Ordinarily, when one compares China to other regions in competitive Valorant on paper, they view it as a weak region, far away from competing with the rest of the globe. Considering the country’s dominance in other significant Esport titles like League of Legends and Dota 2, it is a stark contrast to the type of attention it is accustomed to receiving. However, with Valorant not being an accessible game for the general populace since its official launch in 2020, it is hard to view the country as anything beyond its meager state so far in competitive Valorant.
Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped the country from producing competitive and entirely capable teams, even if that meant it could be done underground. Soon enough, it saw the emergence of teams like EDward Gaming and FunPlus Phoenix. Both would go on to be their region's representatives for VCT international tournaments like Champions and, most recently, LOCK//IN 2023.
By way of a direct invitation by Riot Games to attend LOCK//IN as China’s representatives, EDG and FPX battled alongside the best teams in the world within a 32-team single-elimination bracket, where one loss meant instant elimination. Despite the high stakes surrounding the occasion, both Chinese teams looked relatively unfazed by the pressure and nothing best exemplified their tranquility than in their matches.
FunPlus Phoenix’s showing
For a time, FunPlus Phoenix had scaled the competitive Valorant mountain and were viewed as the best in the world. Thanks to their EMEA lineup that featured ardiis, ANGE1, Suygetsu, Shao, and Zyppan, the team won Masters in Copenhagen and placed fourth in Champions 2022, beating the likes of OpTic Gaming, Paper Rex, and fnatic in the process. That all changed once the VCT introduced a new format for the 2023 season, for once the organization found it wasn’t accepted into one of the three new major leagues, it released its European lineup to allow them to look for new opportunities elsewhere.
Despite the setback, FPX eventually returned to the Valorant scene, this time in their home country, by promoting the ZHUQUE roster to the first team, setting the stage for their eventual invitation to LOCK//IN.
Even when falling behind with a 13-6 loss on Lotus to Karmine Corp, FPX rebounded emphatically by dispatching their EMEA counterparts on Haven off a 7-2 second half as the attacking side, setting up the third and decisive map (Pearl) for both sides. The fight was fierce on the final map, but despite FPX’s best efforts, they fell to KC 13-6, finishing their journey before crossing the first hurdle in Brazil.
While the loss might have brought some dreary vindication to those believing FPX had little chance to contend with the bigger VCT teams, their performance fostered immense praise from those familiar with how the Chinese style of play in Valorant works.
“I played against two Chinese teams, and both were pretty good [and had] very different styles. EDG played more aggressively and FPX played more slowly and more for information. I think they played better macro-wise around the map,” said Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom following his first-round series against FPX in LOCK//IN 2023.
“I think they are on the good path. They’re improving every time and honestly, it wasn’t an easy game for us.”
EDward Gaming’s second international run
The same impressive display was seen from EDG as well during LOCK//IN. As a team that previously appeared in Champions 2022 by winning the East Asia LCQ, EDG entered their second LAN with plenty of international experience under the belt and an eagerness to express their refined gameplay and collective maturity to boot.
Nobody best experienced EDG’s reinvigorating tenacity than 100 Thieves when they faced each other at LOCK//IN. Similar to how the FPX-KC series transpired, EDG pushed their North American opponents to a third map, but unlike the aforementioned match, this one would undergo an intense back-and-forth affair.
Both teams essentially exchanged blows in the form of consecutive round wins throughout the entire map, leading to EDG being on the brink of winning the map and the series when they held a 12-10 lead on the attacking side. Unfortunately for them, 100T engineered four consecutive round wins to push the game to Overtime and take the series 14-12, finishing China’s run at LOCK//IN.
In the same way that FPX inspired words of acclaim from KC, 100T did the same for EDG, with one of its players commending them for making the entire contest an especially grueling one.
“Insane team, can’t wait to see how they play for the rest of the year. Life was flashing before my eyes,” 100 Thieves IGL stellar said in a tweet following the series against EDG.
China’s impending arrival to pro Valorant
(Credit: Riot Games/Colin Young-Wolff)
All this subsequently points to a clear discrepancy between what China was initially viewed as for most of the competitive Valorant scene’s existence and how it’s seen now. With EDG and FPX leading the way, the country is not just seeing a decline of skeptics towards its game, but rather, an upswing of people who truly believe in what it can be: a great power that could rule the scene in the same way it does in other games.
"I think that China's inclusion is a really good thing for the scene. They rightfully should be included. They have two really good teams that were here. EDG just gave us one of the best matches that we've played in a long time. FPX had a really good match as well, early on against Karmine Corp. Just based on the player base, or potential player base, I think they 100% deserve a spot in VCT," said stellar in a post-match press conference.
All the while, however, as the local competitive Valorant scene was flourishing and entrancing the outside world, the game itself had not yet been released within its borders. Even after two years have passed since Valorant’s official release, Riot, Valorant’s developer, needed to wait for approval before making it live for the public to fully enjoy.
Finally, on December 2022, the National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA), China’s video game licensing regulation body, gave the green light for Valorant’s release, opening the floodgates for the country’s formal embrace of the FPS title and, most crucially, ushering its proper arrival to the competitive scene. China has already produced two capable teams in EDG and FPX, with each appearing in international events and simultaneously impressing their foreign peers, and with the impending release of the game approaching ever closer, one can imagine how much more it will improve later down the line. Nevertheless, one thing is certain, the future is shining bright for the country.
Feature image: Riot Games/Colin Young-Wolff