In the fourth and final North American Ignition Series tournament, Sentinels added another IG Series trophy to their collection with a commanding victory at Pop Flash. Over the course of the five-day event, Sentinels accumulated a nearly immaculate map record of 11-1 and capped off their one-sided dominance with a blow out of the event's breakout team, Envy, in a 3-0 grand final.
Here are my main takeaways and notes from Sentinels' IG Series magnum opus.
Welcome to the sinatraa Show
During the first few weeks of Jay "sinatraa" Won's professional VALORANT tenure, it appeared he had made a massive mistake. Sinatraa had given up a comfortable position as the leader and face of the reigning Overwatch League champions, the San Francisco Shock, and league MVP trophy to move to a game with no esports foundation where there was no guarantee he'd even become half the player he was in Overwatch.
Sentinels believed in him, having seen him evolve not only as a player but as a person in the Overwatch League, and built a team around him that he'd been playing with since the game went into its closed beta phase in early April of this year. Unfortunately for them, however, trust means nothing to the players going up against sinatraa, and in his first few VALORANT tournaments, he looked like a fish out of water, his lack of flexibility on differing agents and overt aggression leading him to disappointing individual performances and overall early exits for his team.
Four months later, just as he did with the people who doubted he could ever succeed in Overwatch as a teenager, the 20-year-old is silencing all his critics with his play. Sinatraa has become a great white shark, devouring everyone in his way. The aggression is still there, with sinatraa reveling in the role as the team's entry rifler, but where before it felt as if he was pushing forward to simply push forward, there seems to be a purpose and set plan behind his combative movements.
Sentinels have become a team, similarly to the Shock, that have adapted to the way sinatraa plays to turn him into one of the game's most fearsome weapons. Where early on as a team it would be sinatraa pushing out and the rest of the team back on their heels, the team now seems to be perfectly in-sync when they're at their best, sinatraa's one-man theatrics pulling attention to himself and allowing the rest of his team to take control of other parts of the map.
His peak at Pop Flash came in a group stage match against Immortals where he put on what has to be considered the best Phoenix game thus far in VALORANT's short history. On Bind, where his ultimate usage and its play around the map's teleport system has become renowned, he put on a masterclass how to take over a game in the opening seconds of a round, continually using Phoenix's kit to grab the first kills and allow his team an easy time of performing cleanup duty on the stragglers. Although Immortals put up a strong fight, notably the team's newest signee in Quan "diceyzx" Tran, a teenager with the same potential sinatraa did when he first began playing pro Overwatch, it wasn't enough to stop sinatraa's onslaught of overwhelming pressure.
At the end of the game, he amassed an Average Combat Score of 402 (ridiculous), 32 kills (even more ridiculous) and 11 first bloods (the most ridiculous). In the 23 rounds that were played in the Sentinels' 13-10 victory, sinatraa opened the scoring in 11 of them along with six triple-kills that propelled his team to the win over an up-and-coming, exciting Immortals squad.
Along with his first blood prowess, it's sinatraa's ability usage that sets him apart from most of the competition currently in the professional VALORANT scene. Although sinatraa's headshot accuracy and pure aim with the gun isn't at the same level as some players who've been playing pro-Counter-Strike for a decade, he makes up for his few shortcomings with his pressure and how he utilizes everything around him. He's made the lumbering monstrosity known as the Odin into something almost all Sova players pick up while on Ascent, and his love of the frantic Frenzy has slowly become more popularized in pistol rounds.
For his ability usage, he picks up more assists from chip damage and utilizes the entirety of his agent's kit more so than any player in the game today. Per VALORANT statistics website VLR.gg, he's the only player in the world to have recorded 600 or more assists in pro play -- and not only that, but he's also the only player to have over 700 assists, with numerous high-ranking players having played far more games than sinatraa has. Sinatraa is a walking double-double, in which he puts up 10+ kills and backs it up with 10+ assists, not only securing those early kills but also never letting the opponent catch a breather with him always firing something, be it a slew of bullets or abilities, at somebody.
Sentinels, from No. 1 to No. 5, are built to win games. Shahzeeb "ShahZaM" Khan is the dutiful in-game leader that also moonlights as the team's primary Operator player; Jared "zombs" Gitlin controls everything with his Omen and Brimstone play; Michael "dapr" Gulino is the team's ice cold anchor player, in the conversation for the world's best Cypher; and Hunter "SicK" Mims has shown he can play anything from Sage to Phoenix without skipping a beat, his late-round clutches becoming synonymous with his play. It's their cohesion and trust in one another to pull off such ludicrous executes and risky retakes that make them the best team in North America at the end of the IG Series, but all of it starts from their maestro, sinatraa, setting the tempo from the opening second of a round.
