Valorant’s brutal tier-2 in EMEA claims another victim as HSDIRR quits

Skal Esports

VCL Polaris team HSDIRR suddenly called it quits on April 25. For some, it was simply yet another reminder about the worrying state of tier-two Valorant in EMEA.

As HSDIRR’s players took to the Insomnia 70 stage, in Birmingham, and lifted the trophy after beating crowd favorites The Goose House in a quick 2-0 fashion, the team’s future seemed bright.

“Now our journey to win Polaris begins,” the team wrote on Twitter on April 11.

Exactly two weeks later, though, HSDIRR was no more, the team having announced that it would cease competing in Polaris, the Riot Games-sanctioned Valorant Challenger League (VCL) for Northern Europe, halfway through Split 2 “due to the current state of tier-two Valorant”.

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The announcement has been met with a shrug by the Valorant community in EMEA, which has gotten used to negative headlines surrounding regional leagues, from late payments to outstanding wages, from shockingly low viewership numbers to organizations pulling out of the game due to financial issues.

In North America and Japan, tier-two Valorant is thriving. But in the fragmented EMEA region, which has nine different VCLs, some of which span different countries with very little in common? Not so much.

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“People had been on the verge [of quitting] for some time, because we all knew there was a very low chance of finding an organization,” Johan ‘Meddo’ Lundborg, one of HSDIRR’s players, told Dexerto. “The feeling inside the team had not been the best. As they all stated, the mood is a little different from last season and people were not as hyped to play anymore.

“Since we started losing, the motivation to play went down and everyone started to realize that we had to get a job, a normal job. After we lost four games in a row, there was no chance to get a playoff spot, and people decided it was better to quit and start finding a real job.”

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HSDIRR are not even the first team to walk away from the Polaris League, which encompasses the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Nordic countries. After the end of Split 1, the players on Bonk, a team led by the now Oxygen Esports coach Malkolm ‘bonkar’ Rench, went their separate ways, with their spot taken by Coalesce for Split 2.

In a recent interview with Dexerto, Daniel Ringland, the Head of Valorant Esports in EMEA, admitted that some VCLs are struggling and that a lot of work has to be done to get every league “up to the level we know they can be.”

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Polaris is not alone in this category but it is frequently brought up by those calling for a restructuring of the VCL system in Europe. The league is averaging a paltry 1,576 viewers this split, according to statistics website Esports Charts. Last month, tournament organizer Promod Esports announced that it would not broadcast the league’s matches on Tuesdays as a cost-saving measure, instead resorting to watch parties organized by streamers and influencers.

“I think Riot has neglected the tier-two scene really hard,” Meddo said. “It just shows how bad it is when the organizers cannot even stream all the games. There are no replays and things like that, so the quality [of the broadcast] just goes down.

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“And of course, organizations won’t invest in something that is not beneficial to them. Riot needs to step in and help the scene. For example, they should pay the organizers so they can do a much better job.”

Uncertain future

With many teams in the Challengers Leagues struggling to find organizations (three unsigned rosters remain in Polaris after HSDIRR’s disbandment) amid what has been referred to as the “esports winter”, the news about Riot Games potentially embracing betting sponsorship deals was viewed by some players as a potential windfall. However, the developer quickly shut those reports down, stressing that no changes had been made to its policy surrounding team sponsor categories.

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Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games
Meddo played for G2 Esports in 2022, attending the VCT Masters event in Iceland

“I was close to signing with an organization in Polaris,” Meddo said. “But it was only if the organization could be sponsored by a betting company.

“If Riot would allow betting, maybe more organizations would come in and support teams.”

Despite the current state of tier-two Valorant in EMEA, Meddo remains optimistic that Riot Games will turn the VCL system around.

“Right now it looks pretty grim, but I trust Riot,” he said. “I do think they have the ability to fix it. But it’s just unfortunate because a lot of players are going to leave now. I don’t even know what is going to happen during the rest of the year. People need some sort of stability, which is not there.”

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Meddo was by far the most decorated player on HSDIRR. Between 2020 and 2022, he played at the highest level on teams like FunPlus Phoenix, Giants Gaming and G2 Esports. Only twelve months ago, he was competing in the playoffs of VCT 2022 Stage 1 Masters Reykjavík, where his G2 team finished 5th-6th.

That certainly seems like a long time ago now. Meddo is still determined to continue his career, but, at the same time, he is keeping his options open. Right now, he juggles playing with studying with an eye on keeping his grades up to get into a university.

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“I think it’s going to be extremely difficult for me to get back [to the top],” he said. “The path is super hard. I don’t think it’s an easy thing to do.

“I just want to compete and do my best. I want some stability and a team I can grow with, with structure and things like that. That’s what I’m aiming for.”

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