Valorant Premier Caster Simo Talks the State of the Scene, Meta, and More
Valorant has taken off to an explosive start on Twitch, taking home the top slot in viewership for the past month and more. As a part of that, we’ve been witnessing the birth of a brand new esports scene run by organizations like ESPN, and teams like T1, G2 Esports, and others.
As part of that explosion, new voices have risen to the task of providing play-by-play and analysis, and one of those new stars has been Canadian David “SIMO” Rabinovitch. He is a caster and host in many titles but seemingly has only gained notoriety on TikTok and Twitter recently with his expansion into Riot’s hit new shooter. He was one of the casters for the ESPN Invitational as well as many other smaller Valorant tournaments.
Esports Talk sat down with Simo to discuss the Valorant scene thus far, whether contracts for the amounts being thrown around so far are justified, the metagame, and his career leading up to the launch of Riot’s Valorant.
Can you tell me a little bit about your career before Valorant and how you transitioned?
I’ve kind of been all over the place in terms of esports careers. I’ve written articles, I’ve produced videos, I’ve done casting work, I’ve done hosting work. I’ve been in a lot of different places. I’ve been casting League for five years, not to the scale where I’m on official Riot broadcasts, but a lot of the amateur stuff that happens in North America. Pretty much right out of university, I started work at a college in Ontario, St. Claire College where I teach esports broadcasting.
I’ve always had that itch to shoutcast obviously as I’ve been doing it for five years in League of Legends. For me, it’s always going to be about telling stories, cracking jokes, providing the style of commentary I do. For me Valorant was an experiment, several months prior, I wanted to see how big I could grow on TikTok. I just grinded it out and got about 20k followers because I just kept grinding, and when Valorant came out, I really liked the game, and I’ve always liked Riot’s games: League, TFT, Runeterra, you name it, I was into it. So, when Riot revealed Valorant through the Agent clips, I just started casting over them because I’ve got nothing better to do, and Riot hadn’t revealed much gameplay footage yet. It ended up being a really good idea.
What did you learn from doing those early agent videos?
Funny enough, I brought a lot of experience over from doing TikTok videos. All I would do over there is cast over random clips, from Siege to Rocket League, to CS:GO, to Overcooked 2, just the most random stuff. Bringing that experience over to Valorant, it would just be okay, here’s a pre-recorded clip, how do I make it sound good, etc.
Once I started casting live gameplay that’s when the clips started to get a lot better because then I understood the flow of the game. When I was just doing the clips before it was just doing it blind and doing what I think was right, and adjust when the live gameplay drops.
Have there been any challenges in commentating Valorant so far?
The observing client still needs a lot of work, but I think Riot knows that. They’ve been prodded enough by the community with requests for this, that, and the other thing. What people need to remember though is that this is still a closed beta. If we get to release and things are still like this then we have problems. But at this point right now, it’s not really that big of a deal. Like, Brazil and Korea just now got access, there’s still a lot of regions that don’t even have the game, so there’s still a lot of feedback that they’re getting and they’re trying to implement it as fast as possible.
Also, Riot’s not like, paying me to talk lovingly about the game, I just think that people are way too hard on it for being a closed beta.
What are your thoughts on the current metagame?
This is based on what I’ve heard and seen from different pros. A lot of people seem to think that it’s not really the meta that’s stale, it’s maybe more so the map design. Personally, as a caster, it’s not something that you really – it’s more that you just love casting high paced action, good macro-level gameplay, and a lot of times teams will provide that at the highest level. But as a competitive player, people have felt that the maps feel very rigid, there aren’t too many large sight angles.
So, if you take a look at Mirage from CS:GO, for example, there’s so much space. You can just get so many sightlines into the sight, and your post/plant positions feel good. But in terms of Agent meta, I feel like we’re in for an Agent reveal soon, possibly on an upcoming Thursday, as they are currently out of Agent clips to show off. I think the next Agent being revealed will shake up the meta. There’s been a couple of data miners that have found some vampire clips, some vampire voice clips, I don’t know if that’s going to be a counter to Sage or not. I think they’re doing the correct thing overall though, nerfing Agents that see too much play, and the addition of new Agents will make things a little bit more interesting.
