By Petar Vukobrat
March 25, 2020
There’s a very fascinating question in the air: can Valorant succeed in a world dominated by Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Overwatch? After all, these are legendary, renowned titles that have left a permanent mark not just on esports but on gaming as a whole. We could even go a step further and say that they’re an unavoidable part of pop culture.
Reaching that level of fame, recognition, and impact is quite a tall order.
Some might argue that these two titles have defined their genres and that there’s very little room for innovation. Riot Games, however, thinks otherwise. When you have such a big developer banking on an idea or concept, it’s impossible not to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, they’ve built League of Legends into the most popular and played game in the world. Obviously, they know what they’re doing.
So if they struck gold once — 10 years ago — there’s no reason why they couldn’t do it again, now that they’ve accumulated so much knowledge, experience and, frankly, wealth. If there was ever a gaming company that stood the chance of finding success by creating a product from the ground up, it has to be Riot. Now sure, some are doubting their credentials when it comes to first-person shooters and with good reason. Creating and maintaining a MOBA is one thing. Developing an FPS in a world overpopulated by many similar games is a completely different, much more complex endeavor. Despite this, Riot has managed to assemble a fantastic, highly experienced team that lives and breathes first-person shooters.
In other words, there was reason for optimism even before we saw any gameplay.
But months have passed since the day Riot gave us a quick glimpse at Project A (now officially known as Valorant). It’s becoming harder and harder to contain and tame our expectations. That also rings true for a good chunk of the gaming community. Some players are already aboard the hype train even though the game still hasn’t been released — they’re calling Valorant the “CS:GO/Overwatch killer.” That’s definitely a hyperbolic statement, but it might not be as outrageous as it might seem on first glance.
Any new title that has depth and offers anything unique has what it takes to grab the attention of millions of players across the globe. We’re all so fed up with the standard esports slew of games — the League of Legends, the Dotas, Fornites, and Rocket Leagues of the world. We all love and play them on a daily basis, but even the best games out there become repetitive and, at times, boring. We yearn for something new and unique. Whenever such a title is eventually released, the gaming community tends to latch on like it’s the next big thing.
It’s also fair to say that Overwatch, for example, isn’t all that exciting these days. The dev team at Blizzard, to their credit, is doing all that is in their power to make the game thrive and persevere, but many fans, players, and analysts feel like it’s on the decline. Almost five full years have passed since its release, and it’s just not growing much. For a game that still has a price tag, that’s a problem.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, on the other hand, has transcended its medium. It is now a permanent kind of thing — it’s not going anywhere any time soon, but it also caters to a specific kind of gamer (some might say “old school”). You have a gun, you point it, and if you aim better than your opponent you’ll win. Obviously, this is a gross oversimplification, but the point still stands. There are no contemporary bells and whistles.
Riot is trying to combine the best of both worlds with Valorant. The idea itself does make sense. Overwatch has many inherent problems — visual clarity, class balancing, a meta that always swings in the extreme, slow patch cycles, etc. It’s also more of a team-based MOBA (that just so happens to be an FPS), rather than a pure-blooded shooter. Richard Lewis perhaps explained it best in the following video.
Now sure, Valorant does carry over a bit of that innately flawed DNA, but it also improves on many aspects as well. So let’s focus on a couple of important differences.
Valorant is a team-based game but it’s also heavily reliant on aiming and mechanics. Let’s say you’re a top-tier Overwatch player who’s playing competitive. If you have a bad tank in your team, the chances of finding success are almost non-existent. You’re so tied to your teammates and their own individual skill that it feels like other players end up defining the odds. If someone’s not doing their job correctly (healing enough, peeling, shielding, dishing out damage, frontlining, etc.) then the whole team tends to crumble fairly quickly.
When things “click” in Overwatch, you feel like you’ve won the lottery. When it doesn’t, and this is much more often the case, you want to throw your computer out the window and sell your account.
