Following the disbandment of Cloud9 White, a wave of uncertainty and anticipation was radiating throughout the North American Game Changers scene. With the region’s greatest team now gone after dominating for around two years, it finally became possible for another squad to come forward and seize the GC throne for themselves. As the region boasted an array of promising teams in the GC level, the race was back on for domestic supremacy.
However, by the end of Series 2, any debate over who will be the next best team has resoundingly ended with Version1 becoming back-to-back winners in the circuit. Led by familiar faces in Melane “meL” Capone and Alexis "alexis" Guarrasi and new teammates in Ava “florescent” Eugene, Sarah “sarah” Simpson, and Nicole “Noia” Tierce, V1 has been perfect in both Main Event phases in NA GC with a 18-0 record. If one includes the team’s performance in the open qualifying phase, that record bumps up to 32-0.
It’s a display reminiscent of the legendary C9W squad, which won 6 NA GC titles in 2021 and 2022. Nevertheless, with a lineup that features exciting new faces and a revered head coach in Loic “effys” Sauvageau, V1 looks primed to surpass the benchmark the former established during their particular heyday.
Following Version1’s victory in the 2023 NA GC Series 2 main event, BLIX talked to meL for an interview about how the result became possible in addition to how the team became so dominant from the start of the year.
This is the first part of BLIX’s interview with meL. To read the second part, please click here.
GC title #2 for V1, #8 for meL
Pedro Romero, BLIX: To start off this conversation, in GC Series 2 North America, you and your team had another comfortable showing and had another unbeaten run. Version1's dominance has been repeated like a broken record by everyone, including the broadcast people. How did you view the team's performance in Series 2 compared to Series 1?
Melanie "meL" Capone: I think my team has only improved since the first series. I think this series, we had a match where we won pretty-handedly, but in our eyes, it was probably one of the first matches in a while in GC where I felt we didn't really win on our terms. I know that sounds weird to say because we still won, and it was a match against DSG, but we won in such a way that it was very brawley. It felt like street Valorant where we were winning through hero plays and stuff like that. Typically, that's not how we like to win so there was a big focus on, after winning that, winning the way we want to and the way we win in scrims, which is through team play and coordination and not just random pop-offs.
Although it is nice to have the firepower to pull it off and still win, it's a good sign that our skill floor is good enough to even win on days where we aren't winning as a full team, but we want to continue winning how we did in the grand finals versus Complexity which is more like you got to see us all win as a team. It wasn't like a hard carry or two people popping off and having hero rounds or people just going random thrifties and stuff like that. But it's more like us playing really well. So that was a big focus for us this GC, and I think for GC Series 3 it will be another big focus for us, and even then, I still think we improved a lot compared to our first series together.
BLIX: It's interesting to hear you describe that upper bracket final against DSG as a brawly type. What about it made it so brawly in your perspective by that particular team?
meL: They have an unusual playstyle compared to other teams that we play against. They will get in your face, and they will run it down. I was even talking to Katarina a bit, and they actually ran it down on Bind versus XSET. Anyone watching could see they were just five-manning up lanes, five-man short, and five-man long. They're not a team that's afraid to take you to the aim duels, and for us, a part of it was like, 'Okay, we realize this is how they're gonna play,' and to an extent if they're on attack, much of the game will be dictated by how they play, which is we're going to be reacting on defense. We did start, I know, on Haven as defense. Specifically, we had a 2v5 on a retake, and sometimes you're going to have to be able to do that if you can't match the brawl energy in the early parts of certain rounds.
And like I said, I knew that going into the game, it was going to be very brawly, but in a way, I still wanted to force them to adhere to how we like to play. I have a lot of respect for everyone on that team. I've been friends with Katarina forever now, and I'm her biggest fan, but with the way they were playing, it took a lot of teams off guard, and you could see that, and I think a lot of it comes down to how they're very confident. Like I said, they brought us to that sense of 'hey, we're going to force you to win these duels' and we ended up winning them, so on the right side, that's good.
