Riot Games has some unique opportunities when it comes to balancing VALORANT.
If you think about it, VALORANT is one of the most interesting games that has been released in a long time. What looks like a game that resembles a tried, tested, and very famous tactical FPS is really stepping into its own as a successful attempt at a hero-based FPS, a genre that has been called into question for its validity and murky direction.
VALORANT takes the beauty of Overwatch’s heroes, combines Counter-Strike’s tested formula, and sprinkles in light hints of Rainbow Six: Siege’s utility, all to a successful mark. VALORANT is a fun amalgamation of all of these creative ideas, that seem to have succeeded in being different enough, but can’t escape the gravitation pull of being compared. However, that should not stop them from trying. These are the tools that lie on the horizon of VALORANT’s future that will help balance the game, and ones that could help build the skeleton for future titles in the genre.
Bullet Penetration and LMGs
Ok, hear us out before you just scoff and scroll past. Wallbaning is not going anywhere anytime soon, if anything it will only become more and more prevalent. If we agree that VALORANT and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) are different, different in how each game feeds you information, different in the acquisition and what kind of information can be gained, different in terms of how the economy works, then we can begin to discuss the potential that has been shown around light machine guns (LMGs). With how paper-thin some of the walls are in VALORANT, having a class or role dedicated to controlling areas on the map with a constant hail of bullets isn’t that odd, especially when we consider how little commitment is needed to gain info. In CS:GO, you’re forced to physically see something happen. In VALORANT, there are a number of drones, scans, and other creative information-gathering tools.
Bullet Penetration is the way of the future, and LMGs are the road.
The potential of this style has been popularised by one of North America's best teams in Sentinels, but goes even farther back to Europe's HypHypHyp in closed beta. Take, for instance, this clip where Damien "HyP" Souville features this theory in action against fish123. Right off spawn, he uses his Vandal to spray down the hallway that leads into mid-window. Now, as general as that is, the idea still stands - this is a mechanic of the game that can and will be learned, but how will Riot handle its balance?
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Bullet penetration opens up a new avenue for game balancing decisions that Riot can tinker and toy with. Is the Operator too oppressive, or is the frequency of tearing my opponent's head off through a door frame too high? Is the Phantom too good or does its clip size combined with its level of bullet penetration make it the swiss-army-rifle? Riot has even shown their hand in this regard when we look at Ascent's map design. When looking into mid-courtyard, there are two massive destructible barriers placed on mid-link. With regards to balancing LMGs and bullet penetration, we also have to be careful with abilities that increase fire rate.
Debates have gone on since the beta around the idea that Brimstone's Stim Beacon isn't as beneficial as it seems on paper, however, with how often teams are utilising bullet penetration - the more the opinion changes. The general application of it helping individuals win one-on-one duels doesn't seem likely or realistic during most equal buy rounds, however, when we look at how much value you can get out of set spam locations, you can see how an increase in fire rate is useful.
Taking a slow firing but high penetrating rifle and increasing its rate of fire makes it more potent in certain positions. Much in the same way Sovas have followed in the footsteps of Jay "sinatraa" Won with the Odin, it's easy to believe that people will begin to make use of Brimstone's Stim Beacon to either help, or to allow for a more feasible approach to a similar style. Instead of paying 3200 credits for the Odin, perhaps a Stim Beacon and a Vandal find similar value. This way not only do you have the bullet penetration needed to tag through walls, but you also carry the flexibility of taking direct engagements with other rifles.
In the June 29 developer update, Executive Producer Anna Donlon announced that the general road map for VALORANT agent development was going to be around six agents a year - that’s a lot. By the end of Episode III, we’re going to have double the agents that we started with, and with how creatively Riot is taking their design with some of these characters, bans feel inevitable, and we’ve seen instances where it can assist in giving players a tool in balancing their game as they see fit. Each time you start a match, you and your team can decide what you’d rather not play against for whatever reason. Is Killjoy more obnoxious than usual this patch? Ban her out. At the top end, do you know that there is a strong Jett main on the enemy team? A target ban could increase the strategic depth of the game before any guns are fired.
This is a system that Riot Games is familiar with, when looking at their flagship title, League of Legends, a pick ban system has been in the game for years now. They know and understand how important, and how powerful, certain characters can be, and give some of the power to the players to be able to choose how they want their games to play out. With six or so agents per year, and a plethora of creative utility to the game, having another system of checks and balances seems like a great fit, not only for VALORANT’s future but for anyone else attempting to step into the hero-based FPS space.
Images via Riot Games