If you take a look at a game like Rainbow Six: Siege, they are constantly adding new Agents, and they are also a hero based tactical shooter, in a way. Same with Apex, they are constantly adding new Legends. Same should apply for Valorant. The meta right now might be stale, but once more Agents get revealed and added, we will see different compositions adapt.
How do you think Riot should approach adding new Agents to the game? Do you think it should be a constant thing, or rarer, or semiannually?
I think a good metric for them to set early on is how many Agents do they think are too many Agents? If they feel 20 is too many, then they can’t do three or four a year, because they’ll get to 20 really quickly. But you have to balance that against the community always wanting more. Even now, you’re hearing outcry for a better observing client, you’re hearing about new maps, new Agents being requested. People constantly want more and more. But I think for Riot, this game isn’t about the Agents, it’s about the gunplay, the Agents just add to the strategy. They all have smokes, they’ve got different utility pieces, so the addition of Agents should almost in theory not matter as much. It shouldn’t matter if there’s five or if there is one, at the end of the day the guns will remain the same, the strategies will essentially remain the same. But it’s up to Riot to figure out innovative ways to add new Agents without it feeling like it’s too much too fast.
An issue that Overwatch had when they started adding new heroes was an issue of Power Creep. It seems like every new Hero had more and more broken abilities that were out of left field that they didn’t fit in the game. How do you think Riot can avoid this with new Valorant Agents?
I think for one thing it’s standardizing what each agent should carry, on a power scale. Each agent should either have a smoke, a flashbang, a molotov, and that’s something that should be consistent throughout each kit. Imagine if Omen wasn’t released and he was the next hero to come out. It’s a perfect Agent, they’re adding a new utility in that he can teleport across the map and teleport to different locations, but he’s not the only agent that can access those spots, Raze and Jett can also do it with their mobility items. So, you’re either adding pieces that already exist, but you’re also adding them in a new way.
If their next Agent had something where all four abilities could resurrect allies, for example, that’s when we have a problem. But I think standardizing what each character can have will make people feel a little bit better about it. For instance, there’s only one heal character right now, theory probably goes that the next agent has some form of healing as well to balance it out. If they want to add the variety, that means standardizing what each agent is able to do, so you’ll start eventually seeing some diversification in what each new agent is carrying. You might see an Agent that has a heal and a smoke, it’ll just be varying combinations of what they want Agents to mimic from the utility from a game like Counter-Strike.
Is there anything from any other games you cover that you wish Valorant would implement?
That’s an interesting question because I feel like Valorant in itself is it’s got its own feel. If I added anything from a different game it would make it more like that game. For example, if we added drones from R6 Siege at every round that you could scout out your opponent with, it would make it feel like Siege. I think Valorant is on the right track, there isn’t anything that I’m missing too much. For me, it would actually be to not add too much from other games. I don’t want to see Valorant dive into abilities and utility from Overwatch, let’s say. I like the game where it’s at right now, I don’t want to see Shields with Orisas and Reinhardts, etc running around.
Let’s move into the state of the Valorant scene itself. What do you think about the scene right now and where do you see it going a year from now?
The scene right now is a lot of invitationals. A lot of teams and people trying to capitalize on the hype. It’s in such a weird place right now. You have all these different organizations, teams, so many different players that are hosting their own tournaments. You have standard event organizers like ESPN, for example, expanding because of the pandemic and trying to get content out. And then you have all these people who were involved in CS:GO event hosting and they’re starting their own Valorant tournaments. Then you have all these teams that are trying to run their own Valorant tournaments to gain marketing value. Valorant’s all the rage right now, but imagine if Fortnite was released tomorrow, G2 would be running Fortnite tournaments. These teams are just trying to increase their marketing efforts and what better way to do that than all the buzz and hype surrounding Valorant. So, then you have all these tournaments, teams are trying to find the perfect mix of players and influencers. And a lot of times they hit both with one, like with Shroud for instance. Used to be a pro player, now he’s an influencer, he’s kind of a bit of both because he’s got that pro player status because he’s just good at video games, but he’s also an influencer with a large audience.
