With the announcement of First Strike, Riot’s new tournament series where they will be taking the reins and running the final for every region, it’s a good idea to look back at where we’ve come from. The Ignition Series was Riot’s first step into sponsoring VALORANT esports, and over it’s duration, we’ve seen titans rise up, upsets happen, massively exciting plays and matches, and the continuous growth of the game. This is a look back at what brought VALORANT to where it is right now.
During VALORANT’s closed beta, we saw a number of smaller tournaments showcase the game, but it was nothing like what it eventually would be. The largest tournament during this time was the T1 x Nerd Street Gamers Invitational, which was won by a Gen.G Esports roster revealed the same day of the tournament. The European scene seriously lagged behind at this time in terms of tournaments, but the two titans of that scene were Fish123 and Prodigy, the former being the British members of the current Team Liquid roster plus Ardis “ardiis” Svarenieks and the latter being a rotating team built around Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom and Oscar Cañellas “mixwell” Colocho.
With VALORANT’s launch at the beginning of June, the Twitch Rivals VALORANT Launch Showdown kicked off VALORANT’s competitive scene post-beta. It was exciting, as in North America Team Brax, all of T1 won an exciting final over Team Myth, 4/5ths of TSM, and in Europe, Team Mixwell and Team Duno emerged victorious. But it definitely left something to be desired: real teams and competitions were needed.
Into this context stepped the Ignition Series. Riot’s first official venture into VALORANT’s budding esports scene, it was set to feature tournaments from all over the world running in partnership with Riot. And over the course of 3+ months, it delivered in spades.
The Ignition Series in North America kicked off with the T1 x NSG Showdown, a follow-up to the Invitational in Closed Beta. As the first big event, several organizations announced rosters to compete, including 100 Thieves and FaZe Clan. But the two big dogs coming in were TSM and T1. They had faced off at Twitch Rivals, and ever since, TSM had been participating in every smaller tournament they could find while T1 had been taking it much slower. Ultimately, it was TSM that won, first in a close upper bracket final and then again in a much more one-sided final.
The next event, the PAX Arena VALORANT Invitational, took place just over a month after the T1 x NSG Showdown, and after several events had passed in the meantime. While most still considered TSM and T1 the favourites, Sentinels had been building up over the course of the last several events, and this was also set to be the major debut of Envy.
PAX Arena went nothing like anticipated. A brand new roster named Homeless beat both 100 Thieves and Built By Gamers to advance to the knockout stage, where they took down T1 in a shocking upset before eventually falling to a surging Cloud9. TSM had a poor tournament, looking shaky in their quarterfinal against Envy before falling to Sentinels. In a long, drawn-out, and relatively close final, Sentinels established themselves as the new kids on the block and the team to beat with their victory.
Next up was the FaZe Clan VALORANT Invitational in early August. The tournament marked more disappointment for 100 Thieves and T1, with the former failing to exit their group and the latter falling after winning a single game and no matches in the knockout stage. Surprises included Bloom nearly beating TSM in the group stage, no doubt contributing to their later pickup by Spacestation Gaming, and Immortals making a run to third place in Quan “Dicey” Tran’s debut. But the finals were all everyone wanted to see. TSM and Sentinels had been going back and forth in tournaments, and their showdown in the finals would be the best the North American Ignition Series had seen yet.
With a one-map advantage to TSM due to coming out of the winners bracket, they capitalized on it. The series was crazily back and forth, with Sentinels winning the first map, TSM the next, and Sentinels the third to put us on match point. In a ridiculous overtime on Bind, a Sova drone from Taylor “drone” Johnson won the match for TSM.
The last event on the male side, and the one that was set to wrap up the North American Ignition Series before the FTW Summer Showdown was upgraded, was the Pop Flash VALORANT Invitational. Marking the first entrance of a large, influential tournament organizer into VALORANT, Pop Flash saw the debut of Dignitas, who picked up most of the Homeless roster, and some ridiculous plays.
The group stages were some of the most interesting we’d seen all tournament. In Immortals’ game against Sentinels, Quan “Dicey” Tran pulled off what is, for my money, the best play over all the Ignition Series.
