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‘Valorant’ Teams Learn Valuable Lesson About Shit-Talking

Zheng "ZmjjKK" Yongkang of EDward Gaming poses after clutching against Giants Gaming at VALORANT Champions Los Angeles Group Stage.
Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games via Getty Images

Spend enough time on the internet, and you'll inevitably be exposed to the rich cultural commodity of NBA memes—for example, just take that one image of Adam Silver with the text "Get ready to learn Chinese, buddy" superimposed upon it. The bit carries on in Valorant: A player has a string of bad performances, and gets hit with a slew of Adam Silvers and Duolingo recommendations.

The official version of Valorant has been released in China for only just over a month, though professional Chinese teams have existed for longer than that, practicing primarily through scrimmages and using a VPN to connect to Pacific servers. Still, this puts the broader Chinese player base three years behind the rest of the world, which might place some perspective behind both the co-opting of the meme, and the declaration made by pro player Kelden "Boostio" Pupello that "China will never be better than [North America] in Valorant."

This was said after Tokyo Masters, the second-biggest event of the Valorant calendar, and before Champions, the biggest event of the Valorant calendar. At Tokyo, a Chinese team in EDward Gaming, or EDG, had already exploded onto the scene, along with their star duelist Zheng "ZmjjKK" Yongkang, who is often referred to as KangKang. KangKang is the ideal star player: He hits impossible shots in game. He has electric showmanship onstage, and is humble off of it. He's a, uh, rather rowdy entertainer while streaming, and he even has a wholesome origin story about his in-game name. All of this made him and EDG—who routinely curb-stomp their domestic competition—fan favorites going into Champions, to the point where a Los Angeles–based crowd rooted for them like they were the home team.

So it was a bold move when Giants Gaming called them "overrated" in a promotional video, if just for the fact that EDG's newly faithful fanbase, who already wanted them to win, would now take additional pleasure in Giants' demise. Doubly bold would be declaring, after already losing to EDG, that you should be able to win the next series without dropping a map. While the confidence was admirable, it did also open Giants up to some unfortunate consequences when they lost 2-0, even beyond the in-game victories of a KangKang pose after a ludicrous clutch and the players swarming to get a knife kill to close out the series.

Both Boostio's and Giants' continued comments about their opponents kicked off some inane discourse surrounding sportsmanship and the purported necessity of shit-talking in esports. I won't recount any of that because it's embarrassing and dull. Instead, we're focusing on a much simpler, age-old rule: If you're going to talk shit, you better be able to back it up.

There's another relevant Chinese organization here: Bilibili Gaming, or BLG, whose Valorant team hasn't yet turned six months old. The current edition of the roster was only solidified in early May. They were the undisputed second-best team in China, though they still consistently looked, as all other Chinese teams did, a clear tier below EDG. While EDG were treated as Champions contenders, Bilibili were projected to be the second- or third-worst team at Champions. In a pre-game interview, NRG's Ardis "ardiis" Svarenieks, couldn't even name Bilibili's star duelist. Even if Bilibili outperformed expectations, they weren't expected to make it out of their group, which included Fnatic, who are a super team a la the Kevin Durant Golden State Warriors, and NRG, who placed fourth at Masters Tokyo and whose core previously won international events, helmed by their in-game leader Pujan "FNS" Mehta, one of the best shot-callers in all of competitive Valorant.

Bilibili matched up against NRG in the first series and, overwhelmed by nerves in their first ever international tournament to the point where they were incapable of hitting their shots, immediately went down 0-5 in their own map pick. After a timeout and some heroics by their in-game leader Zhong "Biank" Jianfei, they were able to string together a comeback and send the map to overtime, in spite of losing early pistol rounds in each half that would've given them an easy round advantage. In overtime, Bilibili immediately pulled ahead, 13-12.

