The Guard’s VCT promotion slot expunged by Riot Games after team misses deadline

Update 04/09/23: Riot Games has announced that The Guard’s players have been released from their contracts and are thus free to pursue opportunities with existing organisations, or as free agents.

VCT Commissioner and VALORANT Head Leo Faria said Riot had “moved too fast” and that this solution, which came after community backlash, will give the former The Guard players an opportunity to stay in VCT Americas.

The Guard layoffs

Game developer Riot Games has announced that North American esports organisation The Guard will not receive its promotion to VALORANT’s VCT Americas league because the organisation “failed to meet the deadline to agree to the Team Participation Agreement for VCT Americas.”

As a result, VCT Americas will continue with 10 teams for the next season, with The Guard’s spot being expunged rather than redistributed — a move that has sparked criticism.

ESI Lisbon 2024

The Guard, an esports organisation owned by the Denver-based Kroenke Sports & Entertainment group, participated in the VALORANT Challengers North America league, finishing second in the playoffs and qualifying for the Ascension tournament.

The Ascension competition grants its winner promotion into its region’s corresponding VCT regional league for two seasons, a highly lucrative position that comes with vastly more financial stipends and opportunities than the lower leagues.

After The Guard won the tournament, talks started immediately to commence the onboarding process with the winners, Leo Faria, the Global Head of VALORANT Esports and VCT Commissioner, said in a follow-up post on X (Twitter).

“Immediately after the conclusion of Ascension we started the onboarding process with the three winning teams, expecting them to release their signature from escrow to finalise their promotion to the International Leagues,” Faria said. “Unfortunately this was never completed by The Guard, and after two months and several follow-ups, we had to make a very hard decision in order to not compromise the start of the season next year.”

In February this year, The Guard laid off all of its employees, leading to questions over whether or how the organisation would continue operating.

Faria explained that Riot would not allow the team to be signed by another organisation and retain their sought-after spot in order to not set a precedent of being able to ‘buy’ VCT Ascension spots. He also said Riot decided against promoting VCT Americas Ascension tournament runners-up M80.

Faria argued that “allowing an acquisition by a different organisation opens the door for slots in the VCT to be sold, which is not allowed.” On choosing not to promote M80, Faria said: “Promotion is earned in-game, not out of it.”

The decision and Faria’s subsequent follow-up explanation have been met by criticism by prominent community members, particularly in light of the fact that the players who qualified will now not be able to compete in the top-flight VALORANT league through no fault of their own.

Streamers Ludwig and DisguisedToast, M80’s CEO Marco Mereu, FlyQuest CGO Chris Smith, esports talents Goldenboy and Sean Stackhouse, and a host of professional VALORANT players have either criticised the move or asked Riot to reconsider.

Fans of The Guard were quick to argue that Riot should’ve come up with a solution that will do right by the players, such as allowing the roster to compete in the VCT as free agents, or to allow M80 to enter the VCT instead of The Guard.

In a statement on X, The Guard said it is “disappointed to arrive at this outcome unexpectedly, but is committed to supporting the team in their transition as they look for new opportunities.”

The players appear to have not been aware of the situation, announcing their dismay at the move. The Guard player Michael ‘neT’ Bernet said on X: “I am devastated. All the hard work and sacrifices we have went through as a team just to have it stripped away from us through Twitter… I really hope Riot reconsiders and gives us the chance to play together one more time…. Please Riot understand that it’s more than just a game for us but it truly is our entire life.”

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.