So, you’ve got all these tournaments that aren’t really showing the best of the best quality of Valorant gameplay. Most Grand Finals, yes, but the lower brackets are just stomps. Absolutely abysmal to watch. 13-1, 13-2, 13-3, just these good players that have grinded the game just stomping on influencer/pro player blends. Montecristo said this best, he’s waiting for when the game finally stabilizes and we’re only seeing pro players touch the game, and influencers are where they should be: influencing, playing the game for fun on ranked. That way the tournaments are for the best of the best. We’re not there yet, the scene isn’t ready for that yet. But again, closed beta. So, we’re still building an actual scene. Once the game releases, my personal thing to watch is when is Riot going go get their first involvement? When is Riot going to say “We’re running a tournament that’s ours, with our branding, and it’s going to be our talent and our event organizers.” I know that they want to grow it from a grassroots level, but right now the grassroots scene is not really upholding the best level of competition.
A year from now, it’s difficult to say, it’s either going to be a huge success or it’s going to hit the Overwatch roadblock. Overwatch started off hot, a lot of CS:GO players hopped over because they thought it was going to be their new salary and all this, and it was great until franchising came along, or even before that. The game just seemed to hit a big speed bump for these transitioning players. I think Valorant is going about it the right way and letting people create their own events and people create their own content, I think that’s very key. They’re not forcing it down anyone’s throats, they’re letting it grow organically, it’s honestly going to be a wait and see what Riot does for their first tournament. That will decide how impactful the game will be in the year from now.
Even Valve, for all their hands-off nature, still runs The International in Dota 2 and the Majors in CS:GO. Same with Riot. They may have grassroots League of Legends tournaments but they don’t let it anywhere near their holy grail, regional leagues, like LCS, LCK, LPL, their big kahunas. I’m waiting for that big tidal wave from them because that’s going to be the big signifier of a standard moving forward. Riot is very protective over how tournaments look and feel and they want to make sure everyone follows the rules. It’s still fun, it’s still exciting, they just want to make sure the biggest tournament is still theirs.
What do you think of the hands-off approach that Riot is taking so far, do you think it’s right to let the third parties build the scene then potentially come in and take it over later?
I think it is, at the end of the day, if they were to force feed everyone Valorant and shove it down people’s throats it might not end well. Right now you’re seeing that happen in the Overwatch League, where the developers are trying to figure out the best way to encourage competitive play. And they’re really struggling, you’re seeing pro players announce their departure announce their retirement. They’re not happy with the state of the game, they’re not happy with the scene. That’s very scary for someone like Blizzard.
But from the side of Riot, if they started out calling all the shots and people don’t feel like they have control over how the game is played, or how the game feels, or things like that, it’s very important that Riot feels like the growth of the scene and game feels natural. The only way it’s going to feel natural is to allow everyone else to do what they want with the game. If things go too crazy, I’m sure they will reign it all back in but at the time it feels like the smartest move to let the third parties grow it and see how big things can get.
Do you think that there’s going to come a point where Valorant explodes and remains the most popular game on Twitch, and organizers like ESL and Dreamhack are running their own events or leagues? When do you think Riot steps in and reclaims the scene for their own?
It’s possible, I’m not saying they will or won’t, and the reason I’m saying that is because before back in the day, League of Legends used to have an IEM, and ESL used to be involved, along with others like MLG, but then Riot kind of pushed them to the side. However, they have allowed them back in at arm’s reach, so I think Riot doesn’t want to be like, no one can do anything, they want people involved, they want tournaments to happen. They want their community to be as big as possible. The only way for it to be big as possible is to let third parties be involved. I think it might just be if those parties are involved, they will keep them at arm’s reach. I think that’s the best way for Riot to go about it.
Do you think that Valorant will eventually move to franchising? Would it even be healthy for it to do so?
I feel like the answer is yes, but I think that there is a lot to be desired from franchising in general, across the board. I think League’s done it pretty well – it may be weird to say this, but the LCS and LEC compete with each other for marketing, they compete with each other for viewership, because at the end of the day, they are different products with different people running those products. In a funny way, Riot’s competing with themselves in that regard. When it comes to franchising, in other companies like Blizzard, they haven’t really made franchising work. It costs a lot of money to enter and not a lot of people have seen their return yet.
