VALORANT NA Stage 1 Masters: Meta Analysis and Expert Insights
The North American VCT Masters tournament boasted the largest prize pool for a VALORANT competition yet and pitted the best eight teams of NA against each other.
In this analysis, we’ll be taking a closer look at the course of the tournament along with the trends regarding agents, maps, and weapon preferences of the participating teams.
We’ll also explore how the meta of current NA VALORANT can be compared to those of other regions like Europe and Korea.
Last but not least, we picked ourselves three key rounds out of the first map of the Grand Final which we’ll explain in further detail and draw respective learnings out of.
Overall, we hope that you’ll pick up some helpful tips and tricks that you can apply in your own games based on our insights and recommendations.
The tournament took place over two consecutive weekends, beginning on March 11th, 2021, and ending on March 21st.
All eight participating teams qualified through the Challengers events, which were a series of smaller tournaments that took place through February.
Masters represented a huge step forward for VALORANT esports as it put an overall prize pool of $150,000 USD on the line, with $60,0000 of it going to the first-place team.
Not only did the prize pool reach an all-time high, but the total number of viewers of just the NA Masters event alone went beyond the 300k mark on the streaming platform Twitch.
The State of the NA Masters Tournament Meta
If you’re a fan of unusual agent picks and daring agent compositions, you may have been disappointed by the NA Masters agent pool
Both Viper and Brimstone didn’t find any use in the entirety of the tournament, leaving only Omen remaining as the sole and lonely Controller for literally all matchups played. This also explains the 66 picks out of 66 matches and therefore the 100% pick rate for Omen.
Skye’s potential as a flashing Initiator was completely negated by the teams which rather played Breach if necessary or Duelists with flashing abilities like Phoenix or Reyna.
The last agent which found no use at all is Yoru. But to be honest, this is something we could’ve predicted before the event even started as he’s been lackluster in ranked play since his launch
Besides the four neglected agents who had a pick rate of 0%, there are no real abnormalities in the agent picks for NA Masters.
With 62 out of 66 possible picks, Sova finds a spot in most lineups, no matter the map.
Overall, the usage of the four viable Duelists, Phoenix, Raze, Jett, and Reyna, is distributed nicely.
Some teams preferred either Phoenix or Reyna but every team ran either a Raze or a Jett in most of their agent compositions.
Since four agents in the agent pool didn’t find any use at all in NA’s first Masters tournament, the agent compositions didn’t differ much from what we were already used to seeing in past pro events.
Let’s take a look at the most picked comp for each map during the tournament. If you’re a new player, we’ve included each agent’s role and difficulty level for learning:
To compare these pro comps to the ones used on the ranked ladder, be sure to check out the Mobalytics agent tier list to find our personal recommended team comps for every map.
In terms of trends, nearly every lineup included popular agents like Omen and Sova in addition to either Killjoy or Cypher as their main Sentinel to hold flanks and gather information.
Only the Duelists of the different comps switched up for each team and each map.
A characteristic feature of North American agent comps is the double duelist
lineup on almost every map in the current map pool.
Combinations of different viable Duelists like Jett, Raze, Phoenix, and Reyna are very common in NA and on the contrary to other regions like Europe or Korea.
For example, in EU, teams sometimes even decide to run a non-Duelist lineup in the current meta (we’ll get to more regional meta comparisons in a bit)
In the visual above you can see a pretty normal distribution of map picks as you would find in most other regions.
Previously, Icebox was a very disliked map within the pro scene in basically every region.
However, you can spot a trend for the newest map in the pool that indicates an increasing acceptance in this regard.
Icebox now seemingly overtook Split in popularity and teams get a glimpse of how you can master the map successfully.
Haven, Ascent, and Bind are the more popular maps within VALORANT’s current map pool and thus the most played.
Since its release, Ascent was widely regarded as one of the most balanced maps despite or maybe because of its simple structure.
