VALORANT will attract more players if Valve doesn’t change
The growth of VALORANT in just its first year has been staggering, and the most impressive aspect of that so far has been in its fledgling esports scene. In 2021 especially, the VALORANT Champions Tour has delivered incredible viewership numbers. Viewers watched a total of 5,388,468 hours of the VCT NA Masters One tournament and 3,431,749 hours of the recent EMEA Challengers Finals, per Esports Charts.
But it’s not just been viewership. It’s been the mix of players leaving various previous titles with the young players debuting in their first competitive game. The rise of regions that didn’t have much of a competitive history in games of this genre, like Korea and Japan, also added to the growth. It’s rivalries, memes, shitposts, highlights, and more. And it’s only getting bigger.
A lot of its success can be attributed to the wave of former CS:GO players who came over to VALORANT worldwide. The lone bright spot of Korean Counter-Strike, MVP.PK, called themselves Vision Strikers, made the switch and proceeded to run over everyone for an entire year. Some of the brightest minds and sharpest aimers from Europe have contributed to the growth of a region loaded with talent. And, of course, North America is stocked with all manner of pro players. From proven winners to accomplished veterans to those who missed their breakout moment to those who just wanted something different.
The first migration of CS:GO players saw an incredible migration of talent come over into VALORANT. After the first international VALORANT LAN (hopefully) goes smoothly, the second wave will be just as tremendous.
The Pros Know
The contrasts between VALORANT and CS:GO come down to two primary categories: the game and the competitive ecosystem. As a game, one is constantly evolving and changing, with new maps and new agents and frequent meta changes. The other just made its first change to its active-duty map pool in over two years. If that isn’t bad enough, CS:GO (the second one if you hadn’t figured it out) as a whole has relatively been the same for years now. And whenever a significant change to the meta happens, it’s usually reversed. Just look at the short-lived Krieg meta (late 2019 to early 2020) or the AUG meta (early 2019) or the Tec-9, or the R8 revolver.
For many the players who left, and likely for some still there, the stagnancy of playing CS:GO wore them down. After their victory over Version1 in the NA Challengers Finals, former CS:GO pro and Sentinels VALORANT star Hunter “SicK” Mims echoed these sentiments:
“Coming from Counter-Strike, the game had been stagnant for so long. ShahZaM and I played for such a long time, and not much ever changed. The game wasn’t very dynamic. VALORANT is much more interesting when it comes out with new agents and how those agents interact. With CS, you can’t change an HE grenade or a smoke, so you’re just playing the same game day in and day out.”
Both SicK and ShahZaM left CS:GO after a pretty low moment in their careers. They had just been eliminated from the StarLadder Berlin major and prompted Complexity CEO Jason Lake to take to Twitter to announce he would be blowing up the roster completely. Both players would be benched and would leave the team before considering their options and moving to VALORANT. But even players competing at the highest level of CS:GO grew tired too, such as 100 Thieves’ nitr0 and Ethan. Ethan shared the same sentiments as SicK, even:
“CS hasn’t changed anything in like two years. Coming into a game [VALORANT] where there’s new maps, new characters literally every couple of weeks is a real refresher. It makes it a lot more fun; you’re always learning and adapting and creating new things.”
If you build it offline, they will come
From a competitive/esports standpoint, VALORANT is more exciting right now. There are many roster changes, with big names moving around and creating some fascinating team compositions and storylines. More organizations are hopping in than pulling out. And, of course, a plan to return to LAN was concocted, and now we’re just weeks away from the first-ever international VALORANT LAN.
When asked if the first VALORANT LAN would prompt more migration from CS:GO, ShahZaM said that it would. “100%. That’s what the game is missing right now. In CS, a lot of the teams went to Europe to start competing internationally. As soon as it starts in this game, then viewership is going to blow up. As regions start investing more in their teams and competing against other regions, it seems like opportunities in CS:GO are getting more limited while VALORANT is still trending upward.”
CS:GO’s professional opportunities are minimal right now, especially in North America. The best competition is in Europe, so North American organizations have to move their teams to compete at international events. Only a handful of organizations can afford to do this since the actual North American competition and its potential rewards are much less viable. With no majors to look forward to, that’s why organizations like 100 Thieves, Gen.G, and Team Envy all pulled out. Players don’t want to play in a region with a limited potential or move halfway across the world.
Esports organizations worldwide are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to investing in CS:GO. You can pick up players with high asking prices, meaning you’re placing a gamble on those players. Or they can invest in younger, unproven players as part of a long-term process. But they must be willing to eat a lack of short-term success and run the risk of that group of players never developing.
The blame and the burden fall on Valve
But the biggest issue comes from the standpoint of developer support. The global span of the League of Legends esports ecosystem is the ultimate card Riot can pull whenit says it knows what its doing. For all the things Riot has done wrong, it most certainly has done LoL right in terms of making it the global esport.
Valve, by comparison, looks like its not even trying. So many of its decisions fly in the face of convention and make the player base and pro players feel alienated rather than included. Just look at the time it took to address players with five-year-plus long VAC bans and its awful overreaction to the coaching bug scandal.
Its biggest concerns are fixing the game and the esports ecosystem. Fixing CS:GO requires a lot of steps but is viable. More content, map changes, weapon updates, and enticing game modes are needed to keep players interested. It also needs to more properly address the rampant cheater/hacker issues that seem to be getting worse. Its best course would be to try and make CS:GO feel as new as possible. The long talked about Source 2 engine upgrade would surely attract new and returning players.
Valve needs to get more involved with tournament organizers and figure out a way to get LANs back as quickly as possible. If it waits until the PGL Stockholm major in October, it runs the risk of losing more top players. But that’s a short-term problem. The long-term issue is creating a better amateur scene, especially in North America. Teams in Europe are willing to spend money on academy teams. But that’s not happening in NA on its own, especially in ESEA or MDL. Riot is no doubt itching to create infrastructure for developing VALORANT talent as quickly as they can, so Valve cannot afford to sit back and let them do so unchallenged.
Valve has been notoriously hands-off with CS:GO as an esport, as its been with pretty much all of their titles. And in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, players saw VALORANT as refreshing and dynamic, while CS:GO was more stagnant and boring. VCT Masters Reykjavík will be another step up for the growing VALORANT scene. PGL Stockholm will provide a bit of a resurgence in viewership and excitement that CS:GO needs, but if Valve expects the return of the majors to do all the work for them, its in for a rude awakening.