While it does work for Riot and Blizzard is trying to figure it out, Rocket League is getting close to that point too now, and R6: Siege is there too, everyone is still trying to figure it out. So, even if I say yes, Valorant should be franchised, people are still trying to figure it out the best they can. For example, you don’t see CS:GO with a franchising league, aside from Flashpoint, and the jury’s still out on whether that has been a success or not.
For CS:GO, it’s been around for so long and has such a proven track record of growing a small community, it feels like Starcraft in some regard, in that it’s been around for so long and gone through so many iterations of the game. It’s kept the scene pretty healthy because there’s actually a tier 1, tier 2, tier 3, and even a tier 4 scene, so there’s a lot of ways to get into CS:GO. I think Valorant is going to want to be at that level as well, and avoid the mistake of gutting an amateur like League of Legends did. League, if you aren’t already established, there’s just not enough space in their tiers to support a mass amount of players trying to move up. They’ve got tier 1, they’ve got tier 2, and it sort of stops there. CS:GO, it goes a lot deeper and you can feel yourself growing and getting better as you move between the tiers. I think that’s what Valorant could want, but they could also just default to what League of Legends has done and make it possible for only a tier 1 and 2 experience, but I think CS:GO’s got it in a really good spot.
The current rosters that teams are fielding in Valorant feel like they are very much a work in progress. What do you think about them, and are there any trends emerging yet?
The most obvious trend is that players from CS:GO are making the jump to Valorant. It is a pretty direct representation of their game, in a way. A lot of the little things that are involved in Valorant feel very similar to CS:GO, the weaponry, the utility usage. When it comes to anything outside of CS:GO, it doesn’t surprise me that there’s an even amount from a lot of different games hopping over. People from Apex, people from Overwatch hopping over, that sort of thing. But I think the most common theme is that players are looking for a redemption arc, similar to what they were looking for when they jumped to Overwatch.
If they don’t succeed, they’ll go back to the game that they were in before they made the jump to Valorant. So, even if we were to see another shooter in a year from now, I think the same thing would happen, it’s always that common “new game, new opportunity to make some money,” kind of mentality. I think that’s also, unfortunately, the case for some broadcast talent, right? Not a lot of CS:GO tournaments happening right now, I’m gonna make a quick buck casting this event, that event.
In general, it feels like Valorant is a gold rush, and everyone is trying to get in and be solidified. But you can’t be solidified in a month, there’s no way. It’s just impossible. There are a few people that have started to solidify, like Brax for example, he was the first-ever player. You can’t deny the first player to be signed in a game, no one can ever take that away from him. The first player to reach Immortal, C9 Tenz, you’ll never be able to take that away either. But a year from now, two years from now, it’s not going to matter.
Have there been any players from a game that have adapted better than you initially expected?
I think Apex Legends has brought over a lot of players. I don’t really keep an eye on that scene as much, I know it’s fast-paced, but I didn’t know how skilled they were going to be. I don’t really watch their events, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s surprising to see someone like Mendo transition over to the game and be good at it.
Using the ESPN Invitational, Team Canyon, which was full of Apex players, beat out the team full of CS:GO players., and the team with CS:GO had been playing in all the invitationals together up till that point. They already had synergy, callouts, momentum, the works. And then here comes an Apex Legends team and they just crush. I think, not only Apex but a lot of different Battle Royale players, I think you’d be surprised, they’re a lot better than people are giving them credit for. It’s easy to meme on Fortnite, but there are some really good players coming out of that woodwork.
There are surely a lot of players coming from other titles, but have you noticed anyone rising through the ranks that started specifically in Valorant yet?
Personally, I think there are in some ways way too many players out and about right now. It’s very difficult to keep an eye on everyone. I have to give a lot of credit to Team High Ground, a team of Battle Royale players. I think a lot of people should give them a little more credit, I think they’re really good. They’ve been competing in a lot of the invitationals and smaller tournaments, and they’ll usually place top 4, and people rag on them for “aimbotting” but they’re just good at the game. Why would a team, coming from a game where they already have a professional salary, cheat in a new game? They would get dropped immediately, some of them being signed to professional battle royale teams.
