It was another eventful weekend in the fledgling days of VALORANT's esports scene as Europe hosted its first pro team Ignition Series competition with the Vitality European Open and North America had its own marquee event with the Pulse Invitational. Powerhouse organization G2 Esports that took home the inaugural European crown, with their VALORANT debut going as well as they could have expected. In North America, closed beta kings Gen.G Esports shook off a few shaky results since the game's official release to reassert themselves in the conversation as the region's best team with a resounding tournament victory.
As we look towards the next two major western Ignition Series events, Europe's $50,000 WePlay! Invitational (July 15-19) and NA's PAX Arena Invitational (July 22-26), here are the five top takeaways from this weekend's action.
1. G2, Europe's Golden Gods
"G2 will be VALORANT world champions at some point," G2 owner Carlos "Ocelote" Rodríguez Santiago confidently announced before his team even participated in their first tournament or announced their first player, who turned out to be Spanish superstar Oscar "Mixwell" Cañellas Colocho. But since Ocelote began his career in esports over a decade, he's never been one to be shy with his words, and with VALORANT, as he is with Riot Games and their other major competitive title League of Legends, the only thing worth aiming for is a world championship.
Although G2's core was built around a mixture of veteran leadership in other first-person shooter titles like Counter-Strike and up-and-coming mechanical talent, the team wasn't a shoo-in to walk away with the trophy in their first competition. Though they qualified for the Vitality European Open, the likes of Russia's Party Parrots and Sweden's FABRIKEN were seen as equals or possible superiors with their additional time playing together as starting lineups. In the end, however, G2 blitzed through the Parrots, FABRIKEN and all challengers to an overall 9-2 record in the main event of the tournament to win the title.
Mixwell, a sought-after free agent who received offers from top esports organizations around the world, proved G2's investment in him throughout the entire tournament, putting up inconceivable numbers on the board en route to another trophy for him in his short but already fruitful VALORANT career. In 11 games (all played on signature agent Jett), Mixwell put up 328 kills to only 209 deaths, averaging a Combat Score of 267 in his team's systematic dissection of Europe's most promising clubs.
Aside from Mixwell, it was the team's primary Operator, Ardis "ardiis" Svarenieks, that stole the show. He and Mixwell were an unstoppable one-two carry punch that no team could really match up with, with only Prodigy and FABRIKEN able to take a game off them. Overall, it was a blistering success for G2 in their introduction to the world of VALORANT, the team's overall personality mirroring their League of Legends roster, with Mixwell's personal stream shining a light on the squad's boisterous, banter-filled persona.
At G2, their most popular teams do two things -- make jokes and win trophies. After one event, G2, yelling at the top of their lungs and laughing hysterically in-between stomps of Europe's top competition, is on their way to being another gem in the organization's arsenal of luxurious esports endeavors.
2. Welcome back Gen.G
At the start of VALORANT's lifespan, Gen.G was one of the first benefactors of the game's humble beginnings as an esport. The American-Korean organization picked up an all French-Canadian team coming over from the tier-two scene of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and entered them into a $25,000 invitational on the day they announced their signing. The relatively unknown squad walloped all of the competing teams and won the tournament with ease. It was an emphatic statement similar to G2's victory this weekend, announcing to the world that Gen.G wasn't only a world championship contender in League of Legends but its sister game as well.
Since that win, though, Gen.G's results had been so-so, transforming into a quasi-gatekeeper for the North America scene, beating top amateur teams but losing close matches to the newly signed professional teams like T1 and TSM. The team's structured, safe playstyle paid dividends in the closed beta phase but started to be picked apart the more games they played.
In the Pulse Invitational, they once again were saddled in a role of a team likely to make a deep bracket run but ultimately fall in the semifinals or, if they got a good playoff draw, the finals. This weekend, however, the team played with a confidence and swagger that they haven't exhibited since their debut three months ago, pushing the pace and winning 50-50 duels in clutch moments. In particular, Anthony "gMd" Guimond had a lot to do with Gen.G's quickened pace, playing Phoenix exclusively during the event and shining on his new agent of choice. The team played around their Phoenix, feeding him ultimate orbs and activating him with early action in rounds, allowing him to pop his ultimate Run it Back and essentially have two lives what felt like every round. He would push in, scout a site with his flashbangs and more often than not find a pick, opening up the entire map for his teammates. Behind him, team Operator Danny "Huynh" Huynh was clinical with the long-ranged sniper, keeping up and even besting the superstar Operators from the rival teams.
Gen.G is proof that we are nowhere near the ceiling -- not even close to the first floor -- of what teams can improve and achieve in this game, changing up their playstyle and agent flexibility in a short time. We can say goodbye to the gatekeepers known as Gen.G and welcome back the Gen.G that were looked upon as possible leaders of the North American region. The success early in the beta phase period was no fluke; Gen.G are for real.
