Today was the culmination of a year of Valorant competition. Qualifiers for qualifiers, intense weeks of non-stop matches, and months of silence for top teams all led to this: the grand final of 2021 Valorant Champions. Ultimately, the title came down to a showdown between two EMEA teams: Acend Acend Europe Rank #10 ALIVE Gilad Hakim musashi Alessio Xhaferi Br0die Jack Emmott baddyG Kamil Graniczka B3ASTM0D3 Ivan Ledić MONSTEERR Ondřej Petrů and Gambit Esports Gambit Esports Inactive Redgar Igor Vlasov Chronicle Timofey Khromov d3ffo Nikita Sudakov sheydos Bogdan Naumov nAts Ayaz Akhmetshin .
In the end, Acend triumphed over Gambit in a five-map thriller. The final score was 3-2 after a mix of blowout maps and overtime finishes.
Despite the lack of an audience, Riot made sure the Champions grand final had all of the flair of any live world championship. Prior to the match, several performers took to the Champions' stage to take part in a concert to kick off the show.
But once the music faded out, the players took the stage. Gambit immediately banned Bind, Acend's best map. Acend responded by banning Haven. Then Gambit picked Breeze to open the match, Acend picked Ascent for the second map, Gambit called for Fracture on the third map, and Acend asked for Icebox as the fourth map. The only remaining map was Split, which was reserved for a fifth and final map.
Gambit began Breeze on the attack, and immediately struggled to get anything going. Acend built a 5-1 lead off its pistol victory before Gambit called a timeout, but even then Gambit was unable to halt Acend's momentum. Acend stretched their advantage out to a 9-1 lead before Gambit showed signs of life and battled back to a 9-3 halftime.zeek didn't need more than 10 health to bring this round back for his team.
After the half, Gambit won the opening two rounds before Acend inched closer to map point with two rounds of their own. But by this point, Gambit had proven themselves no strangers to comebacks. They trailed both of the maps they took off KRU 8-4, and while their 9-3 deficit would require a greater comeback, Gambit was up to the challenge.
The Russians of Gambit won the final eight rounds, unimpeded by an Acend timeout at 11-10, to take the map 13-11. Their defense, anchored by nAts ' 217 damage per round and +19 kill differential, was impenetrable. Gambit did not give up their map pick and the two teams moved on to Acend's Ascent pick.
The match's momentum appeared to be firmly in Gambit's favor after the first round, in which Gambit carried over their strong defense from the map before to win the pistol. However, thanks to a 4K from BONECOLD , Acend was able to win the next round and shift the momentum back to them. Once again, Acend shot up to a 6-1 lead, and this time Acend was quick to call a timeout when Gambit began to fight back, doing so the very next round after a Gambit win.
The timeout didn't stop Gambit from making the score tighter by halftime, Acend's lead was reduced to 7-5, but it did help Acend respond better to Gambit's attempted comeback. Acend won the first five rounds of their own defense and then finished the map off three rounds later. Acend took Ascent 13-7.
For once, the score was flipped as the teams began Fracture. Gambit won the opening pistol round, and then won the bonus two rounds later to go up 3-0. Gambit added one more round before Acend called a timeout, which looked to work at first. A clever Astra wall from starxo allowed him to freely defuse the spike to put a round on the board. That was all the timeout allowed Acend, however.
Gambit rolled for the remainder of the first half of Fracture, with Chronicle and nAts dominating in particular. nAts died for the first time in Round 11, and at halftime Gambit was up 11-1. nAts had a 19/1 K/D and Chronicle was 17/2.
Acend was able to take two rounds after Gambit won their second pistol of the map, but Gambit shut the door soon after and won Fracture 13-3. nAts continued to replicate his first half, finishing the map with a 26/3 K/D and 249 ADR. Acend took note of his stellar performance — zeek asked for nAts' sensitivity during the map.
"We were laughing in the middle of the match and we just said, 'What can you do? It's over already,'" zeek said. "We were just cracking jokes and having a lot of fun on stage."
zeek and his teammates later elaborated on their reaction to that map further.
"When you see a guy who has more kills than all of us combined, the only thing you can do is go, 'Yep guys, GG go next,' and just laugh and crack some jokes," zeek said.
The score now 2-1 in favor of Gambit in the match, Acend could afford no more bad maps. Fracture was a map Acend had yet to play on during the two weeks of Champions, but Icebox and Split were far more comfortable picks for them. They hoped their familiarity with the maps would allow them to respond to Gambit's dominance.
Gambit started their attack on Icebox by rushing at B, immediately getting a plant down. A 4K from Kiles powered a strong Acend retake and the two teams repeated the dance in Round 2. Two rounds in and Acend were up 2-0, all 10 kills split between Kiles and zeek.
The two teams played their tightest first half yet, trading short streaks of consecutive round wins. By halftime, Acend held the lead 7-5. But Gambit were hot as they took the defensive side in the second half and won five of the first six rounds after the side switch. That gave Gambit a 10-8 lead and Acend quickly called a timeout.This was Gambit's only 4K of the day.
