Breathing life and vitalising a bustling Japanese VALORANT scene.
For a new esport like VALORANT, it’s important that the scene is bustling with different tournaments and opportunities for the game to grow. More players, more exposure, more eyes watching, more sponsors, and more investments are what makes an esport healthy. Riot has put in a commendable amount of effort starting up the life of their new game with the Ignition Series, even though the difficulties of COVID-19 still stifle the world.
The tournaments have been high profile, successful, and of course, fun. Watching the next generation of stars in a new game is exciting, it makes the future seem bright. Plenty of former professionals from titles like Overwatch and CS:GO are getting second chances in their careers, while newcomers make their entrances with the potential of becoming the next big name. Yet, while all eyes are focused on the two major regions, EU and NA, VALORANT has been very quietly making its debut in a lesser-known region for most audiences - Japan.
Japan is known for a lot of incredible things, but their prevalence in esports is not really one of them. Outside of the Fighting Game Community, there aren’t many competitive games where Japan has a huge presence. So, when tournaments and support start getting pumped into the region, it’s nothing but a net positive for players, organisers, and fans.
Currently, the A.W EXTREME MASTERS Pro Invitational is the tournament that’s breathing life into Japanese VALORANT, and it’s looking pretty solid in accomplishing its role as a tournament to vitalising the competitive scene in Japan. Its organiser, ASH WINDER, is an event production company located in Osaka, and dedicated to helping grow the Japanese market and place in the esports industry. While incapable of hosting in-person events at the moment, ASH WINDER has been making it a point of providing that LAN space for Japanese gamers to come and enjoy the community that’s centred around games. So, they’re no strangers to putting on events to help circulate the energy for esports in Japan.
While it’s not as popular as a tournament like Pop Flash, A.W is providing these players and broadcasters with the opportunity to do what they love and do best. Not everything can be the biggest tournament in the industry, raking in millions of dollars in prize pools and hundreds of thousands of viewers. Yet, it says a lot about the health of a game’s scene when these tournaments and events are viable options for its organisers and players to participate in. It doesn’t have to be the LCK for it to be worthy of support.
If fans are looking to support but don’t know where to start, one of the more interesting thing about the A.W EXTREME MASTERS Pro Invitational is that it does play host to some of the best Japanese teams in the game. A.W isn’t the first tournament for the region. In fact, the Ignition Series has already hosted two tournaments for Japan - the RAGE Invitational and RAGE Japan Tournament, both won by the team Absolute JUPITER.
Absolute JUPITER is a team made of former CS:GO professionals, who have been playing together since late 2018 under the name of simply, Absolute. All the synergy and trust they've built over the years allows them to have a pretty heavy advantage over the other teams in the game, as they've been putting in dominant performances since they first premiered in VALORANT tournaments. They play fast, aggressive, and with the knowledge that each teammate has the capability of pulling out the wins no matter the situation.
If there's a craving for an underdog, the squad on SCARZ is the one to look at. Made up of players with not a lot of competitive history to their name, SCARZ has been one of the best teams in the region, but not close enough to reach the top of the mantle. For Overwatch fans, they can find a familiar face in the team's coach, Takahiro "ibot" Watanabe, formerly known as CLAIRE. CLAIRE was the former support player for Team Japan in the 2017 and 2018 World Cups, and the support for JUPITER's Overwatch roster, the team Sean "ta1yo" Henderson hails from before he joined Third Impact and the San Francisco Shock. Another fun fact, their former teammate Kazuki "SamuraiD" Nouno, is also playing in the A.W EXTREME MASTERS Pro Invitational with Connect Gaming. A lot of history and story for a scene that's so often overlooked.
While it may seem niche to follow a scene like Japan in VALORANT, the more support a region gets, the better its prospects can become on the global stage. All of the players participating have hopes and skill, just like their more successful counterparts. A Tier 2 scene is essential in keeping a game healthy, constantly giving it new personalities and stories to work with, and keeping the talent pool fresh for years to come. To support the efforts of the fans, players, and broadcasters alike, tune in to the tournament on its Twitch channel or YouTube channel starting September 14.
All images courtesy of ASH Winder | Blizzard Entertainment