Valorant is different. Riot is giving individual players more power. If you’re a mechanical deity, odds are, you’ll be able to hardcarry by yourself regardless of whom you’re playing with. Testers have also said that it’s more about pure gunplay, rather than who has which ability and when. Obviously, we’ve seen a lot of gameplay that shows otherwise, but it’s fair to assume that that’s just Riot showcasing what each hero is capable of, rather than the actual flow of a match.
Valorant also seems to be freed of the immense visual clutter that’s such a staple part of Overwatch. It’s not exactly as clean or simple as CS:GO, but it’s not overly complicated either. Hero abilities, even the most impactful ones, aren’t accompanied by a ton of VFX. That primarily stems from the art direction which leans more towards Team Fortress 2 rather than anything else. Overwatch is a beautiful game and is vibrant and brimming with life, but these qualities can quickly turn to weaknesses whenever those hectic six-on-six team fights break out. Which, to be fair, happens fairly quickly.
By having a more simple aesthetic, Riot can focus on what really matters: visual clarity. This one fact would make Valorant a much more accessible esport as well. When you watch the average Overwatch League game, it’s hard to discern what’s actually happening, regardless of the camera angle. Heck, you can play the game for years and still have trouble understanding what’s going on. Players clump up, everyone activates everything, and absolute chaos ensues. Now sure, competitive Overwatch is exciting, but it’s not easy to follow and that’s a big problem.
By the same token, with Valorant being an “aim-first” kind of game, there won’t be a huge learning curve. Have you ever played an FPS before? Great! You’ll know what to do from the very get-go. Learning what each hero does will obviously take a bit of time, but without precise aim and quick reaction time, you won’t get far.
With fewer variables, Riot won’t have as much trouble when it comes to balancing Valorant as Blizzard does with Overwatch. Buffing and nerfing guns and abilities should be a fairly straight-forward process. Seeing how Riot has the tendency to ship patches on a bi-weekly basis (at least in League’s case), one can assume that they’ll be quick to react with Valorant as well.
In many ways, this one game is their next truly big release. Legends of Runeterra, for example, is a smaller project that didn’t have to make much of a splash. Valorant, on the other hand, has been in development for quite a long while and is much more important than any title Riot announced during their 10th-anniversary broadcast, at least for the foreseeable future.
This is an important one. To enjoy Valorant at its best, you need hardware that’s half a decade old. Heck, you can be fairly competitive on an ancient laptop as well. Valorant system requirements are what low-spec gamers dream of. By making their game as accessible as humanly possible, Riot is making sure that anyone can participate and play.
Don’t be overly surprised if Valorant breaks multiple records upon release.
Yet another fantastic decision that’ll pay off almost immediately. By being completely free, anyone can simply download and try the game out. It’s not pay-to-win, it’s not hidden behind a paywall or any convoluted client which you have to download (and update) separately — it’ll be as user-friendly as possible, much like League of Legends. Riot knows what they’re doing. While they’re never the first to do something, they’re definitely insanely successful when it comes to shipping a competitive product — which often ends up being an improved and refined version of the original concept, like Teamfight Tactics.
Valorant is marketed as a more competitive, mechanically-intensive Overwatch that doesn’t have any of its baggage. It’s also completely free and will run on basically any working computer out there in the world. What’s not to like? Now sure, you might not be a fan of its art style, but if the gameplay is exciting and addictive, you’ll get over it fairly quickly.
So, can Valorant succeed in a world dominated by CS:GO and Overwatch? Absolutely. Riot wouldn’t simply go for another imitation but has rather realized that there’s still an unexploited niche. Even if Valorant doesn’t end up being a revolution of sorts, it’s still bound to become a success. Riot isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here. Instead, they took many proven concepts and have shaved off the unnecessary fat. They wouldn’t risk much — they’re not that kind of company. Instead, they’re all about refinement.
It also seems like they’re making all the right moves in order to evade the fate of Heroes of the Storm. The perfectly well-designed game released far too late and offered far too little when compared to its competitors.
To summarize, Valorant should be more than strong enough to stand on its own upon release. Summer of 2020 can’t come soon enough!