The Champions of First Strike
First Strike was the first VALORANT tournament series organized by Riot Games, and it crowned the best teams in each region of the world.
Following the Ignition Series events, Riot Games announced that it would be organizing its own VALORANT tournaments, titled First Strike. While a combined prize pool of $600,000USD is obviously huge, the real purpose of First Strike was to crown the best team in each region, especially with international LANs being impossible right now. First Strike not only allowed us to gauge which teams are the strongest, but it was also a proving ground for many. We learned a lot about each region's overall competitiveness, the interest of respective fanbases, all while storylines unfolded in front of our eyes.
Out of all the regions, North America has seen the most interest in VALORANT, with many former Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Player Unknown's Battlegrounds, and Apex Legends players transitioning to the new title. While many teams looked hot coming in the tournament, it was the new-look 100 Thieves roster that took the trophy home. 100T certainly didn't have an easy path to victory, defeating T1, Sentinels, and finally TSM in the grand finals. It's wonderful to see Nicholas "nitr0" Cannella find success so early into his VALORANT career, especially as he was at the head of Team Liquid's success in CS:GO. Though 100T's two youngsters, Peter "Asuna" Mazuryk and Quan "dicey" Tran, are an integral part of the team's firepower, it was the veterans that really came alive in the final, winning numerous crucial clutches. TSM also had a great run at First Strike, managing to put out an on-fire Team Envy in the semifinals. The kings of old made many mistakes in the final, losing anti-ecos, pistol rounds, and numerous man-advantage rounds, but those are mistakes you iron out with time. Overall, NA is still very competitive, and the future of the scene looks very promising.
First Strike Europe saw an ungodly upset, with eventual tournament winner Team Heretics knocking out the previously undefeated G2 Esports in the semifinals. Even FunPlus Phoenix, which was widely considered to be the second-best team in attendance, was eliminated by the unsigned side of SUMN FC. While upsets are always on the cards in an online setting, Heretics was the tournament's dark horse and outclassed G2, pure and simple. The team's captain, Christian "loWel" Garcia Antoran, was crowned as the tournament MVP, though his teammates Dustyn "niesoW" Durnas and Žygimantas "nukkye" Chmieliauskas were a crucial part of Heretics' firepower throughout the event. Heretics' roster, much likes G2's, is an international superteam carefully crafted with some of the best players in each role. While G2's loss may come as quite a shock, it was always just a matter of time. While the victory is huge for Heretics as it proved to be a top tier team, let's not forget SUMN FC either, as any organization looking to enter VALORANT should be looking their way. All in all, First Strike Europe has ignited the flame to a truly competitive scene within the continent.
VALORANT certainly hasn't seen much interest in the CIS scene, as Counter-Strike remains the most widely-played first-person shooter. Still, a few organizations decided to invest, the first of which being forZe. The Russian organization's roster performed relatively well in the early days, but as VALORANT grew in popularity and other organizations began investing, the team was quickly overtaken. In recent times, the most dominant force has been non-other than Gambit Esports, much like its Western counterpart. Eastern Europe saw quite the upset as Gambit lost to the recently-formed Team Singularity in the semifinals, though, somewhat surprisingly, forZe picked up the trophy at First Strike CIS. The team's best performers were undoubtedly forZe's captain Nikolai "zeddy" Lapko and the new pick-up Dmitry "SUYGETSU" Ilyushin, though Singularity's Nikita "trexx" Cherednichenko deserves a shout-out as well as he was one of the best performers in the event. It's great to see forZe get some return on its investment as it gambled on the CIS VALORANT scene so early on, and it seems as though the region may be producing more competitive teams moving forward.
Unlike the previously mentioned regions, Korea's First Strike went essentially as expected. Vision Strikers has been head and shoulders above the competition in Korea, and this still rang true in First Strike, as it only lost one map, Icebox, to Cloud9 Korea in the semifinals. The roster is primarily composed of the former MVP PK CS:GO team, which was arguably the best Korean CS team to date. The team's experience and firepower have translated nicely to VALORANT, as VS is yet to lose a tournament it has participated in. Currently, Vision Strikers is actually the highest-earning team in terms of prize winnings, having just overtaken G2. Vision Strikers could definitely be the best team in Asia, although an argument could also be made in Absolute JUPITER's favor. However, it might be premature to say that the Korean scene is the strongest in Asia, as no team is anywhere close to VS' level right now. Even TNL Esports, previously known as Quantum Strikers, couldn't take a map off of VS in the grand final. Although C9 Korea seemed like the best candidate to overthrow Vision Strikers, the team has recently disbanded as a result of single team ownership regulations. As things are right now, it's unlikely that anyone overtakes VS as the best Korean team.
