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On the afternoon of July 16, the PAX Arena “Almost Pro” 2021 Open tournament was chugging along. The marquee matchup, EZ5 against VIRTUOSO in the upper bracket finals, was about to start.

The event host, Albert “Halorin” Haley III, along with casters Julius “jjcasts” James and Arten “Ballatw” Esa, broke down the upcoming matchup and previewed the team’s map picks and bans. Recently, the two teams made waves in the VALORANT Champions Tour and other Tier 2 events; making this a must-see clash for fans of North American VALORANT. The three then cut to a break as the Pax Arena graphic counted down the minutes until the match would start.

But as the timer approached zero, the time crept back up to three minutes. Twitch chat became increasingly curious as the match continued to delay without answers provided via the PAX production. Halorin eventually returned to give viewers an update on the delay.

“We are as excited as you are to jump into this third match between EZ5 and VIRTUOSO,” Halorin said. “Right now, we are sorting out some tournament issues. Once we get those done and out of the way, we will jump into the match.”

The stream continued, this time with highlights cut between the timer. Then, EZ5 player Jose Carlo “Dcop” Muñoz Delsol tweeted that he’d been disqualified from the tournament.

The chat blew up with rage as viewers voiced their frustration. They spammed the PAX Arena channel with #JUSTICE4DCOP. The hashtag invaded the PAX Arena tournament Discord and eventually spread across the VALORANT community on Twitter.

#JUSTUCE4DCOP showmatch
The PAX Arean Discord’s general channel. | Provided by Declan McLaughlin

The Twitter storm eventually caught the attention of EZ5 Coach Stan “n4ts” Sukachov, who was just leaving his day job. He ran home to get to the bottom of his team’s disqualification. He wanted to see if there were any remedies to the situation.

How the showmatch started

Nfts found that a server dispute had unfolded between the teams. VIRTUOSO wanted to play on the Illinois server, which favors their mostly Canadian lineup. Ez5 wanted to compete on the Texas server since it’s the closest North American server to Dcop’s home in Mexico.

“Because of the server dispute, PAX started verifying our players,” n4ts said. “I’m not sure why but they started double checking to see where everybody was from. They found out that Dcop lives in Mexico, and according to their tournament rules, Mexican players aren’t allowed to play.”

Thanks to VIRTUOSO’s server dispute, PAX Arena discovered that Dcop was in violation of tournament rules and its administrators had to disqualify him from the event.

“Obviously, it was not our intent to DQ them,” VIRTUOSO’s Coach Martin “Anderzz” Schelasin said. “We were just trying to be able to play on decent ping. But it sort of cascaded well outside of our control pretty quickly.”

From there, a back-and-forth started between n4ts and the tournament administrators about how to proceed. They offered EZ5 the opportunity to play 4v5 in the upper finals, or to bring in the substitute the tournament required them to register. However, since EZ5 were personally invited to the event by the manager of the tournament’s partner, Metro Esports, n4ts said the whole situation made little sense.

“We were directly invited as well, so we didn’t expect somebody to be disqualified due to their geographic location,” n4ts said.

This event was supposed to be a pseudo scouting combine for a Metro Esports VALORANT team, according to the tournament’s description on smash.gg. Metro would select individuals from the tournament to fly out for an in-person event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in August.

Before the streamed finals, EZ5 played the entire tournament without any trouble. Before Friday’s stream, however, they were all asked to sign a participant release to be shown on stream. The release bound the team to the tournament rules that stipulated participants must be a resident of North America or Canada.

Even after the legal issues came to light, EZ5 still wanted to play the match. They offered to forfeit their prize money or to sign other documents letting them play the match on stream. But the admins, with their hands tied by the rules, couldn’t let Dcop continue in the event.

With EZ5 officially disqualified from the event, VIRTUOSO had an automatic grand finals berth and an easy path to the PAX Arena top prize. But the hot amateur squad didn’t jump at the opportunity and, within a few minutes of hearing that EZ5 were disqualified, forfeited their match.

“We’re a roster that has been working hard enough together that we want to, and are fully capable of, getting by on our own merits,” Anderzz said. “We know that orgs are looking at us and we don’t want one of the most recent impressions they have of us to be us walking onto a grand final by technicality. That’s just not who we are.”

