Video games have brought millions of people together, and torn just as many apart. Why do people play video games? What keeps a player logging back on everyday to go at it with or against their friends? Understanding why people play games, and what keeps them coming back, is extremely important to the future success of gaming as an industry. Valorant, Riot Games’ new tactical shooter, is no exception.
All of the millions of players who have logged on to Valorant since its launch just over a year ago have their own reasons for playing. Learning what these reasons are can help to create a better game, and a better environment for players and fans in the future. This community is a lot more than Sova lineups and instalock Jett players. Understanding Valorant and the community can help further understand where the game can go. It can also help to create more understanding about where the game can go, and how much it will succeed in the future based on trends and Riot’s current actions.
The first kind of player to consider is the content creator. Valorant has spawned hundreds of content creators, each who have their own niche within the community. Casey “TheKingLive” King, is a content creator who joined Valorant in the beginning of the games’ lifecycle, saying “I was playing League of Legends since 2010 or something, and I had a lot of confidence in Riot as a company...” Coming over from another wildly successful game, King wanted to start to create new content on his social media platform. He eventually found Valorant to be a worthwhile investment, stating “I made a video on Valorant… it got 100 views or something, which was really high for me at the time… let’s do more of that.”
For King, much of his connection to Valorant comes from his content creation. It has given him a platform of over 38,000 subscribers on YouTube. He didn’t get this far without a plan though. King had a very solid idea of how to grow himself in a budding community; he focused himself more on educational content. In particular, he focused on Omen, one of the game’s Agents. “Specifically my goal when I started with Valorant was to niche down… I’m going to become the Omen guy was my goal.” This idea allowed King to create a strong personal brand. He has now entered a partnership with Skillcapped: an online learning platform dedicated to helping players of many different games better understand the mechanics behind what they play. This is an important role to have filled in a community in order to foster growth over time. Content creators just like King started their content careers in Valorant and will continue for years to come with Riot’s support. A blossoming community breeds innovation, and that innovation has already created so many careers for people who love the game just like King.
Looking into the future, many have attributed the growth of Valorant to the wide variety of content creators. As a content creator himself, King understands the importance of Riot working alongside online talent to continue to expand the reach the game has in multiple sections of gaming. When asked about the relationship between the success of Valorant and content creation, he explains, “It's a marketing decision, we want people to recognize the esports scene. That’s why we get Shroud… he’s their FPS guy...then they have people like Pokimane and Ludwig coming over to watch these games, and they very clearly want to tackle different audiences and get people interested in the game.” Getting as many eyes on a game early in its life cycle is one of the best ways to foster a growing and stable community of players from many different backgrounds. This is something Valorant has really excelled at, especially moving into 2021. This focus of trying to gain a more casual audience through non-traditional FPS creators has also led to the influx of the OTV and Friends group.
Pokimane was one of the first to try Valorant, but eventually an entire group of popular creators were playing the new shooter on a daily basis, placing hundreds of thousands of viewers in front of a new game ready to be explored. The players in this group of Twitch streamers began to see huge viewer spikes during this time. This was due to both excitement for variety in the post “Among Us” Twitch world, as well as the ability to bring groups of 5 creators together for collaborative content. When discussing this new development, King stated, “Valorant is such a competitive game, but they also needed to leave it open for the casual players. That's where those people come in super clutch… you need it to be open to a casual audience. They are hitting that market.”
The way Riot have approached and used content creation to their advantage in bringing in new players to the community has worked wonders in the last few months. Content creation has saved this game. During the time after it’s initial release, the game was seeing very low numbers on Twitch for the amount of support and money being given by Riot, but after creators flocked to the game and VCT took off, everything changed. The game is now viewed as a staple in gaming, at the top of Twitch, with interest being shown in both the casual and professional aspects of the game. King, like many creators, are doing their best to build up the Valorant community, and so far the returns have been extremely positive.
A member of the more technical and casual side of Valorant, Mike from Valorleaks has become a staple in the community. Mike, through his Twitter account with almost 400,000 followers, gained his popularity by exposing Valorant news to the community. Some of this news is simply reporting, but much of it is datamining to find out future content coming to the game. When asked why he chose to pursue this quite unique path, Mike explained, “My friend and I were joking around when I said ‘wouldn’t it be funny if I decided to leak Valorant?’ At that time I was in the Fortnite community, and I knew people in the leaking scene over there. I didn’t get into it too much at the time but I knew everybody in the scene… I said it would be funny and then I did it, and I gained like 1000 followers and I was like ‘I guess I gotta do this now.’'
What started as a funny hobby has now thrown Mike into the center of Valorant’s news cycle. Every time there is something fans want to know, Mike is one of the first sources of information fans will check. This has led Mike to have an interesting relationship with Riot, one that certainly took time to build. Now, however, Mike is in contact with Riot often, saying, “I sometimes message them my opinions on things, and they like to listen to people, not just me. That’s why I make those question tweets. It's one of those things where they say ‘we can read those responses’ and I know they do.” Having this connection with Riot can go a long way to helping really create change in the game, which Mike has tried to do.
