Masters Shanghai is VCT China’s best shot at an international title

Declan Mclaughlin

China has long been heralded as a region poised to take over the Valorant esports landscape because of its massive fanbase and skilled pros, but it hasn’t lived up to that promise so far.

In the region’s first showings at Valorant Champions 2022 and VCT LOCK//IN, Chinese teams went 0-4. They did not make much of a dent outside of demystifying a region previously under wraps due to a lack of governmental approval.

Masters Tokyo, however, was a wake-up call. EDward Gaming finally hit its stride on the international stage, earning the region’s first significant series wins and placing in the top six.

But since then, EDG and the region’s other representatives haven’t shown they can do much outside of making it out of the beginning stages.

However, VCT Masters Shanghai is the perfect tournament for China to change its fortunes and fulfill its prophecy.

EDG, FunPlus Phoenix, and Dragon Ranger Gaming will have the entire country in their corner at the hometown venues, an entire split of improvement under their belts, and three distinct play styles.

EDG, DRG, and FPX have only improved during the first VCT China split

Chinese Valorant teams have a reputation for their incredibly aggressive play. They push forward to fight the enemy team after distracting them with one ability, like a Sova dart, and will take aim duels with abandon.

Even with the introduction of the VCT China League, teams still have that identity.

Ryan ‘RyanCentral’ Horton, a British caster and content creator who regularly co-streams the league, said watching VCT China every day has become like “Saturday morning cartoons” with how wacky and balls-to-the-wall teams tend to play.

EDward Gaming Valorant
Can EDG build on their Masters Tokyo success?

“I think it’s an entertaining league to watch because they’re just on their different wavelength, either super aggressive or want to take fights. Very interested in trying to do crazy stuff with their comps, both from the top and the bottom of the league… It is just high-octane, crazy gameplay, which can either be really impressive or funny to watch,” RyanCentral told Dexerto.

“It’s a spectacle. It’s either amazing shots or a car crash that you can’t take your eyes off.”

The broadcast talent said Valorant esports fans should come into this tournament with a more open mind for teams from the newest VCT league, especially if they judge them off of the region’s disappointing showing at Masters Madrid.

EDG have continued to dominate China post-Madrid, even if they do consistently get caught sleepwalking through early playoff series. The team has also unlocked Zhang ‘Smoggy’ Zhao by placing him on Controller, letting him run wild in late-round scenarios similar to Sentinels with Tyson ‘TenZ’ Ngo’s role change.

According to RyanCentral, FPX have improved exponentially during Split 1 thanks to a leap in form from Liang ‘Lysoar’ Youhao and IGL Chang ‘BerLIN’ Po-lin’s mastery of triple controller compositions on Lotus and Icebox.

DRG has arguably improved the most of the three representatives, from qualifying for the league through Ascension to making Masters Shanghai like VCT Americas’ G2 Esports.

Ali ‘Swerl’ Kobraee, the primary Duelist for Nova Esports, faced off against FPX and DRG during Split 1. He described FPX as a well-drilled squad and praised DRG’s chemistry with its Russian star Sentinel player Ilya ‘vo0kashu’ Ushakov

“I think FPX will make it to playoffs. For EDG, I don’t know. They are super strong, and I don’t really have expectations for them. They are capable of winning the whole thing. DRG will create some upsets in the Swiss Stage, and they might qualify,” he said when asked about his expectations for each VCT China team.

Hometown advantage is real but could be a double-edged sword

China has a giant Valorant fanbase, with millions of people tuning in to see its teams face off against top international opponents.

EDG, FPX, and DRG will all have the crowd rallying behind them for every match, giving them confidence against tough opponents.

However, they will also carry the weight of an entire country’s expectations and could crumple under pressure.

“I know that they’ll want to do the region proud overall, but I don’t know what the cultural life is like, or what the audience is like, whether they’re going to be supportive of or whether they’re going to really turn on players like Zheng ‘ZmjjKK’ Yongkang. On his streams, he will have people in his chat just hurling abuses at him while he’s playing. So, these players get a lot of flack anyway. So what will it be like if all of China is watching and supporting you, and you don’t live up to expectations?” RyanCentral said.

Swerl said during the first split, he found the fans engaging and incredibly passionate. He expects the crowd to have the same energy for this tournament.

We’ve seen players crumble in tough moments on stage before in front of a home crowd, like LOUD in the LOCK//IN Grand Final. However, these players should feel incredibly comfortable on stage, even with high expectations, as the Swiss Stage is taking place where they played their VCT China matches.

Start believing in Chinese Valorant teams before it’s too late

Chinese Valorant teams already have some haters, most famously 100 Theives’ Kelden ‘Boostio’ Pupello. The player said the region would not surpass North America anytime soon in 2023, and he still doesn’t think much of them.

“I think the Chinese teams are still definitely the weakest teams out of all the regions, like not even close. Probably none will make it out of the Swiss Stage, and then EDG will be the only team left. I think then out of all the teams remaining, EDG is probably bottom two,” he said at a pre-event press conference.

While this isn’t necessarily a hot take, this is not the event to irk one of the biggest regions in esports. I’m sure every team and player is grateful to compete at the Masters event, but this tournament means more to teams from VCT China.

After defeating Trace Esports to qualify for Shanghai, DRG’s Tang ‘TZH’ Zhehao broke down in tears. The veteran has been to international events before with FPX, but it just meant more to qualify for the first Masters event in China.

“The fact that attending Shanghai means so much to them in that light. You can’t tell me that this event doesn’t matter when you see some reactions like that,” RyanCentral said.

The VCT China ambassador has tempered expectations for the league heading into Masters, saying the chances a Chinese team lifts the trophy are low.

“The expectations for DRG should be kept low. I think overall EDG and FPX’s expectations should be kept low. In the postgame interviews, the players kept saying that even after they’d qualified they were like, ‘We’re tempering expectations because we can’t do China proud if the expectations on us to do amazingly well. Like we are improving. But it won’t feel like improving if the expectations are too high,’” he said.

Keeping expectations low is a great idea for keeping players calm and mentally sound during matches, it also mitigates the trauma of losing to a certain extent.

But this is the event where Chinese teams can really do some damage and announce themselves as more than a region with upset potential. And what better way to do that than claiming a trophy on your home turf in front of millions of fans who believed in you from the start?

RyanCentral believes the region will cement itself as a top region in 2025, I don’t think we need to wait that long.

Underestimate Chinese Valorant at your own peril.