Valorant Rank System Explained – How MMR, Rank, & More Work

by in Valorant | Apr, 21st 2021

The ranking system is arguably the single most important part of any online competitive game. The “climb” is what keeps most of us coming back, at least after the initial learning process – that honeymoon phase of learning the fundamentals and mechanics. For most, that phase came and went back in the beta. Memories of daily Quickplay sessions in Overwatch’s beta and transitioning entirely to Competitive after Season 1 started come to mind for me. Now, with sick online events happening all around the world, and with LAN on the horizon, Valorant is starting to dig its roots deep into the esports soil, and so we’re seeing more emphasis than ever on Competitive play from Riot Games.

The “It All Starts Here” trailer dropped very recently, on April 12, and has already accumulated more than half a million views at the time of writing. A well-edited series of clips, old and new, come together to get us hyped up about hopping into the Competitive servers. Well… that’s what most of the clips do, except for the one at 0:12, the one of a friendly Sova killing himself with a shock dart. That’s too real. Well… and the one that goes “FIND YOUR PLACE” and then stops at Silver is too real too. And “ALWAYS BE CLIMBING” is certainly not the way most of us experience ranked Valorant play. More on that in a bit. Still, the trailer is undeniably sick, and got me to hop in Competitive servers more than once after watching it.

Competitive Online Play as an Extension of Esports

That trailer points to a renewed emphasis on Competitive that’s perfectly warranted after so many sick tournaments around the world have taken place in recent memory. After TenZ returned to Valorant esports and took the Stage 1 NA Masters title with the Sentinels, they experienced a shocking upset at the hands of Built By Gamers in Stage 2 Challengers 1. This leaves them just one chance left to qualify for the upcoming exclusive LAN event in Reykjavik, Iceland – the VCT Stage 2 Challengers 2. A shocking, but honestly inspiring, development. They’re mortal like the rest of us.

It’s hard to keep myself from blogging just about Sentinels, since they’ve taken up a huge portion of my Valorant consciousness recently. Instead, I’ll transition to a common phenomenon I think most of us have experienced in some game or another. The longer I watch pros play a game – whether it’s Valorant, Overwatch, Smash, Street Fighter, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Melty Blood, chess, or even football, disc golf, soccer, you name it – the more I get the urge to play that game myself.

IronIII, II, I
BronzeIII, II, I
SilverIII, II, I
GoldIII, II, I
PlatinumIII, II, I
DiamondIII, II, I
ImmortalIII, II, I
The ranks of Valorant

The Competitive / Ranked mode climb is there in part to capitalize on this vicarious urge gamers often get to play after watching. Whether you were just checking out a FlowAscending video on YouTube and want to try (and fail, if my experiences are anything to go by) whatever whacky wall boost shot he pulled off this time, or just caught the Grand Finals of a VCT event, I think more than a few of you can relate to the feeling of closing all of your browser tabs (have to maximize those frames per second!) and booting up the game after that video or stream ends. Watching is entertaining, but playing feels like the real deal.

And even if you weren’t just watching the pros show their stuff on YouTube or Twitch, the ranked climb is an extension of the esports scene. We play the same mode of the same game, and (at least try to) use many of the tactics we see our favorite players pulling off. Even if Competitive Valorant is just something you and some buddies do to relax after work, with little regard for winning or losing, there’s no doubt that sick plays get the adrenaline and dopamine pumping.

Ranked is one way how we show our love for a game when we’re not spectating, a way to get personally invested and involved with our favorite games. So, it’s of critical importance for the Competitive climb to be as non-disheartening and -frustrating as possible. In the immortal words of Reggie Fils-Aimé, “If it’s not fun, why bother?”

Hackers are some of the only people playing Competitive Valorant on easy mode… until they get banned, anyway. For the rest of us, we have to play an intense game where one mistake could mean instant death, and where we must rely on four other players. The struggle is even more real for people who usually solo queue.

And so, I think that particular change in Act III, the one which limited rank disparities in Competitive, was excellent. The feeling of getting stomped by one player on the enemy team who outclasses the other nine people in the server is a lot less common nowadays… discounting the occasional smurf.

But there is one thing about the changes in Act III, changes which still remain, that I’m not a fan of…. More on that later.

We’ve Come a Long Way Since the Beta

Valorant’s ranking system has already been through plenty of changes. Nowadays, we have Rank Rating, or RR, tangible points that let you know how close you are to ranking up or down. Before, there were just little post-game indications of moving up or down in the form of green or red arrows, respectively, usually depending on the game’s round count. And back before Act III, you could run into people six ranks away from you. In other words, a Silver 3 player could have been thrown into a majority Platinum 3 lobby. Yikes. And, to pre-fire some criticisms that may emerge of what I have to say even later on in this piece, yes – if that Silver 3 player really deserves a better rank, they could simply win the game, simply never miss a shot.