This willingness by Riot to communicate not only with those who have influence in the community, but the player base at large is great to see, and something that Mike was very impressed with. When speaking about Riot being willing to take advice from the community, he offered this explanation, “Viper’s 50 decay was not ok… they walked it back… I love their response to the community. They also announced their investigation into the new skin’s performance drops. That should not have been able to ship, but at least they’re on top of issues in the game.” This aspect of the development team at Riot can go under the radar but it is extremely important to the success of the game long term. Listening to fans and being willing to address unpopular decisions can go a long way, and will build trust with the community over time.
Understanding both the casual and competitive draws to a game are extremely important, and Matt “TwiggyCasts” Twigg understands that extremely well. Like most of the Valorant community, Twigg did not get his start in Valorant stating “I was never a caster before Valorant came out… I was kind of involved in esports in general. Then Valorant came out and I thought I’d give casting a shot.”
As a caster who has worked with VCT, Twigg has been able to observe the top end of competition in Valorant since the beginning. He had to work his way up to the big leagues though, as he had very little experience. Through hard work and a lot of (unpaid) hours, he ended up on broadcast in the EMEA region. A huge task Twigg recently decided to undertake is his new web series “The Lowdown”. These short videos inform the community of roster moves and news in the Valorant professional community. It creates digestible bits of information for fans who don't have a ton of time to read articles. When asked why he created this series, Twigg responded, “I follow 10 to 15 different journalists who cover Valorant, none of them make a quick rundown, here’s everything that happened… create something that appeals to that easy to digest media…” This is an incredibly innovative content idea, and truly could help to bridge the gap between the casual and competitive communities. Creating quick, easy to understand informational videos appeals to the more casual fan, allowing them to get a better grasp on the competitive community. Hopefully, this in turn helps drive viewers to things like VCT.
Balance between the casual and competitive communities is always an important topic for any game with a heavy involvement in esports. Many games with proper esports programs have struggled with keeping this equilibrium between two often opposed parts of a community. However according to Twigg, Riot has done a great job so far in keeping the two parties from locking horns, saying “With a tactical first person shooter, esports is always going to be a big part of Valorant, with something like Overwatch you can pretty finely split the two, and I think they did that for a while with hero bans and stuff like that. They had a different set of rules for OWL and Overwatch. I don’t think that's possible with a tactical FPS. You have to balance yourself really well, and Riot just knows what they’re doing… They are gonna make people more happy to play.” Understanding this balance and playing to both sides is very difficult, but Twigg believes Riot has melded the two usually separate communities quite nicely.
The involvement of a casual fan base can make or break the future of a game. After having interviewed a group of players who casually enjoy Valorant, it’s very clear to see how they continue to be involved in the game and its community. Simply put, they want to have fun with their friends. Speaking about why they began playing Valorant, one of the players explained, “I wanted to hang out with my friends. We all came from League of Legends which can be really hard to just relax and have fun playing. Valorant gives us a more laid back experience. We don’t want to be a pro or anything, we just want to do dumb stuff with our friends.” This seemed to be the consensus among the casual players interviewed. The social experience of gaming is extremely important to a large portion of the casual player base.
Like both King and Twigg, however, they do believe that Valorant has done a great job with the balance between more competitive players and the casual base. One of the players, who has experience in other FPS games, said, “I came from Rainbow Six, the favoritism towards the competitive scene and pro leagues ruined the fun I had with the game. The changes they made to maps, guns, characters sucked, badly. I stopped playing it after like 3 years… Riot has been great, they keep the game fun and it doesn’t feel like the two communities want to play different games.” The idea of balance between the communities was one that felt very important when talking to these players, and it cannot be understated how much the willingness of the casual community to stick around in Valorant will shape its future. The pro players, or those who aspire to be like them, will always be around. However, making a successful game long term will require players like these interviewees to enjoy the game for years to come. So far, it seems Riot is on the right track.
Listening to each of the different interviewees talk, it is very clear that every person who loads up Valorant has a different reason for doing so. Whether it be to make content for their career, to further understand the game to then cast it to thousands of others, or simply to have fun and do something they enjoy, Valorant can provide that. Just a year into its lifecycle, it has already made a huge impact on the industry, and seems to be cementing itself as a cornerstone of the gaming community. Riot’s handling of the game from both the competitive and casual side has been commendable, and their communication with players even more so. Seeing a company care about what goes on in their community, and supporting those who are helping to build it up are great signs for the future.
Whatever part of the community someone may come from, they can find something to enjoy in Valorant. As time goes on, players can only hope that the support from Riot continues, and that they continue to foster what could end up being a special part of gaming.