Review of the Ignition Series: a unique format, with its strengths and weaknesses
The the Ignition Series are now over. The Gamers Club Ultimate 2 which was held last weekend was the last tournament of this first competitive circuit. This is an opportunity to review and take stock of this format, offered by Riot Games.
This article is the first in a series of reviews about the Ignition Series. We'll talk about the teams that shone there, and what to expect from the Valorant First Strike.
An advantageous concept for everyone...
The Ignition Series tournaments had the particularity of taking very different forms, while remaining official tournaments. As you know, Riot Games preferred to let different organisations take responsibility for Valorant esports in the first place. We then attended weekly tournaments all over the world with very different rules from one another.
From an esports organisations standpoint, this was the perfect opportunity to show their support for Valorant. Being the first players in an esports game that will potentially grow as powerful as League of Legends is important. It's a strong sign of commitment not only for Valorant players and fans, but also for Riot Games and developers. This is about building a relationship with Riot Games for possible discussions and partnerships in the future. It's no wonder that G2 Esports was the first to host a tournament, given the organisation's involvement in League of Legends esports.
For pro players, this series of tournaments was a chance to to show what they are capable of early on. The Ignition Series kicked off just a few weeks after the official launch of Valorant. Pro players who already had a competitive history in other first-person shooters were able to transition to Valorant immediately. Otherwise, they would have had to stick to their original game, while training on Valorant in case an esports scene arose... if they could afford it.
For semi-pro and amateur players, it was also an opportunity to showcase their talents in a game where everything remained to be discovered. It's hard to break into the competitive scene of a game like Counter-Strike or Overwatch today. But on game like Valorant, when all organisations are looking for players and the meta is not established, this is an opportunity for the most talented and smart players to shine. Even today, new combinations of Agents and weapons are discovered every week.
On the spectator side, the Ignition Series provided a first glimpse of what Valorant was worth as a show. The regular tournaments feature the best players from each region who then serve as role models. A player who discovered Valorant on Twitch could immediately understand the principle of the game and how to play the various Agents. In fact, a similar strategy was adopted at the launch of the beta: only spectators could access the game.
For regulars, it was an opportunity to thrill by watching the writing of the first pages of Valorant esports. Esports relies heavily on its storytelling; the journey of its teams and players. Successes, failures and rivalries allow spectators to engage emotionally in the competition. More than the games themselves, it's the stories of these players that we follow, like a real saga.
The series of victories of G2 Esports, undefeated in Europe, will not be forgotten any time soon, as the rant of Nadeshot who fires four of his players, or even Bonkar's revenge after being benched from Ninjas in Pyjamas. Each of these episodes form a sort of prologue to what the Valorant scene will be like in the future.
Finally, from Riot Games' point of view, the Ignition Series offers many advantages. By letting other people take care of the organisation of the tournaments, Riot could observe different formats and gauge the interest of the players and the public for each of them. Information that will probably come in handy when it comes to creating a continuous professional circuit made in Riot. Riot Games also relieves itself of certain responsibilities: no need to organise events, find participants or invest cashprizes. It was a gamble, since trusting others to introduce the competitive scene could also have been a fiasco, whether in the interest of esports organisations, or the interest of spectators.
.. but which shows its limits in Europe.
This is a bit like what happened on the old continent. In the United-States and Korea, the Ignition Series format has worked very well. There was a real momentum from all the people who have a role in the sector. Europe, on the other hand, has shown the weaknesses of such an approach. Our continent has indeed been rather cautious about the professionalisation of Valorant. Where the great American esports teams have been very numerous to set up teams (even if it means having to change their players along the way), European organisations are still slow to recruit players. While G2 Esports has been in the running from the start, having even launched the very first Ignition Series tournament, there's still an expectation that Fnatic, SK Gaming or even NaVi will show some interest in Valorant in the future.
Possible consequence of all this: the tournaments themselves lacked ambition. Some tournament organisers preferred to organise small, closed events reserved for a handful of established teams, rather than opening the registrations to org-less teams who were sometimes stronger. In fact, we always found the same confirmed teams in the Ignition Series, despite their level. A tournament like the Blast Valorant was more like a popular team tournament. In itself, the format of the tournament is absolutely not problematic. It becomes more damaging when the majority of tournaments are invitational.
There are two main issues, which can be summed up in one point: it nips esports development in the bud.
When the competitive scene becomes limited to a few teams, it automatically disqualifies all other players from participating in the party. The circuit becomes closed and the competitions become more showmatches with the most popular teams that real tournaments. We have seen teams like Bonk not being invited to different tournaments, even though they performed much better than some of the invited teams.
Future pros are then not encouraged to train or participate. There are probably some legendary Valorant players who haven't been revealed yet. A closed competitive circuit leaves them no change to shine or to feel supported. It's hard to be spotted by an organisation looking to launch their team if we don't let you play. It's also difficult to inspire passions in occasional Valorant players under these conditions.
The second reason, which is both more pragmatic and moral is: money. Invitational tournaments guarantee invited teams a certain jackpot. Once again, the invitations being made more on popularity than on merit, it's ultimately always the same who can live off esports.
Valorant has had a real problem since its release, especially in Europe. Most aspiring players have started investing their time in Valorant, in the hopes that the game will grow and organisations will recruit them. Some have been so lucky, but the majority struggles to be recognised. These players also have a life, a job, and obligations to ensure. Bringing Valorant esports to life by giving so much of yourself without receiving anything in return is not encouraging. We see many teams abandoning Valorant because they simply don't have the time or the means to secure tournaments. And without players, it's impossible to create an esports ecosystem.
First Strike: the best solution?
It's a safe bet that Riot Games has established this same observation. The announcement of the Valorant First Strike responds to the issues aforementioned.
Riot Games had the brilliant idea of opening their first official circuit to the largest possible number. Even if we don't know the full details of the registration yet, Riot has already committed to creating a competition based purely on merit. Open qualifying tournaments will be held very soon.
It the best of all possible worlds, the Valorant First Strike will allow the best players to prove their worth, regardless of their organisation. This will be the perfect opportunity to let new blood revitalise the scene, while being the perfect springboard to get spotted.
The History of Valorant competitions will truly be written with First Strike. Count on us to talk about it very soon.