It has been less than a month since VALORANT's closed beta launch, but we have already seen some high-level play, including some thrilling matchups on Wednesday during the semifinals and finals of the ESPN Esports VALORANT Invitational. Team Canyon, composed of Apex Legends pros, beat Team Mirage, made up of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive pros, 2-1 in the best-of-three final. Who was the MVP and what does the future of VALORANT as an esport look like after this? Our experts discuss this and more.
Who was your MVP for the entire ESPN Esports VALORANT Invitational?
Emily Rand: My tournament MVP is the same as my Day 1 MVP: Spencer "Hiko" Martin. Team Mirage are playing the highest level of competitive VALORANT right now, and Hiko not only has had incredible individual rounds and statistics, but he sets up the rest of his team to clean up with impeccable Breach play. This is controversial due to the fact that Mirage did not win in the finals, but I think that Hiko was overall the best-performing player at this event.
Arda Ocal: Agreed. Hiko popped off. Shout-out to Team Mirage. They didn't win, but they pushed it to the limit. Team Canyon deserved the "W," they deserve the chip, and they won by committee. Justin "Kellar" Kellar would be my pick for MVP from the champs if we want one from the winners. People called the Team Mirage vs. Team Dev matchup the highest level of VALORANT seen publicly thus far, and it's hard to argue with that, and Hiko was right there as a shining star -- not just in that game, but the entire tournament. Kudos to him.
Tyler Erzberger: While I can't disagree with Hiko being fantastic, I'm going with Team Canyon's Kellar. I knew Hiko's and his team's strength coming into this tournament. I looked at Kellar as a possible add-on to the big names of Team Canyon with walking highlight reels throughout the lineup. But when push came to shove and his team needed him the most, Kellar was the most valuable player on his team. I can't even count how many times he had to go one-versus-the-world to clutch out a round and did it like he had ice water running through his veins.
Furthermore, Lucas "Mendokusaii" Håkansson came up huge in the final to lead his team to the title; after being utility for most of the event, he was the one who led the charge on the final two maps against Team Mirage.
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Of the players whose skills in VALORANT you didn't know too much about heading into the invitational, who impressed you the most?
Erzberger: It has to be Kelden "Boostio" Pupello of Team Heroes. He wasn't even supposed to be in this tournament! Due to two of the team's starters dropping out the night before the tournament began, captain Gale "Gale" Adelade asked Boostio to join his team at the last minute. Not only did Boostio hold his own, he became the team's ultimate carry, putting up big numbers in the group stage before having his best performance of the tournament on Breach in the team's semifinal loss against Team Canyon.
Even in defeat, Boostio put up 30 eliminations, far and away the most on his team. While not many people in VALORANT knew his name before this tournament, I'm sure a few team owners and scouts will be in his inbox sooner rather than later.
Rand: I know a lot of my colleagues are going to pick Boostio, so I'll highlight another player whom people were not talking about at all going into this tournament: Team Canyon's Justin "Kellar" Kellar. When it came to clutch 1v1s and 1v2s, Kellar won nearly every one, creating opportunity after opportunity for Team Canyon. His Cypher also was crucial in providing vision for his team. Canyon was already a team to watch in this tournament due to players like Brandon "Aceu" Winn, Coby "Dizzy" Meadows and Lucas "Mendokusaii" Håkansson, but it's Kellar who made the strongest impression on me from Team Canyon.
Ocal: 100% Boostio. I know we are agreeing too much here, but it really is him. He was a late addition, shined in the tournament and even led the way in KDA for both teams for most of the Heroes vs. Canyon matchup in a losing effort. You have to be impressed with his 1v4 clutch plays in which it often felt like he had a 50/50 chance of winning out. I hope an org signs him ASAP.
Team Mirage versus Team Dev was more than likely the highest-level match we've seen in VALORANT since the game's inception. What will you remember most about the epic clash?
Erzberger: I think this game really showed how we've barely scratched the surface of what this game can be as an esport. Although neither team was overly aggressive, it was an enthralling chess match between two elite teams in which one had the advantage in knowledge while the other was favored when it came to mechanics. In the end, Team Mirage pulled it out, but Nicholas "Nickwu" Wu Smith and Salvatore "Volcano" Garozzo proved that they can still keep up (and better) some of the best FPS players in the world.
Rand: I'm pretty sure that Nickwu taught any future Sova mains how to play this agent. His control over the garage doors on both attack and defense was impressive, and one stray arrow that backfired aside, the footage of his Sova from this match is basically an instruction manual. As much as I loved the relentless aggression from Team Llama, this measured back-and-forth between the dev team and Mirage is definitely how the game was meant to be played and features as much as anyone knows about the game itself at this time. It was a peek at what VALORANT will likely become, with spread scouting on both sides, patient plays for vision and greater knowledge of angles and team coordination than any other competition thus far.
Ocal: How back and forth it was. It was the definition of an evenly matched war between two behemoths -- the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. It was so much fun to watch. I want to see 100 more of those matches, and I bet we will pick up at least 10 new things each time we see it. I hate to be the guy to say I told you so, but I told you so. Enough time had passed for Team Mirage to be able to learn the game and digest it all to bring out a gameplan that would beat the devs, even though they'd been working on the game for a couple of years. That was beautiful to see.
The final went to all three maps, the Dev vs. Mirage match was an instant classic and the Boostio show in the Heroes vs. Canyon semifinal was off the charts. From all three amazing matches, which one was your favorite?
