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Why VALORANT is so alluring to NA CS:GO players

Ethan’s move to VALORANT has continued the controversy over the role CS has played in the emerging esport’s success.

In recent months, Counter-Strike has seen an unpreceded exodus of pro players moving to Riot’s FPS competitor, VALORANT. This trend began early on in VALORANT’s esport cycle as the game featured similar gunplay and economic mechanics that made the transition relatively seamless for players with CS experience. Consequently, players who had spent time away from the CS scene, like Spencer “Hiko” Martin and James “hazed” Cobb became staples in the early phases of VALORANT.

Slowly, more recently relevant CS names such as Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella, major champion Timothy “Autimatic” Ta, and most recently EG’s Ethan “Ethan” Arnold made waves by switching. Perhaps more detrimental to CS’s longevity, VALORANT has lured potential and developing CS players. For example, Rahul “Curry” Nemani began his early career in 2020 on Triumph but only months later found himself on T1’s VALORANT roster alongside Autimatic.

Though VALORANT has attached players from Overwatch, CoD, and varying battle royale games, CS by far has cultivated most of the talent entering the scene. This trend hasn’t relented and with VALORANT esports maturing and CS slowly returning to normalcy, it’s becoming more important to pinpoint VALORANT’s allure to NA CS players specifically.

The online era of CS

Counter-Strike’s remote play has undoubtedly hurt North America the most out of any major region. The scene is largely desolate with a dwindling audience, player base, and general level of competition. DreamHack Open in March will be the first NA tournament to feature a tier 1 team since IEM Beijing-Haidian back in November. Even with this, it is uncertain when the pillars of NA CS will return to regularly competing in the region.

With travel and live event restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NA organizations had to make extended trips to Europe in order to stay relevant, profitable, and able to keep pace with the top teams in CS who regionally see much more vibrant competition. Team Liquid fortunately had just opened their second Alienware Training Facility in Utrecht, The Netherlands while Evil Geniuses found a temporary home in Serbia.

Reasonably, not every team could afford the same luxury. On the homefront, as Envy CEO Hastr0 stated, holding onto a CS roster was equivalent to setting money on fire as prize pools dropped and tournaments became fewer and far between.

100 Thieves, Gen.G, and Chaos were just some of the teams that were forced to close their doors regarding CS and the influx of sudden free agents had nowhere to go. The remaining tier 2 and 3 organizations still compete in a very insular environment.

New opportunities in VALORANT

Simultaneously, VALORANT began gaining momentum as an emerging esport. The scene had moved from scattered, thrid party tournaments to gaining Riot Games backed structure akin to their League of Legends strategy and esports schedule. From a player’s perspective, this structure from a company that had already crafted the world’s most popular esport guaranteed security as opposed to the volatile CS ecosystem. Not to mention, an emerging esports scene gives otherwise obscure and unknown players the opportunity to lead the charge in a new game and become the faces of entire organizations.

The appeal for amateur or semi-pro CS players was clear as recognition was now fare more likely, however for established NA mainstays it gave an alternative to the rigorous travel and boot camps in CS required to stay afloat.

VALORANT has also been seen as a second chance for players whose careers had been cut short by Valve’s notoriously harsh VAC bans. Players like Joshua “Steel” Nissan, Elias “Jamppi” Olkkonen, and perhaps most notably Braxton “Brax” Pierce (formerly Swag) were all unable to compete at live events due to bans years ago and essential ex-communicated developing talent that could have reformed and still been assets to the community.

Valve potentially hindered their own ecosystem with their unforgiving bans, as these players have shown that they still have plenty of room for growth and success. Steel managed to lead 100 Thieves to the first Riot endorsed event, First Strike, and has remained the teams IGL moving further into the VALORANT Champions Tour. Brax was the initial face of VALORANT esports and though he was recently cut from T1, he remains a highly sought-after free agent.

The controversy of ‘double agents’

VALORANT has come under fire for simply being an alternative for pros exiting other games whether it be due to bans or ‘aging out’ of a more competitive scene. Games journalist Richard Lewis recently commented on pros ‘doubling up’ on games and using VALORANT as a safety net should their CS ship sink.

Though currently known for siphoning the talent of other games, VALORANT will need to distinguish itself and separate its identity from the game where most of its talent has come from. This is tall order, however teams like Xset where most of the players have started their careers in VALORANT have managed to win out over primarily ex-CS rosters like TSM and are beginning to chip away at this arduous task.

Ultimately, VALORANT has attractive factors pulling new players in while NA CS is actively pushing players, old and new, away. As long as CS’s barriers stay high, we will continue to see players making the leap to VALORANT.

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Image Credit: Riot Games