VCT LOCK//IN São Paolo: Ranking all the teams

by Brian Bencomo

After a long offseason, it’s almost time for the first event in the 2023 VALORANT Champions Tour: VCT LOCK//IN São Paolo. LOCK//IN will take place Feb. 13 to March 4 and will include 32 teams -- the 30 teams that have partnered with Riot Games plus two teams invited from China. This is the first event in the partnership era and the first chance for many of these teams to showcase their new rosters. With all 32 teams placed into a one single-elimination bracket, LOCK//IN will be the most cutthroat VCT event yet, and the winning team will give their region an extra slot at Masters: Tokyo in June.

There was even more roster shuffle than usual this offseason because only 30 of the hundreds of organizations fielding VALORANT teams last year were granted partner status. Consequently, many of the teams competing in LOCK//IN look quite different than they did last year. One of the best teams in the world last year (OpTic Gaming) didn’t get made a partner and no longer has a team, while last year’s champion (LOUD) lost two of their players.

To help you make sense of where all 32 teams stand heading into LOCK//IN and help you with your pick ‘ems, here’s a rough breakdown of how all these teams stack up at the start of 2023. The teams have been placed in one of five tiers: S Tier being the best and D Tier being the worst.

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S Tier

  • 100 Thieves
  • DRX
  • Fnatic
  • Natus Vincere (NAVI)
  • NRG
  • Paper Rex

Photo credit: Joe Brady / Red Bull

These teams stand out because they are organizations that made minimal or no changes to successful 2022 rosters. If they did make changes, the additions were star players. With pre-existing synergy, past success and top-tier talent, there’s a good chance one of these teams will lift the trophy in São Paolo. Fittingly, two teams from each region are in this tier.

Let’s start with the two Pacific teams: DRX and Paper Rex. Neither team made any changes to their highly successful rosters. Despite a disappointing showing at Champions, Paper Rex finished second at Masters: Copenhagen and fourth at Masters: Reykajvík. DRX finished third at Champions and were top six at the two Masters events in 2022.

Read more: VCT LOCK//IN groups, matchups and schedule

NAVI picked up almost the entire FunPlus Phoenix roster after being granted partner status. FPX won Masters: Copenhagen and finished fourth at Champions. The one new player on the roster is Mehmet "cNed" İpek, a highly skilled player who replaces Ardis "ardiis" Svarenieks and who won Champions 2021 with Acend. 100 Thieves made only one change to their 2022 roster, adding Matthew "Cryocells" Panganiban to give them more firepower. 100 Thieves finished 9th-12th at Champions last year, but their new roster should be even better. Proof of concept: They won Red Bull Home Ground #3 in December. That tournament was probably the most competitive offseason tournament and it included wins over fellow partner teams Cloud9, Team Vitality, FUT Esports, Team Liquid and Team Heretics.

Fnatic were excellent throughout 2022 with a top six finish at Champions and a top four finish at Masters: Copenhagen. They maintain the core three of Boaster, Derke and Alfajer and add two quality players in Chronicle and Leo. NRG picked up the OpTic Gaming core of FNS, crashies and Victor. Plus, they added their coach Chet. OpTic, of course, won Masters: Reykjavík and finished second at Champions. Ardiis joins from FPX and is a nearly perfect replacement for yay in terms of role and skill. The only question mark on the team is s0m, who is unproven on the international stage.

A Tier

  • Cloud9
  • Karmine Corp
  • Leviatán
  • LOUD
  • Sentinels
  • Team Liquid
  • ZETA Division

Photo credit: Riot Games

With the exception of ZETA Division, all these teams made at least two roster changes. These teams are filled with talented players and have at least two or three players who found a lot of success in 2022 either on their current team or with another organization. Any of these teams could rise to the S Tier by the end of the year, but it’s too early to tell.

LOUD won Champions 2022, but lost Gustavo "Sacy" Rossi and Bryan "pANcada" Luna. Unlike NRG, who picked up three OpTic players and replaced Jaccob "yay" Whiteaker with ardiis, LOUD didn’t pick up any players of the same caliber as Sacy and pANcada. Plus, LOUD’s coach is now with MIBR. Sacy and pANcada are now with Sentinels, where they join two former XSET players and longtime Sentinels star Tyson “TenZ” Ngo in what could be a very good team by the end of the year. However, losing to TSM and The Guard, two non-partnered teams, in an offseason tournament, doesn’t inspire confidence that this is an S Tier team just yet.

