What we learned from the FaZe Clan VALORANT Invitational

Hazed and TSM were triumphant at the FaZe Clan VALORANT Invitational. Bart Oerbekke/ESL

What was primed to be an eventful day in VALORANT's early history as an esport delivered in spades as TSM and Sentinels put on another series for the ages at the FaZe Clan Invitational. Following an instant classic the night before in the upper-bracket final where their second map on Haven went 34 rounds before deciding a winner, the two heated rivals met once more in the best-of-five grand final where TSM held serve and took home their second Ignition Series tournament, putting them one ahead of the Sentinels.

Trash talk, last-second clutches and highlight reel headshots populated the final day of competition on Sunday as over 180,000 concurrent viewers tuned in on Twitch to watch TSM and Sentinels duke it out in a heavyweight title fight. At the close of the most successful VALORANT tournament yet since the game's closed beta launch in early April, here are the top takeaways from the weekend.

1. TSM and Sentinels don't like each other, and it's the best thing that could ever happen to VALORANT

Rivalries are the lifeblood of any good sport. When the NBA was struggling in the 1970s, it was the rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird of the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, respectively, that took the game of basketball to a new height of popularity. Solid gameplay and production can only get a sport so far, and it's up to the players along with the teams themselves to create storylines interesting enough for viewers to want to tune in and make their matches appointment viewing.

After this weekend, anyone who is even slightly interested in VALORANT will have a hard time not making a Sentinels vs. TSM matchup must-see (digital) television. TSM's James "Hazed" Cobb went on the broadcast for a post-finals interview with Derek "wtfmoses" Moseley and doubled down on the rivalry between his team and Sentinels, destroying any belief that the trash talk and theatrics between the two teams have just been friendly banter. He went on to scold the Sentinels for being "children" and in particular Sentinels member Jared "Zombs" Gitlin, whose personality during the closed beta rubbed Hazed the wrong way.

Neither of these teams are afraid to speak their mind. While Zombs dances on the grave of one of the opponents he just deleted from the map, TSM will have Matthew "Wardell" Yu screaming at the top of his lungs that no one on the other side is worthy of being on the same server as him. The beef is real, and just as importantly, the battles between the two are real as well, with every match between the two teams delivering the highest level of strategy and play we've seen so far in the early days of VALORANT.

TSM were the best team in June, Sentinels adapted to TSM's Operator-centric playstyle in July and took their crown, and now we're in August with TSM firing back. With the game's newest agent, Killjoy, being added to the roster for the next time these two rivals face off, it'll again come down to which team can adapt the fastest to keep an inch ahead of their rival. These two teams are so close in skill that every tournament will come down to minuscule differences, where all it can take is one heroic round or one specific strategy to win.

TSM and Sentinels don't like each other, but they're pushing each other to be the best they can be. And in doing so, as they strive to be better to get the last laugh, the esports scene will only see larger viewership with even the most casual of fans taking a side between the two organizations.

2. Immortals, a future problem

In this Ignition Series event, Immortals were put away in relatively straightforward fashion by Sentinels in the lower-bracket final. They had some good moments but when compared to TSM and Sentinels, the only two teams Immortals lost to at the event, they were clearly a step or two behind in terms of strategy. Skill-wise, though? This team can compete with anyone in the world given some time. Teenage ace Peter "Asuna" Mazuryk is getting more confident (and consistent) with each tournament he plays in, and the added addition of trial player Quan "diceyzx" Tran showed what could be the early makings of a one-two punch duo that can rival the likes of TSM with Wardell and Yassine "Subroza" Taoufik (or Tayler "Drone" Johnson depending on the composition) or Sentinels with Jay "sinatraa" Won and Shahzeeb "ShahZaM" Khan. Immortals were sorely lacking a player that could pair well with Asuna's entry and aid him as the primary Operator, and though it's only been a single tournament, diceyzx made a wonderful first impression.

When we're talking about pure skill, Immortals are already up there with the G2s and TSMs of the world, in my opinion. Once they find the starting lineup they're looking for and get more experience from tournaments with their young players, this team's ceiling is as high as anyone. The FaZe Clan Invitational wasn't the tournament for Immortals to have their moment in the spotlight, but I foresee Asuna, Yannick "KOLER" Blanchette and the rest of the squad adding some hardware to their currently empty trophy case soon.

3. It's OK to be excited about FaZe Clan

Sinatraa has already proven former Overwatch League pros (at least top-tier ones) can thrive in VALORANT, and FaZe Clan is hoping they can do similar things with their starting lineup that rolls out four former pros from Overwatch's premier competition. At the center of the team is their ace and superstar entry player, Corey "Corey" Nigra, one of the best players in the game currently when it comes to pure aim and reaction speed. The team also picked up former Overwatch players Andrej "Babybay" Francisty, Shane "Rawkus" Flaherty and Zachary "ZachaREEE" Lombardo. The only starter not from the world of Overwatch, Jimmy "Marved" Nguyen, played Counter-Strike before transitioning over to Riot's newest first-person shooter.

