What's better than one prominent VALORANT tournament? How about three prominent VALORANT tournaments? This past weekend it was a buffet of high-level VALORANT action, with the $46,000 RAGE Japan Tournament leading into another European Ignition Series event with the Mandatory Cup and North America's 30Bomb Summer Cup capping everything off on Sunday night. The top teams proved their mettle across the board on the weekend as the reigning champions of all three regions continued their winning ways.
Here are the top takeaways from this weekend's festivities.
Japan: The Lords of Thunder, Absolute JUPITER, are unmatched
Imagine if Thanos invaded Earth and there were no Avengers or any other superheroes to stop him. That's kinda how it feels right now in the booming Japanese VALORANT scene with Absolute JUPITER smashing everyone in their sights. It's not even an issue of other organizations not investing in talent, as a myriad of Japan's most well-known esports organizations have already made major investments in Riot's new first-person shooter. JUPITER, a team made up of Japan's former No. 1 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive squad, are just too far ahead of the pack at the moment for anyone to challenge them, the reigning Japanese champions navigating a single-elimination, single-map bracket all the way to the finals where they swept the only best-of-three series of the event against SCARZ.
Japan has been the surprise region in the early days of VALORANT, with many eyes on China and South Korea when the game was first announced. China still hasn't had the game officially released in the country and in South Korea the game has had a lukewarm launch, with many PC bangs (internet cafes) in the country refusing to download the game's anti-cheat software Vanguard on a majority of their machines. In lieu of Asia's most famed esports countries, though, we have Japan, embracing the game with large viewership numbers and fervor behind JUPITER's gauntlet-like grip on the region.
Dynastic teams at the beginning of an esport can take a country's interest in a game to new heights. Back when League of Legends first started up, the "Baylife" motto of North America's kingpins TSM made the game and the media around it the most-watched esport in the region. Over in South Korea, Lunatic-Hai became semi-idols to the fans, their vibrant personalities and skillful gameplay leading the charge of Overwatch becoming relevant in a country obsessed with League of Legends. I feel like Absolute JUPITER can do similar things for Japan, a country known more for console fighting games than PC-based esports.
But JUPITER have something about them that's catchy. From their stylish photoshoots wearing the team's fashionable jackets to their complete supremacy over the Japanese scene, they're main characters of a fledgling scene that Japan can get behind. While it'll be months before we can see how JUPITER stacks up with some of the better North American or European teams at an offline event, for now, they're putting Japanese VALORANT on the map and looking good while doing it.
Europe: The format wasn't good, but G2 Esports won in spite of it
To say I was not a fan of the Mandatory Cup's format would be an understatement. Not only was it a free-for-all bracket where all matches were single-elimination, single-map until the semifinals, the choice of map the teams would be playing on were completely random. Do you like gambling? This was essentially throwing all of Europe's top teams -- which, to be honest, is already a mess with so many teams shuffling and new squads forming -- into a gigantic tumbler and playing the lottery to see which sides survived to make it to the traditional best-of-three semifinals.
G2 Esports didn't care. In a similar fashion to Absolute JUPITER, G2 Esports didn't need the odds on their side to make a run through the gauntlet en route to their third-straight Ignition Series championship. For one of the team's primary carries, Ardis "ardiis" Svarenieks, this is the 11th premier event he's entered and the 11th event he's left with a trophy. While the disbanding Party Parrots and FABRIKEN failed to make it deep into the tournament, the biggest surprise might have come from Fish123 (expected to soon be Team Liquid) with the runners-up of the WePlay! Invitational losing to Team TBD in the early rounds.
Overall, though, I always saw this as a transition tournament for Europe. There are rumblings that the core players of the disbanding Parrots and FABRIKEN will be creating a superteam to rival G2's dominance, and with the Mandatory Cup's casino-esque format, it's hard too much from the event except for two things:
1. G2 Esports need a proper rival
Be it Ninjas in Pyjamas, future Team Liquid or this new superteam centered around Andrey "Shao" Kiprsky and Pontus "Zyppan" Eek, someone in Europe has to step up to G2. At the moment, G2 are a team that hasn't been forced to really take their play to a new level. Sure, they've dropped a few maps here and there, but no team has taken a match off the unbeaten champions, and until they do, G2 doesn't really need to change their free-flowing, mechanics-based playstyle. Until someone can match them in pure aim and punish them for their overt aggression, there's no reason for them to do anything different.
