The floor is shifting under the North American Valorant scene.
Teams that dominated early on in Valorant, such as 100 Thieves and TSM, are out of contention in VCT NA Stage 1. While a few giants like Cloud9 and Sentinels remain, the competitive scene has been taken over by the rise of teams like The Guard, Version1, and XSET.
In comparison to more established organizations, these teams are powered by incredible performances from previously unproven rookies acquired during the offseason. Most of these players are also under 20, representing a new breed of talent in North America.
Here’s a look at the top five rookies in the VCT NA Stage 1 Challengers group stage.
Top 5 rookies to look out for in VCT NA
5. Valyn (The Guard)
In-game leader Jacob “valyn” Batio is an anchor for his team. He remains calm even in stressful situations, so he can help The Guard maintain focus throughout the game.
“I want to be one of the best in-game leaders in North America. That’s my biggest goal right now,” he said in a video posted by the organization.
The Guard has gone from virtual anonymity to a strong contender for one of two spots at Stage 1 Masters in Iceland, and their 19-year-old IGL has a big role to play in that.
4. Sayaplayer (The Guard)
While Overwatch star Ha “Sayaplayer” Jung-woo can hardly be considered a rookie in the traditional sense of the word, this is the first time he has had a real opportunity to prove himself at the highest levels of Valorant.
He was part of the first iteration of T1’s Valorant roster, which featured storied CS:GO names like Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham and Braxton “brax” Pierce. Unfortunately, that lineup eventually failed to make meaningful headway into the Tier 1 North American Valorant scene.
But Sayaplayer’s time on The Guard has shown that all he really needed was the right environment and players surrounding him. As the main Jett player on The Guard, Sayaplayer has consistently managed to give his team an advantage in the early round by finding the first pick.
The Guard finished their group in the VCT NA Stage 1 Challengers in second place with a 4-1 record, behind only Cloud9.
3. Cryocells (XSET)
Matthew “Cryocells“ Panganiban is making a case for himself as one of the best Jett players in North America. He ended the VCT NA Stage 1 Challengers group stage with a solid 1.25 K/D and sixth place overall, consistently putting up big numbers for XSET.
In most of XSET’s games, Cryocells has been the star Jett carry they needed, with scoreboard-topping stats to help put his team ahead. The former SoaR player understands intuitively how to play around his team’s utility, and he is a formidable Operator user that can lock down angles reliably.
2. Zander (Version1)
Alexander “Zander” Dituri has more than filled the shoes of Anthony “vanity” Malaspina, the former in-game leader of Version1. He led Version1 to a flawless 5-0 record in Group B of the VCT NA Stage 1 Challengers group stage, the only team other than Cloud9 to go undefeated.
Under his leadership, Version1 has become a team known for its strategic depth, flawless retakes, and incredibly well-timed calls. On top of that, Zander pulls his weight in the fragging department too. With a 1.29 K/D in the group stage, Zander is the top-fragging IGL in the region, behind duelists Erik “penny” Penny, Nathan “leaf” Orf, and Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker.
He has proven himself to be a well-rounded player who can come in clutch at the most crucial moments. His clutch success rate sits at an impressive 29 percent in the group stage, the fifth-highest overall.
1. Trent (The Guard)
Trent “trent” Cairns is the definition of raw talent, going from an unknown Tier 3 name to one of the hottest prospects in the region in the span of a few months.
What is even more astounding is the fact that he apparently didn’t have much experience in tactical shooters before entering Valorant, and only got his first PC in late 2019. Before that, he had only played games on Xbox like Call of Duty, Rust, and Rocket League.
Today, trent is one of the brightest young stars in North American Valorant. His K/D of 1.35 in the group stage puts him at fourth overall, just below more experienced players from Version1, Cloud9, and OpTic Gaming. In fact, he mainly plays Sova, which makes this stat even more impressive.
The best part of it all? Trent is only 17 years old, which means this walking highlight reel will probably only continue to grow.