Despite Patch 2.02, Run & Gun Remains a Problem in Valorant
One of the biggest boons that the world of esports has received from the power of the Internet is the almighty patch. Back in the day, Capcom had to put out a new arcade cabinet every time they wanted to change the most recent iteration of Street Fighter. Now, they and every other company, even those who exclusively put out single-player titles, can simply upload a patch to the web and call it a day whenever a problem needs fixed. There’s massive potential to see games shift for the better… and for the worse, to be fair.
But today, I want to discuss how Valorant’s Patch 2.02 doesn’t go quite far enough to fix the biggest problem it attempts to solve. Note that the “Rifle Movement Accuracy update” is the only gameplay change other than bug fixes, and especially note that only rifles have been touched.
Even the most casual fan of Counter-Strike would know that one of the main mechanics separating Valve’s shooter from most other FPS titles, and one of the key factors in its skyscraping skill ceiling, is that of reduced accuracy while moving. The original Counter-Strike saw a massive dropoff in accuracy in the presence of any movement, even if that movement is just walking. In earlier days of Global Offensive, “running & gunning” was a much more viable strategy than it is today. Weapons like the CZ machine pistol and UMP submachine gun were once strangely accurate while moving at full speed. Crouch-walk spraying was and is still viable, as moving while crouching confers the same level of accuracy as standing still. However, the low acceleration of crouching in CS (and Valorant, for that matter) ensures that players cannot easily change their direction while crouch-walk spraying. Players who aim at chest-level would also headshot a crouching foe, adding more counterplay to this singular viable movement and shooting combo that remains in CSGO to this day. “Counter-strafing,” hitting the opposite direction to where you’re currently moving and firing in the brief period of time where the game registers you as standing still, is oftentimes a better idea than holding Ctrl and a direction while you hold M1, especially over cover.
This, especially the bit about the CZ and UMP, parallels the current Valorant situation rather neatly. The Frenzy has moved from originally being generally regarded as a bottom-tier weapon into being at the very least in contention for the title of best pistol in the game. Despite a low ammo count, with fewer bullets in a magazine than the silenced Ghost, and relatively low damage when compared to, say, the Sheriff, the Frenzy is the only pistol in Valorant capable of fully automatic fire. This, when coupled with a ludicrously low “Running Error” value – the amount of randomness added to bullet placement when running – allows for some truly absurd plays with the little gun. More and more over time, people have been sprinting behind corners with this thing, not letting go of the movement keys, and scoring multiple headshots on unsuspecting enemies.
It’s not hard to see… no, it’s hard to not see how the Frenzy parallels the beastly pre-nerf CSGO CZ. Granted, the Frenzy can’t one-tap people with headshots like how that nightmare used to be able to, but its ability to run and gun has morphed into the beast we now see in Valorant. And the Stinger fills the role of UMP, a high fire rate submachine gun that doesn’t lose much accuracy while running. All four of these weapons are used best in-close, which is part of why running and gunning is (or was, in the case of Counter-Strike) so effective with them. At the closest ranges, enemies have to adjust their crosshair more to stay on target. Because of this simple fact, if that enemy stands still, it’s a lot less difficult for you to hit them than it is for them to hit you. That, coupled with natural “peekers’ advantage” from latency, can make holding a corner in Valorant a nightmare for any rifler going up against run and gun enemies with Stingers or Frenzies. Whether this run and gun strategy is “bad” or “unhealthy” is obviously subjective, but few people would deny that it’s way easier than winning an engagement from far ranges while making clever use of cover and counter-strafing.
This run and gun gameplay has been criticized since before Valorant’s full release, as I covered in my first article for Esports Talk. Moving and shooting has been called “broken” and “ridiculous” and so on by various players of Riot’s tactical shooter, pro and noob alike. Few people have continued to bind Walk and Shoot to Mouse 1, however, because Valorant’s “run and gun” method turned out to be even more overpowered than people originally thought. C9 | TenZ has shown this time (click here to see him win a free-for-all with only run and gun strats) and again (click here to see him still doing similar stuff after the most recent patch). As he said in another recent YouTube video, “I showed running and shooting with the intention of the greater good, but it wasn’t nerfed and now I’m the villain.” TenZ is far from the only pro who has shown how overpowered run and gun plays can be in Valorant, and plenty of pros have voiced their opinions that it should be made significantly less viable.
