Teams of 5 face each other on a map. One team is attacking, trying to plant a bomb at specific map sites, and one is defending. The match is broken up into rounds; if you get shot you’re out. It’s all about sight lines too and time to kill is short. If an enemy sees you, each of you only have a few seconds to aim and fire before one of you is dropped. People have been playing this game for almost two decades; it’s called Counter Strike. Yet Riot is currently launching a new take on it called Valorant. I have been loving it and I am not alone. It really hasn’t updated the formula that much so why am I so taken with it? I think it mostly has to do with the giant baggage associated with Counter Strike.
Counter Strike is the definition of an old school game. It’s an easy game to understand and a difficult game to play. Aiming is difficult; you can’t hold down the trigger and expect to hit anyone. Small hit boxes and a priority on headshots means that controlled bursts are the way to win. As mentioned above, life is precious so shootouts only last a few seconds. It is unforgiving and definitely skill based meaning that gamers have used it as an excuse to be insufferable for years. This is why I’ve loved this game, but this difficulty also makes for a lot of gamer gate keeping.
Counter Strike has always been a haven for the “get good” type of gamer. It is one of the original e sports and that’s carried a lot of old baggage with it. This means rampant toxic behavior, people yelling in matches about how much you sucked sprinkled in with ethnic slurs. The game is team based so it only bolsters their sense of entitlement if you mess up. Each iteration, from “1.6” to now “Go,” have only slightly updated the game meaning that the strategies, guns, and maps have been carried through over time. This only bolsters the impenetrability of it. You’re expected to know the best strategies for De Dust going in so there is little to no on ramp without giant amounts of trash talk.
Valorant isn’t necessarily a fresh start in terms of all this (it is on the internet after all), but it’s early enough in the nascent stages that the most toxic parts haven’t been cemented. What I really mean by that is that strategies or “correct” ways of play haven’t been codified. The closed beta and initial launch has allowed for a somewhat smoother onboarding period than I ever had with Counter Strike. I’ve been able to troubleshoot my way across the maps, testing sight lines with similarly skilled players. The character players, Valorant’s major differentiator, allows for just enough variation as well. There’s no changes in movement speed or hitboxes (this isn’t Overwatch), but their different abilities allow you to tap into different modes of enemy engagement. If you like being highly mobile, pick a character like Jett or Omen with movement abilities. Rather play defensively and rely on map control? Someone like Cypher, who has traps and tripwire abilities, would do the trick. These abilities aren’t complete game changers and won’t completely overthrow a match, but when used correctly add a higher strategic layer to matches that Counter Strike doesn’t have. It’s important to stress that knowing how to properly utilize abilities in matches hasn’t completely surfaced. You won’t be caught completely flat footed in matches for not knowing the ins and outs of character classes.
While I’m enjoying Valorant now, I’m worried for the future. Launches are always the best time to hop into competitive games rather than fighting the uphill battle of accumulated knowledge. The nacency of Valorant has meant a renewed enjoyment in a type of FPS that has become mostly inaccessible. I’m not naive enough to know that it won’t stay this way; it’s only just officially launched. Only time will tell if I stick with it, but I’ve had a blast with it so far.