The 2022 North America VCT Challengers One main event was a breakout showing for The Guard—a VALORANT roster whose signings were only this past November and a team that only added a final member and started bootcamping together a couple of months ago.
A near-flawless run through the open qualifier and the group stage led to a playoff push in which The Guard beat some of the current and former best teams in NA in Sentinels, Cloud9, and OpTic. With a win in the grand finals and the No. 1 seed for the region at Masters Reykjavik, The Guard are (in the realm of VCT at least) the best team in North America.
But just a few months ago, this team was by no means NA’s best. In fact, according to “the Guard-father,” coach Matthew “mCe” Elmore, the earliest form of The Guard was significantly lacking, to say the least.
“Before we picked up Trent and got to Texas, we had a talk before we came down and basically just outlined that we were really fucking bad,” mCe told Dot Esports. “There was no way around it. It was a rant more than anything.”
The match history of The Guard during this period is limited, but it’s highlighted by a couple of disappointing losses early in the playoffs of small open qualifier tournaments near the end of 2021. MCe says the situation was even worse behind the scenes. Players struggled with utility usage and cohesion to the point that he felt they were “[sabotaging] people’s tryout opportunities” with The Guard. During this period, former TSM member Taylor “drone” Johnson and former 100 Thieves member Quan “dicey” Tran (now with FaZe) had very brief trial/stand-in periods with The Guard. Coach mCe added that The Guard were losing scrims to teams they should have beat even with zero practice.
From then on, mCe preached hard work, fundamentals, and humbleness to a roster of players who had virtually no experience anywhere near the top tier of NA VALORANT, with the coach explicitly telling them, “we are a tier three team and we have to start from the bottom.” But the team’s journey upward would receive a huge jumpstart just before their planned bootcamp in Texas with the signing of a young, unproven player by the name of Trent Cairns.
“We found Trent, and from day one, I knew this was our guy,” mcE said. “He was playing abnormally well in scrims, and I told my GM that if we get this kid here there’s a chance that he levels up and becomes a great player. Luckily for us, he slotted in [well]. The personalities fit really well.”
Trent was undoubtedly a bright spark for The Guard during his first few matches with the team, but his rising level of play doesn’t overshadow the contributions all the players make. Coach mCe went out of his way to praise the entire team for their top-notch team play, incredible mechanics, and the ability to excel at their specific roles.
During the qualifiers and Nerd Street Gamers events before the start of the NA VCT Challengers One main event, they picked up marquee wins over T1 and FaZe Clan and split series between Knights and Luminosity. MCe noted the win over FaZe was when the team “started rolling,” and found himself impressed by the players’ attitude and willingness to learn even after tough losses.
That mentality manifested itself late into the playoffs of NA VCT Challengers One, with defining wins over both Cloud9 and OpTic in the lower bracket final and grand final, against the only two teams that had beaten them during the entire main event. But like Cloud9’s in-game leader Anthony “vanity” Malaspina, who’s spoken highly of mCe in previous interviews with Dot, it’s not the wins and losses that matter to The Guard’s coach. It’s the process.
“I really don’t care if we win or lose,” mCe said. “And and I know that sounds like a very odd thing for a coach to say, but I’m a very firm believer that if you do what you can do, then the results will follow, and the wins will come.”
MCe said that sentence after The Guard’s upper bracket loss, and fittingly, the wins did come via a shocking 3-0 win over Cloud9 and a grueling 3-2 victory in a rematch vs. OpTic. The Guard will begin their Masters Reykjavik run in the playoffs, with the event kicking off officially on Sunday, April 10.
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