Text by: bleghfarec
Out of the eight teams in First Strike: North America, the one that surprised the community the most was Renegades. While the roster has been unable to net any first-place finishes in their past events, practice and role changes have given way to the strongest composition the team’s seen to date.
After throwing Cloud9 Blue out of First Strike: NA contention to secure their own spot in the main event, hopes were high for the aspiring roster, with qualification alone enough to make them proud of their own team.
“Making it to First Strike was a huge milestone for us and we're still super happy with just qualifying, it was a huge success,” Renegades' Devon “randyySavage” Bréard said. “No one thought that Renegades was going to be here in this situation, everyone thought we were gonna get plastered by Cloud9 and we proved some people wrong.”
However, being eliminated in the semifinals of the NSG Closed Qualifier seeded them up against the winner of the subsequent UMG Closed Qualifier. The team to take that qualifier would be TSM, who also had an unexpected performance in the NSG Closed Qualifier.
Coming off a strong undefeated run in the UMG Closed Qualifier, TSM were confident in their ability to sweep the series out from Renegades’ feet.
“We played against them twice in the first qualifier and we beat them 2-1 in both of those matches, but we lost on Split on both of those,” TSM's James “hazed” Cobb recalled. “So when I saw the maps — it was Ascent, Bind, and Split — I was like, ‘Well, this is a 2-0.’”
On their map pick of Ascent, the Renegades were unable to find their footing starting on the Attacking side. “Ascent was just rough all around,” Chuck “cp2” Proud stated. “It was tough to even get in the sites.”
"Everyone thought we were gonna get plastered by Cloud9 and we proved some people wrong" — RNG randyySavage
In the first half, Renegades only managed to win one round, which ultimately came down to a 1v1 against Subroza. With an 11-1 first half, followed by two 3K’s from hazed and Wardell in both rounds of the second half, Renegades took their first loss of the series 13-1 on their own map pick.
“One thing that we kind of did against TSM was we came up with a game plan to where they couldn't really bully us,” Alex “RetrQ” Kadan stated. “Without all of us being there, you know, we just kind of rushed everything. And unfortunately, they're pretty good and they, unfortunately, didn't even give us much of a chance to really bully them, they bullied us right back.”
Moving to Bind gave Renegades a clean slate to work with, even if it was TSM’s map pick of the series. A 3K by cp2 secured his team the pistol round, but Wardell shut down Renegades’ attempt to convert the second round. The first half went back-and-forth, but TSM’s confident play kept them in the lead at halftime, with an 8-4 advantage.
“I think a lot of it a lot of the match came down to the early halves,” Renegades' Stephen “Berghy” Bergh stated. “Our play style really shines when we're winning pistols and going up that first buy rounds, making them start to think about their defense. If one of our fast plays gets shut down early, and they just kind of keep their defense the same and it just keeps working, there's just not much that we can do.”
"When I saw the maps — it was Ascent, Bind, and Split — I was like, ‘Well, this is a 2-0.’” — TSM hazed
With TSM taking the second pistol round of Bind, Renegades were in a tough deficit that they couldn’t climb out of. With map point and series point secured 12-4 for TSM, Renegades finally put five on the board, but it was too late, with TSM taking the following round to round out Bind 13-5.
“I think we came out with a game plan and we stuck to it and they just came out better today,” cp2 said. “It seemed like everything we did they just countered.”
Even knocked out of First Strike: NA, the match isn’t a total loss for Renegades — far from it. Experience against top teams in high-stake premier events is hard to come by and valuable to a team looking to break into the top echelon of the region.
“It's a lot of good experience being in a big match like that against TSM,” Berghy stated. “We'll just kind of take that next year, develop our game plans a little more to handle high-pressure situations and then see what we could do.”
“The team's never really been more confident, we kind of just play the same way all the time. I'm kind of proud of the guys for sticking through the whole series without really changing up their playstyle. I don't think [a lack of confidence] is as much as an issue as inexperience, I think everyone's pretty well confident even against the best.”
Sent home with $5,000 in winnings and a 5-8th placement, Renegades are still looking to the future. The team has maintained a closely-knit relationship that keeps the team optimistic, even in the most desolate of matches, and looking forward to future events.
"I want you guys to know that we're not done here. We're just going to get better" — RNG RetrQ
“Even after losing map one 13-1, we went into map two head held high,” randyySavage stated. “If you heard our communications, we were still having jokes here and there, some laughs, and everyone was still positive. There's nothing that really demoralizes us ever, we got 2-0’d today, we're still happy. We're still looking forward to future events and proving people wrong. Obviously, we would have been happier winning, but we're not disappointed with how we've improved in the past few months, that's for sure.”
“I want anyone that reads this... I want you guys to know that we're not done here,” RetrQ ended off with. “We're just going to get better, we're going to prove it even though there are probably people doubting us after the TSM performance, we all want to earn every fan’s respect, being able to put respect to their names is probably the biggest part of going into esports alongside being bugged and having fans. Like I said, I want to be able to prove that we are made up and this gives us a chance in the future.”
On Saturday, TSM will take on Team Envy in their semi-final match, with only one of those teams proceeding to the grand finals of First Strike: NA. For both sides, this matchup is the one that they’re looking forward to immensely. Bonds from each team’s time in Counter-Strike persists even now in Valorant, and both teams are looking forward to playing each other in a major event.
“We're really good friends, so we really know how they play from just talking to them and watching them play and they know how we play and they've been watching us as well,” Yassine “Subroza” Taoufik explained. “I think it's gonna be a 50/50, they're looking really informed but I think we're looking really good as well, so I think it's whoever's on point that day.”
"We feel really confident versus TSM and we want to prove to people that we are the best team in the world." — NV kaboose
“We think Envy matches up stylistically with us pretty well, just based on the teams or the times we've played them in practice and in scrims, and whatever,” Taylor “Drone” Johnson said. “It's always close. It's always a fun game. And you know, we know the guys on Envy, we're happy to play them, and we think it'd be entertaining for anyone watching.”
But with Envy vying for a top seat in the Tier 1 North American scene, personal stakes are high for the underdog team to usurp the #2 spot in the regional scene and potentially take on Sentinels in the last series.
“So obviously, we think they're a great team,” Drone continued. “With any pick-up, they're playing really well, and they're contending for that top spot in North America, so it'll be a good watch.”
“We want to face the best teams in this tournament,” Envy duellist Jake “kaboose” McDonald said. “We feel really confident versus TSM and we want to prove to people that we are the best team in the world. A lot of people still have that mentality that TSM is the number one so we want to prove them wrong for sure.”
Not to say that all the glory in the world is on the line, after all First Strike: NA is still only an online event, which has dulled its prestige for some of Envy’s players, even while vying for a top spot in the rankings.
“At the end of the day, this is online Valorant,” Envy captain Pujan “FNS” Mehta stated. “It doesn't matter, like how much stuff people are putting into this tournament. For us personally, we understand that it's online and no one's gonna remember this tournament two months from now, straight up. It's just not gonna happen.”
“You know, everyone's waiting for the LANs. So I just want to see how we match up against certain teams in NA and TSM is one of the scenes that I'm really excited to see how we matched up against”