The scary thing for the rest of the world as we patiently await the day the first offline international VALORANT tournament takes place? Sinatraa is getting better every major tournament he plays in, and he's nowhere near his ceiling as a player. This show could go on for a long, long time.
Other quick notes from Pop Flash:
Congratulations to Cloud9's Tyson "TenZ" Ngo. His team didn't make it to the grand final, losing to Envy in the lower-bracket climax, but Cloud9 was the only one to take a map off of Sentinels during the tournament. Perhaps even better than that, TenZ locked down the honor of leading all players in Average Combat Score for the fourth straight IG Series tournament, meaning he topped the damage charts of all four events. While sinatraa and Sentinels are grabbing the headlines, I'm still hard-pressed to point to anyone but TenZ as the best player in North America after the level of consistency he's shown at every major tournament he's played in. Even the tournaments where he's been sick or had some off games, TenZ's worst day is still better than a lot of pros at their best.
Let's cool it with the overreactions on TSM. Did they have their worst IG Series performance? Definitely. But that's only because they've won twice and made the semifinals in the other three they entered. Every time TSM loses, people start saying that Matthew "Wardell" Yu can only survive with the Operator in his hands and that the team's two veteran members, James "hazed" Cobb and Stephen "reltuC" Cutler, aren't good enough fraggers to have TSM be a great term for the long-term. The same thing happened when they lost to Sentinels in the PAX Arena Invitational semifinals and all TSM did was retool, tinker with their positions and come back stronger than ever, defeating the Sentinels in back-to-back matches to win the FaZe Clan Invitational for their second IG Series championship.
No one knows which teams are going to be the best a year from now when we actually have offline events and a probable world championship on the horizon, but it's honestly foolish at this point to count out a team that has won the most VALORANT events in North America up to this point. Also, the Operator is a vital part of the game, so until Riot heavily nerfs it (they won't) or Wardell forgets to stop hitting every shot, he's going to continue being one of the highest-impact players in North America.
I like Dignitas but am not ready to anoint them a top-five team. When they looked good at Pop Flash, they looked really good, beating TSM twice to make the playoffs and fundamentally breaking them down. When they weren't slapping around TSM, though, they looked out of place with the other top teams in the tournaments, Sentinels even beating them in a series where Dignitas could only muster three rounds in two maps of play. The team played well together for the most part, but not one of their players finished in the top 10 of ACS, with their trial member Ryan "Shanks" Ngo coming in at No. 14 following a relatively impressive debut on the team. As with the rest of Dignitas, when Shanks was in the zone and their plans were working as drawn up, he was putting up big kill numbers and opening rounds with a long-ranged snipe; but in matches like against the Sentinels, those plans weren't working, and when pushed against a wall, he looked like the green pro player he is, needing seasoning to reach his final form.
This Dignitas team, as with many squads in North America, have loads of potential. They've shown that when they have a gameplan for a prime opposition like T1 or TSM and can get off to a good start, they're skilled enough to take them down. Next comes the consistency of being able to perform as they did versus TSM against other teams who play different styles than the one they just sliced through and defeated. As I've said before with Sentinels and Immortals before them, give Dignitas time. The pieces are there and with more practice with Shanks and months of training as a unit, they can be right there with the best teams in the world.
Rory "dephh" Jackson and Harrison "Psalm" Chang played together in three different IG Series events and finished in 4th place in all three of them. There were three mainstays of the IG Series tournaments: TenZ would put up silly damage numbers, TSM or Sentinels would win, and the brainy pair of dephh and Psalm would make the semifinals before bowing out.
T1 needs a shakeup. I'm sure I'll get to this later in a large feature, but for now, I'll leave it at that. This team needs a certified in-game leader and an adept primary Operator player, and until they have both, they'll keep lagging behind in North America, even with a roster that mechanically should be right up there fighting Sentinels and TSM for No. 1.
Finally, as we started things with the winner, I wouldn't want to forget the team that had their breakout tournament at Pop Flash in Envy. A team that has always impressed me with just how scary they are with their headshots -- seriously, watch any Envy game and you're guaranteed at least a moment where one of their players makes you shake your head in disbelief -- they finally put together those individual pop off performances to make it to the final of a major tournament. Though they lost in the end to a more well-rounded Sentinels squad, Envy firmly placed themselves in the top-five of the NA hierarchy with their performance and still have room to grow as a team.