The other big shocker was TSM getting beaten twice by Dignitas, and failing to advance to the bracket stage. Once there, though, Dignitas were swept aside by Sentinels, who would go on to win the whole tournament in dominant fashion.
But no matter how dominant Sentinels were, they couldn’t match what MAJKL displayed at the FTW Summer Showdown. MAJKL completely swept the field aside to win the only Female Ignition Series event in any region.
But over the Ignition Series, we did not only see teams rise and fall. Metas shifted, with the rise of the Jett/Operator being clearly visible through TSM’s success and subsequently adopted by nearly every team. The aggressive Sage play of Sentinels’ Hunter “SicK” Mims changed things up as well, though not as much as in Europe. And later, Killjoy came in to change the meta, shifting some priority away from Cypher.
In North America, the Ignition Series was a roaring success. Sentinels will enter First Strike as the favourites, with TSM’s consistency not to be underestimated. Viewership has grown, and with major new patches, the meta will continue evolving. All thanks to the Ignition Series.
Europe had the most Ignition Series events out of any region, with an enormous seven. Of those, 6 were won by G2 Esports, while one was a showmatch tournament. It’s safe to say Europe has their king, and unlike T1 or TSM, G2 haven’t let it go.
The more interesting storyline out of the European Ignition Series events, though, are G2’s various challengers. At the The Vitality European Open , it was Prodigy, featuring 3 members that would eventually join Ninjas in Pyjamas. But just a few days after, at the WePlay! VALORANT Invitational, it was Fish123, later Team Liquid, who had a very good tournament and rose to the finals.
The Mandatory.GG Cup was next up in a few weeks, and Bonk made their surprising first finals appearance. This tournament, with a 128 teams, best-of-1 format, saw a massive amount of upsets, with teams like FABRIKEN, PartyParrots, and BIG falling out early.
The next event was the week-long, 6-team Allied Esports Odyssey. Arguably the best-produced and best-formatted event yet, Team Liquid showed up in their debut, snagging first in the Group Stage. Another debutant, FunPlus Phoenix, gave G2 their first loss ever. But in the end, Liquid crashed and burned in the playoff stage, and FunPlus Phoenix couldn’t replicate their group stage success in the finals. It was, however, the first final for what would become G2’s biggest competitor.
Later in August, we had the LVL VALORANT Clash 2. This 16-team event saw Team Liquid fall out shockingly in the group stages, as SKADE burst onto the scene. While G2 and FPX didn’t meet in the finals – that honor went again to Bonk, who could not put up much better of a fight than last time – they did in the semifinals, G2’s closest match of the tournament.
Finally, we come to the BLAST Valorant Twitch Invitational.
This four-team event saw G2 and FPX dominate, eventually meeting in the closest finals we’ve seen yet. The four-map thriller ultimately saw G2 emerge victorious yet again.
While the results may have painted one picture, the meta shifts paint another. As the rise of the Jett/Operator dominated North America, some European teams were notably hesitant, with Bonk, Team Liquid, and FunPlus Phoenix all among that number. Near the beginning of the Ignition Series, when drone’s Phoenix was dominating North America, very few European teams brought it out, and it is still rarely ever picked.
The Ignition Series in Europe was dominated by G2 and controversial tournament formats, and on the outside seems like a mess. But in reality, with the ever-shifting field of challengers and meta innovation, it successfully kickstarted European VALORANT.
As the Ignition Series began, all eyes were on South Korea. Seeing the inroads that Riot had made with League of Legends into the region, and the general popularity of PC esports games, South Korea was everyone’s bet as the region to watch in Asian VALORANT.
But that turned out to not be the case at all. One of the first Ignition Series events was Japan’s RAGE VALORANT JAPAN INVITATIONAL. The tournament gained massive viewership in Japan and around the world, as fans turned out to watch Absolute JUPITER dominate.
After that, the Japanese VALORANT scene continued to grow and cement itself as the dominant Asian fanbase organically. The next time the Ignition Series visited the region wasn’t until August, with the RAGE VALORANT JAPAN TOURNAMENT. This was, again, won in dominant fashion by JUPITER.
