Knights focused on growth going into VCT Challengers playoffs
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If going from the open bracket to the VALORANT Champions Tour Stage 1 Challengers playoffs was a tall task, the Pittsburgh Knights now face an even greater task in taking on an undefeated Cloud9 squad in the first round. Whereas Cloud9’s roster is made up of former Counter-Strike and VALORANT Champions attendees, most of the Knights roster is new to VCT and have only been professional players for a shot time.

According to their head coach, Kyle “OCEAN” O’Brien, because of the inexperience on the team, Knights are taking their first VCT main event one step at a time and growing as a team along the way.

“Our expectation at the start was just to make playoffs,” OCEAN said after their week five match against OpTic Gaming. “They are a really young team, and for us it’s getting that extra experience… and not overthinking anything too crazy about the future.”

After all, patience is warranted when a young team enters a new meta — especially since VALORANT’s latest patch has swung the professional side of the game into a different realm of play. Now, faster strategies and increased chaos are an option thanks to significant nerfs to Astra and Viper.

On the Knights, in-game leader Ashton “Frosty” Rakoske and smokes player Logan “skuba” Jenkins bear the brunt of those changes. Fortunately, OCEAN said the two are equipped to roll with the tide.

While skuba has spent the majority of his professional career playing Astra, OCEAN said he played a lot of Omen before Astra become the No. 1 meta pick, meaning he can easily transition back into playing his old agent. As for Frosty, the teenage in-game leader has shown growth in his time in VCT, according to OCEAN, and has adapted well to the current change of pace.

“He’s still young and learning, but he’s a smart kid,” OCEAN said. “We’ve been working with him on faster and slower. You need to have all different types in your game, so I think this meta being a little faster at times, you just go a little faster so you just gotta adapt on the fly.”

That adaptability is something the whole team needs to work on, though, as their flashes of their inexperience has shown in-game at times. Matches where the Knights look out of sorts, or like they don’t want to make a mistake, are prime examples of teams lacking confidence as a collective.

However, that’s mostly because many of the Knights’ players haven’t been on a tier 1 team in North America before, and OCEAN said it shows in their team dynamic. According to him, they must learn to come together and be capable of all the little decisions that help top squads stay cohesive and pick each other up when they’re down. That, above all else, is what OCEAN said he tries to instill in his players when he calls timeouts as they start to crumble.

“OCEAN has his way of giving us confidence by telling us we’re lions and the enemies are gazelles,” Amgalan “Genghsta” Nemekhbayar “So basically, you know, lions hunt gazelles… We all were always just like, ‘Let’s go boys we’re lions their gazelles, don’t be a gazelle.’ I feel like that really helps some of us to play with confidence.”

OCEAN said the metaphor is an easy way to communicate what he wants his players to do without talking too much. Play like a lion communicates his thoughts a lot faster than a long-winded explanation of what is going wrong in game.

However, to overcome the onslaught of Cloud9, the No. 1 seed out of Group A, the Knights will have to play like lions without reminders. But with the way they team has grown so fast so far, OCEAN said he doesn’t think it is impossible to pull out an upset.

“With the amount of headway we’ve made in the last two, three months together, I think it’s easily doable,” OCEAN said. “If we’re able to do it in the server, I like our chances a lot. It’s definitely a tall task, but one we’re ready for.”

Declan is an esports journalist and part-time editor for Upcomer. He is an avid gamer and League of Legends player. You can find him at the bottom of the leaderboard in most games or on Twitter.