BLIX: I want to know your thoughts on Overkill Black because they were the only free agent team that were able to make it to the main event. How did you view that particular team given that they were cobbled together and faced off against you guys?
meL: I think Overkill Black qualifying for main event just goes to show the depth that there is in Game Changers because there were other side teams that got left out as a result of them qualifying, and it just goes to show that people that don't have as much time to even play the game are making it this far. It's a really good sign for the depth of skill in the scene. It was something that I was worried about, but honestly, it does seem like a lot of teams did level up.
I think I saw Overkill Black Tina's tweet that they had gone through so much hardship leading up to the event where they lost their IGL a couple of days before, and someone's power went out. It was a bunch of really unfortunate events, and for them to still qualify and make a run is actually really impressive. I was really impressed by them, and not just them but Team Velaris as well. I was watching some of the signed teams play some unsigned teams just to qualify and I saw some good macro understanding of the game, which is mostly what I look for.
A lot of people can shoot back, but most of the time, there's a baseline level of mechanics once you hit Top 8 in Game Changers; but when I was looking at the unsigned teams, not only can they shoot back, I'm seeing them try to have this macro outplay of the other team, which is something I don't see very much, even sometimes in Top 8. That was interesting for me to see, so I'm actually really looking forward to the next GC. I feel like it's gonna dictate a lot and we're going to see some more talent rise to the surface more so than what we already saw. We saw XSET go out 7-8th. EG versus XSET was a match that was going to happen in upper semis and it ended up happening in first-round lowers.
meL on the free agent teams’ showing in NA GC Series 2 open qualifying: “..when I was looking at the unsigned teams, not only can they shoot back, I'm seeing them try to have this macro outplay of the other team, which is something I don't see very much, even sometimes in Top 8.”
Improvement of V1
BLIX: You mentioned the development and the improvement of all the other teams throughout the rest of the scene. What do you think enabled that to happen?
meL: I think a lot of teams are just hungry. With Cloud9 White disbanding, I think our talent being spread across three different teams now is actually good for the scene, honestly. When we split up, I think it was good for the scene that we did. It was better for people to go their separate ways and have their own teams, but also that means the talent and everything we'd learned on C9W together was not going to be shared amongst other teams, right? Jazzy is taking what she knew to Complexity, and Bob and Kat took what they learned and knew to XSET, and I think that already genuinely makes a big difference in how they teach their teams and its systems and what their takeaways were.
We see Jazzy is IGLing Complexity now, and it's really awesome to see that, but I think, in making three more competitive teams on paper instead of one really dominant one in addition to C9W dying, a lot of people saw that as an opportunity. I think that left a gap in the scene and a vacuum where everyone wanted to improve. I know I wanted to get better because hindsight, right? Obviously, my team has won two events now, but before we had won anything, no one knew who would win. I obviously had confidence in my team, but there was a gap there where it's like, 'Hey, this technically is ripe for the taking for anybody.' I can't speak for EG and FaZe and so on, but I will say I've noticed more involvement in co-ed events as well. I tweeted about it when the Nerd Street qualifiers were going on for the NSG LAN happening next week, and I saw it had a record number of GC teams playing in co-ed, and I thought that was honestly amazing. That is something that I've wanted to see for a while now.
BLIX: Even so, after the end of C9W and the level of uncertainty that radiated throughout the scene, Version1 emerged to be the top team featuring yourself, Alexis Noia, Sarah, Florescent and effys. What about V1 made the team so good and mesh so quickly from the start of the year up until now?
meL: I would say the biggest thing would be a complete lack of egos on this team, and people's willingness to improve is such a deep desire for everyone on the squad. When I joined, they already had the core of Noia, Flor, and Sarah signed by the time Lexi and I had approached V1, so we joined them. And I'll be honest with you, when I first joined that team and signed my contract in late December and early January, me and Lexi's thoughts were 'This team has people that were carries.' We pretty much have a super team in a sense. Flor was super dominant on Jett in Misfits. Despite not having insanely high placements in GC, everyone knew about Florescent, right?
