1) G2 still have a long way to go (but ardiis is still the best player in Europe).
So. G2 won. There are going to be enough panegyrics to what G2 did at this tournament that honestly, it seems like the more valuable contribution to the discourse (trademark copyright) here is in general to actually pull everyone’s collective neck in a bit.
Did they perform well here? Yes, very much so, although that was never really in doubt. The spine of this team, just in terms of the firepower on the top players, is absolutely obscene — ardiis and paTiTek would have been on or near anyone’s all-Europe team in closed beta, mixwell was clearly already on the up and has really taken off now that he doesn’t have to play second-fiddle to ScreaM on certain spots, and both pyth and (stand-in) davidp have both shown solidity and above-average fragging ability compared to some other support players (particularly davidp).
They were always likely to be a team that came out of the gate fairly well, and they put in a handful of genuinely dominant performances, most notably that 13–2 on Split over FABRIKEN in groups (which we didn’t get to see on the spectator stream and I remain annoyed about), and overall, I think they probably slightly exceeded expectations (most would have had them near the top, but the majority predicted FABRIKEN over them in groups, and I think plenty of people would have had them 2nd or 3rd however narrowly in this tournament, me included). So, fair enough.
The question for them moreso is how they’re going to work as a team longer-term. We’re talking about four, possibly five, players who have never to my knowledge played together before ever, that are coming from significantly different backgrounds in terms of the types of team environments they’ve been in before, etc. The obvious comparison here is FaZe in CS:GO (which, of course, itself was funnily enough under the G2 banner for a time) or G2 in LoL, and while FaZe has had some high highs (albeit never winning a Major), even the most casual of viewers will be aware that it has also been prone to very, very low lows. It’s a roster that, if things don’t just work out and keeping working out, is going to be difficult to corral into fighting shape by either any given player or by pretty much any coach that comes in.
Of course…it’s been one tournament, right? And they won! Why are we even talking about this right now?! We’re talking about it because: while there were a lot of good things on show at this tournament, one thing you can absolutely not credibly say about G2 is that they looked particularly disciplined here. This was a team playing very loose, and where it very much seemed like they were still trying to figure out how things were quite going to work. You saw the odd spark of collective genius, a few more sparks of individual genius, but more than anything else: you saw a team that got momentum early on and never gave it up, because, well, they have a bunch of the best individual talents in the game, and they couldn’t lose a duel at those points.
If you want to understand where G2 are at through the lens of one map, watch some of their Haven games. Haven is considered their best map by most people I’ve talked to, and by G2 themselves given that they always picked it, to be their best map (I disagree looking forward, but that’s another discussion). In groups, they went 13–3, 13–6, 13–5 on it; not even close.
In playoffs? PartyParrots beat them 5–13, Prodigy lost 13–7, and Prodigy then came back and beat them 5–13 in the grand final.
What? Why? If you go back and watch the Haven games from the first day, the truth is that G2 weren’t really doing anything special tactically, as a team, on Haven; they were just better, pound-for-pound, than the other teams on it (the map is easily FABRIKEN’s weakest anyway). I suspect you will find very few people in any scene (even NA) who would disagree with the characterisation of Haven as ‘the pug map’ as it stands; the three-site setup and long sightlines set that tone for it unavoidably, and while it’s not quite a case of there being nothing you can do on it, it undoubtedly is less developed in terms of team play across high-level competition as a whole than any of the other three maps.
So: when faced with the rest of the top-4 in this tournament, PartyParrots found a way to stop that on a team level, while Prodigy were able to go toe-to-toe with them largely in terms of that aim (and, it should be said, matching the raw aggression that also helped push G2 along —in particular, davidp had a VERY good tournament here overall, and put up some insane numbers on Haven in particular, but so much of his impact came through things like blind-pushing mid and/or flanking on Sage that I have to wonder if it would work quite as well if we replayed the tournament tomorrow).