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

Yay, who is widely considered the best player in the world, is now on Cloud9, a team that peaked in late 2021 with an appearance at Champions but underwhelmed in 2022. Team Liquid lost its two stars, the brothers Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom and Nabil "Nivera" Benrlitom to Karmine Corp, but added two stars from Gambit’s Masters: Berlin 2021 championship team. Both teams should be good early on, but maybe not quite great.

ZETA Division finished third at Masters: Reykjavík but then fell off the rest of the year. They still belong in the upper tier of teams because of that early 2022 potential. Leviatán peaked in the latter half of the year to surpass KRÜ as the best Latin American team and then added a couple of players from their LATAM rivals to strengthen their roster.

B Tier

  • Evil Geniuses
  • FUT Esports
  • Giants
  • KOI
  • KRÜ
  • MIBR
  • T1
  • Talon Esports
  • Team Heretics
  • Team Vitality

Photo credit: Joe Brady / Red Bull

This is the largest tier of teams, with nearly a third of the 32 teams in São Paolo slotting in here. Some of these might be good enough to be A Tier teams, while others might belong in the C Tier, but mostly these just seem like mid-tier teams on paper. There just doesn’t seem to be enough talent or high-end potential for any of these teams to emerge as tournament winners just yet.

Read more: The 2023 VCT Americas partner teams’ rosters

FUT Esports were the champions of Europe’s second tier VRL scene last year, but didn’t win any games at Red Bull Home Ground #3. Team Vitality finished second in the VRL Finals, beating Team Heretics and KRÜ, two other teams in this tier, at Red Bull Home Ground. The additions of Michał "MOLSI" Łącki and Tomas "Destrian" Linikas appear to have elevated this team above their VRL runner-up finish. Heretics’ roster is filled with lots of former G2 players, but while this roster might have been top tier in mid-2021, it might not be as strong anymore.

Among the other teams, Talon Esports consists of the old X10/Xerxia roster. They were a constant presence at Masters and Champions but never went deep into any international tournament. While many of the top Pacific teams have long-standing rosters (DRX, Paper Rex, ZETA Division and Talon Esports), T1 appears to have the greatest potential among the newer Pacific rosters, especially with Son "xeta" Seon-ho and Ha "Sayaplayer" Jung-woo.

C Tier

  • BBL Esports
  • EDward Gaming
  • FURIA Esports
  • Gen.G
  • Global Esports

Photo credit: Riot Games

These teams probably aren’t the weakest of the 32 teams that will be in São Paolo, but it’s hard to see them beating any of the teams in the higher tiers. Each of these teams has one or two standout players, but beyond that, it remains to be seen just how good the team can be as a unit.

Read more: Biggest esports tournaments of 2023

Former XSET player Jordan "AYRIN" He brings world-class experience to Global Esports, but otherwise it’s hard to see this roster being very competitive. Kim "Meteor" Tae-O was a standout player for Northeption at Masters: Copenhagen last year, but the rest of the roster lacks international experience. EDward Gaming failed to live up to the hype as China’s first team to qualify for an international VCT event at Champions last year. That little bit of experience and the fact they took a map from Paper Rex keeps them out of the D Tier.

D Tier

  • Detonation FM
  • FunPlus Phoenix
  • Rex Regnum Qeon
  • Team Secret

Photo credit: Riot Games

Some teams have to be in the bottom tier, and unfortunately for these squads, there just isn’t much to indicate that these teams will be very competitive.

This isn’t your father’s FunPlus Phoenix. After not being made a partner team, FPX’s champion European roster was dropped and ended up mostly on NAVI, while FPX went back to their roots and signed a Chinese roster. EDward Gaming was the lone Chinese team at last year’s Champions, and despite hype around that team, their performance doesn’t inspire much confidence in other Chinese teams at this moment.

Rex Regnum Qeon’s players are all relatively unknown with only David "Tehbotol" Monangin having experience on the international VCT stage. Team Secret competed at Champions 2021 with three members of this roster, but the team didn’t qualify for any Masters events or Champions last year. DFM’s roster consists of a bunch of players from middling teams last year who have not played together prior to a few months ago, so team synergy and skill are probably both lacking.

Lead photo credit: Riot Games

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