In regards to players that are not coming from any FPS, that are brand new, those types of players haven’t really appeared yet. I think it’s going to be a year or two that that level of player comes through. A lot of these players coming in from CS:GO or from Battle Royale games, have experience shooting and playing a shooter no matter how you slice it. It will be a while before we see our next Faker that organically grew from the game.
Do you think players are jumping the gun by announcing their departure from their native games, rather than just playing in tournaments and playing the game?
I think the gold rush that I mentioned before, not a lot of people have been making a living yet. I’d be mighty interested to see how much people are making with their jump over. I’ve heard that some of the salaries are ridiculous for a game that isn’t even out yet. They’re still getting paid and signed, it’s kind of crazy, they’re investing that much into a scene that’s not established yet. It’s an incredibly high risk to invest in the scene before anything’s established.
Theoretically, let’s take Sinatraa – he’s an Overwatch pro, but he’s done everything he can do in that title. He’s a really decorated player. Leaves the SF Shock, and gets signed to the Sentinels to play competitive Valorant. In theory, he would have higher odds jumping to any other esport that’s already established. Because they already have a proven track record and economy established. He could see the value of any team he’s joining and have a baseline of what he could get. But if you jump to Valorant, I don’t know what his number was, but let’s say it was 200k. If, in May 2021, the Valorant scene is dead because the grassroots thing didn’t work and RIot didn’t grab the reins in time, that 200k is gone. Now he can’t go back to Overwatch because he’ll be seen as the guy who left, there’s just a lot of risk here to make the jump. I appreciate the courage that it takes to make that jump but at the end of the day, you just don’t know.
Unless Riot has been talking to these teams and players about their eventual plans and that’s selling people on the concept, it just doesn’t make sense risk-wise.
The thing about League is that they have an established scene, and the viewership warrants the salaries that people get. Huni got signed for Dignitas for $2 million, but that’s because it’s warranted. They have a scene, they think they can go far with him, they thought he would make them money and also had the influencer status to go with that pro playership, so teams can afford that. But right now the scene doesn’t have money that people can just make off of winnings, there’s no million-dollar prize pool tournament waiting to pop up. The tournaments aren’t even in the hundreds of thousands yet. There’s a lot of factors that we probably don’t know yet, but for now, it’s a huge risk, even if they’re basing it off League’s model and assumption that Riot will move that way with Valorant as well.
Have you heard of any ridiculous contracts in Valorant so far, money-wise?
I haven’t heard of a lot yet, but I have heard that the Sentinels are being paid a lot of money. The idea of a contract there might be a little ridiculous. I haven’t heard a lot about T1, in terms of how well they’re being paid and what they’re looking to build there, I don’t know what their contracts look like, and I have heard, following up on ESPN’s annual report that talked about Sinatraa’s announcement, but it seems like these contracts are a ridiculous amount compared to the state of the game right now. Which is grassroots, people are just trying to get tournaments running.
What would you tell a fan about Valorant esports and why they should be watching this early on?
I think Valorant takes a lot of things from other games. It almost feels like Riot took someone else’s homework, copied it and just made it better in the process. Valorant feels like it has a lot of elements from other games like you can see the droning on Sova from Siege, you can see the gunplay form CS:GO, you can see the resurrection and healing abilities from Overwatch if you wanna make that comparison, they took the best parts of every shooter.
But in reality, what Riot does best is tell stories. And they tell stories through their games. If you like shooting games, Riot has finally developed their first FPS and it tells a really great story. The Agents have a lot of depth, the maps are beautiful, they’re well designed. I’m excited to see what else they have – they have a lot of great pieces. If there’s anything we learned from League, is that Riot loves to tell stories, and a shooter with that level of storytelling with more content to be pumped out, I just can’t wait to see what else is coming.
In terms of competitive Valorant, it’s always impressive seeing someone get five kills back to back to back, there’s nothing that beats adrenaline rush. If you like that from CS:GO or Apex, then Valorant is the place to be for that as well.