But that’s simply not the reality of online competitive gaming. I’m no longer a child who plays every game on Very Easy if possible, so that I can pretend that my character is the bestest guy to ever do it forever. I never lost a race in Lego Racers, never lost a match in Mario Tennis: Power Tour. Toddler me deluded myself into having a “sense of pride and accomplishment,” to quote EA’s marketing team, without ever feeling the sting of defeat that makes victory worth it. Don’t worry; I play From Software games now. And anyway, there’s no one to blame but yourself in single-player. Not so when your Sova’s only shock dart lineup goes into the wall an inch to his left.

MMR and Rank

For now, let’s talk about how the current system works. You may have seen an “Ask Valorant – Rank Rating Edition” link appear on the main menu of the game recently. Click that link, or this one, to be taken to an answer that apparently “will take you on the wrinkle brain highway.” Now, I took a poetry minor in college; I’m no stranger to some weird metaphors which don’t land for everyone. But… what? “The wrinkle brain highway” ????? I cannot get over this. The more I read it, the more I’m just like… “Huh?”

It seems a little arrogant to write something like that, especially when the system isn’t exactly “rocket surgery,” as an old teacher of mine used to say. The long of it is in that link. The shortest version is that Valorant’s Match Making Rating (MMR) is not the same as rank, but does affect RR gains and losses.

The slightly longer version, along with my analysis of Valorant’s Rank Rating and MMR system, is here. Rather than a direct correlation with one’s rank, the MMR is a “ladder, consisting of all players” – wins move you up and losses move you down, with everyone’s invisible MMR unique to only them. It’s rather similar to Elo in chess, named for Professor Arpad Elo, who I discussed back in my Skill-Based Matchmaking article. These systems work better in one-on-one games, but this MMR system is basically necessary for Valorant. Your Valorant MMR affects (and is affected by) your Unrated games, which is why the game has some idea of where to put you rank-wise even before you’ve queued up for (that account’s) first Competitive game.

You’ll be placed on the lower end of the MMR’s “Rank estimate” when you do finish your placement games. Supposedly – though this certainly wasn’t my experience in the current Act – you’ll start off earning more RR per win and losing less per loss. My experience was more like always losing more than I gained, perhaps because my MMR from Unrated games and such was higher after not playing Comp for a long while.

Now… the focus of the ranking system is entirely on winning and losing, as we saw in that Act III video. To quote game designer David Cole, “We want to bring back more competitive integrity to the queue, and get you focused on what matters most: winning.” As such, only wins and losses – with this system in which having an MMR higher than your rank will result in more punishing losses and less rewarding wins – are factored into the ranked climb or descent.


Winning Isn’t Everything

The YouTube comment “discourse” is already ringing in my ears. “Well, actually, the system is fair because there are people in Radiant in the current system.” Ugh. Look, yes, it’s true; there are people currently in the highest ranks. They’ve overcome the system and made it to the top of the ladder. Congratulations.

But the reality is, solo queue is a nightmare right now, especially in the lower ranks. They call it “Elo Hell” for a reason, you know. This is a state not unlike Sisyphus pushing his boulder up the hill over and over ad infinitum, or an endless hamster wheel. You’re damned to Elo Hell when you play ranked game after game after game, racking up a few wins and then losing all of the accrued virtual points with a single loss. It often makes one’s rank stagnate and enjoyment for the game wane. This waning of interest and enjoyment is a natural part of playing any game; if you’re not enjoying yourself after a while, no one will blame you for switching games or retiring from competitive play altogether.

However, a good ranked system can stem the tide of player falloff, can keep the climb interesting, can reward players for doing well, for playing their best, even when they lose. And without having to face players potentially six ranks higher than yourself, Valorant in Act III and beyond has allowed for a more linear progression out of Elo Hell, with fewer times in which a dominant player will ruin the experience for everyone else.

Especially in a game like Valorant, a player can “do well” without winning the match, something that keeps returning to my thoughts.  It really is true that there are players out there who are good enough to win often enough to climb out of Elo Hell, even by their lonesome. But that’s not most of us. The current system does work fine, especially for groups of players that queue together, but it could be better. Losing way more points with a loss than you gain with a win is a surefire way to make a salty, bitter, defeated player quickly hit alt+F4 and not touch the game again for a week or even longer. Not that I would know. I promise. I swear. Totally haven’t done that at all! This month.

