To describe The Guard’s performance in the 2022 North American VCT Challengers 2 season, only one word comes to mind: underwhelming. Despite initially shining in Challengers 1 as NA’s standout team by becoming regional champions and appearing in Masters: Reykjavik, the team couldn’t match the same level of success as they finished with a 1-4 record in the group stage to miss out on reaching playoffs entirely.
Due largely to their regressed form in Stage 2, TG now sits amidst a critical juncture to their season by competing in the NA Last Chance Qualifier, where they must outlast seven other teams to clinch the third and final NA spot for Champions, Valorant’s world championship.
In TG’s first LCQ obstacle, they faced Sentinels. This team underwent a pair of prolific changes to its roster with the addition of ex-Version1 player Jordan “Zellsis” Montemurro and famed streamer Michael ”shroud” Grzesiek. While the series had its share of tight affairs in all three maps, it was TG who ultimately came out on top 2-1 to advance to the upper bracket semifinals and continue their march towards Istanbul, Turkey.
Shortly after defeating Sentinels, Ha “Sayaplayer” Jung-woo talked to BLIX.GG to discuss the series, facing TenZ, why TG struggled in Challengers 2, how he managed to improve his mentality, and more.
Pedro Romero, BLIX.GG: There were plenty of expectations behind the series between The Guard and Sentinels, so I'd like to know how it was for you to participate in a series that went as far as it did.
Ha “Sayaplayer” Jung-woo: Today's matches were special because we lost a lot of matches in Stage 2 after winning everything in Stage 1. We spent a lot of our time practicing before our return to competing. And for our first match to happen against Sentinels where a lot of people are watching makes it really special and exciting.”
BLIX: Focusing on your position, you took on TenZ, who played on Chamber, an agent he hadn't touched thus far in Challengers 2. Given how SEN shifted towards finally using Chamber for TenZ, what are your thoughts on facing him while he played the agent?
Sayaplayer: Chamber is a really good OP agent, and he depends on really good aiming, so with TenZ, he's mechanically insane, but I didn't get nervous at all. I just thought he was going to be really good at OPing and show a good Chamber performance. That's all.
BLIX: Taking the direction back to your team, you mentioned the team's struggles during Challengers 2. We're roughly a few months past the conclusion of Challengers 2, but what do you think contributed to the team's efforts?
Sayaplayer: I think, at that time, we kind of didn't understand the meta because it constantly changes, so we tried switching to other roles. For example, I was playing a lot as a duelist, but I switched to working on Chamber by lurking, OPing, and holding anchor. Still, it was really hard for us because we couldn't really get used to it. I used to enter sites, and everyone would execute their roles in Stage 1, but there were plenty of changes in Stage 2 so we didn't adjust really well. That's why we struggled so hard.
“As our team has just started, I feel as though we came way further than expected. With that, I think we have a lot of potential to grow and become an even stronger team. I hope you all can continue to root for us. We won't give up.”
-Sayaplayer in a Twitlonger post following TG’s elimination from Masters: Reykjavik 2022
BLIX: Since then, you guys have boot camped and competed in third-party events as a mode of preparation for the LCQ, all the while working with the meta as it continues to progress over time. Do you feel like you've been able to gain control of the meta?
Sayaplayer: I'm not 100% yet. Before, we understood the meta by around 20%, but we're now at 90%. Honestly, we're in a much better spot because we understand it way better than before.
BLIX: Taking an introspective look, what did you particularly focus on in improving your mentality in this same time period?
Sayaplayer: We're trying to think like how we did in Stage 1 because we really played at that time. Mental-wise, we focused on competence and trusting each other more. That's the main point, honestly.”
BLIX: Do you feel your confidence has returned from Challengers 1 for now?
Sayaplayer: Yeah, I'm pretty competent.
BLIX: Taking a look at the rest of the field, by everyone's metric, all of the teams are pretty stacked. It seems as if everyone has a chance of gaining that final qualifying spot for Champions. In your opinion, who do you view as The Guard's biggest challenger for this tournament?
Sayaplayer: It's going to be Cloud9. C9 has had a lot of good players, and they've always been good, honestly. Also, I heard they have a really good meta understanding right now. I think C9 is going to be really hard to play against.
Feature Image: Lance Skundrich/Riot Games