To be totally honest, the one thing I really came away with here (looking especially at the Haven performances, but also more generally) was that ardiis has absolutely not missed a beat since returning to team play, and while he didn’t generally put up quite the same numbers as he did on fish123 here (though he still led all players in playoffs with a 1.36 K/D and went 62–33 in the final series against Prodigy), I still think it’s difficult to argue that he’s not the clear-cut best player in the region.
His aim of course remains insane, but more than that, we’ve been getting glimpses of just how good he is in terms of his broader game — his sense for the flow of the game on a team-wide level is better than probably any other active player, and as someone who’s done a lot of work (albeit in LoL) on the team/player communication side, his comms are legitimately standout and remind me of the style of the best players in that regard there (rapid, actionable, extremely high signal-to-noise ratio, etc.).
I was sceptical on his shift over to being basically a full-time Sova (yes, I know, mixwell Jett, and yes, I know he played Raze on some maps, but still), but it’s worked out really well; he has taken like a duck to water in terms of getting the most out of the vision side of his kit. The only issues really have been with regards to figuring out where things fit together with mixwell and paTiTek at times (the fact that paTiTek will never get to Op on this team…it’s not a dealbreaker, he was a rifler in CS anyway, but it’s modestly disappointing given how his partnership with NEEX went in Fordon).
In any case: yes, it’s a new team, and all of this is to be expected. The upside on G2 remains enormous, and it’s possible that they realise that upside and more. The important thing here however, is: let’s not trick ourselves into thinking that they showed more than they actually did at this tournament. There’s still a lot of development to come, and a lot to be shown going…less so into WePlay, but more looking to Mandatory Cup and further events; and, even if you’re fully on the G2 train, it has to be conceded that there’s work to do (and precedent throughout esports history for that work not always working out).
2) Beta NiP: the EU scene’s wellspring
I think it has been proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I will take any chance to talk about closed beta NiP, and I am taking it again; but, in fairness, this was honestly quietly the really interesting narrative of this tournament. Go read the Epulze article and/or the most recent power rankings for a whistle-stop tour of this question, but the short version is: NiP picked up a team almost immediately in beta, they did well but couldn’t quite break through against the absolute top handful of teams. That line up was:
- bonkar -> Bonk
- rhyme -> NiP
- Yacine -> Bonk
- Zyppan -> FABRIKEN
Four of those players were at this tournament, on three different teams. That in itself is impressive of course, but what’s more impressive is that all four were actually worth talking about at least a little, so let’s talk a little about each.
We’ll start with bonkar and Yacine, on Bonk. This is the lineup that emerged from the ashes after NiP dropped the team; bonkar had been the captain from the start, while Yacine was fairly indisputably the star player, having emerged at Mandatory Cup as the single best Raze player in EU and as a game-defining talent for NiP on offense (in particular) on most maps. I had the core at #10 in my June power rankings; at the time, while I had a lot of praise for Yacine, I was a little sceptical about whether they could rediscover the magic going forward — with the best will in the world, we’ve seen the archetype of the team that just had a head-start in beta (the core of bonkar, Tenner, and coach Bird came from NiP’s former world champion Paladins team, and were signed on April 8th) and never quite got that back afterwards.
The absolute first sojourn of this team was unfortunate — lost a Bo1 in the round of 32 at Rise of Titans, 0–1, out of the tournament — but this tournament should do a lot to pick their reputation up. Getting through qualifiers alone was an accomplishment of course (even allowing for them being seeded — remember that both 2G4L and ROYALS, teams around a very similar level overall, fell early from seeded status, and against relatively unknown opposition at that), but while they didn’t get through groups, they showed up very credibly here — the Prodigy series was hardly out of sight and could have potentially gone another way if the overtime rules had worked properly (12–13, 10–13), and they arguably should have had it won against PartyParrots (and therefore taken their spot in the playoffs) after getting up 11–7 on Split on the third map (on O, but the Split O of the bonkar/Yacine teams has arguably consistently been the strongest overall in Europe — the conversation starts and ends with them and beta fish123 in my opinion) before losing six straight to finish 11–13.
