Esports are inherently unpredictable, especially compared to traditional sports. Changes to the meta will shift around top players and teams as adjustments are rapidly made to new strategies. For more established esports, these meta changes can fall into patterns. For brand new esports like VALORANT, consistency is one of the toughest challenges.
As VALORANT celebrates the one-year anniversary of its release on June 2, some teams have proved consistent even as top-tier agents like Astra shake up the meta with their introduction. Other teams have been unable to recapture momentary success.
When talking about consistency, the best place to start is the beginning of VALORANT’s esports scene. In North America, the scene kicked off with the first tournament of the Ignition Series. In a unique situation for esports, before the game had even been released beyond beta, the biggest esports organizations were already fielding VALORANT rosters.
At the start of the T1 x Nerd Street Gamers Showdown on June 26, 2020, less than a month after the game was officially released, household names like TSM, FaZe Clan, 100 Thieves, Cloud9, T1, Immortals, Sentinels and Gen.G had already assembled teams and were ready to compete.
Since then, these orgs have found varying levels of success, with some maintaining fairly consistent lineups, while others have churned through several roster iterations.
How to build a VALORANT roster
There are really two main schools of thought when it comes to creating long-term successful esports teams. Some teams like Immortals, led by general manager and head coach Michael “Packing10” Szklanny believe in changing things up all the time.
“We think synergy is a myth,” Packing10 said to Nerd Street Gamers in March. “If you have players play together for a month or two, they’re going to get that understanding of what they need to do as teammates. But I’ve talked with people who weren’t going to make any roster changes for a year because they want to see their teams synergize. That’s not what happens. Players either have the talent to make it or they don’t have the talent to make it.”
Immortals’ open tryout system has helped the team identify standouts like Peter “Asuna” Mazuryk, Nicholas “NaturE” Garrison and Quan “Dicey” Tran who were all bought by other organizations after finding success on Immortals.
Although that might be Immortals’ plan, and it certainly helps when you have a GM clearly capable of finding diamonds.
Photo credit: Riot Games
Other teams like Envy have kept the same roster intact since September. Envy doesn’t quite have that one signature win, but the team has placed top four in the three biggest North American events to date: First Strike NA, Stage 1 Masters and Stage 2 Challengers Finals.
“The way [Pujan “FNS” Mehta] runs his teams is pretty good,” Austin "crashies" Roberts said. “I think having that same roster was important to our success. We’re all comfortable with each other, people are willing to make agent changes to try new stuff, it’s a good atmosphere. We’re all one unit, we all play together, I think that’s why we are pretty consistent.”
Envy’s results have clearly cemented themselves as a top-five team. Another one of those top-five teams is one that was at the top of NA VALORANT in the first days of the esport and remains there now as the first international champions: Sentinels. Other than bringing on Tyson “TenZ” Ngo to replace Jay “sinatraa” Won just days before Stage 1 Masters, their roster has been unchanged since last June.
“I feel like we are just consistently playing the same,” TenZ said. “So, at the end of the day, we are just playing better than the other team. Personality-wise and lifestyle-wise we mesh really well. We don’t feel pressured, so we play the same we scrim and we fool around a bit. That light environment definitely contributes to our success because we don’t get tilted.”
Stability doesn’t work
But not every team with a stable roster is performing so well. TSM were one of the early favorites after winning two Ignition Series events and being the runners-up at First Strike. There was certainly a case to call them the best team in NA as recently as January. That’s not the case anymore. Right now, TSM are ranked eighth according to VLR.GG, but they haven’t had much success against other top-tier teams.
Since the start of VCT, TSM have failed to qualify for both Stage 1 Masters and Stage 2 Challengers Finals. After picking up a five-man roster in May 2020, it took until March 2021 for TSM to make a roster move, benching Stephen “reltuC” Cutler in favor of Braxton “Brax” Pierce. Brax has now reportedly been benched.
Brax was actually the very first pro. T1 signed Brax on March 9, 2020, as the first official VALORANT pro player. Crashies, a former Counter-Strike player, was signed by T1 the following month.
“It is really, really, really hard to be consistent in this game,” said crashies, who was on T1 during the first Ignition Series event and joined Envy in September. “There is a randomness that comes with it as teams are getting better and better while the meta is always changing. As a top team, it is hard to be consistent in this game.”
Unfortunately for T1, they are now the only squad who was active and successful during the first Ignition Series event that has fallen out of the top 10 teams, dropping all the way to 16th according to VLR.gg. All those players they picked up prior to VALORANT’s release are on new teams.
Like crashies, Victor “food” Wong (who now goes by Victor) also moved on to Envy. Keven “AZK” Larivière, who was signed by the team in April 2020, left in February and has yet to land with another team.
Photo credit: Riot Games
A new org rises
On the flip side are the new orgs to the scene making runs, most notably, Version1. Despite plenty of other orgs signing teams in early 2020, V1 waited until the right roster came around in February 2021.
After coming together for a month, V1 surprised the community by beating top-tier team after top-tier team en route to qualifying for Masters: Reykjavík, where they beat Europe's Team Liquid and finished 5th-6th among 10 of the best teams from around the world. Formerly competing as NeverDone, the squad was made up of ex-CS:GO players who played together on a tangled web of teams, which seems to be the norm for the NA CS scene.
When Version1 added Maxim “wippie” Shepelev for the run through Challengers Finals (who didn’t play in Iceland due to the nature of student visas) it was his prior history with other players on the team that made him the choice.
“I’d never personally played with him before, but [Jordan “Zellsis” Montemurro] and [Erik “Penny” Penny] both liked him a lot,” said Anthony “Vanity” Malaspina, V1’s IGL. “The prior history helped us know what kind of teammate he is because that’s where the mystery is when picking up someone you haven’t played for before.”
Tactical ability is clearly important, but the nuances of working together as a team is the toughest challenge to becoming a great team. Talented players have struggled to find success due to personal clashes, while other players have created long careers out of being amenable teammates.
With a quick turnaround between Stage 1 and Stage 2 Challengers, aggressive roster changes were tough to make work. The time between Stage 2 and Stage 3 is a bit longer, so that means a summer of Rostermania is likely incoming.
The VALORANT esports scene has already started seeing a few moves but more are certainly coming. This summer will be the chance for teams who have been on the outside looking in to figure out if they prioritize longevity or tinkering in the search for consistency at the top tier of VALORANT esports.
Lead image credit: Riot Games