VALORANT is going dark ... but only for a few days. The game's closed beta officially ends today, and Riot Games are now preparing for its release on June 2. Our writers spent quite a bit of time playing the beta -- familiarizing themselves with the agents, the maps, and what the game was trying to accomplish. To tide you over until VALORANT is back, here are their reflections on the beta.
Who was the initial agent you played in the beta and who did you wind up playing as your main character by the end of it?
Tyler Erzberger: When the first images of VALORANT came out, I was committed to being a Phoenix main. From his abilities to his overall aesthetic -- I even have a tattoo of a phoenix on my right forearm -- I was drawn to the British operative. In actual practice, though, it was never meant to be and I settled with the grenade-launching Raze for a large part of the early beta until she was nerfed after a few weeks.
By the end of it all, I had found a new flashbanging agent to give all my attention: Breach. The Swedish cyborg himself, he's a one-man carry in lower ranks against timid attackers and players not ready to face his arsenal of utility. While I enjoyed stints of playing Brimstone and Cypher as well during the beta phase, I soon realized that if you're not the one leading the charge into a site, your iron/bronze/silver-tier teammates will crouch idly at spawn too scared to get hit by any bullets.
Emily Rand: I really wanted to be a Jett main after looking at her character design and also learning she was voiced by Shannon Williams, whose career I've followed for a while. However, I quickly learned that I am not an entry fragger. At all. My natural playstyle is to hang back -- I'm an AD carry main in League of Legends and have been since 2012 -- which honestly doesn't make for a good Jett player. You have to take risks, move quickly, and press your buttons really, really well. I am good at none of those things.
Now toward the end of the beta, the two agents who I've taken to the most have been Sova and Sage, which should surprise no one who read the above paragraph.
Arda Ocal: The first agent I played was Phoenix, I liked his look and the voice lines are fantastic. I'd go so far as to say Phoenix is one of my favorite video game characters in a long time, from purely a personality perspective. Eventually I moved onto Brimstone, and it's the opposite -- I'm not the biggest fan of Brim's "frat boy that got old" personality (copyright 2020, our editor Elizabeth Baugh), but I love his abilities. The smokes, molly, his ult ... just a big fan. I'm also slowly starting to appreciate the Stim Beacon a lot more. I dabbled with every other agent, but Brim just clicked with me the most.
Jacob Wolf: I started with Sage and finished with Sage. I had a love affair with Cypher and put some time in Jett, too, but the Cypher nerf to the cage slow made me like him less. I'm sure I'll retain him as a secondary but Sage will be my main for now. Sage is one of the characters -- like Pathfinder, my main in Apex Legends, and Morgana or Thresh in League of Legends -- whose kit and utility will always be relevant, regardless of nerfs. So yes, the changes to slow orb hurt, although they seemed necessary, but the ability to heal and control such a big part of the map using the wall makes Sage a no-brainer from a team composition perspective.
Let's talk about the maps of VALORANT: Haven, Bind, Split. Rank them from best to worst, and don't hold back on the worst part.
Erzberger: Haven is far and away is the best map in VALORANT. Aside from the fact that I found the most success personally on the map, it also felt like the only map in the beta where I didn't feel a sense of dread if I loaded up a game and began on the attacking side. While Split's issues on offense have been documented and even led to the map being configured to be easier for the attackers, Bind isn't an easy nut to crack.
While Split doesn't feel as impossible on the attacking half as it did when it was first introduced, I still feel like I conquered the world if my team can grab five rounds on offense. Bind, for all its frustrations at times, barely edges out Split for me to grab second behind the beautifully sculpted and crafted Haven.
Rand: Initially my immediate answer would have been Split without question. Now I'm not so sure. I've actually been liking Bind the least, maybe because it feels like the most boring map to me now. I'd go Haven best, then Split, then Bind, in that order.
Ocal: This is probably not the best strategy, but the first thing I think of is how can I get the ult orb? Steal it from my opponent. So, with Brim, on Split I smoke the entrance to showers and steal the orb. On Bind, I smoke entrance to garage on B and I tiptoe to the orb and straight up thief it. Tyler gave me a great hiding spot on B to the left of site behind the boxes, not on top (many opponents will expect you to perch on top, especially if you're Omen/Jett). I usually get 1-2 frags from that spot if attackers are going garage.
