Masters Copenhagen, the latest major event on Valorant’s esports calendar, concluded over the weekend. And as has been the case so many times throughout the game’s short history thus far, it produced some absolutely wild results. FunPlus Phoenix (FPX), a Chinese-owned but European team, took home the crown after a five-map thriller with the Singapore-based Paper Rex (PRX).
In many ways, the story behind FPX’s big win is utterly incredible. Despite being one of Valorant esports’ oldest core rosters, having been together since 2020, this was the team’s LAN debut. They sadly missed out on Reykjavik earlier this year due to VISA issues complicated by the ongoing war in Ukraine, a tournament many experts had picked them to win. This time around, at Copenhagen, they arrived as firm underdogs behind Fnatic, a team they have consistently lost to in recent months at the domestic level.
And yet, FPX overcame the odds and their rivals, though not before being defeated by Fnatic and Korea’s DRX in the group stages. In the end, it was a run through the tournament’s lower bracket that paved their path to the grand final and a win over the people’s favorites in PRX, who so many adore for their aggressive, flashy playstyle. FPX walked away with the trophy, $200,000, and valuable circuit points towards the end-of-year main event, Champions.
Oh, and this was all in front of the first-ever live crowd at a Valorant Champions Tour event, a sellout with 3,000 people in attendance! The moment when FPX finally lifted the trophy to raucous cheers and applause was one to remember; it felt almost like poetic justice for a team who had earlier experienced so much misfortune.
And yet, the unfortunate reality is that Masters Copenhagen was Valorant’s least-watched esports event to date, recording a peak concurrent viewer count of 783,985. Hardly poor, but certainly trending downward from Reykjavik’s which exceeded 1 million.
The root cause of this decline is multi-faceted but at its core is, in my opinion, due largely to one major factor: Valorant esports is unpredictable, something which has always made for great viewing from a neutral’s perspective but ultimately has prevented any one team from stringing together a consistent run of form and building a substantial fanbase in the process.
We know from so many other sports, both conventional and esports, that winning teams create legions of loyal supporters. Fans want results they can understand — who the best team is, who the best players are, and which regions are major and minor. These sorts of comparisons create storylines, fuel intrigue, and produce those god-awful GOAT conversations and social media tier lists that people love to ponder.
Valorant, like all sports, has seen these sorts of discussions and debates rage. The difference, though, is that it’s been hard to pin down clear winners for fans to get behind. Sentinels, for example, looked like the Astralis or Navi of Valorant in 2021… until they suddenly didn’t. Envy changed its name to OpTic to build brand recognition, then won Masters Reykjavik and almost looked destined to replace Sentinels as North America’s next hottest team… until they flumped out of Copenhagen with poor showings versus Guild, PRX, and FPX.
Europe, Valorant’s largest region by size, has experienced the same issues, too. Teams representing some of the most popular organizations in the world have been up and down over the past two years. G2, for example, has peaked and dipped in an almost bizarre fashion; Team Liquid is either the best Tier 1 team in Europe or the worst depending on the day; Fnatic is the “nearly” team of the region, the uncrowned champions who always look brilliant but just can’t quite win anything. Major winners Acend and M3C (formerly, Gambit) have both dropped off in dramatic fashion after having been once deemed as the best team in the world at different times.
If any of these teams had been able to keep up their run of form and make it to Copenhagen, I’m certain viewership would have been substantially higher. Of course, the brand power of these organizations alone draws in more interest as it does in any esport, but the big issue as it relates to Valorant is that the lack of consistency means that organizations aren’t building fanship based on the Valorant teams themselves. It’s largely just the brand recognition driving interest. The continued health of Valorant esports surely depends on a team or two proving themselves a cut above the rest with a consistent string of results. If we’re being honest, in an ideal world (for those who want to see Valorant esports prosper), it would be one of the so-called “clout” teams with an established fanbase.
FPX is not that. For all their incredible strategic plays and individual excellence, FPX is well-respected team amongst Valorant’s enthusiast scene, but they’re little-known to casual fans. And so, even though I personally loved seeing them succeed, it feels as though we’re almost back to square one with a Valorant team building a name for itself as the new GOAT squad for fans to get behind.
It’s absurd, really, that fanship often boils down to such silliness as obsessing over which teams and players are better than others. The fact that in any given Valorant tournament it often feels as though any one team could win if they turn up in form should be something to celebrate. But again, this is human nature as it relates to fanship.
I could spend hours extrapolating why this occurs, from the primal obsession with establishing order to the age-old argument about whether Valorant’s skill ceiling is high enough, which consistent esports results would supposedly help legitimize. The bottom line, though, is that the randomness of Valorant esports, which creates unusual storylines and unpredictable results, is fascinating to hardcore enthusiasts only. Casual fans, who will ultimately fuel Riot Games’ ambitions to ensure Valorant is a major esport long into the future, need familiar names to get behind. So, let’s hope FPX kicks on from here… or that Sentinels wins LCQ!