TSM Hazed says NA Challengers teams are young, unproven and ‘super hungry’

NA Challengers team are fighting to appear on this VCT stageColin Young-Wolff/Riot Games

The NA Challengers League is set to start on February 1 and some players like TSM hazed are ready to showcase their skills for a shot at the VCT Americas international league.

The open qualifiers to make the NA Challengers League was a bloodbath for North American talent as the region cannibalized itself for a slot in the league. The cut-throat competition saw one esports organization drop their team immediately after failing to qualify and only six out of the over 200 teams that registered got a slot.

While the harsh qualifying system, and the invited teams, are some of the best in the region, they are overshadowed by the squads in the VCT international league that has some of the top talents from North and South America.

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TSM hazed says NA Challengers will still be competitive

While that drop in talent will be evident, according to TSM player James ‘hazed’ Cobb, the league should still be incredibly competitive as teams try to prove they belong in the tier 1 league.

“What we have instead in Challengers is a lot of like really young and unproven players who are looking to prove themselves. They’re super hungry, and they’re kind of getting their opportunity now with this league because there weren’t any leagues before, it was just these tournaments and they tried to make a deep run, but they didn’t make it. Then they would roster change and there’s no consistency with them,” hazed said in an interview with Dexerto.

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The Guard’s head coach, Josh ‘JoshRT’ Lee, agreed that the league is set up to be competitive with more than just players’ reputations on the line.

“There’s a lot on the line, even from the org’s perspective. We want to get to the next level, we want to earn this spot,” JoshRT told Dexerto.

The Guard itself is a young squad with something to prove after the team’s core flamed out of international competition in 2022.

While six teams in NA Challengers survived the chaos of the open qualifier, some squads received direct invitations based off of their previous performance in the 2022 circuit. While those teams have a track record of high-level performance regionally, that doesn’t mean there is a gap in skill between invited teams and qualifier squads, according to hazed and JoshRT.

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“I think the difference has to be from like, the experience levels,” The Guard coach said. “Some of these cores from these qualified teams are pretty young, and inexperienced compared to say, The Guard, as the core already went through a full year, or G2 Esports, they’ve been champions before. Some of us kind of know what the level is going to be, but I can’t underestimate anybody. I think they all have the capability to beat us, or beat any team and win the whole thing.”

According to hazed, teams in the league are all on the same level in online play and the only difference in skill that might be evident is when inexperienced players compete on LAN against experienced rosters.

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As for standout teams that qualified through the open bracket, hazed pointed towards Disguised as a squad that qualified with surprising ease while TSM’s Anthony ‘gMd’ Guimond pointed to Oxygen Esports as a potential dark horse candidate.

“Probably the Last Chance Qualifier teams have a bit of a skill gap, I would say, but everybody else can beat anyone,” gMd told Dexerto in an interview.

The biggest difference between VCT international teams, invited NA Challengers teams, and some of the squads from the open qualifiers are their lack of organizational staff and approach to practice, according to hazed.

“It’s not very productive at times,” hazed said. “Not only for them but for the team you play against too, just not very productive. So that’s kind of frustrating, but it’s also understandable because they are new to the scene, they’re new to professional play and you have to approach practice in a certain way to make it constructive for everyone.”

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Fans of North American Valorant will get a chance to see just how large of a skill gap there actually is as the NA Challengers League starts on February 1 as G2 Esports face off against FaZe Clan and The Guard play DIsguised on the first match day.