In order of fun, I'd say 1, Haven; 2, Bind; 3, Split.
Wolf: I hated Haven on release. I thought three sites were stupid. But then I played a lot of Split and man... I found something new to hate and I learned to love Haven. That said, I've enjoyed Split more with the changes and I think it can be a really fun map, albeit still not the most balanced (more than on release though). So just because Split is last for me -- in a ranking with Bind first, Haven second and Split last -- I don't mind playing it all that much.
What was your best experience playing the game during its two-month beta phase?
Rand: Honestly, the night that the beta came out, the entire ESPN Esports crew queued up in a custom game, 5v5 internally. Despite the fact that it was one of my first experiences with the game, it still stands out as one of the best.
Ocal: +1 Emily. We have a fun crew. It's WAY more fun in a set group of people instead of solo queue, although lately I've gotten some fun lobbies that are very self-aware and that makes it enjoyable. In terms of players, the Overwatch casters were a lot of fun to play with, guys like Sideshow and Reinforce. Playing with Puckett is fun because he's like a coach, giving you concise nuggets of info. The WWE crew of Austin "Xavier Woods" Creed, Cesaro and Tyler Breeze are entertaining, you're always laughing, and they are really good too (if you can pry Cesaro away from League of Legends, which is difficult). Shout out to Action Jaxon -- he had the best flick I saw in the game. Like seriously, so pretty
Wolf: I loved our five-man crew, too, but I've just had a lot of fun in VALORANT in general. I randomly got matchmade against our colleague Darin Kwilinski one night when five-stacking with a set of my friends and I found that pretty funny (Darin's team won, as I'm sure he'll chirp me if I don't mention). But, yeah, overall, good experience. I've had a lot of friends with whom I love to play other games that wouldn't touch Counter-Strike, despite my affinity for it, but have played a lot of VALORANT. So being able to play a tactical shooter with some close friends has been a good time.
Erzberger: I agree that it has been fun playing with the ESPN Esports crew and friends alike, but my favorite personal moment comes from a solo queue game I was playing as Breach. I got into a chirping match with my team's Jett after they started telling me they "didn't care" about the result and that "I should carry them harder" if I wanted to say anything. Following their plea for me to carry them harder and dying instantly in the subsequent round, I reeled off a prolonged ace capped off by a split-second defuse that shut up the Jett player for the entire rest of the game.
We lost 3-13 but don't let that distract you from my heroics.
Now that we've got the pleasantries out of the way, give us your worst part of the VALORANT beta
Rand: I'm not going to complain about this too much, because it's already been said elsewhere, more eloquently, by women who are actually good at VALORANT. However, based on my few experiences using voice chat with random people, I flat-out refuse to use it at all outside of when I'm queuing up with friends because of the things I've heard. This severely limits my enjoyment of the game and means that I have to wait for several friends to be available to play. I don't think I'd play this game without friends anyway and I'm not good at it, so I'm definitely not the person people should be quoting when it comes to bad experiences as a woman in voice chat. Yet there are several incredibly talented women who play tactical shooters all the time who have also talked about this issue, so I don't feel like I'm out of line for saying something here.
Ocal: I honestly don't have many complaints. If I had to pick one thing, it's the observer mode, I'd like to see a more robust offering as a viewer. Give me beautiful scenic shots, a wide angle of plays as they develop, things like that. But it's a closed beta. So honestly, overall Riot did a terrific job with it. The real test will be launch and how the game handles the sudden influx of players. Three million is one thing, 30 million is another.
Wolf: Toxicity in general is an issue and while it's similar to League in how bad it can be, I think it's amplified by voice chat, a feature League natively does not have. That said, the worst part of the beta for me has been the footsteps. They're obnoxiously loud, to a painful degree. As someone who pays good money for good headphones, I do not like how loud they are. Footsteps are an integral part of any shooter, but they're so overblown in VALORANT. Turn them down, Riot. That's my only ask.
