Will Valorant Give Riot A Stranglehold On Esports?
If you haven’t seen people asking this question yet, mark my words: you will. The next few months are going to be very interesting for the esports scene. It’s not an understatement to say that the next six months may well determine the esports landscape for the next decade. What’s changing? Simple. Riot Games is preparing to release their second major title: Valorant. Yes, I know they’ve already released Teamfight Tactics. Personally, I consider that to be a variant of League of Legends.
So let’s talk about Valorant. I would have loved to write this piece after getting to play the game, but alas, that isn’t possible yet. I’ll be working off the same trailer we’ve all gotten to see. You can check it out above if you haven’t seen it yet. All caught up? Good, let’s dive in.
What is Valorant?
So let’s start at the beginning. Valorant is one of the many titles Riot currently has in development, as is the one most likely to release first. It’s a first person shooter, that is definitely taking inspiration from a few different games. As you watch the trailer, the most obvious inspiration is Counter-Strike. Everything from the map, to the twin bomb-sites, to the five on five elimination gameplay screams Counter-Strike. There’s also unique hero powers which some people might say is Overwatch-esque, although personally it makes me think more of APEX Legends. In addition, there’s definitely some themes of Rainbow Six: Siege and Call of Duty present.
To me, Valorant looks like Riot decided to borrow some of the good elements of each of their competitors in the space. Those familiar with Riot won’t be surprised. League of Legends took a similar tactic a decade ago. From what we can tell, the game plays much like Counter-Strike. One team attacks while the other defends. The attacking team wins by planting and detonating a bomb or killing the defending team. The defending team wins by killing the attacking team or defusing the bomb once planted.
Who is Valorant for?
I think this is one of the best questions to be sussed out over the next year. Obviously, Valorant is for gamers, fans of Riot, and fans of first person shooters. But the pertinent question is which shooter will they siphon fans away from?
- Overwatch – While many seem to think Overwatch will be the one to pay the price for Valorant’s success, I don’t think that’s the case. While you could call them both hero-based shooters, Valorant and Overwatch appear to be dramatically different. Overwatch is more about the heroes than the shooting. Each hero has different mechanics and tools. The way you play Mercy is completely different than how you play McCree. However, Valorant will always come back to one key point. How well do you aim, and how well do you shoot? If you can do those basic mechanics, you’ll be able to at least play any character you want.
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – CS:GO is a prime candidate for Valorant to steal players away from on paper. They play similarly and will require the same skills to be competent. We’re already seeing evidence of this in the esports space as lower tier CS:GO teams are beginning to announce they’ll suspend CS:GO operations and focus on preparing for Valorant. Despite that, I don’t think CS:GO is about to croak. Counter-strike has legacy, prestige, and snobbery on its side. To that community, I believe that Valorant will be seen as the Fortnite to CS:GO’s PUBG. That said, would you rather be Fortnite or PUBG? I know who I’d choose.
- Call of Duty – Nope. Sorry, I don’t foresee Valorant cannibalizing the Call of Duty space. I think they’ll certainly pull some people away, but as a whole, no. Call of Duty continues to survive on name and cultural significance. Fortnite didn’t kill it. Overwatch didn’t kill it. Battlefield didn’t kill it. I see no reason to believe Valorant will.
- APEX Legends/Fortnite/PUBG/Rainbow Six – Ding ding ding. We have a winner. Despite not being a battle royale, I think these are the games most primed to get eaten alive by Valorant. Specifically, I think Fortnite is in the crosshairs of this one. Any way you slice it, the Fortnite crowd is beginning to age and they’re not going to stay with the game forever. While Overwatch had been my leading contender to take that aging Fortnite crowd, I think Valorant is about to swoop in and steal it. Valorant will likely destroy APEX Legends, and probably take a healthy chunk of the player-base from the others.
Will Valorant Succeed?
This is an impossible question to answer definitively. My best answer? ….Probably-ish? Valorant has all the things a game needs to succeed in the modern era. Which is to say, it has money and a company with a strong reputation behind it. Before you jump down my throat about Riot’s reputation, remember that a company’s rep in the gaming world is never more than six months old. If your last six months have been bad, you’re bad. If the next six months are good, you’re redeemed. As I look at the alpha footage and even the main points on the website, Riot seems to understand one key thing about Valorant. It can’t be as good as League of Legends was at launch. The bar is high. People will compare the game to where CS:GO and League of Legends are NOW, not a decade ago.
To Riot’s credit, they seem to understand that concept. The website for Valorant reads like they’re calling out all the biggest complaints about CS:GO and offering a solution. My hope is that they understand that the game doesn’t need to launch with 150 (exaggerating) heroes. The game needs to launch with five heroes that work. The game needs to work. The anti-cheating software needs to work. The servers need to work. If all of those conditions are met, Valorant will flourish. And if Valorant flourishes, Riot Games owns esports for the foreseeable future.