Version1 have had little time to fully prepare for Masters Reykjavik, traveling to the country with Jamal "jammyz" Bangash as a last-minute sub and with the team nowhere near the age of the other contenders. Additionally, the team spent a majority of their time playing scrims against the other teams on LAN, finding scrims against other European teams online not worth their time.
"We had two or three days in America and then like a week here, but the conditions aren't very... good, so the practice we got wasn't very productive because we just couldn't kill people," Anthony "vanity" Malaspina told reporters in the post-match interview. "We had probably five or six days realistically of actual practice because we had a few days where we played only LAN scrims where the game feels a lot better, but just the online practice here didn't feel like it was very worthwhile."
Not being one of the many well-established teams in North America, with only two Knights Monthly Gauntlets to their name, even they considered themselves an underdog in Iceland... but now, maybe not so much.
"I think it's fair that people are showing us as an underdog mainly because of the sub," Erik "penny" Penny said. "I think when people heard we got a stand-in, I think they fairly ruled us out. But now that we're showing what we can do, I think we definitely deserve to be here. And we're gonna keep playing."
Even with jammyz in the mix, penny sees Version1 as a world contender. (Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff for Riot Games)
After taking down Crazy Raccoon Crazy Raccoon Asia-Pacific Rank #2 2-0 in their opening match, with both maps going down to the wire, Version1 felt even more prepared to take on the bigger fish in the pond. In the "game of nerves" that is Version1's first LAN event, that series proved crucial in propelling the North American squad in their match against Team Liquid Team Liquid Europe Rank #1 .
"I definitely think that us playing that playing that [Crazy Raccoon] match is probably a decent amount of the reason why we beat Liquid," vanity said. "I think that we shed a lot more nerves in the first match than in the second one."
With players visible to each other across the venue, and with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line, alongside the pride of your continent, both teams were at edge. Emotions are high, adrenaline is seen everywhere, and yelling at your enemies across the room is something both teams cherish.
"It was definitely a mental battle between the two teams because even if the stream didn't show it, we were both yelling at each other the whole game, like yelling back and forth," penny said. "When stuff would go wrong for them, we make sure they know what they did wrong. And they do the same for us."
The mental battle was one of the reasons Version1 believes they won out over Liquid tactically. Nowhere was this more noticeable than on Haven, the final map of the series. "We full-eco'd them after losing the pistol round on a third map and I think that really got to them," penny noted. "We just kept the momentum going and they couldn't actually stop us."
Later on the map, vanity flexed his mental game prowess further against Dom "soulcas" Sulcas on Ascent, flicking against the British Skye behind him. After that flickshot, vanity did what he did best.
"After I killed soulcas, I knew this guy was out of the game mentally." vanity said. "He was sitting behind me and I backed up into him and just flicked and one-bullet'd him and I knew after that, I just kept getting in his head. He's just gonna tilt and I think that they showed because considering the composition they ran and they only got two rounds of defense with the pistol round."
But keeping their own cool is important, above all, and penny noted vanity and their coach Ian "Immi" Harding as being key to keeping the team calm and collected, especially during tactical timeouts. Even with the close series, their opponents across the room, and millions of viewers around the globe, the trademark "LAN pressure" isn't getting to Version1.
"For me, the event isn't really a LAN because there's no crowd," penny explained. "I think the only nerves I maybe get from a LAN are looking up and when you see a massive crowd. So that would be the day that I'm looking forward to in the future. That'd be insane, for real."
As Version1 venture deeper in the upper bracket, with the team taking on NUTURN NUTURN Korea Rank #2 in two days, vanity eyes maintaining a fun mindset within the team, even as the competition looks to become more cutthroat later this week. And to him, that's the key to winning Masters Reykjavik.
"I think all of our wins just rely on us just having fun," vanity said in his final answer. "Like I think we were at our best when we're just having fun playing the game not worrying about too much about what's happening."
"I mean, we're still trying to win, obviously, we're still a top tier team. We like to compete. But at the end of the day, I think all of our success comes from that we all like each other. We get along. When we lose rounds that we shouldn't lose, we're like: 'It's okay. It doesn't matter. Let's just go next.' And then I think that a lot of teams struggle with that. And I think that's probably our strongest suit as a team."