Undoubtedly, all eyes of the VCT Americas landscape were on Sentinels before the start of Super Week, a critical point in the 2023 season. Following their Week 3 loss to Leviatan, Sentinels announced the removal of Don “SyykoNT” Muir as head coach and the addition of Jimmy “Marved” Nguyen to the starting lineup for Tyson “TenZ” Ngo, who became sidelined after suffering a finger injury and a COVID infection.
With the addition of Marved, Sentinels moved Zachary “zekken” Patrone to the starting duelist role to place the incoming player in his usual role. That also put the 18-year-old back in his old position for the first time since his days with XSET, where he had been a player there from 2021 to 2022. The person taking Syyko’s place in the head coaching role was Adam “kaplan” Kaplan, who had been Sentinels’ strategy coach throughout this year.
With a new player and new coach on board, there was a mix of anticipation and deliberation over how the team would perform against LOUD and MIBR, which had a combined record of 5-1 heading into Super Week.
As it turned out, Sentinels’ changes paved the way for their best performance so far in the Americas League as they followed a close 2-1 defeat to LOUD with a 2-0 victory over MIBR to remain in contention of appearing in playoffs and potentially qualifying for Masters: Tokyo.
BLIX.GG talked to provide his thoughts on the team’s tight preparations for Super Week, rebounding from the loss to LOUD for the series against MIBR, his transition to the duelist role, and more.
Pedro Romero, BLIX.GG: First off, congrats on the win over MIBR. It was a pretty dominant win over MIBR. It was one done with absolute authority. To get here from losing against LOUD, how did you guys rebound from the first series of Super Week up until now?
Zachary "zekken" Patrone: I think getting so close to beating LOUD and just barely losing it kind of lit a fire in us, knowing that we can be a lot better than what the results show, so I think we put in a lot of work. We had a long day yesterday practicing and getting ready for this match, and we came in and performed.
BLIX: I imagine after the team faced LOUD, everyone had a good idea as to the improvements they had, so how did you guys continue that form for the following series against MIBR?
zekken: I think when we played against LOUD, it was a pretty good series for us to try and gauge what we're good at and what we weren't good at, considering that we're playing with a new five and a new coach. I think that was a good series to see what we could improve on and what we already were good at, and after that, coming into this match, it made us a lot more confident knowing in advance like, 'Hey, we're good at this, we're good at that, we can do this against MIBR, and maybe we shouldn't do this against MIBR, so it gave us a lot of confidence in our ability knowing how we want to play coming into this match.
Navigating through Super Week
BLIX: Of course, the main story is about Marved and how well he played for both series for this team, but I want to focus on you. You had to switch this week to duelist for TenZ after he went to the bench. Given that you've previously played this position of the lead duelist, what were some of the things that you focused on when it came to preparing for Super Week with the little time you had at your disposal?
zekken: I think the main things I focused on when making this change were trying to play well with my teammates and playing confidently. Trying to slot into Tyson's role was definitely big shoes to fill, but I trusted my teammates to support me well. I had a really big focus on asking for utility. If I had a read, I would be asking sacy to come help me and use his ulti for me. It was just a lot of asking for support, and making sure my team was with me every step of the way is what I did most to try and prep for.
BLIX: And, of course, you certainly did perform up to the kind of standards that you displayed beforehand. Twenty-two first kills, 61% first duel percentage, and around 80 kills in total for both of your series against LOUD and MIBR. How did you view your performance at the end of the week compared to the expectations you had going into it?
zekken: I like to think that I met my standards for myself coming into this Super Week. Knowing that there would be a lot of changes, I expected to maybe be a bit shaky at the start, and it was against LOUD, but I think for today, I'm very proud of how I was able to play. I think I did well with my teammates. Obviously, the result of this match showed that we worked well together, so, yeah, I had been performing up to the expectations I had for myself coming into Super Week.
