Valorant vs CSGO – Competition and Coexistence
Although Valorant has introduced some much-needed competition and a breath of fresh air to the tactical shooter genre, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive isn’t going anywhere. According to Stream Charts, the latter game still routinely has around 800,000 players on its servers. The moniker “dead game” gets thrown around often on internet forums, but it’s clear from that statistic alone that CSGO is still very much alive. Riot is a bit more secretive when it comes to their player counts, but it’s almost certainly in the millions.
Even as Valorant has pulled away some online players & spectators as well as several big names from Counter-Strike, like Skadoodle, TenZ, Scream, Dapr, Hiko, and others, CSGO will likely continue to thrive for years to come. As Dapr says in this vod, it’s unlikely that more CS pros are going to switch now that Valorant has been out for a while. Valorant does borrow a lot of gameplay concepts from Counter-Strike, going so far as to name the one-shot sniper rifle the Operator, almost always abbreviated to be pronounced the same way as the older game’s AWP. And though some skills carry over, the two games have several key differences.
The first that come to mind are map design, distribution and variety of utility, the 200-credit reward for kills as opposed to CSGO’s varied rewards based on the weapon used, and the single gun pool used by Valorant’s Attackers and Defenders. Other differences will be analyzed below. Now, the discussion about the two games is often framed in terms of “CSGO vs Valorant,” but though I can’t speak for everyone, I still play and enjoy both games. I have faith that amicable inter-community relationships and ample crossover of both players and spectators are possible. That said, this article will be comparing and contrasting the two titles, and this means that some value judgments are going to be made. They’re just my opinions, but I’ll try to back them up with facts.
The CSGO vs Valorant Debate: Game Appeal
To start, I think a core fact to consider in the that Valorant vs CSGO debate is the greater accessibility of the former, given the latter game’s depth, established metagame, and resulting brutal difficulty for newer players. Valorant nails it on the accessibility front. Its abilities remain complex enough to be fun to learn and difficult to master, but often distill difficult maneuvers in CS down to single button presses. For example, Brimstone and Omen can place their smokes pretty much anywhere they want, with no lineups or geometry degree necessary. “Running and gunning” and especially walking and shooting are also much more viable in Valorant vs CSGO. This has led some players to bind Walk and Primary Fire to the same button so they can move and shoot accurately without even having to hold Shift. Many members of the old CS guard are not particularly happy about the viability of moving and shooting in Valorant, but this mechanic will allow fans of Overwatch, Call of Duty, Halo, and the like to more easily pick up Riot’s new game. Which 5v5 game these are points in favor of is up to personal preference.
For diehard CSGO fans, the complexity and depth offered by its mechanics and the possible setups that emerge are parts of what keep them coming back to Valve’s tactical title. Still, it seems like new lineups are found every day in Valorant, and strategies continue to be refined as the metagame forms and reforms. CSGO offers even more depth and an arguably tighter engine, but Valorant feels great to play, too. Its skill ceiling is still quite high, just with the accessibility to bring tactical shooters to audiences previously perhaps disinterested in them. I know from personal experience that trying to learn CSGO’s movement and recoil mechanics, even in 2015, seemed like Herculean tasks, and so I was relegated mostly to the role of spectator.
That was the case until the run-up to Valorant’s release, when I decided to get back into Counter-Strike as a means of preparation. I found a game with a mountainous metagame, one I’m unlikely to climb very high but whose beauty I can appreciate from its base (the Silver ranks) or from afar (the vistas of Twitch and YouTube). The sheer volume of content already produced by CSGO players, fans, analysts, etc. means that there are hours upon hours of possible exploration to be done… but also that it’s a more difficult scene to break into as a new content creator. Valorant has novelty, meaning that there’s less hallowed history but more room for newcomers to make a name for themselves.
Accessibility is a fine line to walk as too much “dumbing down” will shoo the fiercest competitors away. I do think that Valorant manages to walk that tightrope for now. The possibilities of new agents, maps, or general patches leave this balance subject to change, but these changes are more likely to add depth than remove it. That said, I come from the mostly-unpatched Super Smash Bros. Melee, where “game-breaking” physics exploits and “bugs” are the bread and butter of the competitive scene, essential components of the metagame that make Melee still fun to play all these years after its release. This personal history with one of esports’ ancient treasures led me to be surprised when I saw people clamoring for the removal of certain exploits like the “Viper Boost”. This was certainly unintentional and a little overpowered, but was fun enough to use, helpful enough to one of the worst agents in the game, and interesting enough while still having counterplay that I was sad when it got patched out.
