At the end of January, VALORANT casters found out they were region locked and then all hell broke loose. Because that was nowhere near the end of it.
After finding out that VALORANT Champions Tour will have region locked casting — at least for the first stage — many casters became vocal about this disruption in their plans for 2021. One of those casters was Dustin "dusT" Mouret and Vincent "Zescht" Talmon-Gros. It was looking like the duo wouldn't be able to cast together for VCT after doing so at Nerd Street's First Strike NA Qualifiers and Winter Championship.
"Nerd Street was interested in continuing to work with us as a duo but I was recently told since Vince is from the UK he can't work on NA VCT," dusT wrote on Reddit. "This really hurts as I felt Vince and I were starting to really find our footing in commentating VALORANT and were keen on staying consistent and continuing to work on our craft. Working VCT together would have given us a lot of reps AND the VCT takes up a huge chunk of the overall competitive calendar generally."
dusT added that he's not sure where this leaves either of them now, as well as other casters from various regions that also can't be a part of the NA VALORANT Champions Tour. This includes Kevin "AVRL" Walker, a caster from New Zealand who has almost exclusively commentated for the North American VALORANT scene.
The issue was discussed on a recent issue of VALORANTING, hosted by Mitch "Uber" Leslie, Alex "Vansilli" Nguyen, and Loviel "Velly" Cardwell, all professional casters. The three commentators debated why Riot would region lock casting for the VALORANT tournament, with Vansilli pondering if Riot wanted each region to "build local talent." But this concept didn't sit well with the panel.
"There's a lot of big casters in NA from Overwatch and stuff. The VALORANT casting pool in NA is insane. It's really rough," Velly said.
Uber noted it may be a budget issue. He said he's "too expensive" for Nerd Street's events. He said it may also be an immigration issue and not wanting to deal with visas and other complications. Vansilli wondered if it was the logistics of flying out casters.
"If you're splitting up these duos, they are going to have to find works in their region. Look at me for an example. I've done First Strike and everything but it doesn't mean I'm going to do all the events. I don't even know if I'm doing upcoming events or not," Vansilli said.
That brought up an entirely different issue. The three casters admitted they had all been undercut by Riot and other tournament organizers many times. Exasperated, Uber wondered who was deciding the casting budget for these events.
It seemed that there was no available budget for casters at Nerd Street Gamers when the TOs decided to hold a casting challenge. Uber explained that the duo that won would get to cast the Closed Qualifiers for no payment.
"This is not okay," Uber ranted. "If you don't have the budget for a broadcast, don't fucking broadcast the game. Do not cheapen the value of esports broadcasting talent. Do not for one minute think I can't see through the fact that you just couldn't afford to pay people to broadcast those games. This is no substitute for developing talent."
In the comments on YouTube, one of the amateur casters that took part in the Closed Qualifiers corrected Uber by noting that they were paid by Nerd Street Gamers, although it "wasn't the industry standard." The casters took it because it was their first opportunity to cast a Riot event.
Valorant event organizers step up after callout
While the three casters hosting VALORANTING agreed that they believe in VALORANT, the way that casters are constantly being ripped off is unacceptable. And it wasn't just Nerd Street Gamers.
After expressing concern over his future as a caster due to region lock, dusT admitted that he also hadn't been paid by Pulse Arena, nor had any other casting talent, five months after the tournament broadcast. He hadn't even received an update since September.
Other casters from the event decided to put pressure on the unresponsive TOs by making their similar situation public as well. And nobody would have ever expected who stepped up to try and make things right for the casters. It was Nerd Street Gamers.
The same day that Vansilli had called out Nerd Street Gamers on VALORANTING, he received an invoice from the TOs so they could pay Vansilli what Pulse Arena owned him. The same request was given to the other casters and observers from the Pulse Arena tournament.
"My biggest and humblest thanks," Vansilli said, admitting that this would prevent him from "eating ramen noodles for the duration of my casting grind."
It's safe to say that the esports community quickly changed their mind about the tournament organizers. C9 White player Mel even called them the "real deal" on Twitter.
Other casters, like dusT, also shared the news. dusT has also been consistently sharing his excitement over covering Nerd Street Gamers' NA VALORANT action. While it's disheartening that his usual duo can't be with him, it seems that dusT's outlook on 2021 has definitely improved. And it seems that many casters' outlook on Nerd Street Gamers' and other TOs has improved as well.
While dusT and many other casters are still hoping that Pulse Arena will be "brought to justice," this step up by Nerd Street Gamers has sweetened the once sour attitude that many casters had for the Riot scene going into this already tumultuous year.
Maybe casters are not being as undervalued as they think. Or maybe they were — and tournament organizers have recognized that and want to change it going forward.