While Vision Strikers is the best team in Korea, the equivalent in Japan is undoubtedly Absolute JUPITER. Much like how MVP PK was the best Korean CS:GO team, Absolute was the best Japanese CS:GO team, and the roster has been dominating the domestic VALORANT scene, adding the First Strike Japan title to its collection. Unlike South Korea, however, it seems as though Japan's scene is proving to be quite competitive. The second-best Japanese CS:GO team known as Ignis transitioned to VALORANT shortly after Absolute, becoming BlackBird Ignis. While the team initially failed to live up to the hype, parting ways with two of its original members along the way, BlackBird Ignis surprisingly made the grand final of First Strike. Although the team lost was unable to pick up a map against JUPITER in the end, the Japanese VALORANT scene is really picking up steam, with many emerging talents such as DetonatioN Gaming's Hiromichi "mittiii" Urahigashi or Reject's Yuma "Dep" Hisamoto and "HaReeee." While South Korea may be getting the most attention from Riot, the VALORANT community really shouldn't be sleeping on Japan's potential.
While the likes of Heretics' Melih "pAura" Karaduran or nolpenki's Mehmet Yağız "cNed" İpek played in the European edition of First Strike, Turkey actually had its own First Strike event. The Turkish scene has also seen its fair share of investment, with the likes of Oxygen Esports, Futbolist, and Sangal Esports choosing to enter the VALORANT space. However, the country's best team has been BBL Esports, headlined by former CS:GO player Ali Osman "AsLanM4shadoW" Balta. Unlike nearly every other First Strike tournament, Turkey's actually featured a lower bracket, which gives a team the maximum amount of opportunities to make a deep run. Still, it was BBL that took home the trophy, defeating Futbolist 2-0 in the upper bracket final and 3-0 in the grand final's revenge matchup. Turkey's VALORANT scene is home to many exceptionally mechanically talented players that have the unique opportunity to face European and CIS adversaries, albeit with a slight ping disadvantage.
Brazil's VALORANT scene has been very exciting to follow, as unlike with many other countries, most of the players aren't former Counter-Strike pros. The Brazilian VALORANT player base comes from various backgrounds, such as PUBG, Overwatch, Crossfire, Point Blank, Fortnite, and so on. Riot's new game has served as a new opportunity for many to make names for themselves, and that hasn't been truer for the likes of Gamelanders, which has established itself a the best Brazilian VALORANT team following the victory at First Strike. It's not as though First Strike Brazil saw a sudden peak in performance for Gamelanders, however, as the team was already winning most of the domestic competitions in Brazil. The squad is spearheaded by Leonardo "mwzera" Serrati, who may just be one of the best Duelist players in the world. Coming into First Strike, mwzera had been an absolute beast online, but many questioned if he could replicate his amazing feats in a LAN setting; he did. In fact, the 19-year-old was crowned as the tournament's MVP following his outstanding performances in the tournament, where he averaged 329 ACS and 190.5 ADR over 162 rounds. There's no denying that mwzera and the rest of Gamelanders will be quite the threat once international LANs return.
Though Team Launch looked poised to dominate the Oceanic VALORANT scene during the Closed Beta, EXO Clan quickly picked up the pace and became the region's best team. The team didn't drop a single map in its First Strike Oceania run, never even giving up more than 10 rounds on a map, in fact. The two stars of the EXO Clan show are undoubtedly Chris "pl1xx" Li and Kyran "dizzyLife" Crombie, two former CS:GO players, although the team as a whole has been quite impressive. Sadly, due to the region's geographic isolation, Oceania hasn't had very many VALORANT tournaments, and with Riot recently looking to close down the Oceanic Pro League in League of Legends, it doesn't bode well for the region's future. It's not as though Oceania won't be able to develop a thriving community, as it has already done so in other competitive titles. Being ahead of the curve, EXO Clan's players are looking for international opportunities. The whole team is ready to move abroad in order to continue competing at the highest level.
Due to the sheer size of the region, First Strike Latin America was divided into two separate tournaments in order to avoid unnecessary ping issues.
LazerKlan, headlined by former CS:GO pro Santiago "Daveeys" Galvis Ruiz, was one of the heavy favorites going into the tournament and made it out of the group stage as the top-seeded team, having only lost one game to Infinity Esports. This secured the team a spot in the grand final, whereas Infinity Esports, as the third best-seeded team, needed to overcome Penguins of the night and LDM Esports in order to reach the grand final. While Infinity picked up the first map in the final, LazerKlan picked up three wins in a row to secure the title, as Daveeys triumphed over his former CS:GO teammates on the opposing team. There's no denying that both squads are very solid, and the series could've potentially gone differently on any other given day.
