It’s hard to believe but it’s nearing a year since Valorant was released—just past when the game was announced as the mysterious “Project A.” Riot’s own tactical shooter smashes the class-based tactical shooter style of Overwatch or Team Fortress 2 together with the tactical FPS godfather: CS:GO. What results is a game all its own, born into a time all its own.Valorant released right as COVID-19 cases rose and many parts of the world froze in place so they could deal with it. The strange circumstances made the already curious new tactical shooter even more intriguing and hard to read. With each region locked down, we’re seeing the development of separate metas and competitive scenes.EU, NA, Korea—these three regions look to be the ones to watch but each of them plays a very different style. It’s hard to say which of the three different reads on the game are right until we see teams compete. It’s also difficult given the pure novelty of the game.Like in the early days of many esports, we’re seeing tons of upsets, tons of strategic shifts, tons of new comps, and tons of data to take in. It’s a lot to handle, but that’s Sliggy’s job.Head coach of TL’s Valorant squad, Sliggy was a strong IGL and a renowned observer in CS:GO and is now one of Valorant’s top minds. He sat down with us to talk all about Valorant’s early meta, from regions to compositions to pistols to in-game leading (IGL-ing) to the competitive scene and EU’s lack of tournaments. The Big Three (Regions)How strategic do you feel Valorant is and do you think there are more complex strategies outside of NA?Yeah, I think every team has their own unique playstyle so it’s kind of hard to sum it up. If I was gonna generalize it a little bit, it’s a bit like these regions have their own meta itself. There’s a Korean meta, there’s a Europe meta, there’s an NA meta. The NA one definitely is a bit faster. It’s a lot of Phoenix, it’s a lot of fast bursts. A lot of time there’s not a moment of peace, not a time to think, right? And then the Korea’s are kind of the polar opposite in terms of it’s really strat heavy. There’s set utility everywhere, they’ve really thought through a lot of the combos and what’s really strong. Then, I feel like EU is literally just smack bang in the middle. There are some teams that are more NA style, some are more Korean style, so we’re kind of like a blend of the both.Do you feel like any of the regions have a leg-up or a better understanding of what’s optimal in the game?It’s so hard to tell what styles are gonna be good against each other. The Korean style, on paper, looks great. It looks impressive, it’s really interesting to watch, there’s so much perfect utility getting used, but in an ideal world, in a matchup of NA style against Korean style I’m not sure they’d be given as much freedom and space to be doing the perfect executes they’ve been planning in their server time.It’s gonna be really interesting when we actually get the first LAN to see how these styles work against each other. I dunno, at least on paper I think the Korean style definitely looks the most impressive but whether they’re gonna be able to handle the sheer aggression that we see from the NA teams is gonna be interesting.I feel like there’s a bit of a parallel in CS that I’m curious to see if you think exists or not. Sometimes there will be the very heavy aim-battle teams that push out and force these fast fights to use superior aims or holds to win duels. Then there’s your very strategic teams that’ll slow things down and if one gains momentum on the other it can kind of throw a wrench in how the other plays.Yeah for sure, I think a good example was I think Sentinels played 100 Thieves the other day. It was like Sentinels pretty much got rolling, they were so confident. They were literally just pushing through smokes, taking aim duels, and pretty much doing what you wouldn’t expect to happen and it just looked so hard to deal with.Sometimes it works! If you play with pure confidence and teams aren’t used to it, it can definitely work in this game. […] A lot of the times when you’re looking at dapr in Sentinels is a good example.Say he’s playing C on Haven—you’re looking at his playstyle you’re thinking, right, he’s gonna be holding back, he’s gonna be doing his utility and waiting for people to come to the sight. But then for some reason he’s actually just pushing long on his own, it’s seven rounds in. It’s just something that is so unexpected, so not what you’d believe a sentinel player would be doing (in terms of [playing] Cypher). It’s hard to deal with.It definitely shows that anything at the moment can work in this game—if it’s done right.[Don’t] Stress the compositionHmm, do you feel like “anything can work?” is because of the changes that Valorant’s making to the FPS genre—the fusion of CS:GO and Overwatch—or do you feel it’s a little bit more because of how young the game is?I think it’s a good blend of both, honestly. It’s at the stage now where any kind of comp can work as long as you understand what your win conditions are, what your comp’s good at, what your comp’s bad at. Just having a very good understanding of what the comp itself that you’re playing and the comp that you’re up against.Maybe they’re playing a very heavy after-plant comp in terms of delaying so maybe you just have to be really, really aggressive and not let them plant and perform what their comp really thrives at.Honestly, I do believe that even a 5 duelist comp—at the moment if you put enough time in and you understood what your strong points are and how you have to play the comp—I strongly believe that even that would work. I don’t think there’s a set, defined comp that is the best at the moment. I just believe it’s all about understanding the comp itself.Does this mean there’s a chance for the no smokes comp again?