VALORANT fans could be a vital source of warmth during the seemingly imminent esports winter

It's all about the money
Fans at the VALORANT Champions Fan Fest in Los Angeles.
Photo by Shannon Cottrell via Riot Games

The first thought that comes to mind when you think of ‘sweaty’ VALORANT players is probably the try-hards you come across in Unrated or Swiftplay. But in the hours prior to the start of the match days at Champions 2023, you got to see a much more encouraging take on ‘sweaty’ VALORANT fans.

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As part of Riot Games’ VCT Champions add-ons, a Fan Fest was put on for players of all skill levels in the early hours of each morning during the finals in the Kia Forum parking lot. Eager fans who were up and about bright and early at 8am local—definitely not gamer hours—could get a chance to meet up.

Some fans turned out right away, and the event swelled to several hundreds of people before the gates to the arena finally opened. Watching and hearing several people who’ve only met online, some even who only knew each other by their Discord usernames, finally meet in person was really touching and sweet. Even those of us in the media who’ve only heard each other in digital press conferences got to join in on experiencing that feeling.

Fans posing with Wingman at VALORANT Champions Fan Fest.
Even lil’ bro made it. Photo by Tina Jo via Riot Games.

But one thing that really stuck out to me during the pre-match festivities, other than the terrible pull-up jump shot Acend Elevated and I saw from the Red Bull court, was how much merchandise was in people’s hands and flying off the stands. VALORANT fans are willing to spend, which could provide some relief from the impending esports winter.

Related: ‘Esports winter’ strikes again with mass exodus of organizations leaving Game Changers VALORANT

This term has been thrown around excessively over the past year or so, as the industry as a whole is resetting from the bloated valuations and investment figures from before the pandemic. While ultimately good for long-term growth, there will be significant growing pains, in the form of shuttered orgs, scaled-back salaries and content, and people losing jobs.

As always, the question comes down to how esports organizations make money during these trying times. Well, one of the few profitable paths for organizations can be merchandise. As much as was said about Sentinels in the wake of their crowdfunding launch, making and selling merch has been profitable for them, and those profits improved from roughly $1.3 million in 2021 to $1.9 million in 2022.

While walking around Fan Fest, it felt like at least two-thirds of the fans there were wearing either team jerseys or official VALORANT merchandise. And the longest lines outside of the ones to meet influencers were the ones for gear. As soon as people got into the venue, it was a mad dash to the stores inside to snag the high-value items like plushies and hoodies.

Fans at VALORANT Champions Fan Fest.
Goods secured. Photo by Colin Young-Wolff via Riot Games.

Saturday was the most packed by a considerable margin, due to it being both a weekend and the grand finals. There were plenty of Paper Rex and Evil Geniuses jerseys, but also jerseys supporting Fnatic, Liquid, 100 Thieves, Cloud9, Sentinels, FaZe, and TSM. The lines were even longer, and the number of bags in people’s hands was at its highest.

Related: Elon Musk makes surprise VALORANT Champions appearance, but the crowd wasn’t pleased

So this is all well and good for Riot, but what about the organizations looking to survive? It proved to me that fans really do care about VALORANT and its esports scene, even if they’re more likely to be supporters of individual players than teams. Esports fans have been regarded as more stingy than traditional sports fans, but between merch and in-game items like the Champions bundle and hopefully the eventual partnered team skins, that might finally be changing.

Teams and organizations will need to learn to capitalize on more than just merch if they can even get that right, but it’s proven to be a profitable arm for companies that have really struggled to ever be profitable. If you can get fans to go stand in a baking Los Angeles parking lot to buy merchandise en masse, then maybe the esports fan market is more lucrative than we thought.

As a result, maybe more will survive the winter than we thought would.

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Author

Scott Robertson
VALORANT lead staff writer, also covering CS:GO, FPS games, other titles, and the wider esports industry. Watching and writing esports since 2014. Previously wrote for Dexerto, Upcomer, Splyce, and somehow MySpace. Jack of all games, master of none.