Teams have been quick to make roster changes across the Champions Tour ecosystem this year, so it isn't exactly groundbreaking that a new roster found success in any one stage. But Vivo Keyd didn't just field a new roster. None of the team's players were teammates before coming together in June. All five of them were free agents.
That roster, built from scratch after Stage 2, was the champion of Brazil's Stage 3.
"I believe that none of us were thinking about [our recent releases] too much," Lucas "ntk" Martins said. "We focused on getting it right and concentrating on the games without thinking too much about what has already happened."
ntk had just finished his time with SLICK before joining Vivo Keyd, finishing outside of the top six in Brazil's Stage 2 shortly before leaving. Jonathan "JhoW" Glória had just ended a year-long run with Gamelanders Blue. Murillo "murizzz" Tuchtenhagen also ended a year-long stint with an organization, his being paiN Gaming. Gabriel "v1xen" Martins was just released by Vorax after the organization merged with Havan Liberty, and Olavo "heat" Marcelo had left Havan at a time the organization was making room for one of v1xen's former teammates.
Vivo Keyd's championship run thus became a combination of a revenge tour and a take-down of the region's titans. They knocked Gamelanders Blue out of the tournament, then eliminated the Brazilian Masters 2 squad Sharks Esports from Berlin contention. After that, the team eliminated Brazil's Stage 1 and Stage 2 champions: Team Vikings Team Vikings Brazil Rank #2 . Finally, they beat FURIA in the lower final to qualify for Berlin and then beat Havan Liberty in the grand final.
The players came together immediately after Stage 2 ended and immediately set out on putting in the work to make such a run possible.
"The preparation for the tournament started at the beginning of VCT Stage 3 in the open qualifiers," ntk said.
That work paid off. Vivo Keyd needed some time together before putting together such an improbable run. They fell short of going deep in Challengers 1 and Challengers 2, before finally making it to the grand final of Challengers 3. Even there, they lost to Havan Liberty at the end — and quickly made it so they wouldn't lose to them again.
But even then, it looked like their efforts would be naught. They started Challengers Finals with a 0-2 defeat to Sharks. They couldn't slip up again if they wanted to make it to Berlin and win the tournament.
"In the week of the game against Sharks, we weren't having good practice, nothing was going very well," ntk said. "And then we talked and managed to get it right, collectively and psychologically. With a defeat on our debut, we took away some of the 'pressure' we had to start the tournament, so without pressure, and with getting ourselves right, it all worked out naturally."
Although it's tough to imagine the team didn't feel the pressure throughout the tournament. Their next three elimination matches were nail-biters: all 2-1 wins. It wasn't until their last two matches that they were able to experience the sweet sensation of a clean sweep.
Still, ntk insists the team played those matches without those kinds of nerves. Perhaps that was the difference between them and their opponents when things got tight.
"Being close to elimination repeatedly can bring a kind of pressure, especially when defeat is close, but with us it didn't happen," he said. "In all of those moments, we managed to cope well and stay very calm and just keep at what we already knew we were doing."
Vivo Keyd's bumpy road to their championship is evidence that the team has gaps to fill in perfecting their play. That's not a bad thing, every team is trying to improve before taking on the world and they now know what they need to take a look at.
"At the moment, we are continuing with our work and focusing on our mistakes, making some changes and trying to get it right more and more so that we can do well at this LAN," ntk said.
Vivo Keyd is hoping to surprise opponents who may have expected to see Team Vikings, Sharks, or FURIA. ntk said his team doesn't have a "common way of playing" and they will show it when they go abroad.
"It's always difficult to play at an international level, but we know our potential and our desire to win," ntk said.
They've already surprised one region with that potential. It's not too outrageous to think they could surprise several more.
dimi and zezao contributed to this story with interviews and translations.