To the victors go the spoils: The significance of Fnatic’s LOCK//IN win

by Brian Bencomo

Fnatic won VCT LOCK//IN São Paolo, the first international event of the year in the 2023 VALORANT Champions Tour. The results of the tournament have set the tone for the new VCT season, which is the first under Riot Games’ new partnership model. All 30 partnered teams will now return to their respective home regions for league play beginning later this month in Los Angeles (Americas league), Berlin (EMEA league) and Seoul (Pacific league). The top teams from each league will qualify for the next international event, Masters Tokyo. An extra EMEA team will go to Tokyo thanks to Fnatic’s win. That’s just one of several significant takeaways in the aftermath of LOCK//IN.

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EMEA gets an extra slot at Masters Tokyo

It’s an age-old rivalry in esports and one that has defined VALORANT since its release. Does Europe or America have better teams? Every international final in the VALORANT Champions Tour since its inception in 2021 has involved either a team from Europe or one from the Americas, and often both. In the very first final at Masters Reykjavík 2021, North America’s Sentinels beat Europe’s Fnatic. Now, in the first VCT event of 2023, Fnatic have beaten Brazil’s LOUD. Usually, the rivalry is just a matter of pride and trophies, but regional representation at the next VCT event also was on the line at this tournament.

With Fnatic beating LOUD, that means four EMEA teams will qualify for Masters Tokyo, while only three from the Americas will go. Do more EMEA teams deserve to go to Tokyo? Looking at the results of VCT LOCK//IN, Americas teams had one more win than EMEA teams when going head-to-head against teams from other regions. Americas teams had 12 wins, while EMEA teams had 11. However, Americas teams picked up nine losses, while EMEA teams had eight. In Americas vs. EMEA matchups, the regions went 6-6 against each other. Meanwhile, Pacific teams went 5-9 and Chinese teams went 0-2 against other regions. Clearly, either EMEA or the Americas deserved an extra slot and the two regions are very closely matched, which is evident by not only their records at the tournament but how close the final between Fnatic and LOUD was.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Going beyond regional records, however, it does appear that the quality of European teams after Fnatic and Natus Vincere drops off. When asked in a press conference after the final, which four teams he thought would represent EMEA in Tokyo, Fnatic in-game leader Jake “Boaster” Howlett was unsure of which teams would qualify beyond his own and NAVI. Besides Fnatic and NAVI, no other European team had more than one win at LOCK//IN. Besides these two European juggernauts, no other EMEA team beat an Americas team. LOUD and NRG were the juggernauts among Americas teams, picking up multiple wins and generally outclassing the competition, but there were other standout Americas teams too. Leviatán and 100 Thieves each had two wins, including one each over EMEA teams. Ultimately, Fnatic’s 3-2 win over LOUD was the difference at this tournament, and EMEA has bragging rights for now.

Chronicle is the first two-time international champion

We’re into Year 3 of the VALORANT Champions Tour and there still hasn’t been a team that has won multiple international events. LOUD came very close at this tournament, as did OpTic at Champions last year. But we now have a player who’s a two-time champion, Fnatic’s Timofey "Chronicle" Khromov. He won Masters Berlin with Gambit Esports in 2021 and nearly became a two-time champion that same year alongside his teammates at Champions, where Gambit finished second to Acend.

Photo credit: Riot Games

After the LOCK//IN final, Chronicle deflected any accolades, telling reporters: “The feeling of being the only one player in this whole game who actually holds the trophy two times more than everyone is obviously great. I will not say that I feel I am the greatest of the world of all time or something else. No, I even played this grand final not very well.” He did have a lackluster series, but the fact he played five different agents in the series speaks to his versatility and value to Fnatic who clearly needed a player like him to finally put them over the top.

These teams were better than we thought

Team Secret pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament in beating Team Liquid in the first round, but then they were defeated soundly by Natus Vincere. So are Team Secret actually better than most people thought? It’s probably too early to tell, and really depends on the quality of Team Liquid. TL were hyped coming into the tournament but looked overmatched against Team Secret. Meanwhile, NAVI were as good as advertised, and Team Secret looked overmatched against them -- though they did make Map 1 competitive. It’s probably safe to say Team Secret were slightly better than expected.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Among other teams, Talon looked better than expected as they beat MIBR, who had the Brazilian crowd cheering for them, and then they beat Evil Geniuses, who looked impressive against Team Heretics. In fact, EG surprised many people by beating Heretics, who came in slightly favored over the North American team. EDward Gaming also nearly pulled off the upset of the tournament in pushing 100 Thieves to three maps in their first-round matchup.

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

These teams were worse than we thought

Going back to that Team Secret vs. Team Liquid matchup, Team Liquid are clearly worse than we thought. The team is full of talent with two former Masters champions and a couple of high-performing holdovers from the previous roster, but probably just needs a lot more time to get on the same page. The same can be said for Sentinels, who are trying to integrate two world champions who are native Portuguese speakers to an English-speaking roster. Their coach, Don “Syyko” Muir, preached patience after their first-round loss. Sentinels were clearly dealt a tough hand at this tournament though in having to face Fnatic right off the bat.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Paper Rex also disappointed. The Masters Copenhagen runners-up have failed to live up to expectations for two straight tournaments now. They looked overmatched by Cloud9. T1 also looked bad despite a hyped roster featuring several talented players who used to compete in North America and a former Overwatch League star.

Lead photo credit: Riot Games

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