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Acend’s Santeri “BONECOLD” Sassi has built a fantastic career in VALORANT so far, most notably by being a part of the underdog squad that defied the odds and triumphed at VCT Masters 1.
However, he’s done something else that can be considered an even better and certainly more difficult achievement. On March 19, after taking down Ninjas in Pyjamas, BONECOLD beat his Turkish teammate in a Twitter poll for Player of the Match.
Now that may not sound like much, but here’s the thing: Nobody beats Turkish players in Twitter polls. BONECOLD’s feat was unheard of, especially since he beat Mehmet Yağız “cNed” İpek, one of the most popular VALORANT players in EMEA.
Understanding why BONECOLD’s Twitter triumph is such a big deal requires understanding the impact and popularity of VALORANT in Turkey. Esports and gaming are a culture, a way of life, in the country, and VALORANT is far more to the community than just a game. Turkey as a region produces some the highest VALORANT viewership numbers in the world, and it arguably has some of the most passionate and hardcore fans.
But why are esports so big in Turkey? What do the Turkish fans and players really think about VALORANT? With the help of more than 40 different figures from the Turkish scene — ranging from players, broadcast talent, social media managers for Turkish orgs and even those diehard fans — Upcomer has finally managed to get to the bottom of this phenomenon.
The popularity of First-Person Shooters
VALORANT isn’t the first esport that’s managed to captivate the Turkish community. Many other games, especially first-person shooter titles, have earned a dedicated Turkish fan base for decades.
“There is a PC culture in Turkey, where everyone plays on PCs and FPS is very popular,” said Oxygen Esports’ Göktuğ “XiSTOU” Canciğer. “Even when you come to Turkey now, you will find people in their 30s still playing Counter-Strike 1.5 with their friends on a regular basis. A lot of young people are playing League of Legends, but the love of FPS is huge in Turkey.”
You don’t have to look very far to see the Turkish support in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, either. Space Soldiers had a huge fan base, and current players like İsmailсan “XANTARES” Dörtkardeş and Özgür “woxic” Eker are treated as national heroes. Turkey already had an appetite for FPS games, so it was a natural progression for fans and players to migrate to VALORANT, especially given the volatile state of CS:GO.
Moreover, many Turkish fans also cited financial and socioeconomic issues as a reason for gravitating towards VALORANT.
“A lot of Turkish players do not have enough financial resources to buy gaming computers nor to have a strong internet connection,” Tolgahan Şahin, a VALORANT fan from Turkey, said. “Because of this case, most Turkish players prefer playing online free games.”
Beyond that, VALORANT is much more affordable for most in Turkey simple because it’s free.
“Also VALORANT is a free game and Turkish players hate paying for video games,” another fan from the Upcomer survey added. “We are known for playing cracked pirated games, and since VALORANT is free, it’s a massive reason why it’s popular.”
Turkey has struggled with the pandemic economically and with the inflation rate hitting an all time high in July 2021, it’s no surprise that the financial crisis has affected a lot of gamers too. With many still wanting to enjoy the FPS experience, it seems like a no-brainer that VALORANT is a popular game in Turkey.
Trust in Riot Games
Of course, it was the developer’s decision to make VALORANT a free-to-play game, just like Riot Games’ other mainline title, League of Legends. More importantly, it seems Riot has built a significant rapport with the Turkish community, making VALORANT one of the most-anticipated releases in the region in recent years.
“FPS is the favorite genre in our country in my opinion. However, when you say esports, League of Legends comes into our minds,” Burak Ertürk, a Turkish VALORANT fan, said. “This is because of the huge effort of Riot Turkey. They have managed to create a proper esports community with LoL while CS:GO tournaments were not that consistent in terms of prize and organization. As a result, people felt very happy when they heard Riot was creating an FPS game.”
Riot’s efforts to build a Turkish infrastructure in League of Legends meant fans were more inclined to trust the developer with their new FPS. Many didn’t even hesitate before prioritizing VALORANT both as a casual player and as a viewer over other esports titles.