Erzberger: Toxicity and the spectator mode have already been touched upon, so I'll go toward the ranked system. Leaderboards and better progression tools, including personalized stats for each agent and map, should be no-brainers when ranked launches for launch a few weeks following the game's release. If those don't happen, I'd be shocked and honestly pretty disappointed by a development team that I've felt has been doing a majority of the right things through the first few months of the game's lifespan.
Beyond leaderboards, though, I think a solo and/or duo queue is something much needed for ranked, at least in an experimental or beta phase. I know Riot doesn't want five-stacks to rule the roost or to fracture its player base by having two different queues of ranked players, but the current system where it feels almost demoralizing to play alone needs to be looked at and monitored throughout the early parts of the official launch.
Oh, and there was also a game where a Jett (not the same from my previous Jett story) and her friends trapped me against a wall and watched as the other team destroyed me, so I just want to give them a shoutout for only making me stronger come launch.
If you were sitting down to review this game in its beta period, how would you review the game as it enters the official release?
Erzberger: On a personal level, it's hard to give VALORANT's beta anything below a 9 or even a 9.5. When I'm motivated to at least play a game or two a night to keep my senses sharp and to slowly get better at the game, that speaks volumes for me, someone who often prefers to consume games from a viewing sense instead of playing them. With VALORANT, I know I'll never be a pro player or even a really good amateur player, but going from where I was at the start of the two-month closed beta to now, I'm leaps and bounds better than from where I started out. Any game that can reward a player for putting in the hard hours and they can tell they've improved mechanically and strategically is a gigantic plus in my book. VALORANT has kept its word when the developers promised a competitive-focused game for people who want to get better.
If I were to play a critic, however, I'd give the game more of an 8 or an 8.5 as we head into the official release. The game is great, but still has room to improve if it wants to contend with the likes of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive as the best first-person shooting game on the market, especially as a viewing experience for esports. The foundation is there for VALORANT to be a trendsetter and a game that can withstand the test of time, but it'll be up to the development team not to rest on their early success and continue building on what was an excellent head start.
Rand: VALORANT is a tactical shooter that takes a lot from esteemed predecessor Counter-Strike. It aims to differentiate itself from Counter-Strike by adding in abilities to each playable character, or "agent," adding another dimension to the game alongside gun economy, map design, positioning, communication and how fast you can click heads.
The actual release is being pushed through a bit early for my tastes. There are more than a few bugs (I don't think I've gone a day without encountering at least one 4v5 experience, whether it was in my favor or not) and the game lacks a lot of small things that could be massive competitive quality of life changes, such as a leaderboard. It seems a bit like they're rushing it through and they don't have to because the game is solid. Regardless, through a combination of the game itself, promotion, character design/appeal, and the fact that it's free-to-play, VALORANT is poised for an incredibly strong initial release and first year of competitive play.
Ocal: It is a great-feeling, solid, tactical FPS that certainly meets the expectations from a developer like Riot. VALORANT has top esports potential, and with Riot's pedigree, has the opportunity to capture both east and west to make a truly globally accepted and revered FPS title. There are little things that can be changed, Mostly graphical, like arms and legs sticking out of buildings upon death, and as I mentioned above, the observer mode needing a buff. But otherwise this is a terrific start. One thing that must be mentioned is the amount of communication from the developers. It has been constant and every angle has been addressed. That is a breath of fresh air. When I interviewed Dignitas Female, Theia mentioned that because of how communicative Riot has been with VALORANT closed beta, Valve has started to show signs of following suit with the notoriously tight-lipped CS:GO. One thing that does remain to be seen is whether or not this level of discord will continue after closed beta.
Wolf: VALORANT is exactly what you'd expect from Riot Games. An inherently competitive title, VALORANT's single biggest grab is that it's both easily accessible for the hardcore, such as veteran tactical shooter players, but welcoming enough to people who have never played it. VALORANT is iterating on what League of Legends did best in this regard, but could use some more features on or shortly after release. The game needs a better AFK / player abandonment system, as the ult orb option is not enough, and to Emily's point, a leaderboard of some form would drive internal competitive drive, something League of Legends does quite successfully.