That quoted statement was pre-patch, but it still hasn’t been nerfed to any significant degree.
See, though the rifles have as of Patch 2.02 seen their Running Error stats increased, leading to slightly more spread in their bullets while a player runs and shoots with them at the same time, the upper height limit of this spray still ends up at head-level by lowering the crosshair enough. With a little practice, running sprays rarely end up going over the heads of enemies, even after the nerf, and especially in-close, as we saw in that third TenZ clip. This can lead to situations where it’s painfully easy to score running kills, especially with the guns that Riot have not yet nerfed. Though the assault rifles have been tweaked a tad, the SMGs and the Frenzy have been untouched, leaving the problem largely unsolved. I’m all for showing restraint in patches and pushing players to adapt to the game rather than the other way around… but this has been a massive problem for too long already.
Time and again, we’ve seen Valve and Riot allowing for more allowed movement without sacrificing accuracy in order to increase their respective game’s accessibility. That’s the presumable reason behind why run and gun gameplay has been such a problem for both Valorant and the most recent Counter Strike title. But is this lowering of the skill floor a good goal in the first place?
Skill Floors and Ceilings, and a Tale From the FGC
To answer the above question, I think some definitions would be handy. A “skill floor” is also called a “barrier to entry” – it’s the skillset that your average player will need to understand the game they’re playing, and to put up a fight against people who do know what they’re doing. The higher the skill floor, the more is needed to become a competent player. This varies wildly from game to game, obviously, and can even vary from character to character. An agent like Sage, for example, with her abilities being rather straightforward, will have a bit lower of a skill floor when compared to the new agent Yoru, who has many abilities with multiple variants and a bounceable flashbang.
Riot sought to lower the overall skill floor in Valorant when compared to CSGO, and the overall viability of the run and gun strat in the former game is evidence of that. Without having to learn various mechanics like counter-strafing and crouch-spraying, and the counterplay to those options, Valorant players can instead think only “Stinger go brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” (one R typed for each bullet in that gun’s magazine) and score some easy kills without ever having to let go of their movement keys.
This isn’t automatically or necessarily bad, since Valorant still has a fairly high skill ceiling, if not as high as its older brother. This run and gun style may just be part of what Riot wants Valorant’s metagame to be like, and if that’s the case, there’s not much those who oppose it can do other than to continue complaining. It’s just so odd to me that part of play near the skill ceiling of a tactical shooter like Valorant would be run and gun gameplay like what you’d see in a more casual FPS title. A “skill ceiling” is the theoretically possible height of human competition in any given game. Valorant has no complex spray patterns to memorize, with its bullets starting to go in semi-predictable random directions after a certain point in the spray, nor does it have the boosts, bunny hop mechanics, or various other advanced techniques possible in the code of CSGO. But it still has an impressive number of lineups, defensive spots, offensive strategies, advanced movement techniques, and so on. These factors are some of the reasons why Valorant play near its skill ceiling is still so sick to watch, and why I have high hopes for this esport to keep on giving us memorable moments for years to come.
So, let’s talk about a game that has produced many memorable moments, a game which I think has both a higher skill floor and ceiling than either shooter: Street Fighter III: Third Strike. This is one of my favorite games of all time, even though it’s exceedingly difficult and growing older by the day. Its skill ceiling being higher than Mount Kilimanjaro is both why so many were put off by it at release, and why it still has a cult following to this day. The wakeup mechanics require incredibly tight timing and vary from character to character, parrying is too difficult and too risky for my pea brain to do even somewhat consistently, and combos are much tougher to perform than they have been in the Street Fighter titles we’ve seen since then. Plus, I haven’t practiced in years. That last one is probably the biggest thing doing me in, if we’re being honest.
