Text by: Bleghfarec
T1’s venture into Valorant has seen its share of ups and downs, but its valleys are among some of the largest of any organization in the North American scene, with its peaks either short-lived or too recent to take into account.
The original iteration of T1 was formed around Braxton “brax” Pierce, Keven “AZK” Larivière, and Tyler “Ska” Latham, three former professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players and former members of iBUYPOWER. All three were brought into Valorant’s beta by T1 after playing in CS:GO for years, with AZK and Ska having already retired from professional play in that game years earlier.
Rounding out the roster were Austin “crashies” Roberts and Victor “food” Wong, two tenured players from CS:GO with deep experience in MDL. The full roster initially seemed to be one of the top in the region, making strong strides in early events and reaching the grand finals of the T1 x NSG Showdown.
But as the Ignition Series began, the rumored inner turmoil of the roster seemed to begin spilling over into their results. “On T1, obviously everyone knew that we didn't really have a leader and no IGL,” crashies explained. In spite of a perfect 4-0 group exit in the PAX Arena Invitational, they were knocked out of the quarterfinals by Homeless, an un-sponsored mix of former players across multiple games.
Future events failed to inspire any confidence, and T1 fell into a rut that seemed inescapable. In August, following a last-place finish in the Pop Flash Invitational, Ska stepped down from the active roster, and the organization also released crashies and food in the following weeks.
In October, shortly before the Renegades x NSG Invitational, T1 announced the signing of Sam “DaZeD” Marine, reuniting with brax, AZK, and Ska after over three years. Despite being out of the competitive life for nearly two years, DaZeD proved to be the vital asset T1 needed.
“We played with him back in CS, so the chemistry was kind of already there with him,” brax said.
“Having DaZeD IGLing helps a lot,” AZK explained. “I was doing the IGLing before but you know, I'm not really a natural IGL. I was kind of doing it just to fill a hole if anything, whereas Sam [DaZeD] is like an experienced IGL and he's kind of like a natural leader, if that makes sense.”
Additionally, this would be DaZeD’s first experience as a professional player — at least in his opinion.
“I don't consider that I ever played professionally in Counter-Strike,” DaZed said. “I was never salaried, I've never had a contract, so I don't know. This is definitely my first time playing professionally, in my opinion.”
“Let's be real, I get paid a bunch of money to play a fucking video game. That's pretty much the coolest job you could have, in my opinion. It’s the dream. Like, let's be real, it's fucking awesome. I get to compete for a living competing in a game that I love to play”
With four players set, T1 rounded up the team with Jeong-woo “Spyder” Ha as the fifth, a move that came as a surprise to many. Spyder, formerly known as Sayaplayer, was at the time a competitive Overwatch player, formerly of the Florida Mayhem. Spyder’s addition also made him the only player on the team not to come from a career in CS:GO.
“We kind of just have to teach Spyder the CS way and how we viewed the game,” brax said. “He's definitely fitting in really well, though. He has a crazy work ethic and he's a grinder, he's always playing the game. It's definitely getting more comfortable every time we play it feels like.”
“There's a bit of a language barrier with Spyder sometimes,” AZK explained. “That's kind of like what we've been working on a lot these past few weeks, just trying to get him comfortable to us because the four of us have played together for such a long time. We're used to our pace, we kind of know what we're going to expect out of each other. But with Spyder, we kind of had to integrate him.”
"Let's be real, I get paid a bunch of money to play a fucking video game. That's pretty much the coolest job you could have." — DaZeD
The debut of the new roster didn’t come with much fanfare. Despite a 2-0 exit in the group stage of the RNG x NSG Invitational, a close 2-0 loss to Immortals didn’t seem enough to dispel the bad omens left from the previous roster iteration.
Immediately following the end of the Invitational came the qualifiers for First Strike: North America. Two quarter-final exits in the NSG open and closed qualifier gave T1 an invite to the UMG closed qualifier, alongside the other teams that went out in 5-8th.
Finishing 2-0 in the group stage once again, T1 stunned the region after defeating Cloud9 Blue in two 13-8 bouts, a victory that eliminated Cloud9 Blue from First Strike contention and qualified the team for the main event of the season.
Having taken down one of the top teams in the region and with a spot secured in the biggest NA event of the year, T1 were ready to weather the pressure and start off First Strike: NA strong. And everyone was watching.
“LORD, the next few matches [in First Strike] are JUICED,” James “hazed” Cobb said following TSM’s win in the quarterfinal against Envy. “I can't wait for T1 and 100 Thieves. It has a lot of history behind it, so that's going to be an exciting match. I think T1 will win, but I think it's gonna be close.”
