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  • "It makes sense to build a core around Thai players": Talon Esports' CEO Sean Zhang talks about VCT 2023
Talon Esports' CEO Sean Zheng (Image via Sportskeeda)

"It makes sense to build a core around Thai players": Talon Esports' CEO Sean Zhang talks about VCT 2023

Riot Games recently announced the official list of 30 esports organizations who were granted a VCT franchise slot and a multi-year partnership with Riot to work on the growth and development of Valorant's esports ecosystem. The 30 franchised teams will be spread across 3 regions, with 10 teams each in the Pacific, Americas, and EMEA Leagues.

Talon Esports, a Hong Kong-based esports organization, was among the 10 Asian organizations that secured a prestigious slot in the VCT Pacific League.


Over the next few years, Talon will have the opportunity to field a world-class roster with the resources provided by Riot Games. They will compete against the most reputed teams from all over Asia, with the potential to fight for international titles such as Masters and Champions.


We are thrilled to announce our entry into the Valorant Partnership Program as Thailand's representative and compete in the new @ValorantEsports Pacific League.
Read more: bit.ly/3UpMxC7


Talon Esports' CEO Sean Zhang talks about VCT 2023, potential roster changes, and more

Talon Esports has had a relatively brief history in Valorant's esports scene in comparison to some of the other partnered organizations. Fortunately, their rich history in esports earned them a well-deserved slot for the next few years of the Valorant Champions Tour.


Talon kicked off their Valorant journey in March 2022 by building a roster based in the Philippines. While the organization did not witness regional or international success during the 2022 VCT season, their recent partnership status has bolstered their pathway to the apex of Valorant.

In a conversation with Adarsh J Kumar of Sportskeeda Esports, Talon Esports' CEO and co-founder, Xiao "Sean" Zhang, shared his insights on Valorant's partnership program. He also detailed Talon Esports' journey in Valorant so far and discussed various other relevant topics.

Q: Congratulations on securing a well-deserved franchise slot in the VCT Pacific League. Can you walk us through your feelings when you found out that Talon Esports was selected?

Sean: To sum it up, it was amazing. Honestly, it's very humbling for us because I think we're still a very young organization here in APAC, even though we're reasonably well known in certain games like League of Legends (LOL) and Arena of Valor (RoV) in different markets.


But having the opportunity to compete with all those big names like Gen.G, T1, Paper Rex, and all the massive names here in the Pacific region as well as Europe and the Americas is incredibly humbling for us. We have a pretty rich history in FPS, so we are quietly confident that we can do something here.

Honestly, it was amazing. I got the email at 9:00 am in the morning and I was up watching Champions that night, kind of anticipating that we'd get the email after Champions. I saw the email, and I was slightly apprehensive at the start because we obviously didn't know if it was a positive or negative email. But it was positive. I called my COO and my co-founder, and we were very ecstatic. I am very happy, but also very humbled that we were selected by Riot to represent Thailand.

I cannot understate how HARD the guys at @TALON_Esports worked over these past few months to become the Thai representative and be accepted into the Riot partnership program. I am so proud of their work ethic, professionalism, kindness and they are reaping hard work rewards! twitter.com/ValorantEsport…
Welcome to the next era of the #VCT

We are proud to introduce the 30 teams who will compete in the VALORANT Champions Tour in 2023.

Q: With so many organizations and only 10 spots, franchising was expected to be a cut-throat affair. What did you think about Talon’s chances of being selected, prior to being informed by Riot Games of your qualification?


Sean: I think it was 50-50, to be honest with you. The key difference that we had an advantage on was that we had a lot of experience working with Riot in League of Legends, particularly for the PCS (Pacific Championship Series). We really helped deliver a product with PSG Talon in PCS, which I think has resonated both regionally and globally, so that probably helped us a little bit.

