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Adam "kaplan" Kaplan has been coaching for Sentinels since last October, but the most recent week of VALORANT Champions Tour Americas was unlike any other in his tenure. Following the sudden ousting of Donald "SyykoNT" Muir, kaplan was promoted to head coach and faced a tall task in his first match with the new role. Sentinels’ next opponent was LOUD — the only undefeated team in VCT Americas — and they didn’t have their star, Tyson “TenZ” Ngo, who was removed from the starting roster due to health issues shortly after SykkoNT’s termination.

Despite not competing since January and having less than a week of practice with the team, Jimmy “Marved” Nguyen exceeded individual expectations in place of TenZ, and Sentinels seemed to reach a new gear along with him. SEN nearly took the series against LOUD before losing 2-1, and two days later, the North American squad secured their first win with kaplan at the helm — a 2-0 triumph over MIBR.

“I think after the performance versus LOUD, we were very confident we would win this series, but I would say we exceeded expectations in terms of winning in two maps and winning with those score lines,” kaplan told Esports Illustrated after his first win as head coach. “Especially on Fracture because we only had one scrim on it with Marved and we didn't really have any game plan for it. So…didn't expect to win in two.”

Sentinels’ dominant win over MIBR featured a level of consistency previously unseen from the North American side in VCT Americas 2023. A 13-5 win on Pearl was well-rehearsed by kaplan and his assistant coach Drew "DrewSpark" Spark-Whitworth, but the 13-6 win on Fracture was, more or less, strategically improvised.

“Pearl plays pretty simply right now, so anything we do as coaches to prepare for it is much smaller, like looking for more subtle tendencies in the opponent,” kaplan explained. “I think Drew and I both get some credit there. He plays a big role in looking for details and having an eye for that.”

As a head coach, kaplan leads with humility, acknowledging a confidence in his own skills but also the multitude of other factors and members of Sentinels who play a part in any success the team has had. “First and foremost, the roster is just completely stacked, and I also think the IGL-ing from dephh is incredible,” said kaplan. “The way we played with such little practice is a testament to that.”

Last week, Sentinels essentially had to gamble on the vetoes ending up with maps they had actually had time to practice. “I think the vetoes went pretty well for us,” kaplain said. “We approached this weekend by focusing on a limited number of maps, and banking on the vetoes going well, and for the most part, they did.”

Sentinels VALORANT celebrate after win

This week, Sentinels will have a full week of practice with their new roster and they’ll only have to prepare for one opponent. Plus, kaplan being in a new position doesn’t necesssarily mean that the entire coaching system needs an overhaul.

“We have a pretty good structure going. Don, Drew and I were all really involved in making decisions together on the team, so there hasn’t been a need for any drastic changes,” kaplan explained. “We haven't really been exploring many structural changes with the team, just focus on getting everyone up to speed with these games. And I've already been really close with these guys. So yeah, it doesn't feel like a lot of change, just maybe more pressure and responsibility, in theory. But in execution, the day-to-day is not too different.”

When asked about how he was told of his promotion, kaplan was brief: “I found out I was stepping into the head coach role at the same time the players found out, essentially.”

SEN still has a lot of work to do, especially in terms of maintaining their new roster’s surprising start, but the familiarity kaplan has with the team and the overall competitive approach from the staff being relatively unchanged are two of the more favorable facets of the situation. Kaplan confirmed that he and the players on Sentinels were informed of the coaching change at the same time, and the adjustments made by the team since may have strengthened the bond between the new head coach and his re-tooled roster.

“I think that having worked with them, I already have their trust,” kaplan said of his players on Sentinels. “It's a lot easier to step into the head coach role because I've gotten to know them and earn their trust on how I see the game and how I see coaching.”

VCT Americas 2023 has not been an easy time to be a Sentinels fan, but kaplan’s message to the SEN faithful was one of optimism: “I appreciate the initial confidence and trust they’ve placed in the whole team, myself included, and I look forward to picking up a lot of wins to end the season and slip in the playoffs.”