VALORANT Champions 2022 Group Stage Preview
Over the next few weeks, the first era of VALORANT esports will come to a close. With the move to Riot’s partnership system coming in 2023, this year’s Champions event will mark the end of VCT as we’ve known it for the past two years.
A new landscape is on the horizon, but the 16 teams in Istanbul will be laser-focused on the here and now. This may be the last time we see some of these teams on the international stage, and it’s certainly the final chance to claim a place in the early annals of VALORANT lore. To do that you have to first make playoffs, so let’s dive into the Group Stage of VALORANT Champions 2022.
There isn’t a better place to start this preview than with the most interesting team in the entire tournament, Edward Gaming. VALORANT hasn’t yet released in China, but they earned a spot here through third-party tournaments and a dominant showing at the East Asia Last Chance Qualifier. Playing with unwavering pace and aggression, EDG ran through some of the best teams in Korea and Japan, going undefeated at LCQ. Now we’ll see how they hold up against the best in the world, but the raw talent is apparent in players like Yongkang “ZmjjKK” Zheng and Senxu “nobody” Wang.
Speaking of the best in the world, EDG’s first match comes against Paper Rex. It’s fitting, given their trajectory over the past year. PRX was once that relentless team that relied almost exclusively on their mechanics. Now, they’re among the favorites heading into Champions. With Jason “f0rsakeN” Susanto and Jing Jie “Jinggg” Wang leading the way, PRX are looking to continue their rise to the top.
The other Group A matchup will pit LATAM’s Leviatán against the EU LCQ winner, Team Liquid. Neither team presents any kind of sure thing heading into the Group Stage. Leviatán had a decent showing at their first international event in Copenhagen, but nothing they did there really instills a ton of confidence. Liquid have been up and down all year before going on their LCQ run. Players like Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom give them the higher ceiling, but it will likely just come down to form on the day.
Overall, Group A should be hotly contested. Paper Rex feels like a sure thing, but the second team to emerge is anyone’s guess. EDG and Liquid have the firepower advantage, but Leviatán has the chance to build on their Masters 2 performance.
Our Picks: Paper Rex and Edward Gaming
Our next group features a number of returning favorites alongside a newcomer to the international stage. In an APAC region with a clear top-two in Paper Rex and Xerxia, Boom enters the fray as a bit of an unknown. They claimed their spot here with a solid showing at the APAC Last Chance Qualifier, but it’s hard to set expectations too high given their competition.
OpTic is back again as the clear favorite to lead their group. After winning Masters Reykjavik to start the year, their 3rd place finish in Copenhagen was something of a step back. Championship ambitions are rightly earned when you have a star like Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker, so they should be focused on returning to the top. Still, they shouldn’t look past Boom given the trouble OpTic has had in their opening matches at the past two events.
On the other side of the bracket, we’ve got two teams that have seen highs and lows in 2022. Both ZETA DIVISION and LOUD made waves at Masters Reykjavik, finishing 4th and 2nd respectively. Both teams seemed prepped for further international success after surprising everyone at the outset, but neither has lived up to expectations.
At Masters Copenhagen, LOUD went out of groups 0-2 and ZETA didn’t even make the event, losing to Northeption domestically. Champions will be the chance for both teams to bounce back. Unfortunately, ZETA might find themselves playing with a sub due to an eye injury suffered by Tenta “TENNN” Asai. If that’s the case, LOUD will have no excuses whatsoever if they can’t make it to playoffs. Even if everyone is healthy, they should have the better team.
Our Picks: Optic Gaming and LOUD
The Masters Copenhagen winners are back to defend their title. If they do so, they’ll be the first to win two international events. Given the issues they’ve faced with the war in Ukraine and acquiring visas, that possibility is simply remarkable. This team looked unstoppable as soon as they were joined by Dmitry “SUYGETSU” Ilyushin in Copenhagen. Now they look to carry that momentum and cement their place as the best team in the world.
In the first round, FPX will have to face off against the most experienced team in the world when it comes to international play. KRÜ are the only team to attend every international event, but they’ve struggled to replicate their 3rd/4th place finish at last year’s Champions. It would be foolish to pick them against the defending champs, but don’t be surprised if they squeak through the groups once again.
If you’re looking for a redemption story at Champions 2022, look no further than XSET. North America’s top seed in Copenhagen didn’t last long in the playoffs, going out unceremoniously in two matches. Granted, they got a bad draw against OpTic in the first round, but failing to get by Leviatán was tremendously disappointing for a team with such talent. Matthew “Cryocells” Panganiban could easily be one of the best players at the tournament, but his team has to step up as they take the international stage for the second time.
Facing them down is a team that will definitely not shy away from the moment. Xerxia has been a staple internationally since they started in 2021 as X10. They haven’t been able to make it out of groups since losing Patiphan “Patiphan” Chaiwong following Champions 2021, but they remain incredibly dangerous. In a group with only one true favorite, they’ve got a serious chance to return to the limelight.
Our Picks: FPX and XSET
On paper, this should be one of the easier groups to predict. Fnatic and DRX are clear favorites. They’ve got proven track records on the international stage. They’ve got the individual firepower. Everything points towards these two mainstays making it to playoffs once again.
Of the two, Fnatic should be the favorite to top the group. They have the best individual player in Nikita “Derke” Sirmitev. When they’re whole, they look like a consistent top-4 team with the potential to punch up to the very top. We haven’t quite seen that potential realized in 2022, but they’re still a long way from going out in Groups barring a catastrophic collapse.
DRX aren’t the same kind of threat to win it all, but they’re undeniably consistent, going 2-0 in Groups at both international events this year. The competition is clearly a step up here at Champions 2022, but they still have to be the favorites to nab that second qualifying spot. In a group with some fresher faces, expect them to rely on their experience to win the day.
First up, DRX will need to get through Furia, Brazil’s second seed. For the second year in a row, Furia was a middle-of-the-pack team before making a big LCQ run. Even at that event, they still lost 3-0 to KRÜ and never faced a team above them in the standings. Maybe they’ll get hot at the right time, but it’s probably more likely they lose in two than make it out of the group.
That leaves us with 100 Thieves, the third and final representative from North America. Following a near-complete rebuild, they’ve made a quick return to international play. Their LCQ run was impressive, especially after returning for the second weekend of play. Only Peter “Asuna” Mazuryk has seen this level of competition before, so they’ll need to lean on their star duelist in the big moments.
Our Picks: Fnatic and DRX
VALORANT Champions 2022 kicks off on Wednesday, August 31st as Paper Rex take on Edward Gaming in the opening match of the Group Stage. You can watch all the action on the VALORANT Twitch channel. Check back in with Hotspawn for updates on scores and schedules.