How Heretics have fallen from Valorant contenders to relegation battlers

MLG

Team Heretics, once one of Europe’s strongest sides in Valorant, are now fighting for survival in the Spanish league. How has a once imposing side suffered such a dramatic fall from grace? 

There was an air of promise surrounding Team Heretics in December 2020 when they beat SUMN FC in First Strike and became the first European Valorant champions. But over 12 months on, Heretics’ tailspin of underperforming lineups and disappointing results continues – the team now even struggling within the confines of VRL’s Spanish league.

The troubles began in January 2021, when Heretics star player Dustyn ‘niesoW’ Durnas asked for a reduced role due to personal reasons, with Ruben ‘RUBINO’ Villarroel brought in as a sixth player.

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The team initially made it work with that extended setup, finishing runners-up to Acend in the VCT Stage 1 Masters, but then failed to secure a spot in the VCT Europe Stage 2 Masters after losing to G2 Esports in the final round of the qualifier, in which niesoW played no part.

Just two months later, Christian ‘lowel’ Garcia Antoran saw himself in charge of a rebuild of the lineup following a series of departures. Žygimantas ‘nukkye’ Chmieliauskas and Auni ‘AvovA’ Chahade were transferred to G2, while Melih ‘pAura’ Karaduran signed with Turkish organization SuperMassive Blaze. RUBINO was given his marching orders, deemed by the organization not good enough to play at the highest level.

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A revolving door of players

The new Heretics roster included ex-G2 duo Patryk ‘paTiTek’ Fabrowski and Ardis ‘ardiis’ Svarenieks, along with two inexperienced players in Felix ‘al0rante’ Brandl and Ondřej ‘MONSTEERR’ Petrů. The team continued to underperform, and just a month later Amine ‘Amilwa’ Saidi was brought in to replace ardiis, who had been struggling with health issues. The decision came as a surprise to almost the entire Heretics roster.

Tension began to creep into the team around that time during a bootcamp in Spain. Sources told Dexerto that while the players had a good rapport with each other, the relationship with head coach Ivan ‘Johnta’ Shevtsov was difficult.

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The Ukrainian, a former CS:GO coach with spells on teams like HellRaisers and TYLOO, was often in a sour mood and vocal about his dissatisfaction with the players’ performance in scrims, which negatively impacted the atmosphere in the group. Sources said that Johnta was also reluctant to spend time with the team outside of practice, which the players resented.

The final nail in the team’s coffin came when they failed to qualify for LVP Rising Series #3 after losing to UCAM Esports Club, prompting the Heretics management to act again. PaTiTek was moved to the bench, with only lowel and Johnta involved in that decision, which left the remaining players confused and disrupted the dynamic of the team. Just a few days later, Amilwa and Johnta were also removed.

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Heretics
lowel (right) has been with Heretics since the organization entered Valorant

According to sources, one reason for these changes was that lowel had a different vision of the game than the rest of the players. Over time, his relationship with his teammates had become rocky.

Sources also said that the remaining players wanted to stick together and remove lowel, as well as then performance coach Noel ‘Noel’ Garberi. But because of lowel’s loyalty and skillset, Heretics decided to keep the Spanish captain and build a new roster around him. After all, he had played a crucial role in the team’s First Strike victory, for which he was named the MVP. 

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A 180-degree turn

Noel became the team’s new head coach and was tasked with rebuilding the squad. This time around, Heretics wanted to bet on experienced CS:GO players and set their sights on Daniel ‘mertz’ Mertz and Nathan ‘NBK’ Schmitt.

The French player, a CS:GO Major champion with LDLC and Envy, practiced with the team for almost two months and was expected to join on a permanent basis, only to return to CS:GO with MOUZ — a huge blow to Heretics’ plans. With the team also opting to find a replacement for MONSTEERR, the search for two new players began.

MOUZ
Heretics were confident of signing NBK before he returned to CS:GO

Heretics tried out a number of European players, including David ‘Davidp’ Prins, but in the end, it was Tyler ‘FoxieGG’ Lowton and Jesper ‘TENZKI’ Mikalski who joined the team on a trial basis. Just a few days into practice, FoxieGG signed a contract with the Spanish organization, but his tenure lasted only a week.

According to sources, Heretics quickly realized that the British player’s signing was a mistake as he did not fit in with the group. Sources also said that FoxieGG felt he was treated unfairly by the organization. His spot in the starting lineup was taken by Jose Antonio ‘Bromas’ Ramos González, who was initially supposed to be an assistant coach.

“We signed Bromas because he was basically a pro player and we wanted someone with a lot of in-game knowledge,” Heretics co-founder Arnau Vidal told Dexerto. “After we parted ways with FoxieGG, the players proposed to play with Bromas.

“He wasn’t just an analyst, because two weeks before joining as a strategic coach, he was basically playing professionally. We picked Bromas because we didn’t need a superstar player, we needed someone to be the IGL and make the team work.”

More changes and a headline signing

By this time, al0rante had grown increasingly frustrated with the situation and the fact that several months of preparation had been wasted. Following the team’s failure to qualify for VCT Stage 1: EMEA Challengers, the German player was transferred to MOUZ, while TENZKI was moved to the bench. With VRL Spain: Rising fast approaching, Heretics signed Mario ‘PoPiFresH’ González and Alhan ‘Jakexd’ Meguenni.

“When it comes to budget, we are not as strong as some of the other European organizations, so we must be creative if we want to stay competitive,” Vidal explained. “We decided to go for CS:GO players with good experience and fundamentals, knowing that by then they were not at the same level as top Valorant players but thinking that they could get there or be even better.

“Later on we realized that TENZKI needed much more time [to adapt] than we had thought. Moreover, having two players out of five who needed to go through that [adaptation] process was too much. We took the risk and it did not work out.”

Heretics’ results in VRL Spain: Rising were nothing short of disastrous, with the team finishing in last place with only one victory from nine games. This can be partly attributed to three of the players contracting COVID-19 while on a bootcamp, which interfered with preparation for the Spanish league.

During the final week of the regular season, Heretics learned of Cista ‘keloqz’ Wassim’s availability after he had been benched by G2. In 24 hours, the two organizations worked out a deal for the French start, who replaced Jakexd — another player who went through the meat grinder that is Heretics.

Lance Skundrich/Riot Games
Can keloqz (left) help Heretics to reach the top again?

“We saw the opportunity and we did our best to make it happen,” Vidal said of keloqz’s signing. “It was not something planned and we executed it in a few hours. If you want to be again at the top you can’t pass on this kind of opportunity.”

Keloqz’s signing is widely regarded as a significant boost to Heretics, but questions remain about whether that alone will turn their fortunes around. Sources said that some people around lowel have complained about his mood issues. The Spanish veteran has days when he’s silent, his attitude sometimes disrupting team harmony.

There have been more failures than successes for Heretics’ Valorant squad, and while some of the poor decisions made were forced on the organization, others were simply the result of bad judgement. Later today, the team will take on Movistar Riders in the first round of the relegation stage of VRL Spain: Rising hoping to write a new chapter.