"We have no reason to make changes": Paper Rex CEO Nikhil Hathiramani talks about PRX roster, VCT 2023, and more
Earlier this week, Riot Games announced a list of 30 organizations that were selected to be partnered representatives in the upcoming Valorant Champions Tour (VCT) international leagues, namely across the regions of Pacific, EMEA, and the Americas.
Paper Rex (PRX), one of APAC's most successful esports organizations, has expectedly secured a VCT partnership, allowing them to compete in various events that Riot has in store for the next six years.
By securing a slot in the 10-team VCT Pacific League, PRX will have the opportunity to compete against the best Valorant teams from all over Asia on a regular basis, with the potential to represent the region at the highest stages of Valorant esports, Masters and Champions.
The Singaporean organization had one of their most successful campaigns in the 2022 VCT season, where they managed to secure a fourth-place finish at the Stage 1 Masters: Reykjavik, and a runners-up spot at the Stage 2 Masters: Copenhagen.
Paper Rex CEO Nikhil "nikH" Hathiramani talks about PRX's entry into VCT Pacific League
In a conversation with Adarsh J Kumar of Sportskeeda Esports, Paper Rex's co-founder and CEO, Nikhil "nikH" Hathiramani, spoke about the team's entry into the VCT Pacific League, potential roster changes, and the structure of Valorant's franchised leagues, among other topics.
Q: Congratulations on securing your franchise slot for the next few years. Can you walk us through your feelings when you found out that PRX was selected?
nikH: When I found out, I was a bit shocked. There were definitely a few of us at Paper Rex who were not 100% confident. I mean, looking at our competitors and colleagues, how can you be? APAC is full of such prestigious and well-rounded organizations.
In our heads, we kind of already knew who the possible teams were and so we just felt that we had a chance, but we weren't 100 percent sure. Nothing ever is, right? So, it was a bit of a shock. Words can't describe the feeling when you work towards a goal with such desire, passion, and a lot of hard work, which everyone at our company has been putting towards this goal, and it finally pays off.
Q: What was the entire selection process like for the partnership program?
nikH: Riot initially invited teams to apply. We had the option to accept that invitation, first and foremost. After that, it was a process of us providing them with the materials. I guess they shortlisted teams based on what we initially submitted.
It was basically open to the teams on how they wanted to submit the application. But it was a series of questions that Riot had that had to be specifically answered in your material. So, whether you submit a deck or a video, it's really up to you.
From that point onwards, the shortlisted teams were invited to be interviewed. After the interview process, it was pretty much quiet until we found out.
Q: What are some of the benefits you get from Riot Games by being a partnered VCT team, and are there any deliverables that Riot expects from the organization in return?
nikH: There's a lot to be gained for both parties. From our point of view, as one of the smaller organizations, not to play us down by any means, I think we're a really substantial team in the world of Valorant. But compared to some of the organizations that have been around for a longer time, yes, we're like the new kid on the block.
So, for organizations such as us, some of the benefits far outweigh the benefits for other organizations, namely the resources that Riot will provide to us. On top of that, it's a two-way street. What Riot was looking for in their potential candidates were those that demonstrated the ability to produce compelling content. I think that definitely is no secret anymore.
Valorant is very much a completely different look and feel when compared to League of Legends (LoL), so it would be a mistake for Riot to just carbon copy everything they've done in LoL to Valorant. This game is a very different one. It's the FPS genre and you're dealing with a different audience. So, they've really honed it, or at least they have a vision of how they want to portray their game.
UItimately, they are looking for partners to align with that vision and have that same brand sensibility and then, it transcends all the way down. We will gain stability as well; I think that goes without saying.
As a partnered team, you're locked in for a few years. This allows us to do planning, logistics, operations, player development, and all those types of programs that you have ideas for and want to run. You have a little bit more clarity on that, and that spills over to clarity for investors and sponsors. It's not like it is easier or anything like that. It just allows and facilitates all of those things.
Q: You've seen the nine other organizations that will join Paper Rex in the VCT Pacific League. However, do you think there are any organizations within the APAC region that seemingly deserve a franchise slot, but missed out on one?
nikH: The process, in my experience, was very, very diligent. I trust the process and the way Riot made the decision to filter out the teams that deserved it and those that didn't. I think it comes down to that because you can make the case and there is a lot of talk about certain organizations in North America and Europe and the controversies around those decisions.
Ultimately, Riot are the ones with the final say, and no one can really say anything about that. This is slightly different from other franchise leagues out there, where the organizations have to buy in.
In that regard, if you are an organization paying for the spot, you have a little bit more leverage there. It's the reverse in this situation, where Riot is inviting teams to join and provides them with resources in return. That kind of gives them the final say at the end of the day, and no one can really argue about that.
It's hard to say who deserved the spot and who didn't. All the APAC organizations that applied and made it to the final stages rightly deserve a slot. It just comes down to what they actually did in the process that reveals how much they deserve it.
Q: As you know, the rostermania has kicked in for the VCT 2023 season. Is PRX looking to make new additions? Has anyone from the team been approached by other partnered organizations?
nikH: We feel like we have no reason to make changes, but ultimately, it's up to the players about what they want to do. But at this point in time, I won't say more than that.
Q: VCT International Leagues will have an entirely new structure and format when compared to the previous editions of the tournament circuit. What do you think about the new structure?
nikH: The structure for the partnered teams is great. We don't really know the details of what the format in itself will be for each individual tournament. This upcoming season, 2023, is kind of just this one-off thing, where they have the Kickoff tournament to celebrate the start of the new VCT.
We know the wider calendar, and we know that there's the Kickoff tournament, Masters, and we've heard that they're still going to continue to have two Masters events per year, and then have a Champions at the end of that season.
Q: Similar to the VCT International Leagues, Riot Games will conduct Challenger Leagues for organizations that aspire to be a partnered org in the future. What are your thoughts on the structure for the tier-2 scene?
nikH: I think it's going to be tough for the tier-2 scene. I don't think there's anything fundamentally wrong with how they're doing it. I think it's important to have a pathway that itself compels players to stay invested.
Only time will tell how compelling it is for organizations. I hope that tier-2 teams continue to invest and field Valorant rosters as this is in their best interests as well, to eventually get to the partnership side of things where they can be a partnered team for two years.
For the tier-2 scene, I think it's kind of like a double-edged sword. It's like, do you invest in the forseable future, or do you not? I could make an argument for both in that position. It comes down to what your market is talking about and where that's going to go, but I think it's good for the players at least. That's the important thing.
I'm curious to see how the new in-game competitive mode will chime in with all of this. There hasn't been much detail about that, even for us. So, it would be interesting to see what that actually does. One thing I do know that will happen is that these next 3-6 months are going to be the worst of it, in my opinion.
I think the instability, continual changes to rosters, dropping players and signing new ones should subside by the end of the first season. But that's what is expected, and I think everyone just kind of needs to expect that. When there's a change, whether it's a league like this, or if a new esports is introduced, the change is never really clean.