AFK Weekly: Riot Revamps Valorant Esports Calendar, Doubles Down on Game Changers
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- Vignesh Raghuram, Supervising Editor, AFK Gaming
Riot reveals plans for Valorant Champions Tour 2022
Riot announced details for the 2022 VCT and Game Changers events ahead of the conclusion of Valorant Champions 2021. Just like the inaugural season, the VCT will continue with its three core Challengers, Masters, and Champions events that will remain as a key component of its circuit.
In addition, the 2022 season will feature a new format for its Challenger events. The upcoming season will see each regional Challengers “split” featuring a single open qualifier that will lead to multiple weeks of league-style play between the top teams. This will conclude in a Challengers Finals that will determine the split’s winner and the teams representing the region at Masters events.
Following Champions 2022, the remainder of the year will be dedicated to an offseason tournament series. Riot indicated that it will work with multiple third-party organizers to establish this series of events. In a release, Riot stated that this series of tournaments, aimed to replicate the feel of 2020’s Ignition series of tournaments, are meant for “new, existing, and re-tooling teams to test their skills” during the offseason.
Riot also plans to organize country-based leagues to help develop a new generation of Valorant stars. These leagues will first be initiated in Europe, and will then roll out gradually to other parts of the world.
The North American studio also doubled down on its Game Changers program, revealing plans to host an international LAN in 2022, barring any COVID-19 pandemic-related issues and restrictions. The event will be the first LAN for the series targeted at female and non-binary-centered players, and will bring together the best teams from around the world similar to Valorant Champions. The initiative has been quite successful and has led to several of the world’s biggest esports organizations including Cloud9, G2 Esports, and TSM signing female esports lineups.
Key Takeaway: By condensing its competitive calendar, Riot has placed the Valorant Champions event into the “dead zone” of the League of Legends season. This will allow Riot to focus entirely on the event, in time potentially building it up to match Worlds in scope and popularity. Of particular note in this announcement is the increased investment in Game Changers. Valorant was already significantly ahead of any other game in its support of women’s esports, but now teams will have a proper competitive calendar and a championship LAN to work towards, finally giving women's teams a similar structure to the male-dominated pro teams.
Oxygen Esports and Boston Uprising merge to acquire Call of Duty League (CDL) franchise
Kraft Sports and Entertainment's Overwatch League franchise Boston Uprising has merged with Oxygen Esports to bring a Boston-based franchise to the Call of Duty League, by acquiring its 12th slot and final slot. This merger and CDL acquisition follows a $20M USD investment round for Oxygen Esports which was led by Banner Ventures, along with many current and former professional sports figures.
A vacant slot in the CDL became available in November 2021 after OpTic Gaming and Team Envy merged, resulting in the creation of OpTic Texas. At the time, the Team Envy-owned Dallas Empire was dissolved leaving a vacancy in the CDL.
After the merger, Oxygen Esports will work with Kraft Sports Group to operate both the new CDL team and current Overwatch League team Boston Uprising. The organization will be headquartered and operated from Boston Uprising’s current training site at Patriot Place in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The facility is adjacent to Gillette Stadium which hosts Kraft's New England Patriots and the New England Revolution sports franchises.
Key Takeaway: One the one hand, it is a good sign for the Activision Blizzard franchised leagues that yet another Overwatch League owner has expanded its involvement to also include the Call of Duty League. If the Kraft group exited Activision Blizzard’s ecosystem, it would be a devastating blow to the confidence in the company’s ability to turn things around. That said, things are clearly not good enough on the home front for the Krafts to commit to the CDL alone, instead operating as partners to an established esports company and mitigating their risk. Both leagues will be facing difficult challenges next year between flagging sales and the bad press surrounding Activision Blizzard, not to mention Overwatch 2’s continued delays. Both this ownership group and Activision Blizzard need to pray that a return to offline play breathes new life into the Call of Duty League if they hope to turn things around.
