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Five holographic faces beamed out over the stage at VALORANT Champions in Berlin, Germany on Day 6 of the event. They were the members of Acend and they’d just beaten Envy to qualify as the first seed out of Group A. In their hotel practice room, where they were playing their match in order to comply with COVID-19 guidelines — Envy’s Victor “Victor” Wong recently tested positive for the virus — they high-fived, hugged and just generally celebrated securing playoffs.
Acend were the final team to secure a first seed from the group stage. The previous three? Fnatic, Gambit Esports and Team Liquid. A keen observer will see a pattern. All four first seeds come from one VALORANT Champions Tour region: Europe, Middle East and Africa. Four representatives and four first seeds.
For some, including Acend’s Vladyslav “Kiles” Shvets, it’s strong evidence that the EMEA has risen above their competition — most notably, North America — as the top region in VALORANT.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that EMEA is above NA,” Kiles said after the match against Envy. “[EMEA teams] are way more prepared, they have way more strats and overall better players. So yeah, I think [the region is] pretty ahead of NA.”
Not all of Kiles’s competition is as convinced. On the other side of the loss was the NA team, Envy and their star duelist Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker. Somewhat ironically, yay pointed to the fact that at VCT Masters Berlin two NA teams came out of groups as first seeds before Gambit Esports eventually claimed the title from the second seed position.
“I don’t know if it necessarily proves anything,” yay said. “I think ultimately what it comes down to is the changes that will be made after these losses.”
Envy are not eliminated, but they will have to battle through the lower bracket to qualify as the second seed. For yay, the best region of the first ever year of the VCT is still up for grabs.
“It’s just too early to tell,” he said.
Recipe for success
The EMEA vs. NA rivalry is one that transcends different esports. It’s alive and well in VALORANT on account of the dominance of the two regions, with other regions like Korea, Brazil and South East Asia constantly playing catch-up. NA won the first ever international VALORANT LAN at VCT Masters Reykjavík — via Sentinels — and EMEA followed up by taking Masters Berlin — via Gambit.
Coming into the event, Champions was still any region’s game. So, to most, the EMEA dominance that has been on display so far is something of a shock. Even Matt “Twiggy” Twigg, an EMEA caster, was surprised that his region’s teams claimed all of the first seed playoff positions. Still, he knew the region had the recipe for success.
“I’ve always held the opinion that even if EMEA hasn’t always been dominant in the scene, we still have some of the tightest competition around the top teams,” Twiggy said. “I think the way we constantly have teams challenging each other for the top spots going into big events really pushes the cream of the crop to rise up and get even better.”
Twiggy also pointed to the regional supremacy of Sentinels potentially souring into complacency, while Gambit are flying high after being tested at every turn.
“Honestly it sucks that the teams we’re losing too are from EU, but they deserve the wins,” Gus “Upmind” Franco, a caster in the NA VCT, said. “I expected NA to have a way harder time in Masters Berlin if anything, but above all else, my expectation is that all three [NA teams] still make it out [of groups].”
EMEA prepares for VALORANT Champions playoffs
Matches still continue daily to settle which teams will join the Gambit, Liquid, Fnatic and Acend in the Champions playoffs. Meanwhile, the EMEA squads sit pretty and start preparing for their quarterfinals matchups.
One factor that can’t be ignored is that none of the four teams will play each other in the quarterfinals. Each will instead match up against one of the second seed teams. The end result is that — if all four EMEA teams win in quarters — there might only be EMEA teams in the semifinals of Champions.
It was a near unthinkable scenario leading up to Champions given the strength of teams like Envy, Vision Strikers, Sentinels and Cloud9. Now it’s a distinct possibility. More than that, if you ask Kiles.
“You can see very clearly that EMEA is way stronger than the other regions,” Kiles said. “Most probably, it will happen. I believe.”
In that case, the winner of Champions is guaranteed to be an EMEA team and the question of which is the best region in the inaugural year of the VCT will have an answer. But, as yay pointed out, there’s still more VALORANT to play and gameplay adaptations to make.
In the battle between EMEA, NA and the smattering of plucky minor VALORANT regions still vying for the trophy, there is not yet a clear winner.
Coby Zucker is Upcomer's resident CS:GO writer. He's also played League of Legends at the collegiate level and is a frequent visitor in TFT Challenger Elo. He's a firm believer that Toronto should be the next big esports hub city.