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Here’s why Riot has no plans for a Valorant esports league

At least for now

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Two Valorant characters stand back to back Image: Riot Games
Austen Goslin (he/him) is an entertainment editor. He writes about the latest TV shows and movies, and particularly loves all things horror.

Riot has revealed the esports plans for its new tactical shooter Valorant, and it’s pretty minimalist. For now, Riot will let third-parties organize and run esports events, rather than taking over the duties itself, in hopes of letting the competitive community around Valorant grow naturally.

Riot Games was one of the first developers to see the value of taking professional competition in-house when it created the League Championship Series for League of Legends in 2013. The LCS is a year-long season that’s entirely run by Riot Games. A few years later, in 2017, Riot announced that it was adding franchising to the North American LCS, limiting the competition to a set number of teams that were specifically approved by Riot.

All this organization has helped League of Legends become one of the most popular and longest-lasting esports in the world. The game consistently brings in a massive number of viewers for its world championships, as well as its weekly matches all over the world. While other developers like Blizzard have started to take similar, more hands-on approaches to esports with the Overwatch and Call of Duty Leagues, Riot is taking a different tack with Valorant.

Instead of a first-party, Riot-run league, Valorant’s competition will be run by third-parties that have the support of Riot, at least for now. This means that small-scale competition can exist alongside major tournaments. According to Riot’s announcement, there will be three tiers of tournament sizes. These tiers are determined by things like prize money, as well as the organizations running the events. There are Small Tournaments, which include internet cafes and local groups. There are Medium Tournaments, which include brands-run tournaments and esports organizations — such as the 100 Thieves tournament from earlier this week. And then there are Large Tournaments, which will include major events from organizers such as ESL and Dreamhack.

A massive crowd sits in South Korea’s Munhak Stadium watching the pre-show for the League of Legends 2018 world finals
South Korea’s Munhak Stadium during the League of Legends 2018 World Championship finals
Photo: Riot Games, Inc.

While this model isn’t typical of most esports at the moment, it is reminiscent of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. CS:GO is developed by Valve, but the company doesn’t run its own tournaments. Instead there are events run by ESL, Dreamhack, and a variety of other organizers. These events often take the form of tournaments that are played in just one weekend, building up massive amounts of hype for Cinderella stories and upsets rather than the week to week, fairly low-stakes matches that come with a regular esports league. These tournaments are also some of the largest esports events every year, thanks to their relative rarity and the excitement and stakes that come with tournaments.

Even though Riot isn’t organizing its own events for Valorant, it still has rules that organizers have to follow. For instance, the game’s blood has to be turned off for all broadcasts. When the in-game “Show Blood” option is disabled, it is replaced with sparks that show when a player is hit instead. Removing blood from the game makes it easier to monetize for many different social media platforms, including Instagram and Twitter, which won’t allow monetization of uploads with blood.

Over the last five years, esports have grown into a massive business, but this approach from Riot is banking on the idea that esports still grow best when they’re a more organic effort. Without massive leagues, or strict limitations on who can run tournaments, there’s an opportunity for community led events to earn the spotlight and help smaller talents break into the scene. While this approach is out of step with most of the other major recent games with esports ambition, it has been a proven route to success for some of the most established esports including League of Legends itself, where community tournaments paved the way for the LCS.

While this announcement gives us a look at how the early days of Valorant’s esports scene will look, there’s still no telling where it could go from here. It’s possible that, at some point in the future, Riot will decide to take everything in-house like it did with League of Legends, or use some hybrid of the third-party tournaments and first-party events. But, at least for now, anyone that wants to host a Valorant tournament is welcome to.

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