Australia has always loved its competitive shooters, and the introduction of Valorant to the Australian esports scene had a lot of players and organisations excited. But with the impact of COVID, Australian players, organisers and esports veterans still have lots of questions about the game’s competitive future and competitive structure.
To get a sense of how Valorant has been received locally, I spoke to people across multiple levels of esports in Australia: former team owners, casters and players. I wanted to get a sense of how everyone felt about Valorant as a competitive title, but also how the game fits into Australia’s ecosystem structurally, and where it’s headed.
Valorant still needs to offer more for ranked play
The biggest strike against Valorant as a competitive game so far was the lack of an end-game, or the lack of reward and structure once players hit the game’s highest ranked levels.
Ethan “Crunchy” Laker, one of Australia’s best Valorant players right now in EXO Clan, told Kotaku Australia that Valorant was lacking a sense of purpose for the top players. “Radiant feels pointless and the fact you can be on a team of solo queue players and versus 5 stacks is insanely imbalanced,” Laker explained in a private message.
That sentiment was echoed by the founder of Chiefs Esports Club, Frank Li, who said that while the interest from players is there, there’s a lack of purpose.
“In League there’s a LP system,” Li said over Discord. “You can physically see your LP go up and down, and I know people hate promos and stuff in League. But especially toward the upper rank — Immortal – Radiant — basically once you hit Radiant, what’s the point playing?”
Laker suggested that Valorant could benefit from a matchmaking structure similar to League of Legends, although he added that Australian organisations are already excited about where Valorant stands.
“I suspect the game will have quite a long lifespan, especially because of how its taking off in Asia and [North America] already,” Laker said. “It’s already enticing orgs to enter which haven’t set foot in the [Counter-Strike] scene for quite some time.”
Kori “Vandie” Hallows, another Australian caster, added that while Valorant has a good mix of heroes and maps right now, it also needs a little more spectator functionality.
“Killjoy is the latest agent to shake up the scene with the introduction of Act 2 and will influence competitive play, but I personally was hankering for a new map as for a best-of-five format in finals you have to repeat play on one map,” Hallows told Kotaku Australia.
“Not ground-breaking but [its] important when you are considering what sort of formats people are running in tournaments. I’d also love to see more observer slots and the ability to import custom HUDs which would help personalize future events further.”
Valorant’s competitive support is strong already
Jake Tiberi, the general manager of esports team ORDER and a League of Legends shoutcaster, says the game has a strong base of support in Australia already.
“It’s obviously very exciting to have a tactical shooter with Riot’s support behind it in the region,” Tiberi told Kotaku Australia over email. “Seeing 373 teams compete in the first Valorant Ignition Series, shows that there is a genuine hunger for the grass roots level of esports, and with more than 20 casters also signing up to commentate the games, it’s not just playing.”
Chiefs founder Li agreed, saying Valorant has the right mix to thrive in the Australian environment, particularly given Riot’s infrastructural backing.
“I think the game 100% has the legs, based on its competitive nature, the correct amount of political correctness and Riot as a developer/publisher,” Li said over Discord. He added that Riot’s acceptance of more third-party tournaments has been a boon, too.
“Tendering the tournament hosting out to 3rd parties for the initial ‘Ignition’ series launch of the competitive scene is good, as long as it transitions into a fully fledged, Riot sanctioned scene (whether it’s franchised leagues, or rotating tournaments),” Li said.
Hallows noted that the Valorant Ignition league was hugely successful, and Riot was likely to capitalise on its success by reusing the format down the road. “It was the quickest way for everyone to embrace the hype of a new competitive game and also allows for a lot of grassroot and community involvement from players and casters,” they said.
“It was an interesting take that allows esports organisations and tournament organisers to experiment with different formats that I assume Riot will utilise in future, when they want to create an official league for it.”
Laker added that formal, Riot-backed leagues, would be crucial to Valorant‘s success — claiming that there has been a bit of stagnation in Australia’s Counter-Strike scene.
“I feel CS in Australia has been quite shaky recently, not as many leagues/tournament organisers running events anymore,” the EXO Clan player said.
Li added that it was likely that Riot were making more moves to establish a deeper competitive infrastructure, given the moves from major international organisations.
“I’d say if guys like 100T, C9, Liquid etc are comfortable moving forward with picking up players and FPX, then there’s likely something brewing behind the scenes,” Li suggested. “Or [Riot is] preparing for potential franchising.”
Valorant won’t cannibalise other games, but it’s Counter-Strike that offers Valorant its biggest opportunity
Much of Valorant‘s competitive future is still unknown, but everyone who spoke to me for this story agreed that the state of Counter-Strike in Australia — which still offers plenty of international qualifiers and slots for Australian teams, or at least it did prior to COVID-19 — offered the greatest opportunity for Valorant.
It wasn’t that CS:GO was dying, or that Valorant would cannibalise the player base. Instead, it was suggested that local teams would welcome the stability Riot offers in the Australian scene with the structure of their leagues, compared to the more decentralised nature in which CS:GO operates.
“I’d hazard a guess that every team, bar maybe the very top ones in every region, would want a League of Legends model,” Li, who worked with Riot Games for years as the founder of Chiefs, one of the most successful and long-running League teams in Australia, said. “Better stability, better salary, better roadmap for events, etc.”
“For example, unless you’re Renegades, you’re not wanting to sit around hoping an event is gonna happen, Riot are traditionally grassroots friendly,” Li said. “CS:GO has been reliant on third parties, Valve are laissez faire with tournaments and lets [tournament organisers], to a degree, operate with relative autonomy.”
Tiberi, who’s also had a close association with Riot locally as a League caster, also wanted to see a similar model adopted for Valorant. “I would like for it to be tournament format into international competition,” Tiberi said over email. “Sending teams to Asia, America and Europe to compete always feels special and brings the region together for me.”
It’s unlikely that top CS:GO players will defect to Valorant, however, particularly with the extra revenue models CS:GO offers. Valorant doesn’t have the benefit of sticker sales the way CS:GO does, which can be an important stream of revenue for individual players and teams in big events.
Still, Li suggested that Valorant could eventually be more attractive to local organisations due to “a degree of burnout” with the game.
“There is definitely a degree of burnout within the wider CS scene,” Li said. “Not just in Australia. You can see with mandated player breaks, so many players from all regions taking sabbaticals. I think the oversaturation of online, [best of 1] league style tournaments is detrimental in the long run.”
Hallows, however, said the coronavirus was likely to keep Australia’s competitive environment as-is for a while, as Australian esports is predominantly funded by marketing budgets — most of which has been put on hold in the current recession.
“It is still relatively new as an esports in Australia, only a handful of players have managed to be picked up by organisations as it seems like a lot of people are waiting to see if this will become a mainstay or if the hype train will leave anytime soon,” Hallows said.
“Valorant also released in pandemic-stricken times which means budgeting for a new team and the resources it needs may not be on the cards for organisations this year, which leaves them eyeing up candidates for next year.”