Released in the midst of the COVID pandemic, VALORANT’s esport aspirations began on the back foot and Australia’s first offline VALORANT tournament seemed a pipe dream.
Now, eight months on, the team at Events Over Time led by long-time esports tournament organiser and CS:GO analyst Kevin ‘KaRath’ Zhu will set out to achieve what was thought impossible this year — to host Oceania’s first VALORANT LAN in Sydney this December.
The VALORANT Sydney LAN will see up to 16 teams battle over two days — 12-13 December 2020 — with each team playing as many as six maps in the round robin format. The tournament will feature a $1450 prize pool, a full best-of-three playoff bracket, and a competitive facility in the form of FBI Gaming Waterloo.
It’s a remarkable feat that such an event would come to fruition given the esports climate right now, but when it comes to capability, KaRath is no novice — he’s had a hand in organising and running Counter-Strike events for almost a decade now, and welcomes the challenge of a new esport in a restrictive climate.
“I started getting into more event organiser work as the joy I had playing at the events was one of the things that made me find some happiness through certain times,” KaRath remarks. “I wanted to encourage others to also find that happiness when competing at a local event, as well as give other people the chance of meeting new friends.”
Through developing esports events, KaRath formed Events Over Time with business partner Callan Robertson, with plans to fill the grassroots void and paving a path for Oceanic players yearning for a career in competitive esports.
“Events Over Time was an idea that was formulated with multiple chats I had with Callan,” KaRath recalls. “[Callan] saw the potential of getting grassroots esports out there and the ability for the Oceanic scene to flourish, and it slowly snowballed into a concept that for there to be growth, we will need to do consistent events over an extended period of time.”
“We’re based in Sydney, but this will not stop us from expanding into different states to ensure everyone has maximum coverage.” - Kevin ‘KaRath’ Zhu
Offline grassroots esports events provide much more than their online counterparts, particularly in Oceania, where competitive opportunities are limited due to a combination in a lack of major local investment and geography — something that global organisers like ESL has worked upon providing recently.
“I know the words ‘community’ and ‘belonging’ get thrown around a lot, but [offline LANs] bring a much more inclusive environment than online. I’ve been a bit of an advocate of getting to know your team and opponents, meeting them and having a laugh and enjoying a weekend playing and hanging out, and having an excuse to leave the house to do something you love.”
“There’s no Korean BBQ team bonding experience after an online tournament, and of course, everyone wants to prove they are a LAN dragon.” - Kevin ‘KaRath’ Zhu
However, the space for grassroots beginnings in esports remains open, and it’s something KaRath believes is of the utmost importance going forward — in the interest of providing a stepping stone to higher levels of competition, and furthering Oceania’s growth in the esports space.
“I think it’s absolutely crucial we run events, not just for professionals but for aspiring players as well. I can point towards the Sydney LANs that we ran as being the first taste of LAN competition for then amateur CS:GO players, who have now made it into something extraordinary, and I can only hope that they learned something from that experience which helped at bigger tournaments,” KaRath explains.
“Fostering talent in these events will then lead to the growth and stability of the scene, because no longer is it the same pool of players that are being recycled – the new stars will eventually be found and identified, and can also prove themselves in a high-pressure environment.”
VALORANT’s rocky esports start in Oceania was compounded further in November, when developer Riot Games announced that there would be no direct Oceanic qualifier to the pinnacle VALORANT Champions Tour, and that OCE competitors must qualify through North American-based events.
This coincides with the developer’s closure of Australian offices and the dissolution of the Oceanic Pro League in October, which has since seen an exodus of League of Legends competitors and talent to the North American region — something that KaRath believed would happen in VALORANT regardless of Riot’s investment in the region.
“I had a conversation in the last week regarding Valorant and Oceania’s success — I believed that the only way a Valorant team could have success would be to complete the Vox Eminor to Renegades route we’ve seen in CS:GO; travelling to overseas events, making a name, then either getting signed by an overseas organisation or being poached as individual talent.”
“For players to do that, they need solid competition locally to practice with first - and talent can only develop from grassroots events. I think it’s also a bit of a killer that Riot doesn't offer the ability to host a private server. I understand that they may have a tournament server but it’s pretty much under lock and key for most of the time.”
Nevertheless, despite VALORANT’s online beginnings and uncertain future in Oceania, it is pivotal that events such as KaRath’s Sydney tournament become a mainstay in a region that has seen so much hardship in the past 12 months.
“I think if it was online only for another 6 to 12 months, this may have been slightly more worrying for me for the Valorant scene, but as the title is still relatively fresh, I think online has sufficed for now. It’ll only be a matter of time before people get hungry for more!”
The VALORANT Sydney LAN is penned for 12-13 December, with sign-ups and expressions of interest available here. Stay tuned to Here’s The Thing for more news, commentary and more.