After North America showed off some of the best teams in the region with its first Ignition Series event -- the T1 x Nerd Street Gamers Showdown -- the question was when Europe would have its first pro-centric Ignition Series tournament.
Have no fear; French esports organization Vitality has heard the cries for a top-tier European VALORANT competition and is here with the Vitality European Open.
More than 100 teams from across the continent attempted to qualify for the main event, but following a grueling single-elimination bracket, only eight teams are left standing to battle it out to become the inaugural champions of Europe.
Here are the top five storylines to keep your eye on during the three-day tournament that will pit some of the best VALORANT players in the world against each other.
1. Will this be the coronation of G2 Esports?
When it comes to Riot Games esports and Europe, G2 is at the forefront of everything.
The organization was built by one of the original legends of the European League of Legends scene, Carlos "Ocelote" Rodríguez Santiago, and the Spaniard and his magnetic personality have turned his small project into a global empire in only a few short years. His League of Legends team has won domestic title after domestic title, winning their first international trophy at the Mid-Season Invitational in 2019 and coming in as runners-up during the 2019 world championship.
Since VALORANT was announced, Ocelote has been frank about his attentions: G2 are going to enter the scene, and they're going to win a world championship. Being a man of his word, G2 have taken the plunge and spent big to secure a core roster capable of turning Ocelote's confident words into reality. At the center of it all is Oscar "Mixwell" Cañellas Colocho, the team's ace, who was one of the most high-profile free agents for VALORANT. He received interest from Tier 1 organizations from across the globe before ultimately signing with G2 Esports.
Mixwell has been a force to be reckoned with in every tournament he's entered, especially recently, with his switch to primarily playing Jett after playing Breach for large parts of the game's beta period. On Jett, Mixwell is an unstoppable force, averaging more than 1 kill-per-round, a statistical milestone reserved for the top carries in the game. His versatility is also one of the former Counter-Strike pro's greatest strengths; he's able to play a myriad of agents, including being one of the few pros to play Viper, piloting the poisonous agent to great effect on certain maps.
G2 isn't only Mixwell, however, as Ocelote decided to pair his superstar signing with the best European sniper during the beta, Ardis "Ardiis" Svarenieks. Ardiis was at the helm of the Fish123 side that ran roughshod over a majority of Europe during the beta, his expertise with the Operator separating himself from the pack. Along with an esports veteran in Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi to anchor the team's defenses on Cypher and up-and-coming Polish talent Patryk "Patitek" Fabrowski, G2 are a collection of game-changers from around Europe, similarly to how G2's current League of Legends starting five was built.
The talent is there. The infrastructure of an esports giant backing them is there. The experience melded with mechanical brilliance is there. All that is left for G2's newly signed core is to back up the words from Ocelote that this team has what it takes to not only take over Europe but to take over the VALORANT world as a whole.
2. The party has started; it's Shao-time
Before we start the festivities to this G2 coronation, maybe we should first call the real party starters, the Party Parrots from Russia. Where G2's standing comes from the potential the team has from star talent joining forces under a mighty banner, the Parrots have already proven to be a force in VALORANT, reeling off tournament victories and showcasing their obvious chemistry as a starting lineup.
The most notable player on the roster for esports fans will probably be Kirill "ANGE1" Karasiow, the longtime in-game leader of Hellraisers in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. During his six-year tenure at the organization, he ushered in various new talents and captained the team to various strong performances at large-scale events, even making the quarterfinals of a world championship at FACEIT Major: London 2018.
The ace of the team isn't ANGE1, though. That honor going to Andrey "Shao" Kiprsky, a relative unknown at the beginning of VALORANT's beta phase who has quickly become one of Europe's premier players.
In talking to various players in the European region, it's impossible to have a conversation of who the best is in Europe without bringing up Shao, the primary Operator for Party Parrots. The Russian-born star switches between his countrymate Sova or Raze in terms of agents, showing lethal precision on both. He showcased his adept play with the pair in his team's final qualifier match to make the Vitality European Open against Finland's VISU Gaming, top-fragging on Raze in the opening game before topping the leaderboard again to close out the series on Ascent with Sova.
The Commonwealth of Independent States region has produced a plethora of notable stars in the first-person shooter genre, most notably Counter-Strike's Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev of the Ukraine, and Shao could be the next in line as he continues putting up big numbers in VALORANT.
3. Can FABRIKEN earn the respect they deserve?
Many of the top-tier European VALORANT squads, like their counterparts in North America, rely on a slew of former Counter-Strike pros and amateurs transitioning over to the game in hopes of starting a new career. While FABRIKEN isn't devoid of any Counter-Strike roots, the team is an overall outlier when looking at its starting-five, where a bulk of the roster actually made their names in Overwatch rather than Counter-Strike.
