Somehow I managed to make it to 23 without ever having played Counter-Strike. I grew up adjacent to it. My friends played it and talked about it at lunch—my favorite streamers all “came from CS”—and, as I grew older, I heard about how much a knife skin could cost along with other scandals related to the game. It permeated my entire upbringing, but for whatever reason, I never felt drawn to it. The opposite is true of Riot Game’s Valorant.
History almost repeated itself. My friends kept talking about “having to watch Twitch for a key,” and articles popped up in my news feed again about the game everyone was trying to get into. At first, I couldn’t believe people were wasting tens sometimes hundreds of hours watching Twitch streamers they didn’t care about because of two words that appeared on the screen: “drops enabled.”
But then I figured, “why not put it on in the background while I’m working.” It began as a harmless distraction, but it quickly grew into a pet project. I was conniving. Finally, I figured I could set the quality to 160p and have it play in the background. Somehow I justified that 10% CPU usage. I wasn’t going to miss out this time.
I began checking my email more and more frequently. Skimming over work emails and continuously trying different search terms, “Riot,” “Valorant,” “key.” But after four days of being (what seemed like) an evil mastermind, I got my email before I went to sleep. I knew tomorrow would be my first-day playing Valorant.
I excitedly struggled to remember my League of Legends password and quickly reset it. I downloaded the game, pursing my lips as I considered how weird their anti-cheat seemed to be. But intrusive software wasn’t my concern. It was getting into a match.
And I was…terrible. I had never played a game where aiming didn’t help, where recoil was random, or where I had to worry about how much money I was going to have the next round. But I was in the thick of it and overtime more, and more of my friends received their keys. Our Discord was gradually consumed by Valorant mania. Different members tagging “@everyone Valorant?” At ungodly hours of the night and concerning hours of the morning.
Slowly but surely, I became better. My ego inflated as I continued to be “top fragger.” It turns out the only transferable skill I had was my handiness with the Operator. It was essentially like sniping in Halo, and that was something I was comfortable with. My friends started calling me a “dedicated AWP-er” whatever that meant, but I owned my new identity.
It’s been a while since I played a game where a single match could take upwards of 30 minutes or where I was actively anxious as a match came to a 12-12 nail-biter.
I’m impressed by the way each character’s abilities seem to compliment each other and mesmerized by Steve Blum’s voice whenever a Brimstone was on my team. I’m researching outside of the game on YouTube and Reddit trying to find ways to get better, and I realize that I haven’t had this much fun playing a video game since I was a kid.
I don’t know whether Riot’s genius marketing is what got me, or if it was the simplicity of the game, or that I felt like I was making up for all the time I had lost ignoring Counter-Strike. I don’t really know how to articulate why I’m so in love with it, but even as I sit here writing this article, I’m waiting for someone to hit me up and ask me to play.
It could be the artful simplicity of the maps or the anxiousness I get as I stare motionless like a statue at a critical chokepoint. It’s likely the fact that this game feels like it’s standing on the shoulder of a giant. I’m sure “Counter-Strike, but like Overwatch” was laughed about in the elevators of Riot’s office, but that simple idea works really really well.
I’ve also been told by several formed CS pros (seriously check out my YouTube history) that Valorant is more forgiving than CS and “doesn’t’ require as much skill,” but that’s why I’m so invested. I have no reason to get into a 20-year-old game where I feel like I’ve fallen so far behind, but I am likely to try out a very similar game that is being released in 2020.
I’m not complaining that the aiming is easier or that abilities are “cheesy.” I’m grateful because playing with a friend who may not be as good at shooting people remains fun when they can turn the tide of the battle with a well-placed smoke or a cheeky teleport.
Lowering the barrier to entry for a genre that is known for being elitist is an incredible idea, and it’s why I’m writing this article at all. It’s why, for the first time in years, I’m seeing more than four of my friends sign on at once to play games together.
Regardless, the Valorant beta has made two things very clear. I’m here for the ride—and excited to see where Riot takes this—and I’m terrible with anything but a sniper.
This post may contain Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate Noisy Pixel earns from qualifying purchases.