The ESPN Esports VALORANT Invitational is set to pit some of esports’ biggest names against one another in Riot Games’ new FPS. We’re pretty pumped about seeing what the best of the best from esports such as Counter-Strike, Overwatch and League of Legends can do with VALORANT’s brand-new cast of agents. Here’s what we’re expecting from the tournament when it’s all said and done.
Who’s your prediction for tournament MVP?
Tyler Erzberger: Give me Braxton “Brax” Pierce on grabbing the tournament’s most valuable player award. He already has won the 100 Thieves and T1 Invitational in dominant fashion, and I don’t think anyone doubts that his group of Counter-Strike teammates will make a deep, deep run into this event, as well. The first official pro in VALORANT history when he was picked up by T1 about a month ago, he has done nothing but prove the legendary esports organization correct in their decision to build around him as their crown jewel in Riot’s new tactical shooter.
Emily Rand: This tournament is likely going to come down to a final showdown between a group of players known for their Counter-Strike: Global Offensive skills and the developers of the VALORANT itself (some of whom are also known for their CS:GO skills). In their first VALORANT showmatch, the developers crushed their opponents, showcasing not only their strength in gunfights but also a superior understanding of the map and agents (as expected, considering that, again, they developed the game). The question of this invitational is whether players and teams have caught up to the developers, and I think that answer is going to be “not yet.” That’s why I’m taking one of the developers as my MVP.
Arda Ocal: It’s going to be one of the VALORANT Developers. I believe we are still at the point where the devs know more than the top players, even though they’ve had a couple of weeks to grind the game. That will shift, of course, but in my opinion, not yet. There is also the chance that one team will break out and prove me wrong, but I’m sticking with a pick ’em among the VALORANT devs.
Jacob Wolf: If not former Counter-Strike pro-turned-VALORANT developer Volcano, then I think it’ll be Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham from Team Mirage. Skadoodle has been incredibly impressive on his stream and in other invitationals, and it seems his time away from competitive Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has refreshed his competitive drive. Alongside his star-studded roster of current and former Counter-Strike pros, Skadoodle is set up for success in the ESPN Esports VALORANT Invitational. I’m excited to see him throw down.
Which player are you most excited to watch?
Erzberger: While I can’t wait to see how the team of League of Legends players do in each of their matches, the player who intrigues me the most is NRG’s Brandon “Ace” Winn. No player thus far in VALORANT has had as many jaw-dropping clips as the former Apex Legends pro; and in a tournament filled with flashy players, Ace might be the flashiest. One of his plays in this event will go viral, and that’s not a prediction — it’s just a fact.
Rand: Something you might or might not know about Jake “Xmithie” Puchero is that he grew up playing Counter-Strike and Quake before making the swap over to DotA and eventually League of Legends. I don’t think Team Rift has a chance at winning this event at all — my prediction is that they’re going to get wiped by most if not all of their opponents — but that doesn’t mean that I’m not curious to see how Xmithie does in an FPS environment.
Ocal: Doublelift. Mostly because I’m really curious how well the League of Legends pros and streamers will do in this tournament in a field against all other FPS mains. I agree with Emily that it will be a huge uphill battle, and I commend them for taking part, because at the end of the day this is about a fun tournament for the fans to enjoy. But Doublelift is a competitive and highly analytical guy, and I’d love to see how he approaches this tournament. Plus, the reunion with Xmithie is interesting.
Wolf: Coby “Dizzy” Meadows. I very much enjoyed watching Dizzy as a competitor in Apex, but like many pro esports players, he understood there was a more lucrative and less stressful career to be made in streaming. That doesn’t change the fact that he was one of the best in Apex Legends in its first year of competition. I’ve heard he isn’t half bad at VALORANT, either, so I’m really excited to see him and Ace show out for Team Canyon.
Who’s going to be the most popular agent?
Erzberger: Although lower-level players and people playing in unrated matches think Raze is the bane of everyone’s existence, I don’t think she is as overpowered when it comes to high-level matches where coordination is key. With that in mind, I’d say that the top three agents in this tournament will be Sage, Cypher and Sova, in some order. Sage’s utility and healing is always needed along with Cypher and Sova being essential with the information they can gather with relative ease.
