Imagine having a runaway-smash game on your hands months before its official release. That’s where Riot Games is with VALORANT, the new first-person shooter scheduled for an official rollout this summer.
The game made huge waves in closed beta in April, with an initial week leading to a mammoth 165 million hours watched on Twitch.
Since then, we’ve seen a stream of high-profile players—among them Jay “Sinatraa” Won and Ryan “Freakazoid“ Abadir—leave Overwatch, Apex Legends, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive to launch new careers in VALORANT.
To wrap your head around that, think of an NHL star abandoning everything that comes with playing on one of the greatest sports stages in the world for a startup league. Now you know how your great-grandfather felt when Bobby Hull left the Chicago Blackhawks for the World Hockey Association’s Winnipeg Jets.
What’s amazing about this is that there’s no official, Riot-sanctioned VALORANT league—the developer is letting grassroots gaming communities steer things where competitive play is concerned. The big question, then, is why so many big names have been eager to get in on the ground floor of something that—Twitch numbers and hype aside—is entirely unproven.
The folks at Gen.G are better qualified than most to answer that. The high-powered international eSports organization, which has established teams in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Fortnite, and NBA 2K, expanded its empire last week with an announcement showing it’s serious about VALORANT.
Gen.G added an all-Canadian team from Montreal to its roster. Coming from the world of CS:GO, that team—comprising Keven “PLAYER1” Champagne, Anthony “gMd” Guimond, Loic “effys” Sauvageau, Danny “huynh” Huynh, and Michael “ MkaeL” De Luca—has already started competing for Gen.G in community-organized VALORANT tournaments.
Reached at his current homebase in Los Angeles, Gen.G performance coach Andrew Leverette says Riot Games has taken a unique approach to VALORANT by designing it to appeal specifically to the eSports community.
“Riot has been very transparent about building VALORANT with eSports in mind,” he says. “A lot of other games will come out and the focus is on a more casual fan base, and then ultimately eSports will come around. Riot has taken a different approach where they built the game from the ground up focusing on eSports. That makes us really excited as a competitive organization. That kind of gives us even more excitement and motivation to get in on the ground floor and build our team brand and our organization as having one of the premier VALORANT teams.”
Gen.G was watching community-run tournaments as a way of scouting players. Leverette kept a spreadsheet of promising teams, one of them being a group with a history in CS:GO calling themselves FRENCH CANADIANS.
“I started researching their background in CS:GO, and then conveniently they actually sent in an email after we’d put it out on Twitter that we were looking for teams,” the Gen.G coach relates. “The following week, they got first place in a Nerd Street Gamers tournament, which was arguably the biggest tournament at the time. They won over really well-respected teams, so at that point we kind of made up our mind. We talked to them a little bit and we liked their attitudes, we liked their work ethic, and they were playing really well. They were our number one option.”
Because CS:GO and VALORANT are both team-based and tactical-shooter-focused, the skill set translates from one to the other better than it does from Fortnite or Overwatch.
“Any player coming into VALORANT with a CS background comes in with a small advantage, because they don’t have to learn the basics of a tactical shooter—like rotations, or when to peek off your teammates,” Leverette says. “They come in already knowing it. Since our team had years of CS experience, and also years of playing together, it really allowed us to hit the ground running. We immediately focused on learning the abilities in VALORANT and how to play around those as a team.”
That adaptability was on full display when the team placed first in the T1 x Nerd Street Gamers Invitational—one of the biggest VALORANT tournaments to date.
“It was really, really exciting for the guys,” Leverette says. “I know how hard they’ve been working every day. I’m a firm believer in hard work always paying off, so I was really excited to see it. Moving forward, that puts a little bit of a target on our back. Teams are way more likely to watch how we play and why we play—we also get everyone’s A-game in practice now.”
The challenge, not only for Gen.G’s team but for all VALORANT players, is getting a handle on everything there is to learn about a game with a huge frontier.
“Ultimately, the game is so new that you truly see new things every day,” Leverette notes. “Something we’ll try in scrims will work great today, and then in three days everyone will have seen it, so it won’t work nearly as well. And it happens on the flipside. We’ll hop onto a scrim and a team will run something against us, and it kind of blows our mind because we hadn’t thought of it or seen it.”
And that, he suggests, is the appeal of VALORANT.
“There’s so much to do and learn that it’s impossible to expect our guys to do it all. We kind of have to, as a community in VALORANT, work together to build up the whole scene in the meta for what does and doesn’t work.”
As for the number of established players from other games jumping aboard, Leverette points to several reasons. All of them suggest there will be more big names migrating to VALORANT.
“We haven’t seen much of a competitor to CS:GO for a very long time, and maybe ever,” he posits. “So you have your die-hard CS fans who are interested in VALORANT because it’s new and shiny and exciting. And then you also have players who’ve been dedicated to other games like Fortnite and Overwatch, who’ve grown a little tired of those games, and now they’re hopping on a tactical-shooter that’s new and interesting. They’re getting in on the ground floor to hopefully become top-tier competitors.”