All the way through the 2010s, a popular gag in the League of Legends community was to point at the ‘s’ in ‘Riot Games’. The dev team of Riot was all about the making of LoL. They did a formidable job at developing one of the most iconic cornerstones of online gaming. But as it turns out, maintaining a top MOBA also takes a lot of the steam out from a developer. Riot, after all, is not as big as Valve. But that joke of ‘Riot Games’ really being a one-trick pony has become grossly outdated today.
Its first attempts at diversification was an autobattler, and a Hearthstone-inspired card game – both on Android and iOS platforms. But their second big product has all the makings of a top-tier arena shooter. Valorant amassed great attention as a free to play game, but more importantly, it had a flick of that Riot Games flair.
How Does Valorant Play?
Valorant at its core is an arena shooter. Meaning, it has a set map (not procedurally generate). Two teams, containing 5 players each, compete for 25 rounds. If your team wins 13 rounds before the other, you win the matchup. One of the two teams attacks, the other defends. The objective of the attacking team for each round is to plant the ‘spike’ in a preset area of the map. The objective for the defender, needless to say, is to prevent that. After a few rounds, the teams switch positions in this. Every player picks one of 10 ‘agents’, i.e. heroes with unique skill sets.
Unlike Rainbow Six: Siege, you can pick any agent irrespective of whether you are on the attacking or defending team. If a team wipes out the other team before the spike is planted, the last team standing wins. On the other hand, if the attacking team manages to plant the spike, the other team must defuse it, even if they have already team-wiped the attackers. The flip side is that the defender always wins if the spike is defused. The rounds last 100 seconds each, facilitating fast-paced play. There are three maps, each of them also short enough to be compatible with this kind of fast pace.
The ‘First Strike’
As anyone can clearly see, a round of Valorant is not all that different from a round of Counter Strike. The spike is basically the CS bomb, the defenders counter-terrorists, and the attackers terrorists. The weapon purchasing and economy also works exactly like CS:GO. It would not be a hasty conclusion to call Valorant Riot’s answer to CS:GO (considering that the two other flagship games of the companies, LoL and Dota 2, are also natural rivals).
In fact, the name of the first regional qualifier tournament for Valorant, ‘First Strike’, is a jab at Counter Strike.
It goes without saying that Valorant is not a copy-cat of CS:GO. Instead it takes inspiration and elements from all the popular e-sports arena shooters: chiefly, Overwatch and Rainbow Six Siege. It combines the smooth gameplay of the modern arena shooter with the methodical gunplay of CS and flourish of offensive skillshots and clutch skill usage of Overwatch.
So, why is Valorant a big deal?
It’s anyone’s guess that Valorant’s market competitors are not dead in the water. Despite Valve’s lack of effort in trying to bring new players in, CS is still going strong, and Blizzard recently pulled a bold move with slapping a $20 million franchise buy-in price tag on Overwatch. But Valorant will be strong for a set of different reasons.
Firstly, it is a game with rapid player base growth. League became so popular primarily because of its ease of access. And Valorant does not skimp out on bit from that design philosophy. The game features Riot’s characteristic cartoonish art style and goofiness, which also lets minimal hardware run their games as a bonus.
Secondly, Riot is following a more organic approach to tournament integration. Instead of forcing in franchised tournaments in a mad dash for short-term profits, the Valorant devs want their game to grow organically. Currently, the game boasts an impressive level of regular and concurrent viewership on Twitch.
Granted, its E-sports infrastructure is yet in its infancy. But in its debutant big-league regional championship, Riot Games have already secured an impressive trophy case of blue-chip partnerships. The First Strike tournament in October 2020 had, for example, partnerships with Amazon Prime, Prime Gaming, JBL, Red Bull, and Verizon to name a few. Granted, Riot’s prize pool is nothing to write home about. Dota TI and Fortnite championships have jaw-dropping sums to be won for their stalwart pro teams. However, Valorant is a great game tailored for Twitch viewership, developed by a studio that listens to its community, and also intuitively accessible to the common gaming audience. All these combined make the budding Valorant pro scene something you should definitely keep your eyes on in 2021.
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