[Chuckles] Dude that was like, that was kind of me wanting to prove a point to our team that anything works in itself. We were like 12-6 up or something against FPX. The comp definitely worked and we just lost on pretty much basic fundamentals that we needed to fix. Whether we’re gonna see it again, I’m not too sure. We might see some kind of variation but it was more a point to prove at the time and also a way for us to really focus on what I believe wasn’t our strong point. SO like, really focus on our weaknesses of being proactive and making sure that the calls are really good and clear so that if there’s no smokes in certain situations we have to hyper-focus in terms of mid-round aggression and other stuff like that. […] For the moment we’re just gonna focus on something a bit more traditional.We hear a lot of criticism towards the comps [in commentary]. How important do you think those comps are? How often is it that a team loses or wins because of a decision in the draft.Again it kinda comes back to the understanding of the comp itself. Obviously they have to have a narrative of where the casters are swaying it but I think it boils down more to the understanding that the team has of their comp.Sure, you could just go “oh it would be so much easier to replace a Raze with a Sova (or something like that) for information.” In reality the Raze has so many advantages as well it’s just having a better understanding of how to enable that agent a bit more. Yeah, I get that that’s like the easy narrative to go to for sure. Maybe I’d like to see that sway a bit more to “they should be using the agents better or have a better understanding of the comp itself.”But with a game with so many agents [the comp] is always gonna be an easy narrative to go to. Especially when people are trying new stuff, it’s a good storyline so I fully understand it.I think one of the recent picking points for that was Killjoy against FPX. Do you feel like, when you ran that, was there a sense that the team was giving anything up for attack? Or do you feel like this character can execute well on the attack but it was just misused in the team?I think a lot of how we started off this game, we hyper-focused on the defensive side. More when we were looking at our attacking side we felt we could snowball and combo our ults a bit better—Killjoy’s ult is really good.It’s, I see what you’re saying. I dunno, it’s something that a lot of the time as well when we were going into the attacking side we were using more of our mollies for the after-plant where potentially we should’ve been mollying certain areas off to make it easier to get into the site. Again it’s understanding the comp, right? It’s little things like that for sure that you have to look back and go, “actually, we probably didn’t use our utility right. Maybe we need to have this in the back pocket and if we’re struggling to get into sites we can use this bit of utility a bit better.”Valorant is almost thereIn that tournament [where you faced FPX] did you only get tac [tactical pause/timeout] per game?Just one.Do you feel like it would help to have more tacs in a tournament? I know CS gets 4.I mean personally I would love it in terms of how our team runs. We don’t have experienced IGLs from other games, it’s more just me trying to teach IGL stuff so the more actual tac pauses we have would be great. I have to look at it from different points of views, and this is my experience from observing and working on events—as a spectator the tac pauses aren’t the best things ever. From a coach point of view, yeah I would love more. I do think that sweet spot is one per half instead of one for a whole map. […] I think doubling it and having one per half would be great, or at least two per map and then you can kind of work out if I need to do more tac pauses on which half. It’s something I’d personally like to see changed but I’m not sure if that’s gonna happen.One thing I hear a lot of CS players talk about are the pistol rounds and kind of the relative importance they hold in Valorant. I was curious what your thoughts are, if they were too heavily weighted.Yeah I kind of agree. With it only being 24 rounds, 12 rounds a half, it’s always gonna be more impactful than it is in CS. Then, where the money is, when you win two in a row at the beginning you’re really in a good spot in terms of your economy. I do believe it needs some kind of changes. I’m not sure what, probably an economy thing.I pretty much agree with the general sentiment that it has a lot of weight to it. If you win both pistols and you lose the map, yeah, it’s almost criminal. Like you are 100% the worse team for that map. It’s hard man, it’s definitely very impactful.I think [Valorant] is almost there. I think they’ve learned a lot of lessons from CS, I think 12 rounds is great. Just a little bit of tweaking, we’re almost there.I’m also curious about how you feel about EU valorant. Do you ever wish that EU had a ton of tournaments like NA does or is it a little bit nice to have those