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Riot Game’s Push for an Exclusive Valorant: The Ramifications of League Exclusivity

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Renowned AAA developer Riot Games announced a new in-house league, VALORANT Champions Tour 2023 (VCT) for the 5v5 first-person shooter Valorant on Sept. 14. The exclusive tour will feature 30 teams from the Americas, EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) and Pacific regions.

Alongside the announcement of VCT 2023, Riot also revealed a significant change for tournament organizers. Moving forward, third party tournament organizers will only be allowed to host tournaments during the preseason and offseason of VCT.

The scarcity of professional tournaments outside of the VCT league caused waves throughout the Valorant scene, leaving players and organizations scrambling for a way in. 

In an interview with amateur Valorant player Jorryn “Yoshi” Salvador said, ”Exclusivity in Esports is often a debated topic for good reason. Organizers such as Riot claim that the only way to monetize is through a big league. However, this is not the case. I believe exclusivity exists as Riot as wanting a full vertical integration for all things Valorant in order to maximize money.”

Organizations will be required to apply for a VCT league spot and will be selected at the discretion of Riot Games. There will be a 10 team limit for each region, meaning that some will inevitably be left out. 

One team in question, OpTic Gaming, is an American esports organization known for its Call of Duty roots who fielded the best North American Valorant squad in 2022. However, OpTic ended up not receiving a VCT 2023 slot despite winning VCT 2022: Stage 1 Masters – Reykjavik and coming third in the most recent VCT tournament in Copenhagen. The roster featured previous CS:GO pros Jacob “yay” Whiteaker, Austin “crashies” Roberts, Jimmy “Marved” Nguyen, Victor “Victor” Wong and Pujan “FNS” Mehta.The roster was transferred from Team ENVY on Feb. 10 and under the OpTic banner the squad never placed outside of top 3 at any given VCT event.The entire team was then released from OpTic Gaming on Sept. 21 due to OpTic’s failure to secure a partnership slot with Riot.

Because of this, Salvador predicts, “A lot of current pros who had a place in the scene before will drop out of Valorant and likely go to a different game.”

One speculative reason why OpTic was not chosen to be a partner in VCT 2023 could be due to their previous history with Riot Games in the League Championship Series (LCS). In January 2019, after a series of lackluster performances, OpTic decided to sell their LCS spot

According to Riot Games, they want to partner with organizations, “who have a track record of building great esports experiences, developing players and can meaningfully contribute to the long-term growth of VALORANT esports.”

When the spots were announced and OpTic wasn’t listed, it left many wondering where the players would go. Eventually it was announced that the players would go their separate ways, as no franchised organization was willing to field all five, despite them arguably being the best in the world.

The team XSET was in a similar situation, as their brand was not renowned enough to successfully field a franchise spot. However, their roster was good enough and they were set to get picked up by G2. 

Unfortunately, days before the announcement came out, G2 CEO Carlos Rodríguez posted a picture partying with controversial internet personality Andrew Tate. When this was publicized, instead of apologizing for the sake of the brand, he doubled down and said he “can party with whoever … he wants,” causing the G2 franchise spot to be removed as a partner with Riot and Rodríguez himself to resign

Many of the players in XSET, including top 5 player in the world Matthew “Cryocells” Panganiban, would be out of a job. Panganiban even jokingly said, “Andrew Tate lost me my job.”

Although the NA region will see many teams leave unceremoniously, Salvador thinks it may be a good thing.

“I know a lot of people are saying that North America deserves more slots but I think how it is now is good because it will create more discipline in the NA region. Also, if importing players is allowed then it doesn’t really matter,” Salvador said. “The only drawback is if all the Americas is one region then where would they all play? That’s a huge chunk of land.” 

Outside of the Americas, there still lay problems.

LOUD, a Brazilian-based organization, was also affected by the franchising. Before the announcement, they were considered the second best team in the world, right behind OpTic Gaming, but unlike their rivals, they were guaranteed a spot in the franchising.

This, however, doesn’t matter, as franchising would result inplayersno longer being semi-protected by both the region loyalty and a large player pool. It would mean that the number of teams would decrease, allowing organizations with greater buying power to buy out the best players. As a result, almost the entirety of LOUD members was bought by one of the most wealthy organizations in Sentinels. 

The franchise league effectively isolated the amateur to professional player pipeline, which could create a huge disparity between regions with greater buying power and regions with highly sought-after players. Despite this, Salvador expressed optimism towards Riot’s exclusivity league.

“I believe if exclusivity is the only option, then Riot is doing it very well and it will likely have huge growth as they implement collegiate and female leagues,” he said. “Not only to promote Valorant but to increase competition and have filler for that offseason that grass roots would normally fill. Valorant has the potential to become the biggest esport in the world.” 

Despite Riot’s controversial methods, Valorant’s scene is an increasing focal point of hype and popularity in Esports. The game saw an unprecedented launch for a competitive fps shooter and there’s currently no signs of stagnation. If Riot are able to continue Valorant’s trajectory, then there’s no doubt that Valorant can one day rival the popularity of League of Legends, Dota 2, or CS:GO


Jason Garcia Escobar is a Sports Intern for the fall 2022 quarter. He can be reached at jasonag3@uci.edu.