“We know [100 Thieves] are a really good team,” brax said. “We'd all have to be on point if we wanted to win. And it just came down to whatever team made less mistakes, and capitalized on the other team's mistakes.”
T1’s opening match against 100 Thieves kicked off with a strong first half, going up 9-3 in the 100T’s map pick of Haven and seemingly having the map in the bag. But 100 Thieves’ defender side proved nearly insurmountable for T1, with Joshua “steel” Nissan’s squad stringing together seven rounds off the bat.
DaZeD’s team finally put double digits on the board in Round 20, tying the score, but 100 Thieves’ momentum carried the team all the way to 13-10, giving 100T their map pick.
“I was really confident [going in], we just never saw that type of quick pace of play on those retakes,” DaZeD explained. “It really caught us off guard on Haven. And we made a couple of crucial mistakes, for sure. A lot of miscommunication issues.”
Moving to their map pick of Bind, T1 had a clean board and a chance to tie the series. The team maintained their composure, with the first half going back-and-forth, with T1 going into halftime with only a two point deficit. The defensive side of Bind didn’t show itself to be any more fruitful, with T1 clawing, but failing to reach a 13-point threshold, with 100T closing the map 13-10 and the series 2-0.
“On Bind, our miscommunication issues really were at the forefront of us kind of crumbling a bit on that map,” DaZeD recalled. “Well, we didn't crumble, we definitely had a really good fight. But we were just falling short, we just had a lot of key miscommunication issues, which we need to work on for that map.”
“[Bind] is very communication heavy, right? One guy takes a teleporter, you have to keep track of them, where they are, where they're retaking from, you know, things like that, right? Who's watching what, where you're pushing to take control of, who's got the bomb, who smokes, like, all those little things, right?”
The series loss comes as a disappointment for T1, who have been looking for a spot in the top league of North America. And while this loss is bitter, it provides T1 with an opportunity to reflect and find what needs to be fixed internally.
“Having DaZeD IGLing helps a lot. I was doing the IGLing before but you know, I'm not really a natural IGL." — AZK
“My mindset is that if we lose, it's okay to lose,” DaZed said. “Losing sucks, but losing when you make a concentrated effort to improve upon why you're losing is okay, so that's how I'm going to try to take this loss.”
Having only been together for under two months, the team still has a lot of growing pains and lots of wrinkles that need to be ironed out. While external issues plague the roster, such as housing issues with some of the players, it’s issues within the team that they’re focusing on, primarily being comfortable with each other and communicating well — especially with Spyder.
“I think everyone's getting more comfortable the more we play,” brax said. “It's all coming together, slowly but surely. The more we play, everyone will get more comfortable. Obviously, Spyder is still learning the CS way and the way we think about the game and communication and stuff, so it definitely just takes time, but it's a process for sure.”
“When there's a lot of stuff going on and people talk really fast, he has a hard time understanding what is being said,” AZK explained. “Sometimes, we'll tell them to smoke something and he’ll smoke the wrong spot and then we lose the round. There's definitely a bit of a barrier there.”
“But his aim is extremely good. If anything, I don't think he should be playing Omen too much. I would prefer to see him in an entry role like permanently, to be honest, because his aim is really good. And I feel like if he's Omen, the language barrier will affect him, whereas if he's entrying, the language barrier doesn't really matter. He's just gonna go in, he's gonna shoot people, and we're gonna trade if he dies.”
Outside of the server, T1 are comfortable with each other, with the players living in California, and some even being neighbors.
“This is probably the first team where I had to relocate, but I definitely didn't mind,” brax said. “It's pretty chill. I think it's pretty important to be close to your teammates and build that bond and just be able to watch demos together in person and shit. I think it's a positive thing for sure.”
“Yeah, we see each other all the time,” DaZeD answered. “We probably see each other like once a week, I would say once every two weeks, something like that.”
"I have so much in my mind that we need to improve on and work on and that we can get started as soon as possible." — DaZeD
But being comfortable with each other in the server will be one of the largest hurdles for the squad, especially with Spyder thrown into the mix. Over the holidays, the team are took a break to cool off from the stress of First Strike and take a breather. But once the competition returns, T1 will be prepared to show off their new team in the Valorant Champions Tour.
“I think I have a pretty clear vision of the things that we need to do to improve and work on,” DaZeD ended with. “I have so much in my mind that we need to improve on and work on and that we can get started as soon as possible [after we] give everyone a breather. I have a pretty clear vision going forward about where our weaknesses lie and what we need to improve on for sure.”