While Japan took the world by storm, other Asian regions attempted to get VALORANT off the ground as well. Notably, the Cyber Games Arena Pacific Open, for Southeast Asian teams, was a success, with ahq e-Sports Club taking a close final over Attack All Around.
That set us up for one massive Ignition Series event: the AfreecaTV Asia Showdown, featuring the best teams from each region. Both Southeast Asian teams went out in the semifinals, leading up to an epic grand final between Absolute JUPITER and Vision Strikers, the team dominating South Korea as much as they were Japan. In a tense matchup, Vision Strikers won 2-0, and would cement their title at Asia’s last Ignition Series several weeks afterwards, the Epulze’s Royal SEA Cup.
The Japanese fan base grew, Vision Strikers emerged as the region’s best team, and VALORANT was brought to the masses in Asia under the Ignition Series.
The Latin American scene developed in a very interesting way. Smaller organizations Estral Esports and Rebirth Esports won the first Ignition events in the region, then had their rosters bought out by larger teams. Estral managed to put together another competitive team to win the GGTech VALORANT Invitational 2 LATAM S, while their previous roster under Infinity Esports won the GGTech VALORANT Invitational 2 LATAM N. Brazil saw Gamelanders emerge as a top-tier team, with their win in the Gamers Club Ultimate and semifinal appearance in the Team DylanteroLIVE. Fusion Fraggers also had great performances in each event, while the new mix NOORG2.0, featuring the first two members of paiN Gaming, won the latest. Lastly, in Oceania, the fan-favourite Team Launch and EXO Clan played in the finals of both Ignition Series events in the region, with Team Launch winning the first and EXO Clan the second.
Let’s talk about viewership. A key part of growing an esports scene and one of the main goals of the Ignition Series, VALORANT viewership grew steadily over the series.
Hours watched of early Ignition Series tournaments, © Esports Charts
Esports Charts shows solid numbers early on in the Ignition Series, with North America and Europe ahead, as expected, but the Brazilian scene not very far behind. The key thing, though, is the comparison to the numbers of later events.
Hours watched of later Ignition Series tournaments, © Esports Charts
As we can see, the Ignition Series was a roaring success, especially on the North American side. The FaZe Clan Invitational nearly tripled the viewership of the T1 x NSG Showdown, while Pop Flash nearly doubled it. Europe also saw a large increase in viewership with the BLAST VALORANT Twitch Invitational over the WePlay! VALORANT Invitational. In the two big regions, at least, the Ignition Series achieved its goal of growing VALORANT viewership significantly.
While the Ignition Series kick-started VALORANT to where it could be, it didn’t finish. With the global First Strike event coming up, VALORANT is only just beginning to see what it could be.
We’re already seeing the effects of the Ignition Series and First Strike on organizations and players. NRG Esports have been reported to be entering VALORANT by bringing over well-known Counter-Strike professionals Sam “s0m” Oh and Damien “daps” Steele, and Team Heretics are in the process of announcing a roster as well. This should continue into the future. There’s been plenty of speculation regarding Fnatic getting into VALORANT, and more European orgs is likely where the scene will begin growing to, seeing how packed North America is.
While viewership has already been elaborated on in a different article, it’s good to look at it again. I believe that, as a point of reference, VALORANT ultimately has the potential to match top-tier Counter-Strike: Global Offensive competition in viewership. LANs and competitive VALORANT running concurrently to top-tier Counter-Strike will be important tellers in the next few months, but the game has already reached massive numbers. VALORANT will be big.
I hope in the future we see more orgs get invested, particularly in the European scene. I hope we see consistently high tournament viewership no matter the matchups. And I also hope we see the growth of the global scene, particularly a start in China. With First Strike, Riot is clearly going full steam ahead fulfilling the potential of VALORANT esports. But it’s always interesting to see what has gone. The Ignition Series was full of triumphs, disappointments, successes, failures, and everything in between. VALORANT esports wouldn’t be where it is today without it.