How One Tournament Changes The Perceptions Of Esports: Red Bull Campus Clutch
Becoming an esports athlete is no easy feat, especially with rising demands in a vastly growing industry, and few paths to take to become the next fresh product. Parents around the world have laughed off kids wanting to take up gaming as a career. Being shooed off your console for your dad's Only Fools and Horses omnibus is a story we're all too familiar with, and twisting their ears to ditch after-school curriculums in favour of a sweaty gaming session in your chair is not desired. Yet it's necessary.
The pathways to becoming a professional esports athlete are vastly dwindling, despite the industry reportedly expanding. The upper echelons of the pre-existing scenes are becoming ever-more saturated with top-tier amateur talent. The likes of League of Legends, Counter-Strike, and Call of Duty are all growing in player count and masters of their respective arts, but no space opens up at the top of the tree. Yet VALORANT offers promise.
The newest esport on the scene is ageing nicely. VALORANT's ecosystem has settled after a possibly over-inflated start filled with CS rejects, but now it's housing passionate young athletes who use their advanced sense of trigonometry and killer instincts to refine playstyles and utility usage comfortably, settling the professional scene nicely to a position where it can grow naturally. That hasn't translated to progression though, and the same bunch of players seem to be revolving through different doors like a conveyor belt of failures, with no clear way how to promote rising talent. Yet the Red Bull Campus Clutch has found a way.
Red Bull's collegiate-level tournament was arguably one of the most successful amateur tournaments ever held in esports, compiling thousands of students around the globe into online qualifiers before rolling out the red carpet to be the first fan-attended event after the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hosted under the sun of Madrid, RBCC 2021 saw twelve national representatives travel to the Spanish capital, breaking LANs out of its siesta. One of these was Team Anubis, who had already been making waves on a regional scale together. While success was being inched forward with every after-college grind, the echoes of parents' concerns had prevented a rapid rise.
But the Red Bull Campus Clutch opened a new door for players from discarded nationalities and notoriously minor esports regions. As Egypt's representation, Anubis soared through the competition and with a reverse sweep in the Grand Final they were crowned champions. Not only did they get to don the Collegiate-level world champions status but it also served as a catalyst for a massive change of perception in the eyes of family, friends, and strangers.
"Since we started playing VALORANT, nobody expected our region to be included in the big events, VALORANT is the first game to ever do this for us," explained Mohamed "shalaby" Shalaby.
Esports in Egypt has yet to become a career path filled with riches. In fact, after just one collegiate-level tournament, the Anubis roster has already been catapulted into the top 20 highest-earning players.
"It's not just VALORANT, actually. But in every single game, it's hard to convince your family that you want to become a pro. But once we lifted that trophy, our families were hyped," added Ayman "Tuna" Mosaad. "It convinced them that it's more than a hobby, it's actually something, and esports is a good route to take".
"We didn't see that we could compete internationally, but the Red Bull Campus Clutch opened that opportunity."
But one tournament win isn't enough to inspire a nation, and with like-minded regions looking for a case study, there needs to be a path-to-professional idol.
The Red Bull Campus Clutch served its purpose exquisitely though, and protegees from the amateur scene have now used this platform to propel an esports career. Like graduates thrust into the wider esports world, Barış "fred" Özdemir landed a place at Turkey's prestigious BBL Esports, Portugal's João "jannyXD" Costa found a home at Rebels Gaming, and Belarusian-born Dmitry "SmartSeven" Smartselov was snapped up by the elite organisation Natus Vincere as Head Coach.
The most renowned idol for amateurs came in the form of shalaby though, who, just moments after hoisting the trophy and the MVP award, received a phone call and contract from VALORANT monsters Team Vitality.
The soon-to-be VCT-partnered org penned shalaby to a trial contract, allowing the Egyptian to be promoted to their first team, playing seven times for the team in the VCT season, winning four and proving that there is a career to be made out of VALORANT.
"Everyone's dream in minor regions is to play in the top leagues. I've always dreamed about doing something like this, and it all came so fast, straight after the [RBCC] finals," explained shalaby.
Despite not quite being able to secure his place on the Vitality roster on a long-term basis, shalaby has been able to live the life of a professional, which will come in handy for his next opportunity.
"They spend much more time on tactics," shalaby pointed out as the main difference between having to juggle amateur VALORANT with other responsibilities, compared to pro teams. "I had no time to realise that this is something bigger, I just had to get in there and play my game."
"This is the biggest experience I have gotten in gaming. I saw how big teams and pro players play the game, and how the staff operate to help us. People are much more disciplined and organised in their gameplay too."
Additionally, RBCC champions were also given the opportunity meant to push the winning organisation to their limits, pitting them against professional teams at the Home Ground series, where Anubis continued to learn from the best players on the globe and prove again that a career is possible.
"It was a very good experience for us to see how big the gap is and how we can close it," explained Omar "chrollo" Hussein, reminiscing on the Home Ground. "It was good to see how teams adapt and change in-game," he added, pointing out that the team learnt a lot about variables in VALORANT and how pros can read the situations, rather than sticking to a pre-determined playbook.
But for a minor region team, which is hindered by a lack of opportunities, travel and connection troubles, and pressures from respective cultures, the RBCC is best described as a perception changer.
"Without my brother, I couldn't have continued in this way," explained Tuna. "My family was super against me going this way and wanted me to care more for my studies. They didn't want me to go deeper into esports."
"But, when I did go deep they became convinced by it, and now sometimes I make more money than an engineer."
This sentiment was also echoed by Chrollo, whose family was brought on the side of esports after tournament earnings and team wages helped support an income. "After winning the Campus Clutch, they said 'okay, this is something big, continue doing this as a career," he said.
The Anubis roster has separated in recent months, although the roster is on good terms. Tuna and Chrollo will be appearing against each other in the Campus Clutch world finals this year too, as the amateur scene doubles in size and the newly-structured VCT format plans on building a better bridge between the two levels of competition.
With VCT teams still looking to snap up some final players, and the second-tier leagues yet to be fully formed, scouts will be eyeing the next VALORANT scholars, hoping to catch the next up-and-coming talents and continuing to change the perception of families around the world that esports is viable.