guides

How to Play VALORANT

Aaron Alford  | 
VALORANT

Riot's FPS VALORANT is easy to start, but difficult to master. (Photo courtesy Riot Games)

VALORANT is an upcoming free-to-play first person shooter developed and published by Riot Games. It entered closed beta on April 7th and is planned to release in the Summer of 2020. For those who are new to VALORANT, there is a lot to learn and master. This guide will cover the basics tactics, shooting mechanics, the economy, and more, to help new players get started with VALORANT.

VALORANT’s Game Mode

VALORANT features a search-and-destroy-style game mode in which attackers are trying to plant a bomb and defenders are trying to prevent the attackers from planting a bomb, or defusing a planted bomb. Players alternate playing offense and defense in five-person teams. Teams switch sides and lose any money and equipment they have accrued at half time. Players select from various Agents who each have their own unique abilities which can alter the battlefield in unique and diverse ways. The first team to win 13 rounds wins the match.

The attacking team’s goal is to either eliminate the entire defending team or to plant and set off “the spike” which is VALORANT’s version of a bomb. Most maps have two or three bomb sites which attacking teams must secure to place the spike. The defending team’s goal is to kill the entire attacking team and prevent the spike from exploding. If the bomb is planted by the attackers, defenders will have 45 seconds to defuse the plant and win the round.

You will purchase guns and equipment during the buy phase at the start of each round using money they accrued in various ways in previous rounds. If you die during a round, you will lose your guns and equipment, though you will keep any abilities you have purchased.

Basic Tactics

As the title of the genre suggests, tactical shooters are all about tactics and teamwork. VALORANT rewards players for taking a deliberate and team-focused approach to the game. This means that players should avoid rushing into engagements, instead you should carefully coordinate with your team regarding what and when to attack, or in the case of defense where and how to defend the sites.

Communication will enhance every aspect of VALORANT. Players should constantly be working with their team to make a plethora of decisions, including where to attack, what to buy, or what abilities to use while attacking or defending a site. Even if your team enters a round with a plan, communication shouldn’t stop after the start of the round. Players should be ready to adapt their plans and should be updating each other regarding enemy locations or any other relevant developments.

Agent abilities are another key factor to team success in VALORANT. Each playable Agent will have different powerful abilities which players can purchase access to at the start of the round. When possible, you should buy and use abilities, since good use of abilities is the biggest differential between high level and low level play. As you play the game, you will also learn where abilities work best on various maps. The best way to improve your win percentage in VALORANT is to master the use of abilities.

For more tactics tips, check out four mistakes every VALORANT player should avoid.

Shooting mechanics

In VALORANT, every single weapon has a unique recoil pattern. Learning these patterns will help you deal damage more quickly, which ultimately translates to more kills. You can easily see what the recoil pattern on a weapon is by firing it against a wall without adjusting your mouse placement. You can control the recoil on a weapon by tap firing or by moving your mouse to counteract the direction of the spray pattern. Although learning to counteract recoil can be difficult to pick up on, learning a weapon’s recoil pattern will significantly improve your effectiveness with that weapon.

VALORANT features very high headshot multipliers, with many guns killing an opponent in a single headshot. Learn to aim for the head and you will win more aim duels. It’s also a good idea to hold your crosshair at head height when moving around the map or checking corners. If you learn where head height is and train yourself to hold your reticle at that height by default you will be prepared to land a crucial headshot at any moment.

VALORANT leverages major accuracy penalties on you if you are moving while shooting. As a result, you should stop moving while firing your weapon, especially if it is a long range encounter. Learning how to move in and out of cover while also maintaining accuracy is a fundamental skill in VALORANT. Although it is a good practice not to move while shooting, for some weapons like SMG’s or Shotguns the movement aim penalty is less severe.

Many weapons in the game feature the ability to aim down sights. Aiming down sights will tighten your spread, but in some cases it slows your fire rate. In many situations it is actually better not to aim down sites, since you are more mobile while not looking down sites. Mobility can be key when trying to peak a corner without getting immediately domed by someone watching that corner. Shooting without sights is still highly accurate, so unless you are engaged in a very long range conflict you should be able to fire your weapon from the hip with no problems.

Choosing an Agent

Valorant

VALORANT features 10 different playable Agents, each of which has access to their own unique abilities.

Each character gets access to one ability for free each round. The other two abilities need to be bought in the buy menu at the start of the round, just like your weapons and shields. Character abilities can combine in a huge number of different ways, so make sure to think about how your abilities will work in combination with other Agents on your team.

Valorant abilities

Some abilities operate like smoke grenades, such as Omen’s Dark Dover which fires a orb-like smoke grenade which obscures vision. Other abilities operate like a flash grenade, such as Phoenix’s Curveball which throws a fireball around corners and blinds anyone looking at it. Additional abilities allow players to do anything from revealing the location of enemies, to creating temporary walls, and much more.

Every Agent also has their own ultimate ability. Ultimate abilities are very powerful abilities which can change the course of a round when used properly. Some ultimate abilities in the game have the potential to kill multiple targets. For example, Jett’s ultimate allows you to quickly fire a barrage of throwing knives which instantly kill any target that they hit. Other ultimates help you obscure vision to large areas of the map, like Viper’s ultimate which drops a large opaque toxic cloud on an area.

Ults can be charged by getting kills and by collecting skill points which show up as small orbs around the map. When your ultimate ability is available, work with your team to get the most value out of it. Remember that if you hold your ultimate too long, you miss the opportunity to charge another one.