The timeout worked in Acend's favor. Playing on an eco round, Acend planted on B and traded until they were in a 2v1 against nAts. nAts took down one, but a well-placed Sheriff shot from BONECOLD shut him down and gave Acend a thrifty round win. Another round on the board tied the score back up 10-10 and it was Gambit's turn to call a timeout.
After the teams traded rounds back and forth, Gambit reached map point first, and therefore match point, at 12-11. But Acend kept their cool and held on in a tight final round of regulation to tie the score at 12-12. Icebox went into overtime. Acend won the first overtime round and then planted on the second overtime round with advantageous numbers. Redgar , the final player alive for Gambit, went for a sneaky defuse but was sprayed down just before he could complete the defuse. Ascend took Icebox and the teams were headed to Split tied 2-2 after each team won their map picks.
"Maybe at that point, we just decided the game was over for us," sheydos said of the team failing to capitalize on their championship point on Icebox. "Me personally, maybe I backed away a little bit and didn't show the last effort that was needed to finish the game."Plays like this helped Acend build early leads throughout the match.
BONECOLD selected Omen while the teams prepared on Split's agent selection screen, marking the third time the agent had been picked at Champions. The selection put Omen's 100% winrate on the line in a must-win map after BONECOLD and BORKUM won on Split with the agent earlier in the competition.
Split began with Gambit on the attack, and the pistol began with a slow pace of play. With a few seconds left on the clock and most players on both teams still up, Gambit planted. Acend won the ensuing fight to begin the last map up 1-0.
Gambit kept to their slower pace for much of the first half, but fell behind early as Acend's defense responded well. Acend extended their lead out to 6-1 before Gambit began to find their rhythm. A few good rounds salvaged the half to keep the map close at 7-5.
After the game, Redgar said that his team acknowledges their attack isn't as good as their defense and, in a way, they plan around playing from behind. "So we like to start from the attacking side, and during the defense we can come back and show a much, much better performance."
Gambit's skill on defense was not lost on Acend as they played out the championship's deciding half on attack. But Acend wasn't going to let the pressure get to them.
"I remember someone screaming 'full send it,' that's all I remember from that attack," starxo said afterwards. "Who said that? I do not remember."
The team deliberated for a couple of seconds before zeek chimed in, laughing.
"That was me."
Acend convincingly took their second pistol round of the map to begin their attack, but Gambit soon turned their tables and came within a round of Acend at 9-8, forcing Acend to call a timeout. Acend used the timeout well and won the next two rounds, making it Gambit's turn to call a timeout next.
starxo prevented Gambit from using the timeout as effectively, winning out a 1v2 to get Acend to match point. A 3K from cNed closed out the map 13-8 and the match 3-2. Acend's players jumped up in celebration and the disbelief was evident on their faces. Kiles cried in elation while Gambit huddled in defeat.It was only fitting that Acend's most clutch player across the grand final pulled off an incredible play to give his team championship point.
"It's one of those things that just doesn't come to you," BONECOLD said. "Like in a day or two I feel it's going to hit us hard when we're going to take a break from practice. There's no scrims, there's no official games, I feel like that's the point when we can just look back at our run and finally get a grasp of what we have done."
The emotions were so high on Acend afterwards, zeek couldn't recall what he had told his teammates during the match when asked a few minutes into his team's press conference. "I just need a lot of time to process this," he said. "I feel like I played at 150%, I just outdid myself for this tournament."
The players met each other in the middle of the stage afterwards to exchange hugs and fist bumps. The match was tight and the players joked and danced with each other between maps and, in some cases, during maps. The finals were intense and the competition respected their opponents as the best of the best.
"We are all tired after the insanely draining series. It was five super c- oh maybe not five, four super close maps so we are really tired," zeek said as his teammates laughed and one of them shouted "Fracture doesn't count" as he spoke. "We probably will celebrate tomorrow when we travel to our homes. But definitely we'll do something special for this moment."
All of the players let their emotions run after a year building up to this moment. Image credit: Lance Skundrich/Riot Games
Acend's victory did not come easy. Across all five maps, Gambit earned 30 more kills than Acend, and nAts in particular finished +31, and the Russian squad finished with seven more first kills than Acend. Still, Acend triumphed by building early leads — they were up at halftime in four of the five maps — and finishing off rounds when it counted.
As a testament to the team's depth of skill and their closeness to each other, Acend's players and coach were reluctant to name a single player their MVP. They settled on starxo as the grand finals MVP, zeek as the tournament MVP, and reminded everyone they were still "cNed and friends."
cNed's incredible skills with the Operator first earned Acend that nickname when they played online earlier this year. But today, starxo had more kills than him. Across the tournament, zeek just barely had a higher K:D ratio than cNed.
To beat this team, everyone else will have to be as comfortable relying on players other than their stars as Acend is.
Acend won Europe's Masters 1. Gambit took the world's Masters 3. But in the end, Acend triumphed as Valorant's first ever world champions. Acend and Acend alone ended 2021 holding up the trophy surrounded by the stage's pyrotechnics.
It's now up to the rest of the world to respond.
Header image credit: Michal Konkol/Riot Games