How Riot Games is gunning for its second big esport with Valorant

Riot Games spent a decade building League of Legends into a huge esports phenomenon. And with the first-person shooter game Valorant, the company hopes that it now has a second big game to grow its esports business.

The game sprang from the company’s 10th-anniversary announcement a year ago, when the company disclosed 10 games and other projects in a bid to transform it from being just a League of Legends company. As Riot Games itself said, the “s” in Riot Games is no longer a joke, and the company is making moves to be a big player in multiple esports genres.

Esports hit some bumps with the shutdown of physical events in big arenas, but gamers have embraced watching esports events in online-only formats. Valorant was born in this world, formally launching in June with a record 34 million hours viewed by spectators in a single day, including a peak of 1.7 million concurrent viewers, according to Riot Games. During its beta period earlier in the year, an average of three million players logged on each day. Fans watched more than 470 million hours of Valorant on closed-beta streams on Twitch and the Korean video-streaming service AfreecaTV, where Riot courted influencers.

Taking on Counter-Strike

This month, Riot staged the first big online-only esports tournament for Valorant in an event dubbed First Strike. We interviewed a number of parties about Valorant’s potential to become the next big thing. Some of them said that Riot targeted Valorant squarely at Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive game, one of the strongest and oldest esports titles. Valve had left itself vulnerable, they said, by being slow to upgrade the game, slow to work with the community, and complacent when it came to investing in the esports audience.

If Valorant catches hold, it will help the company attract more non-endemic sponsors, or those that aren’t rooted in the game industry. Riot has been attracting big mainstream brands such as Mastercard, Louis Vuitton, Mercedes-Benz, Red Bull, Axe, Alienware, State Farm, Secretlab, and Oppo. And while Riot has to invest and lose money for a while to establish Valorant, sponsors like that will help the esports become profitable more quickly. The big advantage that Riot has is that it has learned so much from its heavy investments in League of Legends over a decade.

Riot’s leaders are hopeful that Valorant will turn into a long-term esport. “In the early stages of Valorant esports, we’ve already received interest and engaged with multiple blue-chip partners,” said Matt Archambault, head of esports partnerships and business development for Riot in North America, in an email to GamesBeat. “For our first-ever First Strike tournament, we secured sponsorships with Amazon Prime and Prime Gaming, Verizon, Red Bull, JBL, SecretLab, and Playzilla. Each partner was outstanding to work with and is indicative of…

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