2021 is set to be a monster year for Valorant esports, and with Red Bull’s Home Ground invitational finally getting under way, we can finally sneak a peek at what the year has in store for the FPS game – at least in the European scene.
Home Ground is a unique approach to the traditional best of five format. Each team picks a map it favours as its home ground. The first two games of each match are played on the teams’ respective grounds. If one team wins the first two games, the series is immediately called. However, if the teams win one map apiece, it continues to a full best of five. It’s an intriguing twist, though it does mean we probably won’t be seeing too many reverse sweeps over the next few days.
There has also been a mix-up to how the participating teams are decided. Six teams – including G2 Esports and Team Liquid – were all invited in traditional fashion. However, Monkey Business – rumoured to be the new Valorant division of OG – has been invited along as a ‘special guest’. Meanwhile the final brackets spot was acquired the hard way, with the newly-formed FrenzyGoKill coming through an open qualifier.
Coming off of the back of its stellar First Strike EU run, SUMN FC has also been invited to test its mettle against some of the region’s best and brightest. Team captain Jake ‘Boaster’ Howlett has been a constant factor within the scene since its advent last year, and he’s ravenous for victory.
We sat down with Boaster to talk about Home Ground, the competitive meta, and the year ahead.
The Loadout: How is everything with SUMN FC since First Strike?
Jake ‘Boaster’ Howlett: We’re pretty good. We’re obviously happy with our First Strike result. And if anything it made us even more motivated. It’s a nice feeling, knowing that hard work kind of pays off – for me anyway. I don’t know how the boys feel. But we’re all loving the game.
We did have a little break over Christmas, but were instantly back afterwards grinding away. We had a bit of a slow start coming into the new year – we only had a certain amount of practice. But coming up to this Red Bull event we’re now on like five games a day plus VOD review. So it’s pretty intense.
Has the preparation for Home Ground differed from First Strike?
I guess for First Strike, because it was open qualifiers to start with, it was probably more nerve-wracking in terms of best of ones where you’re like ‘oh damn, we’ve to make sure we win our pistols.’ Whereas in this one [Home Ground] you’ve got the safety and comfort of the format being like ‘you went 2-0, you win’, or you can have a lovely best of five. And it’s just like ‘oh, nice.’ There’s a lot of room for error, essentially.
So the preparation has just been mainly focused on ourselves, and not so much on the enemy teams, because we don’t actually have any history on the first team we’re playing [Monkey Business] so we can’t anti-strat them. So we’ll just have to play our own game. If we win and we progress further, then obviously I’ll do a bit of anti-stratting.
What sort of factors go into deciding the kind of map you’d want to take as your Home Ground?
Honestly, we haven’t even decided. We have quite a few strong maps now, and we don’t know which one we want as the home ground. So when it comes to the day, coach Jacob ‘mini’ Harris and I will be like ‘ah, screw it, let’s just get this one. We’re feeling good on this one today.’
How important are tournaments like this for the development of the scene?
Having events like this means players can get experience of what it feels like to play under heated situations
So tournaments like this are perfect for the scene. If I was to compare the scene to the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive scene, CS:GO Tier 1 is fully experienced, they play loads of tournaments, and they’re at a certain level. Whereas I’d say Valorant is a mix of people that left various games to come and play this one. And so the experience might not be the same as Tier 1 in CS:GO.
Having events like this means players – like myself and my team – can get experience of what it feels like to play under heated situations and become accustomed to situations where games matter. There’s that added pressure. So tournaments like this are perfect for that because, obviously, you want to win, you don’t want to look stupid in front of people, and you don’t want all the hard work that you put in to go to waste. So this tournament and tournaments like it are super good for developing the scene because it increases our experience and helps us get used to playing under pressure.
With players coming into Valorant esports from across multiple titles, has this melting pot of different experiences been good for the scene?
I think having players from all sorts of FPS esports games is good for the scene. Say you’ve got a CS:GO player. They have the fundamentals down from CS:GO, but an Overwatch player or a Fortnite player might not. However, they can be taught. And generally, the people from these games all tend to have crisp aim at the top. So you might as well have someone that can shoot, can get kills individually, work off their individual prowess, and then just teach them the team basics and map macro over time. That’s essentially what I’m doing with coach mini to try to create a super squad.
With the Champion’s Tour coming up this year, what sort of effect do you think it’ll have? And will we see more teams swapping in from other games to compete?
I was surprised that a lot more Tier 2 teams from CS:GO didn’t make the swap, because they’d probably be dominating the scene right now if we had a bunch of Oscar ‘mixwell’ Colocho’s running around.
Having this tournament come up is always going to help in developing the scene, especially if you’re a top team that gets through the qualifiers and plays more official games under pressure. And as long as the game keeps growing, I think you’re only going to see positive growth for the scene.
I’m glad that I’m involved from the get go, because it’s gonna be fun to ride the wave.
How does it feel having so much UK representation in the scene?
