How Oceanic Valorant will suffer after Riot snubs region of Champions chance

ORDER Valorant player Tucks next to SkyeESL / Riot Games

This week, eight NA teams will compete in the VCT 2021 Last Chance Qualifier with one spot at Champions on the line. It was meant to be 10, however, with Oceania joining for their one shot in 2021, and now that the region has been snubbed due to a Riot admin error, players are left worrying for the future.

It was called the VCT 2021 Last Chance Qualifier for North America and Oceania, but the last two words of that title have been scrubbed ahead of the event.

The two Oceanic representatives in ORDER and the Chiefs Esports Club missed out on a shot at going to Champions due to travel arrangements falling through. After working for nine months for one shot to play internationally, an entire year’s work was stripped away.

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For ORDER captain Tyler “Tucks” Reilly, it was heartbreaking.

“GoMeZ [ORDER’s Chief Esports Officer] said ‘don’t fly’ because some of us had to travel that day because [Riot] decided it was too hard for us to go and they won’t be sending us,” he said.

“I remember reading the message from Texta [Tucks’ long-time teammate] in our group chat saying we aren’t going. You know those times when your heart just drops? You know what that message is about and there’s nothing you can do to help it? It was really disheartening.”

While Riot’s statement claimed “complex factors” stopped the teams from flying overseas, sources close to the situation have confirmed with Dexerto that Riot left the process of getting Oceanic players to NA to the last minute, leading to a “too little, too late” scenario.

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Teams were approached about flights to North America ahead of the OCE Championship, giving Riot around 6-8 weeks to process it all — even if they hadn’t qualified. This is a shorter timeframe than Oceanic org PEACE were given for the League of Legends World Championship, with teams filing paperwork three months before qualifying.

But in the week leading up to the cancellation, Riot administrators had not managed to secure exit exemptions for Australian players, despite ORDER and Chiefs telling Riot about their importance.

All people leaving Australia currently need to apply for exit exemptions, regardless of destination, due to the global health situation.

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Additionally, not all flights had been processed properly, leading to delays in getting player visas.

Some players had already left their home states to start the 24-hour trip to America before the news dropped.

Sources claimed Riot handled the process in-house with the Valorant esports team, but failed to lodge the correct paperwork on time due to a lack of experience.

This is despite the League of Legends team running through a similar process for PEACE just weeks earlier.

“The reasoning that was told to us was Riot couldn’t secure our exemptions [to leave Australia] and our flights out of America couldn’t be booked until November 15, so Riot would have had to put us up in America for a month which would have been expensive,” Tucks said.

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Chiefs and ORDER put out a joint statement following the decision, calling it a “preventable scenario”.

The two teams missing out on LCQ is one problem.

However, it’s part of a wider issue within Valorant esports that showcases how smaller regions are struggling to get recognition and help from Riot to actively pursue international opportunities fairly.

Nine months of work for no reward

Dion ‘Komodo’ Pirotta is a Valorant caster based in Australia, who has helped grow the scene since the game’s 2020 launch.

Seeing the news on Oceania’s snubbing from the Champions LCQ left him annoyed. Not only because it’s months of work going down the drain, but because other Oceanic esports pros have been allowed to travel.

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“We’ve seen Riot be able to get the League of Legends people over [to Iceland], so it’s even more gut-wrenching that they’ve tossed OCE and Valorant to the side in that regard,” he said.

“To see the Renegades flying over to Stockholm [for the Major] and FURY PUBG going to Korea [for PGC], there’s proof right there that the government is willing to let players go overseas for esports.

“Someone as big as Riot, who could revitalize a scene which has been hit hard over the last 18 months, for them to just not follow what should have been a clear process ⁠— they’ve lost a lot of people’s faith in them.”

INS Renegades playing CS:GO at IEM Cologne 2021Stephanie Lieske for ESL
Renegades’ CS:GO team have been able to travel out of Australia to the Stockholm Major after qualifying early in October.

In 2021, Valorant teams in Oceania played in the Valorant Oceania Tour. Across three stages, they earned points to qualify for a top-eight championship at the end of the year. Then, only the top two squads would have a chance to compete in the NA LCQ ahead of Champions.

