Following a season that was loaded with various twists and turns, LOUD became the last team standing defeating NRG 3-0 in the grand finals to become the champions of VCT Americas.
Despite the final scoreline, the series was far from a lopsided affair. Each map of the series (Ascent, Bind and Fracture) saw a margin of no less than four rounds separate both teams continuing what’s regarded as Valorant's greatest rivalry in recent memory in this latest encounter.
Of all things considered, perhaps the turning point of the grand finals was LOUD's 13-11 win in Bind. This map was best known as being OpTic Gaming's signature map for all of the 2022 season. The core from that team, which features Pujan "FNS" Mehta, Victor "Victor" Wong and Austin "crashies" Roberts (including their current stint with NRG) were 20-4 heading into the series. Despite their superiority in Bind, LOUD let it through during map select and allowed NRG to pick it up fully steadfast on revealing what the Brazilian team was cooking up.
The phrase "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" came into clear view as LOUD selected the same agent composition that OpTic used last year for this go around. With IGL Matias "saadhak" Delipetro manning the team as Chamber, LOUD stifled NRG to win 13-11 and put themselves on the brink of receiving the org's third domestic title and handing their NA rivals (specifically the three-man core) their third consecutive domestic finals defeat.
In Fracture, NRG opened with a strong 7-5 half on attacking side, but with the momentum LOUD built from the series' first two maps, the South American team wouldn't be denied as they countered with an 8-4 second half to win 13-11 and become champions of VCT Americas 2023. Even after moving thousands of miles to a new region, LOUD is still at the top of their game on the domestic level.
Following LOUD’s grand finals victory over NRG, BLIX caught up with head coach Daniel "fRoD" Montaner to talk about winning the VCT Americas trophy over the team’s biggest rivals, what adjustments was made from the last encounter, the team’s progression, the significance of his achievement in relation to his general FPS career, and more.
Pedro Romero, BLIX: Congrats, fRoD, on winning over NRG and becoming champions of VCT Americas. I want to start by asking what’s going through your mind right now given that you led this LOUD team to this accomplishment.
Daniel "fRoD" Montaner: I’m just feeling really happy. We’ve been working really hard as a team ever since it got put together around November so it’s just the result of our hard work, honestly. We’ve been working really hard, studying the teams and studying ourselves a lot. We fell short in Lock In [by] getting second place, so for us, we wanted to show ourselves that we can rebound from something like that and actually win the trophy.
Especially for the young guys in the team, the two rookies in the team in cauanzin [Cauan Pereira] and tuyz [Arthur Vieira], it’s an opportunity for them to finally realize a dream of theirs which is to win a pretty good tournament with a lot of [good] teams. I’m just really happy for all the guys.that the work and training we’ve been putting in has provided such a good result.
BLIX: I want to point towards those young players in cauanzin and tuyz. How much of a progression have you seen from them specifically throughout this year?
fRoD: Massive. They came into the team with a lot of pressure and big shoes to fill and they’ve been performing at a very high level. Even at Lock In, those guys showed out and played extremely well. They’re very young guys and they don’t have that much experience when it comes to competing at an international stage, so it’s just amazing seeing how they’ve progressed as individuals and as men in and out of the game.
Obviously, in the game, they’re fantastic and they keep evolving and they keep listening to the criticism and the things that we have to try to teach them and fix some of their game, but also outside of the game, they’re extremely dedicated and they’re great teammates. We spend a lot of time together, so for us, it’s just a really cool feeling.
Especially seeing these guys accomplish something that they wanted to do with all the pressure, that they feel they have on their shoulders sometimes, I think this is only the beginning for them and I’m just really happy at how they’ve been performing and evolving as a group.
Credit: Riot/Colin Young-Wolff
BLIX: Let's shift the attention to NRG. They’re the team that handed LOUD its first loss of the season. As coach, what were some of the biggest adjustments you focused on from that series to use in this grand final?
fRoD: It was much more focused on ourselves. NRG is a world-class team. They have amazing players and an amazing coach. They do a lot of anti-stratting and they [do a lot] to try to understand what we do, what we like to do and things like that. Sometimes, we can also fall into that trap of trying to study too hard for our opponents when the reality is when we’re playing at our best, we feel we can beat anyone and it’s just having more of a focus on ourselves. It’s just talking about what we want to do, talking about the gameplan and not overthinking too much on who we’re playing.
We obviously respect them. We respect every opponent. We treat every opponent the same way. We think they’re all amazing. But at the same time, it’s just having more of a focus on ourselves and what we want to accomplish in the game, how we want to play and how we want to control the tempo.
If we gotta make adjustments mid-game, then we’ll do that, but for us, it’s just about having a focus on ourselves. Honestly, we lost to them on Split and Pearl and we just banned those two outright. We just said, “You know what? Let’s just see who’s got the deeper map pool.”
BLIX: Speaking of that, you guys let through Bind in map select. Everyone knows throughout NRG’s history it’s their best map, going back to the days of OpTic. For the agent composition, LOUD used the same one that OpTic used throughout last season and was such that put Saadhak on Chamber. How did that come together for the grand finals?
fRoD: It was something we’ve been scrimming ever since the map came back to the pool. One of the main things that I wanted to focus on was not having Less [Felipe Basso] play Chamber anymore. I think Less is the best Viper lurker in the world and, for me, by having him on an agent like Chamber—while I’m sure he’d do great on him—we lose his ability in being the best on that [mentioned] role, so the only other person that would actually be able to handle that was Saadhak and he’s someone that plays every agent.
