Shopify Rebellion took the world by storm when they competed in the 2022 VCT Game Changers Championship. Backed by an unrelenting momentum that helped them score crucial victories over X10 Sapphire, Team Liquid Brazil, and their North American archrivals Cloud9 White, the team reached the grand finals where they took on G2 Gozen for the chance to become the first-ever GC world champions.
Even without the help of head coach Rob "rob-wiz" Kennedy, who was infamously suspended from the finals, the second-seeded NA team started off well by building a 2-0 lead over G2. Unfortunately, their scorching form went cold at the worst possible as they dropped the next three maps to fall 2-3 and miss out on lifting the title as its champion. Instead, they became the first team to lose an international VCT grand finals in reverse sweep fashion.
By losing a crucial series in that manner, most teams would decide to change their roster for the ensuing season as a way to avoid a repeat result, but for SR GC, which reached that point after placing second in four consecutive domestic VCT GC events starting from 2021, they decided to stick together for 2023 with the hope to finally claim the world championship at year’s end.
Of those in the lineup who will continue to compete under the SR banner is IGL Erika “KP” Lytle, who is a founding member of the team who joined as a member of the independent side Built Butter in June 2021. Since then, she has built SR to become one of the best GC in the entire world, not just in NA.
As the 2023 VCT Game Changers season approaches, KP joined us to talk about her reflections from the GC Championship, the grand finals against G2 Gozen, her thoughts on the new season, and how she views the competitive format in its current state.
Reflecting on the GC Championship
Pedro Romero, BLIX.GG: It's been around 4 months since the GC Championship, so how did you view the team’s performance in the event?
Erika "KP'' Lytle: I’ve had a lot of time to think post-Berlin and although it was a bittersweet ending, I am nothing but proud of the entire team for our performance at GC Champs. Internally, I knew we had it in us to be one of the best if not the best team at the event, and I knew people had underestimated us big time. To actually follow through on that though and perform when it matters most is one of the best feelings in the world. There are things that I think could have gone differently. For example, if we had beaten Team Liquid in the upper bracket 2-0 (Bind we had the lead 12 to 10), would we have gone on to beat G2 in the upper finals and therefore had a much easier time in grand finals? Potentially.
Yet, if you asked me now if I would go back and change anything the answer would be no. The fact that it was us who got to send Cloud9 White packing in the lower semifinals was so poetic. Could not have written a better script myself. I really think we surpassed the public's expectations of what we could accomplish as a team.
BLIX: How much of an impact did that series win over C9W play on SR’s later showing in the grand finals against G2?
KP: As stated in my own recap video I made about the event, after we beat C9W we truly felt unstoppable. While we struggled against Team Liquid in the first series our rematch against them was a very one-sided affair, and the first two maps against G2 were looking that way as well. We were on an ultimate high as players after beating them and I think that showed in the server.
BLIX: What do you think was the biggest reason behind their reverse sweep loss against G2?
KP: We made two critical mistakes in the grand finals that cost us the series. First, Ascent was our perma-ban all tournament and we knew it was gonna come through in the grand finals given the veto rules coming from the lower bracket. I believe being up 2-0 in the series already, we should have sand bagged the map and genuinely just ran it down and not cared as much. However, we tried our hardest on the last official comp we had played on Ascent and gave it our full energy.
We got s**t on while giving it our full energy and this caused a big momentum shift in G2’s favor along with the crowd. I genuinely believe if we had trolled the map it would not have affected us as badly. The second mistake is not sticking to our neon comp on Breeze. This was a team decision that we had made prior in the tournament, but we had decided if we got put on Breeze we would have Sonder [Diana Zhang] play Reyna instead of Neon. I want to make it very clear that this was a team decision and not one player’s choice. We all went with it and without many reps on it and we just got bested.
BLIX: How much did rob-wiz’s absence play into SR’s performance in the finals?
