With big names being upset by tournament grinders in the VCT open qualifiers, many are starting to think these premier teams should be playing more often. (Image: @TSM)
Fans tuning in to the first open qualifier of Stage 3 in the North American VALORANT Champions Tour saw some strange results. While FaZe Clan and DarkZero were duking it out on broadcast, an unsigned 5-stack called Virtuoso took down NRG 2-0.
No, that's not a typo. This relatively unknown squad beat one of the world's biggest organizations without dropping a map. And they weren't the only ones. TSM fell to Noble, Immortals to Kansas City Pioneers, and Cloud9 Blue were defeated by Rise.
While the results are unexpected, there's a common denominator. Each of the upset teams regularly plays in small weekly and monthly events, each with something like $2500 in total prize money. Nerd Street Gamers run a regular circuit featuring both weekly and monthly events that many of these teams use to practice and improve.
The high profile teams they beat, on the other hand, exclusively play Riot-hosted VALORANT Champions Tour events. All this has begged the question and discussion in the VAL community: Should big teams be practicing in these events?
Nerd Street and Knights monthlies have bred success
Take all the teams that put up unexpected results in this last closed qualifier, and they read like a who's-who of top NSG circuit finishers. Soniqs are currently second in Summer Championship points and played NSG weeklies as recently as mid-June; this open qualifier, they took a map off Sentinels, something no team at Masters Reykjavik managed to do.
Noble's revamped roster played a monthly just two days before the open qualifier began, they beat TSM and took a map off 100 Thieves. Rise, KCP, DarkZero, and Virtuoso are all other examples of regular tournament play turning into upset success.
All this seems to paint a clear picture. But it's only the start of what has been a clear trend for quite a while. To kick off 2021, several lower-tier events were hosted by Nerd Street. Their winners, XSET and Luminosity, would go on to have tremendous VALORANT Champions Tour success.
Following some lacklustre results, Cloud9 Blue began playing NSG events in March; they'd go on to place third in VCT Stage 2, becoming the last team eliminated from Reykjavik contention after taking maps off both the teams who'd qualify. And if we want to go even further back, TSM themselves were known as the team that played every event early into VALORANT's history. They, of course, would find great success in the Ignition Series.
It should be noted here that not all teams can participate. Riot has rulings that don't allow teams that recently made it through an open qualifier to play smaller events. Kooky Koalas, now DarkZero, were notably affected by this ruling earlier this year. However, we're talking about teams that were upset in open qualifiers anyway; they should have few difficulties.
Will big teams take notice?
Several players who are on these regular, tournament grinding teams have spoken out about how the events have helped them. Combine this with accusations of pro players rarely playing the game and it certainly seems like some teams have things to improve.
Having been upset, teams have taken different directions. On one hand, you have TSM. Despite having their team in-house and meeting each other for the first time ever this open qualifier, they've gone for more roster changes, benching Taylor "drone" Johnson. On the other hand, Immortals have taken the lower-tier event route. For the first time since the team's inception, they participated an Nerd Street Gamers weekly.
What they got was a quick reality check. They struggled, 13-11, against Cosmic Divide in their group stage. Advancing to playoffs, they lost 2-0 in the round of 16 to Evil Geniuses, a team that, despite their big backer, has historically been remarkably poor.
What seems clear is that grinding out lower-tier events is a very viable option for teams. It's clearly helped many squads hone their skills and stay sharp, and ultimately helped them translate it into VCT success. It might not be the right route for every team - for this reason, Immortals' experiment will be one to watch. If IMT keep going with these events, and start to find VCT success, we may see some even bigger names jump on board.