These three maps find the approval from both the community and pro scene and therefore, teams in NA Masters agreed to include these three in basically every best-of-three.
The two main rifles in VALORANT, Phantom and Vandal, seemed to be equally popular in NA Masters.
The balance of those two weapons shifts from event to event but generally neither of the two dominates the other one by a huge amount of purchases in NA.
Riot managed to give both guns an equal amount of pros and cons so that no one can really say which one is better overall.
For example, the Vandal tends to be more favored on offense since you’ll often face a wider variety of ranges since you don’t know where the defenders will be.
Meanwhile, the Phantom can lean more towards defense since you have more control over where engagements will occur.
Besides that, the Stinger nerf showed its effect as the Spectre is now the clear favorite of the SMGs and a common choice for players for rounds with a low budget.
The Frenzy, another recently nerfed gun, found itself trailing slightly behind the Ghost, which is equal in cost at 500 credits.
How the NA Meta Compares to EU and KR
We are starting this meta comparison with a bold statement: Phoenix is the embodiment of NA VALORANT’s playstyle. Confident, wild, and explosive.
He is an agent that mainly finds use in NA and only NA, at least as far as the pro scenes of the different regions are concerned.
European and Korean teams don’t really play Phoenix anymore because other Duelists like Reyna, Jett, and Raze have gained the upper hand in their respective metas.
Additionally, two-Duelists lineups are very uncommon in those regions nowadays. Rather the opposite is the case. Teams like the European FunPlus Phoenix (FPX) are pioneers of the non-Duelist agent comps in which not even a Jett or a Raze find a spot in anymore.
Just like Phoenix’s personality in VALORANT’s lore, North American pro players build their success largely on the confidence to dominate the enemy face to face.
Of course, every player needs a basic strategic structure to operate in and NA pro teams are great in creating those, but at the end of the day, rounds can often be decided by individual plays more often than by a cooperative execution of an idea.
Nevertheless, this is not a necessarily negative aspect. NA teams have mastered the art of starting the round with a plan and then deviating from it if the situation demands it.
Quick decision-making and confidence in what they do make NA players very unpredictable and even after the second re-peek into an angle, you can’t be certain that there won’t be a third one.
In contrast, the EU and KR pro scenes resemble each other a little more in regard to their general playstyle.
Many players in teams of these regions prioritize the prevention of mistakes over instinctive acting. They weigh up their chances in split seconds and make a decision they think is “the right play”.
However, the aiming and overall skills of EU and KR players are in no way inferior to that of the North American pros. They just choose to obey a system that is very well thought out and takes a lot of work and preparation to get right.
Later this year when the best teams of all different regions come together at VCT 2021: Stage 2 Masters in Reykjavík, we’ll be able to finally see VALORANT’s first international clashes.
Will the fire of NA teams overpower all other regions or are they prepared for the individual skill and confidence NA is notorious for? We’ll have to wait and see.
Regional Winner Comparisons
Let’s take a look at how SEN, the NA Masters champion, compares to the winners of Europe and Korea, which are respectively, Ascend and Vision Strikers.
Many of these differences were already covered in the meta comparison earlier in this article. For example, the characteristic explosiveness and untamed confidence North American teams have in general, is also a great strength of Sentinels in particular.
The concentrated star power Sentinels have with players like TenZ, SicK, Dapr, ShahZaM and Zombs is reason enough to also build their game plan mainly on individual skill.
Nevertheless, Sentinels know how to handle the inconsistency that comes with counting on individual plays. They have a great tactical foundation each player uses to make smart decisions based off of.
Ascend surprised everyone watching and following the tournament in each game they played with their incredible performance. They took down the main three tournament favorites Ninjas in Pyjamas, FunPlus Phoenix, and Heretics, and showed off a new superstar in cNed.
Here’s how cNed compared to TenZ and Babybay, the two standout stars of the NA tournament:
Jett is an agent that downright attracts mechanically-skilled players. TenZ, Babybay and cNed all managed to put up insane numbers for their teams with this Duelist especially.
