The best VALORANT teams before VCT partnership system

by Brian Bencomo

With LOUD lifting the trophy at Champions 2022 and a couple days later Riot Games announcing the 30 partnership teams that will be part of the VALORANT Champions Tour international leagues in 2023 and beyond, one era of VALORANT is over. Throughout 2021 and 2022, VALORANT teams around the world have competed in regional open and closed qualifiers to reach international Masters and Champions tournaments. Starting in 2023, there will be 30 partnered teams with 10 in each of three international leagues -- Americas, EMEA and Pacific -- that will compete to reach global tournaments. A few teams will “ascend” into these leagues each year beginning in 2024, but this will be mostly a closed system limited to the partner teams.

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Many of the teams that won international events in 2021 and 2022 were not granted partnership status. In fact, only two of the six champions will be among the partnered teams. Before the start of the new top tier tournament structure in 2023, here’s a look back at the best teams from the open era of VALORANT esports, taking into account qualification for global VCT events and winning international titles.

10. DRX

Photo credit: Riot Games

The consistent Korean kings ended 2022 with a third-place finish at VALORANT Champions -- their best ever at an international tournament. After finishing 5th-6th at both Masters: Reykjavík and Masters: Copenhagen earlier in 2022, DRX broke through their “curse” to finally place in the top four. DRX put up solid results last year when the roster was playing under the Vision Strikers name. They were at Masters: Berlin, where they made the playoffs, and qualified for Champions 2021. They didn’t qualify for Masters: Reykjavík 2021, but that was the only one of the six international VCT tournaments across 2021 and 2022 that they didn’t compete in. DRX will get more chances to improve on their results and win an international title as they will be part of the VCT Pacific league.

9. KRÜ Esports

Photo credit: Riot Games

They are the only team that qualified for all six global VCT events in the pre-partnership era. KRÜ had their best result at Champions 2021 where they shocked the world with victories over Sentinels and Fnatic and a near-upset of Gambit Esports in the semifinals. They finished the tournament in the top four and put Latin American on the map as a contender in VALORANT. Unfortunately, they couldn’t follow up that Champions run with strong results in 2022. They failed to qualify for the playoffs at either Masters or Champions. They can, however, claim to be the only team besides OpTic Gaming to have beaten the world champions LOUD in 2022. KRÜ can keep their streak of qualifying for every international event alive next year as they will part of the Americas league.

Read more: VCT 2023: Riot Games reveals schedule, location details

8. Paper Rex

Photo credit: Riot Games

The darlings of Masters: Copenhagen reached one final in the pre-partnership era. Paper Rex finished second to FunPlus Phoenix in Copenhagen after losing a thrilling five-map grand final. They were the only Asian team to reach an international final. That second-place finish followed a top four placement at Masters: Reykjavík. Unfortunately, they fell flat at Champions where they went 1-2 and were eliminated in groups. In addition to appearing at all three VCT international events in 2022, Paper Rex also qualified for Masters: Berlin in 2021. They were the best team from the Asia-Pacific region across 2021 and 2022, and they captivated audiences with their hyper-aggressive playstyle. Paper Rex will be part of the Pacific league.

7. Fnatic

Photo credit: Riot Games

Fnatic are perhaps the most disappointing high-performing team of the pre-partnership era. They were finalists at Masters: Reykjavík 2021, the very first global VALORANT event, yet they didn’t make it back to a final despite consistently being considered one of the best teams in the world. They qualified for five of six global events across 2021 and 2022 but only picked up one other top four finish (at Masters: Copenhagen) besides that first tournament. They were first in the hearts of many fans due to the charisma and showmanship of their in-game leader Jake “Boaster” Howlett. Boaster & Co. will be back in 2023 and beyond as they will be part of VCT EMEA.

6. Sentinels

Photo credit: Riot Games

The first championship team on this list is the team that won the first VALORANT international title. Sentinels won Masters: Reykjavík 2021 to claim the title of world’s best team and put North America atop the VALORANT regional pecking order in early 2021. ShahZaM, TenZ & Co. had an air of invincibility that followed them the rest of the year. However, they did slightly worse at each subsequent tournament, from a quarterfinal exit at Masters: Berlin to being eliminated in groups at VALORANT Champions 2021. Many thought they would come back stronger in 2022, but they didn’t qualify for any global events this year. Sentinels’ decline exemplifies how hard it has been for teams to stay on top consistently in VALORANT. Sentinels will have a chance to reclaim their status among the best teams in the world when they compete in VCT Americas in 2023.

5. FunPlus Phoenix

Photo credit: Riot Games

FPX only went to two international events, but they won Masters: Copenhagen and finished fourth at Champions 2022. They would have gone to Masters Reykjavík 2022 if not for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which caused travel issues for the team’s Russian and Ukrainian players. FPX will be remembered as the feel-good story in Copenhagen. FPX had to play with a sub during the group stage of the tournament, but the fifth member of their starting roster made it to Copenhagen in time for the playoffs. Despite losing their upper quarterfinal match in the playoffs, the team went on an epic lower bracket run that culminated in them winning the tournament. FPX were not granted a partnership slot in one of the international leagues next year.

4. Acend

Photo credit: Riot Games

Of the three teams that won one title but didn’t reach any other finals, Acend are ranked highest because they won Champions 2021. With a roster composed of players from countries across Europe and Turkey, Acend rose to the occasion at the most important VALORANT tournament of the year. Acend bounced back from a disappointing group stage exit at Masters: Berlin earlier in the year, and their players triumphed despite getting hate in the wake of a controversial map replay against Vivo Keyd during Champions. At a tournament dominated by European teams, Acend proved to be the best team not only in Europe but the world. Acend will not be among the partner teams next year.

3. Gambit Esports

Photo credit: Riot Games

Gambit nearly became the first two-time international champion in VALORANT history. They won Masters: Berlin and were runners-up at Champions 2021. Unfortunately for the players on this team, the roster had to drop the Gambit branding following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 and eventually disbanded. The team was known as M3 Champions (M3C) for most of the 2022 VCT season but never qualified for any international events despite coming close. Gambit will not be among the partnered teams in 2023.

2. LOUD

Photo credit: Riot Games

LOUD were dominant throughout 2022. They were runners-up at Masters: Reykjavík 2022 and ended the year as champions after winning VALORANT Champions. Their only hiccup all year was being eliminated in group play at Masters: Copenhagen. They only lost to two teams all year: KRÜ Esports once and OpTic Gaming three times. In winning Champions, LOUD will be remembered as the first team outside of North America and EMEA to win an international tournament. LOUD will have a chance to defend their title as one of the Americas partnered teams.

Read more: OpTic Gaming vs. LOUD: The best VCT international rivalry

1. OpTic Gaming

Photo credit: Riot Games

When looking at VCT 2021 and 2022, there was no team that was more consistently excellent than OpTic Gaming. The five-man OpTic roster of Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker, Pujan “FNS” Mehta, Austin “crashies” Roberts, Victor “Victor” Wong and Jimmy "Marved" Nguyen played under the Envy name in 2021 before the org merged with OpTic. Envy finished second to Gambit at Masters: Berlin and were eliminated in the group stage at Champions 2021. In 2022, the rebranded team really stepped up, winning Masters: Reykjavík, finishing third at Masters: Copenhagen and placing second at Champions. OpTic did not get selected by Riot to be part of their partnered international leagues starting in 2023, and their roster will likely break up and get picked up by other partnered orgs, but they will always be remembered as the best team from the pre-partnership era of 2021-22.

Lead photo credit: Riot Games

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