As the game is currently still in beta, it’s hard to determine who the best Agents are. For now, you should focus on getting comfortable with a few Agents which suit their preferred playstyle. When selecting an Agent, examine their abilities and look for ones that would compliment your playstyle, the role you are playing on your team, and combine well with other Agents played by teammates.

Building a healthy economy

A healthy economy is an absolute necessity to winning matches in VALORANT. Your economy refers to the amount of money you and your team have in the bank to buy equipment and weapons with. Your economy determines your access to firepower, so having a bad economy will result in your team losing more rounds.

Every round, players spawn with the Classic pistol and one of their abilities for free. The other abilities, weapons, or shields will cost money which players earn throughout the match. The first round of each half is known as the pistol round, since players can essentially only afford pistols and light shields. As the rounds pass, you will build more money allowing you to access more powerful weapons and abilities.

There are a variety of guns available in the game, which gun you buy will depend on what you can afford and what your role on the team is. To check out the stats and full list of VALORANT weapons, check out our VALORANT complete weapon guide.

Valorant weapons

Every round in VALORANT offers a few ways to earn money which can be used to buy weapons, armor, and abilities. Various actions in VALORANT will earn you money. Winning a round will net you 3,000 credits while losing a round will net you 1,900 credits. Losing multiple rounds in a row will earn you a loss streak bonus, which is meant to ensure that losing teams can eventually recover from a few bad rounds in a row. Planting the spike will also earn your team 300 credits each, even if you lose the round. In addition, you’ll earn 200 credits per kill.

In short, when you do a lot of good things in the game like winning rounds, planting spikes, or getting kills, your economy flourishes. When you lose rounds, die a lot, or buy things you can’t afford, your economy will not do well. Remember that your economy is more than just your own individual stash of cash, it’s your entire team’s stash. There will be times when it makes sense to buy a weapon for a player with less money, or to have a player buy you a weapon.

Buy rounds

Team coordination is fundamental to building a healthy economy, so buying with your team is very important. Economically speaking, there are three major types of rounds:

  • Save Round
  • Force Buy
  • Full Buy

Save rounds are when you and your team buy nothing, or almost nothing, in order to ensure you have enough money for a full buy in the following rounds. During save rounds your goal is to do as much damage to their economy as possible without spending any money yourself. If you can plant the spike while saving, that can be a huge economic boon to your team, since it will net you extra money. You should save if you can’t afford to buy high quality abilities and weapons to win a round. It is sometimes more logical to spend nothing so that the next round you can be fully equipped. The decision to save needs to be made with your team. If some members save while others use all of their money, that inefficiency will end up costing your team money and ultimately matches.

Force buy rounds are when your team doesn’t have enough money to buy all their best guns, abilities, and shields, but you want to take a chance and try to win the round anyway by buying whatever you can afford. Force buys require you sacrifice the quality of either your gun, abilities, or armor. What a force buy round looks like will vary depending on which Agent you are playing. Some Agents have particularly powerful abilities that make sense to invest in, even if it means taking a worse gun. With other Agents it will make more sense to invest in a weapon and try to win an aim duel without any abilities.

The force buy is a high-risk, high-reward strategy. If you lose a force buy round, you only damage your economy compared to saving. When you win one, however, you win a round that you should have lost and are able to take your opponents’ weapons, creating a large economic swing in your favor.

A full buy is when you buy a top tier rifle or sniper rifle, multiple personal abilities, and heavy shields. If you manage your economy well and win enough rounds, you will have the advantage of coming in equipped with your full kit. The goal of a healthy economy is to have as many full buy rounds as possible, which in turn will give you a consistent advantage against teams who don’t manage their economy well.

In VALORANT, you are able to see the enemies total cash during the buy phase. You can use this knowledge to try to predict if they will buy, save, or force buy. This can help lead your decision making on how much you need to buy for any particular round, since you will know roughly what the enemy can afford. Of course, they will also know what you can afford, so the sword does cut both ways.

Why you should buy shields

In early rounds when money is tight, it can be tempting to invest in a better gun and forgo shields. This glass cannon strategy may work against some unprepared opponents, but in a straight gun duel your opponent will have more health than you, giving them the advantage. It’s often better to have shields and a slightly worse gun.

Your base Agent only has 100 health. Players can buy shields to increase that health pool to avoid getting one shot by a sniper rifle or to just take more damage before dying. Shields will reduce the damage taken by 50% and will last until they have absorbed a certain amount of damage.

Light shields cost 400 credits and will absorb 25 damage before breaking. With the 50% damage reduction, light shields functionally give you 150 total health. Heavy shields cost 100 credits and will absorb 50 damage. With the 50% damage reduction, heavy shields will offer you 200 total health. Most of the time you will want to acquire some type of shields. If you have below 2,500 credits, it makes sense to invest in light armor since you will still be able to buy a decent weapon. If you have a significant sum of money and are full buying, you will want a heftier option.


VALORANT is a complex and rich tactical shooter, with so many facets to master and learn. Best practices for the game will likely evolve and change as we all continue to learn about it. It will likely take new players between 50-100 hours to become fully comfortable with the basic strategy, the various agents, and the many mechanics of the game. The learning curve is definitely steep, but VALORANT is a very rewarding game to be good at. The climb is worth it.

Aaron is a 25 year old esports journalist who has worked with dotesports.com, upcomer.com, qrank.gg, among others. Aaron completed a Master's degree in Communication from the University of Dayton in 2018 (Go Flyers). Aaron has also worked as a national circuit debate coach and communication manager for emerging technology companies.