Rand: I can't pick between the Mirage/Dev semifinal and the actual final. Watching the developers take on Team Mirage taught me so much about agent ability usage, positioning and angles on Haven. The final showcased a team that looked shaky in multiple respects going into this, learned throughout the tournament and improved map to map. Dizzy's Breach in his first match of the day compared to his last was like night and day. You could watch him figuring out new ways to position and use his abilities on the fly. To see a team like Canyon visibly improve in their understanding of the game to come out on top was impressive and a joy to watch.
Ocal: I casted Heroes vs. Canyon so I will pick that one out of pure bias (thank you everyone for the kind words about my work by the way -- it honestly means a whole lot!), but anyone would be foolish not to pick the final. That was insane. The championship is on the line, people thought Mirage would wipe the floor with Canyon, and Mirage take Game 1. You think it's already over, and then Canyon somehow, someway pull off the reverse sweep! So while you had pure excitement in Canyon vs. Heroes and the highest-level gameplay we've ever seen in Dev vs. Mirage, you had a healthy mix of both, with drama and a "Game 7" feel with Canyon vs. Mirage, and that's why I'm going with the final.
Erzberger: For me, it's the final. While you can argue that Mirage vs. Dev was the higher-level match in terms of how both teams used crafty vision to their advantage, I thought the final was just a pure joy to watch as a slugfest. Team Canyon, as I've said throughout the tournament, has the mechanical skill to match up with any team in the world. With their backs against the wall, they relied on their playmaking skills and big plays to go toe-to-toe with a Mirage team that seemed wobbly after losing the pistol round to open up Split in the final game of the tournament.
All three games showcased different kinds of exciting matchups, and it was fantastic to watch. The fact you can go from a diligent, counterpunching style in the developers and Mirage match to an all-out slugfest really shows the potential of this game as an esport.
A massive clutch from @Mendo secures a Game 2 victory for Team Canyon.— ESPN Esports (@ESPN_Esports) April 23, 2020
We're headed into our last match of the ESPN Esports @PlayVALORANT Invitational Grand Finals now!
📺: https://t.co/tkRMYxQlY0 pic.twitter.com/fLGIaHsZCT
After the tournament, did your opinion change on any of the agents in the game?
Rand: As I stated above, Nickwu's Sova makes me want to play Sova. I haven't touched Sova at all since Day 1 in practice mode, and I've never played him in an actual match, but the amount of vision he provides as well as having abilities that allow you to sit back and concentrate on your gunfights while scouting looks like it would be right up my alley in terms of how I like to play: hanging back instead of rushing in.
Erzberger: I always knew that Breach was an agent who would shine brighter when handled by high-level players, and the Swedish cyborg was on full display in our tournament. Boostio along with Spencer "Hiko" Martin piloted Breach to pure perfection throughout the tournament, especially with Hiko using the agent's kit to set up not only himself but the rest of his teammates. As someone who spams Raze and Cypher in VALORANT, this tournament has made me want to add Breach to my arsenal.
Ocal: I am playing against so many agents incorrectly. I'm putting myself in situations where I'm easily detected, and I'm aiming to find perfect spots wrong. I definitely picked up a lot watching this tournament, and I can't wait to grind and apply it all. Like I said above, I'm going to grind to unlock Breach so I can play around. That will be fun.
Now that this three-day invitational is finished, how do you feel about VALORANT's chances as a viable top-tier esport?
Rand: This is definitely a game that is meant to be an esport. Although I don't think it will have the same mainstream cultural impact in the West as something console-based like Fortnite, VALORANT was made to be a game that appeals to skilled and competitive people. The next challenges for VALORANT will be its entries into the South Korean and Chinese markets, especially the latter. If VALORANT can manage to take off in China, it will have accomplished what no other FPS game since Crossfire has been able to do.
Ocal: Actually, higher than when I went in. Despite it being Riot at the helm, I did have my concerns, but now I'm all-in on watching this grow. I'm actually looking forward to more community tournaments in the first year, to see what different teams, tournament organizers and entities do with their tournaments. I'd love to see the creativity that will come with putting together these fun events -- formats, players involved, stipulations, etc. This will all mold the official leagues when they arrive in the coming years. Plus, the game will get better -- we literally had a Raze nerf in the middle of our tournament. Normally, a patch with timing like this would be cause for ample complaint by many, but here it was welcomed with open arms! You love to see it. Cheers to VALORANT esports.
Erzberger: This tournament solidified my belief that VALORANT has an amazing future ahead as an esport. Though watching solo-queue games of VALORANT can get tedious, I was all-in on this tournament when given some storylines, differing styles and a whole lot of high-level action. I've said it time and time again: The key to any great esport, be it Counter-Strike, StarCraft or League of Legends, is counterplay and having each game not feel like the last one you just saw.
Although the game has only 10 agents at the moment (12 by launch), I never felt like I was watching two mirrored compositions mash into one another. The way Hiko played Breach and mastered him felt different from how Boostio, another great Breach player, was utilizing him. The way the Fortnite-led Team Llama played (ultra-aggressive as if they were a pack of starving wolves) was drastically different from the meticulous dissection that was Team Mirage's gameplay, regardless of which agents they were using. To me, that's the sign of a game that can become a great esport, and I cannot wait until the next big tournament to watch and cover.