The Eve Ascension Retrospective Ft. Dart Monkeys
The most unique element of the budding Valorant scene isn’t the media, the esoteric lore, the NA drama, the viewership metrics - any of that. In truth, if Valorant is making history anywhere, it’s in its women and nonbinary scene. More teams, more tournaments, more developer support - the Game Changers circuit alone outdoes a lot of major esports and could create a historic lead for other scenes to follow.
It’s a lead that Team Liquid’s looking to follow - particularly with Eve Ascension, a charity tournament we hosted alongside Galorants on March 19th. The tournament featured an amateur bracket of unsigned teams, the winner getting to play in showmatches with Gen G Black, Shopify Rebellion, and CLG Red, with $200 for each match won going to the charity of the winner’s choice.
Competing for Alienware and Liquid gear, as well as a donation, it was smaller scale. But that’s how grassroots tournaments operate - hence the name. The size, staying power, and sponsorships, they all take growing to reach and these smaller events are the main way unsponsored teams spring upward.
Despite the small scale, the amateur teams put in a big effort! The bracket was loaded with the best in the amateur scene and matches frequently went to 11-13 or OT. In the end, The Dart Monkeys took first over Man I Love Fwogs (yes, MILF), leaving Kiss My Sister and Light Up Skechers (later to become Immortals) in 3rd and 4th. (Truly, grassroots team names approach a level of unhinged many of us can only aspire to.)
The show match was where the teams got loose - embracing some serious rounds, but also committing to goofy things like knife fights in mid and picking Yoru on the Agent Select screen. Shopify Rebellion and CLG Red earned $400 for each their charities of choice while Gen G and Dart Monkeys made $200 each for theirs. You can see the full results of the showmatch on Liquipedia and the charities in this tweet. If you’re looking for the sickest moments in the tournament, check out the highlight reel below.
After the dust settled, I sat down with Autumn (IGL) and Eskay (controller) from Dart Monkeys to talk about their win in the amateur bracket, their favorite moments, and also what we could’ve done better. Because that’s another thing about a grassroots events: There’s almost always something you could’ve done better. And in our case, it’s obvious we made a few mistakes.
That said, the event’s story is different than the Dart Monkeys. So they deserve some separation. Near the top of this article, there are two buttons, one with the Dart Monkeys interview and the other with a statement on the tournament, its troubles, and what we learned from them. This way, neither story dilutes the other.
Dart Monkeys don’t miss
If you don’t know about the Dart Monkeys, know is the perfect time to learn.
It’s not coincidence or awkward competitive format that got this team to the top of the amateur bracket. They are one of the fastest rising teams in the tier 2 of Game Changers and you’re just in time to say that you heard about them before everyone else.
Because even that window feels like it’s fast-closing. They just qualified for the main Game Changers circuit after going 5-1 in sets, beating 1994 Toyota Supra, Roulette, and Immortals (and keeping it close with Gen G Black). That run makes them an odd monkey out in Game Changers - they are the single unsponsored team in the tournament.
As that last free agent team, they have an up-and-comer energy that’s more than welcome. They are at once very hungry for competition and practice, but they also approach the journey with a lot of freshness, humor, and personality.
They take their name from the iconic Dart Monkey - a starter unit in Bloons TD 6, one of the most quietly popular games in the world. The team claims it comes from Eskay’s stuffed dart monkey mascot but you have to wonder if it’s all an elaborate setup for their tagline: “Dart Monkeys don’t miss.”
Either way, the moniker fits the team well. Like Bloons TD 6 itself, they have a goofy, friendly exterior that’s easy to overlook and underestimate, but below there is a real depth of skill, strategy, and work. Enough that they could make waves in the upcoming Game Changers competition.
What was a favorite moment or 2 that each of you had during the tournament?
Autumn: My favorite moment was during the amateur bracket part when Zoe tried to knife Eskay and missed it. And we were down like, I dunno, maybe 4-9 and we had forced into the round. It probably wasn’t a round we were supposed to win and then Eskay got a 4k and clutched and then we came back and won that game in OT. That moment was so funny. [Both chuckle] And Eskay was so crazy and it gave us so much momentum.
Eskay: Let’s go!! Shoutout to Zoe for that one. My favorite one was when we were doing the showmatch against Shopify Rebellion and I was just jumping around in Gen on A-Site and Korosu was watching me with ther Cypher cam and the casters kinda sang along with it.
An interesting wrinkle for your team was you played with Korosu filling in for Isla. Was it tough to bring them in or pretty fluid?
