As Riot Games moves towards partner leagues for Valorant and the game continues to gain more popularity worldwide, Valorant Champions 2022 showcased what fans can expect from a world championship in the title.
In Istanbul, Valorant fans crowded the entrance of the Volkswagen Arena two hours before they could be let in. Ten feet away from the venue, a swath of Riot executives and influencers invited to the tournament were gathered in a hundred-year-old historic building for a “gold carpet” event.
Influencers and professional Valorant players did short interviews and walked out to the fans gathered around waiting to get in and watch LOUD take on OpTic Gaming for the second world championship title in the esport’s short history. The hastily put together show attracted local Turkish media attention and saw the Riot esports top brass tease upcoming events and announcements surrounding the international leagues.
The event kicked off at around 5:30 p.m. local time with a short opening ceremony, a one-song performance by Ashnikko, who created the tournament’s anthem, that led directly into player introductions.
While not exactly on the level of a League of Legends World Championship production, with a grandiose introduction, a trophy presentation ahead of the final match and thousands of screaming fans from across the world, Valorant Champions 2022 was still a seminal moment for the esport.
Whalen Rozelle, the COO of Riot esports, who has been at Riot Games for 10 years and has seen League of Legends grow into what it has become today, said that this tournament reminds him of the MOBA’s second world championship.
“It actually, in many ways, feels very similar, feels like sort of the beginning of something,” Rozelle said in an interview with Dexerto. “The energy, the passion from the fans, sort of the optimism about the future and just how intensely passionate people are about the game and the pros that are involved.”
Over 2,000 fans attended the Grand Final, according to The Washington Post, and the match broke over 1.5 million peak viewers, not including Chinese streaming numbers, according to Esports Charts. The event was bolstered by influencers co-streaming the tournament from inside the venue, set up in private sky boxes and flown out on Riot’s dime. (Disclosure: Riot Games paid for this reporter’s travel to Istanbul and covered part of his accommodation expenses.)
The tournament was still impacted by the ongoing global health crisis. Fans were only allowed to attend playoff matches, and background workers, along with pros, were tested throughout the event.
But even with such limitations, Riot gave in-person fans more than they had got before, with nine days of matches and merchandise sales over the course of the tournament.
The number of spectators did wax and wane as the tournament went on as Turkish schools opened for the start of the year, but the venue was still loud and impactful, according to the pros.
“For me when I’m in the game, I don’t even realize they are there until the winning moment or the losing moment when you take those headphones off and take off the in-ears and suddenly you really hear the roar of the crowd,” Fnatic IGL Jake ‘Boaster’ Howlett said in a post-match press conference.
“You can hear it sometimes, quite vaguely through the mic or whatnot, some cheering and whatnot. But when you really take off your headphones that’s when you hear it and you’re like, ‘Bloody hell, it’s loud in here. Is this what it’s like every round?'”
For some players, this event was their first with a crowd in attendance. They got to experience what it was like to feel a crowd cheer or boo them.
“This is the first time we’ve been in front of a crowd, and experiencing when people are with you and when people are against you,” Team Liquid’s Nabil ‘Nivera’ Benrlitom said. “It’s really nice.”
Valorant Champions 2022 also marked the first major Riot event in Turkey. It was also the first tier-one international esports competition in the country since the BLAST Pro Series Istanbul in CS:GO in 2018.
Turkish fans are a passionate group, and they showed it in Istanbul as the crowd was loudest for teams from EMEA, specifically Fnatic, who had the sole Turkish player in the tournament in Emir Ali ‘Alfajer’ Beder.
The teenage talent said the support of the home crowd was great and that he fed off that energy, waving his arms for cheers during his introduction and throughout matches.
Overall, Riot seems to have had a successful venture into the new market and gave fans, prospective investors, and advertisers a taste of what is to come for Valorant esports. While the tournament may not have had fans hanging from the rafters, or an entirely organic viewership experience, with co-streamers boosting the numbers across their channels, Riot proved they can put on a comprehensive global event with few hiccups in production and execution.
As the community awaits the international leagues, with the partnered teams set to be announced soon, Valorant Champions 2022 proved there is something to this tactical FPS esport and that Riot can put on a successful show in this genre.
Come 2023 with the Kickoff tournament in Brazil, Riot will now have a baseline standard that they will try to exceed.