They are one of the unlucky teams forced to try to get to WePlay through OQ, so we’ll see how that goes, but either way, things are looking up for Bonk; Yacine’s level never really dropped off anyway, and while bonkar’s personal numbers remain weak (naturally enough as a Cypher), the team looks far more organised than it did in the final days under NiP, to say nothing of the new talent (Sayf in particular was very impressive).
Next, onto Zyppan. As reminder: Zyppan was largely a Breach/Sova player on NiP, was the first of the five to leave (almost immediately after closed beta ended), and ended up landing on FABRIKEN, where he’s been routinely putting up insane numbers and laying siege to Yacine’s title of best Raze EU. As he’s been tending to do, he had another good tournament here statistically — highest kills per round in the playoffs (0.91) and by far the highest first blood rate (0.20), with his highlight being a 73–47, 14 FB performance in the lower bracket series against Prodigy.
This shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone — he’s been top or near the top in the last few weeks of play in any kill-related metric you could find, and it’s a testament to both his individual level and the way in which FABRIKEN have managed to accomodate him into what is overall a reasonably strict season. He’s one of the best riflers in the region, and…there’s not much to say beyond that. Will be interesting to see how he grows as a part of FABRIKEN over coming weeks and months.
Finally, rhyme. rhyme played with Prodigy at this event, which, as regular readers will know, is a NiP-based mix; when management dropped the team a few weeks ago, the one player they opted to retain was rhyme, who they paired with star German Operator luckeRRR as their core to build out from (the rumour is that HyP, who played with them here, will also be on the full lineup, but the pAura/Turko duo likely won’t).
rhyme is not a superstar, but he’s intriguing — he’s played at least seven agents in competitive games (he shifted between Raze, Sage, and Omen here), which has to be close to a record, and while there’s not really a single facet of the game that he just grabs your attention with his skill at, he’s just very, very solid all around — call him the James Milner of Valorant if you’d like. I have been effusive on what I see as the potential of the new NiP core, and rhyme is at least as much a part of that as luckeRRR — there are very few sure things in terms of players that will work out long-term after a couple of months of play, but rhyme might be the closest thing to it. He’ll be around.
This maybe sounds like damning with faint praise, but to be clear: in absolute terms, too, this was a very good tournament for him. Notably, he top-fragged for his team in both serieses against G2, punctuated by a 23–9 performance as Sage on Haven that was reminiscent of some of the best Sage showings we’ve seen on that map (funnily enough, LaAw’s performance against NiP back in Mandatory Cup is the one that immediately comes to mind). It’s another couple of notches in his belt with regards to his versatility, and as NiP move towards finalising their roster, it’ll be interesting to see if they can build something really interesting on the basis of that versatility.
So: good days for all involved, and if you’re the sort of person who just loves The Narrative, this is maybe going to be one of the more interesting things to watch as these teams and players develop. Can Bonk rise from the ashes and strike back against their old patrons? Can rhyme be the core around which the team of tomorrow forms? Will Zyppan just go straight-up super Saiyan and become the first player to drop 40 in a competitive match? Find out next time on Valoball Z.
3) Meta notes: Sageless comps, where’s Viper?
Instead of doing just raw pick rate (because it’s useless for a tournament format anyway), let’s do this: this is every agent, with who picked them at some point on what map (hence some teams have 6 or 7 agents on the same map):
A few quick thoughts on that, then. The Sageless compositions are beginning to surface, with three teams playing them this time around — FABRIKEN (the originators in EU), Bonk, and breadCHASERS. Tend to think that this is a trend that’ll continue to grow; old habits die hard, and there are admittedly teams where the style of play makes it an overall bad move, but there are definitely several top teams who should at least be considering it on certain maps.