Activision executive sends anti-union email to employees
An Activision Blizzard executive sent a company-wide email discouraging workers from forming a union, just days after worker groups announced plans to strike and called for employees to sign union authorization cards. The leaked email includes anti-union arguments, asks workers to consider the consequences of signing with a union, and states that “dialogue between leaders and employees” is the “better path.” Some have framed this email as an attempt at “union busting,” an accusation that Activision Blizzard openly denies.
Game industry trade groups publish ‘The Guide to Esports’
Gaming industry trade groups the Entertainment Software Association, the Interactive Software Federation of Europe, Entertainment Software Association of Canada and the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association of Australia and New Zealand have released “The Guide to Esports.” The guide highlights esports' potential for job creation, economic growth, tourism, and fostering community, as well as the importance of intellectual property, with support and input of gaming and esports industry stakeholders throughout the world.
Team Liquid expands ownership group
International esports organization Team Liquid has added CS:GO pro Jonathan "EliGE Jablonowski Super Smash Bros. Melee player Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma, WNBA star Aerial Powers, poker pro Alexander “Lex” Veldhuis, and actor Asa Butterfield to its ownership group. Financial terms were not disclosed, per Dexerto.
Toronto approves OverActive Media Group’s esports venue
Toronto Defiant and Toronto Ultra owner OverActive Media Group announced that its plan to create an esports venue in its home city has been approved by the Toronto City Council. OAM claims that the venue will create 3,000 jobs and generate "$39M in annual government revenues, including approximately $6.9M in property tax revenue to the City of Toronto upon its full realization," as well as "$186M" in related tourist spending. Those figures are in CAD. The venue will be completed in 2025.
Supercell reveals plans for U.S. studio
Brawl Stars and Clash of Clans developer Supercell plans to open a studio in the United States, but the company says that it is looking for a “core group of founders” to lead it. While the Tencent-owned studio has a gaming presence in North America with its current line-up of games, the company clearly wants to take advantage of game making talent in the west.
On the Horizon
Mobile Legends (MLBB)’ M3 World Championship finally comes to a close this weekend. The tournament has firmly established the title as the top MOBA in mobile esports, after dwarfing viewership numbers of its existing competitors which include League of Legends: Wild Rift and Arena of Valor (AoV).
However, Clash of Titans, a new mobile MOBA specifically targeting the Indian mobile esports market could significantly eat into Mobile Legends’ market share. MLBB and AoV are currently banned in the country whilst Wild Rift remains unreleased. It could capture the untapped Indian mobile MOBA market and gain some footing in this space. Considering the similarities in the artworks between AoV and Clash of Titans, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the latter tie into the former’s esports circuit in the future.
People on the Move
As we head towards the end of 2021, several executives and game industry professionals are making moves to greener pastures. The biggest move of the week comes from Arnold Hur, who has been promoted to the role of chief executive officer of Gen.G Esports, replacing outgoing CEO Chris Park. Hur, who has been with the company more than four years, previously held the role of chief operating officer.
Other moves this week:
Jordan Bellar leaves G2 Esports to join TRIBE Gaming as the new VP of partnerships.
G2 Esports Head of Social & Programming Chris Sloane announces his exit from the organization.
Former WarnerMedia exec Krystal Hauserman joins Evil Geniuses as VP of global head of marketing.
Michael Storm Ottosen is leaving tournament organizer BLAST to join Red Bull Denmark.
Kendra Desrosiers joins Twitch as its new global head of strategic programs & culture.
Melanie Risley exits PlayVS to join Ritual Motion GUILD as its first VP of strategy & operations.
Graham Borden has been appointed to the role of "manager NBA2K League global community ambassador" by the NBA.
Seasoned marketing exec Prashant Ojha is leaving Supercell India.
David Light has left his role as broadcast engineer (working on CDL and OWL) at Blizzard.
XSET has hired Steve Birkhold as its chief merchandise and licensing officer.
Riley Idelson will join Riot Games in January in a talent acquisition role.
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