Evil Geniuses become world champs at VALORANT Champions 2023

by Brian Bencomo

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- The last time a team won a championship at the Forum, it was the Chicago Bulls defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals. It was Michael Jordan’s first championship and Magic Johnson’s last time in the finals. On Saturday, a new champion arose at the Forum when Evil Geniuses lifted the VALORANT Champions trophy to become the 2023 VALORANT world champions.

A soldout crowd of 11,500 at the Forum and 1.3 million people online watched Evil Geniuses defeat Paper Rex 3-1 in the best-of-five Champions grand final in a rematch of the upper final in which Paper Rex had gotten the best of Evil Geniuses, 2-1. EG had to beat fellow VALORANT Champions Tour Americas team and reigning world champs LOUD on Friday in the lower final just to get a chance at the rematch against the VCT Pacific champions.

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While North America’s Evil Geniuses were able to follow up their second-place finish at Masters Tokyo with a first at Champions Los Angeles, this was the second second-place finish at a global event for Southeast Asia’s Paper Rex since last year. Paper Rex have become a fan-favorite team, and with fans from all over the world descending on Los Angeles and Inglewood for Champions, chants of “P-R-X! P-R-X!” could be heard throughout the Forum intermingled with chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”

The North American team was showered with the U-S-A chants as well as “Let’s go EG!” throughout the final and across the three matches the team played at the KIA Forum from Thursday through Saturday.

Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

“I didn’t really feel it for the beginning of this tournament, how it’s like our home crowd, but definitely in the KIA this match was completely different than all the other matches before this one,” Kelden “Boostio” Pupello told the media in a press conference after the team’s win over LOUD in the lower final on Friday. “I heard the U-S-A chants so many times and just being from the country and fighting for America, for NA, it just feels so fun. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in a match and I love the crowd today.”

Champions 2023 was the third VALORANT world championship but the first one held in North America and the first one won by a North American team. Two NA teams previously had won Masters tournaments, but this was the biggest global event won by a North American team in the three-year-old esport.

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Besides being the biggest win for North America in VALORANT, the win was remarkable for Evil Geniuses for other reasons. The team is coached by Christine “potter” Chi, the only woman coaching any of the 30 teams that compete in the VALORANT Champions Tour. Women have had notable moments in the male-dominated esports competitive landscape, but they are few and far between and potter’s win is arguably the biggest win for any woman in esports.

Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

In the postmatch press conference after the final, Potter, who got the loudest cheers during the team’s walkout ahead of the final and when she lifted the trophy, said she felt incredibly appreciated.

“Risk it. Take risks. Go out there and fail. For me in my career there was a lot of moments where I was afraid of failure,” potter said when asked what advice she would have for young women in esports. “You have to take risks, especially when you’re young. You have to take risks and you just have to go out there and fail. Just do it.”

Read more: Christine “Potter” Chi is blazing a trail for women in the VALORANT Champions Tour

The win also capped off a remarkable year for Evil Geniuses in which they went from being considered one of the worst teams in the world to the very best. EG began the inaugural season of VCT Americas with a 1-4 record and had a starting five roster devoid of stars, and coach potter’s lack of success made her the subject of a lot of criticism, which was probably exacerbated because she is a woman. The team also employed a five-man reserve roster, a highly unusual strategy that no other team in the world did. Eventually one of those reserve players, Max "Demon1" Mazanov, joined the starting roster in place of one of the team’s more recognizable players, Brendan “BcJ” Jensen, and the team began its ascent.

Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

But it took a bit of luck to really put Evil Geniuses on track to that world championship. In the last game of the Americas regular season, MIBR -- one of the worst teams in the league -- beat 100 Thieves in part because of a rare knife kill by one of the team’s coaches who was playing in the game as a substitute. The MIBR win unexpectedly sent EG to the Americas playoffs where they pulled off two upsets to qualify for the two big global events of the VCT season, Masters Tokyo and VALORANT Champions.

After finishing third in the Americas playoffs, expectations were low for the team in Tokyo, but EG played well enough to reach the final where they lost to Fnatic, the consensus best team in the world and the back-to-back global champions. Entering Champions, EG were no longer underdogs on a cinderella run, but they still weren’t considered favorites over Fnatic or Paper Rex. EG were expected to be competitive, but Fnatic’s dominance this year and the infamous “second-place curse” didn’t point to EG ultimately coming out on top. Again, they defied the odds, winning match after match to ultimately win Champions.

Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

Potter mentioned hard work multiple times in the final days of Champions as the key for the team’s success late in the year. After the grand final, she said she wanted the team to be remembered for all their hard work.

“Just sticking with it, sticking with it and everyone working hard day in and day out even through all the trials and tribulations that we’ve gone through as a squad together,” potter told the media in a postmatch press conference after the lower final. “But everyone showed up everyday and put in the work. so that’s why we’re here today.”

Of course, EG’s players improved throughout the year, and during Champions, all five showcased why they’re among the best players in the world and fit to be called stars.

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Demon1, the rookie duelist who was unknown last year as he played in Tier 2 and Tier 3 VALORANT tournaments was arguably the best player at Champions. He finished the tournament with the best rating, best K/D, best headshot percentage and second-best K/D among players who competed in at least 200 rounds. In the lower final against LOUD, Demon1 became the first player to accrue over 100 kills (101) in a five-map international final.

Corbin “C0M” Lee was the most clutch player of the tournament. During the grand final postmatch press conference, potter named him the team’s MVP this year. At Champions, he constantly won 1v2 situations in which he successfully lurked behind the opposing team to get the kills to win the round despite being outmanned. His 20 clutches were the most at the tournament and his 29% clutch rate was third best.

Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

“Any of my past teammates would say if I play against you I know exactly what you’re gonna do in the clutch,” C0M told reporters after a match. “I think it’s just I’ve done it pretty much my whole career. Obviously it’s a little bit more spotlight now with the recent series, but I think it’s just something I’ve always done, and it’s just my little spice to the way I play.”

Read more: C0M not feeling pressure at VALORANT Champions despite EG now being favorites

“The greatest thing about it is now there’s just these mind games we can play with it. Corbin’s just an extremely cerebral player,” potter said. “There’s definitely a lot of info that comes across the board that allows Corbin to make those kinds of plays.”

Ethan “ethan” Arnold himself was very clutch throughout the tournament. His 30% clutch rate was second best and his 14 clutches were the second most at Champions behind C0M. His role as a valuable support player was evident throughout the tournament as he racked up the most assists and had the second-best kill/assist/trade/survival rate.

Alexander "jawgemo" Mor does not get as much attention as Demon1, but he also was very deadly at Champions, especially while playing Raze in the final. His 85 kills were the most of any player in the final, and he led the team with 26 kills and 7 first kills on the final map.

Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

And then there’s the team’s emotional and in-game leader, Boostio. His work as an IGL is harder to quantify, but alongside potter, he is the brains of this team. He acknowledged that he lost a lot in 2021 and 2022, so this win was the culmination of a long road to the top for him. After the final, he reminisced about the team’s days bootcamping at EG headquarters in Seattle last year.

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“Back then in Seattle when we were like 0-3, 0-2, 0-4, 0-5 we’d always go out and get a drink after our matches when we lost to drink our sorrows away and I remember me and [jawgemo] just daydreaming with each other while drunk just talking about Champs,” he said. “I remember just daydreaming on what could be and now that we’re here it’s really sick to look back on those days and see that we accomplished our goals, and it’s just truly special.”

Lead photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

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