The favorites took home the trophy, but it sure wasn't easy. T1's full star-studded lineup made its debut at this weekend's $200,000 Twitch Rivals VALORANT tournament and didn't disappoint, only dropping a single map en route to the first of what could be many more trophies in the franchise's future.
While T1 was the lead story, they weren't the only ones, with a number of upsets in the group stages and relative unknowns grabbing the spotlight throughout.
Here are five things we learned following the conclusion of North America's Twitch Rivals VALORANT tournament.
T1 are aiming for far greater heights than Twitch Rivals
When Braxton "Brax" Pierce's squad was announced for Twitch Rivals, consisting of the entirety of his T1 starting five, they instantly became heavy favorites to win it all. On the first day of groups, that seemed to be a forgone conclusion, with Brax at times feeling like he was fooling around with his opposition. T1 stomped their way to a No. 1 seed in the group stages without breaking a sweat. The peak of T1 and Brax's stylings on day one was when he pulled off what could be the best ace thus far in VALORANT's short history, turning around an almost guaranteed lost round into a dazzling pop-off.
The names he deleted during that round? Brandon "Aceu" Winn, Michael "dapr" Gulino, Jared "zombs" Gitlin, Shahzeeb "ShahZaM" Khan and some guy named Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski. Not too shabby.
On championship Sunday, however, things got a bit more difficult for T1. Though they dispatched Team sh0ts in a fairly straightforward fashion, their final against Team Myth, composed of TSM's VALORANT starting roster and TSM streamer Ali "Myth" Kabbani, was anything but. After taking a dominating first game, TSM came roaring back in the second and third games, blowing out T1 on Haven before the two teams went punch-for-punch on Bind in the deciding game. When the series was at its tipping point, it wasn't Brax that starred but the player he personally asked to play alongside as part of T1, Keven "AZK" Larivière, that took over. His Breach play was impressive the entire event, but it was really the final map of the final where he had his apex moment, turning a one-on-two situation on its head to claw out a round that propelled T1 to the championship.
For now, T1 can bask in their first victory as a starting-five with the recent addition of former Counter-Strike world champion Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham. Tomorrow, they'll start grinding again, knowing the next time they take the field their opponents won't be mixed rosters of pros or have popular streamers rounding them out. T1's lineup was built to be the best team in North America and to be a world championship contender. All world champions have to start somewhere, and for T1, this could be theirs.
Myth pops off and TSM are for real
If it was your first time watching VALORANT and didn't have any idea who any of the players were in the final, you would believe both teams were full starting-fives of pro players. Although that was true in the case of eventual winner T1, TSM was only playing with four of its starters, with team captain Myth being the deviation. Before the tournament began, I ranked TSM out of the top five specifically because of Myth, not knowing how he would withstand the pressure of playing against teams all consisting of pro VALORANT players.
Well, Myth proved me and everyone wrong with his performance in Twitch Rivals, not only holding his own but at times taking over games for TSM on his signature Omen. He stumbled a bit in the final against T1, but honestly, so did everyone else in the event. For the rest of TSM, they exit the tournament with a bittersweet taste in their mouths, having pushed T1's full starting line-up to their limit with the team's in-game leader, James "hazed" Cobb, not on the squad. Matthew "Wardell" Yu in particular was on fire for a majority of the event, utilizing his new main agent in Jett to offensively push with the Operator to great effect.
The next time T1 and TSM clash, both sides will hopefully have their full rosters. In the case they do, that's a match no one wants to miss out on. The Twitch Rivals final was a barnburner, but with more practice time and the two sides at their best, we could see an instant classic.
Ascent has arrived
This isn't a shocking statement to anyone who is a fan of Counter-Strike or other first-person shooter esports, but having a plethora of maps always makes competitive play better. The more opinions, the more diversity in gameplay, and that's doubled (maybe even tripled) when you add in the factors of VALORANT being a character shooter, where certain agents work better on specific maps, such as Jett on Haven or Cypher on Split.
With the addition of Ascent in the map pool and Split's mid getting remodeled to help the attacking side, the map pool felt so much better than in previous events where some teams dodged Split like it was an insta-loss if they started on offense. It's not to say Ascent is perfect -- if your team doesn't have anyone good at the Operator, have fun losing -- but bringing a new one into the fold gave Twitch Rivals an edge that previous tournaments were lacking. Before the 12th agent is added, expected sometime this summer season, I hope we get another map.
The more maps VALORANT has in its portfolio, the better its esports scene will be.
Agents, agents everywhere! Well ... except the toxic one
During the course of Twitch Rivals North America, we saw every agent at least played ten times. That's incredible, as seeing only a few weeks ago it felt like every game needed a Sage, Cypher, Brimstone and Breach or they would get rolled over. The buffs to some agents heading into the launch and the addition of Reyna along with Ascent being introduced shook up the meta, with only Sage still standing as a must-pick for serious tournaments. We saw teams like T1 forgo Brimstone at times to pick up Omen instead with Brax piloting him, using the purple monster's smokes instead of relying on the American commander's.
Reyna's introduction to the meta was also an intriguing one. While she came in third behind Brimstone and Sage in terms of pick rate, all duelists found success during the course of the event. Raze, with her overflowing output of damage; Jett, with her nimble feet and flexibility; Reyna, the ultimate one-on-one duelist, a queen of dividing and conquering; and Phoenix, who is the best all-around duelist, played in the finals by TSM's Tayler "Drone" Johnson to great success.
Duelists seem to be in a great place, Brimstone and Omen are both viable, and everyone seems to be happy ... except for Viper. Though she was picked up in Twitch Rivals Europe, the poisonous agent wasn't selected once during the North American version of the event, not even the lower-ranked teams who ignored Sage opted to pick up Viper.
When even the teams who aren't playing Sage don't want to have fun with Viper, there might be a problem. While it seems as if she will get some buffs in the upcoming patch, it might take more than a few tweaks to make her a prominent face in high-level tournaments.
VALORANT has an esports audience -- it just needs a spectator mode to support it
When the games were close and things were getting heated between the top players, people tuned in, with no beta key drop needed for them to care. Spencer "Hiko" Martin alone peaked at over 35,000 viewers during the tournament while playing alongside the French-Canadian Gen.G core. The final between T1 and TSM, like previous VALORANT finals, was exciting and had a lot of compelling, heart-pounding plays that came down to the very last seconds of a round. VALORANT is a game designed to be a great esport from a viewer's perspective, with visual clarity and endless possibilities when it comes down to exciting, late-round plays.
The thing that will keep it away from reaching its potential, though, as mentioned in previous articles and videos on ESPN, is the spectator mode. There is no X-ray mode, additional tools or even simple fixes like making it easier for the viewer to follow when a player on the other team is killed. Instead of the face greying out or, you know, just vanishing as it does in a first-person player perspective, the face gets a red "X" over it, making it hard to figure out who is still alive at first glance.
It's going to take a year before we can make any true assessment on VALORANT's place in the esports hierarchy and if it has the potential to break into the tier-one scene alongside the likes of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2 and its sister game League of Legends, but until there is a better spectator mode, they won't get there. And until there is a better spectator mode, expect me to be complaining about a lack of a better spectator mode at the end of every major VALORANT tournament roundup.