But I would say it was 50-50, because there are obviously a lot of amazing organizations in South-East Asia and APAC. We weren't sure what the slot distribution was like, if half of the slots were given to the Korean region, or if it was half Korea and Japan. We didn't know how many slots were coming to SEA. To be honest, my own gut feeling was like 50-50, but it's hard to say.

Generally, if you look at the criteria, I think we ticked all the boxes for the Philippines and Thailand, but also at the same time, there were some amazing teams locally within the Philippines and Thailand that have been around a lot longer than us. But I guess for whatever reason, we hit the criteria mostly, and it seems like Riot were comfortable with that. We eventually got the slot.

But initially, it was still a 50-50; we were unsure if we would get it. While the criteria did kind of suit us, it's also hard to say because we didn't know who we were facing. We didn't know the whole process of who we'd be facing and where we'd be allocated as a country, so that was difficult. We got it in the end, which we're very happy about, of course.


Q: Considering that Talon Esports is originally a Hong Kong based organization, what made you go with the decision to compete in Valorant as Thailand’s representatives?

Sean: Just for some context, we run teams across Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, and the Philippines, and we cover about 8 professional esports right now, including Rainbow Six Seige, Overwatch, League of Legends, Dota 2, Valorant, RoV, Street Fighter, and Tekken 7. We have a pretty large footprint across the whole region.

Initially when we applied, we were looking at a number of Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines and Thailand, where we already have a presence through other games. But in the end, Thailand made the most sense because we had probably one of the biggest social media followings coming out of Thailand. We work with a lot of brands from Thailand.

Today, we part ways with @andreim8t, @Gnaru8, and @patmenVLR.

We would like to thank them for their time with the team.


We also felt that there was a credibly high talent pool that we could tap into and really develop. The game is incredibly popular in Thailand as well, which we thought was great. We have a rich history in Thailand when it comes to delivering championships.


For example, we were the first team to bring an EVO champion to Thailand when Book won at EVO Japan 2020. We were the first organization to bring two Thai players to Overwatch Contenders in the Pacific, with Patiphan and oPuTo. We were the first team to win a gold medal for Thailand in an international championship for RoV. We currently have two Thai players in the Talon Dota 2 team (23savage & Q) that have qualified for TI 2022 as well.

I would say that we have a very rich history of working with talent from the region that can be put on the international stage. I think that was the thought process around that. The Philippines would have also kind of been okay for us, but obviously, Team Secret has a huge presence there and deservedly got that slot as well. Most of the SEA countries that we were operating in were those we were comfortable with, but I think Thailand in the end was the best fit for what we were trying to do.

Q: Valorant has a major foothold in several countries that Talon Esports are familiar with. Considering that, what delayed the organization's entry into Valorant esports?

Sean: People may not know this, but in year 0, we were the operator for Valorant in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Therefore, we didn't really want to jump in as a team yet. We were kind of assessing where the opportunity was.

I agree, we were a little bit late. But whenever we approach new esports, we tend to take a very conservative approach. We kind of wait and see how things develop and then kind of build into that. We did build a team in February this year in the Philippines. Unfortunately, we just missed out on qualifying for VCT for the Philippines and then for APAC as well.


Given that we're new in the esports scene, that was fine. I think it's just our approach when it comes to entering new esports. We just took a more conservative approach and decided to just wait and see, and once we're comfortable, we generally pull the trigger.

We are always a little bit more conservative because we want to make sure that if and when we invest our effort into an esport, it should be one where we're 100 percent comfortable that everything is going to play out the way we need as an organization to be successful.

Looking back, to be honest, we probably could've pulled the trigger earlier. But for whatever reason, I guess based on the resources that we had as an organization at that stage, it didn't make complete sense. We're not the biggest organization, one that can spin up a new team every day. We just tend to take a more conservative approach and make sure that we're 100% comfortable before we make those decisions.

Q: Talon Esports is the most successful League of Legends team in the Pacific Champions Series (PCS). Do you think your success in LOL has something to do with Riot’s decision to select Talon Esports for Valorant franchising?


