Here are the biggest moments from VALORANT’s first year

by Mitch Reames

It’s been one full year since VALORANT officially became available to the public. In that time, the game has captured a significant market share in the FPS community, pulled esports stars from a variety of other titles and built itself into one of the most promising young esports.

Here are the most important moments from VALORANT’s first year (with a primary focus on NA).

VALORANT beta breaks Twitch records

First known as Project A, VALORANT’s release had been anticipated for well over a year. After League of Legends, neither TeamFight Tactics nor Legends of Runeterra carried the same weight as Riot Games’ promised mashup of CS:GO and Overwatch.

VALORANT’s beta began on April 7. About three weeks earlier, North America, like the rest of the world, had shut down as the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping across the country. April would prove to be one of the most unusual months in modern history as the country locked down, stayed home and played or watched plenty of video games.

Read more: One year later, why consistent success has been hard to find in VALORANT esports

Twitch broke viewership records month after month last year, and VALORANT was one of the early reasons why. With keys to the VALORANT beta being awarded to prominent streamers, the beta release led to a single-day hours watched record in a single game category on Twitch. Its peak concurrent viewership also surpassed everything else that had ever been streamed on Twitch in its 10-year history except the 2019 League of Legends World Championship final.

Although keys for high-profile streamers and the pandemic played a huge role in that record, the viewership it gathered set the stage for the esports boom to follow.

Ignition Series kicks off VALORANT esports

Before VALORANT had even been released publicly, major pros in CS:GO and Overwatch announced their intentions to become VALORANT pros. For NA CS:GO players, the lack of infrastructure in North American CS made it an easier decision. For NA OWL players, issues with the state of the competitive Overwatch scene as well as the ability to play with entirely English-speaking rosters (a rarity in the OWL) were big selling points.

Read more: FaZe Clan’s Corey reflects on a year of VALORANT following OWL retirement

But gripes with intricacies in those individual esports scenes aside, the promise of a Riot Games-led esport was more than attractive. League of Legends is a true anomaly in the esports world, with competitive leagues in over ten different regions all coming together for international events a couple times a year. With VALORANT’s Ignition Series, Riot Games showed how the developer planned to build that global following for VALORANT as well.

The keys were turned over to regional organizers in EU, NA, Japan, Oceania, South America, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and the Middle East/North Africa (MENA). In all, 26 events were run as part of the Ignition Series with EU, NA and South America holding the most. In NA, two teams emerged at the top with TSM winning two events and Sentinels winning two more.

The first event in NA, the T1 x Nerd Street Gamers Showdown established the top tier of teams in VALORANT for the first time. Despite plenty of roster fluctuation in the year that followed, many of those teams still remain on top. Of the top eight finishers in that tournament, seven are still in the top 10 according to One orgless team finished top eight, but Together We Are Terrific were signed a few weeks later by Envy and still make up the core of the team’s roster. T1 is the only top eight finisher in that tournament not currently ranked in the top 10.

For an esport that seems to produce surprising results and emerging team at every subsequent major event, there has actually been a surprising amount of consistency among the top orgs.

Riot steps into esports scene for First Strike

The Ignition Series was fun, and it was a great way to get an immediate global footprint in the middle of a pandemic, but Riot is known to be a hands-on esports organizer. That began to show with First Strike.

Like the Ignition Series, First Strike was a truly global event, except this time the seven regions from the Ignition Series expanded to 11 with the additions of Korea, Russia/CIS, Turkey and Latin America. The Asia Pacific region crowned five different champions, Latin America had two and MENA had three. So technically, 18 different teams can be considered First Strike champions of their region or country.

The Ignition Series might have set the stage, but when looking back at VALORANT esports, First Strike will stand out as the first true massive VALORANT event. It set the stage for storylines involving legendary CS:GO player Leonardo “mwzera” Serrati and Gamelanders in Brazil, Vision Strikers’ dominance in Korea and the crowning of Peter “asuna” Mazuryk and 100 Thieves in North America.

Read more: 100 Thieves rising star Asuna proving himself to fans, his parents

Regional storylines persisted due to the lack of international competition, creating rampant speculation about which region was actually the most talented. It was a question that didn’t get any actual quantifiable results until Stage 2 Masters: Reykjavík.

VCT Game Changers carries the tradition of female CS:GO tournaments to VALORANT

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive had more female pros, female teams and female tournaments than any other major esport. With VALORANT so closely resembling CS:GO, Riot Games made sure to bring those same opportunities to the new title. The result is VCT Game Changers.

Similar to the Ignition Series, Game Changers, in partnership with Nerd Street Gamers, will feature a circuit of events in various regions. The first event happened in North America in March where eight teams were invited to compete. Featuring major orgs like Cloud9, Dignitas, Counter Logic Gaming and TSM, Game Changers showed the best of the best female players in VALORANT.

