Valorant Champions Grand Finals

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Valorant's Highs and Lows in 2021

Abhimannu Das
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Highlights
Valorant had a year of memorable moments but not all of them were pleasant to say the least.
Riot's focus on inclusivity in esports and its ability deliver quality events for fans was remarkable.
The publisher has a long way to go with its agent balancing and the competitive structure of the VCT but 2021 was a great year regardless considering Valorant's age.

During League of Legends’ 10-year anniversary event, Riot Games revealed its plans to expand the game’s universe through multiple titles. The publisher announced Legends of Runeterra, Wild Rift, 50 new units for Teamfight Tactics, a fighting game, and an MMO. We also got a teaser for Arcane, which turned out to be one of the biggest TV series of 2021. All of these announcements were a part of Riot Games’ existing IP, but the publisher had one more announcement that caught fans off guard. Riot announced Valorant, a first-person shooter with no connections to the League of Legends universe.

Riot had never worked on an FPS title and no one knew what to expect. It looked like a mishmash of Overwatch and CS:GO, and to be honest, it’s not an inaccurate way to describe the game. The game launched in 2020 amidst a lot of hype and it finally got a structured esports circuit this year - the Valorant Champions Tour. 2021 was a big year for Valorant and the viewership numbers of events like Masters 2 Reykjavík and Masters Berlin were amongst the most viewed esports events of all time.

But how well did Valorant do this year? And what needs to change to push the esport to the next level?

What Made Valorant Great in 2021

Valorant had its ups and downs and it’s worth remembering some of the best things that happened to the game this year.

Valorant Game Changers

Riot Games announced the launch of Valorant Champions Tour (VCT) Game Changers for all major regions to create new opportunities for marginalized genders within the game’s community. The tournament series has potential and it looks like Riot Games wants to push VCT Game Changers even further.

The Valorant Game Changers 2022 event will take place from March to October 2022 alongside the regular VCT season. Next year’s Game Changers event will also crown one team with the title of the first-ever Game Changers Champion. In addition to the flagship event, Galorants will continue producing monthly VCT Game Changers Academy tournaments for women’s VALORANT teams globally.

Boaster’s Antics at Valorant Champions Tour

Fnatic is one of Europe’s best teams but that’s not the only thing that makes everyone love the team. It is the “meme” team led by Jake “Boaster” Howlett who made Valorant Champions Tour press conferences extremely entertaining. From the cheeky responses at VCT press conferences to roasting Envy on stage during the world championships, Boaster provided the comic relief needed in the tense and competitive environment. Fans loved the young British pro’s energy so much that Riot made a VCT Stories video on him. Check it out below.

Riot Games’ Dev Team

Players get consistent updates every 14-21 days and it is a standard set by Riot Games across all of its titles. Valorant received constant updates with content and issues were fixed in a reasonable amount of time. What was most impressive about the in-game experience was that Riot managed to address its core issues that plagued the game very quickly.

Valorant AFK Rates

The devs managed to cut the AFK rate in half and there are systems in place to curb toxicity. The dev team constantly updates its fans on the state of the game and what to expect from future updates. Toxicity, matchmaking fairness, and smurfing are next on the list and we can expect the dev team to address these issues over the coming months.

What Wasn’t So Great About Valorant in 2021

Valorant had a fantastic year but not everything about the game was sunshine and roses. Here are some of the things that stood out this year and Riot Games is already working towards addressing most of these issues in 2022.

The Valorant Champions Tour Format

Oceanic teams had a potential entry to Valorant Champions via the North American Last Chance Qualifiers. Order and Chief Esports Club earned their slots at the NA LCQ but Riot Games announced that it would be a single-elimination bracket and it sparked a lot of controversy. Coach Oliver "DickStacy" Tierney of the Australian organization Order joked about the format on Twitter saying, “What do you mean bro? I reckon both Aussie teams are stoked to fly from beautiful Kangaroo land 16 hours + 21 days in quarantine for a potential single bo3 after 9 months of qualifiers.” Riot Games planned single elimination brackets for multiple events but fortunately, player pushback made the publisher reconsider.

And to make things worse, Riot Games was unable to coordinate travel for the two Oceanic teams for NA LCQ due to COVID restrictions in the USA. But that is being addressed next year with Oceanic teams being moved to APAC for VCT 2022. Unlike other regions, Oceanic teams will not be participating in the international Masters LAN events. The only entry to the world championships will be through the APAC Last Chance Qualifier. The APAC LCQ features teams that qualify for the event via circuit points as well as other Riot-partnered events like the Valorant Conquerors Championship for South Asia and Oceanic teams will be part of the event starting from 2022.

Agent Balancing

Abilities can feel a little overpowered in Valorant and it is quite obvious that some agents are far from balanced. In League of Legends, the publisher likes to keep pickrates as close to 50% as possible but there are some crazy outliers in competitive Valorant with Jett maintaining an 80%+ pickrate at Champions while Brimstone and Omen had a sub 5% pickrate. Wondering what Yoru’s pickrate was? He was not picked a single time at the world championships.

The addition of KAY/0 to the game was also much-needed, with his ability to disrupt other agents. While the agent might not be topping the pick rates in competitive Valorant, the addition of KAY/0 was a clear indication that Riot Games wants to steer away from abilities. CHamber, the agent that came to the game right after KAY/0 also follows the same philosophy. His abilities allow him to spawn powerful weapons that you need to tactically use.

Riot Games has confirmed that it wants to focus on balance changes during the first half of 2022 and it will be interesting to see how the publisher addresses the huge disparity in pick rates across agents.

Lack of a Tier-Two Scene

The lack of a tier-two scene in Valorant is something that needs to change. We have one official flagship event and no major initiative towards building up the next generation of Valorant stars at the grassroots level. While there are tournament organizers that are hosting events in their respective regions, they usually do not have the resources or support to host mega-events that bring together multiple regions. The RED Bull Campus Clutch event was a great initiative but we’d like to see Riot Games build up a fleshed-out tier-two scene that helps teams identify promising pro players at the grassroots level.

Despite the challenges Valorant faced in 2021, the game seems to be on the right track and we can’t wait to see how the game evolves in 2022 and beyond.

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Abhimannu is a part of the content team at AFK Gaming and a lifelong obsessive gamer. He currently covers esports titles like VALORANT, CS: GO, Call of Duty, Fortnite, PUBG and more.