How to carry a team to a loss. Feels bad : VALORANT
Sometimes you just can’t carry hard enough (credit to Reddit user Djjd267)

It’s in Riot’s best interest to counteract player fall off by way of Elo Hell condemnations. I understand that I’m an FPS scrub, but this is just a fact: anyone who uninstalls because the Ranked “climb” is more of a slog is, for the company, a potentially lost customer of gun skins.

The quote I transcribed from David Cole about winning being what matters most continues to echo in my thoughts. Winning “matters most,” sure; it’s the simplest and most provable metric of which team played better. But I ask, how do we get to the win? By letting go of thoughts about the win, and instead placing our characters in advantageous positions, using utility correctly, maximizing our team’s economy, and above all, shooting accurately. Conscious, inner screeching about the win or loss and how that will impact your rank is often a sure path to a loss, ironically enough. Letting go of the results, just playing, and just focusing on what you personally need to do to improve is what should be the path to the higher ranks.

The change that de-emphasized personal performance and laid all changes to one’s rank on The Altar of The Win (altered by MMR) has had a negative impact on my already negative perception of the Valorant ranking system. It’s just caused so much more mental strain about the games, which no longer are in my mind as just games, but rather as a potential WIN or LOSS, with corresponding RR gain or loss. Thinking about that nonsense is a great way to miss your shots.

Higher mental strain means a greater percentage of players feeling like souls condemned to toil forever in Elo Hell rather than feeling like competitors walking the way toward being the best they can be. I just think that this even-higher emphasis on win and loss in the game’s ranking system probably emerged from minds not accustomed to the strains of competition, to tournament nerves, to knowing that a tranquil mind focused on right action is the path to victory, not an obsession with winning at all costs.

A Ranked Anecdote and Some Potential Antidotes

Once, way back before the Act III changes went live, I was on a team that fell to a 4v5 early due to a disconnecting Raze. We soldiered on and went down 9-1. We then came back and won 13-10 while mostly playing attack on Bind – no small feat, if I may say so myself. I ended up being the top frag on my team after at one point bitterly taking to voice chat to beg my teammates to surrender. They kept me together, we came back, and I was thrilled that we got such an unlikely W. I hoped that such a performance would be worth a lot to the algorithm. I got one green bar, which was the smallest amount of rank gain possible back then. I slumped in my chair, defeated even after winning, my internal fireworks replaced by rainclouds.

Round count is one metric that could be used, but it’s not everything. It’s better than just the win or loss, in my opinion, but a truly great ranking system would be able to sniff out impressive feats like a 12-round comeback on Attack while down a player.

I think that there should be a more robust algorithm, one that accounts for not just the win, not just the round count, not just one’s K/D, not just these and assists. We already have indications of the value gleaned from abilities in post-round combat reports. This could be just one tool that goes into one’s RR changes from a game. The reality is, close games could go either way. It doesn’t seem fair to me that an Overtime win gives me and my teammates paltry amounts of RR while taking a ton away from the enemy… and obviously, the inverse really grinds my gears.

Rather, I think the rank system should be made more robust, more nuanced, more keenly aware of individual performances. It should be possible not to gain much, if any, RR when you do very little to contribute to your team’s victory. It should, I think, be possible to gain RR when you play out of your mind but still lose a tight match, especially if you’re down a player.

The MMR system in Valorant is totally fine. If my envisioned changes go live, I’m sure the MMR ladder would need tweaked too but would remain mostly the same. But this extra work shouldn’t stop Riot from making a more satisfying and less disheartening Rank ladder, one easier to climb and harder to fall down on. The “It All Starts Here” trailer linked in the intro would be more accurate and less taunting. In my opinion, one’s rank and MMR placement should be more about round-to-round skill and less about overall win-loss record. But of course, we live in a win-loss obsessed world. And the current system certainly makes sense, even if it doesn’t exactly take us on the… ah, “wrinkle brain highway.”

I just think that Riot should look into taking measures to counteract the feeling of eternal stagnation that we call Elo Hell. It would be a good business decision even if they don’t want to put in all the work to create a ranking algorithm that would be able to take account of complex, nuanced match storylines, player disconnects, value from utility, economy, positioning, timing, headshot percentages, quality and quantity of comms, etc., along with tweaking it so that even a well-played loss or poorly-played win don’t correspond to a loss or gain of RR, respectively. It’s certainly easier for them to do slight tweaks or just keep the ranking system as it is.

Whatever they end up doing to Valorant’s ranked ladder in the future, I hope this article was enlightening as to how the system currently works and sparked some thoughts in one direction or the other. At the very least, I hope Riot does end up making numerical tweaks to the current system, as they said they might in that Ask Valorant post. Maybe you’re a Radiant player who thinks I should just “git gud.” But I know at least a few of you agree that the Rank system need not directly correlate with the invisible Match Making Rating.


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