Coming into 2022, there have been plenty of conflicting opinions about Sentinels, who once were the undisputed gods of North American VALORANT. That reputation took a beating after the later stages of 2021, especially following VALORANT Champions 2021, where they failed to make it out of the group stage. Combined with their reputation as the “villains” of the North American scene, they’ve become one of the most watched VALORANT teams in the world, with both fans and haters alike tuning in to watch them play.
The biggest question surrounding Sentinels – “are they still the best?” – followed them into their opening match of VCT NA 2022. They faced off against NRG Esports with a roster unchanged from their last outing. Expectations were tempered for NRG, who had just recently been knocked out in the quarterfinals of the Nerd Street Gamers: Winter Championship. Most expected a relatively easy Sentinels win.
However, NRG burst out of the gates on Map 1 looking shockingly improved from their last showing. They went up 7-1 on the first half of Fracture, which was Sentinels’ map pick, and ultimately won the map 13-10. It looked like the doubts surrounding Sentinels were warranted as the teams headed into the second map, with NRG on a hot streak, led by Ian “tex” Botsch and Sam “s0m” Oh.
S0M? @s0mcs? Someone check his PC…@NRGgg | #VCTChallengersNA pic.twitter.com/vpfE3crn3k
— Nerd Street (@nerdstreet) February 12, 2022
But the second map went the other way; after much back and forth, Sentinels were able to secure a 13-11 victory. The map win seemed to be exactly what they needed as they headed into Bind. They swiftly finished the first half up 11-1, thanks in large part to exceptional play by Duelist duo Tyson “TenZ” Ngo and Hunter “SicK” Mims.
NRG wasn’t out of the series yet, though, and they fought tooth and nail to bring it back. NRG was able to drag the scoreline to 12-9 after the half, until they were teetering on the precipice of an unprecedented comeback – but in the 22nd round, Sentinels were finally able to shut it down, winning the nail-biter series on a Thrifty round.
In the post-match interview, Sentinels team captain Shahzeb “ShahZam” Khan attributed the team’s performance to “shaking the rust off,” stating that they would clean up their play as time went on. They hadn’t played an official match since Champions in December and had begun scrimming later than other teams.
Sentinels’ win against NRG certainly wasn’t the cleanest of victories, and they still have a ways to go before they’re widely considered the top dogs again, but this opening match proved that their experience and mental fortitude is one of their biggest strengths. VALORANT fans have a habit of putting immense pressure on Sentinels, whether they love or hate them, and that pressure was palpable on Bind as NRG slowly clawed their way back into the game. Being able to stare down the ever-growing prospect of a humiliating defeat and hold it off anyway is no small feat, and by doing just that, Sentinels have made a statement: They won’t be dislodged so easily.
“I think it makes the scene more fun,” ShahZam said of the “villain” narrative that surrounds Sentinels. “People build all these narratives, but we’re here to remind people that we’re still the top dogs.”