Inside Acend's meteoric rise to the top of VALORANT

December 20 2021

 Inside Acend's meteoric rise to the top of VALORANT
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In the past year, few teams in VALORANT have seen the same level of success as Acend. The European organization skyrocketed to the top of the esport with numerous first-place finishes in 2021.

Many now consider them to be the top team in VALORANT's most competitive region, and maybe the world. Acend recently capped off their incredible year by winning VALORANT Champions 2021, the game's first official world championship. 

What's most impressive about the newly crowned champions isn't just their accomplishments, but how quickly they were able to achieve them. Most premier esports organizations have built up their prestige across years, some even decades. What makes Acend so special is how fast they caught up with the likes of other European giants such as G2 Esports, Fnatic, and Team Liquid. These teams' histories date as far back as 2000, while Acend has still yet to celebrate its first birthday.

From humble beginnings

At the start of 2021, VALORANT was already taking the gaming world by storm. In less than a year after its April 2020 launch, the tactical team shooter became one of the most popular esports titles. People started wondering if VALORANT had overtaken its primary inspiration and competitor, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Even more notable is that VALORANT accomplished all of this despite most major tournaments being held online. Established esports organizations like Cloud9, Sentinels, and Team Liquid had already vaulted to the forefront of the scene. But with VALORANT being such a young game, there were plenty of opportunities for new organizations to rise through the ranks. 

Acend was founded in March 2021, with VALORANT being their founding esport. However, it can easily be said that Acend is a rebrand from its predecessor, Raise Your Edge Gaming. In January 2021, professional online poker player Benjamin "bencb" Rolle founded Raise Your Edge Gaming as an esports companion to his poker training site. Like many other teams entering VALORANT, Raise Your Edge's roster was formed by acquiring players from an unsponsored team. That squad was Don't Even Ask, a multinational band of players from several European countries.

Don't Even Ask team members

  • Santeri “BONECOLD” Sassi - Finland

  • Jose Luis “koldamenta” Aranguren - Spain

  • Mehmet Yagiz “cNed” Ipek - Turkey

  • Patryk “starxo” Kopczynski - Poland

  • Vlad “Kiles” Shvets - Ukraine

Don't Even Ask had only been competing for ten days together before they caught bencb's eye. Little did he know that signing the team to Raise Your Edge Gaming would eventually become the most substantial move in VALORANT's short history. 

The team's first tournament under their new moniker was the first European Challengers Qualifier for Stage 1 of the VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT) 2021 in early February. The squad's first outing as Raise Your Edge was rather lackluster, finishing in the 17th-32nd range. After sitting out the next qualifier to regroup and make adjustments, everything went up from there. The team finished Top 4 at the third Challengers Qualifier, earning them a spot in the Top 8 at the Main Event. Raise Your Edge pulled off an incredible 2-0 upset over OG to qualify for the VCT 2021: Europe Stage 1 Masters. It also netted them over $10,000 in prize money for their first tournament earnings. Although they had earned a spot at the first VCT Masters event, Raise Your Edge would no longer be one of the teams featured in the bracket, as a monumental change was in the makings.

Time to Acend

Three days after qualifying for VCT 2021: Europe Stage 1 Masters, Raise Your Edge Gaming was unexpectedly forced to cease operations. Riot Games has historically enforced rules restricting teams from using gambling and cryptocurrency partnerships in their tournaments. Esports powerhouse TSM FTX, formerly Team SoloMid, was forced to drop the "FTX" from their name in all VALORANT and League of Legends competitions. Riot did not want TSM's cryptocurrency branding partner appearing in any of their broadcasts. Due to Raise Your Edge Gaming's association with online gambling, the team was forced to disband. However, their CEO would not let all the players' success go to waste.

With Raise Your Edge Gaming barred from competing in VALORANT, bencb reinvested into the team's roster by creating a new esports organization. From that, Acend was born, retaining all players and coach Laurynas "Nbs" Kisielius from Raise Your Edge Gaming. Mark "Krimson" Senior also joined as team manager, while bencb remained CEO. While they were technically two different organizations, Riot recognized Acend as the same team as Raise Your Edge Gaming. Therefore, Acend was allowed to maintain their spot in the upcoming VCT Masters event.

In their first tournament as Acend, the hungry up-and-comers were matched with Ninjas In Pyjamas (NIP), Team Heretics, and Ballista Esports in the Group Stage. While both maps were competitive, Acend lost 2-0 to NIP in their opening match. They rebounded strongly to defeat Ballista Esports 2-0 in their first elimination match. Still, at the risk of being bounced from the tournament, a rematch with NIP was the final match to determine who would join Team Heretics in the Playoffs. After their first matchup had been tightly contested, Acend surprised everyone by soundly defeating NIP 2-0 and advancing to the Playoffs. 

