Riot Games was known for making League of Legends exclusively, but now it’s branching out
- Currently in its Beta phase but will be free to play once it goes live
- “Valorant” broke Twitch record when its closed beta went live this week, with nearly 2 million concurrent viewers watching streams on the streaming platform
- It’s the first major new game from the studio behind “League of Legends,” and it’s a departure into a new genre: online, competitive, team-based multiplayer shooters. The gameplay is best-described as a mix of “Counter-Strike” and “Overwatch.”
Riot’s new video game, Valorant, may be considered as a breath of fresh air in the world’s current situation. The first-person shooter opened its closed beta on Tuesday on Twitch, acknowledging Riot’s deal with the platform that would give out beta access keys to its popular streamers and to some notable stream viewers.
Having watched some of the popular twitch streamers, it’s clear that Valorant is a hyper-competitive game that caters to the small overall gaming community whilst currently available only on PC – Valorant can already be noted as the next big esports sensation following up to Fortnite, despite having noticeable components to other competitive titles such as CS:GO and Overwatch.
That’s partly because Valorant, even in its beta form,is arriving at a crucial moment for the competitive gaming scene. Much of the esports world revolves around multiplayer online battle arenas, or MOBAs for short, like Valve’s Dota 2 and Riot’s own League of Legends. While there are other esports communities in the fighting scenes, aswell as individual games such as Psyonix’s Rocket League, MOBAs regin supreme.
Ofcourse, there are bigger companies with bigger resources such as Activision Blizzard with their Call of Duty League, Overwatch League and EPIC Games, Fortnite have taken their seat at the Esports table with their own unique league structures, massive prize pools and high-production values.
There is, however, one big exception: Counter-Strike. Arguably the tactical team-based shooter from which Valorant borrows almost all of its structure, Counter-Strike has remained the one competitive FPS resilient to the ever-changing industry and still inexplicably popular all around the world. Counter-Strike has a global fan base that Call of Duty lacks, and it still ranks it as among the top-played games on Steam and the most-watched titles on Twitch, despite its release nearly eight years ago. Right now, more than 1 million people are playing the game on Steam, making it almost as popular on PC than the next four top games combined.
That’s precisely why Valorant seems primed for success. Simply put, the game combines character-specific superpowers heavily influenced by Overwatch with a tense, high-intensity tactical shooter model more or less carbon-copied from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Riot is attempting to build a modern Counter-Strike, one that appeals to a generation of MOBA fans that grew up on the idea of honing your skill as a specific hero with unique powers and an ultimate ability to use in crucial, match-defining moments.
Going from the early reception on Twitch, Valorant is getting that recipe right in a way that might pull big streamers and pro players away from other games. The game broke Twitch’s record for most-watched game in a single day, with 34 million hours watched. And the game’s peak concurrent viewership of 1.7 million people was second only to the 2019 League of Legends World Championship.
There’s another factor that could contribute to the game’s success: Valorant is not a battle royale game. Riot is bucking the trend that’s taken the gaming industry by storm for the last three years or so by releasing a tactical shooter. Since the release of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds in early 2017, Battle Royale games have consumed the shooter market. Fortnite is one of the most dominant games on the planet across all platforms, while a number of competitors have popped up to try to capitalize on Epic’s moneymaking potential, like Respawn’s Apex Legends and Activision’s Call of Duty: Warzone. But we’re also experiencing a bit of Battle Royale fatigue, as the initial excitement of the genre fades and its esports potential has proved hit-or-miss.
Valorant is, above all else, a tactical game that requires you to communicate with your teammates to succeed and demands you practice your aim to have any hope of winning a one-on-one bout. That level of skill requirement and dedication may mean it doesn’t hit mainstream levels of popularity like Fortnite or Overwatch, but the game’s design does position Valorant as a more accessible esport than a BR title or something as chaotic as Overwatch or a MOBA. As Counter-Strike has proved over the years, some games, especially easy-to-understand tactical shooters, don’t need 100 million active players to become popular esports; you just need a community of very dedicated fans willing to tune in and keep up with it.
Tactical shooters move slow enough and have clear enough objectives that they are easy to watch and digest, even for viewers who don’t play the game regularly. I can already see the appeal of watching a big Valorant tournament or keeping some favorite streamers playing it casually on in the background while I do something else.
Each round has a coherent start, middle, and end, and there’s a great momentum that builds toward the halfway point when teams switch sides and then the end of a match that makes tuning in at any moment worthwhile. There are opportunities for highlight plays using a well-timed ultimate ability, and one player can, against all odds, take on an entire team alone if they’re skilled enough. There’s a lot of potential for lasting entertainment with Valorant, even if it’s not really the kind of game you enjoy playing yourself.
Valorant has a long road ahead to release. We don’t know exactly when it’s coming out besides a summer to potentially early fall release window, whether it will even come out on consoles, and what exactly Riot’s esports ambitions are. But the game’s early success and the surprisingly effective combination of elements Riot has polled off set up Valorant as the most exciting new game to hit the competitive scene in years. It has the potential to become the company’s next League of Legends, but that will depend on whether the sum of its parts can give it more staying power than all the games it’s borrowing from.