© Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool
Team USA just gave North America its first Red Bull Campus Clutch title
A team from Michigan's Northwood University won the second edition of the global student VALORANT tournament – although a final challenge from Canada nearly shot down their dream.
When a five-student team from the USA arrived at São Paulo's Pacaembu Stadium for the Red Bull Campus Clutch World Final, they weren't the favourites – that pressure was on the defending champions from Egypt – but expectations were high.
The Americans all play collegiate esports for Northwood University, which has earned a reputation as the top esports programme in the country, and in the month leading up to the World Final in Brazil, they'd made it to the grand final in four tournaments, winning each one.
Still, no North American team made it to the Grand Final of the inaugural edition of Red Bull Campus Clutch in 2021. And in contrast to 2022 teams like Poland, who professed to training between 10 to 12 hours a day for the global VALORANT tournament for university students, the US players claimed they performed better with a more “loose” style of preparation.
Could they possibly triumph with this relaxed approach? Yes, they could.
In all, more than 30,000 students from 6,000 teams around the world competed for a chance at the 2022 crown. These were whittled down to the nearly 50 national champions that arrived for four days of battle in Brazil.
To represent the United States, the team from Northwood – made up of Braden 'dip' Dippel of Missouri, Ali ‘Ali’ Salahedin of New Jersey, Hunter ‘furbsa’ Mcmillan of North Carolina, Benjamin ‘ripbenjii’ Park of Virginia and Michael ‘Dark3st’ Herrera of Texas – had to surpass 499 other US teams vying for the honour, a daunting feat in itself. But that trial by fire also strengthened the mutual trust that the team-mates had for each other, which they say is a key to their success.
When the US team began group stage play in São Paulo, observers noted that their aggressive style of gameplay was close to backfiring on them on a couple of occasions. However, they found the right balance and sailed through their group stage matches against Belgium, Guatemala, India, Slovenia and Sweden without losing a single map.
That winning streak held steady in the Top 16, where they overcame a challenge from Chile, as well as in the quarter-finals, which pitted them against a tough team from the Czech Republic.
But the sparks really flew in the semi-finals, where they battled a talented team from North Macedonia that had dazzled fans and impressed insiders throughout the early stages. The crowd of spectators took the Macedonians to their heart as beloved underdogs, but even the loudest cheers for the European team couldn’t seem to shake the Americans' breezy brand of confidence and the USA overcame the stiff challenge 13-8 and 13-10.
Awaiting them in the Grand Final was their close continental rivals, Canada. Although this US team had never played Canada's o7, they knew all about them. The Canadians had made it into the World Final the hard way via a Last-Chance Qualifier and were real giant-killers, having eliminated the favourites Egypt as well as the Polish powerhouse.
Canada had rooted for the USA as fellow North Americans when watching their matches, but now that they were playing against them and they weren't about to let themselves be intimidated, overwhelmed or overshadowed. It was game on.
And what a Grand Final it was. In a best-of-five thriller, the USA looked like they were going to make it a rout, thrashing the Canadians 13-4 on the first map. But the tables turned with a 6-13 result on map two, handing the American team their first loss of the tournament. Finally, after winning map three in overtime, 14-12, the USA turned on the afterburners and locked down the tournament with a 13-7 win, and furbsa came away with the SteelSeries MVP Award.
Besides the coveted trophy, Team USA won the €20,000 purse and other prizes, but their success is more than the sum of its parts. The all-North American Grand Final will be remembered as a historic first that put the continent on the map in the global tournament once and for all. And for the USA and Canada, as well as all the other teams, the tournament was a chance to be noticed – potentially even by professional organisations – on a world stage.
“Honestly, we put so much effort into this. We spent so much time playing together – it feels great,” said Dark3st. “It absolutely feels wonderful.”
If you missed any of the action from the Red Bull Campus Clutch World Final, you can watch the replay here.