While the ever-growing popularity of esports continues to yield astronomical revenue figures year after year, its value as a standalone business segment is still up for debate. What certainly isn’t in question, though, is esports’ function as a highly profitable marketing tool for the publishers behind its most popular games.
Nothing legitimizes competitive games like professional competition, after all, which serve both as catalysts to keep communities locked into the meta and a giant advertisement board for publishers to exploit.
Competitions typically pay for themselves, for the most part; enormous prize-pools are oftentimes funded by in-game cosmetics as publishers lean on the enthusiasm of the community to keep the wheel turning. For years, the MOBA competitions for the likes of DOTA 2 and League of Legends for years have been fueled by average players.
Indeed, Riot Games is a publisher that well understands the merit of esports competition through its experience with League of Legends, and it has been clear from the start that it would be aiming to establish its new tactical-shooter Valorant as a presence in the FPS esports scene.
No easy task, of course, with the likes of CS:GO, Overwatch, and Rainbow Six Siege dominating the space, but its approach has been confident and (so far) superbly well planned. In particular, this year’s Valorant Champion’s Tour (VCT), an incredibly ambitious global tournament taking place across the whole of 2021 and culminating with the crowning of a single world champion.
The scope and scale of VCT is perhaps second only to The Overwatch League in the scale of its organization, even if the stakes are much less than more established games in terms of prize money.
Hundreds of teams from ten different regions across the world will battle it out across “Challenger” stages, earning them points for “Masters” events, before the very best feed into a global “Champions” event at the end of the year. It really is a project of immense magnitude for such a fledgling game.
And yet, so far, Riot has made the puzzling decision not to combine its Valorant esports initiative with the in-game cosmetics that it has put such a huge priority of developing since the game’s launch in June of 2020.
This weekend, for example, marks the start of VCT across the world; the North American Challengers Stage 1 move into the final stages of its main event, while EU and other notable regions move through qualifying stages. But you’d never know from Valorant’s in-game store. There’s no mention of it at all anywhere in the game, and the latest skin, the Glitchpop bundle, is cool but entirely unrelated.
What on earth is going on here? If the point of esports is to keep your community invested, why is Riot keeping its hardcore community disparate from its more casual players? Surely, it makes sense to double-down on VCT by illuminating its taking place to the widest number of players as possible? As we’ve already established, there’s no better way than offering tournament-themed cosmetics.
Of course, it isn’t lost on me that the vast majority of Valorant pros featured in this weekend’s competitions are using Valorant’s plushest, most elaborate skin lines –the Elderflames, the Ion line, the aforementioned Glitchpop bundle. In turn, that means they’re essentially marketing the game’s most expensive cosmetics anyway. I’m sure Riot has made sure they’re not rocking standard skins for obvious reasons…
Still, it seems like a lost opportunity to spread the word of VCT to those outside the hardcore, to establish a link between competition and the average player that would mutually benefit from greater synergy.
It would also just be damn cool to have a VCT-themed bundle in the game, one that perhaps not only correlates to the competition but Valorant’s wider lore, too.
Imagine how great it would be to have VCT/Kingdom mashup! Riot as the IRL overlords hosting the competition, and Kingdom the megacorp at the center of Valorant’s mysterious but underdeveloped lore. I’d love to see where the art team at Riot could take that concept.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here, though? It’s early days for the Valorant scene as a whole, after all, and I’m sure Riot with all its experience building successful game franchises supported by esports competitions it knows what it’s doing. But, just for the record, Riot, if you’ve been thinking about it, now is the time to pull the trigger on tournament-themed esports skins in Valorant.
If you’re interested in following Valorant’s esports scene, I recommend using Liquipedia. You can find all the information about teams, and upcoming games/tournaments. You’ll also find links to Twitch broadcasts, too.
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