Sean: I don't know for sure, but I know that in the interview process and the selection criteria, there was a section around historical performance in other esports.

If you look at all the esports that we're in, whether it be Overwatch, Street Fighter, Tekken 7, League of Legends, RoV or Dota 2, we've had a lot of success very quickly. I think that is the by-product of the team that we have and the heavy thinking that we do around performance management.

To answer your question, I think it might. I definitely think it was part of the criteria and what they were looking at it. I don't know if it was specifically for PSG Talon and the PCS, but I definitely think we've proven to most publishers and fans out there that we can be very successful very quickly, regardless of what esports we go into.

If you look at our history across every single esports that we've done, we've been able to win titles, both domestically and on the international stage, while being super competitive. This is something that is quite rare across a lot of esports where teams might cover multiple regions. That's something that was probably accounted for. I don't know if it was specifically for PSG Talon, but probably across our whole organization, given that we've won so many titles in so many different games.


Q: What are some of the benefits you get from Riot Games by being a partnered team, and are there any deliverables that Riot expects from the organization in return?

Sean: Riot has a lot of interesting ideas around promoting the game. I think Riot is probably one of, if not the best, publishers at developing esports IPs. There are a whole bunch of different bits and pieces that they're looking for us to do in Thailand, which I think is super exciting.

There will be a lot of underground activities with fans, which I think is something that is missing for the Thai fans, with the games (VCT Pacific League) being played in Korea. Being able to do more of that on the ground in Thailand would be really cool.

There is a pretty extensive list of things that we should be doing as an organization. But personally, I think that those things are a minimum. If we want to grow an esport, and if you're a franchised organization, I would expect all the other teams to be putting in the same amount of effort to grow the game, to expand the audience within the Asia-Pacific as well as in the Americas, Europe, and globally.

I think most of their requirements are straightforward. I think it's something that most of the esports organizations are already doing when it comes to content. Overall, it's pretty straightforward.

There's a lot of interesting things that Riot are doing with the game, which I think will allow teams to incorporate into the game nicely. I think it's going to be pretty exciting to see how those develop.


With the way that they've scheduled this VCT season with the Kickoff event in Brazil and a lot of exciting things throughout the year, it's going to make it a pretty cool Year 0 to kick things off. There's also going to be a lot of exciting things that Riot is doing, as well as us partnering with other esports teams throughout the region and globally to do some cool stuff, which I think will be pretty exciting.

Q: As you know, the rostermania has kicked in for the upcoming VCT season. When it comes to Talon’s Valorant team, are you possibly looking to rebuild your roster or do you have your eyes on any particular players at the moment?

Sean: We currently have a squad in the Philippines, a majority of which are Filipino players. We do represent Thailand, so that obviously does create some form of issue. It's not that we have to take Thai players. But obviously, if we want to build fans in Thailand, it makes sense to build a core around Thai players, which we very much want to do.

We're currently in discussions around exploring options around certain teams throughout SEA that can obviously represent our home country, which makes a lot of sense. We're also looking to bring back some stars from the international space who might have left Valorant for some other games and might be coming back as well.

Patiphan rumored to make his return to Valorant with Talon Esports dlvr.it/SZkSdy #gaming #gamingcommunity #gamingnews

We're looking at options now. I would say that we want to build the strongest squad possible, obviously with a core of Thai players. But at the same time, we're still exploring incredible talent from SEA to see how we can mix and match, going into the future. But that would depend on the coaches that we have.

We are currently definitely exploring a lot of different options for the squad. I think we'll have some nice surprises for everyone and it should be a very competitive squad, heading into APAC.

Q: For the next few years, Talon will be playing in a tournament with an entirely new format. What are your thoughts on the structure of the new VCT International Leagues, Challenger Leagues, and the Ascension tournament?