Please, someone, rise up and challenge Carlos "ocelote" Rodríguez Santiago's team. Right now G2 seem to have more rivals and trash talk with North American teams they can't even play than the teams in their own region.
2. Bonk are quite good
With FABRIKEN and Party Parrots folding, we needed another amateur team to rise up and take their place. Bonk, an all-Swedish roster, might very well be the team ready to take that next step. They made it to the finals of the Mandatory Cup with a statement victory over a top-five side with Ninjas in Pyjamas and also recently made the finals of the Absolute Masters tournament. The team's ace is Yacine "Yacine" Laghmari, a former Counter-Strike player who has made waves early on in his VALORANT career, averaging an Average Combat Score of 266 that would put him among the best players in the world. I need to see more of Bonk in longer, better-formatted tournaments before I can say they're legitimate contenders in Europe, but at a time where everything is topsy-turvy, at least one amateur team in Europe is continuing to improve.
North America: Sentinels and TSM continue their heated rivalry
After winning their first championship at the PAX Arena Invitational tournament, Sentinels decided to add more hardware to their collection with a win at the 30Bomb Summer Cup event. Unlike the other two large VALORANT tournaments over the weekend, however, the biggest difference with the Summer Cup was that it wasn't an Ignition Series event. While that doesn't take away from Sentinels running away with another tournament, it did feel as if it was a rehearsal for the FaZe Invitational this coming week, with many of the pro teams in the competition using it as a tuneup before the real thing and running different compositions they're not generally known for.
The biggest talking point coming out of the Summer Cup will be this ongoing butting of heads between two of NA's best teams, TSM, the side that ran roughshod in North America a month or two ago and Sentinels, the new champions on the block that have taken the scene by storm with their exciting, unorthodox style. TSM is a squad made up of Counter-Strike veterans and players who were climbing their way up in the scene, where Sentinels are a side that is a misfit group of players that made their names in several esports scenes such as Apex Legends and Overwatch.
When I first interviewed TSM following their signing with the marquee organization, they stated that one of the reasons they wanted to be signed as a five-stack is because they believed a group built from years of Counter-Strike experience would be the best in the end. TSM believed teams built around stars from other games would be the ones who find quick success and burn out. Sentinels, led by reigning Overwatch League MVP Jay "sinatraa" Won, are exactly the type of blended team TSM talked about when staying together.
The rivalry writes itself. Early on in VALORANT, TSM's words of Counter-Strike experience rang true, with Sentinels looking sloppy and disorganized while TSM excelled. Now, Sentinels are TSM's Achilles' Heel, ending their chances at back-to-back Ignition Series victories at the PAX Arena Invitational semifinals and beating them twice at the Summer Cup. TSM are the best Haven team in North America and have shown they can take care of Sentinels on what statistically is their worst map, but when it comes to Bind, Split and Ascent (which might as well be called Ascentinal), TSM doesn't have an answer yet for the Sentinels, their agent rotations not getting them the win for the FaZe Invitational tuneup.
The two teams have already begun jawing back with one another in post-match interviews and social media. There is a debate on which region is the best currently in VALORANT or who is the best team in the world, but without question, the most interesting region to watch right now is North America, where rivalries are aplenty and top new storylines are developing daily. A few weeks ago, it was TSM and T1 battling for the title of North America's top team. Next week? It could be Team Envy, maybe Immortals, and who knows what Tyson "TenZ" Ngo is going to pull out of his hat on Cloud9?
The Sentinels continued their winning ways like JUPITER and G2 Esports, but the narratives aren't the same. At the FaZe Invitational, every team will be taking their best shot at the reigning champions, and unlike in Japan where I can't see someone toppling JUPITER in the near future, I don't think Sentinels are unstoppable. And if they aren't, I'm sure the team that dethrones them won't let us forget.