Some in the community also said they have been impressed with the fact that Riot decided to put a server in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul. This made it much easier for Turkish players to participate, especially those with poor internet connections. Pro players Team Galakticos’ Yiğit “yT” Özden said they are grateful for those attempts to enrich the Turkish community.
“We didn’t really see support from sponsors or orgs back in CS,” yT said, “but Riot is always talking, asking and listening to us. For me, this was very important.”
The abundance of top-level professional VALORANT players is also one of the main reasons why VALORANT is so popular in Turkey. This, too, has a lot to do with the developers themselves, according to those in the pro scene.
“Riot Games have been doing a huge localization in Turkey since 2012, I believe,” Turkish VCT caster Berke “Vlad” Kantürk said. “We have been hearing these thousands of dollars earned by players, organizations, etc. I’ve got to admit that you were lucky to get paid $100 per month if you are a CS:GO player. That made players give up eventually. Most of them have to work for another job and play or quit.”
The difference in prize pools between CS:GO and VALORANT in Turkey is significant. For example, for one of the more prestigious tournaments, the ESL Turkey Championship Winter 2021, the prize pool was set at $3,800, with first place taking home $2,300. At VCT Stage 2 Challengers 1 alone, the prize pool was $18,446, with $9,521 going to the winners. At Masters 1 Turkey, Futbolist took home $30,000. In fact, just qualifying for the eight-team event earned teams a minimum of $2,500 each.
As a result, almost all of the Turkish CS:GO scene migrated to VALORANT, with many earning a salary for the first time in pro gaming. Unless players had the profile of İsmailсan “XANTARES” Dörtkardeş or Özgür “woxic” Eker, it can be too difficult to make a real living.
“This is one of the reasons all the good players or wannabe pro players moved to VALORANT,” XiSTOU said. “Everyone knew this game would have big potential with someone like Riot Games pushing it, and it was a FPS, so everyone tried it in Turkey, and it has been a good switch.”
It’s impossible to talk about the origins and popularity of Turkish VALORANT without mentioning BBL Esports. The org was founded by some of the most famous and well-known streamers in Turkey, including Ferit “wtcN” Karakaya, Kemalcan “Kendine Müzisyen” Parlak, Şükrü “Uthenera” Şentürk and Okan “Oidemirel” Demire. WtcN alone has 2.4 million followers on Twitch and 362,000 followers on Twitter.
Out of the 40 members of the Turkish VALORANT community that Upcomer surveyed, 38 of them said BBL is one of the major reasons the game is so popular in Turkey. The founders of BBL already had an astronomical fan base, which meant when they decided to switch to VALORANT, they took their communities and ample viewers with them. A massive, passionate VALORANT following bloomed almost overnight.
As of March 2021, BBL achieved 1.4 million hours watched on stream. Their grand final against Fubolist at Masters 1 peaked at 136,201 concurrent viewers. In fact, the top five most viewed matches at Masters 1 Turkey all involved BBL. They set another record when they faced Team Liquid at the Stage 2 EMEA Playoffs, peaking at 236,943 concurrent viewers — the most the EMEA region has ever seen. Essentially, viewership is guaranteed to be through the roof whenever BBL is playing. Their fans make sure they are there to support their favorite team no matter what.
At the same time, Oxygen’s XiSTOU said he believes that BBL is just part of the equation. Turkey is not just home to popular teams but is also a competitive VALORANT region.
“There has always been huge hopes and expectations from fans back in CS with the likes of Dark Passage and Space Soldiers, but they never really fulfilled it,” XiSTOU said. “But now, in VALORANT, the fans see that we can compete with Europe and maybe even internationally, so they’re very excited and they have those new hopes and expectations on us.”
Why are Turkish fans so passionate?
The Turkish fan base have always been regarded as one of the most passionate ones in esports, but the fans seem to be even more fanatical in VALORANT. XiSTOU compared it to the country’s love for its mainstay soccer teams.
“We are like this in every esport and every sport,” XiSTOU explained. “With the tension and rivalry between the fans of Fenerbahce and Galatasaray, this is how we were raised and how we grew up. We’re very patriotic and that is our culture.”
