It’s only been less than two months since Valorant was released in closed beta, and less than a month since ranked mode came out. Already, the prospective esports scene for the tactical shooter has dominated the conversation of what the future of the esports industry has in store, even while that same industry withstands the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic.
As the competitive scene unfolds, we take a look at a small handful of teams with the potential to dominate the storylines of the future of Valorant esports.
T1: A Championship Organization Backing Stars Seeking Redemption
T1 are no strangers to success in Riot Games’ esports. Prior to their rebranding to T1 in 2019, SK Telecom T1 won three League of Legends World Championships in 2013, 2015, and 2016, becoming the only team ever to repeat as champions. They also made a grand finals appearance in 2017, and reached the semifinals in 2019.
Much like the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, T1 LoL built an incredible supporting cast around a dominant, relentless star. Almost poetically, in 2016, ESPN Esports called T1’s star midlaner Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok the “Michael Jordan of esports” after his third title.
When it comes to Valorant, rather than build around a rising star, T1 is putting their money on a fallen star on a tale of redemption. In 2014, a young CS:GO prodigy in Braxton ‘brax’ Pierce was caught in a match-fixing scandal that left him and his teammates banned for life from competing in Valve-sponsored events. He would hang around the scene for another half-decade, before announcing this past February that he would pursue a career in Valorant.
His decision was met with widespread praise and positive acknowledgment, given that the doors to winning a world title in CS:GO were permanently closed. T1 would sign Pierce a month later, along with one of his other banned former teammates in Keven “AZK” Larivière. T1 has also signed other former CSGO pros to fill in their roster and serve as coach.
Sentinels: A Rising Brand Gambling on Another Game’s MVP
Speaking of MJ, remember when Michael Jordan left basketball to play baseball? It’s hard to even fathom something like that happening today, when a game’s best player up and retires during his peak after achieving seemingly everything they can, to go play a different game altogether. Except, that’s pretty much exactly what happened with Jay “Sinatraa” Won.
In 2019, Sinatraa stood head-and-shoulders above the Overwatch competition, winning Overwatch League’s regular-season MVP while leading the San Francisco Shock to the second-best record, and eventually a championship. After that, he was a pivotal part of Team USA winning their first Overwatch World Cup, where he claimed another MVP trophy. Two MVP awards, an Overwatch League championship on the heels of a 20-map win streak in the playoffs, and a gold medal, all in a single year.
That success made his late April 2020 announcement all the more shocking, when he revealed that he was retiring from professional Overwatch to pursue a career in Valorant. Due to Overwatch League’s rules, he was unable to sign with the Shock’s controlling organization, NRG Esports, so he signed a deal with Sentinels, home of Fortnite World Cup Solos winner Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf and popular Twitch streamer Félix “xQc” Lengyel.
Sentinels currently field a diverse roster of Valorant players, with the reigning Overwatch MVP, two former CS:GO pros, and one of their own Apex Legends players. They’ve not played many cups or tournaments yet, but they will have many eyes on them when they pick up their play.
Fish123: A Tactical British Invasion Long Overdue
Given the similarities between Valorant and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, it’s important to take a look at CS:GO’s competitive scene and draw attention to a noticeable gap. Europe has always been an elite region, with countries like Sweden, France, and Denmark having all taken turns at the top of the pedestal.
Missing from that top echelon is the United Kingdom, which has consistently trailed behind the other European countries when it comes to CS:GO competitive consistency. A team of UK players has never once appeared at a Valve-sponsored CS:GO major.
A collection of young British players are looking to change the UK’s fortunes in competitive tactical shooters, after forming a roster known currently as Fish123. They have already won a handful of community cups against several rising European teams.
Fish123’s in-game leader Adam “ec1s” Eccles spoke to one of the cup organizers, Mandatory.gg, about the roster’s early success. In that interview, Eccles said the team is practicing harder than ever, and are looking for an organization to support them in the future.
mouseSPAZ/TSM: North American Counter-Strike’s Legacy
The crowded top tier of competitive Counter-Strike means that some pro players have had trouble finding permanent homes. So as Valorant’s competitive scene slowly gets underway, a plethora of former and current CS:GO pros, across multiple regions, have swapped games to seek greener pastures.
One such group of North American players have, much like the Fish123 roster, achieved lots of early success in the midst of seeking a permanent home with an esports organization. Comprised of NA CS:GO pros reltuC, hazed, Wardell, Subroza, and drone, the roster has competed in Counter-Strike for a myriad of big teams over the years. The name mouseSPAZ is even a reference to a former CS:GO organization that both reltuC and hazed played for back in 2014.
This hybrid of experienced veterans and hungry young talent is the kind of roster that can not only succeed now, but provide a foundation for success as the pro Valorant scene unfolds. On March 22, the mouseSPAZ roster was acquired by a definitive organization in LoL esports, Team SoloMid.
The potential for stories to be told as the Valorant esports scene grows is not limited to just these rosters, but some of the narratives already present are intriguing. A fallen star seeking his first world title on the shoulders of an organization synonymous with winning. Arguably the greatest to ever play a different game abandoning that scene for one in its infancy. And two rosters of former CS:GO pros, across the pond from each other, seeking more glory after tasting early success.
Maybe these teams will meet in the playoffs of the first Valorant world championship. Maybe none of them will even play in that tournament. Maybe they will but get outshined by a different team altogether. As the world begins to hopefully re-open, so too will the book of Valorant’s history, with plenty of blank pages and promise.