The Disadvantage of the VALORANT Open Qualifiers
The road to the first NA Masters event for VALORANT Champions Tour was a lengthy one. To reach the final stage, teams had to survive at least one open qualifier, potentially even two or three. Additionally, they had to finish in the top half of at least one double-elimination bracket. And all of this preceded the actual Masters event itself.
The longer a team survived the field at Masters, the greater their reward, in both prize pool and circuit points. But no matter how high a team could place, they gain no advantage heading into the next phase even if they won the whole thing. Arguably, they could even be considered at a disadvantage.
Put some respect on their names
Heading into the first NA Challengers event of the second stage of the VCT, there are some new faces who haven’t made it this far before. Version1 and Built By Gamers make their Challengers debut for the first time this year.
Version1 features a collection of proven players from both CS:GO and the first year of competitive VALORANT action. Penny is proving to be another prolific Jett main. He has plenty of potential ahead of him at just 18 years old. He, along with Zellsis and vanity, are showing why all three were so highly regarded in the NA CS scene. Additionally, both effys and PLAYER1 demonstrated they’re still capable of playing at the top level after being dropped by Gen.G. V1 took everything FaZe could throw at them in the final round of the open qualifier.
Built By Gamers have been catalyzed by the addition of two players on trial: Rarkar and POACH. Rarkar and Will have been a proficient duelist combo, POACH and Critical have proven reliable on Omen and Sova, respectively. Bjor fills the dual-threat sentinel role of Killjoy and Cypher. In the final round of the open qualifier, they looked dominant against a Sentinels team that destroyed almost everyone else.
Both these teams are really, really good. They absolutely deserve to be playing in the Challengers main event. But you can’t deny that it is disappointing that the two teams that made the Masters One grand final, Sentinels and FaZe, may not make it to the first international LAN. In fact, three of the top four teams at Masters One are out of phase two’s first Challengers event, including Gen.G. And while that’s the way open qualifiers go, it does put the teams who ran deep at Masters at a disadvantage.
What’s the point of winning certain VALORANT matches?
So easily and so often VALORANT is compared to CS:GO, for multiple good reasons. This includes the competitive scenes for each game. A massive amount of pro-VALORANT players, especially in North America, came over from Counter-Strike. In CS:GO’s competitive field, winning events matters in regards to qualification and seeding. There’s a problem with VALORANT in this regard.
In the old way of qualifying for majors, where a team finished in the major prior largely controlled where they started at the next one. Teams that made the main group stage were guaranteed a spot at the next play-in group stage. Teams that made playoffs would bypass the next play-in group stage and earn a spot in the main group stage. This changed with the Regional Major Rankings system, but winning still matters. In the major regions like Europe, CIS, and North America, the teams that place better at qualifying events will start in a better position at the major.
This isn’t solely applied to majors; singular events will utilize this trend on a smaller scale. At both this year’s IEM Katowice and the ongoing ESL Pro League Season 13, teams that win their groups get a spot further along in the playoffs. This system rewards teams that play well with an advantage, but it doesn’t ensure that the better teams win. Take Gambit at Katowice; they had to play through the play-in first and didn’t get a bye in playoffs.
It’s not even unique to CS:GO. Titles like Call of Duty and League of Legends do the same for their playoffs and big events. But in VALORANT, no matter how well you did at the Masters prior, you get no advantage in the next set of qualifiers even if you won. The only thing you get is a high seed in the open qualifiers. This is pretty negligible when it comes to an open qualifier.
This has been a big problem for VALORANT during its first few stages of the VCT; a lot of the matches don’t matter. In both Challengers Two and Three during the first stage, teams that already qualified for Masters were still playing matches just for seeding and a small amount of more prize money. If, as a team, your eye is on the real prize at Masters, why would you do any normal strats that other teams can study during these matches?
All eyes on me
This leads to the other problem facing teams that went deep at Masters jumping right back into the open qualifiers. They’re facing a lot of teams they’ve seen very little of and who all have a nearly endless catalog to prepare with.
Across Challengers One and Two as well as Masters, not including qualifiers, Sentinels played 40 maps that were all broadcast on Twitch. Across the entire first phase of VCT, Built By Gamers had ten maps streamed over four series. The VODs for three of those four series aren’t available anymore. That leaves one series (three maps) against FaZe from the Challengers Two qualifier.
Not only do the teams have more maps to look over in terms of preparation, but they’re also gifted more time as well. The teams at the top are being prepared for the most, as the teams on the outside looking in are expecting to meet them eventually in open qualifiers. The mindset for teams like V1, BBG, and others is that you can beat anyone else if you can fully prepare for the best. And the more the best play, the more the rest have available to watch.
Should the best teams be able to beat the rest even when the rest have done extensive prep? Yes, but the best teams have off days. Sentinels had an off day versus BBG; the team lost duels, missed easy opening kills, and lacked coordination on retakes. They had TenZ playing on four hours of sleep after traveling. When you’re having a bad day, it gets even worse when the team you’re playing has all your moves.
The inevitability of the VALORANT franchise league
It isn’t going to shock anyone when Riot eventually pursues a franchised league for VALORANT. It wants the best teams and the biggest orgs to buy into a sole league operated by them, just like they do for LoL. If, for some reason, Riot is considering otherwise, seeing teams like Sentinels and FaZe fall short of the Challengers main events in open quals will correct its course. It wants the biggest names in esports playing with the biggest fanbases behind them.
Aside from just these two, big names like TSM, Cloud9, and Team Liquid have struggled to break into the upper echelon during VCT. By no means should these teams be given spots because they’re big organizations. But optics-wise, Riot absolutely wants to see these teams make it further than they have.
The current state of VALORANT esports, with its current open qualifier system, won’t last past 2022 in my estimate. Already we see esports organizations like Dignitas have stepped back from VALORANT because success is tough to achieve. Player contract values will only grow, so more organizations may back out or stay away if the risk of losing in open qualifiers remains.
Don’t get me wrong; open qualifiers are really exciting and necessary in the early days of an esport to grow the fanbase and the player base. But they won’t last forever, and if winning Masters throws you right back into one weeks later, maybe that’s a good thing.