Indeed, it should be said that moves off Sage were fairly high-impact in some senses this tournament; in particular, FABRIKEN took Split off Prodigy in LB final after switching Sage/Omen for Reyna/Brimstone (it had been the one map that they fairly consistently still played Sage on), while breadHUNTERS got their 2–0 over Prodigy moving it out for Reyna (albeit as something of a consolation given they were already eliminated at that point). Definitely ground that teams should be exploring more.
Jett usage was substantially lower than I would have expected from a rough estimate, but I suppose that it’s just not a pick that fits a lot of those teams in the middle of the pack here, with FABRIKEN/PP/Bonk all being more structured teams and not built around their Operator users, and NMDM’s bzt preferring Raze (like replan on 2G4L). Incidentally: notice that those same structured teams all also find spots for Breach (which the Jett teams mostly avoided); they aren’t a like-for-like in general (most Operator users who tried Breach in beta have moved on from it, albeit ShadoW being a notable exception, and it’s understood as more of a strictly supportive pick now), but it does demonstrate a bit of the demarcation in philosophy between said teams.
Nine of the eleven picks were played at least a fair bit on some map; for the two exceptions…Phoenix is not particularly surprising; as much as I know that NA in particular loves it, it’s generally seen as just an inferior option in EU (the blind is probably the worst in the game due to the inflexibility in how you can deploy it, the wall has similar issues, the ability to self-heal is nice but doesn’t really fit with even how the relatively puggy teams in EU play).
Viper is a little more surprising to me, and I can only presume it’s a mix of a) Viper being just as terrible as she was during beta leading to very few players feeling confident on her yet (Blitz stats have her played in around 5% of total potential picks at Immortal 3 at the moment, only Breach comes close and then the 9th-placed agent isn’t much shy of 50%), b) her playstyle shifting with the wall changes (to being overall a more aggressive and rifle-oriented agent), c) her ult being held in very, very low esteem regardless of how good the rest of her kit can be. The one Viper to show up was Sayf’s on Split, and he had a couple of very effective games on it (won one and lost two, but the two were 12–13 vs. Prodigy and 11–13 vs. PartyParrots), so I do expect we’ll probably see more of it moving foward.
4) Tournament formats matter
This was absolutely not a tournament without its issues, most notably on the technical side; it’s hard to give perfect marks when the best matchup on paper in the group stages and the tournament opener (FABRIKEN vs. G2) was effectively played off-stream for about half of its duration (the spectator stream was practically unwatchable for most of the second map due to stuttering, and we missed the first 9 rounds of the third map).
However, as much as there were frustrations around that, and frustrations around specific other details of the format (please release a fifth map ASAP, Riot), I don’t think anyone would argue that it wasn’t a very competitive tournament. We got a very good cross-section of the top of the EU scene, and while there were actually a far greater number of stomps in one direction or another compared to some previous tournaments (losing teams averaged 6.8 rounds at this event, compared to 8.4 rounds at Epulze Valorant Prodigies; to be fair, it was 6.6 rounds at Pulse Invitational over in NA this week, so perhaps just a function of how high-level play is developing), with one possible exception (Apexis), it’s hard to argue that any team really felt out of their depth entirely.
Of course, that’s going to tend to happen when you make sure every team is battle-tested going in, because: this was that rarest of things, a tournament with zero invite spots and a full array of open qualifier spots (0+8). There was both manual (based on past tournament performance) and automatic (based on solo queue ranking — essentially more of a filter for tough early matchups) seeding, sure, and the map selection format (top team picks the map and hosts, Bo1, no other frills) favoured those seeded teams to a degree that perhaps was not the fairest. Still, though, it all worked out well in the end for the most part.
This upcoming week, we have the WePlay! Invitational, and it’s like day-and-night. We go from this beautiful, open format to…an 8-team format, 6 of which are invites, and the other two teams going through an absolute nightmare of an OQ format that’s going to see them playing until 4am in the morning for a chance at a single spot on the next two nights.
