For years, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has dominated as the premier team-based tactical shooter. Since its release in 2012, its popularity on Steam as well as its popularity as an industry-defining esport has only continued to grow. But now, a fresh challenger has emerged in the form of VALORANT, from the developers of another wildly popular game in League of Legends – Riot Games. While many of the core concepts are the same as Counter-Strike’s, there’s plenty of uniqueness and potential that has driven professional and aspiring players in droves to the new title.
With that being said, here’s our comprehensive guide into all things VALORANT and its competitive scene, including how to play, who the current top teams and players are, and how you can jumpstart your aspiring pro career.
How to play VALORANT
To start playing VALORANT, head over to playVALORANT.com, create a Riot Games account, then download and install the game onto your computer. Unlike CS:GO and other multiplayer titles, VALORANT isn’t available on Steam; it has its own launcher, like League of Legends.
VALORANT’s standard game mode is Spike Defusal, and those familiar with CS:GO’s iconic bomb defusal game mode will pick up on the basics very quickly. An attacking team attempts to plant an explosive spike on one of two (or three) bomb sites, while the defending team tries to stop them. If the spike explodes, the attacking team wins. If the spike is defused after it is planted, the defending team wins. There are currently five maps to play on: Split, Ascent, Bind, Haven, and Icebox.
Each game is played in rounds, and after 12 rounds, the two teams swap sides. At the beginning of each round, the players use credits that they’ve earned or saved to buy new armor, weapons, and abilities. A “full buy” is when the players on their team each have enough credits for full armor, one of the better rifles in the Phantom or the Vandal, and all their abilities. This amount usually runs just north of 4000 credits. Players can save weapons, abilities, and armor from the previous round if they survived, and can use their spare credits to buy weapons for their teammates.
The biggest difference between CS:GO and VALORANT comes in the form of Agents and their abilities, effectively replacing the utility grenades used in Counter-Strike (explosive, smoke, flashbang, and incendiary grenades). Each agent comes with them a set of abilities designed to give them and their teammates a unique advantage.
Spike defusal has two types of play: unrated and ranked. After playing a certain amount of ranked games called placement matches, you will be placed in your proper skill group, ranging from Iron and Bronze up to Immortal and Radiant.
In addition to Spike Defusal, players can also play Spike Rush, a miniaturized version of the default game mode where everyone plays the round with the same weapon and all of their abilities. There’s also Deathmatch, a Basic Deathmatch mode with no abilities available.
Who are the best teams?
VALORANT is currently in the midst of establishing a fledgling esports scene right smack dab in the middle of a little ol’ global pandemic. At the time of writing, competitive professional matches have only been played for just a little bit over half a year. That being said, several excellent teams across the world have gotten off to fast starts, and are favorites of their respective regions to finish high at First Strike, the first official Riot-sponsored set of tournaments.
Let’s start in North America, where Sentinels and Team SoloMid have established a blistering rivalry at the very top of the region. TSM as an organization has been synonymous with LoL, and kept their acquisition by the book with a mix of up-and-coming and veteran CS:GO talent. Sentinels added some extra elements to their formula, in the form of former Overwatch/Apex Legends pro zombs, and the reigning Overwatch League MVP and champion sinatraa. These two teams have traded victories in a handful of thrilling back-and-forth series, cementing themselves as leading favorites for First Strike. Other promising NA teams to look out for include Envy, FaZe Clan, Cloud9, 100 Thieves, T1, and Gen.G.
— VALORANT Champions Tour (@ValorantEsports) November 25, 2020
In Europe, there are several contenders to the crown, but only one true king. G2 Esports has stood above the competition since entering the scene this summer, refusing to finish any event in a position other than first. Their international lineup of former CS:GO pros has looked nearly unbeatable, but their greatest threat is certainly Team Liquid. A core of UK talent boosted by the Belgian headshot machine ScreaM, Liquid stunned G2 at the Best of the West series, with a swift 3-0 knockout. G2 may be leading the race, but Liquid are right on their heels, and teams such as FunPlus Phoenix, SUMN FC, and Team Heretics are right behind them.
