The waiting game: Valorant teams and players face VCT 2023 uncertainty

A fish eye lens of the VCT Masters stageColin Young-Wolff for Riot Games

For many Valorant players and organizations across the globe, these are uncertain times as Riot Games begins reviewing applications for its partnership system. Dexerto reached out to a number of players and organizations to talk about VCT 2023 and what they are going through.

As the second Valorant Champions Tour Stage 2 Challengers qualifier concluded on May 8, Akrew’s season in Riot Games’ circuit was a wrap.

They are still playing in third-party tournaments to keep their skills sharp and compete for prize money, but they are no longer a part of the VCT circuit and have no more opportunities for international competition or acclaim.

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Just five months into the year and Akrew, among over a dozen other salaried squads, are out of the top tier of Valorant competition.

“It sucks, obviously, because I’m missing out on pretty much the only important tournaments of the year,” Akrew IGL Zachary ‘ZachaREEE’ Lombardo said in an interview with Dexerto.

“If you’re not in the VCT circuit, essentially, what you’re doing is just playing like farm tournaments, which don’t really mean much.”

While they toil away in what are essentially meaningless competitions for the rest of the year, ZachaREEE and the many other players not in VCT are waiting on decisions from Riot about VCT 2023 and who the developer will choose to join their international partnered leagues.

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OpTic hold up the 2022 Masters Iceland trophy as a teamColin Young-Wolff/Riot Games
The International leagues are the only way for teams to make international completions like Masters and Champions.

The new VCT system, which Riot announced on April 28, 2022, will replace the current circuit of open qualifiers in multiple regions across the world that feed into international LAN tournaments, culminating in a world championship. This open circuit will be replaced by three international leagues, one for the Americas and Brazil, one in EMEA and one for Asia and Oceania, that will be held in studios, with teams selected by the developer,

Those leagues will then feed into international tournaments and a world championship. Riot also announced plans for domestic leagues in each region under the international competitions, similar to the system set up already in Europe with Valorant Regional Leagues.

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There is a multitude of esports organizations with at least one team in North American Valorant, and some have academy and women’s teams as well. Many players from those teams may not have a job with the same kind of pay come 2023 as only 10 teams, across North America, South America and Brazil, will get to join the Americas league, according to a report from Dot Esports.

“It’s going to be an absolute bloodbath,” Soniqs Esports player Ethan ‘Crunchy’ Laker told Dexerto. “It’s going to be rough because there are players that are f**king good enough [to play in the league] but there are just not enough spots.”

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The chain of communication around VCT 2023

ZachaREEE went through something similar in his previous competitive title Overwatch. When the Overwatch League was announced in 2016 and organizations started to bid for spots, the then-17-year-old would wait for news from his team’s management; at the time he was on Renegades, who were themselves waiting for communications from the game’s developer, Blizzard.

“If you weren’t higher up in the org, or if you were a player and you weren’t on an org that knew for sure they’re making it in the league it was pretty stressful,” the former Overwatch pro said.

That process is what seems to be happening in North American Valorant at the moment as organizations relay what they can to players, without breaking the Non-Disclosure Agreements they have signed with Riot or have the players sign one themselves.

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The five orgs that Dexerto spoke to, Built by Gamers, Akrew, Version1, Pittsburg Knights, and Soniqs Esports, all confirmed that they have applied to be a part of the partnered league in the Americas as of June 17 according to a report by Dot Esports. Their teams were not in attendance in VCT Stage 2 Challengers and are out of the running for spots at Valorant Champions, expect for Version1 and Knights who have circuit points from Stage 1.

the Valorant Masters press conference table and chairsLance Skundrich/Riot Games
Some orgs have gone through the partnering, or franchising, before in other titles.

Version1 COO Brett Diamond highlighted how Version1 have not left any esport that they have jumped into and that they plan to be as transparent as possible with their community about their application.

“We want our fans to know that we’re applying, we want our fans to know that we see a future for Version1 Valorant at the highest level, and that that’s our commitment as an organization,” Diamond told Dexerto.

Akrew’s CEO and founder, Daniel Luu, has also launched a media campaign around the organization’s application to the league.

At the time of the interview, Diamond said Version1 were applying for the Americas league but that they were also considering submitting applications for other regions if it made “strategic sense”.

How tier two and three may work in VCT 2023

Two of the organizations Dexerto spoke to said that Riot’s plan with its second and third-tier competitive ecosystem gave them confidence in the title, despite concerns from players.

ZachaREEE pointed toward Overwatch Contenders, the second-tier league for OWL, and explained how its implementation has been nothing short of disastrous.

“There’s literally no reason to play Overwatch professionally unless you’re in Overwatch League,” ZachaREEE said.

“If you’re in contenders it’s a waste. There’s no prize pool, salaries are really low, no organization care to be in it because Blizzard didn’t put too much effort into actually flushing out a league that makes it so players can actually promote.”

Riot Games has expressed an interest in fostering a community under the partnered leagues which the developer has publicly addressed in its initial VCT 2023 announcement.

“They’re clearly valuing every level of the competitive ecosystem and that’s great to see. That’s part of what lays the foundation for a successful top tier are the tears that feed into that,” Diamond said.

Some smaller organizations have plans to stay in the title even if things don’t go their way with Riot. They will re-organize their budget and potentially apply again if there are any league expansions.

Soniqs CEO Darren ‘Tribizzle’ Moore said that they plan to remain active in Valorant even if they don’t make the cut, using their current systems for roster development at the level below the partnered league.

The America flag held between two players before they walk out on stageLance Skundrich/Riot Games
The international leagues will reportedly have 10 spots each.

“No matter what happens as Valorant grows as an esport, there’s going to be a lot of upcoming new talent, and a lot of people playing the game,” Tribizzle said. “That’s very exciting for us to use our extensive scouting systems to acquire new talent and be very competitive in whatever type of league it ends up being that we can compete in.”

“I don’t ever put all my eggs in one basket. So you know if we didn’t get what we wanted, then we have a Plan B and a Plan C, and Valorant will be a part of our plan, no matter what.”

For Knights, who have an academy team and are also a tournament organizer in the space, they plan to continue to compete and run events at the regional level. The Riot title is the organization’s main focus, according to General Manager Garett Bambrough.

“We are going to be doing this in Valorant for the foreseeable future,” Bambrough said. “That’s not going to change. Whether or not we get into the program, we still envision Valorant being a main part of the Knight’s future regardless.”

But that doesn’t mean that some organizations won’t exit the esport once they get the news that they didn’t make the cut.

The Valorant community may have already seen this play out in North America as Luminosity Gaming announced they were pulling out of Valorant on June 2 even as their team continues to excel in the VCT Challengers league.

Luminosity did not specify if the new partnered league, and potentially not meeting Riot’s qualifications, was a factor in pulling out of the esport. In a statement, Luminosity said they “look forward to Riot’s upcoming structure for 2023.”

For right now, players in North America are bracing for the impact of Riot’s decisions and preparing for more roster shake-ups as the current assumption is that teams who make the league will hold trials for their rosters in 2023.

“I’m just trying to put in as many hours as I can and do everything in my power to make sure that I’m in a spot where I can either join one of those teams or be like a sub. Just have some way where my career continues,” Crunchy said.