Eskay: Korosu is great and I feel like Jett, the agent itself, is not very util or strat heavy. We can just be like, “In this strat, Korosu, you go here and do this.” And they’ll be like, “Okay, cool.” And then we do it. And Korosu’s crazy on the Jett. [...] It’s great playing with Korosu, it definitely isn’t like an “Aw, crap we have to play with a sub.” [...] We also had a few days of practice with them as well to show them our strats and mesh a little better before we played. Shoutout Korosu, we love Korosu.
[On the lack of pauses,] when you don’t have your coach there, what kind of pressure does that put on you as the IGL? Does that change your approach, change how you approached pre-rounds?
Autumn: If things weren’t going well, I had to really use my pre-round time a lot more efficiently. [...] When things aren’t going well in pre-round I have to think a lot quicker and sometimes that can make for missing key things that they’re doing, missing a little piece of info, ult economy, eco. It just makes it so that I have to collect my thoughts a lot faster and honestly it was a fun challenge. I kind of enjoyed some aspects of that part of it.
The team showed a good push and pull on offense against MILF. Applying pressure, conditioning a reaction, then punishing that. Was that something you guys prepared especially for them or more of a general tenet for the team’s offense?
Eskay: It wasn’t specifically for MILF, it’s credit to the insane amount of hours that Autumn and our coach Zoey put into watching pro VODs and going over strats with us in ValoPlant. We dry run a lot of things as well. The 6 hours we practice together [as a team] I think Autumn and Zoey put it in 4 or more every single day reviewing VODs and pro stuff. The rest of us as well, watching our own stuff, finding lineups, practicing mechanics, playing ranked. Shoutouts Zoey, shoutout Autumn.
From your interview with Run It Back, the Dart Monkeys formed because the looking for team process can be pretty tiresome, pretty cumbersome. How common is it for teams to splinter and how do you feel about the Dart Monkeys’s longevity thus far?
Autumn: We’ve been together a week before the Sakura Cup. We formed and scrimmed Ascent for a week and we were like, “Let’s play knowing one map!” [Both laugh] And it was really scuffed and we definitely had a lot of issues.
But what we had when we went into this team - which I think differentiates ourselves from other teams that you speak of that disband after one event - we had goal alignment, availability, and equal drive. So we all can allocate X amount of time for practice every single night. We are training the most out of any FA [free agent] team.
And we all want the same things, we all want to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be and just see how far we can make it. And we’re all equally driven, we all work outside of practice.
Eskay: We grindin’!
How does the GCA and tier 2 women and nonbinary scene feel to you [both]?
Autumn: It’s really good and I’m so glad there’s an opportunity for people of marginalized genders to exemplify their talent and grow and develop without harassment. It’s really good that that exists because when I was like Plat 1, I started competing and without the scene I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now as a player.
People can complain about events but a lot of the stuff is volunteer-run so I really don’t like to knock on tournament organizers that much because they’re doing so much for the community out of their kindheartedness. The scene is holistically amazing. There are things that probably could be improved upon but I really don’t wanna nitpick. I’ve been playing Valorant for a year-ish now, from when I was Iron to where I am now, and everyone I’ve met, every tournament I’ve played in, it’s all just been a wonderful experience.
There’s been recent talk in the scene about making the GC circuit Immortal-only given that the player base has risen and it’s kind of hard to find room for all the teams given it’s all volunteer-run. I’m curious what your 2 perspectives are on this idea of raising the ranked requirement.
Eskay: I would like to say that I was Diamond 3 at the time of winning GCA yesterday. [Chuckles]
Autumn: Against a team with Radiants on it, like…
Eskay: I think it’s kind of silly. Ranked and a competitive team environment are so, so far different, so far away from each other that it’s not even the same game. But there’s some credibility to it. I don’t think if you are stuck in gold you would be able to compete with almost any of the teams.
At the same time, a different solution would be better. Rather than raising the ranked requirement, maybe open more slots and give teams a bye if there’s not enough for the bracket.
Autumn: I just wanna say I was Iron 1 when I started to play this game. Ranked does not matter and the sooner you can facilitate the people to compete, the better they’ll get. Raising it from Platinum to anything higher will only decrease the amount of talent you get. Sure, it will be fine for the teams now but then when you go 6 months, a year down the line, those [new] players wouldn’t have incentive to grind.
