In early February, Wave Esports Wave Esports Europe Rank #13 were in the quarterfinals of the first VCT EU Challengers, a first for the organization, who had traditionally gone out in the qualifiers of multiple Riot-sponsored events. Their opponent was Fnatic Fnatic Europe Rank #4 , who had signed the roster of SUMN FC SUMN FC Inactive just days before with the organization debuting their roster during the event.
Expectations were heavily in favor of Fnatic, whose return to the server was highly anticipated after two close best-of-fives in the Red Bull Home Ground and First Strike: Europe.
“When we knew that we would be facing Fnatic, we instantly started getting ready for them,” Sigurd "Zik" Jensen recalled. “A lot of work was put into the match and we were honestly feeling confident once we got on the server.”
Bind, Fnatic's map pick, went in favor of the British roster, who swept through Wave 13-6 with a dominant 9-3 first half. The series seemed set in stone for Fnatic, but moving onto Wave's map pick of Haven, there was still a chance for Wave to redeem the series. “Even after losing rather hard on Bind, we still behaved like nothing changed and kept our focus.”
The second map saw two 6-6 halves, bringing the match into overtime. After 29 excruciating rounds, the map was finally secured by Wave 16-14 after one hour on the second, with Murat "murii" Korkmaz putting up 200 ADR on the board.
While the series seemed to remain neck-and-neck on Split, with yet another 6-6 half propping up, Wave swiftly closed out the series with a 7-0 second half, returning the favor to Fnatic with a 13-6 finish. After a strenuous three-map series against one of the established teams in the European scene, Wave had finally made their first major placement in a Riot event.
The series win was a huge emotional event for the players and many of the staff involved. “Even though we tried to keep calm, the match was still extremely stressful, with a lot of ups and downs,” Zik said.
How did Wave Esports, a team almost unheard of to many casual watchers, make their way to the playoffs of the VCT Challengers and take down the darling team of European scene? The series is a culmination of months of play and a demonstration of the power in bootcamps and team synergy.
Wave first entered the Valorant scene by signing the roster of unleash, a team Murat "murii" Korkmaz described as initially just “a random team.” The German mix had played in multiple German cups during Valorant's beta, notably placing 2nd in Allied Esports' Legend Series 2. In late June, Wave Esports signed the core of the team, with the four players joining David "D4ve2k" Brosig, who had been signed by Wave earlier in May.
The Austrian organization's first Valorant roster had been fully assembled, composed entirely of German-speaking players. The team quickly became a mainstay in the DACH scene and one of the most competitive in the region, making several top placements in German events.
However, the few times the team made an appearance in the overall European scene, the roster was frequently met with disappointing results. While the team were decently competitive in their native region, internal issues plagued the roster as the team fell out of European events again and again. “When we formed our team in June, it felt like no one took it seriously,” murii recollected. “We only played cups and that was it.”
The original German roster would qualify for only one Ignition Series event through the Logitech G Contenders Cup, which seeded into the LVL Clash 2. Wave's journey through the event was brief, with two losses on Bind to FunPlus Phoenix and Angry Titans eliminating them in the first day of play.
In October, the organization made sweeping changes to their roster amidst further subpar results. Two of the team's players, Marco "Marco" Gleirscher and Raphael "Rebounter" Wallaschek, were released from the roster, with D4ve2k becoming a streamer for Wave Esports.
In reworking the roster, the organization partially diverged from the previous all-German composition by signing Robertas "Carcass" Mikuckis and Zik, who moved over to the German team following the dissolution of Team123 Team123 Inactive . Rounding out the roster was Gianluca "xTribune" Oehme, formerly of Lunaris, whose German nationality was key to maintain the team's qualification in German events.
“When we first joined [Wave], there were huge problems with discipline and communication within the team,” Zik recalled. To the Dane, the addition of the Team123 duo was key to improving Wave's persuasive stability and communication issues, "which later have become very fundamental in our team's growth.”
The team saw considerable improvement, even taking a map off Guild Esports Guild Esports Europe Rank #9 in a best-of-three series, but were still far off from becoming a contender in the European scene. “It has been very up and down with a lot of problems that we just couldn't figure out how to work out,” Zik continued. “Obviously, these problems slowly got tackled one by one and currently the spirits remain high.”
