Trying my hand at a regional end-of-year report for a competitive esports title is a tall order that never really gets fulfilled. While I did sit down with all the schematics and an astronomical amount of statistical data, putting the numbers to paper did not feel right.
Where stats do represent a decent yardstick, community feeling runs much deeper than what a mere chart can represent. And for Valorant South Asia, this has been an undeniable fact at least in 2021. Therefore, it didn’t take me long to give up.
Representing the emotions of an entire community on paper is impossible. There are no words in the English dictionary that can anthropomorphize the amount of joy that the region felt when they got their server. Or the heartbreak they received when Global Esports had to take an early exit from the APAC LCQ.
Although I am incapable of representing these emotions with words, what I can try and talk about, however, is a bit of hope. One thing led to another, and it wasn’t long afterward that I found myself video calling a man who went on to sell me something incredibly precious: a dream.
Riot Games' Sukamal Pegu opens up about Valorant South Asia
I caught up with Riot Games’ South Asia Head of Publishing on a December afternoon as he sipped tea on what looked like a sunny courtyard.
While my mind raced with a lot of questions surrounding Riot’s next steps for Valorant in the region, I was not nearly as prepared for the answers he was hoarding.
After a brief exchange of pleasantries, Sukamal sat down with a broad smile on his face. Crossing his legs, he uttered,
“South Asia will be getting two slots each, to both the APAC Challenger Playoffs in 2022. We will have our own South Asia Regional Challengers starting with the VCC for Split 1, and the region will finally be a part of VCT.”
Ever since the Valorant Conquerors Championship 2021, the South Asian player base has been quite vocal on why their region deserves two slots at the APAC playoffs stage. And it seems that their voices were strong enough for Riot Games to not just give them an additional slot but make the region a part of the VCT roadmap itself.
However, before going into further detail on what Riot’s 2022 plans are going to be for South Asia, Sukamal talked about some of the caveats behind the decision, the space that led up to it, and the future opportunities that it seeks to create for the region.
The small space: An incredible community
An esports title’s regional success always starts with the community, and spaces such as these will never exist without the constant support of the fans. Albeit they come with their own brand of nuances, publishers do not make big decisions based solely on the wants and desires of a relatively smaller region.
Hence, it was only logical that I started by asking:
Q. What made Riot Games want to formally bring South Asian Valorant into the VCT?
Sukamal: The APAC LCQ was an experiment for us, right? South Asia never really had much history of being competitive on PC when compared to some of the other major regions around the world.
This is one of the biggest reasons why the APAC slots did not come in directly in 2021. So it’s something I had to fight and make a case on, and we eventually got a slot in the form of the APAC LCQ. But for it to count, we had to deliver on 3 things: participation, audience viewership, and the level of competitiveness.
Fortunately, we hit a home run on all three fronts. The entire VCC circuit had close to 1,000 registrations, out of which 650 were unique teams. For viewership, I promised a goal of somewhere around 40,000 to 50,000 concurrent viewers, but my expectations were exceeded and we hit close to somewhere around 60,000.
This proved the fact that there indeed is a huge number of viewers in South Asia who are interested in PC esports, and I feel that this number will keep going up.
Lastly, for the competitive part of the circuit, I feel Global Esports managed to do an incredible job in putting the region on the map. They showed that South Asia will never be just an afterthought when it comes to Valorant and that we are competitive enough to go toe-to-toe with some of the best teams around the world.
As we were able to deliver on all three counts, VCC 2022 is going to be a kind of formal entry into the whole tour, at least from the perspective of South Asia. We will finally get a complete road map, with Split 1 VCC and Split 2 (TBD) as well as an LCQ (TBD) towards the end.
We will be accomplishing all of this with the help of our partners, as I feel India is a very big partner region. And while Riot Games would love to do their roadmap themselves, I believe that the regional partners are at a stage where they can do events which meet all our criteria. Hence, we will be doing VCT 2022 stages for South Asia through our partners.
The upcoming VCC is a great example of how this approach is going to translate, and the way that we will have the path will be rather simple. To begin with, we will have the qualifying circuit for South Asia, which will plug into the APAC Challenger playoffs. This is where the top teams of all the regional circuits will fight for a slot at Master 1.
We will do this by allowing the top two teams from the end of VCC 2022 to make their way directly into the Split 1 APAC Challenger Playoffs, which will hopefully be a LAN event this year.
Yes! South Asia will be getting 2 slots this year and none of this would have been possible without the support of the fans. Like everything that was brought to the region, may it be server launch, the launch of local payments, or be it unlocking grassroots tournaments, or even the VCC for that matter, they provided us with an overwhelming amount of support.
Every time an opportunity was given to South Asia, the community took it to a whole other level, and that’s why there was a strong belief that whatever we do in the region will be supported by fans. Giving South Asia two slots for the APAC is our genuine way of saying “thank you”. I hope that this opens up a lot of opportunities for new teams and players to see what competitive esports in PC is all about.
Hope and joy: VCC and South Asia Challengers
Q. So what’s the roadmap looking like for Valorant South Asia in 2022?
Sukamal: So immediately after VCC, the first APAC, and Master 1, we will have something called the South Asian Challengers, which will be our regional Split 2 event. While that will be the official name of the event, the way we are going to implement it is yet to be decided on.
