November 25, 2021
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In about a week, VALORANT will be having its biggest tournament ever. The VALORANT Champions 2021, set to start on December 1st in Berlin is one of the most expected esports events of the year, and it’s a proof of how Riot’s FPS title quickly evolved to become a premier title in the esports market.

However, just like many games in the past decade proved, breaking into the esports market as a first-person shooter title isn’t easy. In an industry already filled by games such as Call of Duty, Counter-Strike and Rainbow Six, Riot had a massive task ahead of them in order to give VALORANT a chance.

So, how Riot managed to do it? Let’s take a quick recap of VALORANT story so far.

IDENTITY ISSUES

Rumors of a first-person shooter being in development at Riot have been around since forever. The first piece of concrete information, however, was released by a popular leaker within the Counter-Strike community, neL.

Over 2018, more clues towards what Riot’s FPS project would look like started appearing, and speculation started. With Salvatore “Volcano” Garozzo, most known for his Counter-Strike: Global Offensive map “Cache” moving to Riot, some were quickly to call this project a Counter-Strike clone. Others, however, thought that Riot was jumping at the waves made by Activision Blizzard’s shooter, Overwatch.

Nonetheless, we would keep having to speculate for well over a year, until late 2019. On 15th of October of that year, Volcano took Twitter to finally unveil what Riot had been working for years: Project A.

PROJECT A

In that early reveal, Volcano called VALORANT – then Project A, or Project Ares – a “tactical FPS with characters and abilities that augment gunplay.” However, while that was enough to gather attention from gamers, Project A feature list also attracted the attention of the more dedicated part of the competitive FPS community.

With features such as a strong anti-cheater and server stability, Riot had both casuals and hardcore players interested. The idea that Project A was gameplay-wise clone still persisted, but Riot’s reputation with its esports community, as well as the features mentioned above were enough to make the FPS project a trending topic.

Still, these comparisons were enough to get a comment from Riot Games’ Greg Street. He directly addressed the comparisons to Overwatch, and said that “Project A is a tactical shooter. Lethality is high and you don’t respawn. Map control and gunplay are key. The abilities are more about utility.” This comment served to give excited fans a better idea of what was to be expected from the game.

MEET VALORANT

Just before the dust settled, though, in March of 2020, Riot officially announced VALORANT. At the same time, it was revealed to be a free-to-play game, and a launch window of Summer 2020 was given.

More details were revealed shortly through a Polygon’s story. There, Riot revealed that the game had been in development since 2014, and that competitive integrity was a priority for the team. Another topic touched on is how Riot trusted in its own ability to make VALORANT shine among other titles in the market such as CSGO. It was also revealed in that article that Riot spend years building the perfect team to develop the game.

In any case, it wouldn’t take long until streamers and gamers could get their hands on the game. Riot started a closed beta in various regions on April 7th, and the world saw the first impressions from the game, and they were positive.

LOOKING GOOD

Just before release, VALORANT looked perfect on paper. It was developed by Riot Games, a developer with a good reputation with esports organizations and also among esports fans. The game itself was developed with low-end systems in mind, which massively increased its accessibility, especially in lower-income regions. Its gameplay was shaped by brilliant minds from the industry that Riot brought over the years. And it didn’t stop there.

Moreover, the idea of having a strong anti-cheater with kernel-level access moved away some, but for most competitive players, it was a positive point. Along with the promise of 128-tickrate servers, Riot’s project kept picking the interest of all kinds of gamers.

At the end of the day, Riot had in their hands an incredible product. After received plenty of praise – and feedback – in the closed beta, almost everything was in place for Riot’s next hit.

COMING ON TOP

In hindsight, it’s easy to see how Riot’s reputation played in VALORANT’s successful launch. While both Counter-Strike and Overwatch esports scenes struggled – especially the latter – Riot had started something new. Differently than Overwatch, its circuit was open, giving space for third-party to host their own events. At the same time, it isn’t as open as Valve’s CSGO esports market, where third-parties run almost every single bit out of it besides the Major circuit – which under the online era, ended being irrelevant. Riot found balance in a time where balance was critical and other titles struggled without it.

However, while finding balance in the esports area was essential, Riot developers had a hard job ahead of them. It was key to develop the perfect gameplay system, and after so many years, finding a combination of systems that wouldn’t feel tired or too complex or different wasn’t going to be easy. Fortunately, enough, many were taken by surprise when they first played the new FPS. It felt familiar enough for CSGO fans, but the agents’ abilities brought something new that mixed well with the gunplay. Once again, Riot managed to find balance between two existing concepts to make VALORANT shine among other competitive titles in the genre. Riot’s development team managed to get everything right.

LAUNCHING AN ESPORTS TITLE IN A PANDEMIC

VALORANT is a game tailored for esports. However, 2020 was a particularly difficult year for esports. The online era was in full effect after all. Esports had to completely move to an online environment, and this hurt every title in a way or another.

Still, Riot decided to take on the online era and launched VALORANT during the Summer. Again, Riot banked on the reputation it built managing League of Legends, and it was worth it. Even before its release, we saw Counter-Strike players announcing their move to Riot’s new title. With players, teams and investors in place, it was just a matter of time until we saw the first big event in the game.

This event was the “T1 x Nerd Street Gamers Showdown.” The event run in late June, and was the first A-tier tournament for the game. With 16 squads – including some backed by major esports teams such as FaZe Clan and TSM – and a USD $50.000 prize pool, VALORANT had started with the right foot.

In the next months, the game’s esports scene kept growing. The key detail here is that Riot not only kept their title growing in traditional regions, but also managed to break into countries were Counter-Strike failed to, such as Japan. To make matters better for Riot, the online pandemic hit CSGO’s North American esports scene badly. Teams left the game and so did many players, and they quickly found a new home in Riot’s ecosystem.

By the end of the year, Riot Games and BLAST had partnered to launch a series of events. Called the “First Strike Series”, we had seven of them in different regions. Three of these, the NA, EU and Korean editions featured a USD $100.000 prize pool.

NEVER STOP EVOLVING

2021 saw VALORANT growing even more. More agents, maps, gameplay updates, and the start of its esports circuit. The VMT started early in the year with regional events. The game’s first S-tier event would come in shortly, in May. The VALORANT Champions Tour: Stage 2 Masters featured 10 teams and a$600.000 prize pool. The event was played offline in Reykjavik. Months later in September, it was time for the VCT Stage 3 in Berlin. It featured 15 teams, and a $700.000 prize pool.

It’s fair to say that as things stand now, VALORANT has achieved its place in the esports industry. Since its launch, the title managed to develop a massive fan-following dedicated to the game. Its esports scene broke through various regions besides Europe and North America. Its esports scene is receiving an incredible level of investment. Everything is in place for the game success in the long run.

THE FUTURE

Making matters better, while the distant future is bright, VALORANT’s closer future is even brighter. Just after winning the award for esports title of the year at the Esports Awards, next week fans will be tuning up to catch up with the first edition of VAL Champions. The $1.000.000 event will feature 16 teams from all over the world in Berlin, and it will be one event you won’t want to miss.

For 2022, Riot has already made some of their plans for the future of the game clear. VALORANT is coming to mobile devices, and it could reach consoles too. So, besides the already to-be expected updates, Riot’s FPS will be entering new markets soon enough.

As for its esports scene, Riot has yet to reveal what’s next for its ecosystem in 2022, but there’s no reason for it to stop anytime soon. VALORANT is making success as far as viewership goes, and the upcoming Champions event is bound to break the game’s records. It’s hard to not be hyped for the game’s future.

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@mjunior