A month later, Wave signed Dimitar "Itopata" Staev as the team's head coach. His addition was partially at the recommendation of Zik, who previously worked with the coach on Team123 and Absolute Legends.
“[Itopata's] impact to the team has been immeasurable,” Zik stated. “He is the foundation that keeps the team focused and prepared for everything. If we have any individual problems, we talk to Ito. If the team is tilted, Ito untilts, if the team is arguing, Ito breaks it up.”
“I knew Carcass and Zik back from Absolute Legends and it was really nice to work with them again,” Itopata recalled. “I remember I was also impressed by how good mechanically are xTribune, murii, and nico. It was obvious to me that this was a good team that just needed the push in the right direction.”
Itopata's addition came just a few weeks before the team began competing in the qualifiers for First Strike: Europe, which would be the first major test for the new roster. But even with their roster's several months of play, the team were unable to reach a qualifying round for the main event.
The team's First Strike: Europe journey was met with numerous pitfalls, as the team were eliminated by SKADE, Team Heretics, and need more DM across the event's qualifiers and their playoffs. “We finished Top 32 and Top 16 in First Strike, which was a good representation of where we stood back then,” Itopata said. “In the end we weren't satisfied with the results, but everyone knew that this is just part of the learning process.”
With First Strike finished, and the Valorant Champions Tour over a month away, the team continued working towards the next season of competition. “The biggest concern was definitely the lack of tournaments between First Strike and VCT Challengers,” Itopata said. “In the end it played out to our advantage.”
After playing in a handful of smaller events, the team embarked on a two-week bootcamp in Waiblingen, Germany in the latter half of January. While the bootcamp was initially conceived in November for content creation — owing back to Wave's origins as a Fortnite organization — it also provided an opportunity for Wave's Valorant team to practice in preparation for the VCT circuit.
“[The bootcamp] had really good timing before Challengers though and we made the most out of it,” Itopata explained. “It was really nice for everyone to get to meet each other in person. I think it helped us a lot with communication in the game. For me it was easier to get to know the players and make adjustments to our structure based on that.”
While the team failed to qualify for the main event of the Red Bull Home Ground in the middle of the bootcamp, many of the players felt it was a large success for the team. “I for one, gained a lot of confidence with myself while I was at the camp,” Zik said. “That confidence has really helped me trust more in my team and my in-game-leading.”
Wave began their qualifier run with a clean 13-3 win over Sausage Party, a small European mix. Their run nearly came to an early end in the Round of 128, with a close 13-11 skirmish against Enterprise Esports. A smoother best-of-one finish over Staga Haus landed them in the Bo3 Qualifier Playoffs, where they saw two 2-0 finishes against CGN Esports and NoNamers to qualify for the main event, where they were matched up against Fnatic. The final series ended 2-1, handing Fnatic their first loss and Wave their first major tournament placement.
“Obviously like everybody else in the org, I'm happy with the placement we got and the fact that we had our performance to back it up,” Itopata said. “Being the first team to beat Fnatic in Valorant is something special, especially when we were able to reverse sweep them. It also showed us that we can ‘upset' any team when it comes to official games.”
However, with more money and slots for the VCT European Masters on the line in the coming weeks, Wave are ready to continue their success and prove their win against Fnatic wasn't just a fluke. As the team steadily climbs the rankings and more eyes start shifting towards the German team, Wave's ability to compete in the highest level of European Valorant will be put to the test, and if there's one thing the team wants, it's a spot at the Masters.
“Overall with the improvement we had in the last two months,” Itopata continued, “I feel like we were able to close the gap between us and the best teams in the region, but there is still a lot of work to be done before we can actually reach them.”
In the second Challengers, Wave will be taking on Alliance, a rising squad and the brainchild of European caster James "BanKs" Banks. With Alliance also looking to make their place in the upper echelons of the European scene, both teams have their names riding on this series, and beyond.
“We know that we will be facing a team that has outfought all other teams in the qualifier, so it will obviously be a serious opponent,” Zik said. “But we are gonna be well prepared and ready for whoever will try to take us down.”