KP: On that day everything was against us. Not being able to veto a map, not having rob, the whole crowd cheering against us, etc. Rob plays a massive part in keeping the team vibe up and positive throughout our practices and tournaments and he is legitimately the soul of the team. His sarcasm and humor pulls us out of the darkest depths sometimes and I know he would have said something silly to get our minds off potentially losing the series. On the flip side though, Rob’s absence made us angry, fired up, and wanting to win in honor of him.
FIN [Franklin Ascencio] is an incredible assistant coach and a former teammate of mine and he fills a role very similar to Rob. FIN did an excellent job on the day reminding us of the task at hand and making sure we were having fun. I still think the loss is on us and we had the opportunity still to close out the grand finals given the circumstances.
BLIX: Do you think the series would’ve played out differently had rob-wiz been present on that day?
KP: Potentially, but it’s not something worth thinking about.
BLIX: What was your biggest takeaway from the GC Championship?
KP: My biggest takeaway from GC Champs was finally feeling an emotion I have been chasing as a player for years. Knowing that what I’m doing must be the right thing if this is how I feel after an event. The feeling of playing on stage in front of so many people and being streamed to thousands more online. It’s a feeling I want to experience many times more.
BLIX: How do you think your form of IGL’ing compared with the rest of the field in the event?
KP: I think my IGLing was at the top of the event. I went back and watched a few streamers post Berlin that were doing watch parties of the games and heard a lot of good feedback regarding the calling from people like Seangares and Tarik. From a fundamental perspective, I think we showcased the best Valorant gameplay as a team at GC Champs overall.
BLIX: You mentioned in a video produced by the VCT that you suffer from Crohn’s disease. How have you worked around that condition as a player before and during this tournament?
KP: Leading up to Berlin, I had been dealing with a Crohn’s disease flare-up throughout October and Game Changers Series 3. It is hard to work around as a player. There are many days where I am bothered by a dull annoying pain or sometimes I am in pain when I walk or move a certain way and have to push past it. I am extra careful with what I eat and what activities I do while traveling and during events. I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke, and I don’t eat anything I know that could potentially make my condition worse. I have to time my medications before events since I currently take a monthly biological injection to manage my symptoms.
This means sometimes I have to take a dosage sooner than or later than scheduled in order to travel. There are times like right now when I worry about potentially having to undergo surgery for my condition. Most importantly though, as the IGL and leader of the team, I make sure that my team knows of my condition, and how I am doing both mentally and physically with it. I try my best as a leader to not let it get to me and to smile through all the things going on. Sometimes it is extremely difficult but thankfully I’m with a team who understands that and does not judge me nor treat me differently if I am having a bad day with my symptoms.
Looking toward 2023
BLIX: How have you spent your offseason following the GC Championship?
KP: I spent the off-season trying to relax as much as possible. Saw my family for the holidays, was with loved ones, played other video games and opened lots of pokemon cards.
BLIX: With the disbandment of Cloud9 White and SR’s performance in the GC Championship, the top spot in NA is occupied by your team, thus bringing a great amount of pressure of holding the throne for next season. Even so, have you been feeling the pressure of being a top team both domestically and internationally? Why or why not?
KP: I have not felt any pressure. North America cares about clout and followers more than achievements and results. People are already starting to talk about the new V1 roster the same way they talked and hyped up C9W all the time. We feel no pressure because no eyes are on us. All eyes are on the “super team.”
BLIX: You switched to flex to accommodate for bENITA [Benita Novshadian]’s arrival in the middle of the season. And for this year, so far, you returned to playing initiator while bENITA’s manning smokes. Will we expect to see this kind of lineup when the circuit begins?
KP: I won’t say exactly what we’ll be coming into this season with but typically for new characters, flex roles, etc. that will be the position I fill. It brings more stability to our roster, not changing other people’s roles around too much.
BLIX: How have you adapted your IGL’ing throughout your time in pro Valorant? What enabled you to stand out from the rest of the field in the IGL position last season?
