Valorant Review 2021 – Part 2: Professionalisation

This article is the second half of our Valorant Review 2021. It follows on from the first part, Stabilisation.

In 2020, the community experienced a lot of Valorant's potential as an esport game. We have seen many tournaments with different formats, organised by various organisations. Based on these lessons, Riot Games launched the first edition of its international circuit, while not forgetting to support smaller-scale competitions. We have witnessed the meteoric rise of some teams and players, but also their dizzying falls. All this in the context of a global pandemic. Let's take a look at the highlights of the Valorant esport in 2021.

The first Valorant Champions Tour

After the Ignition Series and the Valorant First Strike, Riot Games decided to combine the strengths of both events to create its official circuit: the Valorant Champions Tour.

The Valorant Champions Tour has been launched to satisfy both players and viewers of Valorant. Players are guaranteed to participate in regular open tournaments, whatever their level. For the best of them, they can even claim a cash prize and potentially be spotted to join big organisations. For viewers, regular tournaments mean regular streams! Like the LCS for League of Legends, the VCT allows Valorant to exist in the Twitch esport landscape, all year long.

Valorant Champions Tour Program
Valorant Champions Tour Program

While all this looks good on paper, the start of the Champions Tour has been rather complicated. Both players and viewers had a hard time understanding the format of the competition. It was divided into 3 phases, themselves divided into 3 to 4 stages, with the same names in all regions of the world, even though they had different formats and rules. Initially, Challengers 1 qualified for Challengers 2, while Challengers 2 qualified for Masters 1 and the losers qualified for Challengers 3. Within the same region, some Challengers were played in BO1, others in BO3: some had loser-bracket, others not. All this was extremely difficult to follow, especially in Europe.

Many adjustments were needed to harmonise the circuit, while taking into account the specificities of each region. Not everything is perfect today, but the third phase of the VCT was much more digestible, and further measures are expected in 2022.

The first Legends

Many players and their teams left their mark on the first VCT. They participated in the storytelling that is essential to anchor an esport game in the memories. Between success stories and bitter failures, these stories have turned fan's expectations upside down.

The player of the year is inevitably TenZ. He is the one who has embodied Valorant all this year, like a Ninja on Fortnite or a Faker for League of Legends. Whether or not he wins the ultimate competition, it is his journey and story that have kept fans of the game in suspense. From his early retirement from the competition, to his return as a substitute for another team before the most expensive recruitment in Valorant's young history, all while winning two Valorant Masters in the process, including the game's first global tournament. In the space of a few months, the events and symbols followed one another for the young player.

TenZ renews his contract with Sentinels

Yet, he and his team were unable to keep up. When a legend loses, another legend takes their place... or takes over. Sentinels were defeated by the former kings of Europe, G2 Esports. The latter were also outclassed very quickly by another team, etc. The esport of Valorant has a wealth of stories and plot twists, like a soap opera to follow regularly.

The last of these is of courseAcend. The winners of Masters 1 Europe struggled throughout the VCT. They finally managed to qualify for the Valorant Champions, only to be eliminated in the group stage. But this was without counting on a refereeing decision that allowed a map to be replayed a few days after their elimination. Acend eventually won and continued to climb the ladder to the top. They became the first Valorant World Champions.

Alternative circuits

However, the Valorant Champions Tour is not the only official competitive circuit. National competitions have also emerged, such as the Valorant Open Tour France which Mandatory had the pleasure of co-organising this year. These tours have all the advantages of the VCT, but on a smaller scale. They put forward the best players of the country and allow small teams without international pretensions to test their level and even to claim a cash prize.

The other notable circuit opening in 2021 is the Valorant Game Changers. These tournaments are designed to create safe, competitive environments to showcase Valorant players. The project was launched in the United States earlier this year before opening up in other regions, including Europe. There are plans to make this tournament mixed in the future, to further integrate women into the esport landscape. 

A mixed reception

With so many competitions and matches, there is almost always Valorant esport to watch on Twitch! However, there are big differences in reception between the different regions. If Valorant is a hit in the United States and Latin America, it has a lot more difficulty to make a place in Europe.

Across the Atlantic, the game is getting a lot of exposure thanks to some extremely committed top streamers. Shroud and Pokimane play Valorant extremely regularly, but they also watch and comment on the various competitions on their respective streams. It's not uncommon for Shroud's stream to have more viewers than the official stream, as Valorant fans prefer to follow the competition in a less formal setting, in watch parties of sorts.

Unfortunately, such a system is complicated to set up in Europe. Indeed, as the old continent is made up of many very different countries, broadcasting rights are much more difficult to negotiate and decide upon. However, efforts have been made in recent months and we have seen various watch parties in Europe for the world championships.

In any case, everything is already there to make Valorant as exciting to follow as League of Legends. It just needs a little spark in some parts of the world.

What to expect in 2022

After this successful trial run, Riot Games intends to perfect its formula in 2022. It is already known that the VCT will be shorter, thus reducing the schedule of both players and viewers. It will have 8 months of competition instead of 12, with one of the phases removed. The circuit will start in February and the next world championship will take place in September 2022.

The following months will be devoted to experimenting with new formats, in the manner of the Ignition Series, and to showcasing competitions of different sizes.

It is already known that the Valorant Open Tour France will be replaced by a real national league, the Valorant Regional League (VRL). Each country in Europe and around the world will have a local circuit to showcase regional talent. It remains to be seen exactly what form these leagues will take, what their schedule will be and whether or not the teams will be franchised.

In any case, 2022 promises to be an exciting year!