The LOCK//IN tournament in Sao Paulo will kick off the VCT Tier 1 circuit for 2023. It is scheduled to begin on February 13 and go on till March 4, 2023.
It will be the largest international tournament in Valorant's history, with 32 teams from across the world participating. All 10 squads from each of the three regional leagues will be flying in to Sao Paulo for the event and will be joined by two Chinese rosters to bring the count up to 32.
The tournament will see the 32 teams being divided into two single-elimination brackets called Alpha and Omega consisting of 16 rosters each. All matches upto the final four will be best-of-three with the respective Group Finals and Grand Finals following the best-of-five format.
The tournament will see the first official matches where Valorant's new map, Lotus, will be played on. Only a few teams are going into this tournament with their rosters from the last season intact, and some of them are fairly new as well. However, owing to the Agent adjustments in Patch 5.12 and the map pool being switched up, it can be anyone's game.
Here are the top five teams who fans from across the globe believe could take it all in the VCT LOCK//IN tournament and secure an extra seat for their region in at VCT Masters Tokyo.
Note: This list is subjective and reflects the writer's views.
Fnatic, 100 Thieves, and three other favorites to win the VCT LOCK//IN tournament
Fnatic have been one of the top-tier teams in the EMEA region ever since their formation at the start of 2021. They have played in the VCT tournaments with steady consistency and showed they have one of the deepest strat-books in the world.
Unfortunately, they are yet to finish first in an international event, always choking when it mattered the most. This trend started with them losing to Sentinels in the first international Masters in Reykjavík in the Grand Finals, after making a miracle lower-bracket run.
It continued up to the last Masters in Copenhagen where they lost to FunPlus Phoenix in their lower-bracket match after beating them thrice in a row in a convincing fashion.
Fnatic made two roster changes during the OFF//SEASON. They added Timofey "Chronicle" Khromov and Leo "Leo" Jannesson to their stacked team to further strengthen up their effectiveness. They recently played a couple of showmatches in Japan where they looked very strong.
Fnatic stans from across the world believe 2023 will be the British team's year and they will start off with a victory against long-time rivals Sentinels, resulting in an eventual tournament victory.
2) 100 Thieves
100 Thieves currently look like the strongest team in North America. They were very newly formed when they made it to VCT Champions 2022 through the NA LCQ last year. The squad managed to beat Fnatic in their first match despite being down with COVID-19.
100T have remained together except for two changes. Matthew "Cryocells" Panganiban has replaced William "Will" Cheng to add massively to their firepower. Sean Gares left as the Head Coach to make way for Michael Hockom.
They played with this lineup in the Red Bull Home Grounds tournament where they came out on top against other franchised teams like Cloud9, Vitality, Team Liquid, Heretics, and FUT Esports.
They will go up against the Chinese roster, EDward Gaming, in their first game and might have to face off against the likes of Fnatic, NAVI, Sentinels, and Leviatan to make it to the Grand Finals. If they can keep up their form and bring their best, they stand a very high chance of leaving the tournament with their first international trophy.
3) Paper Rex
Paper Rex is probably the best team in the Pacific League if one were to go by performance in the past editions of the VCT. They made it as far as the Grand Finals of the VCT Masters in Copenhagen, losing the tournament to FPX with a score of 2-3.
They are known for their fast bursts into plant sites and their unsual Agent compositions. The roster was one of the first to bring out a Harbor composition in the India Invitational last year.
Paper Rex is also one of the few teams to have stayed together through the OFF//SEASON, bringing in the same starting five to the 2023 VCT. They will go up against Cloud9 in their first match in LOCK//IN.
With powerhouses like Jason "f0rsakeN" Susanto and Wang "Jinggg" Jie, whose methodical madness can throw off even the most organized teams, they have a very good chance of winning the first international tournament of the year.
4) NRG Esports
NRG Esports let go off their old roster to build a team around the OpTic Gaming core. They will be led by Pujan "FNS" Mehta, and see Austin "crashies" Roberts and Victor "Victor" Wong in their respective roles in the new team. The lineup will be joined by Ardis "ardiis" Svarenieks, who's coming in all the way from Europe to replace their main Operator player.
Four out the five players on this team are known to the world as a few of the most consistent professionals in the world, having performed without lag at the highest-stakes matches in VCT over the last year.
The only old NRG player on the team is Sam "s0m" Oh, who is also an indivudual of great repute in the scene. However, it remains to be seen how he will fare at a top-tier tournament like the LOCK//IN.
Very few things can go wrong when the best from across the world come together to form a team. NRG even has an excellent coaching staff headed by Chet Singh. All things considered, they are definitely one of the strongest contenders for the trophy at the end of the tournament in Sao Paulo.
5) Natus Vincere
Natus Vincere, or NAVI, have a similar story as NRG Esports, where the original team didn't make it to the partnership. The core of the FPX lineup has moved to NAVI, with the exception of ardiis, who moved to North America.
They will be joined by Mehmet "cNed" İpek, one of the most formidable Jett players in all of EMEA. He was part of the Acend team that won the very first VCT Champions tournament in 2021.
NAVI will go up against the Latin American giants, KRU Esports, in their first match of the tournament. Each player on the team has proven their mettle at the top levels of the VCT in earlier editions. It will be interesting to see how they perform against old and new names in the upcoming tournament.
With a changed meta and new map pool coming into the tournament, VCT LOCK//IN will set the ground for the esports season in 2023. Being single-elimination from start to finish, it will be one of the most high-stakes events in Valorant, and these teams seem best prepared to take it all.