By Ilyas Hussein
Video games have become increasingly prominent among many post-secondary students over the course of a gruelling pandemic. Hours watched on Twitch, the video game streaming service owned by Amazon, jumped by 50 per cent between March and April 2020. One of the more prominent examples of this is Riot Games’ Valorant, which saw over 14 million monthly active players a year after its release.
Valorant is a free-to-play tactical shooter title launched in June 2020 exclusively for PCs. It’s a team-based, first-person shooter game where players have the objective to attack and defend multiple bomb sites. Players operate in the game as “agents,” with each character type possessing their own unique set of abilities.
The game is seen as a combination of two other extremely popular titles: Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch. It takes the shooter game with a precise gunplay element from Counter-Strike, while mixing it with the chaotic nature of numerous special abilities from Overwatch.
Ryerson Esports, a competitive club at the university, saw the potential of the Valorant scene and decided they wanted to create their own team.
“The collegiate scene in Valorant is growing at a fast rate with a lot of talent on the rise,” said Jess Do, a second-year new media student and manager of the Ryerson Valorant team.
Competing at this level for esports exemplifies an ambition for success, but as much as the Ryerson Valorant team is striving for glory, winning is not their only motivation.
“We love when our teams win and having them do so also brings more awareness about esports in university and college. However, at the end of the day, we want a bigger gaming community here at Ryerson,” said Do.
Providing a platform for players to compete at something they are passionate about is the main mission behind Ryerson Esports and other competitive collegiate clubs. It’s an opportunity student athletes in traditional sports have had for many years. Now, esports teams across the world are doing the same with competitive gaming, especially with Valorant.
“At the end of the day we want a bigger gaming community here at Ryerson”
“The first and foremost goal of the Valorant team is to make sure our players have fun playing a game they love,” said Do.
Over the last year, it’s become evident that the first-person shooter genre has found its footing with the young gaming community. Riot Games focused on providing a chance for any player to compete at the highest level, as the main competitive scene is an open circuit. This means any team of five can enter as long as they are all above a certain rank.
However, Riot Games also created a separate event strictly for post-secondary students across the world called the Red Bull Campus Clutch. The tournament kicked off for the first time this January and saw 25,000 students from around the world compete.
Antony “ShadeJay” Xia, a fourth-year business technology management student, played in the final event in Madrid and represented Canada’s Valorant collegiate scene at the international level. The team ultimately faltered at the last minute, dropping their series in the semifinals to eventual champions, Anubis Gaming, from Egypt.
Despite the loss, Xia said he’s grateful post-secondary students have the opportunity to compete in a collegiate circuit, as it has provided him with a chance to play against tough competition. “I always wanted to compete at a somewhat high level, but wasn’t prepared or good enough…Collegiate [level] is a solid compromise,” said Xia.
The tournament helped bring eyes to this level of competitive Valorant gaming and allowed players to display skills that might have never been seen otherwise.
“It was a great opportunity for all of the players,” said Alex “Vansilli” Nguyen, a freelance Valorant analyst and commentator who appeared on several Riot Games broadcasts. “To travel to a country and meet similar, like-minded players from other countries is an experience in itself,” he said. ”Being able to play on a stage with a full production and top level commentators adds to that.”
The overall popularity of the competitive Valorant scene has grown since the game was released. The latest Valorant tournament with high-tier professionals was held from September 10 to 19 and reached viewing heights over 800,000 concurrent viewers.
“There’s such a big ecosystem around esports and if you’re interested in it, you get to do what you love in an industry that you love”
During this period, Valorant was one of the most watched games on the streaming platform Twitch.
“It’s just one of those games all the kids play now. League of Legends, Fortnite, Overwatch, all those games had their own kind of era of multiplayer gaming and now I think it’s Valorant,” said Xia.
York University, Trent University and Ontario Tech University have all created their own Valorant rosters. At Ryerson, students are lucky enough to field not just one, but two rosters for the game. As a veteran of the program, Xia was involved in dividing the rosters. He explained that the process of selecting the main competitive team was different this year, with the team tryouts taking place in late August.
The first team will be playing in multiple leagues across the North American scene, including Collegiate Star League (CSL) Esports and the Collegiate Valorant Conference, while also looking to compete at higher-tier tournaments. Their upcoming games can be found on Xia’s Twitch account called ShadeJay. The second team is solely focusing on the collegiate leagues they’ll be competing in.
Analysts such as Nguyen emphasize the importance of a collegiate esports scene.
“Allowing an ecosystem for full teams to still compete helps teams practice and helps players improve. Hopefully, the collegiate scene can support players monetarily, so they can fully focus on competing,” said Nguyen.
Riot Games has yet to make an announcement about what the next stage of international collegiate Valorant competition will look like. Although what will happen next in the scene is currently unclear, just being involved in any way can create several paths for gaming hopefuls.
“There’s such a big ecosystem around esports and if you’re interested in it, you get to do what you love in an industry that you love,” said Nguyen.