Sean: I think initially when they announced tier-1 and they didn't have the Ascension opportunities for tier-2, I thought that it was going to be a bigger problem since there are a lot of people who invested a lot into Valorant. But now that they have that, I think it's a smart move to allow teams who aren't franchised to still have an opportunity to come up.

There are a lot of fantastic organizations that didn't make it. But I think the way it's structured now is great. I think we have a group of owners that are incredibly motivated and want to collectively work together to help build the game in APAC, and I think that's going to be super exciting, whether it be content, rivalries, or competitiveness.


For example, we have a really strong competitive relationship with T1 in Dota 2 right now. That's going to extend into Valorant, which will be really interesting to see. I think there are a lot of regional rivalries that I think are going to be really powerful.

The good thing is, all the owners within APAC have a clear process of how they want to brand and market their team. I think with the structure that we have now with VCT Pacific League, it's going to be super exciting to see all of these personalities come out and for the players to really showcase who they are. All the content and hype around this is also going to be really cool.

We're really excited about the format. I think it makes a lot of sense. There's a lot of alignment between the teams and the publisher, which I think is really great. There is a lot of incentive for the teams to work together to really blow up the game.

Q: After seeing the nine other organizations that made it into APAC franchising, do you think there are any teams who deserved to get a slot for the VCT Pacific League but were surprisingly left out?


Sean: I thought that Crazy Raccoon would be selected from Japan. I thought they did really well in VCT 2021. I'm surprised that they didn't get it, but obviously they have a crazy fan base, looking at their socials and everything that they're doing.

Some of the big Korean LCK (League of Legends Champions Korea) teams like DAMWON Gaming have invested a lot into Valorant as well. Gen.G, T1, and DRX got in, but I guess you can't have 5 Korean teams; otherwise it would be a Korean league and not for the APAC.

I guess some of the SEA teams as well. There are a lot of great teams coming out of the region, but it didn't quite work out for them.

I thought there might be something for Australia as well. But for whatever reason, it didn't quite work out for some of the Aussie teams. I'm a Chinese-Australian from Australia, so it would have been great to see them there. But it is what it is. I'm sure there will be opportunities on the Ascension side.

Q: After seeing the direction in which Riot Games is taking Valorant, what do you think about the future of the game and its esports ecosystem?

Sean: I think Valorant is really a game set up for success, particularly here in Asia. I can't really comment on the US or Europe since we don't really look at those markets. If you look at Asia, there hasn't been an FPS title that has really dominated the region that people have got behind.


Overwatch was that when it first started. But the format that Blizzard went with for the Overwatch League and the Contenders, I think they kind of shot themselves in the foot. It has become a lot more difficult for the teams and the entire community to thrive within that competitive scene.

CS: GO hasn't ever really popped off here in Asia. There were some interesting pockets here and there, but it hasn't really done well. But I think the way Riot is investing into each market, understanding the cultural differences, and building a league that can represent multiple countries within a region is really exciting. They are also investing a lot of effort to make sure that the leagues and teams head in that direction.

I think the game is easy to watch, which I think is good. The more Agents they add in, the more complex it will get. But overall, if you compare it to other esports, the concept is a lot easier to understand, with planting a spike and defusing it in attack and defense, in comparison to something like Dota 2 or League of Legends, which requires more depth. I think that's great.

After looking at the way that Riot has done production for the Masters and Champions, it would be great to see how the three VCT leagues will be run regionally. If they put in this level of production and effort, which I know Riot is very capable of doing, I think it's going to be one of the premier games here in Asia. I honestly think that it will kind of be the next big esports title that Riot has developed.


We've already seen so many fans being a part of it, and I think it's only going to get bigger in Asia. It's going to be super exciting to see how it develops, and I hope with Global Esports representing India, us representing Thailand, we've got Indonesia, Singapore-Malaysia, and a lot of regions being represented in Asia that we've seen the game grow here as well and really see it develop.

A lot of great, talented players exist in all the markets that I just mentioned. It's now great that they have a platform to showcase it to the world.

Edited by
Atul S
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