VALORANT has been an attractive prospect in South America, as the likes of Furious Gaming and 9z Team have invested in the scene rather early on. However, it was Estral Esports that went on to claim the title at First Strike Latin America South, exiting the group stage as the top-seeded team and going 7-0. With Juan "NagZ" Pablo Lopez on Jett, Estral has been a dominant force in Latin America, and First Strike was no exception. Although the scorelines were close, Estral won all three maps versus the Chilean side of DKS Esports.
Much like with Latin America, First Strike Asia Pacific was divided into five different tournaments.
The ESL Thailand Competition 2020 saw the country's best teams duke it out over a two week period. Surprisingly, Attack All Around, regarded as the best team in South-East Asia beforehand, exited the tournament in 5-6th position. The early exit also led to the departure of the team's star player Kititkawin "PTC" Rattanasukol, as he joined NG Esports shortly after. The eventual tournament winner was non-other than MiTH.Attitude, previously regarded as the second-best Thai team. It's also worth mentioning that NG.Black, which finished in 3rd place, had only formed a few days prior to the event, so there's no telling just how good that team may become moving forward.
The Philipino edition of First Strike, Mineski VxV, saw the tournament favorite Bren Esports win it all in a very dominant fashion. Headlined by former CS:GO pros Jayveev "DubsteP" Paguirigan, Kevin "Dispenser" Te, and Jim "BORKUM" Timbreza, Bren didn't lose a single map in its tournament run, further solidifying its grasp over the Philipino VALORANT scene.
First Strike Malaysia and Singapore saw the Malaysian side of TODAK, headlined by Shamir "Subbey" Zaman, lift the trophy over the Singaporean side of Team SMG. Both teams met for the first time in the upper bracket semifinals, where SMG won in a 2-0 fashion. However, TODAK made the run through the lower bracket all the way to the grand final, where the Malaysians prevailed in a close affair that went all through five maps. While it's a crushing defeat for Team SMG, it was a Cinderella story come true for TODAK.
First Strike Indonesia also saw a considerable upset, as BOOM Esports, considered to be the best in the country, fell short and had to settle for fourth place. Surprisingly, it was the newly formed Team nxl> that would go on to win the event, with Saibani "fl1pzjder" Rahmad leading the charge for the team, following a series that went all the way against Alter Ego in the grand final. The victory is a great first start for the new team, as Indonesia continues to grow its VALORANT scene.
First Strike Hong Kong and Taiwan was an exciting tournament to follow, as Taiwan is an integral part of the Tencent League of Legends Pro League (LPL) over in League of Legends. However, the country's presence was very minimal in Counter-Strike, so it's interesting to see how the scene develops in Riot's latest title. With Shun Hei "HeiB" Ho and Man Ho "YoU" Yip, arguably the best Hong Kongese VALORANT players, not in attendance, Hong Kong failed to make much of an impact in the tournament. Instead, ahq e-Sports Club continued its reign of dominance over the region, winning the entire event without dropping a single map. The Taiwanese team has been on the rise for a while now, although it has somewhat struggled against the rest of Asia's best teams, such as Absolute JUPITER. Still, ahq is composed of incredible players such as Lin "Milk" Chi-Hung and shows plenty of promise.
While there were initially supposed to be three teams in attendance, KnockOut had to withdraw from First Strike GCC and Iraq due to scheduling conflicts. Consequently, the final was to be between the Saudi Arabian side of The Ultimates and RvN, headlined by Love "havoK" Paras, Obaid "breAker" Al-Muhairi, and Fayez "cheK" Saif. The Ultimates would go on to win the first map before losing the following three to RvN, as havoK and co. were crowned the winners of First Strike GCC and Iraq.
All three of the team in First Strike Levant and Egpyt, somewhat surprisingly, had organizations behind them. NASR Esports' majority-Jordanian roster triumphed over QLASH Egypt in the semifinal. Abed "SpY" Doughan and co. then faced Anubis Gaming in the grand final, managing to win all three maps of the series and taking home the first-place prize. While Egyptian esports is still in its very early stages, it's nice to see investment from external organizations, such as the Italian side of QLASH and the Emirati side of NASR.
Much like First Strike GCC and Iraq, First Strike North Africa also saw a team withdraw from the tournament at the last second, with the Algerian team Made in dz forfeiting its game. The grand final was between the Tunisian side of Team Majesty and the Morrocan side of Fox Gaming. Fox started the series strong, picking up Haven and Ascent, but Majesty managed to bring it back on Bind. Despite Mohamed "k0bra" Ladjimi's best efforts throughout the series, Team Majesty couldn't keep up the momentum and lost Split, crowning the Morrocans of Team Fox as the First Strike North Africa champions.