At this point, a fan in a co-streamer and former coach Connor "Sliggy" Blomfield's Twitch chat declared that they would go bald if NRG lost. Sliggy responded by saying, concerned, "As in this map? Tommy, they're one—they're one away, mate." Upon learning that Tommy in fact meant the series, Sliggy said, "OK, OK. Tommy, we'll hold you to that. This is on YouTube, this is on the VOD, it's everywhere." Bilibili promptly won the next round despite an early disadvantage, and with it, won the first map in the best-of-three.

This was the first big upset of the tournament. Many of the earlier series were toss-ups, and those that weren't panned out exactly as anticipated. Still, this was only one map, and it was Bilibili's map pick. The next map was NRG's selection. NRG had a 71.4-percent win rate. Bilibili had a unique gameplan revolving around their star duelist Wang "whzy" Haozhe—who was China's representative star before KangKang became KangKang—and a shotgun. It was a classic Pick Your Fighter situation. On one side: one championship-contending team with a 71.4-percent map win rate and arguably the best shot-calling in-game leader in all of Valorant. On the other: whzy flying around the map, bringing a shotgun to a tactical FPS game.

As it turns out, China as a region spawned a ton of players who know how to give it onstage: after a round where whzy got four kills with his trusty shotgun, his teammate Liu "Knight" Yuxiang shouted across the stage, "FNS, are you OK?" FNS was not OK, and despite his attempt in later rounds at giving whzy a taste of his own medicine, Bilibili came out on top with a dominant map score of 13-8, beating NRG 2-0 and sending them to the lower bracket.

Bilibili promptly got crushed by Fnatic, and by nature of the double-elimination structure, they were sent back down to meet NRG again in the final match-up of the group stages. NRG's ardiis borrowed from the Giants' school of confidence, and said in a post-match interview after beating Zeta Division to secure the match-up against Bilibili, "You guys [Bilibili] are going home, 100-percent. I guarantee it. I promise you that," and tweeted "2-0. S @zetadivision next game against… I forgot the name." A day before the rematch, ardiis posted a tweet reading, "Who should be play in playoffs cause we fo sho ain't losing to billy billy," before promptly deleting it, possibly because NRG's PR team got to him.

Even with their first win and the reactionary nature of fandom, Bilibili were still not favored in the rematch. The NRG core was noted for historically having slow starts, but never losing rematches, and now that NRG knew about whzy's shotgun tactics, it wasn't likely to work again (ignoring that NRG's coach seemed to be previously aware of the shotgun strategy)—NRG immediately banned that map in the rematch, leaving the first two maps in the rematch series as ones that Bilibili hadn't yet played against NRG, including the NRG core's legendary map, Bind. All of this meant that the cost-benefit analysis of ardiis's shit-talk was never in his favor. Even if they won, it would've been the anticipated outcome. If they lost, it would now be even more embarrassing.

A modification to the rule: If you're going to talk shit, especially to an underdog team that you've already lost to, you better be able to back it up. The funniest stories write themselves. Final match score: 2-0 Bilibili.

The serious explanation for why NRG couldn't take a single map off of Bilibili is that systematic, tactical gameplay falls apart against a hyper-aggressive, unconventional team. During one round, two Bilibili players repositioned to a weird location to catch the two surviving NRG players off-guard. (From Sliggy: "Why would they ever both be here? Nobody's ever going to play like that.") On the second map, Bilibili flipped a round where they were down three people; whzy took inspiration from KangKang and mimed shooting across the stage in celebration. Strats fall apart if players can't hit their shots. As was artfully noted by caster Brennon "Bren" Hook a few weeks ago: "This is Valorant, you motherfucker! You get shot, you die! You get shot, you die! You get shot, you lose the round, you lose the game! It's an FPS game!"

But, as we all know, the real reason is that universe has a way of swinging karmic justice to result in the funniest possible outcome. Bilibili's whzy got his vengeance in the end. In the postgame interview, he emphasized his respect for all of the NRG players, and complimented each of them, including ardiis, who he described as a star duelist, "although I'm not sure what his name is." Hell yeah. Bask in the glory, buddy. You've earned it.

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