Pros respond to COVID-19 at VALORANT Champions
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Before VALORANT Champions started, Nabil “Nivera” Benrlitom tested positive for COIVD-19. After the first day of the event, Victor “Victor” Wong tested positive as well. The pandemic has its fingers all over the major event, even as other esports have managed to have events with crowds, and others are still struggling to find a way to facilitate live audiences in 2022.

But from inside the bubble at Champions, players are not concerned for their safety and feel Riot Games and the VALORANT operations team have done their due diligence. Despite this, there is still a lingering worry that the tournament could lose some of its prestige and excitement due to more positive tests and isolation

“I’m actually worried right now, because of all the teams that are turning positive,” KRÜ Esports player Roberto Francisco “Mazino” Rivas Bugueño said. “What I’m most worried about is the whole experience and that we end up moving everything back to the hotel. That’s like my biggest fear.”

Germany, where the tournament is taking place, has seen in a rise in COIVD-19 cases recently with the country’s weekly cases rising since mid-October. The last tally of the number of cases on Nov. 28 is 403, 452 with 1,314,558 reported cases over the last 28 days according to the COVID-19 dashboard from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

FURIA Esports’ Alexandre “xand” Zizi said that he is not concerned with his or his team’s safety at the event, trusting Riot’s quarantine procedures and the bubble the people at the event have constructed.

“We are not concerned about ourselves because we are segregated,” xand said. “We have taken the measures that we need, but for other people unfortunately, they cannot have this care.”

Xand competed at VALORANT’s first major tournament in the regional tournament series First Strike: Brazil, where a team was disqualified due to positive COVID-19 tests. The procedure and technology for detecting and dealing with a positive test is different at Champions, as Riot has set up contingency plans for positive test results involving players competing from their hotels away from the stage.

While this allows for the show to continue, it changes the energy of the matches as players can no longer yell at their opponents or experience the Champions’ stage. And teams did not travel across the world to play from a hotel, even if it is on a LAN server.

“You would probably think that it’s more comfortable to us, but it actually isn’t,” Mazino, who played his first match against Team Liquid from the hotel, said. “It is like a whole different vibe, a whole different environment than seeing the other team right in front of you, while the energies and ambience is up.”

KRÜ fell to Liquid 0-2 but Mazino did not blame the loss on the change in venue, saying that as a player he has to deal with what is given to him during this time. KRÜ have qualified for every international event so far in VALORANT and have yet to play in front of crowd, or deal with COVID complications like the ones at Champions.

While Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has had two major tournaments featuring crowds in countries with less cases of the virus, competitive VALORANT has only had crowd-less tournaments, albeit with great stage design and on-site broadcast coverage.

“That whole experience with the crowd, it’s just a whole different vibe. And in all the events that I’ve been throughout this year, well, I haven’t had the opportunity to play with a crowd, so I would have loved that. And concerning the country, I obviously would have liked to go to a different country where COVID cases were lower and the possibilities of this happening were slimmer,” Mazino said.

Champions was originally supposed to feature VALORANT competition in Los Angeles, but the location was changed due to “COVID-19 related complications.” The United States currently has the highest cases of the virus over 28 days at 14,972,279. The North American Last Chance Qualifier, held in Los Angeles was initially a LAN tournament held on a stage, but quickly went online after COVID-19 complications.

While COVID-19 has set VALORANT Champions back a bit in terms of ambiance and vibe, and may throw them off in-game, pros are still aware of the impact the virus can have at a personal level.

“In my opinion, it’s very hard for me if I test positive because of the COVID here because I have a relative that already got positive and almost died because of it,” Team Secret player Riley “witz” Go said. “I have a trauma, you know. So for me, I’m very conscious about it.”

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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