Turkish fans rally behind the pros no matter what because they are passionate about Turkey succeeding. In fact, 39 out of the 40 people Upcomer surveyed said that Turkey has the most passionate fans, with a few acknowledging and comparing themselves to Brazilian fans.
“The fans are the most supportive, but with passion also comes pressure,” XiSTOU said. “On social media, they can be very cruel because they have expectations and they put pressure on all the players to always perform. But when they do support you, it’s great, and I received lots of very nice and supportive messages during the EMEA playoffs, too, from all the fans cheering for us.”
Some of the fans went as far as saying that their patriotism might be a genetic condition for Turkish fans; they can’t help but showcase their passion and root for the team and players they love.
However, sometimes that passion can turn into something sinister. Many outside of the Turkish community perceive them as toxic. But many find the idea that all Turkish fans and players are toxic to be unfair.
“I agree that viewers in Twitch can be toxic in chat. Players in VALORANT can also be toxic in voice chat. However, they are not the majority,” Ertürk, a Turkish VALORANT fan said. “People think they are the majority because overall players and viewers of Turkey are higher than most of the other countries.”
The population of Turkey is around 85 million compared to, for example, 68 million in the United Kingdom. While there are no public stats showing how large the player base is in each country, the viewership alone indicates there are far more players in Turkey than a lot of the other countries in Europe. This means it is more likely to run into Turkish players in solo queue on one of the many VALORANT servers accessible in Europe.
Some have offered other explanations as to why some of these players might be toxic.
“In comparison to the rest of Europe, we don’t have the best foreign language ecosystem for everyone to be able to learn English,“ Vlad, the Turkish VCT caster, said. “People often cannot express themselves in English, and that can, of course, be a problem in game. Some streamers would get frustrated and start shouting or swearing in Turkish, and their viewers can sometimes pick up on this behavior.”
Beyond that, the insinuation that Turkey is a wholly toxic region ignores the fact that every country produces players with good and bad behaviors. Many don’t think Turkey is some special case when compared to everyone else.
“I think it’s unfair to say that Turkey as a region is always toxic,” XiSTOU added. “There are a lot of people in Turkey and a lot of players that come from Turkey. There are some good and some bad, just like every region. I run into a lot of nice and good Turkish players in ranked.”
Plus, given what VALORANT means to the Turkish community and how seriously they take the game, some say the perceived toxicity might not always be coming from a bad place.
“Some Turkish players are being toxic because they have a lot of ambition to win the game,” Acend’s cNed said. “Yes, there are toxic players too, but there is a difference. But it is difficult to find it.”
So Why is VALORANT so popular in Turkey?
— SuperMassive Blaze (@supmassblaze) August 16, 2021
Turkey is one of the most interesting regions in the world right now when it comes to VALORANT. From their passion and sheer determination to be great, to their astronomical fan base, it’s clear the country has a lot to offer the scene as it carries into its first world championship this year. Riot Games and VALORANT, on the whole, are well loved in Turkey, but it’s so much more than that.
Turkey refuses to mess around when it comes to VALORANT, from the highest level of competition to seemingly irrelevant Twitter polls. This game has not only given FPS fans something to unite behind, but it’s also provided massive career opportunities that CS:GO couldn’t.
It doesn’t hurt that Turkish players are cracked at VALORANT, too.
Considering all that, it seems inevitable that the Turkish community will continue to grow and spread their influence; something that can only benefit VALORANT in the long run. Everyone in Turkey has waited a long time to be considered one of the best regions in an esport. And Vlad believes that VALORANT could be just the thing to fulfil the community’s wishes.
“Every tournament we participate in is a lesson for the teams and players,” he said. “The agent comps, the playstyle … I believe we will send at least one team to Berlin. We have been overlooked by the global community for so long. VALORANT gave us a chance, and we will make sure not to waste this one.”
Award-winning Esports Journalist @Upcomer & Freelance Host, specializing in VALORANT, LoL and CS:GO. Previously SkySportsNews & RedBull Gaming | CPFC