FABRIKEN's captain, Oliver "LATEKS" Fahlander, bounced around various amateur and semi-pro Overwatch teams, even one known as Orgless and Hungry, before retiring from the game and throwing himself into VALORANT.
So far, the decision has seemed to be a sensible one for LATEKS and other members of his all-Swedish roster. FABRIKEN have bowled through teams to solidify themselves as a top-tier threat in Europe. They've collected numerous first- and second-place finishes over the past month, even going toe-to-toe with Party Parrots in Wave Esports Invitational Cup, barely losing out in a 2-1 final.
Those top placements have come with the introduction of FABRIKEN's newest cog, Pontus "Zyppaan" Eek. Although not from the world of Overwatch, Zyppaan's former career as a Fortnite professional adds to the quirkiness of this team facing off with rosters founded from former Counter-Strike legends and up-and-comers. Coming from the world of Fortnite might make it seem like Zyppaan would lag behind a lot of his peers so early in VALORANT's lifespan, but that's the opposite of the truth. Zyppaan is the ace of FABRIKEN and one of the best in the entire world at the moment, averaging over 1 kill-per-round as a Rfiler, often the entry to his team's success on his signature Raze.
The next Ignition Series event following the Vitality European Open is the WePlay! Invitational, a gargantuan $50,000 grand prize tournament. FABRIKEN, an exciting, in-form squad at the top of Europe, would be an obvious invite, right? Well, not so fast. Six teams were handed invites with two spots left for open qualifiers, and FABRIKEN, no stranger to rampaging through qualifiers, will once again have to battle through risky single-elimination games to make it into the WePlay! Invitational. The Vitality European Open isn't only a chance for FABRIKEN and the likes of Zyppaan to introduce themselves to a larger audience, but it's a moment for them to make a statement to tournament organizers and European esports organizations that they're fed up with being overlooked.
It doesn't matter if they come from Overwatch, Fortnite, or even Candy Crush. FABRIKEN are a well-oiled machine and make no mistake, they're legitimate contenders to take home the championship.
4. Who will make a name for themselves?
In my opinion, G2, Party Parrots and FABRIKEN are my picks for the favorites to win it all, but Europe is still in its fledgling stage as a VALORANT region. We've had many streamer/influencer-based tournaments over the last few months along with smaller semi-pro tournaments, but this is one of the first opportunities we're going to see a full tournament with everyone playing aspiring to be a pro in VALORANT. Vitality, the tournament's organizer, has already told ESPN Esports that though they haven't signed a team yet, they will be using their own event to scout possible players or teams to pick up.
Prodigy, who were one of the frontrunners in Europe's beta phase, is the poster child for this type of event. They're not a pro team or even an amateur team but a player agency, where prospects looking to be signed by Tier 1 organizations can showcase their talents on a grand stage in the hopes of being signed. Mixell, a Prodigy client, starred on Prodigy in the beta phase before signing with G2. Damien "HyP" Souville, a former Overwatch League pro, will look to follow in Mixwell's footsteps, with Vitality seeming like a perfect fit for the Frenchman. Vitality will be sure to keep tabs on HyP and other unsigned talents throughout the weekend.
For a dark horse pick, I'm keeping tabs on the Hungary squad of Need More DM. Hungary has never been a hotbed for esports talent, but Need More DM are a team that might put their country on the map if they keep up the strong results. In the qualifier for the Ignition Series event, they beat one of the best European VALORANT teams in StartedFromCS and knocked out uber-popular Turkish side BBL Esports with Ferit "wtcN" Karakaya in the qualifier finals to advance to this weekend's main event. Don't be too surprised if on Sunday when the tournament is hitting its climax, Hungary's unofficial VALORANT national team is left standing, charging forward to complete a Cinderella run.
5. Will the spectator experience be any better?
The VALORANT spectator mode is awful. Everyone knows this, including the development team, who have promised countless times that they are working on it and the current model shipped inside the game isn't satisfactory if VALORANT wants to be a tier-one esport. While we are still far off from the spectating experience that the developers would want to bring us and help the game take its next step in the esports hierarchy, there were a few changes in the recent patch, including added agent silhouettes for observers and an overall change to the overtime system, forcing a team to win back-to-back rounds on offense and defense to break the tie.
No matter how stacked the field of teams is or how much money is on the line, until VALORANT has a vastly superior spectator mode, the game is never going to reach its full potential. Hopefully, this weekend and the changes made in the recent patch are the beginning of the steps in the right direction for VALORANT's future as a competitive gaming title.