As Champions Tour 2023: LOCK//IN São Paulo wraps up, here’s a look at some takeaways to come from the first international event with the 30 franchised teams in VALORANT, such as team performance and meta developments.
The Pacific League Has Depth to It
When the teams in the Pacific League were announced, the community perception was DRX would be head and shoulders above the others, save for Paper Rex who could give the Korean squad a run for their money. However, in LOCK//IN, teams that were written off initially showed some impressive form.
One of those teams was Team Secret, who kept the majority of their roster from last year, which failed to achieve much. Secret instantly turned heads in their opening match against Team Liquid, in which they swept through Igor “Redgar” Vlasov’s squad 2-0. Although they lost their subsequent match against eventual semifinalists, Natus Vincere — dismantling a pre-tournament favorite gave instant respect to the Filipino squad.
Talon Esports was another surprising success story in LOCK//IN from the Pacific League. Just like Secret, Talon kept together a pre-existing core from 2022 in Xerxia, which struggled to make much impact in last year’s circuit. Talon started out LOCK/IN playing against MIBR, who they struggled to beat 2-0. Talon’s next match was against Evil Geniuses (EG), who the Thai squad showed impressive composure to win 2-0. EG managed to start the first map of Haven up 9-3 and the second of Split 8-4, but Talon kept their cool to pull off comebacks twice in a row to win Haven 13-11 and Split 13-10. At this point, Talon had already exceeded pre-tournament expectations but gave DRX a tough fight in the Alpha bracket semifinals. Starting out on Fracture, Talon surprised the favorites by winning 13-10 but got stomped on Ascent 13-6, bringing the series to a decider map of Icebox, which they lost with a tense 13-10 scoreline. Both Talon and Secret’s runs at LOCK//IN showed the Pacific League was not set to be a one-team league as once thought.
New LOUD Is Picking Up Right Where They Left Off
When LOUD lost two of their stars right after winning Champions, no one knew if the Brazilian dream team could bounce back from the loss of two integral pieces to their system. Luckily for the team’s fans, Saadhak managed to mold two up-comers from the domestic Brazilian scene into world-class additions, leading to a repeat finals appearance. Cauan "cauanzin" Pereira and Arthur "tuyz" Vieira both were hyped prospects regionally, with cauanzin showing up with impactful performances in Masters - Reykjavík 2022 on Ninjas in Pyjamas and tuyz spearheading TBK Esports to a surprising top 3 finish at the 2022 South America Last Chance Qualifier, but many doubted if they could fill the big shoes left on LOUD. Another issue was tuyz having to role-swap to controller compared to his preferred duelist role on TBK, but to say he and cauanzin surpassed expectations would be an understatement.
In LOUD’s opening match against Gen.G, cauanzin topped the scoreboard for the team putting up a 41-34-21 K/D/A. Against NRG Esports in the Alpha bracket semifinals, tuyz also had an impactful series, going 60-50-35 overall and carrying the first map with a 20-6-9 performance. LOUD may have lost the finals in heartbreaking fashion, but the team has a bright future ahead with their new young stars having nowhere to go but up in skill.
Harbor was Underrated
Before LOCK//IN, the most recently added Valorant agent, Harbor, barely saw playtime in pro play, but some of the most successful teams at the event utilized the Indian agent.
The most prominent example of this was LOUD, using him paired with a Viper on Pearl, Icebox, and Lotus. LOUD’s Brazilian compatriots FURIA also played Harbor on Haven against Fnatic, pushing the eventual tournament winners to the brink in a 16-18 loss. Icebox was Harbor’s most played map, being played 29% of the time at the event, being played primarily by Pacific teams in DRX, Talon, China representatives EDward Gaming, and LOUD. In every team composition played at LOCK/IN with the agent, he was paired with a secondary controller, which was mostly Viper, with occasional Omen or Astra picks to supplement his abilities.
Harbor’s main strengths were shown with his High Tide, being able to cut off large areas of maps to deny the other teams information, and his ultimate ability, Reckoning, which made taking sites on attack and retaking on defense easy. With the innovation shown at LOCK//IN, it is almost certain Harbor’s playtime at the top level will increase as the regional leagues start and teams find out even more creative ways to use his utility.
Fnatic Has Built a Superteam Meant to Last
Off the back of a disappointing 2022 season, Fnatic created a team destined to lift a trophy in the lead-up to 2023, and they managed to achieve that goal on their first outing together.
Replacing Enzo "Enzo" Mestari and James "Mistic" Orfila for Leo "Leo" Jannesson and Timofey "Chronicle" Khromov shortly after getting eliminated from VALORANT Champions 2022, Fnatic wasted no time in the off-season, winning the Superdome event in Egypt, as well as beating Pacific League teams ZETA Divison and DetonatioN FocusMe in Japan at Riot Games ONE Pro Invitational. All of this preparation paid dividends for the Jake "Boaster" Howlett-led squad, as the team started LOCK//IN with a dominant 2-0 against Sentinels.
From there the team had no intention of stopping their strong form, beating Furia and 100 Thieves in back-to-back 2-0s to easily secure qualification out of the Omega bracket. In playoffs, Fnatic beat regional opponents Natus Vincere 3-0 to qualify for the LOCK/IN finals without dropping a map. The grand finals against LOUD seemed like it was going to be the same as the previous series Fnatic played as the EMEA team went up 2-0 initially. However, LOUD managed to claw their way back into the game, winning the next two maps to bring the finals to a decider map of Icebox and going up 9-3 with a crushing attack side. Even with the crowd against them and their backs against the wall, Fnatic fought tooth and nail to deny LOUD the reverse sweep, eventually winning the map 14-12 to take home the LOCK/IN trophy.
Not only did Fnatic’s roster moves pay off dividends, but the team also showed they have some of the strongest mental fortitudes in the pro scene with their finals performance. Fnatic finally has a team that looks like it could produce an era, and look like they should be a terrifying force in the EMEA league and beyond.
North America Has to Go Back to the Drawing Board
The North American representatives had some high expectations going into LOCK//IN due in part to their blockbuster signings in the off-season, such as Sentinels (SEN) bringing on world champions Gustavo "Sacy" Rossi and Bryan "pANcada" Luna, Cloud9 adding the best player of 2022, Jaccob "yay" Whiteaker, to their ranks, and 100 Thieves signing Matthew "Cryocells" Panganiban from XSET.
Unfortunately LOCK//IN seems to be a write-off event for NA, as no team managed to make playoffs. NRG Esports and 100 Thieves came the closest, with both teams being one game away from surviving the group stage, but losses to eventual finalists LOUD and Fnatic, respectively, dashed those hopes. Both teams’ runs were respectable as they showed composure in close series throughout their time in the event. NRG, in particular, pushed LOUD to the brink in their 1-2 loss filled with overtime in a game that could have gone either way.
Evil Geniuses started off LOCK//IN with a convincing 2-0 against Team Heretics in their opening match, but Talon Esports took down the Brendan "BcJ" Jensen-led team in the second round thanks to back-to-back cooldowns. Cloud9 didn’t live up to the superteam status given to them by the community, stomping Paper Rex 2-0 before getting crushed by DRX. Sentinels had it the worst out of the five NA teams, playing the tournament’s eventual winner Fnatic for their opening game. The result was a dominant 2-0 for Fnatic, but with an easier path, SEN certainly could have shown more.
Between a series of misfortunes and mishaps, none of the North American teams were able to live up to their maximum potential on the international stage this time out, but come Masters Tokyo we will definitely see the region’s representatives show more.