“It’s a pretty overwhelming feeling. When we first got the email that we got accepted, I think it was like 9am in the morning, I called Jarrold and Dan first thing and I was like, we got the f***ing slot. So it’s pretty amazing.”
Those were the words of Talon Esports’ Co-founder and CEO, Sean Zhang, the day after the organisation was announced as a partner team for the VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT) Pacific League.
Last week, the Hong Kong-based organisation was among 30 names that were chosen to be partner teams in VCT’s new international leagues — evenly split across Pacific, EMEA and the Americas.
Riot Games’ overhauled VALORANT ecosystem is a move towards hybrid franchising, mixing permanent slots for partnered teams with promotion opportunities. Partner status not only solidifies Talon’s place in the VALORANT ecosystem, but it continues the organisation’s expansion and momentum across Asia.
“We hate losing,” Zhang said when asked about the organisation’s ambitions within VALORANT. “Short-term, dominate domestically. Long-term, dominate internationally.”
Whilst this does seem like a hefty feat to accomplish, the organisation has a healthy track record, at least in short-term success. Look no further than the organisation’s League of Legends division, which went on to win the inaugural Pacific Championship Series (PCS) in 2020 and represent the region at the World Championships on two occasions.
Despite the organisation’s success across multiple titles, such as Dota 2 and Arena of Valor, Zhang admitted that he is still humbled to be competing against some major names in the APAC region.
“It’s a big milestone for our organisation because you know, getting slots in big franchise leagues is not always easy,” said Zhang. “To be part of VALORANT and APAC and to be with them as part of this at the ground floor is super exciting.”
Like all organisations looking to enter VALORANT’s new international league, Talon underwent a rigorous application process that Zhang described as “long, difficult but worth it in the end”. The CEO revealed that the organisation submitted a 55 slide presentation full of ‘condensed’ information in support of its application to become a partnered team.
Some of the subjects that Riot looked into when judging Talon’s application included its investor group, business operations, marketing, branding and performance frameworks. “It took us a good couple of months to get everything done,” he said. Yet despite the lengthy application process, Riot Games chose to forego entry fees for the VCT system. VALORANT’s new model is a departure from previous franchised systems in esports — including League of Legends’ structure — which notably involved multi-million dollar buy-in fees.
Since it was founded in 2017, Talon Esports has continually expanded its operations across Asia. As such, Talon wasn’t tempted to apply for slots in other regions. “Our organisation’s mission statement is to represent the best of Asia to the world,” said Zhang.
“For us, our esports organisation is very much centred towards APAC. Our end objective is to have teams from Japan all the way down to Australia. So I would say that NA or EU are not really areas of interest for us because it’s super competitive in those markets already.”
What was more of a debate was which country Talon was going to compete for within VCT Pacific. Management mulled over the Philippines but ultimately the decision was made to represent Thailand.
Despite Asian-based teams posting impressive performances in VALORANT, VCT Pacific is still arguably the underdog compared to EMEA and the Americas. The continent has long failed to foster a top-tier PC FPS ecosystem in the past — save for Overwatch.
Many in the Western world may not even be aware that Talon Esports had a highly reputable Overwatch roster that competed in its regional contenders scene. The organisation announced its departure from the scene earlier this week.
“To be honest with you, with FPS titles here in Asia, there hasn’t really been a game that’s been able to kind of garner the interest of the whole region in one go,” said Zhang. “I think Overwatch when it first came here, contenders did a really good job with Pacific and Korea, Australia and China. There was a lot of interest in that game. But for whatever reason, that’s all gone to the sh***** and so that game has kind of moved away. Apex Legends and CS:GO [are] just not really that big here in Asia.”
However, Talon’s CEO believes that VALORANT could be the title that changes FPS’ trajectory in Asia. “We started to see a lot of interest in Thailand, the Philippines and Japan, a lot of Southeast Asia,” he explained. “So we thought this is a good chance for us to get into a title where it gives us a lot of domestic presence, but also gives us good international exposure.”
There was a clear sense of passion and optimism when speaking with Zhang, Talon Esports’ Head of Operations Daniel Wong and its other Co-founder, Jarrold Tham, regarding the future of the organisation and VALORANT ecosystem within Asia.
According to Zhang, the talent pool is there. If he’s to be believed, then VCT’s new franchise infrastructure could potentially provide an FPS ecosystem that unlocks the region’s untapped potential. Only time will tell.