It's the same thing with Sarah. At the time, she'd been known for insane Twitter clips and frag montages, and even in co-ed, she would drop 30 kills on Pearl. She has insane performances on Breach and flashes. And Noia as well, from Rix.GG Lightning, she's an insane Chamber player. She gets brought over from Europe to play on XSET. Plays extremely well in Chamber throughout the year. Everyone had played so well and had been the star of their previous team, and so obviously, my biggest concern was, 'Okay, I think we're gonna have to deal with some egos here,' but in all honesty, from day one, I have not experienced any ego checks or anything of the sort where I've felt disrespected, or it felt like someone wasn't taking my feedback seriously. It has made my ability to lead the team 10 times easier when it doesn't feel like there's resistance against everything you say.
There isn't a lot of pushback or ego-checking, which is so refreshing. I can't tell you how important it is to have that. I think it's been the biggest thing by far, and everyone's willingness to improve really ties into that. If they weren't willing to improve them then where would we be right now?
As you said, teams are improving in the GC scene past the top 1 spot. Everyone's just hungry and everyone's trying to get better, and not only do you have to improve, you have to improve faster than them. We have VOD reviews every week, and we sit and just look at our mistakes for literal hours, and you have to have that lack of ego to make it through these sessions. Especially with effys, he is very hard on us in a good way, not in a disrespectful way. You can tell he respects everyone on the team as a player when he is like tough on us, and it's not just him thinking that we're stupid or something like that, which sounds really obvious, but you'd be surprised what happens in GC from what I've heard on other teams and stuff like that.
Playing with new teammates and coach
BLIX: Regarding your new teammates, what has been the biggest thing that surprised you for each of them?
meL: Honestly, I feel like a broken record, but I truly think the biggest surprise to me was their lack of ego. I keep harping on it, but to me, it kind of goes for all three of them. You think of these players on paper, and they should have a huge ego. I could imagine them having big egos, but they have none at all, and it makes them so easy to work with and it makes me really excited to come to practice every day because of how easy it is to work with them on the server. It's something that took me so off guard, and it's such a pleasant thing to have. For Flor, I don't know how it surprises me--I shouldn't be--but the things she pulls off every day are things I just see from no one else, or maybe three other players in the scene, and I'm talking globally, right?
We got to get a glimpse of it in GC. In a 1v3 versus DSG, she's updraft dashing perfectly onto the ledge to eliminate the Phoenix, and I'm just like, 'Who thinks of the game in this way?' She surprises me every day with how she comes up with new ways to obliterate people. It's so fun to watch, and it's honestly a great thing to have when, on your team, you're like, 'alright, thank God I'm not playing against this.' It'd be so frustrating trying to shut her down because I haven't seen her get shut down yet in GC, at least.
BLIX: It just goes to show how good of a player she is. When I talked to Flor when she was in Misfits Black last year, I had this sense of anticipation of her continued improvement, and that is playing itself out in real-time with her time in V1. How have you helped her take her game to the next level?
meL: I think a big part of it is making sure that she's confident, and she really doesn't need a lot of injections of confidence. She's perfectly confident on her own. She's never nervous. It's crazy how she is as a player. She really doesn't show any signs of nerves. She just goes on and plays the game. Even for GC, during the closed qualifier, she wasn't even warming up, and then she just discovered warming up. She's like, 'Oh, I've been warming up for five minutes, and it's crazy,' and I'm like, 'Yeah, that's how the rest of us play the game, Flor.'
A lot of my job is, and effys also during VOD review, if it's a 5v5 and she gets two kills, maybe she overextends for more, and then effys is reining her in with words like, you won us the round, so keep winning us the round by staying alive' because she knows that she can skill check a lot of people so she wants to go for that, right? I completely understand that, but my job as IGL is to hold her accountable and keep her on the leash. In scrims specifically, she knows what mistakes she's making and stuff like that.
