Karmine Corp Karmine Corp Europe Rank #17 MAGNUM Martin Penkov tomaszy Tomás Machado N4RRATE Marshall Massey marteen Martin Pátek sh1n Ryad Ensaad assistant coach Ahmed "ZE1SH" El Sheikh has gone through a unique Valorant career trajectory, to put it mildly. Across 2023, he helped oversee one of the most entertainingly poor rosters in VCT history. Then, he had to play in that roster with near zero competitive Valorant experience as an emergency substitute. After all that, he returned in 2024 and took Karmine Corp to the top of EMEA.

With an off-season of time and a new head coach to work alongside, he helped construct a new Karmine Corp for 2024. Only one player, Ryad "sh1n" Ensaad, remained from their previous roster. The rest were effectively rookies to top-tier play, with former FNATIC FNATIC Europe Rank #1 Leo Leo Jannesson Derke Nikita Sirmitev Boaster Jake Howlett Chronicle Timofey Khromov Alfajer Emir Ali Beder player Martin "MAGNUM" Penkov as the outlier. Somehow, the org went from the bottom of the league to eliminating Fnatic and winning the VCT 2024 EMEA Kickoff tournament.

ZE1SH had to take the criticism and the pain from the 2023 season and use it for good. Being in the shoes of a player in 2023 helped him understand the pressure rookies have to go through to perform at the tier-one level.

“I think when you play on big stages, you get knowledge, and you get a better understanding of what a player feels,” ZE1SH said. “Sometimes, coaches can think of the perspective of a player and criticize them, but can you bring it in a good and helpful way? Can you truly feel what the player feels at that moment?”

ZE1SH plays alongside sh1n at the KCX3 event ZE1SH and sh1n on stage at the KCX3 event. (Image via ZE1SH)

After stepping into the roster in 2023 when Alexis "Newzera" Humbert left, ZE1SH was as eager as any rookie to prove himself. He self-admittedly knew that it was his brain that would lead his team to victory more than his aim, though he wasn't a slouch. Karmine Corp looked improved in 2023 when he joined the roster, despite not being able to make it through the gauntlet that was the VCT 2023 EMEA LCQ.

“I was excited; I wanted to prove to the world that my vision and understanding of the game wasn't bad,” ZE1SH said. “Whether I trash-talked or jumped out of my seat in 2023, that was, and still is, how I naturally react to playing on stage to release the pressure out of my teammates and bring up our confidence. You can see it even though I am not playing anymore, I always have natural big-energy reactions on coach cam. I am just living the moment at 300%.”

One of the highlights was soon after he joined the roster. Despite the team turmoil, KC faced off against KOI KOI Europe Rank #88 kamo Kamil Frąckowiak ShadoW Tobias Flodström grubinho Grzegorz Ryczko starxo Patryk Kopczynski sheydos Bogdan Naumov and got the team a win. He was quick to trash-talk them, but that was the way he released his stress in a more positive way for both him and his team's confidence.

That same frame of mind was something he wanted the rookies joining the team in 2024 to learn or improve on. He worked in depth with each rookie on Karmine Corp, from the explosive Yoru play of Martin "marteen" Pátek to the surprising flexibility of Marshall "N4RRATE" Massey. The team's overall improvements took them to the EMEA Kickoff title, with all rookies having their key moments.

ZE1SH winning EMEA Kickoff 2024 with Karmine Corp ZE1SH lifting the VCT EMEA Kickoff trophy with Karmine Corp in 2024. (Image via ZE1SH)

As for N4RRATE, the one non-European on the team, ZE1SH was quick to point him out as one of his crowning achievements as a coach.

“I am really proud of all players on the team, but in N4RRATE's case, he's the one I worked the most with on KC,” ZE1SH said. “I work a lot with every player to help them with specifically micro-play and help correct their mistakes, but working with N4RRATE was more on macro and the overall vision of how he can impact the team with mid-round calling in his role. I worked a lot with him on that, and I think he's the player that I'm most proud of in my whole career. I always give the credit to the players though, I can try this with over a hundred players, and maybe two understand how to implement it and make it work. He's the one that implements it in his play style, while I am just a nerd who focuses on the theoretical side, so he deserves all the glory.”

Considering N4RRATE entered KC as a tier-two duelist main from NA and exited Masters Madrid as one of the top 10 flex players in the world, it makes sense how proud ZE1SH is of him. Every player on KC has gone through their struggles in the past, especially since three of their starting five were on struggling rosters as recently as last year.

We know the tale of shin as the sole bright spot in KC's 2023 year, but N4RRATE was also a star on the unsuccessful MAD Lions MAD Lions Inactive BlackHeart Hasan Hammad bjor Joseph Bjorklund N4RRATE Marshall Massey Ange Adam Milian Trick Justin Sears team. Include marteen, whose team couldn't even make it past the EMEA Ascension 2023 Play-ins, and you have some question marks. Thankfully for KC, their coaches Andrey "ENGH" Sholokhov and ZE1SH took the opportunity to study them and eventually scoop them up.

“When you look into N4RRATE, or even marteen, who worked individually but not on their teams, you get them into the trial process and test them with the new team,” ZE1SH said. “Lots of teams just look at stats, and people don't look as much into teams that aren't working.”

Karmine Corp entered Masters Madrid as the number one seed from EMEA. The region itself didn't do well at the tournament, but for a global debut, KC didn't fall on their face. They were eliminated in the Swiss stage of Masters Madrid, but were the only team who went home that early with a positive round differential at +3. A bittersweet feeling for the team, to say the least.

“I would say that we weren't at our peak form, maybe at 50 or 60%,” ZE1SH said. “We played way better at Kickoff, but we also know it's the first international event for a lot of our players. Heading into Madrid, we were the youngest team in all of VCT. If we won some of those close matches, we could've built on it. They were good losses though; there is a lot we can learn from them.”

KC will have to go back to their regional play and keep their pace up. They'll have to prove they're still better than some other big teams that were eliminated in surprise fashion at the EMEA Kickoff, most notably Fnatic and Natus Vincere Natus Vincere Europe Rank #6 ANGE1 Kyrylo Karasov Shao Andrey Kiprsky Zyppan Pontus Eek SUYGETSU Dmitry Ilyushin ardiis Ardis Svarenieks . However, just knowing the level that they're at in comparison to the past year is outstanding.

A highlight video of Sideshow reacting to Karmine Corp facing off against Team Heretics in 2023.

The same organization that caster and analyst Sideshow was screaming at in both his Twitch streams and podcasts was now among the best teams in the world. He opted for the quote “from Melons to Madrid” when they eliminated Fnatic, and plenty of fans joined him from pointing and laughing at KC to screaming the word “blue” any time anyone asked what the color was. ZE1SH himself was aware of those fans, and those critics, and experienced their rise alongside them by leading the charge instead of bowing away from the pressure.

“For those fans, thanks for supporting us, thanks for seeing the work we've done and forgiving me about last year,” ZE1SH said. “I've always been a really hard-working guy, and last year was tough for me because I tried everything and I gave it all to try to change our results. I didn't feel anything during the season; I was just focused on reversing our mistakes. After, when I rewatched everything and how bad we were, I felt awful that I couldn't have more impact earlier.”

For ZE1SH, this year is different.

“Now I can do this in my way, in my vision, and I am fully unlocked to give it all to players that are hungry.”