A low-stakes single-elimination bracket at VCT LOCK//IN São Paulo is not the 2023 debut VALORANT deserves

The start of a new era should feel more exciting, and probably shouldn't upset so many of the competitors.

With over a month to go before the start of the VALORANT Champions Tour 2023 season, and the start of the game’s partnership era, Riot Games has officially introduced the format for its debut event, the LOCK//IN in São Paulo, Brazil.

As previously advertised, all 30 partnered teams from the three international leagues will be competing, as will two direct invites to represent the Chinese scene via FunPlus Phoenix and EDward Gaming. With 32 teams attending, Riot opted to go with a single-elimination bracket format and split the bracket into two groups.

The goal of the single-elimination bracket was to “maximize the number of inter-regional matches at LOCK//IN,” and its implementation is needed to accommodate the largest number of teams that have ever attended an international or even domestic VCT event. But still, a format that eliminates half of the attending teams in the first round, and with almost nothing to play for, likely isn’t going to provide the spark that the start of the 2023 VALORANT season needs and deserves.

Trying to put on a tournament with 32 different teams from around the world is an incredible undertaking, but Riot’s attempt for the LOCK//IN São Paulo tournament falls just a bit flat. With a brutal format and low stakes, what reason does any team have to come out with legit strats that they’d rather just save for the more important international league play?

Gone in 26 rounds

Over half the attending teams will be eliminated after a single best-of-three series at LOCK//IN São Paulo. On top of that, because international play is prioritized in the first round, it’s unlikely but still not impossible for an entire region like EMEA, Americas, or Pacific to be completely eliminated after one round.

With 32 teams in attendance, there’s not much in the way of proper alternatives when it comes to format given time constraints, but the tournament feels less like a true showcase of the world’s best VALORANT teams when half of them won’t play more than two or three maps.

Coach Chet Singh of NRG added that due to the new meta, preparing for a single match becomes even harder, calling the event “an absolute shit tournament to kick off the year.” Coincidentally, NRG plays the very first match on the schedule against KOI, meaning they could be eliminated just hours after the tournament officially begins.

And while some of the prolific matchups in the first round will certainly be fun to watch, it means some of the biggest teams with the most passionate fan bases will be going home early. One of Gen.G or LOUD will go home early, as will either FPX or Karmine Corp, KOI or NRG, and Cloud9 or Paper Rex. And that’s just in the first three days.

And as mentioned above by caster Arten “Ballatw” Esa, with one side of the bracket playing out almost entirely before the other side begins, the teams that make it out of the first side of the bracket will have 10 full days to watch matches from the other side of the bracket and prepare for the semifinals, in an entirely new meta.

What’s there to play for?

In addition to a brutal format for the 32 teams, the stakes to play for will likely feel a bit lackluster. The team that wins the entire LOCK//IN São Paulo tournament will earn just a single extra slot for their region at the Masters Tokyo event later this year.

While that extra slot does give the winning team some extra breathing room during international league play, it just feels a little anticlimactic to only have an extra Masters spot for an entire region on the line. Even if that team wins the extra slot, if they perform poorly in international league play, then their win in São Paulo was for nothing.

Unfortunately for Riot, it’s in a tough spot when it comes to providing an enticing reward. You can’t just give the LOCK//IN São Paulo winner a guaranteed spot at Masters Tokyo or Champions since they’d have zero incentive to try during VCT international league play.

The 2023 season for VCT should still be an exciting one, without a doubt, but it’s just unfortunate that the high-stakes thrilling competition won’t happen until later in the year.

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