As for the good things she's been doing, her comms have gotten so much better. She'll take over rounds sometimes from a comms perspective. On defense, where she dies early and we're retaking, she'll take over the retake because she can see everything that's going on better than the people that are there; she'll lead a post-plant. It's comms like that that she might not have made six months ago that she's making now. She's improved drastically as a player, and I can say that for everyone else on the team.
In terms of my responsibilities as an IGL, it is to help everyone and hold everyone accountable because if I'm holding them accountable in scrims and VOD reviews, we'll be improving at a drastic rate. Sarah has really impressed me with how fast and willing she is to take up the info/initiator role because she was the Breach and KAY/O on Immortals, but when me and Lexi came into V1, Lexi was going to be playing that role because she was very good at it and they were the ones that also insisted on it. Sarah picked up the info/initiator role, and she has been so easy to work with and is also very quick at picking it up and willing to find lineups.
meL on Florescent: “She's perfectly confident on her own. She's never nervous. It's crazy how she is as a player. She really doesn't show any signs of nerves. She just goes on and plays the game.”
Keep in mind, effys played as Sova a lot on V1 in his tenure as a player so out of everyone on the team, he's definitely the hardest on Sarah because he knows his own role. If it was me trying to IGL from that role instead, it would be so hard figuring out the lineup and the macro of it,, in addition to trying to learn how to Odin spam. There are so many levels to it, and she's really impressed me with how easy it seems for her to pick up and improve every day.
The same goes for Nicole. Nicole was a Chamber player, and she had played Skye before and maybe Sentinel but not to this length, and now she's becoming the Alfajer of the north in GC. To see a Chamber player play this well on Sentinel was definitely a thing that concerned me at first and she has picked it up so well. Sorry, I could go at length talking about my team. I love my team so much.
BLIX: About effys, what kind of coaching style has he brought to the team that has differed from your past coaches? What kind of ideas does he bring, and how has that coalesced with your ideas and that of your other teammates?
meL: I think effys and I work really well together. I think a big way that he differentiates himself from a lot of the other coaches I've worked with on C9W, and I've worked with plenty--like at least five, I would say, at this point and that's not counting the people that we trialed before we trialed him for V1--is that he really embodies the head coach role. He isn't afraid to give you criticism. When I say this, I'm not saying he's yelling at you, but he's not going to be like, 'I don't think this was okay. Maybe this isn't the best play that you could have made.' He will be like, 'No, this is how we're gonna play the game. This is our philosophy. You are not doing this.'
Obviously, he's not as rigid. I'm playing it up a little bit here, but he has a vision for how to play the game, a very strong vision, and he will enforce that. He won't allow certain mistakes to happen, so he is harsh in that way and not afraid to say that and push his vision to the game, which differentiates him from other coaches I've worked with.
In Berlin, with C9W, we had three coaches, but--and I give complete respect to them, and I enjoyed working with them the entire time--we didn't have any of them that actually stood up and had been like, 'I'm the head coach. This is how we're doing things around here, and also having the respect of the team to look up to them. With effys, everyone buys into his system. We all have full faith in him and his prep in the game plans, the way he runs our scrims, and the way he VOD reviews. We have faith in him in everything, and it's because of how good he is.
He has gotten results for us very quickly. Our comms have risen drastically. Our fundamentals have improved. You can see it in the scrim results as well. It's kind of inarguable to say that he hasn't made great progress with us, and I've definitely felt his impact on how he's helped me IGLing, too.
I feel my IGLing has improved drastically in the time I've worked with him compared to my IGLing in the past two years. I feel I've learned and understood way more of the macro, and we worked together a lot on that. We collaborated on that. I think he has a lot of respect for how I view the game as well and my takeaways, and that helps a lot because it makes me feel confident when I know that my coach believes in me and my calls. A lot of the times, in timeouts or before matches during our pregame talks, he'll be like, 'Guys, trust meL. She has the reads. She knows what she's doing. Just trust her.' Not that he's saying 'listen to me' because people aren't listening, but just as a proof of concept, he's validating my IGLing and my calling, and it feels really good, and it's something I've never really truly felt before from not just the coach but from the entire team.