The newborn European star cNed was on the same level as his North American colleagues in basically every aspect of the game. He opened rounds for his team with an insane amount of entry kills on each and every map and even achieved a 25% headshot rate despite playing Operator a lot of the time.
Ascend decided to withstand the current European trend of no-Duelists lineups by even playing two Duelists, Jett and Reyna, in 3 out of 5 maps in the map pool. Thus, Ascend are definitely one of the more aggressive teams in their region.
In a direct comparison to Sentinels, however, Ascend’s approach to the game might still be considered a bit slower and more strategic overall.
A little side note: we certainly don’t want to detract from Ascend’s stunning performance in Masters but there currently is no best team or even best player in Europe. All teams within the Top 5 to Top 10 are basically able to beat every other team in the region.
The competition is tough and the balance between the teams shifts again and again in a way that makes it impossible to elect a consistent number one in this region.
However, you can assuredly say that for Vision Strikers in the Korean region. With a flawless record of 56 won matches and not a single loss in the team’s history, Vision Strikers are dominating their region and undisputedly is the current king of Korean Valorant.
Here and there, Korean rivals like NUTURN and TNL Esports were able to steal a map but in the end, they never managed to bring home the whole match and dethrone Vision Strikers.
In summary, Vision Strikers are a luminary regarding utility usage and never seen setups and mini-plays in Valorant. This team comes up with new ideas in almost every game and regularly demonstrates to us new possibilities and different points of view on the game.
The core of Vision Strikers already existed for years before the release of Valorant, playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive on the highest national level. Therefore, the roster already had great chemistry and lengthy trained teamplay from the beginning.
Highlights and Key Takeaways
Standout Players: SEN TenZ and FaZe Babybay
Before we get into our match analysis, the two standout players we want to highlight are SEN TenZ and FaZe Babybay, who dominated the entire tournament and unsurprisingly met in the Grand Finals.
If you want to try to replicate their play, we’ve included the settings each player used for the tournament so you can try them out at home.
The first, ex-Cloud9 star TenZ, was only recently acquired by Sentinels on March 11th as a short-term replacement for original starter Sinatraa, who was suspended from VCT Masters due to an internal investigation by Riot Games.
Before getting picked up, TenZ had been a full-time streamer after stepping down from C9’s VALORANT roster on January 12th – at the time, this was shocking news as he was one of the top players of 2020.
Despite only having a short amount of time to practice with SEN, TenZ was not only able to keep up with the rest of his team, but he achieved the highest overall rating, K/D, and average Combat Score of all players over the course of the tournament.
TenZ was consistently performing at a level only one other player, FaZe’s Babybay, could match.
Babybay, the mechanically gifted duelist playing for FaZe Clan, dominated his opponents from day one of VCT Masters.
Beginning with FaZe’s first upper bracket match against XSET and all the way up until the Grand Final against Sentinels, this man put on a show every single match.
FaZe Clan itself is a team notorious for incredible aiming and absolutely no fear, and he proudly acted as FaZe’s spearhead in this tournament.
To quickly summarize their paths to the Grand Final, Sentinels made it undefeated all the way through the upper bracket and even kicked FaZe Clan into the lower bracket in a prior clash.
Although Sentinels came from the upper bracket into this match, they didn’t have a head start in the form of a map win granted by Riot. Both teams came in with equal chances.
Nonetheless, Sentinels managed to win in relatively quick succession after only three out of five possible maps were played out.
To give you a quick overview of the general performance of each player in the matchup, here is the scoreboard including all three maps.
To go into further detail on a few things you can take away for your own game, we chose to highlight three rounds of the first map of this best-of-five matchup, Ascent.
We recommend following along with the VOD link and timestamps we’ve provided to get the most from our analysis.
Let’s dive in!
Highlight #1: Sentinels 1 – 4 FaZe Clan
In this round, both teams had a full buy and could afford all abilities they needed. You can even see an Operator in the hands of Babybay on FaZe Clan’s side.
