Out of all the teams to start the Valorant Champions Tour 2024 EMEA league, the one who had arguably the least amount of time to mix together was KOI KOI Europe Rank #155 kamo Kamil Frąckowiak ShadoW Tobias Flodström grubinho Grzegorz Ryczko starxo Patryk Kopczynski sheydos Bogdan Naumov . Not only did the team need to improve after a disappointing year in 2023, but the full five-man roster we saw play at the EMEA Kickoff weren't even practicing together until January, a month before the league started.

Departures for the roster included koldamenta , trexx , and Wolfen , all late in the off-season. Only a month before the Kickoff began, the KOI roster added both grubinho and kamo to its lineup. Add onto that a respected tier two talent in ShadoW , and the team constructed an inexperienced but interesting team.

While that has caused an understandable slow start, this year's roster is far more intriguing than KOI's veteran-heavy roster from the year prior. Two veterans from 2023 stuck around, but the addition of two Polish rookies turned what was a mix of European talent to a mainly eastern European roster. In fact, three of the four players on this new KOI are Polish, making this team the most Polish team in franchising so far.

The only other team to achieve VCT success with multiple Polish players was Acend back in 2021, and KOI knows all about it, considering they kept one of those champions to help lead a new Polish core years later. One of their two vets, starxo, won Champions with Acend three years ago.

A new, more Polish version of KOI

While KOI did have starxo reunite with some familiar players in former teammate koldamenta and former rival sheydos, the team couldn't beat the opposition in 2023. This year, there's a different team dynamic, one created after starxo got involved with bringing some local talent to the team.

“We trialed two different days with the two players, both before and after trexx left,” starxo said. “I proposed kamo as the main guy [for duelist], and everyone liked the idea. We didn't have a lot of choices aside from him, late in the off-season, but I still pushed for it.”

starxo KOI 2024 KOI player starxo celebrating on stage at the VCT 2024 EMEA Kickoff. (Image via KOI)

It was hard to shake off the sour taste that the last year had, with plenty of predictions leaning away from KOI due to those late off-season moves. The players themselves knew that the Kickoff event was more to get used to each other than it was to win it all.

Alas, two matches against Team Liquid Team Liquid Europe Rank #14 Jamppi Elias Olkkonen nAts Ayaz Akhmetshin Enzo Enzo Mestari Mistic James Orfila Keiko Georgio Sanassy and the play-ins afterward showed both their struggles and their potential.

“We're happy with the wins we got, and we all kinda fucked up as a team in play-ins afterward,” grubinho said. “After Kickoff, we are overall happy because we know what we can improve; we will work even harder and use the time off to train.”

All three Polish players shared that same sentiment; that the Kickoff was a success in their eyes thanks to that revenge win over Team Liquid, but there was still a lot of work to do if they wanted to compete for that Champions trophy this year.

The KOI rookies stepped up at the EMEA Kickoff

The rookies might have felt nervous heading onto the stage in Berlin for the first time, fighting at a level they've always aspired to reach, but the vets on KOI were pleasantly surprised with how easily they handled the pressure, especially as the event went on.

“I think they handled it better than everyone expected, even [sheydos and I],” starxo said. “I thought they would be more nervous, and it would lead to worse play or communication. But, they kept it cool, and even made us laugh as they told us to calm down. It shows they are mature enough to handle the pressure of official games, which is important as they gain experience.”

KOI team huddle 2024 The KOI team huddling together pre-match at the VCT 2024 EMEA Kickoff. (Image via KOI)

Both the vets on the team, alongside the staff as a whole, tried to make the team environment feel comfortable. While it was easier for the Polish vet to assist and relate with the Polish rookies, it was sheydos that gave grubinho the advice he appreciated the most.

“This is what sheydos told me before games: it's the same every time,” grubinho said. “The first round is nerves, but after a few rounds the momentum builds, and you don't feel like you're on stage. Every game starts with stress, but it always disappears after a few rounds.”

As for kamo, he was excited to join KOI not only as a player finally reaching new heights, but also being able to play with professionals he took inspiration after growing up.

“Both starxo and sheydos were on the team before I joined, and they were my idols when I was developing,” kamo said. “Then after picking up grubinho, someone I knew from Poland, the transition felt really good.”

Take losses in stride, and maybe you can climb the EMEA ranks

Considering how many teams in the EMEA league have mixed rosters of different nationalities, kamo was quick to point out how important it was for him to have two teammates he could instantly go to talk to, both about the game and about life around it.

“When I first joined, I was focused on just improvement, which didn't help when I was struggling,” kamo said. “Having someone who can talk to you every day, who you can just hang out with, that was very important in the beginning.”

KOI huddle two 2024 Another angle of a KOI team huddle. (Image via KOI)

Much like his other Polish rookie teammate, he shared the same positive outlook on the EMEA Kickoff, looking at the losses they had as learning opportunities.

“We knew heading into the Kickoff that even losing wouldn't be bad because we can use the feeling and learn from it,” kamo said. “I was surprised with how well we did, and now we can use our losses to get better.”

For kamo, he pointed that his game sense was one of his biggest improvements heading into the 2024 season. As for grubinho, he cleaned up his fundamentals. But for the veteran Polish player overseeing the group as the team IGL, he knew that his biggest improvement heading into an important year was his maturity.

“I think I matured a lot,” starxo said. “The change from me in 2021 to now — I'm a completely different player, both inside and outside the game. I take criticism better, and my view of everything changed, from the small to the big. From the beginning, I knew I had to take the role of helping [grubinho and kamo], to make them feel welcome, and to stop them from overthinking about the game. If they weren't as open-minded towards me, it maybe could've been different, but I think I've given my best towards them. That has led to a happier environment overall, whether we all speak Polish or not.”

KOI might not have the chance to play in front of Spanish fans in Madrid, but they will continue their VCT 2024 season in EMEA Stage 1, after Masters Madrid in early April.