- By Harrison Davis
No doubt there has been a lot of hype surrounding the latest Riot Games title Valorant following its recent release in June 2020. We are yet to see whether this will become as successful of an esport as many are predicting. Whilst there are a range of factors that contribute to the success of an esport I think people should be optimistic for the future of Valorant and what it has in store for the esports community.
Valorant is a multiplayer tactical shooter, a genre which is well trodden ground when it comes to esports and has had success in the esports market. With notable titles such as CS:GO, Rainbow Six Siege and Overwatch, it is joining a saturated category of games and will be competing to be the most watched and played tactical shooter.
Valorant has already established itself as a popular title following the launch of the closed beta back in April 2020. A clever launch campaign which saw access to the game awarded to those watching the biggest influencers that were given copies of the game early, created huge viewership numbers following the games beta release, generating 334 million viewership hours within April alone.
Due to the initial success the Valorant beta saw, demand for a pro scene grew quickly with fans of the game looking to see who could adapt to this new title the best. Pro players from CS:GO and Overwatch alike swapped to playing Valorant exclusively which came as a massive surprise to a large portion of the gaming community.
Whilst the names who moved to Valorant from CS:GO were not considered by many to be the elite of the game, it is significant how a game that was not yet released, drew players away from successful professional careers in CS:GO. The situation facing Overwatch is even more worrying for fans of the Overwatch League.
It is no secret that the interest in Overwatch seems to be waning from the gaming community for some time now. The recent decision for the Overwatch pro player Sinatraa to leave Overwatch behind and explore what Valorant has to offer is almost the final nail in the coffin for a game that has been haemorrhaging viewers since its swap to YouTube Gaming. Sinatraa was voted the League MVP and the World Cup MVP in 2019. A player that was recognised as the world’s best has decided to leave competitive Overwatch for a game that was not even seen a full release yet and has no official structure put in place for a pro scene. This is not a good look for Activision Blizzard, to lose your star player and poster boy for the league to an emerging competitor.
With pro players from around the esports world picking up Valorant, a successful pro scene would be almost guaranteed given the already high viewership figures. With a substantial talent pool of established names and organisations throwing their hats into the ring Valorant’s immediate future is secure.
However, there are still some questions to be answered.
Riot Games has announced that they would not be creating and managing a professional league or tournament structure for the game, at least not initially. Instead they have opted to let third party tournament organisers and esports teams run events themselves with the goal of a pro scene developing organically much like CS:GO. This may at first seem like a strange decision given that other companies like Activision Blizzard have pushed their own esports titles with large financial backing and immediate league structures.
However, this is a strategy that has been successful for Riot Games in the past. It is an approach they have taken before with their flagship title League of Legends as they took control of the competitive side of the game when it was in fact deemed to have enough fanfare in Season 3 to launch the NA and EU League Championship Series (LCS).
Whilst it is interesting to see how the Valorant pro scene develops, there are a range of variables that determine the success or failure of an esport. One of the hardest things to maintain in esports is continuing to grow fanbase and viewership levels. We have seen countless examples of games that receive a lot of support leading up to release only to flop once fans move on to different games. It is something that cannot be achieved by simply throwing money at the problem.
Activision Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm was a title that was designed to complete with Riot’s League of Legends. It was built to be easier to play than League and by using characters from their other successful games, they hoped to bring a brand-new audience to the genre from their other titles. However, despite the millions that Activision Blizzard spent on marketing and creating an esports scene, the players did not stay with the game and the esports scene was terminated by Blizzard 3 years after the game’s launch.
To succeed in esports, a title must have the ability to lure players’ interest and engagement; and there are several ways to maintain that appeal. The title must be accessible to the viewers. One of the major reasons attributed to the decline in viewership in the Overwatch League is in the fabric of the game itself. The goal is to rush through content as quickly as possible. The game rewards teams for completing objectives as quickly as possible which leads to an unengaged viewing experience that can be over in 10 minutes.
Overwatch is also a game with a lot of overlapping animations. This is not an issue when you are playing the game, as your field of view is limited, but all the effects added make it difficult for viewers to understand what is happening. Whilst its animations are intricate, Overwatch’s gameplay is too simplistic and routine makes it less entertaining to watch. The major draw for not only esports but sport in general is to witness the talent of people that are at the top of their game. If anyone can do it no one wants to watch it.
For a game to succeed as an esport it must be beginner friendly enough to provoke interest in playing, whilst having a high enough skill ceiling to be entertaining to watch the best in the world perform plays that are otherwise impossible for the average player.
In my opinion, that might be the first problem Valorant must overcome. Valorant is a shooter that was designed to be accessible to players that had never experienced the genre before. From a commercial aspect this makes complete sense for Riot - develop a game that can appeal to as many players as possible. However, in doing so, the skill ceiling of Valorant compared to competing title CS:GO for example is much lower. This decision means that Valorant will appeal to a larger fanbase than a title such as CS:GO but has the potential for viewers and players to lose interest faster. It will be important for Riot to address this potential issue with later updates to the game with characters that offer more reward for more challenging abilities.
So, what does this all mean for Valorant and its potential as a successful esport?
The interest around Valorant seems to be justified so far. With the future of Overwatch looking shaky at best there is potential for a game like Valorant to establish itself as the premier esport hero-based shooter, as well as drawing some attention away from CS:GO. It is imperative that Riot maintains interest in the game whilst slowly ramping up the difficulty as players become more accustom to the game. As the skills and strategies of players improve, it will be up to Riot to make sure they are able to flourish in game and that the spectacle of watching this happen remains engaging.
Should other titles be worried about Valorant overtaking them?
Most definitely. CS:GO’s crown as the premier tactical shooter looks like it could be under threat and whilst it has fought off other challengers before in the form of Rainbow Six Siege and Overwatch, Valorant presents a unique challenge. It is a game for the uninitiated, and the future of this esport does not lie in former pros coming from other games as it is designed to bring in a new audience. The best Valorant players will be names none of us have heard of. Players entering this genre for the first time that will shape how the game is played at an elite level.
The long-term future of Valorant is uncertain. It could become another Heroes of the Storm, an example of a company trying to enter a genre with an easier product that lacks lasting appeal. However, if handled correctly by Riot, Valorant’s future could be bright and given Riot’s success in promoting an maintaining the largest and most successful esports title on the market, it has the best chance of any title released in the last 5 years.