Though VALORANT is still in its closed beta phase in preparation for a summer official release, esports organizations are already lining up to become the game's first true dynasty. A week after the game's announcement in March, three-time League of Legends world champions T1 became the first organization to sign a player, picking up former Counter-Strike: Global Offensive pro Braxton "Braxton" Pierce to headline their upcoming VALORANT squad.
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Soon after, the market began to pick up even more steam with whispers of reigning Overwatch League MVP Jay "sinatraa" Won possibly looking to switch games. As teams around the world started to create their lineups before major tournaments were announced, North American organization Sentinels, home of Fortnite World Cup champion Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf, signed the Overwatch MVP.
While Gen.G Esports, another esports organization famous for its world championships, was also in talks for sinatraa, they went another route with their roster, signing an all-Canadian lineup of prospects coming from the world of Counter-Strike. As other orgs continue pushing for bigger, more well-established names looking to make the transition to VALORANT, Gen.G performance coach Andrew Leverette wanted to take an opposite approach to the game's early competitive scene.
"Our main focus when identifying the right VALORANT team was to find players who are hungry to grow as a team and already possess the proper fundamentals required for a tactical shooter game," Leverette told ESPN. "It was less important for us to go with widely known, big names from other games since we expect the meta in VALORANT to change more frequently than other current FPS games. We believe a dominant team could easily fall off with each meta shift if they are not prepared to put in the time and effort required to adapt. Player adaptability and eagerness to learn were major factors in our search."
The search led them to the Canadian crew of Keven "PLAYER1" Champagne, Anthony "gMd" Guimond, Loic "effys" Sauvageau, Danny "huynh" Huynh and Michael " MkaeL" De Luca. The majority of the team played together representing Canadian Counter-Strike in the World Electronic Sports Game event in late 2019, ultimately losing to American representative Chaos Esports Club.
"We made the jump from [Counter-Strike] to Valorant for a change of pace with a new game, but also because of the accessibility to the Pro League," PLAYER1 said to ESPN of the team's decision to make the switch. "With the new rules in the CSGO Pro League, it was increasingly difficult to qualify."
Players aren't the only ones switching their attention to VALORANT. Outside of just the pure numbers and hype around VALORANT's closed beta that broke records on Twitch, many teams feel a level of comfort with Riot Games from working with them in League of Legends that gives them confidence in investing in their new game. Gen.G personally met with the VALORANT development team and left with a sense that the game's esport scene would be at the forefront of the company's mind instead of being an add-on or afterthought.
"We really liked that the development team was pretty up-front with their struggles working in the past with other companies that didn't prioritize esports-related initiatives," Leverette said. "We could clearly see with VALORANT that they worked to build a game from the ground up that considers the competitive scene as a core part of the game itself. What this means for us is that we trust Riot to invest into both the necessary gameplay balances as well as opportunities to support your favorite players and teams in-game."
This has all led to a Wild West feel to the start of VALORANT's early competitive scene, with players from other first-person shooter games considering jumping ship after hearing what their peers are being offered to switch. Already, numerous players from Counter-Strike's minor leagues and amateur scene have made it known they're ready to make the swap, echoing PLAYER1's thoughts about the difficulty of climbing the ladder that is Counter-Strike's entrenched hierarchy.
Gen.G's first tournament together will be the T1 x Nerd Street Gamers Invitational, the most high-profile tournament so far in VALORANT, with a prize pool of $25,000 for the one-day competition. Along with Gen.G, other top teams from North America will be competing, including sinatraa's Sentinels and a makeshift version of T1, with Brax and his two teammates playing alongside fill-in members CS world champion Tyler "Ska" Latham and current top American CS player Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski.
Although EliGE isn't one of the players eyeing a switch from his current game, with his Team Liquid squad being the most successful North American team in Counter-Strike history, Gen.G's PLAYER1 believes he would be unstoppable if he took his talents to Riot's new shooter.
"I think EliGE would have great success if he switched from CSGO to VALORANT," he said. "He is one of the most gifted Counter-Strike players I've ever seen. His awareness and mechanical skills are insane, and they translate so well to VALORANT."
Gen.G will make their debut on Monday in the T1 x Nerd Street Gamers Invitational, with the tournament starting at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT on Twitch.