Valorant Developers Explain Game Balance
Valorant came out of the gate strong with massive viewership on Twitch during its closed beta period. This has somewhat been tempered with everyone having access to the game now, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still have a passionate community. And with any passionate community comes people that are worried about the current state of the game and what Riot can do to improve it.
To that end, Valorant Game Designer David “Milkcow” Cole took to the Valorant website to explain exactly how the design team views game balance in Valorant, how they balance the game’s agents, and what steps the team takes before they will make a move to adjust a particular agent, weapon, or map.
Valorant Game Balance Philosophy Explained
Riot understands why changes are made are among the most important things that a developer should do to maintain trust with their playerbase. Nothing is worse than logging into a game and having your favorite character completely changed without an in-depth explanation that resonates with the playerbase.
“Game balance is something that every player feels and may have some opinions about,” Cole said. “The experiences all of you have and feel shape your perceptions of the game—your perception is your truth. It’s our job to provide an experience that is fair for every player.”
Riot breaks down their priorities in Valorant game balance as such:
⦁ Prioritize audiences that Riot feels will take Valorant in the right direction in its current state. They will make tradeoffs with which audience they are aiming for – it can’t be every player.
⦁ Every player won’t be happy with every change – sometimes changes will make the audience upset to bring the game to a better point.
⦁ Some human judgment will be used along with data to make balance decisions.
⦁ They are not seeking perfect 50/50 balance in order to promote decision making in game and make it feel meaningful.
The guiding principles of their game balance are there to ensure that the Tactical Cycle, what Riot calls the series of decisions that you make in every game, is maintained.
The Tactical Cycle of a Valorant Match
Riot summarized the tactical cycle that every player should be following in each match, and the assumptions they are making as developers to balance the game:
⦁ Who and where are your opponents?
⦁ What has taken place up to the current state of the game?
⦁ What territory of the map do we own? Do the opponents own?
⦁ Which Agents, abilities and guns are in play?
⦁ What have your opponents done previously?
⦁ With the information we’ve gathered from intel what is my plan?
⦁ Coordinating to implement the plan
⦁ Critical part of reducing the risk of your plan
⦁ Click heads to close out engagements.
“Valorant is a game where every decision in this loop matters,” Cole said. “You are aware of the decisions you’ve made and their outcomes. You can have the perfect intel and plan, but mechanically fail to execute. You can have no plan, yet win by mechanically executing the impossible. Your skill matters.”
Riot emphasized that every player needs to be following this plan to be successful. A run and gun arena shooter Valorant is not.
How does Riot use player feedback and sentiment to make decisions? Of course, as with any game balance team, they actively monitor feedback from the userbase but do not use every complaint or suggestion in the game unless there becomes an active problem with what’s being complained about. The way Riot breaks down how they do this is by using Game Data (stats from games including gun usage, where engagements are happening on maps, etc), Sentiment Data (feedback from players about how a particular item feels), and the overall design philosophy to inform how Riot feels the game should be playing.
Using these three things in concert means that Riot is (hopefully) making the right decision.
“During our time together as a balance group, we’ve used a combination of game data, sentiment data, and our design philosophy to align on a set of “bounds,”” Cole explained. “Think of them as borders—when our metrics live inside the borders, we feel the game is fairly healthy. If something dips outside of these borders, it raises a flag and we investigate.”
This means that a sentiment saying that “Cypher is trash” might not raise a flag. Still, if enough players say that Cypher is bad on a particular side on a map, that might raise a flag for investigation, but won’t prompt a balance change until the team goes through the data and ensures it’s a problem.
“We embed ourselves into the ecosystem. We have people on the team playing at a high level, communicating with key individuals for feedback and constantly reading any feedback we can get.”
Ultimately, how Riot balances Valorant will directly impact how the playerbase feels about it, and how many people are playing. This will have a trickle up effect on the game’s pro scene as well, as players will either invest more time and become professional players or switch to another game and put time in there.