With $50,000 in total prizes, the payout wasn’t bad either. C9 White, led by captain Melanie “meL” Capone, won that tournament. More importantly than the one event, Game Changers represents continued investment in the female VALORANT ecosystem. It provides consistent opportunities for orgs to compete in these events, which has led to more major orgs like Gen.G signing teams ahead of the next major event in June.

Read more: C9 White’s meL on VALORANT squad’s success, inspiring next generation of female gamers

Many of the top female teams are led by longtime CS:GO veterans like Dignitas’ Emmalee “EMUHLEET” Garrido. But the other cool aspect of Game Changers is the academy events. Discoverability is one of the biggest challenges faced by all aspiring pro gamers and the issue is even larger for female players. VCT Game Changers Academy provides monthly all-female tournaments that help promote discoverability and feed into the larger events.

The goal long-term is to have esports where women compete alongside men at the top level, and events like VCT Game Changers are how that is made a reality.

Sentinels take the NA crown at Stage 1 Masters

With one year of VALORANT esports down, there is no debate who the best team in North America is. Considering the open nature of VALORANT esports in the game’s first year, the fact that one team has risen above all others is incredibly impressive.

Sentinels won two Ignition Series events, have finished at least top four in basically every major NA VALORANT event and officially ascended to the top spot when the team won the Stage 1 Masters. With Tyson “TenZ” Ngo, an emergency stand-in coming in to replace the suspended Jay “sinatraa” Won (more on that later), the new Sentinels roster was still expected to be good, but it would be hard to blame them if they needed more than a week to incorporate TenZ into the lineup.

Turns out, it was a perfect match. Now with TenZ, Sentinels smoked everyone at Stage 1 Masters. The team dropped just one map to Luminosity in the first round, swept 100 Thieves then swept FaZe Clan twice, taking five straight maps against them. The final round score was 65-35 over five maps. It really wasn’t close.

The addition of TenZ proved stable after Sentinels ran through Challengers Finals to be one of the two North America teams to represent the region in Stage 2 Masters: Reykjavik.

Sinatraa’s alleged sexual assault sends Sentinels scrambling

Sinatraa was arguably the most successful esports pro to quit to play VALORANT. The former Overwatch League MVP was one of 17 former OWL players to retire from the league to switch games. He helped lead Sentinels early on to be one of the best teams in NA. It came crashing down with a nine-page Google Doc filled with allegations of sexual assault and more from his ex-girlfriend Cleo.

Only a few days before Stage 1 Masters was set to begin, sinatraa was forced to step down as an investigation commenced. Over a month later, the first official ruling on that investigation was handed down with sinatraa being suspended a total of six months for refusing to comply with the Riot Games investigation.

There is still an ongoing criminal investigation as well. The next few months of suspension are more than likely a stopgap allowing that criminal investigation to run its course. By September, it’s possible more action could be taken by Sentinels or Riot Games if sinatraa is found guilty.

It was a black mark on an otherwise mostly ideal year of VALORANT esports. With sinatraa out, Sentinels scrambled to find a replacement. TenZ, a well-regarded player who had retired to pursue content creation but was still on contract with Cloud9, was the choice. Sentinels made a deal for a loan that continued through Masters: Reykjavík, and as was reported by multiple outlets Tuesday, he has now officially been bought out by Sentinels.

Sentinels crowned best team in the world at Masters: Reykjavík

At the one-year mark, VALORANT esports teams from around the world finally came together. Featuring 10 teams from seven different regions, Stage 2 Masters: Reykjavík was a perfect culmination of the first year of an esport hampered by COVID-related restrictions.

Ultimately North America and Europe proved to be the two best regions in VALORANT esports right now, but Korea certainly has a case on the back of an impressive performance by NUTURN Gaming.

Read more: What we learned from Masters Reykjavík, VALORANT’s first international event

Stage 2 Masters represented a lot of firsts for VALORANT. It was the first international LAN, the first tournament to award regional bragging rights and the first time you could declare a consensus best team in the world. That might be up for debate in some circles, but Sentinels winning the entire tournament without dropping a map, plus having won NA’s Stage 1 Masters, should leave no doubt.

At its peak, the event was watched by over 1 million people, a mark that represents a game truly in the top tier of all esports. New stars were created, familiar faces added to long esports legacies and comps were updated on the fly as teams got more exposure to other regions’ playstyles.

When looking back on VALORANT esports in a decade, the first VALORANT Champions this fall will be the biggest moment. But OG VALORANT esports fans will know that Masters Reykjavík was the true birthplace of the top level of VALORANT esports.

Lead image credit: Riot Games

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