League of Legends
Call of Duty
VALORANT’s first international competition, Masters Reykjavík, was a landmark step for a slew of today’s top players. And although North America’s Sentinels grabbed the headlines by winning the inaugural championship in undefeated fashion, it’s another face that’s going viral in the most prominent esports country in the world.
Fnatic’s VALORANT captain Jake “Boaster” Howlett might have finished with a silver medal, but his popularity has exploded since Iceland. From his on-stage antics to his humorous, carefree interviews, Boaster’s social media presence has skyrocketed. His Twitter following has gone from below 10,000 to nearing 50,000 strong almost overnight. Boaster’s Twitch numbers have grown similarly; from averaging fewer than 100 viewers in March to now commanding one of the largest audiences in Europe.
But even those spikes in numbers couldn’t prepare Boaster for what would happen in a country that hasn’t even released VALORANT officially, yet. During his recent Twitch streams since returning from Reykjavík, Boaster hasn’t only been playing VALORANT but he’s been dipping more into his personality, especially from his days as a theater kid in school. A few of the songs that he’s performed on stream were popular Chinese ballads and posted by fans on BilliBilli — one of the country’s most famous video sharing platforms.
Boaster’s singing has already amassed more than 2.4 million views. And thousands (upon thousands) of comments from Chinese fans have praised the in-game leader in less than a week.
“I wasn’t expecting to get much or any attention at all,” Boaster said in an interview with Upcomer after discovering his newfound fame in China. “I just love the music. I love singing, too, and I wanted to sing with the music, so I needed to learn it properly out of respect for the country and artists. It’s unbelievable. I better hurry up and learn some more songs.”
Though its citizens cannot yet play VALORANT officially, China already has a growing scene for the first-person shooter awaiting the government’s go-ahead for a full release. Esports organizations such as Edward Gaming, Suning and RNG have already dipped their toes into the pool, picking up rosters for small scale domestic tournaments. EDG have already pole-vaulted to the top of the makeshift Chinese hierarchy; they are currently undefeated in the Huya FMWH PangHu Summer Cup.
For Riot Games and China, it’s not a matter of “if” the Chinese scene will see a significant push from the creator to become a major region for VALORANT but a matter of “when.”
As the country is not part of the current official VALORANT Champions Tour – which will crown the first world champion of the game this December — China should join the other regions in competition once given the OK by the nation’s government. It’s a similar situation to what happened with Riot’s first and most popular title, League of Legends. A Chinese team hadn’t competed in the world championship until 2012. Nowadays, China is far and away the leader of League of Legends players globally. It has more than 100 million accounts and even more people, at times, watching the pro competition.
Years from now, when China is a fully-fledged region, it could be said that a lanky British man playing a ukulele in his apartment started one of the first sparks.
“It feels about the same as when Xiao Jingyan recognized who Mei Changsu’s real identity was,” Boaster said, referencing a famous Chinese drama called Lang ya Bang. “I can’t really believe it honestly.”
Tyler Erzberger is entering a decade of covering esports. When not traveling around the world telling stories about people shouting over video games, he’s probably arguing with an anime avatar on Twitter about North American esports.