3. Sentinels, the world's most exciting VALORANT team
In a stark contrast to Gen.G's entrance into VALORANT, Sentinels were a bit of a laughingstock in their early days as a team. They spent big to put together an all-star roster with famed players from various FPS titles and their first tournaments were anything but star-studded, with the team dropping out early and even losing to unknown amateur squads. Not wanting to keep up forcing a square peg into a round hole, the team stopped accepting invites to beta tournaments and decided to practice internally instead, using the extra time to find their chemistry, expand agent pools and scrimmage other top teams.
Now? Sentinels might not be the best team in North America -- that honor is still probably TSM's until the next Ignition Series tournament -- but they are the most exciting. The team takes the word "aggression" and ups it to the nth degree, flinging themselves around the map like acrobats with guns and making it work. The team's tempo starter, Jay "sinatraa" Won, is the definition of a wild card, never knowing what gun he might buy and what angle he might be rushing in from. He's become the godfather of the Odin, the heavy machine gun with a magazine capacity of 100 bullets, unloading a spray of lead through walls on a moment's notice, throwing a wrench into the plans of any team looking to face a more "traditional" style.
Everything the Sentinels do is unorthodox. The team's supposed defensive players on Cypher and Sage are often the ones topping the leaderboards and pushing forward while sinatraa, the expected entry man and carry, is sitting in the back with his Odin firing like a madman. And from all their insanity, they've somehow made it all work, as they seem to have complete trust in one another, backing each other without hesitation. If Jared "Zombs" Gitlin is going to jump from a perch as if he's playing Call of Duty and go on the offensive when a majority of pros would fall back, hoping to pick the perfect spot, then the rest of the team is going to support him.
A team of misfits from different gaming backgrounds, they've somehow found a strange chemistry that has put them on the cusp of becoming one of the top teams in North America. The Pulse Invitational wasn't their first major title in VALORANT, losing to Gen.G in a close three-game semifinal, but it feels like it's only a matter of time before they start picking up trophies of their own. Sinatraa isn't going to stop spamming the Odin until they do.
4. North American Phoenix and European Reyna
For the most part, the agent picks between the Pulse Invitational and Vitality European Open were pretty similar. The likes of Cypher, Brimstone, Raze, Jett (for Operators) were common courses for everyone. Sage, the walking personal ambulance, was picked by a large majority of teams but both regions had squads play compositions without the healer, most of all by FABRIKEN, which revolutionized the Sage-less strategies that are now being tested throughout the world,
The one big difference between the regions was their choice of secondary Duelist. Where North America played a slew of Phoenix, popularized by TSM's Tayler "Drone" Johnson, using the agent's ultimate as a game-breaker, he was almost nowhere to be seen in Europe, really only G2's Patryk "paTiTek" Fabrowski using him, and that was only for a single game.
Instead, Reyna was played quite a bit in Europe, especially by finalist Damien "HyP" Souville, utilizing her in over 200 rounds. In North America, she was used sparingly at best, only played in two games during the tournaments, with teams rather scooping up the Phoenix or Omen.
One thing the two regions could agree on? Not playing Viper. Bonk's Saif "Sayf" Jibraeel was the only player in either tournament to play the queen of toxicity in more than a single match, and not a single player in North America picked her That includes Tyson "TenZ" Ngo, a player that made his name by playing Viper early in the closed beta. Viper enthusiasts everywhere will be looking at the developers to see if a buff or two might be on their way to help out Viper's place in high-level tournaments.
5. Spectator mode still isn't good, but better
During the game's most recent patch, health bars for both teams along with X-rays of agents were added to the spectator mode. While nothing mind-blowing, the changes, particularly the X-rays of the players, showing the silhouettes of the agents behind walls, made the viewing experience a better one during this weekend's tournaments. Although the new overtime rules implemented also in the new patch weren't used due to an alleged bug along with other bugs to the game's scoreboard, it is another small step forward from taking VALORANT's spectator mode from unwatchable to something that befits a competitive game of producing some of the best highlights in all of esports. At its best, VALORANT is as exciting as any esport today when it comes to mechanical outplays and late-second drama, though a lot of it is missed due to the barebones nature of the game's spectator mode.
As always, this will be a constant topic in all VALORANT conversations until it gets better. For now, the X-rays are a pivotal step in the right direction. Maybe next we can make it easier to follow which players are left standing on either side? The red cross-outs are still confusing to the eye and should be the next thing the developers fix to move the game into a better direction. Let's hope by the next patch we have another section where I can heap a little bit more praise towards the developers for tuning up the not-terrible-but-nowhere-near-good spectator mode.