Either way, this game produced perhaps the most memorable moment in all of competitive video games: Evo Moment 37. Even if you’ve never played so much as one round of Third Strike, you’ve probably seen this moment. It’s intuitive to get what’s happening on a basic level. Daigo is low on health, parries Justin’s Super Art, and performs a huge combo as a punish that wins him the first game of their set at Evolution 2004.
But you may have missed that Daigo is walking forward during Justin’s “super freeze,” an indication that the former player had already pressed forward on his stick when Justin executed what would have been the winning move if it landed or even was blocked. You hold back to block, but press forward within a ten-frame window to parry, or within one sixth of a second. Parrying in Third Strike prevents special moves or Super Arts from inflicting chip damage, and gives the parrying player more time to punish. So, in that immortal moment, Daigo predicted Justin’s super, performed fourteen more parries after this first incredible feat, including an airborne parry at the end, landed with an aerial attack, and followed that up with a difficult combo to end the round, all while hundreds of people screamed their heads off, which induces some of the most pressure a player can experience. “Unadulterated madness,” indeed.
So, when it came time to release Street Fighter V, there was almost certainly a boardroom meeting that went something like this. I definitely recommend checking out that full video; it’s a classic, and relevant to the discussion at hand. But making it easy to perform this parry does not mean anyone can be “Diego.” No, it instead cheapens the skill that was once required, makes it all but irrelevant, makes the equivalent moment in Street Fighter V feel infinitely less satisfying than pulling off the “Daigo Parry” in Third Strike. It would be like a single-player platformer removing enemies if you die to them too many times, or Dark Souls giving you a rocket launcher if you’re having trouble with a boss.
Why Nerfing Run and Gun would Help Valorant in the Long Run
That may have been a bit of a tangent, but I hope my point comes across. That is, by making “run and gun” a viable strategy in Valorant, Riot have lowered both the skill floor and ceiling. Less is required to learn before you’re capable of scoring kills against decent opponents, and you don’t have to learn as much to reach the top echelon of competition. Don’t get me wrong, the top players in Valorant are still absolute beasts. And I don’t want getting a kill while running to be completely impossible, especially at point-blank range. I just want devs of esports titles to remember our roots.
At the root of this tree that we grow with each match, each Twitch clip, and each memorable moment, is refined skill. The higher branches of this metaphorical tree are a space for the best of the best to show off that skill. Is the added viability of the “run and gun” strat in Valorant when compared to CSGO equivalent to making a parry of Chun-Li’s Super easy enough for a newborn kitten to perform, as Capcom did? No, certainly not. But it’s far less interesting to see pros and online players alike swinging from behind corners and landing triple headshots than it is to see them quickly peek, counter-strafe, and in the brief window of time between moving left and right, that brief period where the game registers them as standing still… to then see them land those headshots, before returning to cover. A good counter-strafe play is incredibly satisfying to pull off and awesome to watch, especially if you know the mechanics that go into making a play like that.
So, in this open letter to Riot, I’m asking for the skill floor to be raised a bit, in order for the skill ceiling to be more interesting to climb to. I’m of the mind that it’s not too much to ask someone to learn that standing still and shooting is more accurate than running and gunning. Thinking about a real gun for about three seconds should do the trick. Obviously, you should be much more accurate with your feet planted firmly on the ground than you are when airborne or sprinting. It’s almost impossible to manage aim and recoil while running with a firearm in your hands. The agents of Valorant are not Spartans fighting alongside Master Chief against the Covenant. It should be a hell of a lot harder for Phoenix to use his Frenzy while running at full speed than it is for the Chief to use his Magnum pistol in the air.
8That’s not Valorant as it is, though. Instead, we’re going to continue seeing people at all ranks, from Iron to the pros, complaining about the pervasive nature of run and gun gameplay… until they finally make it so that running and gunning is no longer a viable path to consistent headshots. Granted, as I’ve said, it’s generally not great to go too ham-fisted on the patches too early. I’m all for a wave of the hand and a dismissive “git gud” when people complain about this or that being “OP.” But the run and gun problem has been part of Valorant’s DNA since the beta. I’m all for patches that fix pervasive problems. It’s past time to fix this one, and Patch 2.02 just isn’t doing enough.