Valorant esports was part of a memorable feat in July 2022 as Riot Games hosted the VCT Masters in front of a live audience for the first time ever.
Twelve of the best Valorant teams around the world convened in Copenhagen, Denmark, between July 10 - 24 to compete for the Stage 2 Masters title. While Riot anticipated an incredible turnout for the event, the viewership record of the event stated otherwise.
In a set of statistics published by Esports Charts after the conclusion of the VCT Masters: Copenhagen, it was reported that the tournament recorded the lowest viewership for a Masters/Champions event in the history of VCT.
While this does not indicate the decline of Valorant as an esport, it does provide grounds as to why the game's biggest competitor, CS: GO, has a more flourishing esports ecosystem.
Valorant Masters Copenhagen recorded the worst audience reach in VCT Masters history
Riot Games' tactical shooter turned two in June 2022. However, it was not until the recent Stage 2 Masters that Riot succeeded in bringing one of their biggest tournaments to a live audience.
Between July 22 - 24, The Forum Copenhagen hosted thousands of Valorant enthusiasts who had gathered to witness this esports spectacle live. The tournament, however, had an audience much smaller than anticipated, with a fair portion of the auditorium left unoccupied.
The dip in the tournament's live viewership was reflected in the online viewership as well, as the Masters: Copenhagen recorded the lowest peak and average viewers in VCT history.
With a peak viewership of 783K and an average viewership of 317K, the VCT 2022 Stage 2 Masters: Copenhagen fared worse than its predecessors.
To put things into perspective, the Stage 1 Masters in Reykjavik had a peak viewership of 1.065 million, which is a bump of 26%. The average viewership, on the other hand, was at 416K, a staggering 23% more than the Stage 2 Masters.
One of the main factors that contributed to the fall in viewership is perhaps the absence of Brazilian and Japanese teams in the final stages of the tournament. LOUD's performance in the Grand Finals of the Masters: Reykjavik raked in 353.4K peak viewers in VCT's Portuguese streams, with the numbers going down to 200K in the Masters: Copenhagen Group Stage and 40K in the Grand Finals.
Similarly, Japanese broadcasts peaked at 419K viewers during the Stage 1 Masters due to ZETA DIVISION's incredible third-place finish. However, there was a similar dip in viewers from the country, with peak viewership landing at 185K during the Group Stage and 134K during the Grand Finals.
Though factors like a lack of representation from Brazilian and Japanese teams did amount to a fall in viewership in the Grand Finals this time, it did not justify the low volume that VCT's Russian and Indonesian broadcasts reflected.
The VCT 2022 Masters: Copenhagen Grand Finals witnessed an encounter between FunPlus Phoenix (EMEA) and Paper Rex (APAC). With two Russian players being part of FPX and the team representing the CIS-region, one would expect Russian viewership to rise in popularity over the course of the event.
Similarly, with a budding Valorant community in Indonesia, PRX's local audience was also expected to rank high. However, in the end, the Russian and Indonesian Grand Finals streams reeled in only 25.2K and 22.8K peak viewers, respectively.
VCT Masters Copenhagen vs IEM Cologne 2022
CS: GO's IEM Cologne 2022 fared astronomically well in comparison to VCT Masters: Copenhagen.
Over the last two decades, CS: GO has maintained a flourishing esports ecosystem with a dedicated fanbase spread all across the world. While the arrival of Valorant did hinder Counter Strike's progress, its esports ecosystem bounced back when Valve re-opened its doors to in-person audiences in 2021.
Twenty-four of the best CS: GO teams in the world convened in Cologne, Germany, at the recent Intel Extreme Masters to compete for their share from a $1 million prize pool.
The Lanxess Arena, often known as the Cathedral of Counter Strike, was seen jam-packed with a diverse crowd of esports enthusiasts as they cheered for one of the most exciting esports spectacles in CS: GO's esports calendar.
Despite not being a Major, the IEM Cologne 2022 amassed a crowd worthy of recognition. In addition to the in-person attendees, the tournament raked in the best live viewership record for a non-Major tournament in CS: GO's history.
The IEM Cologne 2022 Grand Finals between Natus Vincere and FaZe Clan recorded a peak viewership of 1.24 million, with an average of 276K viewers. As a result, IEM Cologne 2022 has been ranked as having the fifth highest peak viewership in CS: GO's esports history.
Comparative analysis of Valorant and CS: GO with respect to their esports ecosystem
The debate between two of the world's most revered FPS titles is surely a tough one to settle.
In terms of esports, CS: GO has a viewerbase that has been established through its game's predecessors, with Counter Strike and Counter Strike: Source being popular esports titles.
Valorant, on the other hand, has had an active esports circuit for less than two years, with a wavering tournament structure that has been through multiple changes since its formation.
Counter Strike is a fairly simple game to understand for first-time viewers who do not have a tactical understanding of the game. Although Valorant bears similarities to CS: GO in terms of mechanics, its tactical side and in-game terminology can be confusing for beginners.
Due to the similarities both gaming titles share, a fraction of their viewerbases also overlap. However, Valorant is yet to be established as the primary choice for esports fans.
Despite being off to a steady start, the recent fall in viewership could affect Valorant in the long run, with Riot Games' plans for the future of the FPS shooter also concerning several esports organizations. Thus, CS: GO thrusts into the lead as the number one FPS esports title in the world for now.
What lies ahead for Valorant esports?
Riot Games has already revealed their plans for Valorant's esports calender in 2023. A franchised league structure similar to that of esports titles like Call of Duty, Overwatch, and Riot's own League of Legends is set to replace the Valorant Champions Tour.
The franchised leagues will be set up in Asia, America and Europe, and will contribute to the highest tier of Valorant esports. Each international league is expected to have upto 12 organizations each, with Riot Games selecting the participants through a multi-stage procedure.
As of writing, several teams have been eliminated from the race to secure a valuable slot in the Valorant franchise leagues. Unaware of what lies ahead for them, a few top-tier organizations have departed the pro scene, having lost faith in the franchise league program.
Only time can tell what lies ahead for Valorant esports. For now, one can only hope that the game's esports ecosystem will evolve as fans wait for Riot Games to reveal their plans with bated breath.