“This was our only international opportunity. We knew that for the entire year we were working towards this one thing. We weren’t going to get any other opportunities, so you commit everything to that and you get so excited when you qualify,” Tucks said.

“Since we’ve qualified we’ve been practicing a lot and watching the other teams. We were preparing mentally, so for it to then get shut down overnight, it actually hurts so badly.”

A dying scene just two years in

The effects of the LCQ cancellation have started resonating in Oceania. A handful of players on top 8 teams have already announced their retirement because of Riot’s handling of the region.

“I think there’ll be some people who have put in all this effort and might get an opportunity to explore in another game. We might see people return to Counter-Strike now that the CS pathway is open again,” Komodo said.

“OCE as a whole is still hit hard with esports as a whole umbrella, but we’re starting to see teams go overseas. Valorant players might see that as a chance to go play something they feel like they can be competitive in, and they can do more in.

“People will drop off and call it quits not because they don’t like the game, solely because of Riot not being able to deliver.”

Tucks, a former CS:GO pro in Oceania, isn’t necessarily considering leaving Valorant, but can’t fault players who don’t see a future after the LCQ debacle.

“CS isn’t in a much better shape, they do have more international opportunities and it could be different if I went back but Renegades are winning everything at the moment and it’s been like that for the last four years,” he said.

“It depends on what happens in 2022 and what kind of season they give us. If it’s the same as this year, then I see a lot of people leaving because you’re hoping for something bigger and better.”

There’s fears that without a clearer picture or more opportunities in 2022, the scene will fade away without ever having a chance to prove itself.

In the current format, it’ll be two and a half years after Valorant’s release that Oceania actually gets a chance to play internationally — unless the Soniqs squad who moved to Pennsylvania from Australia makes it big.

“When Valorant was first announced and their run was announced with VCT, the question was always ‘where does OCE slot in,’” Komodo said.

“We didn’t get a pathway slot into the Challengers or Masters events, and we get one slot into Champions where we have to go through these NA teams that have already had those chances.

“The way things have been setup in our region from the get-go wasn’t to a design I was comfortable with.”

Valorant Oceania Tour bannerRiot Games
Oceanic players are calling for a rework to the Valorant esports ecosystem to involve minor regions.

How Riot can win back the Valorant community

There’s still hope for Oceanic Valorant though. Komodo, Tucks, and the rest of the scene want it to succeed and thrive. They want to write the underdog stories like Pentanet.GG did at League’s mid-season international, MSI, earlier this year.

It starts with a strong 2022 with more international opportunities ⁠— or even giving Oceania a direct slot at Champions for this year.

“I still do have faith that we will get more international pathways and I have faith Valorant as a game will grow much bigger around the world and in Oceania, there just needs to be more pathways in place,” Tucks explained.

“You need those international pathways after Stage 1 and 2 to keep boosting you and keep the support in the region going and getting new players interested.

“I’d love to see more open communications between the organizations and Riot [too]. You want to have that open communication about what they’re doing to help us build our region and what we can do to help ⁠— a proper partnership.”

In a statement to Dexerto, Riot said: “Valorant NA/OCE Esports remains committed to working closely with its partners to ensure a smooth process across all future competitions.”

They also vowed to “work towards bringing this exciting Valorant region back for future events.”

Dexerto can confirm a call between Riot and some Oceanic teams has taken place, but no decisions have been made on the 2022 event structure for the region.

Skye in ValorantRiot Games
Riot have said they are committed to developing Oceanic Valorant despite 2021’s setbacks.

“Players want clearer pathways into a Worlds-type event, whether that be through Asia or a direct slot from OCE. That would be the biggest thing,” Komodo said.

“You’ve already got all these other games showcasing different ways to allow OCE to have a presence at these major events without having to jump through a massive amount of hoops first trying to qualify through another region’s event to get to the major one.”

The Valorant dream is still alive for many in Oceania, but time is ticking to get Australia up to speed with the rest of the world and give them a level playing field.

“Maybe when I was younger you didn’t really care about if your countrymen went to an international event and did well because as a competitor I always wanted to be on that stage,” Tucks said.

“Now my views have changed so much. I want every Oceanic team to go overseas and do really well because it helps build our region.

“Building our region to a point where all our players are salaried and we can compete full-time, that’s the best case for everyone involved.”