The team's first game together didn't go as they would have hoped, getting swept by amateur side China Nguyen and instantly forced into a do-or-die match with 100 Thieves to see which popular esports organization would be sent home before the first day even finished. FaZe bounced back from their trip ups in the first series to beat 100 Thieves and get some revenge over China Nguyen to make the playoff bracket. There, they didn't win a match, losing to two top-five squads in Sentinels and Cloud9 to end their run, but they looked feisty and individually impressive in their lower-bracket matchup with C9, even taking the first map of the match in quick fashion.

FaZe were sloppy -- extremely so at times -- especially in their win over 100 Thieves, but that's to be expected from a side that's only had a handful of scrimmages and had one of their starters, Rawkus, still on an Overwatch League until earlier this week. From what you'd expect from someone who hasn't had all the time in the world to play VALORANT, Rawkus, the team's primary Operator on Jett, got off to a slow start in the tournament before having some stunning, round-stealing performances as the event continued.

Corey and Marved are a foundation that can be built around to win multiple championships, and I think as time goes on, we'll see players like ZachaREEE and Babybay step into their own as VALORANT players. This isn't like Immortals where I can see them turning the corner in the next major tournament or two, but keep your eyes on FaZe, they're going to be a fun one to watch as they evolve as starting-five.

4. It's OK to be worried about 100 Thieves

As excited as you're allowed to feel about FaZe Clan's future, you're now allowed to be tepid about the current 100 Thieves starting-five. In the three Ignition Series events they've played in, the club has only made it out of one of the group stages, that being their first event together at the T1 x Nerd Street Gamers Showdown. They've only won four matches together as a team, two of them against the influencer side led by Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, with the other two wins being solid against Built By Gamers (then Code 7) and Envy (then Together we are terrific). They still haven't beaten an "official" pro team.

Should 100T blow it all up and start from scratch or simply sign a promising amateur side like Homeless? No, that would be the nuclear option. I do think that three A-tier tournaments together and the fact they've failed to make any sort of progress is concerning, especially that they're being surpassed by amateur teams and squads that have only started playing together a week or two ago in the case of Homeless. Their series against FaZe was a sloppy one that they eventually lost in the end, and while it's fine for FaZe to look like a green team, 100 Thieves seemed just as undisciplined and were in their third tournament together.

Spencer "Hiko" Martin didn't have his best tournament, but this team will continue to live and die by his presence as the centerpiece. As for his teammates, Zachary "Venerated" Roach was billed to be the tandem carry partner alongside Hiko and was more than the Robin to Hiko's Batman at the Invitational, second overall of all players in Average Combat Score (262) and third when it came to kills-per-round with 0.87. The rest of the team? It's an event they'd like to forget. And above just pure statistics, the team's chemistry seems to have gotten worse since their first tournament together.

I believe in the five individuals on 100 Thieves. A lot of these losses have ended with them grabbing one map but falling eventually in the end. There are maps where they appear to have figured things out and then there are rounds where one player pushes on defense without the rest of the team and dies on their flank mission, with the rest falling like dominoes not too long afterward. The competition in VALORANT is only going to get tougher.

When 100 Thieves first established their roster, there were only a handful of pro organizations who had signed teams. Since, we've seen a number of squads come together under official banners, and for the majority of them, they've already surpassed 100T. The Thieves should be leaders in the VALORANT scene, but currently they're background characters at best, seemingly light years away from Sentinels and TSM.

5. Sean Gares and Daniel "ddk" Kapadia are a great casting duo

The FaZe Clan Invitational hired much of the top VALORANT casting talent today, alongside some of my favorites like David "Simo" Rabinovitch, Alex "Goldenboy" Mendez and more. One pair seemed to win over the hearts of the fans watching, though: Counter-Strike experts Sean Gares and ddk. The two were incredibly strong on the mics in one of their first tournaments together in VALORANT, bringing a fun analytical style to their casting with years and years of professional FPS experience behind them that they could connect with what the viewers were enjoying in VALORANT.

No one casting duo is best at the moment in VALORANT. As it is with the teams and organizations themselves, they're ever-evolving, a lot of the commentators mixing and matching to find their perfect partner to cast VALORANT alongside. Thus far, I've enjoyed most of the casting in VALORANT, it like the gameplay itself, improving every Ignition Series tournament. For Sean Gares and ddk, however, I don't think they should be switching up their partnership anytime soon. They are in a great position to become one of the core casting duos as VALORANT finishes out the year and we head into 2021 with international offline events hopefully on the horizon.