Let’s see how the events of the 6th round of the map played out in chronological order.
[1:39] Sentinels decide to tackle early Mid control.
- ShahZaM uses his Owl Drone to clear Lower Mid, Pizza, and Market and pushes Babybay back to Defender spawn with it.
[1:29] TenZ gets killed by Babybay’s Blade Storm by using his updraft at Defender Spawn to get a peek into Mid.
- Babybay effectively traded the lost Mid control for an entry onto TenZ, a trade in favor of FaZe Clan to be fair.
[1:05] With a one man disadvantage Sentinels decide to try an A Split with two players coming from A Main and two from A Short.
- However, a really well-placed double setup in Wine basically decides the round since no one ever expects two players in this position.
[1:00] Marved gets both Sentinels players who came A Main and didn’t even need the help from Corey who also hid in Wine with him.
- Meanwhile, Sentinels two Short players, Dapr and Zombs, make their way to A site as well but get pinched from all sites with no chance to turn the round.
In hindsight, the round was decided by the two-man setup in Wine and Marved’s insane 3K that arose from it.
Nevertheless, you have to give credit to Babybay who opened up the round by trading map control for a first kill onto TenZ, the star player of Sentinels.
Babybay’s impact with this one kill is exactly what you should take away from this round for your own play in the future.
If the enemy team indicates to target the map area you are responsible for as a defender, don’t just back up without any resistance. You have to take something away from them to compensate for the loss of map control.
Whether it is getting a kill, drawing a lot of abilities from the enemy, or gaining control somewhere else one the map, you have to balance out the situation in some way.
By the way, the entry kill coming from Babybay wasn’t a one hit wonder either.
Babybay had the most first kills of the whole tournament. Overall, 43 first kills were on his record at the end of NA Masters.
However, Babybay had to share the number one place in this statistic with his victim in our clip, TenZ. He also gathered 43 first kills over the course of the tournament.
Highlight #2: Sentinels 7 – 10 FaZe Clan
At this point, the sides have switched with Sentinels defending and FaZe Clan attacking.
Sentinels struggle with their economy and can only afford two Phantoms on SicK and TenZ, the two Duelists in the lineup.
Besides these two rifles, Bucky, Spectre, and Bulldog were also purchased for the remaining players, so not an ideal buy for Sentinels.
On the other side, FaZe Clan has the means to buy five rifles and full armor. So, on first sight, FaZe has the clear edge over Sentinels already starting into the round.
But it remains to be seen if this economical advantage is going to help FaZe Clan win the round easily.
[1:39] This is a rare sight: FaZe Clan starts off the round with patiently waiting for aggression on the part of Sentinels.
- This is probably because FaZe knows that Sentinels must have a low buy and may try to go for early aggression to get the upper hand in the round.
[1:00] 40 seconds into the round, FaZe decides to fake B with Killjoy’s Lockdown just to rush A Short shortly after.
- What they don’t know is that TenZ is Lower Mid and can call all steps FaZe is making. Therefore, Sentinels quickly realizes it is indeed only a fake on B.
[0:45] Due to this information, FaZe runs into three consecutive Sentinels players and gets decimated.
- First off, TenZ is not able to get a frag but confirms FaZe’s plan to go A Short further.
- Second contact is on SicK who manages to kill Babybay but is traded immediately.
- However, the third Sentinels player, Zombs, is able to get both remaining frags on A Short, Marved and Rawkus.
[0:34] The 3v2 situation Zombs is able to secure is quickly turned into a 2v2 by Corey who is the A anchor for FaZe in this round.
- It is now that Corey realizes he’s in a 1v2 because his teammate, ZachaREEE, is timed out.
- Corey can pick up the dropped Spike at A Short and plants it on A.
[0:20] Corey tries to clutch the round by getting into Garden after the plant but is caught off guard by Dapr.
