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Viewership is soaring – Is VALORANT establishing its hold on the esports scene (and its competitors?)

The inaugural year of the VALORANT Champions Tour and it’s preceding third party circuit runners have spearheaded the emerging scene’s esports push. Bred in a competitive FPS market, competing with well established titles such as CS:GO, Rainbow6, and others, VALORANT was destined to lag behind initially. Considering VALORANT’s rather notorious status of being a ‘copy-cat’ esport and ‘retirement home’ for CS:GO and Overwatch players, many doubted that VALORANT’s competitive scene would ever proliferate.

Under the stewardship of Nerd Street Gamers, VALORANT saw gradual upticks in viewership. Riot’s relatively recent undertaking of the VCT has spring boarded VALORANT into one of the most watched esports on Twitch, with it’s pinnacle being Mastes Reykjavik. VALORANT’s incredible growth has lead us to wonder – is VALORANT finally establishing it’s hold over the esports scene?

VALORANT’s exponential growth

First Strike, the first Riot Games sanctioned and operated event, saw an all time peak in VALORANT viewership. On Twitch, the event as a whole averaged 94K viewers and peaked during the finals between 100 Thieves and TSM at 300K. When compared to the qualifiers leading up to the event and third party tournaments led by organizations such as FaZe or the Pittsburgh Knights, this type of viewership was unimaginable.

When compared to metrics only months later, this milestone seems minuscule. Thus far, Masters Reykjavik has averaged 477K viewers with the peak being 747K for the matchup of Team Liquid and Version1. What is incredible is that these numbers are accompanying relatively ‘unknown’ organizations such as Version1, Crazy Raccoon, and several other related smaller teams. Also, these numbers come only halfway through the tournament, before the upper or lower bracket finals. If these numbers continue on their current trend, the grand finals could bring single most watched VALORANT series ever recorded.

Also a changing metric is the demographic make up. North America has long been the steadiest source of VALORANT viewership. The region alone pre-Masters Reykjavik has made up approximately 43,8% of the total audience. International competition, and perceived ‘minor’ regions achieving above expectations has risen viewership among Japanese, Korean, and Spanish speaking viewer bases. These are just the results though, how exactly did Riot achieve such growth for a once stagnant esport?

Co-streams are the key

Beginning in League of Legends, Co-streams allowed specific partnered streamers to watch live matches along with their communities. For leagues with suffering viewership, such as the LCS, co-streams have brought a resurgence of viewership and drastically increased the prevalence of LoL community features. Riot’s full embrace of co-streams in VALORANT has admittedly been it’s primary driver of viewership.

Figures such as Myth and Ninja brought early attention to VALORANT esports, often overshadowing the official tournament streams. Upon announcing the VCT and Masters Reykjavik, Riot followed with an immediate confirmation that co-streams would follow the international LAN. Former CS:GO player, Shroud has been integral thus far to the event’s success. In the Sentinels versus Fnatic game, the second most viewed game of Masters Reykjavik, Shroud alone drew a peak of 272K concurrent viewers.

Fans clearly love watching VALORANT esports from the perspective of their favorite streamer, and Riot no doubt loves the significant boost it has given the competitive scene.

Masters Reykjavik as live esports history

It’s not everyday fans get witness esports history, as the ‘firsts’ for many established scenes have come and gone. Masters Reykjavik is perhaps the most poignant moment in esports history in recent memory.

VALORANT esports was berthed in the wake of a global pandemic and spawned insular, small scenes. Conversely, viewership suffered as a result from being locked into domestic tournaments only for the early part of VALORANT’s lifespan. This was certainly not ideal for Riot’s competitive roadmap, however this distance did build anticipation for eventual international competition.

Finally, the long wait has paid dividends in terms of viewership. Specifically NA vs EU matchups have sparked the most interest, but regions such as Brazil and Korea upsetting favorites has spread viewership numbers fairly even across matches. In-person events have also worked to attach names to faces, as personalities such as Boaster, Patiphan and others previously trapped to usernames were finally able to express themselves on stage.

How does VALORANT stack up?

Masters Reykjavik is happening at a very interesting time. The first international LAN coincides with several other tournaments from other FPS titles. This opportune timing grants us the ability to compare major events the audiences they’ve drawn.

Flashpont 3 is the latest CS:GO tournament, and though undoubtedly has been affected by controversies surround member organizations, shows how CS viewership has declined. Flashpoint has averaged 96K concurrent viewers and peaked at 254K so far, however when comparing the same event from 2020 and 2021, this observation is much starker. Looking into IEM Masters, average viewership has seen a slight dip while peak viewership took a 500K dive from 2020 to 2021.

Rainbow6 is an FPS title that has largely existed on the periphery though has seen similar gradual rises in viewership. When comparing The Invitational with Masters Reykjavik, R6 actually appears like more of a competitor. The international R6 event has averaged 156K and peaked at 306K. Though still behind VALORANT, this tell us just how interest has shifted away from CS:GO ever since the start of the online era.

Though VALORANT currently stands at the top of the hill, it will be faced with the challenge of maintaining this dominance. Riot is nothing but proactive though and has already planned Masters 3 to be another live event in Berlin.

 

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Image Credit: VCT Europe/Team Liquid

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