Valve has made similar patches, though, like when they removed the Body Wallbang spot from Cache (seen below). The pursuit of depth isn’t everything when it comes to making a competitive game, especially when the best strategies go far beyond developer intentions, and I understand that most people are much more on board than I am to break out the patches. Still, this shows that both games’ balance teams will remove or tweak things deemed unfair (though Valve is usually much slower to do so, as I’ll touch on later). The developers do so in the names of accessibility and balance, and these changes are unlikely to drive off many players. That patch certainly isn’t what has kept me from playing Viper.
My feelings about gameplay and patches aside, an important note is that Valorant is much more appealing to sponsors. In the past, CSGO has struggled to find sponsors eager to climb aboard a title about terrorist attacks and military police counter-terrorism. Valorant’s more vibrant and family-friendly art style (about as family-friendly as you can get with a T for Teen rating on a game about shooting people to death) is sure to attract a wider pool of sponsors. As we all know, sponsors are a key piece of any esports scene – they ensure the players, casters, camera crew, editors, and everyone else involved in the industry gets paid. Valorant’s designations of “Attackers” and “Defenders” also more clearly show the average spectator which team is doing what. Even though the history behind Counter-Strike’s team names goes back two decades at this point, the fact that those names are “Terrorists” and “Counter-Terrorists” is a factor in terms of marketability, and I think a point in favor of the new competition.
I think that the biggest factor going for Riot’s shooter in the CSGO vs Valorant debate is its sheer personality. This comes through in that vibrant art style and the game’s detailed, highly individualized characters. Granted, we know even less about the world of Valorant than we did about Overwatch, but it’s nice to have a little more context for our virtual shooting than “good guys vs. bad guys,” even if that’s just something vague about… uh… Radiant…ite? Anyway, CSGO only recently introduced named characters, and a majority of players are still going to be using the CTs and Ts local to each map. This translates to most games of CSGO featuring teams of mostly identical character models distinguishable only in the individual player’s skillsets and decisions.
Over in Valorant, the agents are all unique, offering their own sets of looks, abilities, backstories, and personalities. As gaming shifts toward becoming less and less of a “boys’ club,” the inclusion of multiple female characters is a huge positive in favor of Valorant. Anecdotally, I’ve also noticed less toxicity directed toward so-called “gamer girls” in Valorant’s voice chat than I have in CSGO’s. That’s not to say Valorant’s community is all sunshine and Pride rainbows, of course. There’s always more to be done in the realm of representation, and there’s still plenty of racism, sexism, and queerphobia in both titles’ playerbases, like in any gaming community. Also, Valorant’s report system is still a simple checkmark that seems unlikely to lead to any penalty. At any rate, the agents themselves are a breath of fresh air, and playing with friends will likely be a better time than solo queue in any game, for anyone, most especially for those in marginalized demographics.
Returning us to the game itself, another key aspect of Valorant’s personality is the extensive inter-character interaction through voice lines. Depending on teammates, the agents might speak more to each other in-game than the team does in voice chat. The agents have voice lines for all sorts of situations. There are lines for surviving a round with low HP, killing the enemy MVP, landing headshots, and the different types of round win, like Flawless, Clutch, Thrifty, and Ace. A random agent will even deliver lightly humorous but useful reminders to grab the Spike if it was left behind.
