Team Vitality have an almost entirely new Valorant roster for the 2023 season and are trying to mesh the styles of 2021 world champion Santeri ‘BONECOLD’ Sassi and young head coach Salah ‘Salah’ Barakat.
When BONECOLD joined Vitality in May 2022, he was brought in alongside head coach Tanishq ‘Tanizhq’ Sabharwal, with whom he shared a vision of how to play Valorant at the highest level. A loose style of play, with BONECOLD focusing on calling in the moment and also putting in fragging numbers, brought Vitality a Valorant Regional League title in the French league and a second-place finish in the VRL 2022 playoffs.
With Vitality joining Riot Games’ VCT EMEA league, and Tanizhq leaving in September, the organization went with Salah as the Valorant team’s head coach and gave him the reigns to construct a roster. In the end, Vitality held on to BONECOLD and Jokūbas ‘ceNder’ Labutis and brought in Michał ‘MOLSI’ Łącki, Tomas ‘Destrian’ Linikas and Karel ‘Twisten’ Ašenbrener to complete its 2023 roster.
With the new roster and head coach came different visions of how to play the game, which was something that Salah and BONECOLD had to hash out. They described it less as two people butting heads on how to play the game but more as a conversation on how to work together, coexist, and have a well-organized game plan.
“What Salah brings to the table is a lot more structure, which kind of goes against how I first saw the game,” BONECOLD told Dexerto at Red Bull Home Ground media day. “So right now what I and Salah are doing is mixing up heavy structure into my really explosive calling.”
But, according to Salah, that doesn’t mean the team has one round in which Vitality storms a bomb site and plays off the cuff, and then the next round does a 180o turn and runs a set strategy.
“We realized we should be mixing these things,” Salah told Dexerto at Red Bull Home Ground. “It should be the best of both worlds. It shouldn’t just be, he tries to get his thing somewhere, and I try and get mine somewhere.”
Vitality tried out new roster and philosophy at Red Bull Home Ground
To fine-tune their new approach, Vitality has participated in two offseason tournaments, G-Loot Valorant Clash and Red Bull Home Ground. The latter was played on LAN and was, for some Vitality players, their first taste of competition with a crowd.
Vitality made a deep run at Red Bull Home Ground, where they lost to eventual champions 100 Thieves in the semi-finals. In his first time coaching on stage in front of an audience, Salah said that he liked what he saw and heard from his team.
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“We feel like a team, we feel like a family. So today we were talking, people were chipping in saying, ‘Remember this, remember this,’ ‘I love you guys,’ and ‘I’m proud of us’, and we just feel like a team right now,” Salah said after Vitality’s match on stage against Team Heretics.
While Vitality haven’t won any offseason tournaments, the team has improved massively since the roster came together, according to Salah. The head coach described him and BONECOLD as two links in a chain.
“We are one,” he told Dexerto.
For BONECOLD, the new-look Vitality is a chance for him to level up his game as a player and to focus more on calling for his team than ever before. He’s relishing the opportunity to return to the top after winning Valorant Champions 2021 with Acend.
“Something that I’ve been heavily focusing on is getting really good at calling,” the Vitality IGL said. “I feel like the way I call and lead is very different than it was in previous teams.” I feel like in this Vitality I am a lot more involved. I don’t think of myself as a player first and then as a leader.
“I have found a really nice mixture of being heavily committed to being in a team together, but at the same time just being like a really good player on top of that. So I feel that going into the next season of VCT, I’m going to be the strongest IGL in Europe.”
Fans will be able to see if BONECOLD can fulfill his promise of becoming the best IGL in Europe at the VCT LOCK//IN tournament, starting in February in Brazil.