The whole point of the GC scene is to give people an opportunity to grow as players when they’re in a safe space and we don’t need to put more barriers onto that, we just need to make more spaces. [...] We should do more to facilitate Galorants ability to allow more people to play whether that be donations, however we can help them make that possible. I think the community should do that instead.
[Plus] it kind of feels disrespectful to these plat teams, because some of them work harder than these Immortal teams that want these spots, ya know?
Eskay, you came over from Overwatch, where you were pretty well-known for your Lucio. Did you have any experience in the tier 1 or tier 2 scene over there?
Eskay: Yeah, it was 2 years I think. I was tier 3 for a year and a half, I got to a tier 2 team, I was a sub for them. I got to scrim against tier 1 teams and a lot of tier 2 teams. It was a really good experience but I - [laughs] - I like to say that I had the shortest Contenders career of all time because I was a sub for a tier 2 team and I got dropped before I was even announced. [Continues laughing]
How do you feel about Valorant’s tier 2 scene compared to Overwatch’s?
Eskay: There’s so much more opportunity in Valorant, there’s so much more money in Valorant, there’s so much more hope. It’s a funny tweet every time, I competed in pro Overwatch for 2 years and I made 25 Blizzbucks. I scrimmed tier 1 teams, I beat tier 2 teams, and I made 25 Blizzbucks in total.
Another thing in Overwatch, stories like what happened with The Guard would never happen because tier 2 teams in Contenders, even if they’re better than OWL teams, they don’t get to play against each other. So people never know. You can’t win your way into OWL, you have to get picked up.
Valorant’s scene is so much better. Oh my god. It’s so nice.
What’s the next step for the Dart Monkeys? What are some of the goals, short-term and long-term?
Autumn: We are playing in GC qualifiers. We’re playing after that in NSG weeklies, the co-ed events. Our goal in GC4 are to hopefully qualify for main event.
[...] We’re just trying to beat ourselves everytime and the more frequently we do that we find that consequently we’re better than these teams that at one point we were worse than. So our goal is always to be better than our former selves and to show up better than we were last time.
Eskay: We wanna win! Good job. That was way better than I coulda done.
Postscript: Become the Dart Monkey
When you were scouting different players, was logging 100 hours into Bloons TD 6 a requirement for joining the roster?
Eskay: [Laughs] I wish!
Autumn: If it was, I’d be kicked.
Eskay: Oh no. [...] I’m a Bloons fanatic, I’m a big Bloons fan.
Autumn: I play Bloons after tourneys, I think it’s fun.
Which Valorant agent would be the most interesting Bloons TD 6 hero?
Eskay: Uh, woah! That’s a good question. I gotta think about this.
Autumn: I gotta think about this too. Selfishly I gotta say Sova because I play Sova and I wanna play Sova in Bloons, that way I can play Sova everywhere. But I think Raze would be cool. Cool splash damage, AoE stuff.
Eskay: Brimstone, with the attack speed increase. Brimmy with the stimmy. Yeah, yeah that’s my answer. Shoutout Brimstone.
On a topic sort of related to Bloons, we all saw the Dart Monkey summoning circle. How important are the dark magicks and the forbidden arts to the success of this team?
Autumn: We wouldn’t have won a single map without them.
Eskay: Imperative, imperative.
Autumn: I actually can’t hold my mouse without them.
There may be various deals to various devils behind Dart Monkeys…
Autumn: All of us have a deal with some higher power that we probably shouldn’t.
Eskay: I sold my soul to the devil years ago.
Autumn: Yeah, you played Overwatch.
People don’t know that’s in the Terms of Service. [...] Another thing that strikes me about amateur teams is that all the names - there are just so many winners. When making a team, how important is the name?
Autumn: We spent like an hour talking about ours. There’s a balance you need to strike, right? A balance between having a name that makes you a fan favorite and also marketable if you’re trying to get signed. Also a name that resonated with us that we all liked. Dart Monkeys was the perfect fit for us and -
Eskay: [Interrupting] Yeah, Autumn wouldn’t let me name the team Big Booty Bitches. A tragedy.
Autumn: A tragedy…
That one’s just a little bit tough for sponsors but I can understand the appeal. [...] For a deeper hypothetical, a wizard casts a spell on you. From 3 to 4 PM you turn into one animal of your choosing. You still think like a person but you can’t talk like one. Which one do you choose?
Eskay: Can I be a bird? That sounds fun.
Autumn: Flying would be sick. What animal do you think would be the best at Valorant?
Autumn: Then that’s my choice.