Sitting at the top other regions include the Gamelanders in Brazil, the EXO Clan in Australia, and Absolute JUPITER in Japan. But no team dominates their region quite like the Vision Strikers, who are currently in the midst of a 44 series winning streak. While they may not have a perfect map record, they have not lost a single series since they started playing VALORANT.
Who are the best VALORANT players?
Some of the most tantalizing and mesmerizing players have been the emerging North American stars that have filled highlight reels with their fantastic Jett play. They are a huge reason why Jett is such a popular Agent pick, specifically in NA. Statistically, TenZ of Cloud9 Blue has put up unreal numbers as Jett, and against a hugely competitive field in North America. His ACS (average combat score) of 286.4, per VLR.gg, is first among all NA players, and there’s a big gap between him and the group that consists of number 2-6. Unfortunately, C9 Blue as a team hasn’t achieved the same success as he has individually.
While not as strong a statistical case, Sentinels’ sinatraa has made an excellent case to be considered one of the game’s best. Sinatraa came over from Overwatch where he was undoubtedly sitting on the top of the mountain, having recently won the Overwatch League championship after an MVP season. Many fans and analysts expected former Overwatch pros to struggle compared to former CSGO pros, but sinatraa has proven to be an exception, and a catalyst for much of Sentinels’ early success.
There are other great players in NA, such as TSM’s Wardell, T1 brax, and Andbox ANDROID, but North America isn’t the only region overflowing with talent. In Europe, FunPlus Phoenix’ Zyppaan has been lighting it up for this team across the entire First Strike qualifier process. And two former stars of the French CS:GO scene have rekindled some of their greatness in Team Liquid’s ScreaM and Orgless’ Happy.
First Strike will give all these players and many others a chance to truly shine on the biggest VALORANT stage to date.
What is First Strike?
First Strike is the first set of Riot-sponsored tournaments that will produce the first official champions of each region: North America, Europe, Korea, Brazil, Asia Pacific, CIS, Japan, Latin America, Oceania, Turkey, and the Middle East/North Africa region. Each region used a combination of open and closed qualifiers to determine its final teams. All the First Strike final events for each team will take place December 3rd-6th.
— VALORANT Champions Tour (@ValorantEsports) November 27, 2020
The North American, European, and Korean regions are each competing for the largest prize pools: $100,000 USD. In NA, four teams in Envy, 100 Thieves, Sentinels, and Renegades qualified via the NerdStreetGamers tournament. TSM, FaZe Clan, T1, and Immortals qualified via the UMG tournament. The European regional finals will consist of G2 Esports, Team Liquid, FunPlus Phoenix, SUMN FC, nolpenki, Orgless, Purple Cobras, and Team Heretics.
In Korea, the Vision Strikers were fittingly the first to qualify, again having never lost a series. Joining them in the First Strike regional finals are F4Q, Cloud9 Korea, Crazy Hamster, TNL Esports, PROPARTY, aNg DarkHorse, and T1 Korea.
How can I go pro in VALORANT?
If there’s a time to really put some effort into trying to become a legitimate pro VALORANT player, it’s now. Not only is the competitive scene still in its infancy, but with the ongoing global pandemic, you’re likely (and hopefully) spending more time at home than at work or school.
First and foremost, start cranking away on some ranked matches to get that rating up to the Immortal or Radiant level. For more success and less headaches, queueing as a group rather than solo is recommended. Your best bet for finding teammates is either the official VALORANT Discord server, or the VALORANTPRO Discord server. Links to those as well as other matchmaking resources can be found on the VALORANT and Competitive VALORANT subreddits.
Once you’ve got comfortable with your team and your rank and your go-to agents, start hitting up and entering small-scale tournaments. Organizers like NerdStreetGamers and 30bomb are hosting lots of events, and sites like Battlefy will let you browse all types of upcoming tournaments that fit your schedule. After that, it’s just a matter of keeping an open eye on future Riot events that feature open qualifiers, and testing your mettle in a gauntlet with a chance for greatness on the horizon.