State of the Ecosystem: VALORANT esports (2023 overview)

State of the Ecosystem is a series overviewing the contemporary esports scene in several major esports titles, with a primary focus on the industry side.

VALORANT esports
(ESI Illustration) Image credit: Riot Games

VALORANT is a hero-based first-person shooter (FPS) game developed by League of Legends publisher Riot Games. Teased in 2019 as ‘Project A’, VALORANT was officially released in 2020, and has quickly grown to have one of the biggest esports ecosystems in the genre.

Often compared to CS:GO, VALORANT combines Counter-Strike’s 5v5 tactical format with hero abilities that allow for different tactics and mechanics. VALORANT has quickly grown into a largely successful esports title, with Riot Games evolving the game’s competitive circuit yearly since the game launched.

The VALORANT competitive ecosystem is largely centralised in the hands of Riot Games, which runs and funds most tournaments and leagues. After a couple of years of adaptation, the company settled on the VALORANT Champions Tour, which now acts as the top tier of VALORANT esports. 

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The VCT operates using a partner programme, where teams have permanent slots and share revenue league with Riot Games. The teams did not pay for the slots, but rather underwent a selection process, making the system different from, for example, League of Legends’ franchise structure.

The three main international leagues for VALORANT Champions Tour are the Pacific, EMEA and Americas. All of the competitions will feature ten partner teams for the inaugural year, which commenced in 2023, making it a truly global league. 

VALORANT Masters is an international tournament that sees the best teams from international leagues compete against each other during the active season. The ecosystem’s grand global finale is VALORANT Champions, which features the international league’s best performers domestically and across its Masters events. 

Bellow tier-one VALORANT is the Challengers leagues, the first rank of competitive VALORANT that allows for teams to step into the VCT. There are more than 20 Challengers leagues worldwide, divided into three regions: Pacific, EMEA and Americas.

Unlike traditional franchise structures, the VCT leagues also feature a limited promotion and relegation system. This works through the Ascension tournaments. The winners of the Challengers leagues qualify for the Ascension tournaments, and the best teams then get the chance to compete in their respective VCT league for two years alongside the partner teams. 

VALORANT Champions Tour 2022
Brazilian organisation LOUD were crowned the winners of VALORANT Champions 2022. Image credit: Riot Games

Finally at the bottom of the VALORANT competitive pyramid lies a built-in in-game competitive system that gives best-ranked players a chance to play in the Challengers leagues. There is also a large amount of smaller leagues and cups organised daily. 

VALORANT is seen as more advertiser-friendly when compared to CS:GO and other shooters. This is largely due to the terminology used throughout the game; there is no mention of ‘terrorists’, weapon names do not reflect real guns, and the ‘bomb’ is referred to as the ‘spike’.

VALORANT is steadily growing in popularity and Riot Games is continuing to invest a lot into its esports ecosystem. Notably, the company has adopted a revenue-sharing model ahead of the Champions tournament that sees a portion of sales go directly to partnered teams, similar to Dota 2. In 2022, VALORANT sold $42m (~£33.7m) in skin bundles, half of which went to teams. One singular skin bundle alone generated $10m for teams in March 2023.

Notable Leagues and Tournaments

Most of VALORANT’s most important tournaments are run by Riot Games, similar to other games in the company’s catalogue. However, Riot Games did announce a series of off-season tournaments run by third-party organisers.

VCT PacificVALORANT Challengers
VCT AmericasVCT Game Changers

Most viewed tournaments

The five most-viewed VALORANT tournaments, according to esports viewership data platform Esports Charts.

  1. VALORANT Champions 2022 (1.5m peak viewers)
  2. VCT LOCK//IN Sao Paulo (1.44m peak viewers)
  3. VALORANT Champions 2021 (1.09m peak viewers)
  4. VCT 2021 Stage 2 Masters Reykjavik (1.09m peak viewers)
  5. VCT 2021 Stage 3 Masters Berlin (1.07m peak viewers)

Team Liquid VCT EMEA
Team Liquid was crowned the inaugural VCT EMEA League champions. Image credit: VCT EMEA via Twitter

Notable organisations

A large number of well-known esports organisations are a part of the VALORANT ecosystem on all levels. The following teams are some of the most popular and successful in the game.

Note this is a non-exhaustive list and exclusion does not signify an organisation is not notable.

Ivan Šimić
Ivan comes from Croatia, loves weird simulator games, and is terrible at playing anything else. Spent 5 years writing about tech and esports in Croatia, and is now doing it here.