The rise of the Valorant Esports scene has been nothing short of remarkable. The competitive first-person shooter’s journey began in 2020, releasing during a global pandemic.
Fast forward a few years, and Valorant has amassed a substantial following, drawing tens of thousands of fans to the Valorant Champions 2023 event hosted at the renowned KIA Forum arena.
In an exclusive interview with ONE Esports, Riot Games’ Global Head of Valorant Esports, Leo Faria, gave his insights on Valorant’s remarkable journey, from its inception and early development to its current status as a global gaming phenomenon, and what fans can look forward to in the VCT 2024 season.
The growth of the Valorant Esports scene
When Valorant was first released, Faria explained that Riot Games was uncertain if the gaming community would embrace it. He pointed out that the game’s success can be attributed to Valorant’s core — a vision to create a game that resonates with players and attracts a global audience.
Riot Games applied the same principles for the building blocks of the Valorant Champions Tour, the pinnacle of the game’s esports scene.
“Once we were able to bring everyone together, we started ideating and thinking of what is the identity of the VCT,” he Faria. “What do we stand for? How do these things come to life in a show? And we have been building on top of that identity, and you can see that Valorant has a distinct and bespoke brand. It’s very bold, futuristic, energetic, and we have been for the past three years building and developing that identity.”
From these foundations, the Ignition Series was created, a series of online regional tournaments that introduced fans to aspiring pros and emerging teams. The intention was to nurture and showcase talent within the budding Valorant community.
Following numerous online tournaments and a handful of LAN events, the Valorant Esports scene saw a significant turning point at Masters Copenhagen 2022. This event was highlighted as the most crucial by Riot Games’ Global Head of Valorant Esports.
“I remember being there, my first live event in Valorant, and I remember being in that room and watching Valorant with other people for the first time. The tension in that room when the round started, and players were holding an angle, and then they would see a pixel on the other side of the screen and headshot someone, and the crowd would burst into excitement, and that energy and that dynamic really changed everything.”
The live audience transformed the dynamics of the competition, according to Faria, infusing an electrifying atmosphere that validated the evolving esports scene. Masters Copenhagen illustrated the successful fusion of the game, audience, and competitive spirit.
In 2023, Riot Games made significant strides in enhancing the Valorant Esports experience, notably with the introduction of the Battle Stage. This innovative 12-sided stage was carefully designed to heighten engagement.
Faria emphasized that “everything is very intentional,” underlining the meticulous effort put into every aspect of the stage, from lighting to broadcast techniques.
“We have the desks and the two teams facing each other to create tension,” he said. “This gives us all the necessary information at the right moment, capturing the reactions.”
Each international Valorant broadcast comprises event producers, live producers, broadcast producers, game designers, and developers. They all come together to build and improve the experience of watching Valorant.
Riot Games continually strives to refine the viewing experience, experimenting with novel approaches, such as introducing a TikTok feed during Masters Tokyo.
“Instead of your traditional 16 by 9, we did a 6 by 19 vertical broadcast on YouTube,” said Faria. “We’ll always try new things to build the best possible experience for Valorant fans.”
A glimpse into the VCT 2024 season
Looking ahead to the 2024 season, Faria discussed the focus on evolving the calendar year to elevate the stakes and competition progressively. He acknowledged past seasons feeling “somewhat flat” and stressed the importance of injecting more stakes and heightened competition throughout the season.
“We like having three international events every year and how the international leagues are shaping up,” he said. “Specifically, we want to build more progression into the season. All the events felt similar to each other, so we wanted to create a build-up throughout the season where the stakes grow, right where the scale of the competition of the events grow, as we get into the season.”
A significant aspect of this evolution is the launch of VCT China as the fourth international league.
“China is such an amazing market, and we’re very excited to see how the region shapes up, so it’s going to be a big year for us,” said Faria.