Acend squared off against Chinese esports staple FunPlus Phoenix in the Semifinals. After being blasted 13-7 on the Bind to open the match, Acend turned things around to win 13-6 on their aptly-named map pick, Ascent. Overtime was needed for the final map on Icebox, but Acend ended things quickly with a 14-12 win to advance to the Grand Final against Team Heretics. Both were looking to become the first European team to win a VCT Masters Event.

Team Heretics and Acend traded the first three maps of their Grand Final match. Being the victors of the first map, Team Heretics found themselves up 2-1, just one map away from lifting the trophy. After jumping out to a 9-6 lead, the finish line was in sight for Team Heretics. However, Acend then went on a 6-3 run to tie things at 12 and force Overtime. Just like in their match against FunPlus Phoenix, Acend took the first two rounds in OT to take the map and tie the match at 2-2. 

As if destiny were calling, the fifth and final map would be played on Ascent. Acend came roaring out the gates to an 11-3 lead with the championship all but in their grasp. Team Heretics would not go quietly in the night as they won eight of the next nine rounds to bring the score to 12-11 with a chance to force Overtime. However, Acend stood strong and held off their foes in the final round to win the map 13-11. VALORANT's newest must-watch team were crowned champions in their first-ever event playing under their new organization, with cNed named Tournament MVP. The victory also earned the team $60,000 in prize money.

Success doesn't come easy

Acend was riding high following their first-place finish at VCT 2021: Europe Stage 1 Masters. In just a few short months, the team was already one of the top teams in their region with a shiny new trophy on their mantel. Expectations for the team were high going into the next stage of VCT. While all Stage 2 qualifier events were online, the Masters event would be the first major offline VALORANT tournament, held in Reykjavik, Iceland. It would also feature teams from every region, making it the first global event in the game's history. 

Acend qualified for the first VCT 2021: Europe Stage 2 Challengers event but lost their Quarterfinals match to Ninjas In Pyjamas. In a similar fashion, they would qualify for the second Challengers event but would again drop their Quarterfinals match to Team Vitality. After winning the first European VCT Masters event, Acend failed to qualify for Stage 2 in Reykjavik and were forced to watch the tournament from home. American titans Sentinels dominated in the event to win the $200,000 first-place prize, a record at the time for VALORANT. 

Shortly after their disappointing performance in VCT Stage 2, Acend faced their first roster change in team history. Original member koldamenta left the team to join G2 Esports, the top organization in his home country of Spain. Fortunately for Acend, they filled their roster by essentially swapping koldamenta for a player on G2's roster. Joining the squad was Aleksander "zeek" Zygmunt, a former professional Fortnite player from Poland that switched to VALORANT after the game's release.  

Before the start of VCT Stage 3, zeek became acclimated with his new team in the LVP Rising Series #2, an independent tournament circuit run by Spain's Liga de Videojuegos Profesional. Acend took first place with relative ease, winning all their matches without dropping a map. A smooth transition seemed to be in order for zeek and Acend as they prepared for VCT 2021 Stage 3.

To open up Stage 3, Acend was one of 16 teams invited to the Closed Qualifier for the first European Challengers event. By beating BIG and Team BDS, they placed Top 4 to secure their spot in the Main Event. After defeating Rix GG Thunder 2-0 and holding off FunPlus Phoenix 2-1, Acend cruised past Guild Esports to reach the Grand Final. There they fought off G2 Esports 3-1 to win their first VCT tournament since Stage 1 Masters. The victory earned Acend $17,816 and a spot in the EMEA Stage 3 Challengers Playoffs.

Acend started off the Playoffs knocking off CIS regional icons Natus Vincere and Gambit Esports to reach the Upper Bracket Final against SuperMassive Blaze. Acend dominated Turkey's top team on the first map 13-6 but were then shut down on back-to-back maps and sent to the Lower Bracket. A rematch with Gambit Esports lay ahead, with another chance at the Grand Final up for grabs. The Russian dynamos won a grueling first map in Overtime before dominating on Bind to go up 2-0. Acend fought back to take the third map but finally ran out of gas on Haven, falling 13-7. Gambit Esports went on to defeat SuperMassive Blaze 3-1 in the Grand Final.

Although they hoped to win the whole tournament, Acend's third-place finish earned them over $11,000. For his performances against Natus Vincere and Gambit Esports, cNed was named Week 1 MVP. Most importantly, Acend's Top 4 finish guaranteed them a spot at the VCT Stage 3 Masters event in Berlin. The team's trip to Germany would be their first time competing in an offline tournament.