Eskay: You can become a real Dart Monkey!
Autumn: Without a doubt that’s my choice.
Where to improve
In short, and speaking only as Editor and Writer, we ran a weird, not-as-competitive format for Eve Ascension: single elimination, best-of-1’s all the way until Finals, with random seeding, and no tactical pauses allowed. And we reasonably got flak for it. "No tac pauses" is a very odd rule and a best-of-1, single-elim format isn’t something that you see in esports much anymore.
However, these rules - best-of-1, single-elims in particular - were once more common to grassroots StarCraft, FGC, and Smash Bros. tournaments because they speed things up, allow more matches to be streamed, and in the random seeding case, tax your volunteers less. (Researching amateur players/teams is MUCH more difficult and time-consuming than researching pros, also making seeding more labor-intensive).
So, if you have a bracket to get through in short time and you’re relying on volunteered hours (as Galorants and - in part due to the ongoing Race to World First - Team Liquid were), this tight format can range from useful to necessary. The downside is obviously that it’s less competitive and prone to trouble.
“You’d have teams that shouldn’t be a higher seed that have map choice in a best-of-1 against teams that are probably better than them,” Autumn explains. “So stuff like that can definitely be aggravating for players.”
It was especially aggravating for the players on 1994 Toyota Supra, who got disqualified for using a tac pause against Light Up Skechers. While it was against the rules to use a pause, the rule could’ve been better communicated and enforced, as other teams later reported that they used pauses without a DQ. The format being best-of-1 and single-elim compounded the issue.
The situation sparked a larger conversation about tournament organization in the women and nonbinary tier 2 scene, players and organizers chiming in. Nicci, the owner of Galorants wrote a good post about some of the challenges they have both relying heavily on volunteer labor and being one of the biggest organizers in the space. Her post does a good job of explaining the issues that pop up in this budding new scene, as well as the work needed to make any event possible.
Afterwards, our events team reached out 1994 Toyota Supra, apologized, and as part of the apology and prize, we’re sending them signed jerseys. They are a top GCA team and they performed well up until the DQ and there was a fair chance they could’ve won, so it fits to send them a (de facto) prize as well.
"I just hope this situation brings awareness so no other teams experience this,” Ltomlee of Toyota Supra wrote to us. “If this new and developing scene is going to be successful and taken seriously, time and effort need to be put in to ensure the admins/ staff involved are experienced and qualified."
The team’s IGL, ARIANARCHIST, added a statement too. "I'd like to thank Liquid regardless of the unfortunate circumstances, granting our request for signed Jerseys is more than enough to make up for it. Hope we still see quality tournaments from you guys in the future!"
That last line was close to how the Dart Monkeys felt about the tournament as well. The format was imperfect but it is vital that grassroots organizers of all kinds keep at the effort. Stumbles and all.
“I think the more tournaments there are, it’s just better,” Autumn says. “There’s more exposure, people can gauge where they’re at skill-level wise. And it’s just good to showcase talent. I don’t think anyone is ever gonna complain about an opportunity to play because at the end of the day we’re all players and we all wanna show off what we’ve been working on. I feel like any opportunity to do that is a good opportunity, even if the formatting of this one, in particular, was slightly funky.”
“Also, I understand that it’s also for the viewers and it’s more of a for-fun thing and it’s probably a good tourney to watch. So I think Team Liquid did a good job with the production, the broadcast, making the event fun (especially during the show match), and the staff was really kind to us the whole way through.”
“Yeah, my only thing was just allowing timeouts and coaches in the coach slots,” Eskay chimes in. “Other than that, I feel like it was a really fun tournament. The format may not have been the most competitive but I think it was still competitive nonetheless and it was very fun and entertaining to watch.”
So, in retrospect, we were happy we created Eve Ascension and we feel it’s worth highlighting. We’re also incredibly grateful to work with Galorants - the most dedicated people in the scene. And most importantly, we’ve learned where to improve:
- Tac pauses allowed
- Clearly communicated non-standard rules
- Deliberate, non-randomized seeding
- More best-of-3’s
The tier 2 and 3 scenes need that competitive viability, where it’s possible to deliver. Every player wants a chance to show what they can do in as competitive an environment as possible. This is especially true in Valorant where up-and-coming players are particularly hungry because there isn’t the same tournament saturation as in CS or other esports. As Editor, I can't speak for our events team or the whole org, but if there is a next time, I hope that we aim for that mark and I believe we'll do our best to hit it.