- He clearly underestimated how close Dapr would already be and he probably was also perplexed about what happened to ZachaREEE.
Besides the obvious chaos that was caused by ZachaREEE’s sudden timeout in the middle of the round, you can spot an important thing regarding fakes in this round.
Sentinels had an early read about what FaZe Clan was trying to do because TenZ had a close position in which he was able to hear the rotation of FaZe very clearly.
TenZ was able to call the rotations to short and quickly expose FaZe’s fake on B. Although he didn’t get any kills onto the rotating players, his calls alone won Sentinels the round.
He gave SicK and Zombs time to find positions to effectively hold the push from FaZe and the close quarters of A Short enabled Zombs in particular to get two kills with the Spectre.
An important lesson you can draw from this round besides ensuring a stable internet connection before playing an important match, is to remind yourself to clear out possible positions that could reveal your movement to the enemy.
If FaZe Clan had checked Lower Mid and killed TenZ before running such a risky B fake, Sentinels would’ve had no information to work with and probably rotated at least one more player towards B site.
Highlight #3: Sentinels 12 – 11 FaZe Clan
Now comes the map deciding round. This is what it all comes down to.
Both teams have a solid buy but FaZe’s is a bit on the lower end of the spectrum with two Spectres on Marved and Rawkus. Each team has enough abilities and full armor to play out this all deciding round properly.
This is how the two arguably best North American teams fight each other in the last round of the first map.
[1:39] FaZe Clan decides to run a default in which they take early Mid Control and control of A Main.
- Mid control is basically given to them for free by Sentinels, A Main however is defended by Zombs.
- Corey successfully uses his Paint Shells to push Zombs back.
[1:22] ZachaREEE uses his Ultimate, Lockdown, in A Main to help his teammates get control of A Short and the Garden area.
- But no FaZe player really takes the control, it’s just indicated by Marved with a Dark Cover and Paranoia used for Garden.
[0:56] Instead, FaZe decides to clear Market with Rawkus’s Owl Drone and then it starts to get chaotic and undetermined on the part of FaZe.
- They are fighting both Defender Spawn and B Stairs before they withdraw again
[0:28] While his teammates run around Mid aimlessly, Marved flanks A Heaven and probably calls his teammates to go back to A site due to his advanced position.
- Unfortunately for FaZe, he loses the fight against Dapr who still is in A Heaven.
- Also, Corey dies to TenZ in Market because he doesn’t manage to get back in time.
[0:22] After Dapr falls to ZachaREEE on A site it comes down to 4v3 afterplant situation in favor of Sentinels.
- SicK expects Babybay’s flank and Sentinels play out the numbers advantage smartly while retaking and manage to close it out
The indecisiveness of FaZe’s midround calls was what cost them the round and thus the map.
Approaching the round with the intention to take A Short control using Killjoy’s Lockdown was a great starting point to win the round but FaZe never really cleared out A Short with the Ult and decided to go B Market instead.
From this point on, it was confusing and not apparent what plan FaZe was pursuing and they probably didn’t know what to do themselves.
Sometimes it’s better to go through with a plan despite potential better possibilities just because everyone knows what to do in this preplanned scenario.
If you choose to change an aspect of your strat every player has to automatically adjust to that change. And that’s not as easy as it may seem when you’re in-game and you feel the pressure at this moment.
So, try to stick with your plan as far as possible and only do minor changes to it if there is no way around it. Overwise, it is hard to process for your teammates that are unaware of your thoughts and intentions.
We hope you learned a few useful tips and tricks from our deep dive!
The future of VALORANT esports is incredibly bright and only continues to grow, especially with the first international clash in Reykjavík on its way.
One last piece of advice we want to leave you with for future events is to observe the starting positions of each team and predict what they’re going to do.
This allows you to test your current knowledge while learning new things with each match you watch.
Good luck, have fun, and see you next time.
This article is brought to you in collaboration with Secretlab, the Official Founding Partner of VALORANT Champions Tour.