Several lines also offer intriguing insights into the characters’ backstories, like Cypher’s statement that “I must survive to protect my family. I can’t lose them… I can’t feel that pain again” or Omen’s reaction to seeing another of him on the other team: “How many times did I get ripped apart? How many times did I die?” Some lines give insights into basic strategy, like the newest agent and defensive specialist Killjoy saying during the Buy Phase that “I can hold an area pretty well myself; make sure to cover the angles I can’t.” That line probably won’t stop your team’s Jett from dashing into B Garage and dying as the round starts even though an Alarm Bot is sitting just outside the entrance to site, but at least Killjoy tries to tell her off. Other lines offer brief interactions between the agents. My personal favorite of these is when Cypher tells a speechless Breach, “Breach! Breach! I took a servo from your arms for my tripwire. Don’t be angry. Breach…”
Though CSGO also offers voice lines, they’re mostly for players without mics to communicate. This is still an effect of Valorant’s “Radio Commands Menu,” but Valorant features more chances to be expressive or to use the characters’ voices to carry on pseudo-conversations. For example, Raze is my least favorite agent to play as or against, and so when she asks if the team can celebrate her equipment not malfunctioning yet, I always line my crosshair up with her head, open up the Social menu, and then hit her with a big, fat, “No.” Just a fun little quip made possible thanks to the characters of Valorant and their excellent voice acting.
The system for delivering voice lines isn’t always perfect – on more than one occasion, I’ve heard Brimstone express his relief to finally be off the ropes in round two, and there aren’t lines for winning or losing by time running out, leading to odd situations where someone might say “Five dead” when there are not, in fact, five people dead. Still, when considering the merits of CSGO vs that of Valorant, the personality characters bring to the table is one facet of game design where it blows CSGO out of the water. Hearing Jett call the last living member of the enemy team a “little shit” as your last bullet tears through their skull adds another layer of satisfaction to the experience.
Hearing the kill sounds ramp up from one to the next leads to a simultaneous increase in hype, and I certainly prefer that to CS’s only indications of me scoring a kill being the opponent rag-dolling and a little red rectangle in the kill feed. Hearing Valorant’s fifth musical crescendo and your character’s unique lines for getting an Ace are the punctuation marks for pulling off those sick plays. And Sova’s reassurance that “there are other ways” besides aim “to be useful” to the team are welcome to the ears of newbies, people having off days, and players who routinely end rounds with all their utility still in their pockets. Some may think this is casual stuff, but there’s more to making a great game than mechanics alone. Sound design (wonky, difficult-to-pinpoint footsteps notwithstanding) is one of the factors that leads me to boot up Valorant more often than CSGO.
The way the respective developers interact with their game’s community is another area of the CSGO vs Valorant arena where I think Riot has Valve beaten and, interestingly, where Riot’s Valorant division has thus far edged out its League dev team. Members of the CSGO community have often felt like early humans living in fear of powerful deities since Valve’s patches have not always been timely or reasonable. Every longtime CSGO player remembers the hellish release of the R8 Revolver, the infamous Aug Week, and various broken metagames besides. Valorant’s release will hopefully push Valve down from Olympus and back into the mortal realm, where more frequent updates can be expected in light of the new competition. Valorant’s team has been quite open with the community, receptive to feedback, and surprisingly even banned Killjoy in tournament play for a brief stint after her release – an unexpected move from the company that seems to add a new overpowered champion to League just in time for Worlds every year.
Overall, the future of tactical shooters looks bright. Both of the free-to-play shooters featured in this article have tons of players and spectators, make bank from their premium cosmetics (though this is not to say I’m a fan of virtual gambling or an almost THREE HUNDRED DOLLAR price tag for a full bundle of weapon skins), and offer countless hours of fun, intense competition. Though it now has fewer players than its newest competitor, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is still going strong all these years after its release, due to its storied history, tight gameplay, and extensive depth. Valorant’s presence and prevalence will hopefully push Valve to temper its game into an even better competitive title.
Valorant, as the shiny and new hotness, is making waves in the FPS and broader esports scenes. With its style, personality, and polish, it more closely aligns with the interests of the gaming market in 2020 for everyone from players to spectators to sponsors. Talented players from Overwatch (like Sinatraa) to Smash (like Mang0) are now showing their stuff in Valorant. Unlike fighting games with delay-based netcode, first-person shooters haven’t suffered too much from this global pandemic, so both games have thriving online tournament scenes and good numbers on streaming platforms like Twitch.
With years of experience already and endless enjoyment already found with more to follow, the most dedicated Ts and CTs will stick to CSGO for quite a while longer. Many Valorant players will never try Counter-Strike, but some will find themselves gravitating more towards Valve’s grittier title. It’s fun to weigh in on the CSGO vs. Valorant debate, but there are also many people, myself included, will continue to play and watch both of these great games well into the future.