Riot’s hot new first-shooter has been on the minds of the esport industry in recent months, ranging from the anti-cheat to competitive play in the Ignition series, and everything in between.
The underlying context is that Valorant has been live for the past two months, releasing on June 2 to widespread review after a successful (if baffling) stunt on Tiwtch where users had to watch selected streamers in order to gain access to the title. Thus, what we’re seeing right now should all be discussed with the underlying note that Valorant is still very early in its expected shelf-life; there’s still more than enough time to tackle these metaphorical thorns in the side of the title and the community that has appeared more than eager to embrace. the competitive shooter.
Further, the current argument/debate of Vanguard is wildly missing the mark, and it could be showing how young and generally inexperienced the fan-base of Valorant is. Other competitive titles, such as Counter-Strike, have fans begging the developers to make a far more intrusive DRM to limit the staggering number of cheaters that the title is currently experiencing; Riot allegedly needing to manually ban two top-ranked NA players (meaning the anti-cheat couldn’t detect it despite a healthy number of suspicious plays in competitive tournaments) is concerning regarding what the anti-cheat can actually detect.
The cat and mouse games of cheat developers and game developers is long-winded and seemingly immortal, yet many would place their computer security at risk through viruses rather than some nefarious nation turning everyone’s computer into a bot network; we say this knowing full well the actions that China has had no issue committing in recent times. The actual argument should be whether or not the root-level kit is offering further protections, but Riot has a lot more to deal with that would have more far-reaching consequences before everyone gets up in arms about an anti-cheat, and no-one seems to realize.
Day Three of the @FaZeClan VALORANT Invitational is here with teams set to duke it out in the Semi-finals. Who has what it takes to compete in tomorrow’s Grand Finals? Find out live at https://t.co/4KLfICubyL. pic.twitter.com/ay4ONs5NVI
— VALORANT (@PlayVALORANT) August 8, 2020
There are currently a whopping total of four maps within Valorant: one of the lowest counts ever released for a competitive shooter. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive released with at least six, which quickly grew into the modern ~30 as Valve opened up community maps in early 2013; roughly six months after launch. Overwatch similarly launched with a healthy twelve maps for players to duke it out on.
Valorant currently holds four maps, and while there are rumors of the fifth map in development, it’s admittedly a small number that doesn’t offer nearly enough variation to the scenery as players queue and revisit the same maps that they’ve just played. Combine this with a randomized chance for maps to appear, and suddenly you’re playing Split for six matches in a row because Riot hates you.
Meanwhile, new agents are being churned out like butter as Riot appears to have adopted their stance from League of Legends development cycle; a theory that some believe doesn’t properly match the play of Valorant.
It quickly turns the focus from players to maps, and the maps that are there are following a consistent pattern: sharp angles abound on every path you take, bomb sites are absurdly open, and various spots of elevation are littered about. Map gimmicks, such as Bind’s teleporters, do offer a unique mechanic for each map that can play into how rounds play out; mimicking gimmick’s (if Riot finds them necessary) for multiple maps would at least offer a change of scenery as we queue all day; not play, but queue.
The higher you get within matchmaking, the better players that you face while simultaneously dropping off further members of the queue pool. This makes sense, as an Immortal shouldn’t be playing against an Iron exclusively: it would be a miserable experience for them both. Counter-Strike has attempted to quell this by averaging player ranks within a team so the two teams are numerically comparable; when you reach the higher levels of Valorant right now, you can expect a 30+ minute wait for a match.
It’s difficult for streamers to fill this time, and streamers are a massive source of hype and interest for the series, not to mention a primary means for the streamers to get practice in to edge into competitive tiers of the title; a necessary aspect for any title looking to make an esport showing.
When queue’s finally pop, you better hope you’re in a five-stack, because the other team is more often than not. This almost immediately guarantees a loss (after waiting for half an hour at least), as your pug team is simply not a match against those with clear communication and an understanding of team-oriented tactics.
This aspect could be solved by having a solo queue, which many have been requesting from Riot since Valorant released. Riot stated that Valorant is a team-game first and foremost, which is how they explained away the frustrations, but it feels horrible to be a high-ranking solo player within the first-person shooter, and that is crippling interest for many players.
Riot’s interest in skins is clear, and for good reason; the Counter-Strike skin scene has resulted in multiple trading sites and millions of dollars spent since its inception just to inject some personality. Riot’s first big attempt to get into the skin scene removed the player-trading aspect and had users purchase the ability to use specific skins by dropped ~$100 for one bundle.
This turned the skin scene into a simple purchase towards Riot; skin gambling on 1v1’s or receiving in loot-boxes (which is an abhorrent practice, truth be told) means that every time you see a skin in-game, you’re just seeing someone who ponied up an impressive amount of cash.
Riot has attempted to add their own unique spin on it by having custom animations, such as dragons that interact with the player during reloads, but it feels…vacant. Add onto that a current lack of player-made skins, and the entire experience feels hollow and manufactured while slapping on any price tag they deem worthy.
It’s worth noting that Valve can somewhat control the price of skins when they release based on drop-rate, where rarer skins can net astronomical sums of money, but they themselves are firmly removed from the scene; they just compile crates and everyone else deals with the residual effects.
The final factor that seems to be crippling the Valorant scene at the moment is utility; Riot mashed-up Overwatch and Counter-Strike in this aspect, while adding on additional purchases to unlock other characters. Each character has their own utility that they can bring to the table; rather than having a standard arsenal for all players to purchase, players can purchase abilities like act like flashbangs and smokes.
This puts players that have adopted certain roles for the team at a disadvantage during clutches; agents such as Sage can’t flash a site for entry; instead, she can wall off areas and offer an AoE slow. This means that certain characters simply have an advantage in situations that all characters can find themselves in, and there is very little counter-play: a post-plant 1v1 that sees Brimstone versus Sage is almost a foregone conclusion unless Brimstone wildly whiffs his opening spray.
Yet this bleeds into a new aspect that once again rotates back to Riot Games treating Valorant like League of Legends: new heroes are being introduced that bring in new forms of utility, and it’s also inviting power-creep with every new character introduction. When a new character is released, you have two options: jump at the chance to purchase the hero and explore the new utility that other characters can’t use, or face it in matches.
Coupled with the very low time to kill (colloquially TTK) that makes utility a fundamental resource, and having every agent at your disposal becomes a vital component when you’re attempting to put together a team that won’t get slapped in their own spawn.
Overall, you could easily surmise that some of these complaints stemming from the community are simply based on design choices for Valorant; each character bringing something new to the table that can increase the flexibility of the team as a whole, skins offering a chance for additional flavor, and the like.
Other aspects, such as an extremely limited map pool and egregious queue times, should be addressed relatively soon to entice additional players into the competitive title. The bones, as they are, are unabashedly solid. It’s like Counter-Strike lite, with far easier spray patterns, and the heroes have a fantastic sense of lore and depth that Riot should pat themselves on the back for.