The first segment of the 2022 VALORANT Challengers Tournament (VCT) concluded this past weekend, with OpTic Gaming winning the tournament and coming away with the Stage One trophy.

VALORANT is still a relatively new game, especially in terms of the esports space. While the game is extremely popular, this is just the second year of official professional tournaments, and many aspects of the pro scene are still up in the air.

One thing that this year’s first VCT Masters Stage One proved was that no singular region of the world has conquered VALORANT’s tactics more than any other. At the beginning of the game’s life cycle, it was assumed that players from Europe would likely dominate the professional scene, largely due to Europe’s history in Counter Strike, a similar game.

Through VALORANT’s first professional season, this mostly rang true. Teams like Gambit, Team Liquid and of course Acend, the 2021 champions, came to the forefront. North America still had its moments, notably through strong teams like Sentinels, 100 Thieves and Envy.

“Just a few months ago, Gambit and Acend were two of the most dominating teams in the world, and then the meta changed,” said Awesome P., a Kellogg graduate student who’s also a member of the Northwestern Esports Club. “Gambit, Acend, Sentinels and 100 Thieves were just unable to adapt and have fallen off.”

Surprisingly, only one of the strong North American teams from 2021 has made an impact so far in 2022 – and they aren’t even competing under the same name. In November 2021, Envy Gaming merged with OpTic Gaming, and their VALORANT team was officially renamed to OpTic.

OpTic’s current roster includes Pujan “FNS” Mehta, Victor “Victor” Wong, Austin “crashies” Roberts, Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker and Jimmy “Marved” Nguyen. The team made an impressive lower bracket run to the grand finals, where they were set to face Brazil’s LOUD.

LOUD is a known powerhouse within Brazil, but fans and analysts alike questioned whether the team would show up on the international stage. It quickly proved itself and didn’t lose a single game in the tournament until the very end, securing second place.

As OpTic made its way through to the grand finals last weekend, eventually beating LOUD in an easy 3-0 sweep, the team also faced some tough challenges from other teams that made it farther than most people expected.

One team that completely surprised everyone was Japan’s ZETA Division, who finished an impressive third behind OpTic and LOUD. In the last year, ZETA had done well inside Japan – a region not known for VALORANT – but hadn’t made as great of an impact internationally as they would have hoped.

“I was excited for ZETA Division, since I’m pretty sure [the teams of] Japan had only won one map at an international event coming into [this tournament],” said Ryan D., another member of the NU Esports Club who follows VALORANT closely. “It was really cool to see their progression from the start of the event to playoffs.”

ZETA Division had many fans cheering for them throughout the tournament, specifically fans from Asia who wanted to see them go all the way after Korea’s DRX, Singapore’s Paper Rex and Thailand’s XERXIA were eliminated.

Overall, I think the concept of “minor regions” in VALORANT esports was completely thrown out the window at this year’s Masters Stage One. I’ve always been a believer that labeling regions as “minor” others them in a way that isn’t productive in a mission to make gaming more accessible for people all over the world. I’m very happy to see teams from new areas of the world pop up and show that they can contend with those who were always expected to do well.