It’s a brave new world for VALORANT fans, with the start of Riot’s vaunted five-year plan for the esports side of the game bringing along franchising and a mostly closed ecosystem. With many players and orgs finding new places for themselves in competitive VALORANT.

The VALORANT Champions Tour 2023 looks very different from what you’ve experienced the previous years. Here’s everything you need to know to keep up with the action and to best understand the competition.

VCT 2023 international league: partnered teams – partnered teams everywhere

After a period of open-circuit action, Riot Games took the expected steps to wall off their new esports garden, implementing a League of Legends-like set of competition that is exclusively made for partnered teams, with no relegation threat to those involved with the leagues. This, in turn, means that many orgs that used to have designs on dominance now had to let their superstars go, as the partnered teams could offer something no one else could match: access to the biggest events in the scene.

Similarly to League of Legends esports, this means that the power dynamics between teams can radically change between seasons and events – since their place is secured in the competition no matter what, there’s a bit of an even footing at play and there’s great potential for twists and turns across the years. This means that VALORANT matches of the past may not be as indicative of future results as you might think.

The full list of partnered VCT 2023 teams is as follows:

Americas: 100T, Cloud9, FURIA, Evil Geniuses, KRÜ, Leviatán, LOUD, Sentinels, MIBR, NRG

EMEA: BBL Esports, Fnatic, FUT Esports, Giants, Heretics, Karmine Corp, KOI, Natus Vincere, Team Liquid, Team Vitality

Pacific:  DetonatioN Gaming, DRX, Gen.G, Global Esports, Paper Rex, Rex Regum Qeon, T1, Talon Esports, Team Secret, ZETA DIVISION

However, there is a sliver of an open circuit idea present in this competition, which makes it very different from The plan is to grow the competitions across the next five years via the Challengers and Ascension tournaments, where successful teams are awarded two years in the main league before a mandatory demotion. With this, the leagues will eventually feature 14 teams instead of just 10, with a partially rotating cast of characters.

In an exciting development, the pathway to the top seems to start directly inside the game, reducing the emerging players’ reliance on third-party platforms and organizations. Here’s what Riot had to say about this last August:

“We believe that the path to Champions should begin directly within VALORANT. Earlier this year, we shared the initial details for an in-game competitive system for you and your teammates that goes beyond Ranked. The VALORANT dev team is focused on ensuring the core experience meets the expectations of players at scale. We have huge ambitions for integrating this system directly into the VCT.

Looking ahead to 2024, the top teams emerging from this system will get a chance to qualify directly from the game into Challengers. We want to create a seamless connection between VALORANT and the VCT at a global scale through a bridge of make-or-break moments where the lowest ranked Challenger teams have to defend their place against the newest batch of online superstars. We'll have more to share on this system before the end of the year.”

The inaugural season of the EMEA League, the Pacific League and the Americas League all run between March 26 and May 28, each with three Masters spots on the line. In addition, the winner of the upcoming LOCK//IN tournament will earn their region an extra slot at Masters 2023, the year-ending international championship.

You can read more about Riot’s five-year plan in detail here.

VCT Challengers leagues and Challengers Ascension

The Challengers will remain the lowest level of the VALORANT esports pyramid – there will be 21 of them across the world –, feeding teams into splits of multi-week regular season play from open qualifiers, with eventual playoff brackets set to determine who’s the best in their region.

Another new addition to the ecosystem is the Challengers Ascension tournament tier, with three regional leagues modeled around the big international ones. The best teams from the Challenger leagues will earn the right to compete here, and the eventual winners will earn that coveted, if temporary shot at the big-time.

VCT 2023: LOCK//IN São Paulo – where to watch and what to expect from the format

The VCT 2023: LOCK//IN São Paulo event will take place between February 13 and March 4, and it will be played on the 6.02 patch. The venue hosting the competition is the incredible Ginásio do Ibirapuera.

The tournament’s format is somewhat controversial, as it is a 32-team single-elimination bracket with no room for error. All matches are going to be best-of-three, with the exception of the best-of-five grand final, which will determine who gets the $100 000 prize and all the glory from a total prize pool of $500 000.

This means that half of the teams and players will fly out to Brazil, play a single series, then their run is over. Here’s what the players and the coaches had to say about the matter:

Indeed, as Ivan’s mentioned, the one silver lining to this is that the excitement and the spectacle should be pretty damn awesome from a fan perspective. The curtain-raiser often sets the tone of the entire season, and the new VCT year is almost upon us. No matter how it goes, it’s going to be amazing to follow.