breaks?Oh no dude. It’s hard for us because we had a lot of best of ones, single-elim brackets, and not many tournaments. Then we go and look on these websites that have all the games listed and there’s just constant tournaments. You can’t help but be jealous.We definitely would want way more tournaments. It just helps the ecosystem flourish in terms of teams, talent for casters, observers—everything benefits from having these tournaments. I definitely think it’s needed in EU. Hopefully we’re gonna get some changes in terms of format but yeah I would hope for some more third party tournaments for sure.We, as a team, wanna play more officials.We talk about it in the Slack, we wish we could see more games!It’s not in a good space. At least personally I try and be vocal when I need to be vocal. So on the kind of formatting and stream side I try to be vocal whereas other stuff I’ll just let them do their thing. […]Hopefully it will get better. I think they’re knowing that they changed our format from best of 1 to best of 3 recently. It’s a great first step for sure, so it’s cool to see that they’re listening and they’re willing to change it so quickly.That was really heartening […] It’s weird when you have tier 1 teams going through a best of 1 because you just know crazy stuff can happen. It’s rough.Yeah, especially when we talk about how much weight there is on pistols, right? It makes it even worse.Yeah, because you could just lose several aim battles in two rounds and then [snaps fingers] rough.Yep, massively. The end of the IGLI was also a little bit curious about the IGL-ing as well. With Jampii coming in, one of the big talking points is like, “where’s the IGL?” I’ve also talked a little bit with ScreaM where he’s talked about being more vocal with the team as well. How does that shape out? So we have a lot of protocols set. Our main voices are Soulcas and Link—they’re the kind of guys that will be making a lot more of the shotcalls but we’re trying to have it a lot more open in terms of everyone has input. As soon as people bring up ideas, let’s go for it and then mid-round it’s more just Link and Soulcas will say stuff. But if anyone wants to chip in, like you’re saying like ScreaM or Jampii’s also quite vocal, we pretty much just go for the first thing that’s called. Even if it’s not the best idea at the moment, as long as we’re all on the same page it can work. So we’re focusing on everyone being on the same page and just trying to get people as vocal and have as good an understanding as possible at the moment.It’s quite fun to be honest. Instead of teaching just ec1s, just one person, I’m kind of teaching the whole group. It’s just multiple ears that can take it in and remember it when it comes to officials so I actually think it’s really beneficial for us so honestly I’m really excited.Yeah, Professor Sliggy and the class.[Chuckles] Yeah, right? No, it’s enjoyable man. It’s been really nice and everyone’s been super willing to learn. Everyone’s been very vocal. Obviously there was always going to be a bit of a void left in terms of talking or calling when Adam [ec1s] was removed but I really think that we’re filling it very well.That’s super interesting to hear. In CS it kinda makes sense for one person to designate everything because there’s not these abilities, right? Does that change with Valorant? Does it sort of make sense to have a bit more of a fluid IGL-ing or a bit more of a fluid shotcalling akin to League?This is more of where the decision came in. Originally when I had less of an understanding of the game I don’t think we would have been able to go through with a move like this in terms of taking out an IGL. Because I think [I was] coming from CS where it’s very heavy dependent on the IGL. I think pretty much what you’re saying is right. When everyone has these abilities, there’s so much going on on the map, you might have the perfect counter to your spot, or you have a really good idea depending on your utility, or you might have an ult you wanna use in a certain way. It just means there’s more things that can trigger ideas for each individual in the map instead of having the set bits of utils. You always know you’re going up against a smoke or a flash or a molly in CS whereas in this you could be going up against a lot more. It plays a lot more on your reactive skill—on how you react to certain things happening around the map. So having 5 brains think about it, 5 eyes, I think it works really well.Do you feel like Valorant is gonna have a little bit more dynamism to it as it goes forward because of it? Oh for sure. I think when agents get involved as well it’s gonna be even harder, especially to stay consistently at the top of this game in terms of players and teams. They’ve got a lot to learn for sure. It’s gonna be very hard for a team to be consistently the best in the world or the best in their region with how many nuances there are in this game.It’s gonna be difficult but I think for a lot of people that’s part of the enjoyment, right? The fact that it changed. I think CS (especially when I speak to a lot of these old CS players) they’re kinda saying that it got a bit stale. I think this pretty much negates that. […] As long as you’re accepting of the mad agents that come in and look game-breaking but actually fit in pretty well, as long as you’re open-minded I think it’s great.
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