First review of the Valorant Challengers EU
The Valorant Challengers EU saw over 500 teams compete in three tournaments. At the end of all these matches, eight teams qualified for the Valorant Masters. A few days from this next stage, let's take a first look at the Valorant Challengers EU.
A criticized format
The format of the Valorant Challengers is different in all regions. While the American format has many fans, the European format is much more criticized.
In the first week of the competition, most of the matches were played in BO1. As a result, it was quite possible for a small team to sweep the board or for a favourite to underperform. All it took was a bad map or a slip in the lead, and it was almost automatic disqualification. A team that can win eight BO1s in a row is still an excellent team, but a team that loses a BO1 is not necessarily bad.
Everything was quickly corrected following the feedback from professional players and spectators on the scene. The matches are now played in BO3 from the 64th final. This makes the competition healthier and more representative of the true level of the teams. On the other hand, it increases the duration of the matches and the competition considerably, which can be rather tiring for the players. In USA, the competition is also played in BO3, but spread over two weeks, which gives the players and spectators more time to relax.
More generally, we can criticize the complexity of the different stages of the competition. Its not easy to explain why Challengers 1 qualifies you for Challengers 2, while Challengers 3 qualifies you to Masters 1, just as Challengers 3. An uninformed viewer will have difficulty understanding the stakes of the different matches and the different stages. The overall circuit could be simplified or clarified.
The greatest qualify of the Valorant Champions Tour is clearly its openness to all teams wishing to participate in the competition. We already talked about this in our review of the Ignition Series : an esports game as young as Valorant benefits from opening its scene to as many people as possible. If the Ignition Series was too often reserved for the big organisations, the First Strike and the Champions Tour allow unknown teams to show themselves.
The benefits of such an approach are already visible. Among the qualified for the Valorant Masters, there are many small teams, some of them totally unknown a few weeks ago. Who would have bet on Dfuse Team or Ballista Esports? Valorant's esports is played on merit and talent, rather that on franchise money.
But one man's gain is another man's loss. Many large organisations have failed to qualify, despite their popularity and above all despite the resources invested in their players and training. In Europe, there are G2 Esports, Fnatic, Team Liquid, Vitality or OG Esports, but this trend is also visible on the other side of the Atlantic, with TSM, Cloud9, T1 and NRG.
It's essential that the big organisations support esports and write the first pages of the history of competition on Valorant. It's thanks to these big names that the storytelling is created, that rivalries are born. But by harvesting too much from the veterans of Counter-Strike, perhaps they are making the wrong bet. Valorant is attracting new players with no preconceived notions of tactical FPS who are exploiting the game's unsuspected potential. Players like Wedid, from the XSET team, is convinced that it's the players who start their competitive career with Valorant who will dominate the scene very soon.
The large historical organisations of esports rarely hesitate to make changes in their roster. There have already been many turnovers, sometimes several within the same team. These failures at the Valorant Challengers are likely to motivate a new transfer window, fed by the pool of players revealed during these competitions. In Europe, we can imagine that the forthcoming dissolution of the Dfuse Team, despite their qualification, could interest headhunters.
On the viewer's side
Although the Valorant Challengers EU motivates many teams and there are many surprises, the results in terms of audience are not yet there.
The audience on Twitch is concentrated on the Valorant Esports EU channel. The general Valorant channel offers the same content, but regularly switches its viewers to the dedicated channel with hosts and raids. The number of viewers varies between 3,000 and 10,000, depending on the teams and the stakes. (The time of broadcast probably also plays a role in these fluctuations.)
This is an honourable and encouraging score, but perhaps a little disappointing given the size of the region. Most analysts agree that the European scene has the highest level on Valorant, yet it pales in comparison to the other teams in terms of audience.
America, an example to follow?
The American scene is particularly well attended, for example. There are regularly more than 15,000 spectators in total. These are several reasons for this:
– The American scene is ultra aggressive
In North America, the meta favours duelists. There are often 2 duelists per team, if not 3. The gameplay is much more aggressive and based on pure skill rather than on tactics and strategic options. This is the guarantee of an explosive show. Chaotic, but entertaining.
– The organisations know each other well
If we take only the example of TSM and Cloud9, the two organisations knew each other and were fighting each other long before Valorant. These organisations have fans who are already committed to their cause and who are ready to defend them at all costs. They follow the competitions like soap opera. Rivalries are already created and promote storytelling. A Sentinels vs TSM match is not a simple match, it's a clash between favourites who don't hesitate to make cutting remarks.
– Stream rules are more flexible
Nerd Street Gamers is organising the broadcast of the competition. They had the genius to allow the North American VCT co-stream. This means that personalities like Ninja or Shroud Ninja or Shroud can stream the games live and comment on them over the official commentators. Shroud alone had no less than 80,000 viewers on his channel last week. With React being the fashion, Valorant fans can follow their favourite streamer reacting to the competition, while following it themselves on their channel. This may lower the official stream statistics, but it makes a huge and inexpensive promotion of Valorant and the VCT.
– Technical quality
The resources deployed in America seem to be incomparable to those invested in Europe as far as broadcasting is concerned. The VCT NA has exemplary image quality. The observers hardly miss any kills, which seems to mean that they have to be numerous and have a small delay in the broadcast. This is definitely not the case in Europe, where the image is full of artefacts when there's movement or a change of POV, and where the choices of observers are sometimes... questionable.
It is all these points that allow the VCT NA to shine. Even if the interest in Valorant is different from one region to another, Europe would benefit from learning from some of these points.
We're not asking to European teams to change their meta. It's important that each team can play the way they want to play and adopt the style that suits them. In Europe, the meta is rather slow and tactical. The teams that make the best strategic decisions usually win. However, we have had examples of teams like Chakalaka and Ballista adopting the rawest North American style with some success. If Riot Games wanted Valorant to be as explosive as it is in the US, it would be up to developers to change the balance of the game to focus on action.
As far as the history of the organisations is concerned, this should start soon. For a long time, G2 Esports and Ninjas in Pyjamas were the only major European organisation involved in Valorant. But in the last few months, Fnatic, OG and Vitality, for example, have also joined. We need to to give the stories time to develop and we're not worried at all about all that.
On the other hand, the European scene could benefit from opening up its broadcasts. The broadcast of the matches is limited to the official Valorant channels and only starts for the final stages. It's impossible to follow the entire competition. How can you follow the progress and results of the teams when you don't see the majority of the matches they play? It's hard to get involved in these stories if you only get a piece of them.
Finally, even though broadcasting Valorant, especially from a distance and during a health crisis, is a technical challenge, the VCT EU would benefit from a much better image quality and experienced viewers . Stream overlays, statistics, in-game interface, etc. All these points lack readability. All these points lack readability in Europe and sometimes make the experience unpleasant. These little flaws detract from the immersion and investment, especially when you miss most of the kills.
The Valorant Challengers EU can be improved in many aspects. But it's nonetheless very encouraging for the development of the esports scene. Like the players and teams, Riot Games and the Valorant esports division are still trying to find themselves. They're trying out different formats, different formulas, and learning more and more useful lessons from them. Let's not forget that Valorant is less than a year old and it will take a while to perfect the formula. We can only look forward to seeing high-level matches on a very regular basis, and to seeing the support Riot Games has given its newcomer to the competitive scene.