Step into the O2 Victoria Warehouse on any given night, and you’re usually swallowed up by whatever thunderous gig happens to be taking place: this year alone, the Manchester venue has already played host to Run The Jewels, Charli XCX and Placebo, to name a few. This weekend (December 9-11), however, the building was packed out for Red Bull Home Ground – an esports tournament for Valorant, one of the world’s biggest first-person shooter (FPS) games. The best Valorant players from across the world were gathered to take a shot at winning a cash prize totaling £81,000 ($100,000), and many of the competing teams were looking to make a statement before heading into Riot’s franchised Valorant scene in 2023.
- READ MORE: The 8 best PC games you need to play in 2022
The goal of Valorant is simple: two teams of five are pitted against each other and must try to successfully detonate or defuse the bomb (called a Spike). Of course, there’s a much simpler way to win: kill the enemy team before they wipe out yours. The first team to win 13 rounds takes home the victory and when the world’s best players go head-to-head, it’s nothing short of brutal. When you’re watching professionals play Valorant on a stage like Home Ground’s, it looks like a completely different game to the one that regular players are used to. Due to their skill, headshots are landed in milliseconds – often faster than the time it takes audiences to register an opponent was even visible – and the sorts of things that would send casual teams into “clip that” hysterics are all too common.
It’s a bloodsport that Home Ground’s audience can appreciate. Cloud 9 (C9) player Leaf was met with a roar of approval from the crowd when he successfully turned the tables on a dire-looking round by killing four opponents in quick succession, while Team Heretics’ AvovA left even Vitality’s vocal fanbase impressed by killing all five members of their team in spectacular fashion. It’s not often that a major esports tournament graces the north of England, so to have some of Valorant’s biggest teams fly out from places like America and Istanbul meant the crowd felt electric.
Yet as the tournament progressed, more of these teams fell to the wayside – in the semi-finals, charismatic competitors Vitality and KRU crashed out to pave the way for American organisations 100 Thieves and Cloud 9 to face off in the best-of-five final. In the end, it was 100T that took home the trophy, clinically dismantling C9 in an abrupt 3-0 fashion and sending the roaring crowd to their feet. 100T made winning Home Ground look easy – the team didn’t drop a single game on their path to the trophy, and their final game against C9 was a slaughter. Though the first two games of the all-American series ended relatively closely at 13-10 and 13-9, the final match was a one-sided bloodbath that left 100T walking out almost unscathed at 13-3.
From the audience’s perspective, it looked like C9 had hit their limit: the team had already played a best-of-three today, and were visibly exhausted by their final game. To some, 100T’s victory came as no surprise – not a single team matched their dominance on the run-up to the finals – yet for C9 fans in the audience, it didn’t dull the sting of defeat.
For 100T’s Matthew ‘Cryocells‘ Panganiban though, the main stage victory in Manchester was the latest addition to a hefty record of wins. Panganiban got into Valorant during school, when COVID led to everything moving online and he found he had more free time to play games, he tells NME. After discovering he had a knack for the game, he attended a few casual tournaments before realising it could turn into something bigger.
“I asked my parents to let me take a gap year to see where this takes me and they initially really hated it – despised it,” recalls Panganiban. “They eventually let me go – so I’m glad, because of where I am now.”
However, Valorant is the only game where Panganiban has competitive experience – something he says is a “disadvantage” due to many other competitors having a background in competitive Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or Rainbow Six Siege. One example is Panganiban’s teammate, Peter “Asuna” Mazuryk, who was a former Counter-Stike pro before moving to Valorant.
“I got cut from my Counter-Stike team and I was really sad about it – I was in the dumps and didn’t want to go back in skill level,” Mazuryk tells NME. “If you get cut from a team and go to a worse team it’s really demoralising, so I didn’t really want to play Counter-Strike.”
Mazuryk says that his only friend at the time was playing Valorant – so like a number of Counter-Strike pros, Mazuryk made the switch. Discussing the migration, Mazuryk says the “opportunity” of Valorant has been alluring for many players.
“It’s a 5v5 tactical FPS with a lot of similarities so it’s easier to translate your skills, so if you have an opportunity to showcase that in a better, more meaningful way, then you’ll do that,” explains Mazuryk, who adds that players have more chances to “grow as a person and a player” in Valorant.
100T’s dominance came from a mix of seasoned shooter specialists and those making their debut with Valorant. Yet as franchising takes root and Riot Games looks to elevate Valorant’s esport to the height of League of Legends or Counter-Strike, the amount of purely-Valorant players will likely grow. It’s a fair assumption that so, too, will viewers: live events like Home Ground are a haven for fans and competitors alike to celebrate their passion. While Manchester’s audience was electric during matches, it felt just as good to wander through the venue between matches and overhear animated discussions about people’s favourite teams, players, and ludicrously hot takes as the tournament played out.
From a fan’s perspective, it’s easy to see the same potential that Home Ground champion Mazuryk sees in Valorant. Home Ground wasn’t just a fantastic way to assess competitors’ strengths as they prepare step into 2023, it was a measure of the game’s vibrant community. Back in September, we said that in-person esports events like Riot’s League finals in Malmö simply can’t be topped: several months and hundreds of miles away, Home Ground proves that nothing’s changed but the game.
Valorant is free to play, and available for PC now.