If I had to pick only one, I’ll go with Sage. There’s never a situation where she isn’t at least somewhat useful.
Rand: Most compositions will likely look like this: Sage, Brimstone, Breach, Cypher/Sova and Phoenix/Raze/Jett, with an emphasis on every team comp having Sage, Brimstone and Breach at minimum. Sage is not the most overpowered agent, but by design, she is one that you cannot do without on your team due to her healing, terrain manipulation and ability to revive a teammate. Sage will be the most played agent, although she might be tied with Brimstone/Breach.
Ocal: I think Cypher or Sova. Too much great information among them. Cypher gets the edge for me. It’s almost a cheat code what you can do with him and how you can hide the spy cam in certain areas of maps.
Wolf: Sage. Not saying that just as a Sage main, but her utility and power is super strong. Raze is probably the most overpowered character in the current game patch, but Sage has seen looks from a lot of the players in the tournament.
Which lower-ranked team is your dark horse pick to advance?
Erzberger: I believe in the League of Legends team. In terms of pure experience and accolades, I don’t think any other team can touch them. Sure, there aren’t many guns in League, and I really have no clue how good someone like Doublelift is at first-person shooters, but out of all the dark horses, why not go with the biggest of all underdogs? They don’t even have to advance. If Team Rift can take at least a single game in the group stages, they’re winners in my book.
Rand: Team Canyon has not only a lot of players who came up playing Apex Legends but also has a few players that people have been talking about since the VALORANT closed alpha bootcamp. I’m not sure if this counts as a “lower-ranked” team, but of the lineups, I think Team Canyon has the best chance to spoil a victory from either Team Mirage or the VALORANT development team.
Ocal: In talking with players from every team, it sounds like everyone but the CS:GO pros/streamers are confident in their abilities in the game. All of them feel like they are at a disadvantage coming in, which is understandable. But I liked what Harrison “psalm” Chang told me about Fortnite: It’s the most tilting game in history, so there won’t be a situation that Fortnite players haven’t faced before, even if they aren’t as sound in this title as others might be. I’d put them as my dark horse team for that reason. I believe highly in the power of the mind in esports.
Wolf: Team Canyon. I believe they certainly could overperform expectations and make it to the semifinals of the tournament. I don’t think many of the other battle royale teams will do that well, except maybe Team Battlegrounds. I certainly think that Team Canyon will be the best of the three battle royale teams competing in the tournament.
Which matchup would you most want to see?
Erzberger: League of Legends vs. Overwatch is one of the first matches of the Invitational and the one I’m most excited about. I know the developers and Brax’s crew will be the titans of the tournament, but the star power and overall possible trash talking from not only the players but the two rival communities in the League and Overwatch battle is just too tantalizing to pass up as my choice. Also, with the Team Mirage superteam in their group, as well, this game is probably going to be a de facto elimination match, as the loser will need a miracle to make it into the playoffs.
Rand: I want my Team Mirage versus Team Developers match. These are the two most highly skilled groups in the tournament, and additionally (especially in the case of the development team), they know the maps and agents best. If it happens, we are likely to see the highest level of VALORANT play thus far.
Ocal: Agree with Emily — give me a Team Mirage vs Team Dev final. That would be fascinating. We’ve seen a form of it and it was surprising. I’d love to see it here, as well.
Wolf: Will agree with Emily and Arda — Team Mirage vs. Team Dev is what everyone wants to see. We saw Team Dev run over a lot of the Loaded influencers, and I think, now weeks later, it’ll be interesting to see how some Counter-Strike players have improved.
Can anyone beat the developers, who include former esports pros and know the maps better than anyone else?
Erzberger: I think the Mirage and Canyon teams can put up a fight. I know that the developers looked untouchable in their public showmatch a day or two after the closed beta launched, but that’s going to be two weeks in the past by the time the tournament begins. And while I’m sure the developer team has been playing, they’re also working on this game full time and making sure it’s the best game possible. During that same period, Team Mirage won the T1 Invitational, and they have been grinding the game daily, building their team chemistry along with also learning these three maps from front to back.
