Controversy ran amok during what was one of Europe's largest VALORANT tournaments to date.
In the grand final of the Solary Cup, a winner-take-all, weeklong tournament that ended Sunday, the plucky underdogs from the United Kingdom, Fish123, took down the star-studded lineup of Team Prodigy in a nail-biting, 2-1 match to take home the grand prize. Even the final wasn't without drama, as one of Team Prodigy's core players, former Overwatch League professional Daniel "dafran" Francesca, was banned from the tournament (and all future Solary events) following comments made against the event organizer and semifinalist opponent Damien "HyP" Souville.
Here are the top three things we learned from the Solary Cup.
1. Fish123 are the best team in European VALORANT right now.
Over in North America, we already have the likes of T1 and Gen.G battling it out for the top spot as the NA kings of the VALORANT beta, and after the Solary Cup, Fish123 seem to have that title in Europe. Despite the humorous name and relatively unknown backgrounds for a majority of the team's starting lineup, they've been lights-out in the beta thus far, winning another sizable tournament in the Mandatory Cup before following it with another victory Sunday.
"I credit [our success] mostly to our teamwork and synergy," Fish123 captain Adam "ec1s" Eccles told ESPN following his team's Solary Cup victory. "Individually, we feel like we are at the same level as these big names in Counter-Strike. However, we were very far behind in that game in terms of the rest of the game. But what gives us the edge in this game is that we have been practicing from the start to try and gain any advantage we can to get ahead of the rest. As well, we are all great friends."
That chemistry was on full display Sunday in the team's final versus Team Prodigy and the likes of Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom and William "draken" Sundin. Whenever it seemed Team Prodigy would pull away with pure raw talent and one-man plays, Fish123 would fight back as a unit, setting up coordinated attacks and defensive holds to dissuade the stars from Prodigy. On Split, the final map, it was more of the same from Fish123, doing enough on the offense side of the map before taking over on their defensive half and shutting down the sometimes disjointed play of Team Prodigy to secure the winner-take-all prize.
Although there have been a slew of prize-money tournaments in Europe, notable organizations have been slower to pick up teams when compared to their North American counterparts. While T1, Cloud9, TSM and other tier-one esports teams have begun putting together rosters, outside of Ninjas in Pyjamas, Europe has been relatively quiet on the signing front, with kingpin names such as Fnatic and G2 Esports biding their time by hosting tournaments instead of signing players. Fish123 have a message for those A-list organizations, though, believing they are the starting five who can represent the best Europe's rich esports history has to offer.
"We've come out and proven we are the best team in Europe, not from names but from the results we have gotten," ec1s said. "So if orgs are looking for a team [whose] main goal is to win, you can contact us anytime!"
Although we probably won't see the team name Fish123 for much longer, it won't be because they dropped in form or decided to disband. It'll probably be because they're playing under the name of whichever lucky esports organization is able to sign the rising stars from the United Kingdom.
2. Dafran is a superstar, but we probably won't see him on a major organization as a VALORANT pro anytime soon.
There is no questioning the talent and personality dafran brings to the world of video games. If you drop into one of his streams, you will be greeted with myriad mind-blowing plays, as the Danish gamer dances his fingers around his keyboard and mouse to create music in whatever video game he is playing. With VALORANT, it has been nothing different. He has picked up the game faster than perhaps anyone else in the world, becoming one of the first VALORANT-ranked players in Europe and stunning opponents with his play on the often overlooked agent Viper. It isn't hard to imagine dafran playing for a major esports team for VALORANT when watching his gameplay, with the silky aim and raw talent on display.
But as you continue to watch dafran's streams, it's obvious why, like Overwatch, his future is best served as a streamer, rather than as a professional player. His outburst on social media about the Solary Cup, in which his team failed to show up to a match on time, is another in a series of decisions from the talented 26-year-old that keeps him from becoming one of the best in any esports scene. There have been tournaments, ones much smaller than the Solary Cup, in which as part of Team Prodigy he became enraged at himself, failed to execute a Viper wall correctly and started knifing the enemy team with a lack of regard to his teammates' pleading to take the game seriously.
The outcome makes for an amazingly entertaining YouTube video or Twitch stream, in which the deep-voiced dafran rages as he chases a Brimstone to knife in the back, but for players such as ScreaM trying to reach the top of a new esports scene, it doesn't result in a five-person unit getting any better.
If I were to recommend a VALORANT stream to watch, dafran would be one of the first on the list. He's entertaining, amazing at the game and, when he wants to be, extremely knowledgeable and tactical, teaching tricks and tips on how to turn Viper into a monstrous character with the right decision-making. As a pro player, however -- and I don't think he'd disagree with this -- it's tough to imagine dafran playing in the first VALORANT world championship. Not every gifted player needs to go pro, and with dafran, I think he's the perfect case of someone who is better off being an entertainer and a streamer than a pro player.
3. ScreaM is a superstar, and we will see him on a major organization as a VALORANT pro sometime soon.
I still stand by my proclamation that Fish123 is the best VALORANT team in Europe, but I also believe the best player in the region isn't on that team. That accolade should go to no one other than the Sage specialist himself, ScreaM, who has carried his storied legacy from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and has fit VALORANT like a glove, performing to an ace level in almost every tournament he has entered during the beta period.
It's easy to talk about his mechanics and how he's simply better at aiming at heads than his peers, but it's also his pure game sense that makes him such an attractive pick-up for possible European organizations looking to invest in VALORANT. He doesn't rely solely on his aim, and he has become adept at using Sage's wall to not only block off entry points for the enemy team at the perfect time but also boost himself into favorable gunfights when needed. Where other mechanically gifted star players from Counter-Strike find themselves on duelists such as Phoenix or all-around attackers such as Breach, ScreaM has found how to make Sage, a support character, often the most dangerous agent on the map.
As long as ScreaM wants to fully commit to VALORANT, I can almost guarantee that the Belgian superstar will be on a top European team of his choice sometime soon.