BLIX: Your new head coach Kaplan mentioned in one of his most recent tweets that you guys essentially played Fracture without a plan. You guys were playing with your comfort picks. How did you personally go through playing Fracture without having enough time to devise a strategy around the map?
zekken: Coming into Super Week and before Marved came in, Fracture was a map that we were super confident in as a team. I believe the last time we played it was against 100 Thieves, and we had a pretty solid win there. Coming in, we didn't expect it to be played because it had been a map that both LOUD and MIBR had been banning, I believe. It was a bit of a surprise when they picked it, but we knew we were good on it. We took a couple of rounds to kind of gauge out what they were doing, and we were able to form a good game plan after that. We just kind of kept it flowing from there. We played pretty natural roles and pretty natural positions, and it worked out well for us.
BLIX: Another map that showed improvement for you guys was Pearl. You guys played and won the map over LOUD a few days ago. Although everyone knows that Pearl is one of LOUD's maps so far this year, you guys were able to beat them with authority. What prompted the team's improvement in that map with the help of Kaplan and Marved and their inclusion in the equation?
zekken: I think adding those two into the equation definitely helped with our Pearl. I think Kaplan especially has been helping us with making a really solid game plan before going into the matches, so for Pearl against LOUD, I felt we had a really good game plan, we stuck to it, and that's why we won that so convincingly. And it was the same case today, you know? We came in with a good game plan. We had an idea of what we wanted to do and how we wanted to counter them. That was pretty much through Kaplan and Drew, who did an amazing job there, and I think our planning is what makes us so potent on that map.
BLIX: Most of the attention revolved around those two individuals, given that they were put into new roles going into this week what with the removal of SyykoNT as the coach TenZ moving to the bench. Kaplan is someone that you've known from your past teams, but with Marved, it's a different story since he came from OpTic and was not with the team up until this week. How's it been working with those two?
zekken: It's been working pretty well incorporating two new faces into our team. I think teven before Kaplan was head coach and before Marved came, we had a pretty healthy team environment, and we were improving week to week. Even though there were pretty drastic changes that happened, we kind of kept that going and kept improving at the same rate, so I think that they slotted in very comfortably. It wasn't like a hard change or something that really shook the team. We were able to keep playing, keep practicing, and keep getting better. It was pretty easy for them to slot into their new roles, and they've been doing really well on them.
New faces into the fold
BLIX: Was there a difference in coaching style or ideas that was brought into the table from Kaplan compared to when SyykoNT was the coach?
zekken: I would say that, as coaches, Kaplan is more of a strategy guy. He's very into the macro essence of the game, and that's what he really brings to the table. Those are his biggest strengths, whereas Don is super good at being an emotional coach, handling the emotions of his players, and making tough decisions when they need to be made. That's the role that he kind of did, but with Kaplan coming in, it's been a much bigger focus on the strategy and a bigger focus on the game plan, and I think that might be the main difference going from two to three weeks ago to now.
BLIX: Because the team had little time to devise a strategy, did you feel as if the team was in a pinch in trying to get stuff together?
zekken: I would say it's definitely been a stressful week this past week. A lot of changes happened very quickly, and [we did] not have a lot of time to prepare knowing that Tyson got COVID so suddenly and Marved had to come in. Yeah, I think we were in a pinch, but I think we adapted very well to the circumstances and we've improved a lot over the past week despite them, so I'm pretty proud of how we've handled this past week.
Looking ahead to Week 5
BLIX: What is your biggest takeaway from Sentinels' performance in Super Week given that you guys took LOUD to the limit and beat MIBR, who was coming off of an upset win over NRG, with authority?
zekken: I think my biggest takeaway is we really can compete with the best. Bringing LOUD to their limit and really playing well against them and the performance we just had today proved to me, and hopefully to the fans, that we're here to play. We're here to play and we really can compete with the best.
BLIX: Next week is going to be a pretty big one as you will be facing Cloud9, which is the best team in North America right now. Who would have thought that going into the season? Certainly not me, nor you. What are your thoughts about facing Cloud9 next week?
zekken: I'm excited to play them. They're playing super hot. They're playing super well and, in my opinion, if you want to be the best, you have to play the best. I hope that we can take them down. I think it'll be a good match and I'm excited about it.