I’m going to avoid flogging a dead horse with regards to which of the teams at WePlay did and did not deserve invites, and which teams absolutely should have been invited (OK, I will add to one such chorus: no FABRIKEN, que que isso?), because the fundamental issue is not the invites. It’s the format, and in particular that combination of only 8 teams and 2 open qualifier spots.
The contention from the WePlay guys has been that nobody knows who’s good in EU yet, so how could they have done better. This, obviously, is at best ignorant, and at worst bullshit, but there is a kernel of truth insofar as this sort of invitational with this sort of restriction on qualifier teams only really works when either:
a) a scene is so undeveloped as of yet that you can run a single-elimination qualifier for one or two spots and not be faced with a multitude of established lineups missing out as a result.
b) a scene is so developed that the qualifier itself is an event in and onto itself (and of course, at that point, said event is the closed qualifier and you have an open qualifier with a bunch of spots running into that anyway).
EU Valorant is obviously not b), but it’s not a), either, and this is the fundamental point: this sort of format just doesn’t fly for a central event on a scene’s calendar at this point in its development.
Remember: as much as the Ignition Series is going to be good in terms of providing money, attention, credibility, whatever for competitive Valorant, there is a dark side to it too, insofar that it’s very likely to prove extremely discouraging for a lot of TOs in terms of running non-Ignition tournaments over the next few months (we already saw Take The Throne put on indefinite suspension today, albeit in its case being a victim — as a few other competitions have — of flying too close to the concept of an ongoing league, which Riot has been quick to stamp out since the end of closed beta).
The rapid pace of Ignition (and the manner in which communication on dates etc. has often been lacking) hence means that there’s a significant risk that it essentially becomes THE circuit outside of small national tournaments in the short term. That’s not ideal, but from the perspective of purely top-level competition, I suppose it’s fine as long as teams have proper, ongoing access to Ignition events.
If we have more situations like WePlay, where teams that everyone agrees are among the elite get left out because of small fields and the harsh realities of How Invites Go? Things could actually go downhill very quickly, because at that point, how do you prove yourself? NeedMoreDM are a really good example here as it happens; even in the more open and tournament-heavy climate in April and May, they got lost in the fog for a little bit because they had a bad showing or two, had to make a roster swap and adjust, and if they hadn’t shown up just in the nick of the time as they did in Rise of Titans, Absolute Masters, and the qualifier here, could have fallen off the radar entirely.
It’s hard enough to keep an orgless team together in the best of times, but if you’re then having to say to that team: you failed to qualify here, so your access to the next one, two, even three tournaments is cut off unless you pull off a miracle in a horribly congested OQ, and you’re barely going to get any competition in the mean-time, what do you think is going to happen? Those teams shatter over and over, and that’s bad for pretty much everyone involved.
This is why I’m harping on about tournament formats. Going forward, it is absolutely crucial that we get it right. What does getting it right, in broad strokes, mean? There are honestly a lot of things you can do, but realistically, in the first place, it comes down to making sure the field is as open as possible to rising teams, which means larger fields and more OQ spots. I understand that this is a business, and that there are business concerns behind TOs providing guaranteed spots at tournaments for invites. Not every tournament can do the same as the Vitality open.
That’s fine, but at the very least: I’d like to see Ignition TOs guaranteeing at least 4 OQ spots at every tournament, and preferably, running 16-team fields. Again, there are always teams who are going to feel hard done by; they didn’t get an invite, and they ran into the best team in OQ (maybe in both OQs if you want to go for the 2x2 sort of structure). That happens, but realistically, outside of some extreme edge cases, it would be hard at that point to look at it and say they didn’t get a decent shake — you’re aiming to get it to the point where it’s a genuine ‘unlucky’ and not an EUW ‘unlucky’.
There are lots of little finicky issues we can also talk about with regards to these tournaments, but for now, let’s worry about the mold on the wall later, and let’s first focus on making sure that we’re not all crammed into a single bedroom.