You know, me, I’m always down for the UK scene finally popping off in a game. It’s nice, you know. It’s cool that people I know are doing well in the scene and I hope that we can all keep improving.
So coming back to this super squad, you came into First Strike having only been together for a few months and got a great result. This time, you could be up against the likes of G2 and Team Liquid. Is there a team in particular you’re looking forward to playing?
I guess there’s no one team that I’m super looking forward to playing – I’m looking forward to playing anyone and everyone because I love to compete. We’re here to prove to ourselves that we can beat anyone. This year I’m definitely gonna try and take over the scene and become the top one team with my boys.
Now FrenzyGoKill is another squad competing at Home Ground, having won a spot through the open qualifier. Have you had a chance to play with or against any of the roster? If so, what do you think of them?
I’ve always had quite a lot of respect for Vakaris ‘vakk’ Bebravičius. I think he’s a class player. And once upon a time when I was actually forming SUMN, I did actually ask if he was down to play. He was under a team at the time and I didn’t want to kind of force that and be like a poacher. But yeah, I have a lot of respect for him, I think he’s class, and hopefully I get to keep competing against him in the future.
As for the other players, I don’t know them well enough to comment individually, though we did play against Jokūbas ‘ceNder’ Labutis when he was on EXiLe, and Ouali ‘M4CHINA’ Manset when he was on Purple Cobras. But I think they’re a solid team, and we’ll have to see in the future if they can remain solid and keep going with the rest of the scene
Let’s talk a little bit about meta. With patch 2.01 came changes to Split, as well as a big nerf to Jett’s smoke. Will we see any major changes in how pros approach them?
The changes that they made to Split have definitely changed the way teams are playing it for sure
So even though they didn’t really do too much updating on agents, the changes that they made to Split have definitely changed the way teams are playing it for sure. You’ll see a lot more B Main controlling on CT side, because of the wide entrance at the start. And also because mid control is always a weird one nowadays to take back as CT and fight. So you’ll see a lot of B Main stuff happening. A Heaven is now a completely open battlefield on that map, it seems. So you’ll probably see a lot of fighting around that as well.
In terms of agent pools, we already saw Viper being used coming into First Strike, but I don’t think every team’s jumping on board with that. And teams are starting to use Brimstone as well because the smokes are kind of annoying. So I think with all these updates there will be agent shifts, but I don’t think the fundamentals of Valorant have changed all that much.
Looking at the sorts of comps played in First Strike EU compared to NA, there’s a lot more Sage in EU whereas NA seems to be more aggressive. Is there a particular reason why these metas developed this way?
I think it’s just NA’s playstyle. In EU we’re very Breach and Sage-orientated. We’re more support-based, I guess you could say. Whereas NA has that triple duelist style where they get these individual aimers that just seek out and go kill. They’re very happy to work on the fly without too much structure, while retaining really good synergy and solid aim. I could even say that maybe that aim is better than EU’s, but it’s hard to know until we start playing them. It may be that my aim is unreal as well and they’re thinking ‘wow! Boaster’s sick’, but I doubt it…
It’s just the way they are in that they’ve never really followed the same method as us in terms of agent comps. And then people take inspiration from the other big scenes and take bits from it. Once upon a time I did say that they were behind us in meta, but I think now it’s just how the scene is. It’s not that they’re behind, it’s just that’s how they play. So it’ll be really interesting when international events come where we can actually play each other and test who’s doing what well and stuff.
So suffice to say you’ll be up for more international tournaments…
To play around the world and be the best has always been my dream as a player.
Coming back to agents and agent comps, what are your thoughts on Yoru and is there going to be a spot in the meta for him?
Maybe it’s because I haven’t figured him out yet but I just don’t think he’s that good. His ultimate is overrated. You’ve got much better ultimates out there like Phoenix’s. It’s not like Yoru’s, but in terms of running in first, Phoenix can take a battle and get info, and that’s just better on an execute than having Yoru just yeet in and fly around.
I’m not sure how they’re gonna update or buff it, but I think his TP needs a buff. Maybe making less sound, or the orb travels faster, or enemies have a smaller radius to see the orb because right now if you TP into it aggressively at higher elo, you just die. The flashes are kind of weird too. They’re hard to use on the fly, but also they’re kind of hard to use in terms of structure as well.
I haven’t tested him enough in a team dynamic – all I’ve done is gone into ranked with him. But at the moment I feel he needs a buff before SUMN FC starts thinking about playing him.
And finally, is there anything you’d like to say to the SUMN FC legion coming into this tournament?
I think SUMN FC has a few fans, so I will say thank you, everyone, for supporting us, and hopefully we can bring more excitement to the game. And hopefully we’ll see you spamming in chat because you know I’m always hovering there before and after games.
Hopefully you’ll see big things from SUMN in 2021.
Home Ground by Red Bull is live now until January 31. You can catch all the action over on Red Bull’s Twitch channel here.