Rand: Depending on how much they’ve learned since beta launch, I think Teams Mirage and Canyon have chances. Like Tyler said, Team Mirage in particular will come in with the strongest synergy, and they have been grinding the game almost nonstop.
Ocal: If there was a moment for that to happen, it would be here. I said above that I don’t think it will happen, but I do see a world where enough time has passed and these experts have had enough time to learn and parse and adapt. So could it happen? Absolutely. Will it happen? Unlikely.
Wolf: It’ll have to be Mirage, if anyone. I think Canyon can fight, yes, but I don’t anticipate them to be as good overall as the people who built this game and who have had extended time to figure all its ins and outs. Mirage have the best shot. Skadoodle and Brax have performed incredibly well in many of these invitational tournaments, and I feel like this iteration of the lineup without Michael “shroud” Grzesiek (sorry, shroud) will be better than the one with him.
Which team is your pick to win the ESPN Esports VALORANT Invitational?
Erzberger: I have Team Mirage taking this. Brax has been running roughshod over these closed beta tournaments, and this team of five has been almost unstoppable throughout the first few weeks of the game’s life. I think the destined final of Team Dev and Team Mirage will come to fruition, but I don’t think the developers will keep their immortal status once this tournament ends. In a battle between the creators and the aimers, give me the team that has been practicing together nonstop and have all the momentum behind them after winning the T1 Invitational.
Rand: Team Dev, but I won’t be surprised if Team Mirage take it. It’s really going to depend on how much these CS:GO pros have learned regarding maps and agents as to whether they can beat the devs at their own game.
Ocal: My top three picks are: Team Dev, Team Mirage and Team Six.
Wolf: It has to be Team Dev, right? They get the game better than anyone.
Match 1 – Team Mirage vs. Team Six
Arda: Mirage 13-8
Emily: Mirage 13-9
Jacob: Mirage 13-6
Tyler: Mirage 13-7
Match 2 – Team Rift vs. Team Heroes
Arda: Heroes 13-7
Emily: Heroes 13-10
Jacob: Heroes 13-11
Tyler: Rift 13-11
Match 3 – Team Mirage vs. Team Heroes
Arda: Heroes 13-6
Emily: Mirage 13-5
Jacob: Mirage 13-3
Tyler: Mirage 13-3
Match 4 – Team Rift vs. Team Mirage
Arda: Mirage 13-0
Emily: Mirage 13-5
Jacob: Mirage 13-0
Tyler: Mirage 13-3
Match 5 – Team Six vs. Team Rift
Arda: Six 13-11
Emily: Six 13-7
Jacob: Six 13-5
Tyler: Six 13-8
Match 6 – Team Six vs. Team Heroes
Arda: Heroes 13-12
Emily: Six 13-8
Jacob: Six 13-5
Tyler: Six 13-12
Match 1 – Team Dev vs. Team Canyon
Arda: Dev 13-4
Emily: Dev 13-11
Jacob: Dev 13-8
Tyler: Dev 13-9
Match 2 – Team Llama vs. Team Battlegrounds
Arda: Llama 13-10
Emily: Battlegrounds 13-6
Jacob: Battlegrounds 13-8
Tyler: Battlegrounds 13-9
Match 3 – Team Dev vs. Team Llama
Arda: Dev 13-2
Emily: Dev 13-5
Jacob: Dev 13-3
Tyler: Dev 13-5
Match 4 – Team Dev vs. Team Battlegrounds
Arda: Dev 13-4
Emily: Dev 13-7
Jacob: Dev 13-5
Tyler: Dev 13-9
Match 5 – Team Battlegrounds vs. Team Canyon
Arda: Canyon 13-11
Emily: Canyon 13-9
Jacob: Canyon 13-8
Tyler: Canyon 13-11
Match 6 – Team Llama vs. Team Canyon
Arda: Canyon 13-12
Emily: Canyon 13-6
Jacob: Canyon 13-3
Tyler: Canyon 13-7
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