KP: The biggest thing I worked on last season with the help of rob-wiz and FIN is my fundamental calling. Anyone who has ever played with me knows my mid-rounding has always been where I shine. For some reason, I am usually able to assess a situation incredibly fast and make the call that gives us the highest chance of winning. However, I used to lack sometimes with my initial start-round reads and objectives. It was like there would be no in-between, I would either be reading the opponent perfectly and we would be walking on water, or my reads would be awful on a certain day and we would really struggle at the start of halves. I think in this last season I became much more consistent with the fundamentals and bENITA also played a huge part in that development as well.
BLIX: The game has seen considerable changes with its meta. No longer is the game dependent on Chamber. Instead, we’re seeing varied compositions throughout its many events. How have you viewed the change in the meta from last season to this season?
KP: I think the meta change is incredibly healthy for the game. The game in general feels a lot more rewarding and fun to play again. Chamber became this disease that every team had to run and had to learn how to play around. Right now, with Chamber out of the meta, you can really come up with a number of different compositions that are viable and as long as you have a well-thought-out gameplan it could work.
BLIX: Which team do you have an eye on ahead of this season and why?
KP: In Game Changers specifically, I’d say I have an eye on Bob [Bob Tran] and Katsumi’s [Katja Pfahnl] XSET project. As a fellow competitor, I like how they are in their own world right now just grinding out the game and trying to be the best they can possibly be. They don’t care if people are talking about them or not, they don’t care if they are hyped up on social media, and it reminds me a lot of my own team. It’s respectable. A free-agent team I think more people should be looking at is Team Karma. They are a recently announced F/A GC team that has a ton of experienced and accomplished players all on one roster, and I think they can do some damage this season.
BLIX: Which IGL do you have a particular eye on?
KP: I would say I have an eye on Carlee [Carlee Gress] who recently joined Misfits. We had a rivalry when she was on the old Gen.G Black roster and my former coach Jaxsen [Jackson Popelka] (now on NiP) had some really positive things to say about her. I think she’ll be able to do some great things with that squad and help them reach newer heights.
Outlook on the current Game Changers format
BLIX: Per the most recent announcement concerning the 2023 GC schedule, Series 1 will begin in April, six months after the GC Championship. There have been some comments on how the season will start roughly six months after the GC Championship but what do you think of how it is formatted?
KP: I think the format is okay. Not incredible but not the worst. We were really looking forward to a potential Game Changers league format here in NA just like the one that Riot announced for EMEA but it ended up not being the case. I think the format is good because you have to play well in all three tournaments throughout the year to make the championship. However, the format is lacking when it comes to publicity and viewership. People already think of game changers as a lesser competition and when we only have one big tournament every three months the public generally forgets about some of the teams, players, and storylines. A league would have gotten more buzz around the scene and more interest from orgs looking to jump into the space.
BLIX: You’ve been one of the most outspoken players in GC when it comes to talking about How do you view the current state of the GC as it enters its third year of existence?
KP: The current state of the GC scene is improving. I appreciate everyone who is able to sit down and have an honest discussion about where the scene is lacking, and what can be done about it. I appreciate Riot for noticing some of my comments, and tweets, and reaching out to me and other pros in the space to gather feedback. At the end of the day, Game Changers is an amazing program that has bolstered the most women and marginalized gender competitors I have ever seen in a single esport. The current state of Game Changers is good, we are making forward progress. All I can hope for is that Game Changers continues to be a safe space for women and all marginalized genders while upholding the competitive integrity of Valorant Esports. I cannot wait for more big events, and the potential for game changers professionals to one day transition to challengers, ascension, and franchised co-ed teams!
BLIX: What should people expect out of you, both in and out of the game for this season?
KP: Expect the same old KP this year. My heart is on my sleeve and my head is down working hard. I don’t really care what people think of me and always try to do what feels right. I don’t need to convince people I’m good at the game on Twitter, we’ll let our team's results and past accomplishments speak for themselves.