So in terms of formatting and structure, I will not be able to give you an official reading before discussing it with our partners. However, what I can disclose is some of my thoughts around it, and how I would want to personally go about the structure.
Firstly, I don’t think we will be having a similar circuit point system for Challengers, but we're looking to create a format that will try and incentivize teams to perform better throughout the year. VCC will not be the only qualifying yardstick in 2022, as I would look to connect all the other events that are part of the South Asian VCT roadmap and try to make them lead into each other.
A potential approach is to take the top 20 teams from VCC and allow them to get direct entry into the South Asian Challengers in Split 2, and leave out two additional slots for the event with open qualifiers.
This will allow more flexibility and, for those two teams who are not in the top 20, to get more exposure. So instead of getting eliminated in the second or third round, they will actually get to play at a level they weren’t previously able to in the standard subregional formats, which had a history of qualifying the same teams over and over again.
South Asia Valorant Challengers 2022 will be a great test for us as a region. We will need our audience to be mindful of the skill gap but at the same time come out to support their teams for the event.
Supporting the underdogs is a big part of our roadmap. While they might not make it far into the event, showing a strong performance or even pulling off massive upsets is a great way of portraying how well the region is improving in terms of competition.
After Challengers, South Asia will have their own Last Chance Qualifiers leading into the APAC LCQ, whose format again is yet to be decided.
However, as per our official announcement, the first event on the South Asian VCT roadmap will be the Valorant Conquerors Championship. The reason we went with VCC is because it has become a very popular brand in 2021 and is still fresh in the minds of many fans. It was only logical that we start our season with it.
Moreover, the APAC region this time around will not just be hosting the SA or the SEA countries. Japan and Oceania (which is Australia and New Zealand) will also be getting their slots in the event. However, China and South Korea will have their own qualifiers leading into Master.
The Dream: Two slots and Masters debut
Q. So what are some of your expectations from the teams and organizations in 2022, now that we finally have the much-desired “two slots”?
Sukamal: Two slots have been a big ask, right? This is also something that I have been pushing for as well, as I truly believe that the South Asian Valorant scene will grow when we give more teams that international exposure. So the faster we do it, the better.
There was a strong and genuine voice from the community on giving the region two seeds, and there was enough merit behind it which led to this decision.
So one of the questions that I had to answer was, 'How competitive are the other teams in South Asia as compared to Global Esports?'
Global Esports is legit in the region, and now we have at least three to four more teams who can come close to winning against them and, on good days, even beat them. This is the reason why we felt that we need to build exposure for two teams at least from South Asia’s perspective.
This is not just to say that “you guys are competitive”, but we also take this as an opportunity to give back to the teams who are interested in investing.
So we need our teams, especially on the competitive front, to make those leaps, right? And that can happen over two things. First is the actual aspect of exposure to events that are not limited to the region, which will give them the visibility of saying 'what is the skill difference and where do I need to level up?'. The second thing is, investments into the team and the organization itself.
Over 2022, our orgs must level up and be legit. So we need them to invest in the team, invest in the players, the training schedule, and have an aim on where we want to be this season.
As Riot Games is now going to bring clear roadmaps to the region especially from a first party perspective, orgs should be able to make investments with the clear focus that this is what the goals for the year are going to look like.
Without a clear roadmap, orgs will obviously start questioning their investments, 'Why do we even have a coach? We are never getting a chance to play international events…' will be some of the recurring thoughts.
So that is why we are trying to give visibility to the teams, saying,
“You have a clear roadmap now, you don’t have one slot anymore, so you don’t have to really keep winning all the time to make it. If you come as close as the Grand Finals, that is good enough for you to go and get that exposure. And we need you to think about not just winning the subregional event but actually making it to the next stage which is Masters.”
Hence, in 2022, I would personally like to see that at least one of our teams is able to make it to the Masters LAN. I know it’s a very steep climb and an even bigger ask. But what’s a dream if we are not looking to achieve it, right?
This season for me is not just about sending teams to the APAC Stages but having them participate in the Masters themselves. #NoPressure
Nocturnes and Preludes: Leagues and the road to success
Q. Now that Riot is introducing a league format for the EMEA, will this be something that will spread to other regions that are officially a part of the tour?
Sukamal: So keeping Valorant Europe in mind, I feel leagues are something that we will definitely look at in the future. However, what I want to point out is that leagues are very mature products. We will look to learn from the EMEA experience and will definitely bring some of those best practices to our region as well
So that thought process was, “What will be the next level for Valorant esports?" We have already had two great years of buildup heading into 2022. The first-year is when we delivered the Ignition series; the second was a full VCT roadmap which culminated in Champions.
For Riot Games, 2022 won’t be all that different compared to 2021. The only difference is that we are trying to bring in a bit more international flavor and helping regions like South Asia formally join the Champions Tour and not look for pathways like LCQ to get in.
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We have a full roadmap for the region now, and unlocking the league system for Europe is a great way for us to see how the scene progresses. And if it works for Europe, we will look to implement a lot of those ideas in other regions as well, even in South Asia.