On a weekend in early May 2022, Japanese VALORANT teams held a showmatch in the Tokyo Dome Stadium. Under the banner of RAGE 2022 Spring, a 12,000-seat venue was packed to the brim with fans, cheering on their teams as they played some semi-competitive matches in front of them. Among those teams were the VALORANT Champions Tour Stage 1 Masters bronze medalists and local team ZETA DIVISION. And even though they made an underdog run through the lower bracket to get third place in an important international VCT tournament, nothing could compare to the fans that supported them at live games.
“It had been a long time since I had been to an event with an audience,” said ZETA DIVISION player Koji “Laz” Ushida, “and it was just a lot of fun to see so many people come.”
— k4sen (@k4sen) May 7, 2022
This large crowd was the first time that VALORANT fans got to see a crowd in a venue supporting the esport, something that was just not viable with COVID and safety regulations. Even though ZETA DIVISION got to experience winning third place at a major international tournament just over a week ago, this was something that both the players and fans were ecstatic to finally be a part of.
The VALORANT esports scene has grown exponentially since its founding but didn’t get to play in front of a live crowd for its first-ever Champions last year. Now, after multiple different non-VCT live games showing the excitement the world has for this esport, the league is hosting its first international tournament with live fans; VCT 2022 Stage 2 Masters in Copenhagen, Denmark has a limited — but still live — crowd able to cheer teams from all over the world, with the second ever Champions tournament aimed at a full crowd.
Live international VCT built through hype
Both Stage 2 Masters in Copenhagen and Champions 2022 in Istanbul got some sneak previews earlier in 2022. While VCT were planning their events to end their second season, regional tournaments started to host massive crowds for VALORANT tournaments and show matches. The first one that stirred up feelings for both fans and players online was RAGE 2022 Spring, bringing along with ZETA DIVISION.
After finishing third at Stage 2 Masters with a great run through the lower bracket, there was no crowd in Iceland to cheer for them as hard as fans online were. But, they didn’t have to wait long, with the RAGE 2022 Spring tournament in Japan bringing the hype the team deserved.
So Japan is hosting a live All Stars event for VALORANT featuring ZETA DIVISION, other top players and some of the biggest personalities in the scene
This is the crowd
Bring us Tokyo Masters pic.twitter.com/5QfHQriyiu
— The Esports Writer (@FionnOnFire) May 7, 2022
“There is no doubt that people all over the world are looking for a spectator tournament, as there is not much content more enjoyable than an offline tournament that you can watch on site,” said coach Hibiki “XQQ” Motoyama. “Especially the Japanese community that was able to attend RAGE VALORANT as spectators and experience the offline event in person, they’re definitely looking for the next spectator tournament.”
Despite being a regional showmatch event, fans and players across the world started to see pictures of what the venue was like. And, much like those Japanese fans in Tokyo, were looking for the next spectator tournament to be a part of.
Regionals set an example
For example, imagine you’re a team that has just not been able to get to an international LAN despite consistent success within your region. Then, imagine the first time you make it to Masters, it happens to be the first international LAN with a crowd. This scenario is exactly what happened to North American team XSET. They not only got to Masters but won their region and got first seed heading to a crowd in Copenhagen.
“That announcement made a lot of pros and fans excited, and that’s no different for us,” said XSET player Jordan “AYRIN” He. “Plus, it’s a different game and feeling [when you’re] live with fans.”
Along with OpTic Gaming, these two NA teams were among the twelve teams that could be part of this experience, this first in the VCT scene. XSET fell short and couldn’t make it to the stage where fans could cheer or jeer them. On the other side, on top of winning Stage 1 Masters, going to Copenhagen was a different feeling for OpTic as well.
“Feels great, especially since it’s my first LAN with fans,” said player Jimmy “Marved” Nguyen. “Can’t wait to interact with them. No matter what team they cheer for, it’s great to hear that noise in the crowd.”
This wasn’t even the only live VALORANT event before Stage 2 Challengers ended and Stage 2 Masters began. The first example was in France, with a match between popular esports teams in Karmine Corp and Team Vitality. Much like in Japan, another 12,000-seat stadium sold out for a competitive match between a new team in Karmine Corp and a more established one in Vitality.
Ok Valorant hitting DIFFERENT in Paris…
Karmine Corp vs. Vitality with a sold out crowd of 12,000+ pic.twitter.com/pS1moDW1Rr
— Jake Lucky (@JakeSucky) June 21, 2022
And of course, how could we forget Japan? Much like RAGE 2022 Spring, the regional playoffs for the VCT 2022 Japan Stage 2 Challengers tournament were live, with a great audience around the players. The venue, the Saitama Super Arena, was a bit bigger than the Tokyo Dome Stadium, holding up to 22,000 fans inside at half-capacity with COVID regulations.
Getting an exact number of fans is hard, but the crowd looked packed within the center stage structure. With the crowd looking closer to 22,000 than 12,000, Japan stepped their games up just a month after they opened fans’ eyes to what live VCT is like.
Fans are ready to cheer for their VALORANT teams
But, nobody will know what the first live European or North American crowd could bring. Due to that, people around the scene can’t wait for it.
“I was at the IEM Dallas finals recently for CS:GO, attending on a whim,” said caster and analyst Brennon “Bren” Hook, “and it was a noticeable difference in terms of the crowd. No matter where you hold an event, live crowds will make noise. But even recently in Japan, the crowd was super respectful. As for America or Europe, I know how loud and crazy these fans can be.”
Bren has worked a lot of live events in his casting career, but after moving to work in VALORANT more consistently alongside friend and co-caster Josh “Sideshow” Wilkinson, he’s been waiting for this moment. There was a time in 2021 when people around the esports scene weren’t sure if live events could ever truly come back. However, as the year ended and other esports started to do the same, VALORANT went under the scope.
“If we were still in a lockdown era, with big esports without live events, it’d be understandable but it would suck,” said caster Alex “Vansilli” Nguyen. “As other esports started to do live events at the end of 2021, that hope came in. I think the players are a bit tired of playing in a home setting too, they want these crowds. It’s not the same feeling, and this is gonna motivate them more to do better regionally and internationally.”
With the 2022 VCT season already more than halfway done, building incentives towards the end of the season with live fans will only bring better games from teams across the world. This stretches from popular regions like NA, Japan and Europe to Asia-Pacific, Latin America and more. While we already see teams enjoying themselves in Copenhagen, the second weekend of the event will be the beginning of live international VCT events with fans in the stands.