Commentary

Riot's New Title 'Valorant': Should You Care?

Back in April, Riot Game truly became Riot Games with the launch of the closed beta for its second title, "Valorant," a tactical first-person shooter akin to the famed Counter Strike series.

Starting June 19th, Riot is launching the “Ignition Series” weekend tournaments to kick off "Valorant" esports by partnering with esports companies, G2 Esports, an esports team, and RAGE, one of Japan’s biggest esports tournament organizations.

The G2 Esports event already has sponsorship from Red Bull, a brand that is very active within the gaming and esports community.

The question beckons, however -- will Riot be able to turn "Valorant" into a global, viral esports scene like it has its first and hugely popular title, "League of Legends?" And should potential brands or advertisers looking to get into esports consider this new esports title as a potential partner?

In short, I think the answer to both questions is yes. But there will certainly be challenges.

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During the closed beta from early April to the end of May, Twitch viewership of "Valorant" broke the record for most hours watched in a single day with 34 million hours, and came in second to the world record of peak concurrent viewers with 1.7m, right behind the 2019 League of Legends World Championship.

Also during the closed beta, tons of impromptu amateur tournaments sprang up, and many esports team brands signaled their intention to formally recruit and establish rosters for "Valorant."

Given the combined success and popularity of "League of Legends," and the viewership attraction on platforms like Twitch during the closed beta, a successful launch felt inevitable.

However, closer to the launch of the game, viewership fell off significantly.

While some look at the drop in viewership for "Valorant" as a bad sign for the game’s longevity -- average viewership now hovers around 50-60k roughly two weeks after launch at the time of writing -- it is actually a huge win for a new game attempting to tussle with "Counter-Strike," the cornerstone of tactical FPS esports and one of the oldest esports to date, to have that many viewers on average.

Viewing for "Valorant," even at 60k viewers, is also still in the top 15 highest-viewed games (also at the time of writing).

I am curious to see how the tournaments launching over the next two weeks will boost that viewership with two separate tournaments happening in two separate regions of the world, all on Twitch.

In addition, "Valorant" is backed by Riot Games, as I have already mentioned.

Although Riot is pushing out $100 million on producing "League of Legends" esports and reportedly far from breaking even, they have certainly learned the most and profited the most -- from a marketing and viewership perspective -- out of all the esports in the world.

They have managed to attract partnerships from Louis Vuitton, Mastercard, and more non-endemics that you would have never expected to see enter esports. With ease, they have filled stadiums across the world and broken records for viewership across multiple platforms.

The renown and reliability of Riot will not only attract teams that already play within its leagues for "League of Legends," but also make its player base feel assured that Riot will update its game around the player experience just as it has done for "League of Legends," not around the desire to force pro-play into specific boxes.

On top of that, Riot also brought over Kasra Jafroodi, who I have spoken with at conference panels and personally, and who previously was the head of strategy and analytics at Activision Blizzard for the Overwatch League.

Through his efforts at Activision, Overwatch League earned its place on the map of the esports world. With his experience from executing the Overwatch League and its ups and downs, coupled with the League of Legends team's knowledge from its highly active leagues, Valorant likely has one of the best chances to develop a successful, new esports scene through that combined brain power.

Through a conglomeration of proven strategy, popular IP, reliability, and of course, a still-present hype train, my prediction is that "Valorant" will at least hold a stake in the ground of esports.

Without a doubt, this is therefore a great opportunity for brands to test out their esports strategy. If I controlled a marketing budget, I'd bet on it!

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