A key signing and improved coordination are key to EG's playoff qualification.
From the start of the franchised leagues of VALORANT in January, the Americas league had four North American organizations for fans to follow. While NRG, Sentinels, and 100 Thieves have their popular players and well-known cores, Evil Geniuses were seen as a lesser squad than their NA counterparts.
Due to a lack of star talent, many fans put Evil Geniuses towards the bottom of their initial regional power rankings. But EG, ever since losing to 100 Thieves on April 10, have been on the up and up, taking maps against some of the best talent in the league. From a near-upset against ladder-leading LOUD, to stomping Leviatán and Sentinels on their way to a 4-5 record, Evil Geniuses are a team to keep tabs on, especially with the tribulations of other teams in the region. These fresh faces are starting to take down some of the most well-known players in the world.
And while Evil Geniuses results lately look like a massive step-up in quality, theyre also thanks to the team overcoming a number of hurdles from the start of the season by making necessary changes and maintaining confidence in themselves.
When we were building the team coming into 2023, it was obvious that upgrades were needed, even with our great team from 2022, head coach Christine “potter” Chi told Dot Esports. Looking across the table, it was obvious all the orgs were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on players. If were comparing resources, I didnt have those to build a super squad and purchase the players who were on the stage holding trophies last year. Im just trying to do the best with what I have.
Even with that problem heading into the 2023 season, the team started practicing and competing against more popular teams in the region. It took time, but expectations for the team internally were much different than the ones fans had, according to potter. Scrims and “the eye-test,” as she put it, showed a team that could stay in the middle of the pack, even contend against the best on the right day.
In their 0-2 loss to NRG on May 19, EG at least gone down swinging, getting at least a map win in each of their previous six matches, if not the outright victory. Their last regular season series against NRG marked EGs first 2-0 loss since their series against 100 Thieves more than a month prior. It was proof that EG’s process was working; they just had to iron out some issues. And one of their biggest problems, according to potter, was finding the right fit in their roster for the meta.
Beginning with LOCK//IN, EG struggled to find their best starting fivethe ones who would be the most comfortable on their roles for the meta. The game against Cloud9 was the catalyst for a shake-up, letting potter know that they needed to make at least one swap.
We needed a change, potter said to Dot Esports, so that the players felt comfortable enough to make those moves in the server.
That change came by benching experienced player Brendan “BcJ” Jensen and bringing in rookie Jett player Max “Demon1” Mazanov. The effect of the change was immediate; Demon1 would lead EG to a 2-1 victory over KRÜ Esports. It wasnt a coincidence, as the team looked far more cohesive behind a 52-kill performance from Demon1, all while the rookie played three different roles on all three maps. Community skepticism around the decision of replacing a veteran with an untested prodigy quickly diminished with his performances.
Demon1 is just very comfortable in his role, and definitely very good at Jett, potter said of EG’s rising star. Hes got insane confidence, and anytime were communicating our game plan, its just instant. Hes able to visualize what he needs to do, what hes not supposed to give up and what hes supposed to fight for. In those times, its easy with him.
While Demon1 helped lead the team to their first win of the season, EG would lose their next two games and drop to a 1-4 record. Their series against LOUD provided a glimmer of hope, and it could have been the largest upset across all Champions Tour leagues if LOUD hadnt woken up mid-way through the three-map series. However, EG would fall in a close match, similar to their series against FURIA a couple days before. They struggled against both Brazilian squads with containing star players on the enemy teams, from Leonardo “mwzera” Serrati on Furia putting up 67 kills to Felipe “Less” Basso and Erick “aspas” Santos tag-teaming for 48 kills each in their respective series.
EG needed to rebound quickly to keep their playoff hopes alive, and to manys surprise, thats exactly what they did. Utilizing the double duelist composition more often, with Demon1 on Jett and Alexander “jawgemo” Mor on Raze, the team grew more comfortable together. Starting off by upsetting Leviatán 2-1, EG then ground Sentinels into dust with an easy 2-0 sweep. EG soon found themselves at an even 4-4 record after defeating a slumping MIBR, maintaining their shot at qualifying for playoffs and a possible spot for Masters Tokyo at the end of that rainbow.
Related: All VALORANT teams qualified for VCT Masters Tokyo
The teams chance to secure a playoff spot slipped away against the ever-powerful NRG team, breaking a four-game win streak and taking EGs playoff hopes out of their own hands. Their qualification all revolved around MIBRs match against 100 Thieves, where a big upset MIBR win would put EG in the playoffs.
Chances of MIBR actually getting a win seemed so small that players made bets, including Demon1, who said he would go bald if his team made playoffs. It showed the same bravado as the player who went from lower tier VALORANT, skipped Challengers to get signed to a franchised team, and helped revitalize them with his top-tier Jett play and coordination.
It all came down to one of the weirdest but most entertaining series of the season. MIBR were playing with their sixth man André “Txozin” Saidel, who hadnt played consistently in pro play since late 2020. His debut match for the VCT 2023 season, against EG no less, was rough. With all that information, MIBR looked like an easy win for the 100 Thieves squad needing a victory to secure their playoffs spot.
But MIBR immediately surprised everyone by beating 100 Thieves on their map pick of Fracture convincingly, 13-6, thanks to the great smokes, utility, and lurks from Matheus “RgLM” Rodigoli. Then, on Pearl, it looked like another easy MIBR win at 12-6, until Matthew “Cryocells” Panganiban went hot as could be to win in overtime, 14-12.
Just when it seemed 100 Thieves woke up, they lost Lotus 13-7, ending the series at 2-1. Not only that, but it was Txozin who managed to clutch the final round with a jumping knife kill onto the defuser. It was as improbable an ending as the series result itself, and MIBR completed the upset. With 100 Thieves departure from playoffs, EG snuck through, and one confident Jett player had to go bald.
Heading into the VCT Americas 2023 season, nobody had EG pegged as a playoff team, especially with all the talent the franchised league had elsewhere. But because of solid changes and clutch victories at key points in their season, the squad will compete for a chance to make it to Masters Tokyo. As for potter, she knows the form required to make it this far has to be the benchmark from here on out.
Communications between these guys has just been getting better and better, and we’re able to have really dominant rounds, and that was something that we just didn’t have in early January, potter said. We’re having a couple of dominant games as well, so that’s something that we’re going to keep working on.
EG will start their playoffs run by facing off against NRG on May 23.