Michael "dapr" Gulino could really feel the momentum building for Sentinels' grand finals appearance. (Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)
NUTURN were able to win just five rounds on Bind, the first map, and just four rounds on Haven, the second map. Despite a few strong individual performances, NUTURN as a team were never able to keep up with Sentinels.
This was in part because SicK put up his best performance of the tournament right out of the gate to fully return to a form that was missing in the opening match of the tournament. While he finished behind Kim "Lakia" Jong-min (김종민) in ACS and ADR on the map, SicK's grenades and multi-kill ability was key in a dominant first map.SicK forced solo into his crosshair with a rare underhanded grenade.
"You're always going to be less comfortable on a LAN setup no matter how experienced you are," SicK said. "So even though I have a nice amount of LAN experience, I think the first match especially was hard for me to get into because we didn't have much time to prepare on the stage because the matches were running late and we got rushed into the match. So I think it just took some confidence-building across the matches."
His confidence was undoubtedly present in today's match, a necessity in map one when Lakia appeared to still be riding the momentum from his incredible performance the day before.
The opener on Bind was a first for Sentinels all tournament. NUTURN had played on the map previously against Sharks Esports Sharks Esports Latin America Rank #2 and won, so NUTURN was quick to make the selection when Sentinels opted not to ban it.
"So we kind of knew that on Bind they're pretty much undefeated back home and so they weren't going to switch up much of what they do. They were kind of running the older meta comps: no Astra, no Viper," Sentinels IGL Shahzeb "ShahZaM" Khan said. "So we figured that if we let Bind through, it's still a good map for us. It's been going well in practice, we can prep for them and they're not going to change a whole lot. And we have the advantage of using, you know, agents that we feel like are stronger on the map."
The day before, Lakia admitted in a press scrum that although NUTURN realizes Viper is a good pick, they wanted to stick to the agent lineup they were used to because they did not have "much time to prepare something new."
So no Viper was guaranteed. And NUTURN didn't pick Astra either when they played against Sharks on Bind earlier in the tournament. Sentinels took the evidence they had to make a read and cashed it in.
NUTURN's IGL, Kang "solo" Geun-chul (강근철), said, at least for Haven, the composition they have been using has worked well in Korea and they expected it to work well in Iceland, too.
"It's something that we expected Sentinels to have difficulty dealing with because they usually depend more on personal mechanics as opposed to teamwork," he said, "So we assumed that it would work well, but it's something that is obviously not working well throughout the tournament."
That belief, that Sentinels rely more on individual mechanics than on teamwork, was said by NUTURN players more than once in their post-match press conference. ShahZaM had no problem saying NUTURN and other teams were underrating Sentinels' teamwork and tactics.
"We knew that their Bind revolved around Breach flashing for Jett to peek or Raze to peek. And that was kind of the game plan — we're gonna let the Sova utility lead and bait it out, we're not going to get caught out by this Breach utility[...] we're not going to let them play their game, like we're aware of their plays," he said. "And I mean, that's teamwork itself. So people need to start recognizing the things that we're doing, even if it doesn't necessarily look as cool as the things that other teams do."It's not like NUTURN lacked in individual mechanics, either.
Regardless of their teamwork or lack thereof, there was no doubt that Sentinels had the compositional advantage on both maps.
"I definitely prefer this meta right now, but it's mainly because other teams just aren't as good as us at it," Jared "zombs" Gitlin said. "And I think me and dapr both enjoy playing Viper, and I think I'm probably the best Astra in the game."
zombs and his teammates have certainly earned their confidence. Sentinels have romped through the upper bracket 6-0 on maps and await the lower bracket champion without a dent in their armor. The closest anyone came to doing damage to the North American superstars is a 13-11 Icebox match against Fnatic Fnatic Europe Rank #2 .
Version1 Version1 North America Rank #2 's Loic "effys" Sauvageau admitted earlier in the day that the consensus among the players at Iceland is Sentinels are the favorites to win the whole thing. Now that the general public has seen the squad play against and dispose of teams from three different regions, it's no surprise the players came to that conclusion.
"I think [our past experience on LAN is] definitely a pretty big advantage," ShahZaM said. "Some of these guys are really new to LAN environments and VALORANT is their first big tournament or esport. But we've been through a lot of big tournament tournaments in CS, so it's a pretty easy adjustment even if things don't feel perfectly like they're at home."
Perhaps that LAN experience has been one of the major factors in the tournament thus far. NUTURN, after all, has a 33-year-old and a 30-year-old with years of LANs to their name leading their team.
But now everyone remaining in the tournament has had several matches to get comfortable. Sure, the pressure is higher than ever, but everyone has at least gotten used to the stage and the setups.
NUTURN now awaits the winner of the European slugfest in the lower bracket finals. It's likely the winner of that match will pick Haven, a map every NUTURN opponent has picked against them and one NUTURN has not won more than five rounds on in three attempts.
Whether NUTURN will adapt a new composition for the first time this week, fall down and rebound in force as they did in their first two matches, or crumble as they did today against Sentinels when the map came after Bind remains to be seen.
Regardless if it's NUTURN or one of the European squads who climbs out of the lower final, the winner will just make it to the base camp of their highest peak yet in the form of Sentinels.