VIRTUOSO’s players started winding down, setting up dinner and evening activities, as their tournament run had just ended. Meanwhile, n4ts and EZ5 were brainstorming how they could play out the matchup without the help of PAX. N4ts reached out to Jasper “sfX” Ko, the digital event coordinator for the Pittsburgh Knights. He wanted to see if he could throw something together on their stream with a quick turnaround. The PAX Arena admins were also in talks with n4ts to see whether the two teams wanted to play a show match before the next day’s grand final. However, they were too slow in putting the details together.

“I basically was like, ‘we’re not gonna wait around for another 30 minutes for you guys to sit there and twirl your fingers,'” n4ts said. “‘Make a decision or we’re playing on that stream.’”

Within minutes of sending a message to sfX, and Anderzz saying VIRTUOSO was in, the #JUSTICE4DCOP show match was born.

The #JUSTICE4DCOP showmatch

While the players were ready in the lobby 20 minutes after the decision, EZ5 player Corbin “C0M” Lee only had so much time to play out the match. After all, he had scheduled a date that night, expecting to have long since been done competing for the day. While he used the delay between the decision and the match to get ready for his date, the disqualification and show match moved the game dangerously close to his meetup time.

He played the match in a button up and made sure his teammates knew he only had two hours before he had to leave. Even the casters of the match, Kieran “etoh” Price and Max “Keg” Tompkins, noted how EZ5 needed to make the series a quick 2-0 for C0M’s plans. Fortunately for CoM, his teammates delivered.

The skeleton crew effectively handled production for the match, including rushed graphics and observing from Alexis “Pinecone” Wood. Still, the slapdash nature of it all created some memorable, impromptu graphics. For example, the Dcop POG moment insert for a great play from EZ5 members.

Dcop POG moment insert from #JUSTICE4DCOP showmatch
A Dcop POG moment. | Provided by Pittsburgh Knights

“That made me so happy, and I think it made a lot of people happy despite the bad situation,” Dcop said. “It was a good day. Honestly, regardless, I think it actually went better that way than if we just played normally. I think it brought the community together.”

The broadcast also showcased custom break graphics featuring Dcop. It ended the #JUSTICE4DCOP show match broadcast with an acapella version of one of the VALORANT Champions Tour break songs, with a Microsoft Paint page thanking the viewers for watching.

“Win or lose, a show match is a blast and I think that based off of the feedback I got. People were happy with the games that we put up, at least from an entertainment value perspective,” Anderzz said.

As for PAX Arena, the tournament organizer released two statements about the decision and apologized for inconveniencing the players and viewers of the tournament. They said they will still pay the two squads $1,000 for their placement in the event.

Both teams said that they didn’t hold any ill will towards PAX or the administrators of the event. But, they said that they still feel like the tournament organizer needs to be held accountable for their errors.

“The burden of pre-emptive research on their part to know that Dcop wasn’t US or Canada-based was non-existent,” Anderzz said. “I think that that’s a pretty massive failure. If you have been around any VALORANT for any extended period of time, you know that Dcop is not US or Canada-based. You know that he plays for Mexico.”

But, as a part of the Tier 2 scene, where tournaments like this provided hype match ups between unsigned squads, decent prize money and good practice for VCT events, Anderzz said that barring PAX from holding future events is a bad idea.

“I don’t want to give tournament organizers a reason to not host more VALORANT events,” Anderzz said. “I would rather say, ‘take this as a learning experience. Things were clearly fumbled. Take that lesson, learn from it, never make it again and come back and hold more VALORANT events.’”

The incident has blown over now. The only remnants of the #JUSTICE4DCOP show match are a short video of the event on the Knights Twitch channel, some old tweets with #JUSTICE4DCOP, a greyed out match up on VLR.gg and Dcop themed MS paint graphics saved on a producer’s computer. But the whole effort highlights the strength of the Tier 2 VALORANT scene; which, when a tournament organizer let them down, came together and said the show must go on.

Declan is an esports journalist and part-time editor for Upcomer. He is an avid gamer and League of Legends player. You can find him at the bottom of the leaderboard in most games or on Twitter.
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