent Timothy “frostyZK” Ly, not only bested an experienced TSM side but showed resilience beyond their years. Noble shrugged off a 13-1 loss on Bind to take home the series with an equally confident 13-2 finish on Ascent, setting up another David vs. Goliath matchup with First Strike champions 100 Thieves.

DarkZero is a reskinned Kooky Koalas, the former top amateur team that scratched their way through weekly and monthly cups against other unsigned teams. In Hunger Games-like fashion, the Koalas did just that, making their new organization proud with impressive results in their first tournament under the purple and black banner.

The community shouldn’t revolt from known quantities losing — they should be ecstatic. A region in esports, regardless of game, is at its worst when the hierarchy is stagnant. When there are only a few teams that can be considered threats to go far in a tournament and the same names are written about ad nauseam, that’s when fans should be worried. It isn’t that the players on NRG or TSM have gotten worse; far from it. It’s more indicative that these younger teams are getting better every day, participating in tournaments every weekend, and doing everything they can to improve.

Embrace the teenagers with anime avatars who you didn’t know existed before they upset your favorite team. They’re the next Tyson “TenZ” Ngo or Peter “Asuna” Mazuryk. A squad you didn’t know yesterday could become the next force that leads North America to another international trophy.

Celebrate the superstars of tomorrow, don’t disparage them.

Tyler Erzberger is entering a decade of covering esports. When not traveling around the world telling stories about people shouting over video games, he’s probably arguing with an anime avatar on Twitter about North American esports.