To open up group play in Berlin, Acend had their revenge against SuperMassive Blaze, dispatching them 2-0. They then got a wake-up call from top Korean team Vision Strikers, falling 2-0 without much to show for it. In their Decider rematch with SuperMassive Blaze, Acend continued to struggle and dropped the first map 13-6. However, veteran teams with championship experience know how to overcome adversity. Acend made major changes to their composition, including a daring switch to Raze from zeek. It ended up panning out as they rallied back to take the next two maps and win 2-0.

With their come-from-behind victory over SuperMassive Blaze, Acend advanced to the Playoffs for the second time at a Masters event. Unfortunately, they fell 2-1 to 100 Thieves in a competitive outing. Acend had to settle for 5th-8th place but did pull in $25,000 in prize money for their efforts. The switch from online to offline also tends to come with an adjusted period, which could explain the team's inconsistency in Berlin. While Acend had no reason to hang their heads, there was certainly room for improvement.     

VALORANT Champions 2021

Due to their prolonged success in VCT tournaments over the course of 2021, Acend accumulated enough Circuit Points to finish 2nd in the EMEA Standings. This earned them a spot at VALORANT Champions 2021, the final VCT event of the year. Following their Playoff loss in Berlin, Acend had around three months to prepare for the largest VALORANT tournament in history.

Ahead of VALORANT Champions 2021, Acend was one of 16 teams invited to Red Bull Home Ground #2. The event was run offline in London independent from VCT and featured a prize pool of nearly $70,000. Acend fought past Natus Vincere, Team BDS, and TENSTAR in the Group Stage to reach the Playoffs with a 3-0 record. They then dominated Gambit Esports and Giants Gaming 2-0 each to reach the Grand Final against Team Liquid. Acend even pitched a 13-0 shutout against Gambit Esports on Bind to close out their Quarterfinals match. However, they were defeated 3-1 in the Grand Final and had to settle for 2nd place. Acend earned over $11,000 for their performance but, more importantly, gained valuable offline match experience with VALORANT Champions just a month away.

At the final stop for the VALORANT Champions Tour, Acend was nothing less than extraordinary. In their opening Group Stage match, the team dropped their first map against Keyd Stars 13-9. That early loss must've awakened the beast, as Acend would go on a scintillating run of near-perfection. After losing their first map of the tournament, it wasn't enough to just take the next two maps and beat Keyd Stars 2-1. Instead, Acend beat their next three opponents without dropping a single map. This came against some of the tournament's top competition. Their victory over Team Envy secured a spot in the Playoffs, where they rolled through powerhouses Team Secret and Team Liquid to reach the Grand Final. 

After tearing through the bracket, Acend was just one win away from being crowned the first-ever VCT Champions. Standing in their path was Gambit Esports, a team quickly becoming their most competitive rival. The two European juggernauts traded wins on their respective map picks to start the match. Following a 13-3 drubbing on Fracture, Gambit Esports was up 2-1 and had all the momentum heading into the fourth map that could potentially decide the tournament. Acend found themselves in a similar situation to their first Masters event, where they were down 2-1 against Team Heretics and needed an unspeakable turnaround. But if you can come back from down 2-1 one time, you can do it again. 

On the fourth map, Acend battled their Russian rivals on Icebox, eeking out a 14-12 victory in Overtime. One final game on Split would determine the first VCT champions and the title of world's best VALORANT team. Riding their momentum from Map 4, Acend wasted no time jumping out to a 9-5 lead. Gambit Esports responded by winning three straight rounds to bring things closer at 9-8. In a final display of their desire for the championship, Acend won the next four rounds to close out Gambit Esports 13-8 and win VALORANT Champions 2021. The victory earned the organization $350,000, the largest payout in the game's history. 

Acend Valorant Champions

Image source: Riot Games

Less than one year since being founded as Raise Your Edge Gaming, Acend have been crowned world champions of VALORANT and are widely renowned as the best in the world. Their success in VALORANT has led the organization to branch out into other games. They currently field a team for Rainbow Six Siege, and formerly competed in PUBG before the roster was signed by Natus Vincere. On December 14, Acend signed four players to compete in Halo Infinite ahead of the game's Kickoff Major starting December 17. The future is certainly bright for Acend's VALORANT team, but 2022 may hold even greater fortunes for the organization as a whole.   

What are your predictions for the Valorant pro scene in 2022? Join us on Discord to chat with other esports fans, form teams, and share your thoughts.

Author Zach Snoddy

Zach
Zach

Midwest Marauder. Wiz with words. Fighting game enthusiast and FPS newb. Not bad at video games but wishes he was better.

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