ESTNN covers the origins of Valorant, its growth throughout 2020, and looks toward its future as an esport.
This year has been a momentous one for esports, and among the giants like League of Legends and CS: GO, Valorant rose to demand respect. We take a look at how Riot's foray into the FPS genre held up.
The Announcement of Valorant & Beta Period
Back in October of 2019, Riot teased Project A, a first-person tactical shooter with a twist. The game was penned as the love child of Overwatch and CS: GO but has since evolved into something of its own. The rumors about ‘Project A' spread across the internet; seeping into the minds of current esports competitors as the next big title. But when the beta released in March of 2020, fan reception was lukewarm.
Quite a few professional players weren’t impressed with the title at first, but as time went on it grew on fans. Keys to the closed beta were a hot commodity on Twitch. Before long, it was dominating the popular streaming website. Early on, Riot focused heavily on maintaining the competitive integrity of Valorant while adding and adjusting features to keep the game fun. Valorant played more like CS:GO and Rainbow Six Siege than Overwatch — emphasizing tactical decision making and mechanical skills.
Pre-launch tournaments and the competitive scene
In its infancy, before patch 1.0 went live, Valorant had no lack of tournaments being hosted by large organizations. Nerd Street Gamers had a massive impact on the scene early on, hosting a $25,000 tournament that brought together organizations like GenG, Team Brax, who later went on to become T1, and Sentinels. Even Shroud threw his hat in the ring and assembled a team for the pre-launch tournaments, only having minor success. In May, you could find any number of community tournaments streamed on Twitch, and while some cater to the top tier players and professional gamers, there was a heavy focus on community support and seeking out the hidden talent.
The game had its fair share of bugs before the 1.0 patch launch. Cypher’s cameras were being placed in crazy hiding spots that shouldn’t have been possible, and Jett could not be stopped when she had her daggers available. Riot even dared to add a new agent, Raze, to the game before it had released in full. Even with all of the bugs and glitches that players were finding, the game comes down to decision making and aim. The team play aspect of Valorant wasn’t there yet, and players like Matthew “Wardell” Yu, Tyson “TenZ” Ngo, and Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham could clutch out an entire series if need be.
Patch 1.0 and the full launch
Valorant Patch 1.0 was released on June 6 and looking back, June was a pivotal month for the tactical shooter. To kick off the launch patch notes were released that included a new agent, a new map, significant changes to Split, the game mode Spike Rush, and the rebalancing of five agents. There were 10 significant Valorant tournaments in one month, which was a catalyst for organizations like T1, TSM, and FaZe Clan to put together rosters to compete. Before long, the new IP was all the buzz in the esports community, and it was up to Riot to keep the hype up and support the growing competitive culture surrounding Valorant. The game has grown and evolved half thanks to Riot’s consistent patch updates and the community’s efforts to develop a meta early on.
— VALORANT (@PlayVALORANT) June 1, 2020
The idea of Valorant wasn’t compelling for many players, professional and casual. The CS: GO players weren’t a fan of the cartoony style and abilities. While Overwatch players had to adopt a more passive playstyle; for fear of being punished by an Operator in the arms of a Jett main. Once you play the game, something clicks. So far, all of the aspects of Valorant make sense and operate as intended; provding players with a hybrid tactical shooter experience. Since the official launch of Valorant, Riot has added three agents — Reyna, Killjoy, and Skye — and two new maps; Ascent and Icebox.
The design philosophy of Valorant hasn’t stayed true to the “abilities shouldn’t kill” slogan Riot prided themselves for early on. But the game is better off for it. Agent abilities are viewed the same as equipment from CS: GO; replacing molotovs with fireballs and grenades with more colorful grenades.
The growth of Valorant as an esport
The competitive scene surrounding Valorant has been phenomenal — at all levels of play. Thanks in part to Riot’s willingness to allow community tournaments to exist. In retrospect, Riot allowing community tournaments to take place let them monitor the esports scene; and determine what tournament formats work the best.
Nerd Street Gamers has been the most consistent organization to host competitions experimenting with the Best of 1 and Single Elimination series. (Which most players did not like.) On top of that, early on there were no predetermined tiers which teams fell into. So anyone had the potential to build an all-star roster and compete against the big dogs.
Some of the best teams in North American Valorant started as small teams; like mouseSpaz turning into TSM’s official roster, or Together We Are Terrific being signed to Team Envy. Valorant rapidly became infamous for poaching highly skilled players from the Overwatch League and CS: GO’s B-Tier teams.
The crowning jewel of Valorant Esports in 2020 was First Strike, Riot’s very own first-party tournament with a $100,000 prize pool. Along with the giants of North America and Europe, there was a total of seven regional finals. Including lesser recognized regions like CIS, Turkey, and Brazil. Nerd Street Gamers and UMG Gaming held the two Qualifiers that determined which eight teams would be moving on to compete in the NA Regional Finals. Everyone has their perspective on how the qualifier tournaments went. But overall, it allowed lesser-known teams to take on some of the giants in the region. North America is filled to the brim with top tier esport organizations. And more than a handful of teams who usually considered shoe-ins didn’t qualify for the Finals.
Teams like Moon Raccoons and Slimy Boogermen proved that on any given day an unknown squad can take down the giants. 100Thieves, TSM, Sentinels, Envy, FaZe Clan, Immortals, Renegades, and T1 all qualified for First Strike in North America. At the end of it all, 100Thieves came out on top. But the storylines and rivalries that have begun are promising.
Looking forward to the future of Valorant
— VALORANT Champions Tour (@ValorantEsports) November 24, 2020
The Champions Tour is a year-long tournament series which will finally pit teams from different regions against each other. Designed to find the best teams in each region, then bringing them together battle it out on a world stage. A format not dissimilar to Riot's League of Legends’ World Championship. Going into 2021 Riot is shaping up Valorant to grow into the same tournament format they've developed for League of Legends. A format they've refined for years to create one of the most-watched esports in the world. There is no lack of community support for Valorant. Between a steady presence on Twitch, consistent community tournaments, and continual support from Riot 2021 looks promising for the future of Valorant.