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Esports  

Introduction to Valorant

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Introduction to Valorant
Sai Aung MAIN / AFP

There is a new kid on the Esports block….

Valorant, has been the biggest release in the world of video games this year. Riot, one of the giants in game development, are behind this new shooter. You are most likely to know them for one of the fixtures of the esports scene, popular MOBA, League of Legends. With this new title, however, they have entered the world of multiplayer first-person shooters, one of the most competitive branches of the gaming industry. Currently in this genre are long-standing titans such as Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Rainbow Six, Team Fortress, Halo, and Overwatch, though many others have come and gone over the past twenty years.

I have not started betting Valorant regularly yet, though a few shots here and there during COVID. I am going through my usual slow process of learning a new game, its current competitive state, who the reliable information providers are and familiarizing myself with the major players in the North American and European regions.

It has been exciting to see the rather quick conversion of many professionals from (predominantly) Counter-Strike, but also Overwatch and Apex Legends, to this new esports scene. There are a plethora of guides and video tutorials centered on the gaming itself, but that will not be the purpose of this first entry. As more events are held, the game itself becomes more established, and my personal understanding expands through conversation and research, I will add some more of these pieces.

How is Valorant Played

Riot’s own description of their new game is ‘a 5v5 character-based tactical shooter’. For those familiar with the above titles, this definition should immediately be pulling on your knowledge of a few and should be broken down into ‘tactical shooter’ and ‘character-based’. All first-person shooters would like to think of themselves as involving tactics to a degree, which is of course true. However, only Rainbow Six, Team Fortress, and Overwatch currently present a huge variety of ‘characters’ to choose from.

Similar to MOBA’s, where players choose a hero or champion that can complement their teammate’s characters, or counter the opposition, these shooting games allow a drafting phase of sorts where a team can choose their characters based on a meta-game or their own strengths. This contrasts a game such as Counter-Strike where the differences of an in-game character is purely aesthetic.

That being said the layout of the game is structurally most similar to Counter-Strike. I recommend reading this article to begin with if you are not familiar with CS:GO. The terminology is a bit varied as its only natural for a developer to create their own ecosystem and vernacular. For this comparison, we are only going to peek at the competitive mode of both games.  

CSGO                                                   VALORANT

Two teams of five players (counter-terrorists/terrorists)Two teams of five players (attackers/defenders)
First team to win 16 rounds (must win by two) of a singular mapFirst team to win 13 rounds (must win by two) of a singular map
Two sites for T’s to plant bomb: can win by detonation or elimination of CT’sTwo or three sites for A’s to plant spike: can win by detonation or elimination of D’s
Two sites for CT’s to defend: can win by defusal, elimination of T’s, or time expirationTwo or three sites for D’s to defend: can win by defusal, elimination of A’s, or time expiration
Currently 7 maps for competitive playCurrently 4 maps for competitive play
No characters – static and ambiguous player roles based on experience/knowledge/skill setCharacters (agents) – predetermined abilities that can enhance and diversify player roles and strategy
Teams switch from CT/T after the first 15 rounds are playedTeams switch form A/D after the first 13 rounds are played
Economy based – money rewards for objectives, rounds, and loss bonusEconomy based with addendum for agent abilities – credit rewards for objectives, rounds, and loss bonus

Valorant Betting

I am pleasantly surprised to see sportsbooks already offering Valorant lines. It may seem wildly ambitious given the short duration and lack of long term results, however it sets a promising precedent for the esports industry’s representation from the gambling titans. Most of the markets currently present the same staple that existed in CS:GO up until two years ago:

Match Moneyline = which team will win the match (Bo1/3/5)

Match Handicap (-1.5/+1.5) = the favorite to win by two maps or the underdog will win at least one map

Total Maps (over 2.5/ under 2.5) = either each team wins a map or one team wins 2-0

Map 1/2/3 Moneyline = bet on a team to win a particular map

While a number of other options have become fixtures of various esports titles, these four are more than enough to get started. With only four maps in rotation you can either look at it as dull or, more optimistically, view it as an excellent opportunity to see the same teams running the same maps and evolving the meta game with each coming tournament.

Valorant Esports

I have been asked a number of times this year what I think about Valorant as a viable betting avenue. The huge name of Riot, which to this point is responsible for the biggest esport in history (League of Legends), provides this shooter with an immediate possibility for longevity. Riot understands the importance of not just being the hottest game but providing a stable professional scene.

Interestingly, and certainly with a touch of wisdom, the developers did not release their title with a mirror of their LoL worldwide enterprise nor to compete with a closed circuit shooter like say Call of Duty or Overwatch. Instead they are partnering with an array of organizers, sponsors and clubs to create a somewhat grassroots esports scene.

Part of that may be because the timing overlapped with COVID and therefore an immediate move to online leagues was imminent anyway. However they have done the next best thing really – the Ignition Series.

This is a relatively open assembly of tournament organizers, and third parties, which have been allowed to run a number of tournaments over the summer months for a range of prize pools.

In comparison to CS:GO the financial awards are still very ‘small’ at the top level, but are certainly respectable for a brand new game. This improved organization has spurred a number of esports clubs to sign players already as well.

Comparing the first few tournaments where there next to no big orgs competing, to the past two Ignition events in which some of the biggest globally are already representing; FunPlus Phoenix, Ninjas in Pyjamas, G2, Liquid, BIG, Dignitas, Cloud9, Team Solomid, T1, GenG, Envy, and Immortals. There have already been over 40 events with a minimum of $2000 prize pool since the start of May.

When arena events return I expect Riot will put on an invitational of sorts with all the current top organizations. However, for right now, I agree with the quantity over quality.

The players who are ‘the best’ at the moment are very unlikely to be there a year from now, and certainly not three years from now. That does not mean it isn’t worth an esports bettor’s time to begin exploring this game, only that we really should not be surprised by high turnover and volatility.

The veteran pros of the CS:GO scene are instrumental in shaping the first professional meta that Valorant will hold, similarly to how CS 1.6 and Source pros initially established Global Offensive. However Counter-Strike today is absolutely dominated by the talents of players whom never competed in an iteration of the game other than GO.

In 2013, the HLTV Top 20 was a who’s who of former 1.6 and Source professionals. By 2016 the new generation held the majority of Top 20 spots, by 2018 only two players, Guardian and Oskar, were on that list. Last year’s Top 20 did not have a single player that had played professionally, or semi-professionally in 1.6 or Source for the first time.

I am fairly confident we will see a similar pattern in Valorant, but exponentially faster. It took a year and a half for CS:GO to begin to pull fans from old CS and this was before Twitch and YouTube had incredible numbers from the esports community.

The hybrid of CS and Overwatch combined with the financial stability of Riot, and the current state of professional gaming, will ensure that this title is at least given a chance to make space in the FPS genre.

In terms of the betting potential, I would put it far ahead of Overwatch already with the possibility to eclipse CS:GO in the not too distant future. I have been thoroughly impressed with the multitude of third-party sites that have cropped up in 2020 offering detailed professional match and meta statistics.

Just to clarify, this is not a comment on whether the game will be more popular or sustainable, I am only reflecting on the quality of data that has already been displayed so early in Valorant’s life cycle. I am quite excited to see where this game goes both for gaming and the betting industry.