He’s a true flex. He can play anything and any role. He can even OP which is not something that a lot of rifles can do.
For someone like Saadhak, it felt like more of a natural fit and we felt like we were really good on that map. We put a lot of time into it and a lot of theory crafting. We had different ideas, of course, but we felt like, especially when we played EG, we had a really convincing victory against them and we really only played one side, which was attack, so when [NRG] picked it, we sort of defense’d.
We just started off with a side that they had zero info on and just try and change up a bit of what we do. Obviously, they’re a team that the more we play and the more VODs we have out there, the tougher they were going to be so we just took advantage of the lack of information out there against them.
BLIX: Staying on Saadhak, as the IGL, he had to lead a different iteration of this team with the exit of Sacy and pANcada. How have you seen his particular play individual-wise in leading this new team with cauanzin and tuyz this year? And how much of an effect has he given to the team in that timespan?
fRoD: I think it’s big. At least for myself, when I got in as an analyst for Champions , I knew the guys but I didn’t have as much involvement. I was just really on the tactical side. Now that I’m the head coach, I can be more active with Saadhak and all that he’s doing. One of my biggest focus is to make his job easier. That would be taking care of anything that I need to for him so that he can focus on his game.
A lot of IGLs tend to focus too much on what’s going on in practice like the VODs and everything. They don’t really get enough time to play the game and have fun and work on their skill set, so for me, it’s my job–and it’s something I’m extremely happy to do–to take as much work as I can from his shoulders so he can just focus on the game and I think that result has been showing a lot more. Honestly, he’s been doing fantastic.
Credit: Riot/Colin Young-Wolff
I’m sure he could continue to dominate, play any agent and still be the IGL but it doesn’t make his life a lot easier. He always jokes that he’s not getting any younger. Obviously, I’m much older than him, but the last thing I want for everyone is to have Saadhak retire.
If I could help make his career longer by taking care of all the work and removing a lot of pressure from him, then I think he can just focus on the game and have fun. I think the way he’s been playing is kind of showing that because he’s obviously playing a lot better individually.
We don’t obviously need him to be high on the scoreboard for us to win. We just need him to be focused on the mid-round, calling the strats and everything. But if we have him hitting the shots that he did during the grand finals, like in that clutch on Fracture, it’s like the icing on the cake for our team to be very good.
My focus, and I’m sure a lot of the guys’ focus, is to make sure we keep him for a long time and we keep him happy, enjoying the game and removing a lot of work that we can from his shoulders.
BLIX: Goldenboy [Alex Mendez] cited you during the award ceremony as a legend in Counter-Strike which is something that needs no denying given your long trajectory in the game, but in reaching the top of both VCT Americas and earlier in your career in CS, how do you view your own progression as an individual?
fRoD: I think it’s amazing. I was able to win several Majors when I was a player and I had a really successful career there. Obviously, as the older we get, sometimes it becomes more difficult to hit that, so after I retired, I’ve been coaching for the last four or five years a little bit in CS and pretty much ever since Valorant came out. It’s been a goal of mine to be able to lift a trophy especially for this organization. LIke I said, I was with them at Champs but I wasn’t physically there so it’s kind of a different feeling now having the responsibility of a coach.
I competed a lot against guys like zonic [Danny Sørensen] from the Astralis and Vitality days and I look up to people like that who can transition from player to coach and be able to show the way, so for me, it’s obviously huge to be able to accomplish something like this individually, but it means so much more to be able to give the wisdom and the knowledge to all these young players that are on my team because they are obviously very talented.
Some of them have a lot of experience and some of them don’t so there’s just a lot that goes into winning. It’s a lot of dedication, a lot of focus on practice and our training.
What I’ve always told them is you can kind of get lucky and win one tournament, but the real legends are made when you can find a recipe for success and win more than two, three or four [more events]. I think our biggest focus was to celebrate the victories that we had at Champs, celebrate the victory that we have today and just completely forget about it because the next tournament is the most important one.
For us, it’s to have that short-term memory and maybe one day down the line, we can sit back and talk about what we accomplished and how we accomplished it, but the goal is to stay focused and understand that we’re competing. Only team leaves as the winner, but there’s always the next tournament coming right up, so we can definitely celebrate our success, but we also have to forget about them at the same time.
BLIX: With the focus now on Masters: Tokyo, which team are you most looking forward to facing from a coaching perspective?
fRoD: I would like to face Fnatic. We want to get our revenge when it comes to that. Obviously, they’re a very talented team. They have an amazing IGL and an amazing coach, but truth be told, every team that has qualified out there deserves to be there so we’re looking forward to facing every team, but we would like to face Fnatic and even a team like DRX. They’re always a challenging team to play against.
They have such different styles. They’re just an amazing team so, to be honest, it’s pretty much all of them but we would definitely like to face Fnatic and someone like DRX as well.