Valorant is a free-to-play hero shooter in the first-person style, published and developed by Riot Games, that has gone on to be one of the biggest eSports sensations of the last eighteen months. It’s difficult to say whether Valorant is a hugely special game, or if it is merely the insane popularity and growth of eSports that has rocketed this title to S-Tier status in such a short amount of time – but with a single elimination tournament with a million-dollar prize fund taking place less than eighteen months after it’s closed beta, the only true test this game has yet to face is that of time.
The tournament features four groups of four teams, who will first compete in a double-elimination format to decide which two teams from each group will advance to the playoffs. All matches are best-of-three, leaving little room for mistakes. Of the sixteen teams, all of the big players in eSports are represented fairly equally – North America is of course well represented, as is Korea and Japan, though many teams are mixed and feature players from multiple nationalities – a unique aspect of eSports is that these tournaments are sometimes the place where some of these players will meet each other face-to-face for the first time.
Clearly taking some inspiration from American sporting language, the group stages are followed by a series of playoffs – eight teams in a single elimination bracket. These matches, too, are best-of-three contests, except for the grand final which is played as a best-of-five, giving more room for the best players to shine through.
Players to Watch
At the previous VCT international event in Berlin, Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker (Team Envy) was undoubtedly the player to watch – especially during the group stages, where he led the tournament in terms of Average Combat Score and Average Damage per Round. Team Envy are currently sitting at odds of +800 over at Unibet Betting, suggesting that the fans aren’t quite buying into the Team Envy hype just yet. Russian team Gambit Esports are the current favorites, though perhaps they would be more aptly named an eSports organization – they are currently fielding teams in all of the top titles including CS: GO, Dota 2, Fortnite, and Apex Legends.
It would be a disservice not to mention Tyson “TenZ” Ngo (Team Sentinels) here too, who had long been named as the first to truly master the game of Valorant. Unfortunately, his teammates let him down in Berlin – yet, despite this, TenZ was good enough on his own to shine through and prove his worth as one of the best Valorant players in the world. Tenz – showing great sportsmanship – has stuck with the Sentinels despite their quarterfinal exit in the Masters Berlin, and VCT Champions 2021 will be our first chance to get a look at the fruits of his labor.
Further down in the betting order sit the Vision Strikers, whose star player Kim “stax” Gu-taek is still looking to make his mark in Valorant, and if there’s one thing we have come to realize when it comes to eSports – never underestimate a Korean side. When Gambit won the Berlin Masters, it was stax who was +5 up against the team that went on to become the future champions. The other teams would do well to keep an eye on this player at VCT Champions 2021 – he always seems to show up right when it matters.
There’s some interesting additional data that has been published about this upcoming tournament – for a start, Brazil leads the pack in terms of country representation, with the United States in second place and Thailand slipping into third place right before South Korea. Four teams have just one player in the contest, too – Croatia, the Czech Republic, Turkey and Ukraine, really pushing home the fact that eSports represents a contest like no other.
When a world-class Soccer or NFL team is being put together, training on the field together is a necessity – things just don’t work that way in the world of eSports. The internet enables the best talent to find their own partners – although agents do exist – and practice can be done at any hour of the day or night. The dedication some of these players show to their craft is simply breathtaking – players from Great Britain and North America, Canada and South Korea, all routinely training together despite obvious problems with time zones.
Whilst the primary stream for the tournament will be broadcast on the de facto standard of English on Twitch, such is the love for this game, and this up-and-coming sporting phenomenon that fifteen further countries will be broadcasting on Twitch in their own language, too – with a further six on YouTube.
Some eSports titles show no sign of slowing down any time soon – think CS:GO, Fortnite, and League of Legends. Others have come and gone, as improvements in play mechanics have left some titles redundant to the masters of this craft. One thing is for sure though – this is not a fad, and it is not a phenomenon that is going anywhere quickly.